In Which Life Stopped but Didn’t

Somewhere, hidden deeply on this blog of rambles and rants is a wise quote. A quote so wise that I’m pretty sure I didn’t say it and that I just paraphrased it. And I’m going to paraphrase it again because I literally cannot remember what I originally wrote.

“when a person doth die, it feeleth as though thine world should cease. Alas, it doth not.”

Moral of that story is that I couldn’t hang with Shakespeare on my best day.  A greater moral is that life truly does move right along with someone dies, and this truth is disturbing to say the least.

After finals wrapped up and I finally conquered Chemistry with a passing grade this summer, I thought that life was on it’s way up hill. Things were looking better and brighter. I felt like I was a young David and my stone had just pierced the delicate flesh on Goliath’s forehead.  Yes, I was victorious that Friday. And then Saturday rolled around. It was hot, of course, and sunny. I mean, it’s Mississippi. It’s hotter than….hot things….My stepdad came in the house, smelling like wildlife and magnolia trees, and told me that he was taking the neighbors fishing.  He’d already been fishing that morning, but was really excited about finally going to this secret fishing spot way out in the woods that our young neighbor knew about. I love to fish, but in that heat I let him have it all to himself. I figured I’d catch a fishing trip with him in the brief weeks between that weekend and the start of the fall semester. So we shared a good laugh, and I joked about him having to drive back to the house to get his phone that he left on the charger. As I watched him through the peep hole of the door, to ensure that he would not be knocking at the door for anything else he had forgotten, I didn’t quite realize that our jovial exchange would be our last.

Earlier that week I’d been having an odd feeling. I kept asking myself what I would do if David (my stepdad) died out of the blue. It was sort of the feeling I got right before my Grandfather passed away, but he had been sick for over a year so death was looming over all of our heads like a storm cloud waiting to erupt. I chalked the feeling up me just being paranoid. When you have anxiety, you’ll ALWAYS think, “well, what if the worst thing that could happen actually happens.” Never fails. It’s the unfortunate part of anxiety.  Well, Ma and I were customizing a pizza order for dinner when the neighbor’s mom came knocking at our door, looking agitated and pained.  As her and ma conversed, I thought that perhaps she was just wondering when David would be delivering her son home, as it was getting dark and the rain, which suddenly began pouring down minutes before, was not letting up.  But my anxiety started escalating as I heard them talking, and I knew something was wrong. And when I heard Ma say the words, “heart attack,” my heart sank. I rushed into the living room to stand beside her as she talked on the phone with the neighbor who had gone fishing with David.  From what I could understand, something had happened and they were thinking it was a heart attack.  Of course, I’m mulling this over like, “A heart attack? Okay, we’re going to go to the hospital and he’s going to have emergency surgery and everything is going to be okay.” Wrong. What Ma failed to tell me is that the coroner was already on their way to the fishing pool. That the neighbor had done CPR for 20 straight minutes to no avail. And that David was already gone.

Driving that long ass forty-five minute drive to the middle of Edwards, MS was like an out-of-body experience. The whole time I just kept thinking this isn’t happening. This isn’t real. This isn’t really happening to us. When we finally made it to the scene, the police standing at the road immediately took off their hats and began with the apologies. But Ma was a woman on a mission. Through their explanation of what happened Ma stopped the sheriff and asked, “Okay, where is he?” They pointed us up a long, gravel drive way and allowed us to walk up to where David was laying. Even as we saw him on the porch of the pond owner’s home covered in a black tarp the reality of the situation did not set in. Ma was praying and went bent over David, moving his head so that he faced her. Saying his name and patting him, praying that he could be that Saturday’s Lazarus. But it was not to be. And when they had to move him to a body-bag to prevent the ants from attacking, I just knew deep down inside, where faith and denial intertwine, that he was going to move. That a miracle was going to happen and he was going to bust the zipper on the bag or cry that he couldn’t breath in there. But it didn’t happen. Ma walked around, dazed and calling David’s friend for the name of a funeral home. I was dazed as I saw them lay him on the back of the firetruck and drive him to the front of the driveway to await the funeral home. And we were eerily calm. I’m sure the police officers out there were puzzled as they asked us if we were okay, and we said in even tones, “Yes. We’re fine.” And the wait. THE WAIT. The funeral home did not arrive until 10:00 PM.  So we had to drive home in complete darkness. And if I thought the drive there was bad, the drive home was worse. First off, we got lost, SUPER lost. My phone battery had died and Ma’s was dying, but thank God, we arrived in a church parking lot that was clear enough for us to pick up an internet signal. After Ma’s phone directed us to our designated street which would lead us to the interstate, it died as well. On a night that can make you question the inner workings of God, it also affirms that God was looking out for us. But we silently drove home. No music. No talking. No prayer. Just silence. And this thick cloud of disbelief. He was just fifty-five. It was a beautiful day. He never showed any signs. He is no longer here.

Shock is the most powerful stage of grief I have ever experienced. When my grandfather died, I wasn’t at all shocked. I was expectant. And I was shamefully glad. He had been suffering for months with no relief. His kidneys were failing. He was in pain every second of the day that he was awake. He’d lost more than fifty pounds. I was happy that he no longer had to be in pain in an Earthly vessel which no longer functioned in a manner conducive to living. And when my biological father died I was only five years old. I understood that he was no longer coming back even though I didn’t understand death (and Ma didn’t tell me either), but with the support of our family who assisted us financially and emotionally I adapted to the loss. But when David died all I could think about was how he laughed on his way out of the door. How we were just planning to call him to see what he wanted for dinner right before the fateful knock at the door.  And to make matters oh so worse, we got up Sunday morning and the sun was shining. Cars were driving to wherever their destinations were. And life went right along. Monday came and we searched frantically for life insurance information and life moved on. Tuesday, my brother and Ma had to finalize a funeral home and life moved on. Wednesday, the stress took a toll on my brother and we had to take him to the emergency room. Shortly after getting him back home to rest, Ma and I rushed to a meeting at the cemetery. And life fucking moved on and in my mind I thought this is the most messed up thing. I felt like the whole world should have stopped. I wondered how we could live on, move on. What I needed to do about school. What ma needed to do about the house. Did we need to move back to our hometown? Did we need to sell everything? Panic consumed me and I just wanted everything to cease for just a minute so that I could catch up with the chaos that had unfolded. But it didn’t. It never does.

And then Friday, the day before the funeral, my sister gave birth to a six pound, nineteen inch healthy little girl and I realized that I needed to accept that life does not stop when a life stops. As the newborn baby squirmed in her bassinet, trying to warm up under the heater, the epitome of continuance sank in. Probably for Ma more so than me.  As crazy as it is, we have to move on, and it even sounds heartless to say. We have to move on. Our bodies are still functioning. Our lungs still filling up with air. Our hearts still beating. And we are still living even when we don’t know how.

Every time a person would ask me am I okay I smile and say yes. I joke. I laugh. Not because my stepdad meant nothing to me. Not because I’m made of stone. But because I can cry anytime alone. Anytime. All hours of the day and night. But I’d rather laugh and smile with others, enjoy that moment in life when I have it because once it’s gone it’s gone. Time will not pause for me to grieve. This isn’t to say that everyone should just stop crying and accept death. We each move at our own pace and mourn in our own ways. It’s perfectly healthy and normal to cry or to not cry. So don’t let anyone tell you how you should grieve. And I was fortunate and blessed enough to have enjoyed a moment of banter. To have seen his smile and heard his laugh. And when I think of him I see his happiness. His mischief. His annoying habit of busting into the room while I’m taking a quiz, talking on speakerphone with one of his fishing buddies. Or how he always ended a text or a phone call with, “10-4 good buddy.”  I’m glad I got experience having a dad, even if it was for a brief time. And I’m especially glad Ma got to spend a decade with someone who loved her and cared for her. To think that the day that would have been their 12th anniversary was the day she placed a rose on the casket before they lowered it into the ground is gut wrenching. But we’re still here. And we have each other. Plus, all of our family came to town and it was good for us all to be together again. It was like a signal that we needed to do it more often and on more joyous occasions. But we’ll have that chance because, once again, life remains. It hasn’t stopped at all.

I like to think that David is celebrating in Heaven. That he hates he left early and suddenly, but that he knows that where he is now is paradise. I’m still nervous about the future and what it holds for Ma and our family, but I plan to make the best of it. I’m still enrolled in school, and I know that David would want me to finish (he was more excited than me when I returned). And Ma has so many people looking out for her. Trust me, we got mobbed at church yesterday and our family has been texting nonstop.  So while life going on is pretty crazy, it’s also kinda beautiful in a way. But definitely more crazy.

 

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Stories Pt. 1

I’m under the impression these days that many of us are living pretty poo lives.  Not all. Not few. But quite a few of us are.  I’ve been searching for some outside inspiration for a while, and I referred back to Donald  Miller’s book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.”  I’ve referenced the book in a earlier post from half a century ago so I’m pretty sure no one remembers me even mentioning it. Actually it may have been another one of his books….I forget these things.  I love Donald Miller because I can tell he has a wandering mind.  He kind of drifts off in his books and for some reason that speaks to me.  Probably because I drift off whenever and wherever.  In the book Mr. Miller is speaking about life in the form of a story. When one of his friends spoke to him about some rebellious behavior from his daughter, Donald told him that it sounded like his daughter was living out a poor story.  So maybe instead I should say that we are living some pretty poo stories.

It’s easy and almost guaranteed that you’ll get dragged into the humdrum of life.  Responsibilities kick in. Bills become due.  People start looking for an engagement ring on your fingers. You’ve got to get out there in the “real world” and do some adulting like grocery shopping and scheduling doctor’s appointments.  Growing up is a scam, kids.  I would say don’t do it, but…the alternative isn’t very promising.  Before I moved to a bigger city, I lived in a very small town.  We were/are known for our highschool football program.  I’m probably kin to 80% of the population.  Gossip moves faster than the speed of light.  On the bright side, we weren’t one of those “drive through one stop sign and you’re in another town” towns.  After my brother moved  to go to school he didn’t offer me much advice on where I should go or when. He’s the kind of person who only offers advice if you ask for it and even then he’s selective about what he says.  But one thing he told me stuck: “Amber, one thing I’ve noticed about my classmates is that a lot of them finish highschool and they stay here. They get stuck.  They’re smart and talented but they don’t know how to go further. No one has left and came back and said, ‘Get out of here. Go see more than Mississippi.’ They leave school and go work at Lowes or at a factory. That’s as far as they go. That’s just something I don’t want to do. I don’t want to get stuck here.”  Our grandparents worked at factories/mills.  My mom worked a low paying job at the hospital. My brother’s dad didn’t want anything to do with him. Our uncles and aunts work at mills/factories.  We were born into a humble environment, but our town has a complacent atmosphere. They truly do finish school and get funneled into dead end jobs that leave them stranded in the small town life. I’m not trying to judge anyone who works at a standard 9 to 5 or lives in a small town. I work a standard 9 to 5 and live in a small town. But I wonder why that’s as far as some of us will attempt to go. My brother earned his PhD and now works as a design engineer at an elevator company.  He loves his job. He gets to travel periodically to Germany on behalf of the company and genuinely enjoys what he does.  His wife is from Alabama but is now teaching at a charter school in Memphis. She loves to teach and speaks to her class almost daily about taking the opportunity to do and be better. My brother comes back to our hometown and speaks to the younger kids in our neighborhood about what they want to do in life. A lot of them haven’t thought about it. His only desire is to influence them to think about it, not to tell them what to do.  They are both actively writing their stories and encouraging others to carefully craft their own.

I’m currently working at a hotel and, once again, I am one of the youngest employees at the location. When our General Manager cut our hours all hell broke loose.  He didn’t want to admit that he had cut the hours.  He didn’t want to admit that the pay is…..honestly trash for the workload.  One of the ladies went into an uproar about the hour cut and her minimal raise.  Overhearing her say how much she got paid made me wonder because my check is much less than her’s regularly. I wonder how much she’d rage if she got my wages instead.  Anyway. She was looking into a sitting job in the evening to help add a little cushion to her bank account as she has purchased a new vehicle.  Her friend recently quit the job because she did not desire to deal with the employer any longer.  My coworker came to conclusion that she was just lazy and did not want the money. As she told it, it’s all about the money. And I know deep down in my hipster heart that money is a necessity, but how much is your patience and time worth? It’s a moment of your life being bought by a person, a company, etc.  Money generally is the reason why most of our time and talent goes to shit.  Because time is money and talent ain’t talent if it doesn’t earn money. Just today she asked, “Amber, guess how many hours my friend had this paycheck. One hundred twenty-eight hours!” And I’m just like what the…That’s a lot of hours dedicated to a job in just two weeks. That’s time I literally cannot get back. I wouldn’t even want to work that many hours for a business that I didn’t invest in or do not own. I try not to even say anything against her philosophy because I do not have kids. My car was cheap because of hail damage and by the grace of God is paid for. I don’t have rent due. I can’t tell her how to address her struggle because I don’t have her struggle. But it got me thinking. Why do I choose to live life as I do? I didn’t finish school because school coupled with depression/anxiety is a MFT (miserable fucking time).  I write, though admittedly not faithfully and not professionally, but I don’t focus on building a life around it.  I actually write lyrics that I do nothing with, but save on my phone. I’m willingly and thoughtlessly living a poor story.

Now I do take risks from time to time.  In the wise words of myself, you only die once. That’s right Drake; you were close. There was a guy that I had this huge crush on during first grade.  It’s really quite funny to think about because my cousin liked him too and we were in all out war over him.  Now I’m just like…why? who has got the energy…..Moving on.  I was on a sugar rush from too many white chocolate macadamia nut cookies and after some coaxing from my friends messaged him out of the blue. We talked a while after that, but it really didn’t go anywhere. I get a bit embarrassed when I think about it. In fact, if I could go back in time I’d probably toss my phone across the room or delete my Facebook.  Like that Direct commercial. “We’ve got the power to turn back time. Something something something press rewind….Grampy Tim….” I can’t remember the words. But that commercial is genius.  The experience was uncomfortable and unrewarding, but it didn’t kill me. I cut my locs off after having them for three years on a whim at five in the morning. Now I’m a bald head scally wag, but I reckon it’ll grow back.  I applied for a job that I was no where near experienced enough for, and got a call back. Unfortunately, the company had to make changes and the position was cut. Nothing is guaranteed but nothing new happens if nothing new happens. Chances are I’ll fail and look silly. I’ll probably get rejected and have my feelings hurt. But that’s happened when I’ve done nothing at all. I may as well get out here and  fail with pride. Like that episode of Spongebob. “I’m ugly…and I’m proud. I’M UGLY AND I’M PROUD!!!” God, I need to stop watching television……

I get on here all the time and whine, complain, and make corny jokes at the risk of losing every single follower I have (like I have many….) but….well actually I don’t know where I was going with that.  I’m not comfortable speaking about feelings and sensitive experiences.  I’m not a very trusting or confident person. But when one person or two like my posts I feel better because it turns out I didn’t make a complete ass of myself. Someone out there relates to or agrees with my ridiculous rants. Risks can be rewarding. Not financially perhaps, but possibly in other ways.  It may just grant a smile and a laugh which may not seem like much but can help heal a hurting heart. You liked all those h’s didn’t you? Yea, it was clever. *clears throat* No one likes to be the loser.  No on likes to get a “no” or worse, silence.  But everyone wants better.  And for some strange reason sometimes the rejection and reward start to intertwine.  It’s not just about jobs and money. You need a job and you need money.Don’t think I’m telling you to get out here and rob the local Subway. But you also need good health and happiness. And sometimes those factors do NOT intertwine. So you end up with some changes to make.

Many of us don’t have the cushion to take risks to change our stories. Everybody’s situation is different.  A kid living on the streets because his parents are on drugs is living a poor story at the fault of someone else.  Maybe you’re helping care for an elderly parent and all of your time is consumed.  Or a mentally ill child.  I don’t know what you’ve got going on and I’m not trying to knock you over the head. We each move at our own pace.  I just want to say that if you WANT to go back to school, go back. Apply for those grants and scholarships you don’t think you’ll get.  If you apply and don’t get them you won’t be any worse off than not applying at all, now will you? Talk to your supervisor about a raise. Talk to your GM about a promotion. Write the book. Message the girl/guy.  Dye your hair. Grow a beard. A really cool beard. Not that wimpy beard. No one likes wimpy beards. And make sure you condition it and keep it moisturized.  Enter that competition. Get out there and make a fool of yourself. I do it all the time. It’s not even intentional. At some point I just end up doing it…..

I’m starting to get flustered. I can’t really recall where I was going with this post, but that’s probably the result of watching this new show on ID while writing this post.  Hopefully when I come back tomorrow I’ll have a clear head. I’m still trying to work on this bad habit of tossing in profanity. I’m trying, y’all…..