I only had nine months after my baby sister was born to get used to my place as the middle child when I was thrust into the eldest position. I was three years old when my sister died, she was six. She was a backseat passenger with two other children, my grandmother, Mimi, driving and her best friend, who was the grandmother of the other children, riding shotgun. They were heading back to my grandparents’ home, driving on a dark, two-lane eastern North Carolina road, after an outing that brought them out of town. They all died when her right tire hit a low shoulder and in an instant swerve to recover, she made impact head on with another vehicle carrying several people. They lost an infant son. This was 176, so I assume there weren’t seat belts or car seats happening. I remember being at my grandparents’ house with several adult family members in a watery lamp lit living room (I am very allergic to cats and they had cats, so all my memories at their house are pretty watery). It was quiet and heavy with anticipation. I remember the feeling of deep concern and hearing hopeful reassuring voices. Funny, I feel like one of those voices was Mimi’s.
This isn’t just an experience that I endured, it is who I am. This happened while my brain was forming. It imprinted on me.
There was finally the knock at the door. All I saw in the porch light were big, sheriff-looking hats. I actually remember one with a gold tie, but that memory seems fleeting as I heard sobs and felt myself whisked away to a back bedroom. My next memory is daylight in the bedroom and someone telling me that Mimi was dead or gone to heaven or whatever. I remember someone saying something about angels. Either way, I was convinced that there were other Mimis out there and this was all probably just a mistake. That is what I chose to focus on entirely at that point and I was sure that the adults were just wrong.
The next memory I have is at home. I remember noticing the time of day and knew I could expect my sister home from school soon. She walked over from the neighbor’s house and I could wait on her bed looking out the window to see her arrive. She never came. It got dark. I got worried, so I went into the kitchen to ask my mom where she was. This memory has formed in slow motion in my head, walking down the hall, asking the question, seeing her face. It was only recently that I remembered it. The devastated look that came across my mom set into motion a part of my personality that I am just beginning to overcome. Didn’t I know Kristen was dead? She didn’t need to say a word. I knew as the pain crossed her face that my sister was gone. She didn’t need to worry about me too. How could I have asked her that? Her loss bore through me in a way that manifested a girl-woman wrought with responsibility, the tendency to please everyone before herself and feelings a guilt when happy. I never wanted my mother to suffer again. Going forward, I vowed to take care of her in a way that only a situation such as this can bring forth. I only wanted her to be OK, to please her. (OK, well not when I was a teenager but I’ll save that for another time.) I won’t go into what it was like growing up in a depressed home. I didn’t see it like that. My parents stayed together and worked hard at jobs and at their marriage. They took us on family vacations. They were a rock for many others. They weren’t what I remember as happy, but very together and very hard working, and maybe with red rimmed eyes. What I did was crazy if you think about it. I took on the pain of it all and made it my own.
I constantly found myself in situations where my life was devastated. I mourned that loss over and over again. Whether it was a job, my marriage or other relationships, I would put all of myself into something or someone and in some dramatic fashion, it would all be gone, over, and I would feel the devastated loss of it all again. That is why I am writing this today. I am putting an end to it. I am no longer going to do what I think everyone thinks I should do so that I don’t upset someone who might be going through something. I mean God forbid I upset someone else with living my life or anything like that. That is why I am looking at what I want. Growing up in a culture that encourages female complacency and compliance and maintaining this crazy way of life we call normal and in a home dealing with such great loss, made it so that now, I am done with not doing what I want. Being a single mom and working twice as hard as the men around me while they get paid more, yeah fuck that too! Watching my son not thrive in school and in after school care, only adds fuel to my fire. The tolerance I have for bull shit fell drastically as I rediscovered the question I’ve had since I was three years old, “Why are we here and what are we doing?”
So what have I realized that is changing everything? I realized that I needed to feel that pain. I needed to weep at the loss and I have. I hid that shit as a kid until it exploded in my pubescence, but then I squashed it back down and did what was expected of me. The pain of loss has always been with me, has been created by me and gifted to me by the universe repeatedly, so that I may cry rain down upon the sprout that flowers into the woman potential I was born with. I no longer need to create this loss. Instead of helping everybody with everything and being everyone’s mama, I am going to help myself, thank you very much. How am I going to do this? Fuck if I know, but the flow has led me this far, surely it won’t abandon me now.
Understanding and staying aware that this is part of who I am is the undercurrent for keeping the dream alive and ultimately how I got free and plan to stay free. Can I still be a mama to everyone? I can, but I will have to be one of those mamas without expectation, with good boundaries and with open arms allowing the ebb and flow of life’s and love and loss to move through me without grip.
The plan, once conceived, set into motion events that have brought me on this journey quickly. The big leap of faith came a year earlier than expected. Last month, I accepted a layoff from my job, had an offer to house-sit in a beautiful mountain cabin in the woods in SC for a year (so I moved), got rid of more than half of my shit (Hell yeah!), pulled my son out of public school (Woohoo!) and have started teaching him myself (Yikes!). So far, so free. Leaving my job and friends was the hardest part. Of course, as life is the little bitch that she can be, I had to incur a hospital bill from a wee bout of anaphylactic shock the day after my insurance ended and the tenant living in my condo hasn’t paid rent in two months, so there’s that sort of fun business to tend. I must say though, I am happy. I want to educate my son. I am doing that. The future is uncertain, but no more uncertain than it was when I had a full-time job and a “secure” relationship. That’s how I’m free. Now.
Now for the putting dream into action… I have a year, so let me be.