Monday, March 29, 2010

the end is the beginning

You know, it’s not the loss that hits first. It’s the pain. The pain that doubles you over and wrings more tears from your eyes than you ever thought possible.

My dad died on October 2, 2007. It was a normal day, just like any other. A Tuesday. I was at work; I was always one of the first people to get to work, which I liked because I could goof off for a solid hour before my boss got there. It was just after eight when my mom called.

“Your dad is in the hospital again.”

I sighed. This was a pretty common occurrence over the past several years. To be honest, we’d gotten used to it. My dad was diabetic, and not the best ever. He’d gone into renal failure several years ago, and was on dialysis. It took my mom forever to convince him to even go on the donor list; they’d already turned down one kidney (with good reason, actually). My uncle offered up a kidney, but when they started the testing on him they discovered that he was diabetic too.

My uncle, of course, manages to be the epitome of the perfect T2 diabetic.

In August of that year, they gave my dad a kidney. He spent a solid two months in the hospital, with one brief trip home. He was back again the next day, because he had a major low and my mom had to call 911 on him.

He was finally home for real at the end of September. The kidney had finally woken up (translation: started working on its own), and things were looking up. There were about a bajillion tests that would have to be done. For months my dad would have to be at some doctor’s or another at least once a week.

Only none of that happened.

I remember going to the bathroom shortly after I got to the hospital. My mom was sitting in the waiting room, her only comment to me upon my arrival about how quickly I’d gotten there. I didn’t ask what had happened, and she didn’t tell me (until later).

I remember seeing the “Family Room” near the bathroom and thinking to myself that’s the room they take you in to tell you your loved one didn’t make it.

Guess where we ended up?

They let my mom go back to see him, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to see my dad on some hospital gurney, full of tubes, empty of life. So I stayed in that room and cried and cried and cried.

The rest of that week is mostly blurred, and that’s probably for the best. I remember going to the airport that night to pick up my aunt, who changed the flight she’d been about to get on when my mom called to come out East. I remember that my grandparents both came, even though none of us expected to, and all three of my mom’s brothers.

But most of all, I remember the dreams that I had. They were the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had in my entire life. My dad stuck around for that week before his funeral. I don’t know if anyone else realized it, but I am nearly positive of it. I dreamed about him every single night that week, and it was like being awake.

And they weren’t the nightmares you might expect of a girl who’d just lost her father, right when she thought he was taking a turn for the better. They were the most cherished dreams I’ve ever had. It’s hard to explain, honestly. And it’s not even that I remember them exactly, but they were all the same:

I was at home, as was everyone else who was staying at the house (which was way too many people for such a tiny house). They were like repeating the day I’d just had, only my dad was there.

“But Dad,” I would say to him, “you know you’re dead, right?” Not one for subtlety in dreams, am I?

He would answer in the affirmative.

“Then what are you doing here?”

He would shrug and smile, and never actually answered the question, even though I’m pretty sure I asked him that every night.

I’m pretty sure that he was just hanging out, making sure we’d all be ok. I doubt he was ready to go when he died (we’re pretty sure the anti-rejection meds caused a massive heart attack. He’d had silent ones before, several times, and I guess this was the big one). So he stuck around for several days to keep an eye on us.

I remember that he was, well, I’m not sure that happy is the right word for it. But he was happier than I’d seen him in along time. In fact, he was more as I remember him being from when I was little. He smiled a lot more, and he felt a lot better all of the time. That is the Dad who was in my dreams.

He used to tickle my face with his whiskers when I was little. Every winter he’d grow out his beard. That’s one of my favorite memories.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Teenage Girls

I'm not a Taylor Swift fan, but she has one lyric that hit me like a punch to the gut when I first heard it, and it's still her only lyric that has that much of an effect on me: "When you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe them."

When I was fifteen, I lost my best friend because a boy told me he loved me and I believed him.

We'd only known each other since we were thirteen and I moved to town, she'd grown up there. We bonded in the way that shy, dorky girls in middle school who have glasses, braces, a large vocabulary and a wardrobe that doesn't quite fit anymore do. She was trying to hide the beginning of a stunning hourglass figure that she kept concealed all through high school, I was already within an inch of my full height and built like a whippet. Going into high school, we both joined marching band which only brought us closer together.

We talked all the time during our Freshman and Sophomore years. We had classes together that we'd spend writing notes to each other that we'd fold elaborately to hand to each other after class. We ate lunch together whenever possible, often sitting on the floor outside the band room to avoid the crowded, noisy cafeterias. We discussed crushes on the junior boys who had girlfriends, and then reassured each other that we were totally prettier/funnier/all together better than those girlfriends. She started a website devoted to competitive high school marching bands in our area and it was the first website I ever wrote for. We spent the night at each other's houses, spent lazy afternoons sitting around the school before band practice started rather than going home, and we longed for the days when we'd have real independence.

Then I got a boyfriend. A boy that another friend had dated previously, but who I'd been given her blessing to date. He was a year above me in school but about a year and a half older, had the kind of wonderfully fluffy hair that I'm still a sucker for on guys, and was moody in that way that's tragically appealing to teenage girls. Being with him was consuming. He called every night and insisted on talking for hours, at school he spent every possible minute next to me, if I couldn't get a ride to come hang out with him at the local music store while he played their store guitars for hours and expounded on all the ways his life was awful he took it as a personal affront. My friend didn't like him, and I knew that. I tried to find time to spend with her when he wasn't around, but he refused to not be around. It wasn't until I was well into college and shed of that relationship that I realized how controlling and manipulative that behavior was.

She never gave me an ultimatum. There was no confrontation, no "you're choosing him over me and that's wrong", no fight, she just drifted away. I kept trying to keep up with her, especially when he graduated and I had my time at school free again, but our friendship never recovered. By the time we left for college we were barely talking anymore, and the fact that she went to a school 40 minutes away and I went to one 18 hours away finished what that relationship had started.

I don't know if we would have made it if I'd broken up with the boy a few months into the relationship, or if I'd never dated him at all. I don't know if my going so far away to college would've ended the friendship just two years later no matter what. I just know that looking back I wish things had gone differently for so many reasons, but most of all I wish I had been a better friend.

But when you're fifteen and somebody tells you they love you, you're gonna believe them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


She's been looking at me for a while, her hand protectively holding her cheeky boy. I can almost see her as a child, with the same defiant expression looking equally cheeky. Tears start to well up again and my throat is tightening. She says nothing, her steady gaze and smile get me every time I look up.

Today, she has been gone exactly a year.

Her picture sits at my work desk more than a year and a half after she sent it to me. At first, it was an absent-minded accident that the picture ended up at my work desk. I had brought the picture to work so I could scan it when my home scanner was on the fritz. I left it propped against my monitor to motivate me through the last days of training; to remind me why I was doing something so foreign to me. All these months later, it's still there even though I need no reminder of the friend I lost too soon.

I could write volumes about her, and yet cannot say anything that doesn't sound ordinary in comparison to the real thing. It's hard to focus on eloquence when one's heart is this heavy and eyes are so blurry. But I don't need to write volumes about her now. If you knew her, you already know. And if you didn't, I don't want to make you sad that you missed out on something so amazing.

A friend

I'm not an emotional person. I don't wear my heart on my sleeve, but more likely buried under 14 layers of stuff. I don't cry often, and if I do, it's really bad. I generally chose to let things build up until I'd can't hide them anymore. It's not healthy nor ideal, but it's me. As a result, I have a hard time explaining my emotions and knowing how to react in emotional situations. The last time I can remember full out breaking down was exactly one year ago today.

A woman, whom I'd never met nor had an actual phone conversation with, lost her incredibly valiant fight with leukemia. Her name was Amanda, aka Alabama Pink. I'd read her blog for a very long time, shared emails and FB conversations with her. I felt like she was a friend, even if only in that odd way of the internet connection. I cared a great deal about her and I still do. She was funny, smart, with a wicked sharp wit, and a humor and grace about the worst parts of life that I can only hope to have should I find myself in a similar situation. She loved her husband and her son fiercely, and spoke about them so beautifully. Put simply, she was a beautiful person, inside and out.

When it was first made public knowledge that she was sick, I hoped like hell that it was minor and fixable. However, as the fog cleared and the picture became clearer, I was scared for her. She was what we in the south call " good people". Bad things shouldn't happen to good people. Every day, I'd look for a new blog from her or her husband, anxious for some news. I didn't know how to go about contacting them and I honestly didn't want to be the crazy lady poking around in someone else's business. When they posted about the genetics of her illness, I became even more scared (possibly because I'm an uber-geek and researched it). Out of all the cancers in my family, leukemia was a new one. I didn't know how to fight it. However, about 2 months after Manda's diagnosis, my father-in-law, a man I love quite a lot, was also diagnosed with leukemia, but a different type. I got a crash course in leukemia at that point. That year became a blur of leukemia updates, hospitals, and hope for Manda and my father-in-law. His CLL is currently in remission.

I followed Manda's journey of hospitals, clinical trials, and the search for treatment. Every time things went bad, I'd try to remain hopeful. After the Johns Hopkins mean doctor, I sent her an email with a funny photo, in what had to be a sad attempt to cheer her up. I didn't know what else to do and I felt like that may be the only thing I could do. She sent me back a lovely reply. Then, she went to Houston and I hoped things would turn out for the best. Her very last blog post about Barbara Bush being right down the road still makes me laugh. I have this idea of what she sounded like and what her laugh was like and hear that sound when I read it. It makes me smile. All of us know what followed. That morning, I got to work and logged onto FB and saw the Pajiba link. Audibly, I said "No". I went Pajiba, her blog, and finally her husbands. I broke down at my desk for a long time. I couldn't stop crying. I felt like a fool crying for someone I'd never met. I didn't know how to explain it. She was one of the nicest people I've ever had the privileged of knowing, even if only in limited capacity. I still think about her often. I'd love to know how she would have felt about the Alice In Wonderland movie. Miss you Manda.