Totally unrelated to knitting

Friday, August 17, 2007

For those here for the knitting: I'm still finishing the sleeve of my Minimalist Cardigan. The moss stitch that I was so enamored with at the beginning is now pure slog material. Thankfully I am almost up to the armpit... the rest of the post will likely be depressing, so if you're having a bad day, turn back now (but visit later if you don't mind.)

When I was born, all my brothers and sister were a lot older than me - I even have a photo of my oldest brother, Robbie, proud in his Navy uniform, and me as a toddler in what I *think* were my Easter dress clothes. Because of the age difference (and the fact that my half-siblings lived with their respective "other" parents most of my life), we weren't close. They looked out for me, babysat me when needed, and kept me entertained. But I never had a chance to know them the way most kids know their brothers and sister. There were no intimate, secret bond; the only shared activity I remember was brushing my sister's long, thick hair when she was thirteen. I know we must have been friends, because I don't remember any fighting, but like I said... I was really young when we all lived together.

The year I turned 8 (and I don't remember the date or season, if that tells you anything) my parents came to pick me up from school, early. That NEVER happened. Those of you who had working parents know what I mean when I say that you just KNOW something is wrong if they are there. I remember I had been playing, and the woman at the checkout desk gave me a weird, pitying look when I came through the door. My parents were standing there, as close as they could with becoming siamese twins. Just by looking at their faces, you couldn't really tell what was going on... no tears or anything dramatic like that. Just white faced and stony. When we got out of the school, they told me my next eldest brother, Jason, had been killed.

It's a weird feeling, being a kid and experiencing death. On one hand, you don't really understand the ramifications; at 8 you know what happens when you die, but there's a part of you, too, that can't comprehend the finality. He had picked on me a little the last time I had seen him, blaming me for ruining the guest towels (he skinned his elbow or knee, then wiped the blood off on them) and so to be honest, I wasn't that sad. I didn't get what it meant, of course, only that he had been mean and now had been hurt somehow. (I'm sure this sounds bizarre to you all.. maybe I was just a weird kid?)

We didn't talk about it much. I'm sure my parents spent a lot of time huddled in their room, and I lay awake for a few nights, but there was no real communication about it. I'm sure the wound was so raw for my dad (his father) that he was still processing it as well. Add to it that he died horribly - his spine crushed by a tractor during a Halloween hay ride - and knowing that he had survived for 45 minutes afterward. it was just a shock, pure and simple. Even later, at the funeral, I could not sit still. I made my sister (his sister) come outside and play with me, both of us in our dress clothes. I can't remember crying either.

Fast forward three years; my family has been recovering, though a silence has settled over the house and no one talks about anything but my horrible academic performance (they were nice about it, and helped any way they could, but I just didn' or our cats, or food, etc. Anything deeper was simply danced around. In the middle of the night (we're living with my grandfather while our very own house, the first one! is being built) I'm awakened by my dad. "Come downstairs," he says, in a strange voice.

The next part is blurry, but I'm standing in the doorway of the kitchen (which has one of those dutch doors that splits in half) and my mom has her feet curled up under her in the big stuffed chair. Her face looks awful and I just knew. I remember crossing my arms, mostly to keep it all together. "Robbie's dead," she squeaks out. (My mom is not a squeaker in any sense.) "How?" I ask, and I'm told his jeep flipped over into a ditch, and the safety equipment installed failed miserably, meaning a lot of steel squished him. He hadn't been drinking; he had only been reaching over to change a cd, and turned the wheel accidentally when he had done so. It never ceases to amaze me how large things can come to nothing, and small actions can have the biggest consequences...

Oddly, I don't remember anything after that point. Not because I fainted or anything dramatic like that, but my mind fast-forwards over the blank parts until I go back to school. I should mention that the back patio of my grandfather's house had hand-poured slabs, made by my older siblings in funny shapes that locked together like puzzle pieces. In each one were names, handprints, etc. It got ripped up when the deck was put down for the new owner, years later...

When I get to school, people know. I am treated differently, and am forced to work with a counselor because my school performance is so dismal. I get special treatment, getting missed assignments forgiven. If I get scolded, I tear up, get sent to an office, and get out of whatever trouble I was in. I read books under my desk during math, and ignored whatever instructions I was given. I lied about having done homework, and was a major pain in the ass. I really feel sorry for my parents now, having that to deal with on top of everything else. I don't think anyone ever talked to me directly about what had happened, they only talked about school. I hated it; having that feeling that teachers talk about you in the lounge and having nothing be private.

My school performance got better, if only because I graduated into high school (barely *sigh*) Most teachers didn't know anything about me then, other than the fact that my dad was a counselor at the same school. I didn't carry as much of the baggage to the new breed. I joined the Creative Coalition, lead by my English teacher who is so similar to Lupin from Harry Potter it's scary (he's not a werewolf though, of course!) I met other kids who had had screwed up childhoods, and they got where I was coming from, and treated me like a friend, not someone with a disease.

You'd think I'd had my fill by then... but no. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer that year. I was so used to being a grown up that when my parents told me, I simply said "Well, you'll probably want some time to be alone together. I'll be staying at [neighborhood friend]'s house tonight." Nothing much more was said, though I knew of course that she was nauseous a lot, had a million doctor's appts to go to, etc. Teachers inevitably found out (I think they may have called the school) and I got asked "How's your mom?" with regularity. The sad thing was, I didn't know. In my mind, she was either fine and just going through another rough time, or she was on the verge of death. My English teacher even had us read a book about cancer in which the person dies on the operating table in the end, something I think was totally inappropriate and still irritates me. But, I had friends, ones who knew me as more than "that girl" and I had the Creative Coalition. All the poems and stories I wrote were about people going through shit times, then having epiphanies or lucky breaks. and I actually won a couple awards, which was nice for my ego. I was nominated for a leadership award my sophomore year (something I don't think I deserved, but I think the school counselor saw in me a lot of raw energy that could be used for good *grin*) and attended a seminar on that, which exposed me to a lot of very driven, charismatic kids. I was surprised to find that many of them had grown up in less than desirable circumstances too.

There have been a few blessings that came out of so much trauma - I can roll with just about anything. Father breaks his neck? As long as he's alive, it's all good. Boyfriend leaves you? Well, obviously he wasn't any good after all. Emotionally, I'm very strong, and I recognize the need to just get it out there. When someone I meet has been having a rough time of it, I'm prepared. (Don't say you understand, or anything else that isn't true. Just be there, squeeze their hand, and treat them like you always would, and maybe a little gentler.) I'm not afraid of anything for longer than a moment or two. I appreciate what I have, no matter how much or little. I've learned to let go with grace when it's time, rather than with an iron grip that must be pried off one finger at a time.

If you or someone that you've met are having a rough time for whatever reason, you can always feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment. I won't lie and say I understand every situation, but pain is never trivial to the person going through it, whether it's a pet, a partner, or even someone you barely knew. I'm ashamed to say I can no longer remember either of my brothers with clarity, but that should be a testament to the ability of the mind to heal on its own, over time. And if the day comes when I begin to forget entirely, I can always take out the ephemera - the first name tag from a first job, a photo of Jason with his first car, or look at the activism that filtered from from Jason's life (stealing all the styrofoam cups from the cafeteria and replacing them with paper ones! *grin*) into my own.

Though he is fallen asleep, God will not leave him
In this forgetfulness. Awakened, he
Will laugh to think what troublous dreams he had.
And wonder how his happy state of being
He could forget, and not perceive that all
Those pains and sorrows were the effect of sleep
And guile and vain illusion. So this world
Seems lasting, though 'tis but the sleepers' dream;
Who, when the appointed Day shall dawn, escapes
From dark imaginings that haunted him,
And turns with laughter on his phantom griefs
When he beholds his everlasting home.

Rumi, translation by R.A. Nicholson