Keith, where ever you are and what ever you’re doing, take a moment to listen to this. I’m about to share news with you that you probably already know. On July 10, 2019 at 7:58 PM, you became a grandfather. His name is Raymond Keith Foy, and he was born a healthy 7 lbs, 3 oz. Your daughter is now a mother.
I’ve tried hard to disconnect the feelings of losing you from the joy of this new life. I have to confess, it has been difficult. I know I felt joy at the news that Christie was getting married. I felt the lose of you not being there to walk her down the aisle. I have not spoken to Brandon in over five years. We both missed you so deeply that we could not see each other’s pain. We could not understand the hateful things we were saying and doing to each other while wearing our blinders of grief. More than anything, he reminds me of you in so many ways, it hurt to be around him. I have to confess – I know very little of how your children are doing, feeling, thriving in this world we must maneuver. I know I promised you I would look out for them. I apologize – I have not held up my end of the bargain on that. I should have known that I couldn’t. After all, there are some people who are the glue that holds everyone around them together. You were one of those people.
I can tell you that from what I do know, they never needed me looking out for them. From what I can gather, Christie is as smart as ever and fell in love with an awesome guy with an awesome family. A family that added a new member 10 days ago. Brandon gets more handsome every day, loves music and concerts, and travels a lot like his father did. They are thriving, despite my absence, or maybe because of my absence. It does not change the fact that I think of them often, praying that they have everything they could possibly need to live a happy life in the absence of their father.
So, putting all those feeling of grief and guilt aside, I need to share a few thoughts with your grandson, Keith.
Baby Ray, you are loved beyond words. You have one really cool grandmother, Denise, who is over the moon with joy that you exist. You are surrounded by your father and his family, who will forever protect and care for you. You won the mother lottery. I knew shortly after getting to know her that she is so very special in so many different ways. I can see her being one of those Panda-Tiger hybrid moms – neither to overbearing or to soft. Just right. She’ll make it magically better when you are down, or sick, or wounded. If you end up playing soccer or lacrosse, she’s gonna yell at you from the side lines and bring a marine cooler full of juice boxes and trail mix, cause that’s what her dad did. She’ll make faces at you that will have you giggling for hours. She’ll show you what it means to work hard and get ahead in this world. You will apprentice with her in the art of dog love, which comes naturally to her. One warning – Don’t lie or cheat or bull shit her – cause your mother will call you out on it in a heartbeat. Know that she has the softest heart and the toughest mind. She comes by it honestly, thanks to your grandfather. Oh – and he’s keeping an eye on you too.
There is a silence in the air, hovering over an empty house in Parsonsburg. A hush lingers over the lake that rolls gently away from its backyard. The corn hole boards are tucked away and the kayaks are hiding in a shed. This time last year, I was putting the finishing touches on my pasta salad, sealing it up in my giant green bowl. This time last year, I was preparing for the ultimate fireworks show at Bill’s house. Thursday of last year, Gary, David and I went over for the annual tent raising ceremony. A ceremony we particiapted in with a tall glass of fun with a splash of obligation. It was our tiny contribution to a massive undertaking that occurred the first Saturday after the 4TH of July without fail. always followed with a tailgate party where the cold beer and random conversations flowed easily. Even during this preshow game gathering, Bill was not capable of sitting still. He had already spent weeks powerwashing the house, cleaning and scrubbing every nock and cranny, pulling out the chairs and tables, shopping for tiki lamps, and stocking up on ice for the drinks.
Shortly after meeting Gary, he introduced me to his friend Bill. He joined us on one of our first motorcycle rides to Chincoteague. Bill was late. Something I would learn about Bill over time – he was always late, except when it came to the fireworks. He was always on time for that. We made it as far as the Royal Farms on Route 13 before we ran out of time, turned around and headed home. As we got back on the bikes, I managed to put my helmet on backwards. Bill caught me in the act and busted out laughing.
That same year, I was invited to my first fireworks show at Bill’s house. Back then, he hadn’t built the dock yet. So he loaded up a little wooden boat with the fireworks and set them off on the lake. Danger was his middle name. He learned quickly and built a dock to light the fireworks safely from land. Then there was the year that one fell over and almost lite up the whole dock, so I guess we were all lucky that he walked away burn free. There was a feast of pot luck treats as well as chicken that he grilled all morning long. The following year, I had gotten to know Bill well enough to ask if I could put Keith’s ashes in one of the rockets. Keith’s love of pyrotechnics rivaled Bill’s, although he never put on a show quite like this one. He got to go out with a bang on that night though.
That’s Keith in that Firework. Don’t worry, Cow didn’t go with him.
Each and every year we showed up. Each and every year, we were not disappointed. A couple of years ago, he let me launch my kayak, the USS Pink Panther, on her maiden voyage. It was always amazing to see the show. Be a part of it all. Bill shined everytime. Even that year when the cop showed up and shut us down.
We’ve all heard the phrase, it sucks getting older. I find that it is more than the aches and paines, the bad eyes, the need for more naps that sucks. Its also that fact that we have to stand witness to losing those we love. Having to live long enough to say goodbye to mothers, fathers, and best friends. There will be no fireworks this Saturday. There will be a deafening silence over the lake that witnessed so much laughter and love, chicken and pot luck. Bill – you better be putting on one hell of a show where ever you are. And my wish for you is that tomorrow, right around 4:00 PM and ending at 10:00 PM, it rains its ass off here, so you won’t feel bad about missing the party.
Ahhhh – 4TH of July. Summer break has officially arrived. Every year, my job shuts down everything for one week. This week. A glorious week, and it isn’t even over. But I digress
– Dear Teacher, this is what I did on my summer break:
On the eve of summer break, Friday, June 28th to be precise, Gary, Zach, Rhonda and David all celebrated my promotion at work with a visit to the Koto steak house. Unbeknowst to me, Rhonda had never been to a Hibachi grill before. So we made the chef throw all the food at her. He also threw it at us. Gary and David were the only ones to successfully capture the grilled treats hands free. Proving, once again, that they were indeed related. The rest of the table was busy picking zucchini off the floor. The chairs were so low, I felt like a kid at the big people’s table. Zach was really the only one tall enough to see over the grill. Rhonda almost got a booster seat from the stack lined up along the wall. I contemplated getting one for a fleeting moment, until I visualized my butt getting stuck in it. I’m not sure they had enough butter and oil behind the grill to get me back out. After the onion volcano and the spinning egg trick, the chef pulled out a giant squirt bottle. He presented it to Gary with just one word – “sake?”. Gary said “sure.” and what followed was surely a carnival side show. Our chef squirted the sake across the grill and straight into Gary’s open mouth. I kept waiting for one of them to tap out, but both kept going for a while. When it was over, Gary swallowed, shook his head, blinked his eyes, and said “that really was sake!”
I was missing my Easton friends – Katie, Jay, their son Landon, Ginny, and Agent J. It had been 8 years since I last stepped foot in a Japanese steak house. We’d meet up at In Japan frequently, at Keith’s insistence. There was the birthday cake incident – for Brandon’s birthday, we brought a cake. Our waitress dropped it, and rushed out to the Acme to replace it. The cake department was closed so she had to buy a tub of that gel writing icing to write happy birthday on it. We razed her endlessly and thankfully, we were the kind of regulars that knew she had a sense of humor about it.
The next morning, I hid all the piles of stuff. Cramming shoes into closets, hanging up winter coats that took up residency on the backs of the dining room chairs, and throwing out coupons I was saving that had expired in May. I packed up pepsi, cool ranch Doritos, a few rice crispy treats and made my way to the Salisbury zoo to meet Karen and her daughters. It was hot. Yet I didn’t care because I knew how much Piper, Karen’s magical special Autistic daughter, loved going to the zoo. Not only would I get to see the bison, bears, and flamingos in their natural habitat, I’d also be able to visit with my best friend while seeing Piper in a place she was comfortable being in. The bonus of the day was getting to know more about Bronwyn. I never had an opportunity to spend as much time with her as I did that day. There is something so stayed about her, so quiet and strong. She is growing up to be a beautiful smart lady, just like her mom.
Piper decided she was tired of the zoo. “Hot” and “Sweaty” and “Bath” were her exact words. We made our way back to their car for the Pepsi and Cool Ranch Doritos. These were the items on my Friday grocery list after asking Karen what Piper liked to eat. Oh – and spaghetti! Piper agreed to let her mom and I visit a little longer when we asked her if she would like to have spaghetti at my house. She said “Yes”. So we made our way back to the house, where we dined on spanakopita, left over hibachi rice and vegetables from the night before, and one can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs. Gary saw the can and reminisced about eating tasty Chef Boyardee for dinner many a night growing up. He did get into the other cans I had gotten a couple of nights later, and his childhood memories were tarnished a bit, when he realized they weren’t that tasty. Karen and I couldn’t get enough hugs in. Our visits are always that way. Maybe because we can’t get enough time with each other, so we soak up every minute we do have. After the last hug, there’s that moment when we tell each other “I needed this”.
Sunday found Gary and I in his sister’s pool. Ed and Terry were full of stories and fun, as always. Gary shared our story from Koto, while their dog, Baxter sipped from our beers. “Good Dog.” We talked about some of the upcoming shows at the Freeman Stage. Ed recommended a restaurant, Pit and Pub, and I knew I had to try it out as soon as he mentioned collard greens. I have a weakness for collard greens with tons of vinegar. We pigged out and still carried home a big box of brisket.
I was missing Marsha, who traveled all the way to the Freeman stage to watch Rick Springfield with Rhonda and I. We haven’t done our annual Rick Springfield concert. Mostly because he isn’t playing locally. Marsha is amazing to watch at those concerts – sings and dances to every song played. She’s a better fan than I. That’s what I love the most about her.
Tuesday rolled around to find Rhonda and I on the beach at Assateague. It was a long overdue chill out for us. I had just wrapped up the busy season at work and this was, after all, day 4 of my summer break. Just like my visit with Karen, I needed this too. Unlike Karen, she lives right around the corner from me. Crazy how day to day life rolls uncontrollably along and we find ourselves going days, weeks and months without our human connections. The very ones that keep us sane. The ones that remind us that its only life after all, and there should be more laughter, more smiles, more joy – the magical friendship kind.
After a morning of burying Cow up to his hooves in the sand and stalking a crab that crawled all over the little bovine friend; and catching up on all of our who, where, when and hows of the past few months, we made our way to the outlets. Disclaimer – I love shopping, Rhonda – well – not so much. She was a trooper though. I dragged her into every clothing store on a mission to find shorts. When I wasn’t successful in that mission, I shifted gears and went for shoe shopping. Once I had purchased my new shoes, I dragged her into Bath and Body works and made her smell everything. “What ya think of this one.” I’d ask. “It smells more like watermelon then lemon.” she said. “I agree!” and then I’d drag her off to the next store.
I was missing Kitson. She is another friend that is always willing to entertain my random adventures. Well, except for that time at the Ocho Ria falls, she was pretty much fed up with me then. But that’s a story for another day. Kitson has otherwise been another trooper. She helped me track down every flat penny machine I could find at Disney Springs but unlike Rhonda and shopping, I might have gotten her hooked on flat pennies.
And this is the portion of the story where I tell on myself. Day 1 – I applied sunscreen diligently before going to the zoo (which by the way was shady). Day 2 – I applied sunscreen diligently before going to Ed and Terry’s and hopping in their pool (which by the way was only an hour swim). Day 4 – an entire morning spent in direct sunlight with white sand and sparkly water reflecting happy rays all over me and what do I do? Yes, I did apply sunscreen, but apparently not diligently enough. By the time I got home, I had managed to burn my armpits, shins and big toe on both feet. That’s it. Everything else survived. You would think that a 50 year old woman would remember armpits shins and toes (this is starting to sound like a song). Gary was voted the best boyfriend ever after applying the aloe.
Which brings me to Day 5. Mammogram day. I was grateful for the fact that the armpit burn was far enough away from the breast as it got squished. That would have taken the discomfort of the process to a whole new level. I met a nervous lady in the waiting room after I returned from the squish. She said “that didn’t take long”. Sometimes I don’t have a filter – without knowing her circumstances, I blurted out “that’s cause they only had to do one.” Thank goodness she took that as an opening to ask questions, which I gladly answered. She had traveled from Southern Maryland and we compared travel time. We chatted away about this and that and mostly breast cancer before I was called back the second time to consult with the radiologist. All was good. No change and no cancer. I said goodbye to my new waiting room friend and made my way to check out. As soon as I had wrapped up there, waiting room friend had come out as well. All was good. No change and no cancer. We hugged each other – 2 strangers with something in common – and I never got her name. As I got on the elevator, there was a passenger already on board. A beautiful blonde women in a beautiful pink dress. “You got sun, that’s so great! I’m always so pale and jealous of those that get in the sun” she said to me. I told her “a little too much sun”. Thankfully, she couldn’t see the bright pink patches on my shins.
On the ride home, I was missing all my friends. Those that I visited on my summer break and those that I could only visit with in mind. Something about my conversation with waiting room friend or something in the comment made by elevator lady. I was feeling a little proud, maybe downright cocky, about how I put a smile on their faces. Maybe even gave them a little giggle to think on after the drive home, the dinner, the reclining on the couch at the end of a long day. I was missing the friends even more as I sat in 4th of July traffic on the bay bridge. I had this crystal clear image of me struggling through my trials, yet always landing on my feet. Remembering that my friends have struggled themselves, with some of the same trials I have faced, and some very different ones. We have lost husbands, mothers, cousins, sisters, and countless friends. We have struggled to keep our children healthy and happy. We have balanced budgets and bought the cheap toilet paper and gone without to keep the roof over our heads. When it’s all said and done, I would have never landed on my feet if they had not been there to catch me.
I still have 4 days of my summer break to go. But that will be a story for another day.
…remains in motion. I have been told many times recently that I am that object. I can’t totally be blamed for all the motion. We are in our busy season at Lifetouch. There are underclass students, classroom groups, sporting events, and homecomings that need to be captured, immortalized for generations to come.
Some of my motion I learned from Keith. We called him Tigger because he was always in motion, almost to the point of being a blur. I was never a morning person but that didn’t stop him from bounding into the bedroom way earlier than I was prepared for, setting a steaming hot cup of coffee on the night stand, inches from my face. It was a strategic maneuver for sure. I couldn’t resist and was sitting up as he asked me when I was going to get out of bed. As we would start the day, I’d lounge around the house while he whirl winded about. And then he got sick. Like a relay race, I had no choice but to grab the baton from him. Be the strong anchor for the final stretch. As he ceased to be in motion, I became the one to remain in motion. So in some strange way, I inherited my tendency to not stand still from him.
But what I’m really here to touch on – what has weighed heavy on me, maybe even slowing down my trajectory, is all the objects in my life that are no longer in motion.
Last night, Gary’s mom, Momma Shirley, breathed her last breath. I pray that this is the end cap of a long series of people who are no longer in motion in 2017. It was peaceful and calm. Very similar to my Mom-Mom’s passing in March. She was our first one to leave us this year. One matriarch in the Spring and one in the Fall.
And those that died in between – here I will give each of them pause. Their condensed eulogy. First, Dave (AKA Fruit) a drummer supreme, and a total nut, and a musical genius, lost his battle to cancer in April. He was 53. There was Asa, a name from my far distant youth, who was probably the most creative force of nature I had ever witnessed. I still have cards he made and carvings he did. He was in his 60’s. Then Kim, with her kilowatt smile and heart as big as the sky, was in a hit and run accident on Mothers Day. She was taken from us the next day. She was 48. Harry was in a fatal motorcycle accident in August. He practically lived on his bike so it seemed fitting that he would die riding. I always marveled at his under spoken nature and sweet awkward shyness. He had just retired from the army and was enjoying life to the fullest. He was 48. In September, Eileen lost her battle with Cancer. Her spirit was as strong as the moose gifts she would hand out for all the special occasions. In the words of her brother “the world is down one good person – everyone do your part to pick up the slack.” She was in her 50’s. Aunt Donna was in a car accident that killed her instantly one week later. She struggled after Uncle Mike died. She’s back in his arms and safe once more. And in between Eileen and Donna, Great Uncle Don left us. Between Aunt Donna and Momma Shirley, it was Great Uncle Dayton’s turn to say goodbye.
Meanwhile, in the land of the living, a few of my photography assignments took me back to my old High School – Colonel Richardson. On the first visit I ran across Cynthia. We graduated together and found paths crossing again when I worked for the law firm in Easton. She has always looked just like she did way back in the day. I’m a little jealous but still enjoy talking with her. Her voice is always so quiet and soothing. On my return to the school, I ran across Tommy. He used to hang out with me and my brother when we lived on the farm in Choptank. His father rented our shop and while he was hard at work, Tommy would play with Lance. Now he’s all grown up and the band teacher at Colonel. He reminded me of the time Lance squished his hand with a rock. We were kinda, ok – maybe a lot – mean to him. But he turned out pretty cool. Today, I’m in St. Michaels. Melissa got her picture taken and we did a selfie with Cow to send to Katie. Her kids are growing up so fast. So is Katie’s son, Landon. Then Tom stopped by. Hands down, he was my favorite teacher on the planet. I credit him with starting me on the path to theater. My first loved career. They are all in motion. Just like me. And it is pure joy to intersect with them from time to time. Reminding me that we are all still in motion, bouncing off briefly from each other. Gaining a little energy from the impact to keep us going. Those that have left will have to wait a little longer for us. It is not our time.
It was Mom-Mom’s time. It was Momma Shirley’s time. Mom-Mom got everything ready for those that followed her. Momma Shirley has just arrived to catch them all up on the land of the living. These two mothers never met. But I was always aware of two similarities they had. Both could hear 20 conversations at once from the opposite end of the house. Both could talk endlessly about everything under the sun. There could not be a better beginning or end to this year of loss than those two mothers. We will eternally have the two greatest listeners keeping an ear out for us. Two of the greatest talkers to visit our dreams with stories of those no longer in motion, and of course, to occasionally give us our dose of motherly grief. Two matriarchs of so much more than their own families – eternally cheering us on as we remain in motion. For however long that may be.
Often, time feels like its falling through the hourglass faster than it should. We are in Senior season at LifeTouch. A steady stream of the class of 2018 are rolling in the door, full of their future dreams and young energy. There holds for them a kind of promise of all things possible and for a while, we are given the gift of capturing that in a photograph. In those moments, the hourglass stops. Everything stands still and as my shutter clicks, I soak in all that energy and promise. I’ve enjoyed all the conversations with their families, so reminiscent of when I was looking at those proofs of my son, almost in tears.
Very little has changed since I had my Senior photos taken over 30 years ago, and it stirs in me my own still frames. I can still clearly remember the shock on my face as they held up that scrap of velvet fabric and I had to bear my shoulders so they could wrap me in it. I felt so awkward and yet, when the proofs arrived, it was one of the rare times in my young life that I was enamered with my own image.
I need to have these moments right now. I need to visit those moments that sit at the bottom of the hourglass. In the last month, I have stood witness to Fruit leaving us before his 54th birthday. A friend of Gary’s suddenly lost her husband who was only in his early 40s. On Mothers Day, a friend was in a hit and run accident. She was posting on Facebook about how angry she was. How her back was sore but otherwise, she was ok. She grumbled in the early hours of the next day about her struggle to get comfortable so she could get some sleep. On Monday morning, she died. Just like that. Her hourglass had run out. She was 5 months younger than me. That same rage that I felt for Fruit welled up again.
So it seems fitting that on the heels of Seniors, I step into wedding season. Weddings are, by far, my favorite subject to photograph. I’m covering three of them this June. One for each departed soul who carried out their vows of “till death do you part”. It feels like a reset button for me. As if capturing all the joy and love of those moments can ease this anger I feel for those other three. But even then, there are freeze frame images of my own wedding to Keith. The knowledge that his hourglass ran out over 5 years ago and I still find myself wanting to flip it and start it over again. That sensation of working late nights and climbing into bed next to Gary, who long ago had fallen asleep, and pressing my hand against him to feel the warmth as I listen to him breath. Finding myself praying that there will be endless moments for us to share and knowing that there are no guarantees of it happening.
And yet, there is still that young girl graduating, moving on to college and marriage and motherhood, who will always believe in the impossible. That still carries with her the energy and dreams and promises of her future. Her hourglass filled with millions and billions of stars. Each one falling with its own color and light. Some so brilliant they burn out as they fall. Others softly glowing and almost floating as they fall. Mixed in with them are those occasional dark dense stars that weight on my soul. We all have them, I guess. But when I look at the cacophony of everything as it falls, it is so breathtakingly beautiful. A sign of a well lived life, full of love. They are still falling and for that, I relish what I have now. No matter what it is.
….Hot summer nights, mid July, when you and I were forever wild….Hot summer days, Rock n roll, the way you played for me at your show, and all the ways I got to know the pretty face and electric soul….(Young and Beautiful, Lana Del Rey)
I meet him in the summer of ’87. A world away in a time that has slipped through my mind’s fingers faster and faster as the years rolled by. He was a goofy looking guy pumping gas at a local station in St. Michaels. I was waiting tables in a tiny little tourist pub. Our friend Chris was the connection. We had met the summer before bussing tables at a great big giant tourist pub. The how and when we met escapes me. The challenge he issued never has. He called me dull and straight laced. He told me I couldn’t be wild and let my hair down. I countered that I could and he told me to prove it by going on a date with him. I accepted the challenge and showed up as he was getting off work, wearing turquoise jams with huge lotus flowers printed all over embarrassing places topped with a hot pink shirt with a tail that went down to my knees, and the hair of course – loose and wild and big. The look on his face was of total shock. He had never seen me outside of the constrains of the dull and straight laced waitress uniform I wore. So there I stood, clearly the winner of the challenge, grinning that crazy little grin while he took in the sight of this strange Freshman coed girl-woman. He smelled of petrol and was wearing his uniform over worn out jeans with no knees left, with his name stitched on the breast pocket – David – but I will forever know him as Fruit.
So began the summer romance. My friends Karen and Chris were already a tad attracted to each other and the natural course of a foursome was formed. Chris was a big 3 stooges fan and Fruit would follow suit with all the antics and “wise guy” skits. Like Larry and Moe without curly and two young girls home for summer break their only witnesses to the show. We’d get off work and hang out on the back of Chris’ truck in a corn field while the boys played guitars. Every once in a while, the boys would wander off to use the “facilities” and would loudly announce “ok evil Corn People. Stay away from our women while we’re gone. Don’t murder them with an ax. We got to get them home in one piece.” Some nights we spent at Fruit’s house, listening to Pink Floyd or any music with an impressive guitar solo or drum solo that could be played over and over again. Larry Chris and Moe Fruit going “hey, hey, listen to this part”. One night Chris fell over Fruit’s drum set. And I quote “if you need me . . . .boom bang crash clang…..I’ll be outside”. We laughed at him for what felt like hours. We came out of the movies in the pouring rain to find Karen’s Mach with a flat tire. Fruit and Chris jumped right in to fix it as we all stood around getting soaked to the bone. Karen turned to me and whispered “I think they’re putting it on backwards.” I agreed and we both pointed out the mechanical error. We were told we didn’t know what we were talking about. OK – we stood there in silence and watched the struggle until there was nothing dry on any of us. They turned it around and it slipped right on. More laughter except this time, only from the girls. All of us were so alive and young. Our world shimmered and sparkled. We didn’t have a care in the world.
To an 18 year old, time feels like it can stretch out forever. That summer seemed to never end. But summer became fall and back to school we went. Fruit and I still saw each other when we could and reconnected the next summer. People commented on our “quirky cuteness” and said we looked just like Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks. We fell in love, briefly. We’d challenge each other with our devotional statements. I love you most…. I love you more…..I love you to infinity……I love you to infinity X 2. Boom! Can’t top that, now can you? Fruit was first to coin the infinity X 2 phrase. It was his go to. Infinity doesn’t last as long as we want. Only as long as we need it to. We drifted away and the shimmering summers we had faded into distant memories.
Our paths crossed again in 2000. We were different people and a little harder around the edges with what life had handed us. But there was comfort it recalling our youth. A kind of magic in recounting tales of our carefree days. He had all but shaken the nickname of all those years ago until I rolled into town, shouting FRUIT! How ya been? My nieces took music lessons from him and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop calling him Fruit in front of them. They giggled at their little inside secret information about Mr. David.
I had just wrapped up attending my Mom Mom’s service. There was a little breathing room between family visits on Sunday. That’s when my brother gave me the news. David had died on Saturday evening. I was angry. I’m still angry. And yet we knew he had cancer. We knew it didn’t look good. I’m angry for selfish reasons. He was my youth. He was suppose to be invincible, shining in the summer sun before things like being worried about bills, and our health, and climbing those stairs with our old knees kicked in. Fruit was the promise of what was to come, and was not allowed to live long enough to see it. And his wife? I’ve seen that pain. It hurts like hell. I’m angry that she has to go through it.
I need to replace the anger with something else. Take a breath. Let myself make a promise. Or more accurately, a challenge. Let us always live our youth, no matter our age. Live like we’re on summer break and there are no cares in this shimmery shiny world. Challenge ourselves and our friends to step out of the dull box. Stop to laugh at the fall and the flat and the dark things in the corn field that scare us. Let us love to Infinity X 2.
The caption in my scrapbook for this picture reads “Nothing better than Pepsi and Fruit”
I was photographing a soccer game. Focusing on the action on the field, conversations from the spectators floated to me as they usually do. One kid asked his mom for a few dollars to use at the concession stand. A dad was pacing up and down the side lines giving advice to his son. A few girls giggled as they held up their cell phones to each other. A woman was sharing a friend’s trials with her neighbor. Side by side, they sat in the standard issue game watcher’s folding chairs. “She lost her husband to cancer last year.” she explained. “Pancreatic cancer.” Then she went on. “She beat breast cancer. Her hair is finally growing back in, but she just found out her mother has breast cancer.”
For the first time in over a year, I was struck with that eerie sense of – I don’t even know what I would call it. Not dejavue, or irony, or coincidence. More the sensation of being connected to something bigger and yet, disconnected from all of the world. I froze behind the lens, playing back my own husband’s death, my breast cancer, my mother’s breast cancer. I almost felt haunted for a split second, and then I was overwhelmed with the urge to introduce myself so I could share our similarities. But sometimes being connected to something bigger while disconnecting from the world sticks me in my head, to be alone with those thoughts. I didn’t want to approach them. That could either lead to them asking who that crazy lady was or all of us chatting away until we felt obligated to exchange phone numbers or worse, friend each other on Facebook.
I wanted my Parallel life to remain anonymous to me. And yet, a million questions bubbled to the surface of my brain. Questions like, when he drew his last breath, did you feel as if you would stop breathing too? Then the days rolled into weeks and months and did you find yourself still moving? Still breathing? Still living despite the heavy weight of grief sitting on your chest?
Did you discover your cancer just as the weight was losing its grip on you? With the diagnoses, did a strange sort of fearlessness fall over you? As if to say that losing him braced you for this. This next round of your trials. Did you somehow know in the depths of your mind that your struggle would be easier than his? You intrinsically knew that you would survive. You knew you had to for his sake so that you could fulfill those promises you whispered to him at his bedside. The promises to live in every moment of every day. Did you promise to carry on without him as if he were still by your side? Surrounded by people who love you, were you finding yourself lifting their spirits along with yours? Because you remembered all to well what it was like to care for someone with cancer. Because you now understood that fighting cancer is sometimes easier than caring for someone with it.
Did you feel like some strange reversal of fate was unravelling before you when you got the news about your mother? As if time had suddenly gone backwards and sideways until you thought you must have fallen down the rabbit hole, only to have your mother follow you. Meanwhile, did your father stand by both of you, despite his fear of losing both wife and daughter?
Those questions will never be answered by that mystery woman. My parallel life. I know I’ve answered them again and again. Those answers seem to morph with each experience I encounter. One answer will always stay the same. It can answer thousands of questions thrown about like confetti. It makes us all a little more human. It connects us to the air we breath and the ground we walk on. All that has gone behind us and will go before us has happened to another human in another time and in another space. With all that we feel, all our joys and all our sorrows, comes one true thing – somewhere, someone out there is experiencing the same thing. We are not alone.