It makes no sense, but there is a thing I know is true. A man named Casey told me and I can’t believe he’s wrong, no matter how little sense it makes.
I didn’t know what to write about today. The last several months have been one long season of grieving and I wanted more than anything to write about Her. Whether to mourn her passing or remember the bright little joy of her I don’t know. Instead, I’m going to save her for another day, one where my thoughts aren’t filled with someone else. Instead, I’m going to talk about what I know, that thing that makes mourning Her more confusing.
This year, I had a text during an awful day at work. My tiny, demanding, wine-loving, stubborn, badass of a grandmother might have had a stroke. She could walk, she couldn’t walk. They didn’t know much. My aunt had gone over to hang a shower curtain for her. In the emergency room, Nan asked if she hung it for her. Then she asked if it was wrinkled. For two weeks, she jumped into only the conversations that interested her and straightened out anyone who got their facts wrong in any conversation. On a Friday, she asked for me to play the soundtrack from Jersey Boys before I left, told me she loved me when I walked out. The next day, she got quiet. A day later, the doctor said that she was bleeding and she’d be gone any minute. Her room filled in minutes with her people. She died two nights ago, just took one little breath, then decided not to take the next one. One quick little moment and the woman who used to sing You Are My Sunshine to me when she put me to bed went. I always loved her singing to me but hated that damn song. It made me cry after she’d gone to bed for the night, thinking that there would come a day when she wasn’t there anymore to tell me what she thought about my clothes or jump out at me from a dark corner because she found how we jumped hysterically funny. I invited my mom to dinner last night and almost asked if she’d call her and ask if she’d come, too.
Six years ago, I had a perfect day. I laughed easily and felt genuinely liked by people I admired. I taught lessons with children who were having fun. They were going to remember what we learned. They were going to use this day as a step toward something bigger. My family was safe, happy, and whole. My nerd friends had my back. There was a man who flirted with me and made me remember that I wasn’t worthless. It was a hard old world that Winter. I was wounded and embarrassed and too tired to look ahead more than the next awful minute. I felt hopeless, then settled into tired, but ok. Then right back. I burst into tears at odd moments, worked all day to keep from having time to think. I rode a roller coaster between awful and not so bad all day long and good lord there were years ahead to be alive and ride that terrible machine.
Work was over quickly and for once, there wasn’t a mountain of work. My friends wanted to game and I was going to throw magic spells and laugh about what Ale said when we failed. He walked past me at first and I wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t looked again. I was on a mission. There were copies to make and traffic to fight and jokes to tell that might actually feel funny.
He was eight when I met him and he made my first year so hard. I had great, fun lessons to teach, if I could only get them out over the sound of him sighing and pretending to cry and saying how BORING this all was. Asking him to behave himself shockingly didn’t change anything. Twenty-two other kids mostly did what they were supposed to do and he mostly threw a wrench into our lessons. The next year, I became slightly less ignorant (only slightly) and taught him in his usual classroom with two other children. I talked to Casey. I asked him to help me set up and learned how easily he could laugh and marveled over how much he learned.
There are people who are brighter than others. You can see it if you look closely, just a little shine that no one else seems to have. I suppose everyone sees that shine on different people, but if asked to guess, I’d say that some people shine that way, even if they don’t mean anything to you. Casey was bright like that and he had no reason to be. Maybe he was because of that. Home would have ruined anyone else. Dad was monstrous and angry. The older brothers were the same. Mom was loud and didn’t seem bothered by any of the children she’d created and God is that a choice that always fills me with anger and injustice. But Casey was bright, so he planned birthday surprises and planted sunflowers because they were beautiful. And when the party ended in yelling or the flower was trampled beneath big feet during a fist fight, some other happy idea would come along. He loved us and trusted us and hugged at least one of us after a long absence with a sincerely meant I’m glad you’re back. When he graduated, I looked at a picture of him as that eight year old hugging his bus driver and hoped that life wouldn’t ruin him. When he was twenty, he stopped in the hall, turned around, and called me by my old name, a name I was missing terribly by then. He was tall and healthy and friendly. He was a man who would have good friends, the kind who would thank the woman at the grocery store for bagging for him. And while he told me how happy he was to see me, how much he loved school and was looking forward to becoming a pharmacist, I was thinking about these two new things that I suddenly knew.
I was going to come home to divorce papers. I could see them on the table, the big white envelope set out with a little dread and probably a little satisfaction, too. My boyfriend wasn’t going to come back and save me from that cold, cruel man who called himself my husband. He’d died and left me to survive on my own.
I’d had this day, this meeting, as a gift. Every step forward, every new thing, was hard, but I wasn’t alone, after all. The next hour might be hard, but it wasn’t going to be as hard as I thought it was and the next week, the next month, the next year wouldn’t be so bad. Other things were going to come along and I wasn’t going to break because life isn’t a coincidence or a mistake. I was being given the gift of hope, but also a little bit of a rebuke. I had forgotten that we’re not alone and that was a mistake. If I needed it so badly, he could send a reminder like Casey, but I shouldn’t be forgetting again anytime soon.
My grandmother met my grandfather when she was 19. He made her laugh and that day was a gift and no mistake, either. He made her laugh and adored her and built a house with her. He married her and made three children, who made more and built the family that filled that big hospital room. They went to weddings and told disgusting stories and cheered or cursed at the Phillies. They picked me up from school on cold or rainy days so I wouldn’t have to walk. They built a solid family and never got tired of telling stories as we sat trying to imagine how we’d eaten so much. They were at the door the second you were sick and bragged about how much better you were than anyone else’s family. It was obnoxious and wonderful and so lucky it sounds impossible. And because of them, I am here, when it would have been so much more likely that anything else would happen. Accidents and coincidences happen and I could accept that I am just unbelievably, undeservedly lucky if only I hadn’t felt it in that hall with Casey and that packed hospital room. There is something else, something not random. Right now, grieving one important woman and thinking about Her, I’m grateful for that long ago reminder. It makes no sense, but that luck and that moment are enough for me to believe. I am not alone. I am never alone.