So when Maddie reacts by asking, “When is this going to stop?” as if magically one day we will all be in the Emerald City and be done with the sorrow, the disappointments and the sometimes terrifying events, my answer is probably not the one she wishes to hear. As long as we are living, “it” does not stop. The sadness and the joy keep on coming, side by side, in sync or totally imbalanced, but they are life forces and since no one promised us a rose garden, the thorns continue to grow on the vine.
My 25 year old niece Katie’s best friend was found dead this morning. It was a shocking, tragic death of a 40 something year old man whom she worked with named, Lee. Katie spoke of him often and tinkered with the idea of moving from North Carolina to New York with him or traveling through Europe with him and vising his family in the UK. Recently, when Katie visited some friends in New York, Lee was texting her constantly throughout her stay. She relied on him for feedback, for laughs, for encouragement. I noticed when she got back here, that he was the first person she called and spoke to as she went to sleep that night.
Katie is a waitress-supreme. She is the waitress you always wish you had; one knowledgeable about the food and wine offerings and one who makes sure you are well taken care of for a perfect dining experience. She does this in Wilmington, North Carolina’s only authentic French bistro and is well loved by her customers, co-workers, and restaurant owners. Lee was also a waiter and by far one of the most popular in this dining establishment. Most of the time, he and Katie worked together, laughed non-stop, made life plans, commiserated and drank together after work. However, Katie was well aware that Lee drank too much and was clearly on his way to full blown alcoholism. She was concerned and encouraging him to beware or at least to be aware. It seems his death was closely related to his alcohol abuse last night on his birthday.
Lee and Katie were truly best friends and though I questioned her about any possible romantic nuances, she clearly and vehemently denied saying, “He is my brother!” I believed her. And though I only met Lee once and very briefly, I felt that I knew him somewhat through Katie’s descriptions and joy in knowing this man.
So, when Lee was found dead in the most shocking of circumstances this morning and Katie was there instantly to convince herself that this might be real, she became inconsolable saying as we all say many times in our lives, “I cannot do this.” Ironically, I remember sitting next to her sister Maddie in the emergency room, as her father lay dying a few years, hearing her say, “I cannot do this.” And then again, when Katie came home to see her father in his casket and decided she did not want to go into see him like that her saying, “I cannot do this.”
There really are so many moments in our lives when we do say, “I cannot do this” and we mean it with all our heart. It is as if to say, “Someone please take me away from this horror, this unbearable pain, and protect me from this so I do not have to participate.” The cruel reality is that there is no turning away and there is no protection from the worst that life has to offer and whether or not one thinks they “cannot do this” they will have to anyway. Rarely, can one be protected and if they are, it will only be for a short while until the water begins to leak through the crack in the vessel.
So, my heart breaks for the tender and vulnerable heart of this young and beautiful niece of mine who means so very much to me, because I wish I could protect her and her sister, and all of my sons as well, from the angst of life. But not only is that not possible, but it would not be a life lived in truth and honesty either. Because the reality is such that if you have suffered, then you have also known joy and they do not exist separated from each other. To know one, is to know both. To not know one, is to know none. And don’t we elders all wish we had the language that we could use to describe how this flaming pain of love and loss will feel and to prepare our youngest ones for this? But, the words do not exist and each of us seems to have to go through these moments of life changing intensity in order to grow and become wiser and to develop the depth of understanding that enables us to become.
Feeling vulnerable today. Feeling stunned as well. Wishing I could still smoke cigarettes, though 34 years have passed since I did. Need to take that long, deep drag on a cigarette that is like the deepest you can inhale. I’ve never been sure why taking a deep breath of fresh air just doesn’t feel as satisfying. I am a jangled mess today for many reasons, some more trivial and some completely heartbreaking.
The trivial one first. My tooth broke over the weekend. I bit down on a cherry pit and whammo – the temporary filling I had for 28 years shattered – tooth face and all! When I was pregnant with my second son and lived in the Hamptons, Dr. Frost said I shouldn’t have work done on my teeth while pregnant so he installed this black temporary filling, that I believe was made of cement! It has served me well, albeit ugly and noticeable in photos and I stupidly, never addressed replacing it over all these years. My come-uppance has arrived and now, I am faced with a costly, painful, scary dilemma. I got into see my often depressed, kind of quirky dentist this morning and he winced when he saw the tooth and shuddered when he viewed the x-ray. Alas, there is nothing left but some filling and I am clearly missing a tooth when I smile, so I refuse to remain toothless. My choices are grim, running from hundreds of dollars for something temporary to $6000 for an implant. I feel old and falling apart and scared to death of procedures like these, not to mention, at a loss for where I will find this much money. Not a good start to my day.
However, I am keeping it all in perspective, because I have been weeping since last night and not over my tooth but over something far more wrenching.
I have known my friend Mindy (whose real name is Michelle) since I was in kindergarten and although we have never been very close, we have been with each other for most days of the year through all 12 years of school, in every single class! Mindy had a little sister named, Lynn Ann when we were growing up in the ENY projects. She was a few years younger than us so we never bothered much with her. She was cute enough but she seemed to be always doing something with her mom when we were hanging out dreaming of Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Mindy had one of the fanciest apartments on the first floor of her building in the projects with clear vinyl covering the couches and a lot of fringe dangling from the lampshades. Her parents were Clara and Jerry and they were an attractive active couple. The expression of the day for mothers who worked was “She goes to business.” I believe that Clara went to business.
I don’t remember much about Lynn Ann after those early days until a few years ago I shared a Marriott room with Mindy and our friend, Susan at a reunion in Long Island. It was then, that I first heard about Lynn Ann again and about how different these sisters had turned out (is that not always the case??). And, I remember Mindy telling us that she had a close relationship with her nieces, Dianna and Rachel. She described how they lived in wilderness areas in Canada and this seemed very different to Mindy. Lynn Ann actually sounded like she had grown up into someone I might really like to know.
About four days ago, Mindy posted on her Facebook page that there had been a landslide in British Columbia and that some residents were being searched for. She was unsure if her nieces were a part of this. Day by day, it has gotten worse and more harrowing. I did not even know what a landslide was but thanks to Facebook and Youtube, I sure did learn what they looked like and the rampage of damage they cause. In fact, so much so, that I have watched the live footage over and over and like an awful horror movie, I cannot get these images to keep replaying in my mind’s eye.
Apparently, Dianna, Rachel and their dad, Valentine were having breakfast outside their home, overlooking the most ideal, paradise-like in Johnson’s Landing on the lake. I don’t know if a landslide happens in seconds or in minutes. I don’t know if it is a roaring, loud sound or if is more subtle. I do know that it takes all dirt, mud, trees and houses with it with a force the likes of which I have only seen in Tsunamis, and apparently, the Webber house was taken and smashed and cracked into pieces, and then buried in mud. For the three-day search, it was felt that the two girls and their dad had taken to the basement and needed to be rescued. I wondered how long one can go without food or water but convinced myself that both were supplies might be in the smashed basement with them.
Lynn Ann arrived in Vancouver on Saturday, the third day and was frantically trying to convince the rescue to speed up. There was literally no way to rescue anyone since the mud was compared to “quicksand” rendering it impossible to get to the smashed home. I became completely fixated on updates, on watching helicopters try to get to the home, and on keeping track of the latest news. I also texted my friend Mindy who when asked how she was passing the time, shared that she could not stop crying.
It was last night when the workers stopped being called “rescue workers” and became “recovery crew.” In the morning, they found Val, the dad buried under about 3 yards of dirt. The girls are still missing. I remain more involved than I should be. There are many reasons that my emotions run haywire over this sort of thing. The main one is probably that I cannot bear to think that any other mother in the universe would ever have to feel the agony over losing a child. Losing two at once is not comprehensible. Suffocating in mud seems very similar to me as the nightmare of drowning and suffocating in water. I become consumed wondering if they suffered, if they tried to breathe or if they were knocked unconscious immediately from all the falling trees. It is amazing that they were together since the older girl lived in Los Angeles and the younger was to be a senior in the local high school in this remote area.
Then, after I know someone cherished has died, I spend days thinking of all they will miss. At Yoga tonight, I imagined that they will never again get to do yoga. When I got coffee, I thought the same and when I looked at the Carolina blue sky today I realized they would never see that either. No graduation this year, no weddings, no having babies, just a funeral.