This is written from my intense memories of what I went through almost a decade ago. I still feel everything and remember everything intensely. Over the years the intensity has ebbed and flowed but I still feel everything, I've just learned how to cope with it and how to not let myself drown in it all. My emotions are like someone who is allergic to the sun, one ray and they're toast. One memory, one smell, one song, one action, one picture and my emotions are instantly peaked and brought to the forefront of my mind in such an overwhelming flood. This is written from my memory of what happened 10 years and the effects and events following what happened. It doesn't mean that I'm the same person as I was 10 years ago, I'm worlds apart from that girl. I also don't regret anything that happened. I don't ever want to go through something like this again and wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy(if I have any, hopefully I don't) but I don't regret anything that has happened in my life. I think that having regrets mean you just couldn't find a way to take something that happened and learn and grow from it. I live my life with no regrets.
If you're reading this and you know me now, and you didn't know me back then, consider yourself having a front row seat to the worst part of Meredith. If you knew that girl back then, please know that I hold that girl pretty close to my heart but that girl has grown up and with that came grace, peace and acceptance of what happened. I don't apologize for what I felt or what I said or what I wanted to say, so if you are offended you can stop reading. I don't want to hear how I was supposed to feel or how I dealt with something wrong. I was 16 and incredibly naive and I was doing the best I thought I could. Some parts still scare me to write, they scare me when I simply think about how dark things got but that's not going to stop me from writing the truth about what happened or what I went through. I've always wanted to write down the events that turned my world upside down, not to relive them or wallow in the grave sadness that I felt but to have a record of what happened and how God helped me overcome and immeasurable amount of grief and pain and sadness, that brought me to an [ongoing] place of peace and growth. My goal through all of this is to take it day by day and allow you all entrance into a very vulnerable part of my life and to let God's glory shine and His plan for my life be ever so clear to whomever reads this. It may take weeks, or months or even years to complete this but if one person reads it or no one reads it at least I'll have it to reflect back on and remember how far God has brought me. So, some advice:
1. Brace yourselves
2. Possibly grab some tissues
3. Don't hesitate to stop reading if things get too intense(believe me, they were intense to write 10 years later)
4. If you know me now, please remember me as the person you know now, not the person you're reading about.
5. Remember to smile through the tears. Crying is just a therapeutic as smiling is :)
6. I'll tell you to enjoy it too, I like to write and the story gets better, not for a while, but it does.
Part I- How it All Started
November 3, 2000
It was a Friday, Picture Retake Day. I had purposely taken bad school pictures the first time around because I really wanted my braces to be off for them. My dentist told me I'd only have them for two years and we were verging on 3 so I was hopeful, alas they were still on so I went to school that day. My mom had been checked into the hospital at the University of Iowa the night before for her surgery early Friday morning. After years of weird things happening to her body(ie. eyes swelling, leg infections, month long periods, diabetes, etc) and going to all sorts of doctors, a med student lumped all of her ailments into one problem that was causing all of this: she had a tumor on her pituitary gland. If you are unaware of what the pituitary gland does/where it is, i'll give you a Reader's Digest version of it: The pituitary glad is found at the base of your brain stem and it controls all of your hormones. I'm not a doctor but you can picture it, right? Major brain surgery! I was clueless and very nonchalant about the whole thing until my science teacher, wonderful lady named Mrs. Campbell, seemed very concerned that I was being that aloof about it. "Do you understand that's brain surgery she's having? That's pretty serious." she said in a very motherly tone. Another insight: I went to a very small school in the middle of a corn field, I had grown up with all of my classmates and a lot of my teachers were my friend's parents so Mrs. Campbell was not only a teacher but also a family friend, as were most of my teachers. That got me thinking, my mom might be in a lot of pain when we get there, wow, maybe I do need to take this seriously. I was 16 and invincible, nothing bad was going to happen. The doctors had explained to me that they were going to go in through her gums above her front teeth an through the nasal cavity to get to the tumor, and then pull it out through her nose, gross!
My sister and I had planned to drive the hour and a half to Iowa City after school that day to see my mom, so after the final bell rang we headed north. When we walked into that hospital room, the seriousness of what had taken place hit me. My mom was just laying there, her eyes were swollen shut because they had used tape on her eyes, that she was allergic to, during the surgery. Apparently we had just missed the surgeon who was popping peanuts into his mouth and talking/spitting as he told my dad the mortality rate and that my mom should be fine in a couple days. I never met the surgeon but I still dislike him, a lot.
Through out the next week we drove up to Iowa City most days to see my mom, it was parent/teacher conference week so we got out early on Tuesday/Thursday and had Friday off which worked out great. My mom hadn't been recovering as quickly as the doctors said so she stayed in the hospital for a couple days extra but was ready to come home on Friday. She was in a lot of pain but we got her home and got her medicine and had plans for a pretty low key weekend. She had numerous phone calls from family and friends to check in on her. My mom was a talker but even in her semi-drugged state she was still talking the ear off of whomever called. At one point her and I were sitting in the kitchen talking and I could tell she was in a lot of pain that the meds weren't taking care of and I asked, "What would have been the alternative if you wouldn't have had the surgery." "Oh they told me that I would die." she said very matter-of-fact. That hit me like a ton of bricks, I could have lost her. She was my best friend, the only person who was truly helping me get through this evil thing called high school and adolescence. Holy Crap!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Well with that in my head, we all wound down for the night/weekend on Sunday night. Dad was watching Cops, Meghan was on the computer in the office, I waxed my eyebrows(a little too much came off of the left side) we all hugged and kissed and said goodnight. I drug myself upstairs in preparation of a long week ahead at school, we had the big fall musical production week. Meg, the night owl that she is, followed me some time later. I was expecting my alarm clock to go off around 6am but I was shocked awake by the most terrifying conversation. My dad yelling my mom's name, something that haunts me still to this day and I will probably never be able to forget. In a hushed voice my mom said, "Mike, call 911. I can't breathe." "Deb, DEBBIE, DEBBIE, wake up. Open your eyes, DEB, DEBBIE, let's get you out of the bathroom, come on. DEBBIE! WAKE UP!" he screamed.
Part II- The End of the World as I knew It
November 13, 2000
At 3:31am on Monday November 13, 2000, after I shook off my sleepy stupor and realized that I was not dreaming, I lay in my bed for a few moments trying to decide weather I should go back to sleep or go see what was happening. I hear my sister's bedroom door open and her footsteps down the stairs. I decide to go see what all the fuss was. I got halfway down the stairs and I can see my mom laying on the bathroom floor, in my dad's arms, lifeless. My sister is frantically trying to remember how to do CPR, then she looks at me and in a pleading, shakey voice she says, "Go back upstairs." In that moment I knew something was horribly wrong. I slowly walked back upstairs, sat on the edge of my bed and began to pray. As hot tears began to roll down my cheeks, I prayed for God to take care of us, to help my mom, to help us. Over and over and over I prayed that prayer. I heard other voices downstairs so I decided I should try to go down again. As i neared the bottom I realized that my dad and sister weren't there. A tall middle aged man told me they were in the kitchen. I saw people I recognized, a guy from church, my cousin, an old co-worker of my mom's. I realized that they were the first responders and the flashing lights I was seeing through the curtain sheers, was an ambulance sitting outside of our house. I walked into the kitchen and sat down at the table with my dad and sister, who were both sobbing. My dad grabbed my hand. He held on for dear life, as if he knew that he was holding onto everything he had left. As if holding onto Meghan and I were the only thing that was keeping him from losing it. I was in disbelief as to what was happening, Meg looked totally defeated and was sobbing, my dad was crying the same way he cried at my grandpa's(his dad) funeral. A few moments that seemed like years later, the same EMT that told me where my family was came into the kitchen and with a somber look on his face he said, "We gave her medicine and got her heartbeat back for a while but we can't get her back. We can continue to try and take her to Ottumwa or we can stop." Something in me already knew she was gone, because in my head I wanted to shout, "JUST STOP, ARE YOU STUPID WE KNOW SHE'S GONE." But before I could, my dad had told them to take her to Ottumwa and that we'd follow them.
Then I went into a haze of simple motions. I walked to my mom's closet, picked out a dark grey fleece pullover of hers and put it over my St. Louis Cardinals shirt(that my dad had gotten at the game where Mark McGuire hit his 70th and 71st home run of the epic season where he and Sammy Sosa battled our their home run race), pulled on some jeans, shoes and socks and got in the car. Its about a 20-25 minute drive to the hospital from our house. We walked into the Emergency room exit and were quickly shuffled into a small room that was probably at one time a hallway, that had one forest green couch, a desk chair and some scattered kid's toys. Again, my dad was clutching Meg and I's hands. After staring at the wall for what seemed like forever, a nice younger petite blonde woman came in and sat in the desk chair. "When she came in, she didn't have a pulse and we were unable to get it back at all. We tried giving her meds but she didn't respond to them. We've exhausted all of our efforts," she said in a very sweet, empathetic tone that I'm sure they're trained for. Meg and my dad started crying harder and I just sat there, feeling the full weight of what was just placed on me. "Would you like to go see her? She's still got the breathing tube in her throat, just so you know," she explained. As we walked out of that small room, into the Emergency Room lobby I acknowledged our new family composition: 3. We were now a family of 3. The worst number in the world, at that moment. As we were escorted back to the patient area, all eyes were on us. All of the sad, "I'm so sorry", eyes were on us. We walked into the curtain area where she lie, with her tongue hanging out the side of her mouth like some thirsty dog. I was numb, from head to toe. The doctors were explaining some things about an autopsy and told us we should probably take her jewelry off if we wanted it before she was taken for an autopsy and then to the funeral home. I quietly took her earrings off and the ring on her right finger she had bought to show me the size of birthstone ring she wanted. My dad took her wedding ring off and handed it to me, it was mine now. I took her necklace off and put it on myself, as a way to possibly hold onto her for one shred of a second longer. My sister and dad were leaving the room and I stayed a moment longer, like I had every day in the hospital, to soak her in for a little bit more. I held her hand, still warm as if she was still with us. I let go of her for the last time, only looking back once to make sure it was really her laying there.
I caught up to my dad and sister in the lobby, and all I could squeek out was, "But she was still warm......" We were then shuffled into another small room with uncomfortable waiting room chairs. On the way to the Hospital, my sister had called my aunt Diane and our surrogate grandparents, Arlo and Deloris. Shortly after entering the small room Arlo and Deloris came in and talked to my dad, a short time more my Aunt and Uncle came in and sat with us. Diane said that my grandmother and another uncle were on the way as well. Meg and I were asked if we needed to call anyone and I didn't really feel the need to but Meg did so she left the room to call one of her friends. Someone asked me if I was sure I didn't need to call someone and I couldn't remember the number for my closest friend(Monica from church camp who lived an hour and a half away) and I knew that Amber had probably already left for school with her parents, who were both teachers. So I decided I could call Ranae, but still didn't really see the point. I dialed her number and her mom answered, "Hello?" "Hi, is Ranae there." I asked, in a very shakey voice. With a bit more than concern in her voice her mom said, "Yeah, hold on a minute. (faintly) Ranae, phone." As I stood there contemplating hanging up because I still didn't want to bother her I hear, "Hello?" "Hi, it's Meredith.Um, my mom died this morning. I just thought I'd call and let you know, in case anyone asks where I am today. You don't have to tell anyone, its not a big deal but if teachers ask you can tell them so they know why I'm not in class.Ok?" I said faster than I could realize what was coming out of my mouth and how ridiculous and nonchalant I sounded. In a very concerned voice I hear, "Um, Ok. Is there anything you need or anything I can do. I can come over. I"m gonna come over." I quickly replied," No that's fine, we're just sitting in the Emergency Room waiting for them to take her for an Autopsy. You know, I might actually be in school today so I'll probably see you later, ok." With disbelief that I took for sleepiness I heard a heartfelt, "I'm so sorry, Mer. If there's anything I can do please let me know. I'll see you later, then." "Ok, bye." I said and quickly hung up the phone. Fresh, hot tears had start rolling down my cheeks and I looked up and realized that it was starting to be daylight. A poetic view of a dark grey sky loomed over the entire earth as I stood outside of the hospital and took in the moment as I replayed, in my head, what I had just told my friend. At that point, I don't think I even fully believed what had already happened and what was left to unfold. I felt like a shell of my former self as I walked back into the Hospital and handed the phone back to my dad.
Meg and I decided to go for a short walk down the hallway to try and get a grip on the situation. All she could say was that she couldn't remember how to do CPR, even though she and I both were certified. I hadn't even though to try CPR, all I thought was to scream bloody murder but I restrained myself from getting too out of control. Well behaved young ladies don't get out of control, and I tried my best to be well behaved. We returned to the small waiting room where a few more of our family members were now occupying. My grandmother, my mom's mom, was now there with one of my uncles. She didn't say much, just cried a lot. My mom was finally released for the autopsy and we all filed out of the waiting room, out of the Emergency Room exit and into our vehicles to go back to our house.
When we got home, our house was filled with more family and friends. One of my aunts had taken to cleaning our house so Meg and I decided that we should help, seeing that there would probably be a lot of company passing through. I remember numbly cleaning up all of the medical supplies and trash that the EMT's had left on the bathroom and hallway floor. After that, Meg had decided that she wanted to go to school. She wanted to be around her friends and I wasn't going to argue. I really didn't want to stay at home and see everyone cry all day long, so I showered, picked out a lime green wool sweater, white tank top, my favorte worn jeans and silver/white Adidas Superstars, did my hair and makeup and packed my stuff for school. We had to run to the bank first, to put Meg and I's name on the checking account in case we needed to use it for something. Meg and I casually talked to the small town bank employees as to why we were doing this. The mom of another Pekin student, who worked at the bank, was speechless as we finished our business and walked out of the bank on our way to school.
We arrived at school, checked in at the office and calmly told the secretaries what had happened, got a pass and headed off toward class. It was toward the end of 5th period, chorus, which Meg and I had together. Everyone was just getting back from a short field trip to a costume shop in Keota, where they had picked out costumes for the musical. I don't know what happed but I walked in the door, saw a friend and her boyfriend and just completely lost it. She gave me a hug and I just cried. I composed myself as the bell rang for lunch. I waited as everyone filed out the door, many stopping by to give me a hug, got a hug from our music teacher and walked across the hall to the gym. I had stopped eating school lunches due to lack of "healthy" options so I usually spent lunch hour socializing in the gym. Our gym teacher, Mrs. Tolle, gave me a hug as well as some of Meg's classmates and asked us what happened. We, again, calmly explained what happened. I decided to go sit with my other friends in the lunchroom so I didn't have to keep explaining myself. That day they were having "Smiley Fries". One of my friends told me I could smash hers if I wanted to get out some emotions, so I did. The next bell rang and I grabbed my stuff out of my locker and headed to Mr. Sattoff's sixth period English class. I no sooner had sit down when he was standing beside me, he looked down from his slim 6ft+ frame and said the most comforting and sincere words that I had ever heard, "I understand. If you need anything, anything at all, please let me know." Months earlier, he had lost his mom in a tragic car accident that left his dad in bad shape(or the reverse, I actually can't remember that.). Everyone had offered words of comfort but hearing that from a stoic man that I, still to this day, highly respect and admire made me instantly tear up. Thinking back on it, I still tear up. I got through the rest of the class and my additional 3 classes that day with a continued faint tear in my eye. Meg and I set back for home at the last bell, 3:30pm. Exactly 12 hours since our world had crashed.
We arrived home to find our house slightly less full than when we left, and sparkling clean thanks to Pam(a cousin or something, she's family and that's all that matters, right?) Details of the next couple of days were discussed and by 9or 10pm everyone had left and the three of us were alone. Our nightly routines were performed with little to no emotions and we all simultaneously cried ourselves to sleep.
Part III- Arrangements and Cleaning
November 14, 2000
My alarm went off at 6am on Tuesday morning. As I awoke, the events of the previous day became more and more clear. I got out of bed and hoped, prayed, that it was all just a horrific dream. I hurriedly kicked the covers off and rushed down the stairs as every ounce of my being hoped that I would find my mom sitting in the kitchen talking to my dad as he sipped his coffee and read the paper. Reality slapped me hard in the face as I walked into the kitchen and saw my dad sitting there, alone. The memories of what had happened yesterday flooded my mind as I became paralyzed. Paralyzed by fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of the future, my emotionless autopilot kicked in as I got ready for the day. School wasn't going to be a refuge today, we had to make the hour trip to Wellman, IA to the funeral home to make arrangements. I pulled on a pair of oddly yellow faded blue jeans, my favorite 3/4 sleeve baby pink angora sweater and my old Dr. Marten oxfords. We arrived at the funeral home just after 9am and were greeted by Charles, a younger fiery red headed man whom my dad had grown up with. He had stayed in Wellman and was now the funeral director. I was familiar with this funeral home, it was only a couple blocks from my grandparents old house where my dad grew up. I had been in the funeral home multiple times in my young life when we said good bye to my grandma, my grandpa and my great uncle. Everything looked the same, just a little more faded and a little more worn. It was a beautiful old house, tragic that they had to turn it into a place that saw such grief and sadness. It was adorned with beautiful furnishings that were noticeably selected with care and smelled the same as I remembered it. It smelled like sadness, empathy, sympathy and loneliness masked by a mix of stale potpourri and fresh formaldehyde. We settled in the back sitting room on cold metal folding chairs. My grandmother and one of my uncle's had joined us, although I really didn't know why but I was really in no position or state to say a word. I just nodded and stared at the floor for most of the time. We began by talking about where my mom would be laid to rest. It would be next to my older brother, in the plot that my grandparents purchased when he died. It was a beautiful cemetery on a gravel road just outside of Wellman. The plot was set on top of a hill at the far west end of the grounds. I had picked out and brought the outfit that my mom had bought the spring before for our foreign exchange student's graduation. It was a dusty plum colored tunic with woven detail on the front and matching dusty plum pants. We requested they paint my mom's fingernails a dark burgundy color that she always loved. She wouldn't be buried with her jewelry, that was all now mine. as I clutched her ring that was on her chain around my neck I fought back the tears that were so readily available now. We chose a poem to go inside the front cover of the funeral program, that would ironically be used inside the funeral program for my mom's brother almost eight years later. We chose a program with a hummingbird on the front of it. My mom loved hummingbirds and every spring we would plant hundreds and hundreds of red flowers( geraniums, patience, double impatience, fuchsias, etc.) around our house in hopes of attracting them. As opposed to having an organist at the funeral, Meg and I each chose a song to be played. She chose "Holes in the Floor of Heaven" by Steve Holy and I chose "Angels Among Us" by Alabama. We decided not to have the minister from our church do the services but another minister from our community. He was the father of one of Meg's classmates and he and his wife and family were all very involved in our community and had known and spent real time with my mom as opposed to the pastor that was brought in as an interim pastor for our church. We decided what would be said in her obituary, this being the only time my grandmother chimed in as she got huffy and puffy about how my mom's name was going to be written as. In my head, she was/ had always been Debbie Goodwin and I couldn't figure out why my grandmother was trying to put her name on my mother. If anything it would be Debbie "Frye" Goodwin(my mom's dad had died when she was three and my grandmother had moved to Iowa and remarried and she didn't think anyone would know it was HER daughter if HER name wasn't somewhere to be found.) Again, I was in no state to argue or even make a peep so I continued to stare at the floor as her and my dad came to an agreement. We set the time for the visitation and the actual funeral ceremony, being conscious of those who wanted to attend either or both. Our school's musical was the same week and most of Meg's friends and a lot of mine were involved in it as well as many teachers and faculty who were friends with my mom and would most likely come. We discussed copies of death certificates, copies of the funeral ceremony, life insurance to pay for everything, thank you cards to be written to those who donated money, sent flowers, etc. Donations would be made to the Hedrick Park new playground fund in Memory of Debbie Goodwin. There was no question about what flowers would be in the casket bouquet; red and yellow roses. Red roses from my dad, sister and I and yellow for Mathew. My dad had given my mom yellow roses when Mathew died and since then had only given my mom red roses. I remembered every birthday, every anniversary and some random days my mom would bring home vases upon vases of red roses that my dad had sent to her office. One for every year of marriage or one for every birthday or a dozen, just because. It would be a big bouquet of roses and nothing else. We chose the casket bearers; My mom's two brothers, three of my cousins, an old neighbor who was a year younger than me, Meg and I(even though I really had no desire to be, Meg did, so I shook my head in agreement and continued to stare at the floor.) As our meeting was coming to a close we had a couple other things to discuss. He led my dad, sister and I out of the sitting room, down the dusty blue carpeted hallway and up the orange shag carpeted stairs. At the top of the stairs he led us into the first room on the right; the casket room. It was like a scene from "My Girl", I felt like any second one of the caskets was going to open and someone would pop out as a sick twisted cruel joke. We chose a warm chestnut colored wooden casket made of Mansfield Poplar as opposed to the cold stainless steel one. We picked out a pale pink and white vault, which I had to ask Meghan its use later that day. It was the top of the line model, but incredibly unfitting for my mom. I would have chosen the black one, but instead of talking I just shuffled my feet on the shag carpeting. As we descended the stairs I felt even more like just a shell of myself than I had ever felt in the last day. I had just picked out a casket that my mother's body would lie in for eternity. The vault would keep things "fresh" for up to a certain amount of years which was so ironic to me. To me it was like someone had put a time limit on how long a dead body needed to look exactly like the day it had been buried. We chit chatted about some other remaining details as Charles retrieved our coats from the entrance closet. We left the funeral home and headed towards home, not stopping but going straight to my mom's office to clear it out. As I stepped out of the car and into the sun I felt angry that the world hadn't stopped to take notice of my shattered heart. I felt like the universe was taunting me with its cheery sunshine as we were immersed in such sadness. I found refuge from the cheery sun inside the office, as the three of us talked with my mom's co-workers we clear out and boxed up all of her personal things; pictures of us, old reciepts that she'd kept from my dad so he wouldn't know how much she spent shopping, her M&M machine collection, her stethoscope, her lab coat and her recognitions. We told her co-workers the schedule for the funeral, said our good-byes and was on our way back home. We were greeted by some family from my dad's side who had brought us lunch. Meg had to go to the final dress rehearsal of the school musical,"Into the Woods" that she was in but I didn't feel the need to be around people so I stayed home. I was just the student director(fancy name for the music page-turner) and they could deal without me for a night. My aunt Jody was going to take my cousin to get some clothes for the funeral and asked me to go along. I agreed, so I pulled on a different sweater, this time a pale/dark green sweater and Meg's Dr. Marten boots ad we headed to Ottumwa. Standing in Penny's picking out a blue blazer and khaki pants for my cousin, I still felt numb. I was still not accustomed to feeling this way but it was what felt appropriate for me to be able to go anywhere in public. We made our purchases at Penny's and dropped by Tradehome Shoes to pick up a pair of Dr. Marten wingtips to complete the outfit for my cousin. By the time we got home, Meg was there too. We made small talk as we were still all trying to process things that were coming at us at MachIII, I said good night and drug myself upstairs trying to grasp something of normalcy.
Part IV- SO Many People and a Production
November 15, 2000
I pulled myself out of bed as my alarm clock went off, and trudged downstairs somewhat aware of the last few days. Meg and I were going to school today because it was the matinée performance of the musical. The first performance with an audience consisting of the entire elementary and middle school along with all of the coinciding teachers. Aside from the personal form of Hell I was going through, this was an exciting day. I went to my first four classes like normal but during 5th period chorus is when we started to prepare for the performance. I helped people into their costumes, helped with their stage makeup, ran lines with those who were still a little uncertain and just generally got wrapped up in all of the buzzing nervous excitement that was all around me. The performance was to start at 2:30pm sharp which meant that vocal warm-ups were to start at 2pm sharp. By that time everyone had their costumes and most of their makeup on so Mrs. Evans, our music teacher, settled us all down for warm-ups. We went through a couple songs from the musical, vocal exercises and ran through a list of housekeeping issues as the time drew near for the opening curtain. I had been at most of the rehearsals and knew every song and every line of the musical and I was just as excited and nervous as those who were going to be on stage. Mrs. Evans and I headed out of the music room and into the cafeteria(where the stage was) roughly 10 minutes before the curtain. I settled into a chair beside the piano with my script and her music, as I watched all the little kids file into the cafeteria. The constant hum of little voices was quieted by each teacher as Mrs. Evans started playing. Since I had been to every rehearsal and knew every line, I also knew every time someone was making a mistake and I would laugh and remember how many previous times they had made that same mistake as they nervously worked their way out of it and could stop and redo, like in rehearsal. My favorite mistake was always a line that was supposed to go, "Every hour she sits in her tower, maintaining her hair..." and nine times out of ten, during rehearsal he would sing, "Every hour she shits in her tower, maintaining her hair." And three out of four performances he sang the wrong words to a roaring crowd and a very annoyed Mrs. Evans who shot him a look that would burn through a building as she whipped to the next page and moved on. She bounced as she played through each song, I turned each page as she indicated, trying not to get too wrapped up in watching and listening to the performance and miss her cue. The performance, minus a few minor mistakes, went off without a hitch, the curtain went down to a room full of cheers. As I sat there and smiled I thought of how weird it was to smile at a time like this, I felt bad for smiling. I felt bad for feeling joy, I felt like I was doing my mom a disservice to laugh and smile and be happy after everything that had happened. Other than numb, I really hadn't felt a whole lot of emotions. After the final curtain call, the kids were swiftly ushered out of the cafeteria and back to their classrooms, one girl whom I was baptized with stopped and gave me the biggest hug her little body could muster. Katie, just as I, was extremely close to her mom and that hug was more than I could have ever asked for from her and almost bringing me to tears. I was quickly shook back to reality as Meghan grabbed me to duck into the girl's locker room. She quickly scraped off her stage makeup, changed back into her school clothes, gathered our things and we were out the doors and on our way home. At home, I changed quickly into khaki cargo pants, a black sweater vest with a white 3/4 sleeve shirt underneath and my trusty black Dr. Martens. We were once again out the door and on our way to the funeral home for the visitation. We walked into the funeral home and were greeted by Charles and an older stately woman who took our coats and hung them in the front closet again. The sitting room now had more folding chairs as did the front viewing room. As we entered the front viewing room I saw the Mansfield Poplar casket that we had picked out yesterday. As we approached the casket I saw a female body that looked like my mom, was wearing her clothes and glasses, with her nails painted in the same color that my mom loved but it wasn't my mom. It was the earthly body that she had left behind. I didn't have a lot of emotions as I stared into the casket, I half hoped that she would wake up and say she had just played a horrible joke on us all. My dad cried as he held our hands, I just felt continuously numb. We took our places off to the far left side of the casket as if we were in a staged production. People started to trickle in as it verged on 4:30pm. I hugged those I knew, shook hands of those I didn't and forced laughs as some told [apparently] humorous jokes as they offered their condolences. Through the line of people I saw someone walk in the door, I instantly removed myself from my staged position and rand to greet her. It was a friend from church, who was 4 years older than me and now a freshman in college over two hours away. She was probably the last person I expected to see but the first person to bring me to tears. As a freshman in high school, I had secretly looked up to her and wanted to be her and she had made time out of her [assumed] busy schedule to come. As I let her out of the steel grip of my hug I composed myself, got a drink from the water fountain and assumed my position again. People just kept coming and coming and coming and coming............ People would offer thier pearls of wisdom suck as, "She's in a better place now." I wanted to scream, "I DON'T FREAKING CARE IF SHE'S IN A BETTER PLACE, HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO MAKE IT THROUGH THIS LET ALONE HIGH SCHOOL WITHOUT HER." Or they would say, "This is the worst its going to get." I refrained from shouting,"ARE YOU KIDDING ME, EVERYDAY IS WORSE THAN THE LAST SO PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME HOW YOU KNOW THIS IS THE WORST IT CAN POSSIBLY GET. IF YOU'RE GOING TO SPEAK OUT OF YOUR ASS, PLEASE SAVE YOUR FREAKING BREATH." Some said, "I know what you're going through." I laughed on the inside as I thought of saying, "HOW THE HELL DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WHAT I'M GOING THROUGH BECAUSE A) I DON'T EVEN KNOW YOU AND B) YOU'RE IN YOUR 40's AND I'M 16, PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME WHY YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW I'M FEELING. JUST. SHUT. UP!!!!!!!" But I was taught not to be rude and as the people passed and the words of "wisdom" kept coming, I nodded, shook their hand and turned my attention to the next person in line. I think I saw everyone I had ever met in my entire 16 years of life as well as people I had never even met nor heard of. There were friends, parents of friends, people I didn't even think were friends, teachers, school administrators, co-workers of my mom's, past and present co-workers of my dad's, friends of family, family of friends, family of family, and on and on and on. I think I lost track of time as the people kept coming and coming. I assumed that the doors would be shut and we'd be told we could go home when it was all suppose to end at 7pm. As the people passed, I noticed that my mom's sister(my aunt) sat in the same place the entire time, never getting up for a drink and rarely talking to anyone. I just thought she was as paralyzed as I felt. I later found out that she wanted to make sure that Meg and I were ok. She wanted to be there in case it all got to be too much. The endless line of people slowly dwindled down, most of our family had already gone home, the last person to come in the door was a co-worker of Meg's. She had just gotten off work and drove as fast as she could to be there. She walked in the door at 10:30pm, three and a half hours after it was supposed to end. That many people cared. That many people felt the need to take time out of their day to be there for us. That many people were touched by my mom. That many people were there to support us. As we discussed some final details with Charles as the older woman got us our coats, I was reminded that tomorrow would be the last time we'd have to be in this place. It would be the last glance, the last good-bye, the last words but by far not the last tears. As we drove home, I stared out the window into the vast darkness of night and caught a glimpse of what life was going to look like from then on.
Part V- The Last Good Bye(the funeral)
November 16, 2000
As I woke up, I hoped, wished, prayed, bartered my life that I would go downstairs and see my mom sitting in the kitchen with my dad. As I descended the stairs, my hope waned and then reality, the ravenous wench that she is, hit me in the face with a force that almost brought me to my knees. I saw my dad's suit coat hanging on one of the dining room chairs. He only wore it on "special" occasions. This was not a "special" occasion. It was a terrible, horrible, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching unbearable occasion but none the less needing of said suit coat. My dad was sitting in the kitchen, alone, with a look on his face that shattered the pieces of my already broken heart. He had to bury the person he had been with since he was 20 years old, Meg and I had to bury our mom as mere teenagers and we had to make our family work with one big gaping hole in the middle of it. I slumped back upstairs to my room to find something black to wear, because your have to wear black to funerals, I thought. I found a black skirt because I didn't own any black pants. I also found a black shirt and black open toed dress shoes. I knew it was November but that's what I found and in my head, it made sense and it was black. We left our house later than we had hoped but looking our best or appearing to look our best. We got to the funeral home and parked behind an empty black hearse. I had never hated seeing a hearse so much in my life. We walked into the funeral home that had become quite familiar; the stale potpourri smell, the forest green carpet in the entryway, having our coat taken by Charles. More chairs had been added and the whole bottom floor of the house had been opened up for seating. Some of my mom's co-workers, friends, and family were already there and seated. We entered the main viewing room and past the open casket as others were viewing the empty shell of my mother that I stared blankly at. It really bothered me that earlier that year Meg had told me that if they can't get a dead person's body to look how it's supposed to, they break their bones. My mom's fingers looked crinkled like she was going to claw out of the casket when the lit was shut. My friend, Monica, had come through the door and I ran to give her a hug as she handed me a small bouquet of flowers. Her and another girl I knew from church camp had driven from Indianola to be at the funeral. Soon after, we were ushered into a very small room where most of my family were waiting. We waited while people were still coming in the doors, Charles buzzed in once or twice to grab more chairs and then quickly ushered us out to the main viewing room because they needed to open up the room that we were in for more seating. We walked out to a standing room only packed house. My dad was on one side and my grandma was on the other. I grabbed my dad's hand as soon as I sat down, and my grandmother grabbed mine in the same manner. I didn't understand why she was clutching me but all I cared about was making sure my dad kept hold of my hand, so I knew I could squeeze his hand anytime as hard as I could if I needed to. Jim, the pastor, started to speak and most of the words just mushed together as I held back tears and stared at the green carpeted floor and occasionally squeezed my dad's hand or felt him squeeze mine. Jim worked the songs we had chosen into his message. As they played, tears seemed to overflow my eyes and I couldn't help them from rolling down my face one after the other, faster and faster as the songs played and Jim spoke of my mom. He talked about memories that other family members had shared with him the night before, when we met before the beginning of the visitation. At one point I think I caught him trying to fight a quivering voice. As the service ended we all got up and I was a little concerned that I wasn't going ot be where I needed to be to put the casket into the hearse so I just stood by it and watched as Charles shut the lid for the final time. He did it like I'm sure he'd done time and time before. The casket was rolled out the side of the funeral home and we slid it into the hearse. I noticed that every street in every direction was full of parked cars and the side doors of the funeral home were open and people had been standing outside. I didn't think much of it as Meg and I got in our car. My only thought as we followed the hearse with the casket made of Mansfield Poplar was that my mom would appreciate that our car matched the black hearse that we were following, that she(or the shell that she used to inhibit) was in. We drove the short distance south out of town and then west on a gravel road, through the metal gates of the cemetery and up the hill to the blue tent set up. The awful, terrible sight of a blue tent set up over the plot that was purchased by my grandparents for my parents and one of them would be placed in it today. We parked behind the hearse. All of the casket bearers gathered at the back of the hearse, as they opened the door we pulled the casket out and we all took our positions along side and took hold of the allotted handles. We had a very short distance to go from the hearse to set the casket on the lift over the vault that had been set up under the blue tent. As we took the casket to its place over the vault, I tripped over my brother's gravestone and thought about how small his casket was under the earth that I was stepping all over. We got the casket in place and I took my place next to my dad in a chair covered in a furry blue cloth that made it look like a cookie monster chair. As I sat down I remembered I had always wanted to sit in one of those chairs as a child during my grandparents' and uncle's funerals, just because I liked the cookie monster. I sank into the ground a bit as I sat down. It had been a warmer and wetter fall than we had expected and the ground must have been a little soft. I huddled into my dad as Jim said the traditional "ashes to ashes and dust to dust" with some more words thrown in there as they lowered the casket into the hole. My grandmother was next to me crying and I was my new familiar state of numbness. After Jim had prayed, we stood and exited the blue tent. A group of Meg's friend's had come to the grave sight and they stopped to offer their kind words. I just stood there and Nick, a boyfriend of one of Meg's friends, looked at me and said, "You look cold." "Yeah, I wore a skirt." I said, as the new tears I hadn't realized were running down my cheek made the cold wind sting my face. "Maybe you should zip your coat," he said with a note of concern in his voice. "I have gloves somewhere," as I numbly fumbled around the pockets of my coat. "Do you want me to zip your coat for you?" he offered sweetly. Not really acknowledging or realizing that he was incredibly concerned because I was standing in the cold shaking and all I cared about was finding my non-existent gloves because for some reason I thought that was going th help, I said "No, I'm fine I just need to find my gloves." Still not really feeling anything except the cold sting on my cheeks from the trails that my tears had left, my dad came over and said we would be leaving. We drove back to Hedrick, barely saying anything. The ladies from our church had set up a dinner at the community center so we went there instead of home. As I picked at my food and made small talk with my family and some friends, I longed to go home and climb into my bed and sleep away everything that had happened. After endless amounts of time had passed, it seemed, we said thank you to the ladies and drove the two blocks home. We walked in to every flat surface and most of the floor space in our house being covered with every type of flower and plant that every floral shop could ever imagine of stocking. The one bouquet that was set next to my dad's chair on the end table was from Ranae and her family. It had the most beautiful orange lilies and yellow mums, looking like the sore thumb amongst the other traditional funeral bouquets and plants. We sent some home with family who was at our house because there was no way we could keep all of them. We tried to clear off most of the surfaces and at least a walking path so we could get from room to room. We made things bearable for the night and we'll deal with it tomorrow. I went upstairs and climbed in bed and wished and hoped and prayed that I didn't wake up the next morning. Even though I was numb, I didn't want to feel anything anymore. I wanted to run screaming back to Wellman and climb into the casket and have them bury me with my mom. I couldn't imagine life without my mom and I didn't want to. As I cried myself to sleep I was reminded of a conversation I had with Meg that previous March. A friend's brother had died in a motorcycle accident and on the way home from the funeral I told her that if anyone close to me died, I'd crawl in a hold and die with them. I so wanted to crawl in a hole and die, but for now crawling into my bed would have to suffice.
Part VI - The Fog
After the funeral, I went to bed and seemingly turned into a robot. I woke up to my alarm at 6am, got ready for school, drove to school, put my bag in my locker in the girl's locker room, went to four classes, ate lunch, four more classes, retrieved my bag from my locker, got in my car and drove home. Rinse. Repeat, for the next 7-10 days minus weekends when I would stay in bed, most of the time clutching an article of my mom's clothing. I would sleep in her shirts, sit in her closet and smell the lapels of her coat that still had hints of her perfume. If an article of clothing didn't have her smell, I would douse it in her perfume. When I would realize that there were tears rolling down my cheeks, I would lock myself in the bathroom and lay on the floor and sob uncontrollably. Sobbing may seem like I was feeling something but I felt dead inside. I had a dentist appointment on the Tuesday after the one week anniversary. My dentist, who had been my only dentist, offered his condolences and I thanked him for his generous donation to my mom's memorial fund. He asked if I wanted an early Thanksgiving Day present and I thought it was odd because people don't usually get gifts for Thanksgiving Day. He meant that he was going to take my braces off, finally. That day at school I smiled a lot, because my teeth looked great! The following day my great grandmother died, and back to the wretched funeral home we went, greeted by Charles who took our coat and asked us about life, since we had been there so often over the last weeks. The day of her funeral one of my cousins had her baby, Lucas Michael. Other than those events, I don't remember much else. Handfuls and handfuls of cards came in our mailbox everyday.
I remember the next Tuesday sitting in Mrs. Campbell's science class and wondering where all the guys were. I kept asking and didn't get any straight answer. Then someone piped up, "They're all at Callan's dad's funeral." Every eye in the classroom shot straight to that person, as to try and take back what had just come out of their mouth. I stood up and asked them to tell me the truth about what had happened. Callan's dad had died on Sunday, and he was Jewish, therefore had to be buried quickly. They hadn't told me about it because they didn't want me to know. They tried to shield it from me. I couldn't help my actions as I felt the hot tears starting to roll down my cheek as I ran out the door, down the hallway, past the office, down the Ag hall and past Mr. Lamb's open classroom door, into the gym past Mrs. Tolle and Mr. Stone and a middle school PE class and into the girl's locker room as the tears seem to burst as I hit the doorway. I couldn't help my sobs as I lowered myself to a bench. A girl from my class, a friend but we weren't that close at all, had followed me. She sat down beside me and began to rub my back and offer words of comfort that just angered me. She wasn't my friend, she didn't know, she was just there because she always has to be associated with anyone who is getting attention. If she wanted attention she could have it, leave me the hell alone. I moved away from her and tried to compose myself as she slumped into the shower entryway. She continued to talk and I really didn't want to hear it so I walked out of the locker room, still not completely composed. I was past the office almost back to class still wiping tears off my face because they just seemed to keep coming, I ran into Mr. Sojka. He had been my driver's ed teacher the year before, a nice man, but I wasn't very close to him. He grew up around my dad and had known him for a while but I was kind of indifferent about him. He stopped me and in a fatherly/therapist voice he said, "It has to be hard, you know. Your mom and now a friend's dad." I just shook my head and attempted to hold back the tears as I mumbled something and went back to class.
That night I was incredibly overwhelmed by everything; my mom, Callan's dad, emotions I could't even pinpoint, trying to look to the future just plain hurt. I was sitting in the bathtub and trying to sort something out, anything, something simple, why couldn't I figure it out, why can't I straighten my thoughts, I can't do this. I don't want to live. I need to not be living. I can't use my dad's gun, he'd be really mad that I touched his gun cabinet. I don't want to hang myself, there's not a high enough place in this house. I'm in the bathtub, that's it, I'll just drown myself. So I sank myself below the water. Wait, as I came back up, I need to write a letter and tell Dad and Meg I'm sorry. I'll trudge through another day and do it tomorrow night. Finally, an end in sight. Not feeling anything is going to end, I'll see my mom tomorrow.
I made it through the next day, it was a Wednesday, I got ready to take a bath, hadn't written a letter but I just really wanted to see my mom. I had put my trust and faith in the Lord, thanks to my mom, when I was in fourth grade so I knew I was going to heaven and that's where she was at and the longing to be with her again was overwhelming so I hopped in the bath, washed my hair, did my normal routine and then finally sank myself under the water. While under the water, I started thinking about my dad and Meg. They just lost my mom, and then to lose me too. I mean, they'd probably miss me but to have to go back to the funeral home and do all of that fuss again would suck, OH MY GOSH, I can't do this! I have to get out, get out now, get away from the water. I quickly got out of the bath, wrapped myself in a towel and ran upstairs to my room. I calmed myself down and put some pajamas on. I sat down on the side of my bed and every single emotion I should have felt, hadn't felt, hadn't felt fully, didn't even know existed, were flooding me like the titanic and I was sinking fast. I couldn't breathe as I tried to find something to grasp, mentally, emotionally, physically as I crumbled to my knees in sobs on my bedroom floor. I heard the door to the stairs open and my dad's voice call up the stairs, "Meredith, you have a phone call." "Ok." I heard my voice squeak out. I picked up the phone, "Hi Meredith, this is Amber, Angela's friend," I heard on the other line. "Oh ok, hi?" I said with a question in my voice because Amber, like Angela, was four years older than me and was now in college. I don't think I had ever talked to her before, but she was dating the brother of one of my friends so I'm guessing she knew who I was. She had heard what had happened from Angela, and wanted to call me. She lost her mom to cancer as a freshman in high school, and was the youngest of two daughters as well. We talked for a bit and I couldn't catch my breath between sobs. As I sat there listening to her I realized I was wearing the same St. Louis Cardinals T-shirt and black gym shorts I had worn the morning I woke up to my mom dying. I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed and told Amber that I didn't know what to do. She told me to go to bed, even thought it was not even 8pm yet, get a good night's sleep and call her when I got home from school the next day. We said our good-byes and hung up the phone. I sat on the edge of my bed, sobbing, I began to pray, "God ppplease help me, I ccan't do this. I ccan't. It hurts too much.........God help me please, please. I can't do this, I can't do this. You have to do this for me, I can't. Help. Please." As I begged and I prayed and and prayed and I begged God to help me through this. I did not have the capacity to get through it, I had to have God's help or else I was going to end up dead in a bathtub. "PLEASE God. Help. Please." I continued to pray as I drifted off to sleep as short bursts of sobs kept coming out, uncontrollably.
Part VII - The Aftermath
That prayer and crying myself to sleep as I prayed it became a routine for me. I would get up, go to school and once home from school I would let out a sigh of relief. A sigh that said, "Thank you Lord for getting me through another day." Some days were harder than others, the 13th of each month I would count another anniversary. Thanksgiving came and went with no one acknowledging the lack of someone sitting around the table. Christmas came and Meg and I were determined to make it like every other year. We were to host my dad's side of the family for a lasagna feast on Christmas Eve, so we made everything my mom would except we did NOT use aluminum foil pans so the lasagna would NOT end up splattered everywhere. After dinner someone wanted to watch a home video that had been found and I silently wept as I heard my mom's voice for the first time in over a month. It was the first time that I realized that unless I watched old home movies, I'd never ever hear her voice again, I'd never see her face again or hear her laugh. As I locked myself in the all too familiar bathroom where she took her last breath, I started to weep harder as I looked up into the mirror and saw my mom staring back at me. It was her, I was her. It was then that I realized I was a carbon copy of my mom. No matter how I might try to stop it or change it, I was her. Everything from the way I looked to the way I acted to the way I laughed/loved/cried/worried/showed concern/grew/felt/remembered/etc I was inevitably going to grow up to be just like my mom. It's probably why we were so close. As I wiped my tears away and composed myself, I made peace with the fact that I was becoming my mom. I think it was then that I realized I couldn't just survive losing my mom, I had to continue to live without my mom. At that moment, it seemed like those two things were worlds away and a lot of hardship to get from one side to another.
The new year came and went and among the bright white snow I was still in a rather dark place. I would still come home and let out that "oh my gosh, another day has passed." type sigh. I found myself forgetting a lot of things. I was doing well in school, straight "A's" but I was forgetting simple things that my dad would ask of me or simple things i needed to do around the house. I was so immersed in trying to make it through the day, I would forget to do anything else except survive each day. One night my dad and I had one of the first(of many) fight's we'd ever had. The fight ended by me shouting, "Well maybe I need help!" and help is exactly what I needed. I needed someone who was impartial to what happened, who wasn't trying to heal themselves or make sense of the situation themselves to help me through. My friends, while they were wonderful, didn't have the capacity to help me. Their biggest concern was if they were going to get asked to prom as a sophomore or not while I still had thoughts of suicide dance through my head every now and then when I was having a particularly rough day. The following day after our fight, my dad found a psychologist in Ottumwa, who was female, and scheduled an appointment for that Friday for me. He went with me during my consultation appointment and was basically told that unless I mentioned harming myself or anyone else, he would never know what we talked about. She was perfectly acceptable and didn't have a patronizing "therapist" voice so I was cool with it. During my first appointment she actually asked me if I felt the need for medication for my depression. "NO!" I replied. And by the way, I was not depressed, I had just lost my mom, two WAY different things. Her question/assumptions really shocked me into reality. In my head, only really pathetic people took depression medications. I mean, have you seen those depression medication commercials? I'm so not like those people. I declined the medication but felt like I got a big dose of reality as to why I was there and the severity of what had been left of my emotions after my mom's death. The wreckage that had become my state of being and my emotions had to be dealt with by a professional or else I would never be able to recover. No one knew why I had to leave school at 3pm on Fridays except for my dad and my sister. I felt ashamed to not be able to deal with things myself but a visit with Amber helped me feel a little bit better. She was out of school at this point and had a week before leaving for Europe for the summer so we met up. She actually had declared a psychology major and assured me that I was not weak. Asking for help does not make you weak, it means that you're strong enough to realize you can't do it on your own. That was something I desperately needed to hear.
In March, our band and choir had scheduled a trip to Florida leaving my dad at home by himself for five days. At which point I believe he hit his lowest and realized that he needed to find companionship again, only 4 months after my mom had died. He began dating a woman who lived in Cedar Rapids. While I understood needing someone, I had absolutely no desire to meet her. My dad assured me that she was not going to replace my mother and was not trying to take her place, my guard went up with a barbed wire and electric fence and rabid dogs. I had a really bad feeling about this woman and I most certainly didn't like her. I actually refused to answer the phone anymore because I didn't even want to hear her voice. Little did Meg and I know, but she had been passing judgement on us and trying to convince our dad that we were crack whores selling drugs and partying at our house when he wasn't there. I'm sorry but I we were both straight A honor students who didn't drink until we were in college and never smoked/snorted/did any type of illegal substance or smoked a cigarette. I still can't explain it but I had a very strong feeling against her and while my dad gently prodded us to meet her I stood my ground and refused. I would burst into tears at the very mention of it. Furthering material to tell my therapist because the fighting got more intense and more often.
Part VIII - Finding My Inner Fighter
Our school year ended, Meghan graduated and was headed to Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri in the fall and I passed all of my classes with flying colors and was going to be a Junior in the fall. She was going back to her summer job working for the city of Hedrick and I found a job as a cook at a gas station cafe for the summer. I had made a promise to myself that I would buy my mom a birthstone ring that she had pointed out to me while we were shopping for my 16th birthday ring. It was a channel set ring with alternating sapphires and diamonds. It definitely wasn't cheap and it would have to be custom made due to the one in the store had non-blue sapphires in it and the only jeweler my family has ever gone to, made almost everything custom. That was my summer goal, every single paycheck would go towards that ring, I was still going to buy it but for myself in memory of my mom.
Summer came and went and I did save up enough money to buy that ring. It was worth every penny and I continuously got compliments on it. The day before we were to move Meg into her dorm room I discovered something about my dad and his girlfriend that made me lose all hope and trust and faith in my dad. I could have cared less about her, but i just went instantly cold and couldn't believe what I had found(and no he never cheated on my mother but for privacy's sake I'm not going to say what I found). It was something that I had been taught not to do, something that my mom was adamantly against. I was at such a loss and so hurt. The next day may have been 90+ degrees outside but it was a cold day in August. I barely spoke to my dad or even looked at him that day. As we were leaving Meg's dorm after we had moved her in and taken her to Walmart for some essentials, I told her I'd see her next weekend if I was still living there. I had plans to pack up all of my stuff and move out that night, I couldn't live in the same house as this man. There was no way I could live with a hypocrite. My dad sensed something was wrong all day but things didn't come to light until we got home. I was a pretty shy kid, but I knew what I was taught and I knew what was right and what was wrong and I was not the one who was doing wrong. I stood my ground as we had a pretty explosive and loud fight that night and I grabbed my keys and headed for the door. My dad met me at the door and swiped my keys out of my hand and said I wasn't driving anywhere while I was that mad. So I swung open the door and slammed it behind me as I left anyway. Like I said, this wasn't our first fight, it was the first really bad fight, and it most certainly wasn't going to be our last. I came back home, not saying a word and kept my distance from my dad for the most part, only crossing paths when we needed to.
The week after we had moved Meg to Truman I got a call from the daycare at our school, asking if I would like to work there during the school year. I hadn't even applied but they had gotten my name from one of Meg's friends who was working there but was starting college that fall. Because I wasn't really liking my current job, I accepted and started the first day of school. They were building a brand new building that would allow for a pre-school class room, a big main daycare room, a full kitchen, laundry room, infant room and toddler room as opposed to thier single room Morton building that had been expanded from a smaller trailer. We would also have our own fenced in playground area so no crossing the parking lot anymore but it wasn't going to be open until October 1, so I spent about a month and a half in the old building learning the ropes with the kids and the other staff.
I had only sporadically babysat some kids in our neighborhood, never a completely successful time but hey everyone came out alive. I was less than confident about taking care of multiple small screaming, peeing, puking, adorable humans. I hesitantly got into the swing of things as we moved into the new building in October, and since I was the only non-completely new high school worker, I was selected to be in the baby and toddler room from 3:30 to close at 6pm. Talk about being less than prepared to take care of screaming 3-10 year old humans, try taking care of squishy non-verbal even tinier humans, YIKES!!!!!!!!! My only defense against the screams: rocking chair. We always had a rocking chair in our house and I could remember my mom always rocking me to sleep from a small child so as soon as I walked in, wiped the scared deer-in-headlights look off of my face(as to not alarm the parental units of the tiny humans) I would rock which ever one was screaming. More often than not, it was one or both of a set of four month old twins, Quinn and Ellie. Little did I know it at the time, but those two kids were not only going to help save my life but steal my heart at the same time. We got into a routine, I'd come in and pick one of them up(whichever one was screaming or crying or needed fed) and helped the other teacher with whatever hadn't gotten done during the day, finished up snacks for all of the toddlers and drug some toys out to play with before everyone's parents came to get them. Ellie and Quinn didn't leave until after 5pm so they were usually some of the last ones there which gave me more time with them than the other kids. Through the first couple of months I spent with them, they quickly switched rolls. Ellie became the high maintenance one and Quinn became the mellow one. Both were equally adorable but I gravitated towards Quinn due to his mellow, low maintenance nature. I slowly warmed up to Ellie's high energy and cravings for attention and let's face it, they were equally adorable and there wasn't a single person in that center that didn't love them. I would help their mom get them ready to go and help her carry one of them out to their car so she didn't have to make two trips. I felt like I was a crucial part of something and I found myself not just getting through the days but looking forward to getting through school to be able to see all of the kids, but mostly the twins. They were just all so excited to see me when I walked in and it made me feel so important and so needed.
My junior year had gotten off to a great start, I was no longer in my sister's shadow and it was a fresh year to look forward to. I was taking a college writing class where I discovered my love of writing and that I was good at it too. It was taught by my favorite English teacher, Mr. Sathoff. I felt like I was finally coming into my own my Junior year and I was so ready to have a great year. On the night before my mom's birthday(September 11, 2001) I went to my aunt's store and made a shirt to wear. It was a royal blue shirt and on the front it said "Angels" in pink and had a dusty gold halo around the word. On the back it said "Debbie" in the same pink letters and the number "11" in purple. I donned my outfit of that shirt, my worn in jeans, and my silver and white Adidas Allstars and headed off to school. It was a non-PE day so I went to study hall first period. I didn't have any home work so I volunteered to help with going from room to room gathering attendance. Where were you when the world stopped turning. I cried as I felt a different type of heart break and I went from class to class watching the news in a different room for 8 periods. Talking was minimal as everyone tried to make sense of what we saw. When I got home my dad was watching the news. Our verbal communication was still minimal unless we were fighting about his girlfriend but he quietly said, "I had to come home. I couldn't handle knowing that this happened on your mom's birthday." "What do you mean?" I asked. "I think it's a good thing she didn't have to witness this, it would have broken her heart. I just couldn't function after I heard about it so I came home, " he explained. That was a rough day for not only us as a family but the entire United States as a nation.
Homecoming week was probably one of my favorite weeks, we decorated our designated hallway(as opposed to a float, when you go to school in the middle of nowhere, its what you do), dressed up every day, made sweet shirts with all 13 of my friends for the game on Friday night, I left school early Friday so I could drive to Indianola to pick up my friend, Josh, who was my date for the dance that night. It was a great week and a great night. I finally felt like my life was coming back to me, and "normal" was just on the horizon. One Tuesday morning in late October I woke up with excruciating back pain. I hadn't done anything specific to hurt it so I just took some Aleve and went to school. I made it through first period study hall and had to go home, I couldn't even walk or breathe without it hurting. On my way home I called my dad and told him what was going on and that I'd be home all day. Right after I got home the phone rang and it was my dad saying he was on his way home and that he was taking me to the doctor. We're not doctor people. After what had happened with my mom, we don't do doctors. It kinda worried me that he thought it was serious enough to take me to the doctor. "Ok, fine." I said.
He picked me up and we headed for Sigourney to the clinic. My dad stayed in the lobby as they checked me out. The doctor came in and said it could be one of three things: it could be an infection in the outer lining of my lungs, a muscle spasm in my back or a blood clot in my lungs. As I heard the words come out of her mouth so nonchalantly, even knowing my family history, she played it off like it was not a big deal and they were sending me to Ottumwa for a lung scan to either confirm or deny the blood clot. As she cheerfully got up and escorted me out the door I felt my legs get weak and my body get incredibly hot. Tears had started flowing down my face and I hadn't realized it. I walked out of the door and into the lobby where my dad sat waiting. I stood there and squeaked out that it could be a blood.......................... I couldn't even finish my sentence as one of the receptionists was instantly by my side holding me up. She had worked with my mom previously and her kids went to Pekin so she knew everything that had happened. As my dad reached out and grabbed my hand I sobbed harder. The doctor came out and didn't understand the commotion as the receptionist told her why I was "over reacting". I had to go to Ottumway, OTTUMWA, for a lung scan because it just so happens this was the only day they didn't have tech in Sigourney. Torture. As I silently sobbed the entire way to Ottumwa, my dad half heartedly reassured me that I would be fine and that I was young and I would be fine. I didn't believe him and I don't think he believed himself after what had happened almost a year previously. We parked and started walking into the horrid hospital, through the same doors we had gone through last year, hoping, praying we'd still be a family of four, leaving as a family of three. The tears were there whether I wanted them to be or not. We checked in and they led us back to the Xray area where I had to put on a gown and they laid me on a cold flat table. As the crass dopey gentleman made me stick out my arm to shoot the glowing stuff into my blood stream, he observed "You'd be a terrible junkie, you have bad veins." As I nervously laughed and thought he was going to turn into Hannibal Lector, I couldn't wait to get out of there! I quickly dressed and went back to meet my dad. He asked why I was shaking and I lied as I told him I was just really cold. I couldn't wait to reach those sliding doors and escape from that hell hole.
We drove back to the clinic in Sigourney and they had received my scans and told me that it was probably just an infection causing inflammation on the outer part of my lungs, so all of the stress and breakdown and scary thought were all for nothing, thank you Ms. Indian Doctor, thank you. I got a prescription for the infection and we sentenced to bed rest for the rest of the week and weekend. I think emotionally recovering from that was worse than actually recovering from the pain of the infection. As I laid around on the couch through the weekend I came to the conclusion that I need to do something about my physical health. I was doing something about my emotional health but I needed to do something for my physical health. In PE we had to run/walk a certain distance everyday before we started our activity and after I almost got a C first quarter my freshman year due to walking, I had started running(or shuffling) so I would get an A. That's what I'll do, I'll start running again. So every morning I would wake up at 4:15 and be out the door by 4:30-4:45am to be at school by 5am so I had time to run, shower and get ready for the day. The first year anniversary was hard to stomach but I saw myself moving forward which gave me a sense of bittersweetness but the fact that I had made it through a year and was not stuck in that same place gave me a boost of hope and confidence.
I continued to run every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, was going to a Therapist every Friday at 4pm, working at the daycare everyday after school as well and I was continually feeling better, looking better and generally starting to feel like a better version of who I was before my mom died. I refused to run inside so I ran in snow, on ice, in ice, sun, rain, bitter cold, etc. but I needed the free open space and fresh air no matter the temperature of that air. I hadn't thought to run with a CD player(iPods were a far off novelty at this point too) so I usually just ran with my thoughts and sometimes a song or two that was stuck in my head. Most times it was "All Things Considered" by Yankee Grey and the lyrics are as followed:
All things considered I'm doin' just fine even though
You left a hole the size of Texas deep inside of my heart
The way I feel I should be losing my mind
But all things considered
I'm doin' just fine -(this part I would go over and over and over in my head as I ran.)
Woke up this morning to the sound of you slammin' the door
I got served a piece of paper for breakfast that said
You don't live here no more
And the dog won't let me pet him, he just lays around
And growls at my feet
And the paper boy forgot me again
I should have stayed in bed asleep
All things considered I'm doin' just fine even though
You left a hole the size of Texas deep inside of my heart
The way I feel I should be losing my mind
But all things considered
I'm doin' just fine
Well my car broke down again right before it ran out of gas
Yeah my boss is still ringing in my head
One more time and your out on your...yeah
Well I cant wait till that five o clock whistle blows
So I can sit in traffic all day
And end up going home alone
All things considered I'm doin' just fine even though
You left a hole the size of Texas deep inside of my heart
The way I feel I should be losing my mind
But all things considered
I'm doin' just fine
All things considered I'm doin' just fine even though
You left a hole the size of Texas deep inside of my heart
The way I feel I should be losing my mind
But all things considered
I'm doin' just fine
It was a bit poetic but it helped and I can't complain because it was a catchy song. I would make up a run if I missed a day due to illness(which was rare) or a cancelled snow day at school. The holidays went by again, as I still refused my dad's girlfriend from attending our family gathering. I had finally given in and agreed to meet her the weekend before my mom's birthday but I cried as I told my dad I'd meet her. I cried the entire way to and from Iowa City where we were to meet her. As we sat down to lunch together I wanted to have a huge sign that read, "SHE'S NOT MY MOM AND NEVER WILL BE BECAUSE SHE'S EVIL" and hold it above our table so everyone would know I was there under duress. She asked see my mom's ring and I almost instantly burst into tears and my dad asked me to take it off and show her. As she looked at it with an evil witch look in her eye that said, "I could so get him to buy me a bigger rock than that. AAAAAHAHAHAHAHA." As I glared at her as she examined it I quietly asked for it back. I replaced it around my neck and we got through dinner. Even after meeting her I was less than impressed and still got a terrible feeling about her but my dad liked her so I kept my snotty comments and evil glares to a minimum. I didn't like it but my dad had turned into an 18 year old boy, and I turned into the person waiting up at night for him to come home from his girlfriend's house. He spent most weekends and quite a few week nights there. I was left at home alone, it was lonely but it was quiet.
Part IX - There's Beauty in the Breaking
As the holidays faded away and the new year dawned, something exciting came my way in the form of a Shaffer's Prom 2002 catalog. I was so excited looking at all of the beautiful dresses and imagining what our prom was going to look like and who I would go with and what wonderful things were in store. And then I saw it, on page 18, the most gorgeous dress I had ever seen. It was the perfect shade of bright/light pink, strapless and a ball gown that would make any princess jealous. Just like the ring I bought in memory of my mom, I had to have it. It was December and Prom was in early April, and again every paycheck was saved for that dress. Meg and I made a trip to Des Moines to visit Schaffer's in February so I could order my dress and possibly try it on if they had one. I remember prom dress shopping with my sister but this time I get to go. All of my friends were asked last year so they were already seasoned for this but I was like a kid in a beautiful candy store. So many beautiful dresses to choose from but I was an arrow and I knew exactly what I wanted. I marched right up to the cashier, opened the catalog that was sitting on the counter and told her I wanted "that" dress, as I pointed to perfection on page 18. She looked at me quizzically as to say, "Do you realized how much that dress is. Where's daddy's checkbook, I'm sure he'll be paying for it." I stood my ground and requested to be measured for the correct size of dress to purchase, and I would be purchasing that dress, that day. Hesitantly, the lady obliged my request and I got measured for the dress. After redressing and going back to the counter, she explained that I had to put at least half down today if I was going to order it and there were no returns on ordered dresses. I didn't bat an eyelash as I dug out my wallet and wrote her a check from my own(non parentally tied) checkbook for the full amount of the dress, minus alterations. As she wiped off the shocked look on her face, she cordially gave me their returned check policy. I smiled back as I also shot her a look that said, "Don't patronize me, I'm sure you just got a huge commission off of my over $600 dress." I walked out of Schaffer's beaming. I had the dress, next is the date. Crap. Ok, well there is a guy I like and I'll put some feelers out and see if he's going with anyone. Well turns out some underclassman begged him to take her to get back at her ex-boyfriend. So annoying and I cried, because let's face it, I cry. So I asked someone else, and he said no. I had a friend who said she was working on something but it ended up that one of my friend and I were the only two who didn't have a boyfriend so we were going to go with each other. We both had fabulous dresses and we didn't need guys for dates! SWEET!
I had made a trip back to Des Moines once my dress came in to get it fitted. I had lost some weight, due to my continued running, It had to be taken in so I paid for the necessary alterations and made plans to go back for the final fitting. My sister couldn't be there to go with me so my dad took me to pick up my dress. He knew how much the dress was and he said he was only willing to pay a small fraction of the dress's cost but I was set on that dress and I had the money, which is why I went ahead and got it. When I came out in my dress he was at a loss for words, and so was I. It was everything I had dreamed about. I redressed as they wrapped up my dress for travel. I walked out to my dad standing at the counter with his checkbook out. The lady at the counter sweetly looked up at him and said, "The dress has already been paid in full, there's no balance on this account." As he looked at me, I shyly said "I really wanted the dress so I saved up and already paid for it." I think he was fully expecting to have to pay for it. Again, I left feeling elated. I just had an amazing feeling of normalcy for my overly mature 17 year old self. No bad emotions, just happy ones and giddy ones and excited ones. All the emotions that a 17 year old should feel pre-prom! Being a Junior, we were in charge of decorating for prom. We had chosen the theme, "Temptation Island" which was awful, in my opinion but the decorations and plans were going to be amazing so I looked past the crappy theme(from a crappy reality TV show, none the less.)
The week of Prom came and as of Monday afternoon, the gym was blocked off and doors were boarded up so no one could see in and no one could get in except for Junior class members. I had to work everyday until 6pm so I helped out during study hall and after work every day. We made hundreds of palm leaves from green plastic and wire. We made a volcano made of hundreds and hundreds of boxes. The volcano even had "flames" made from paper and a box fan. One of the foreign exchange students painted a sunset on one side of the gym, which cleared the gym for a couple of hours, she used spray paint. We had a waterfall and we even used my hammock that my dad got for Christmas when I was little. It was beautiful and we all worked incredibly hard on it, most nights staying until close to midnight(or as late as a chaperon would let us.)
As Friday's school day came to a close, I got called to the office. I walk in and there's a HUGE bouquet of pink roses from my dad. Ah, flowers. I do love getting flowers and my dad is wonderful about sending them, so I was gracious to receive them, especially the day before Prom! Friday night was the longest night ever but there would be no female help on Saturday so we had to make sure it was as close to done as possible. We all were winding down on the productivity scale around midnight so we all trickled out of the gym and went home.
Saturday morning dawned and I was up early! I had to go to Ottumwa to get my nails done and to pick up my bouquet(I'm not a fan of corsages). After returning from Ottumwa I showered and made my way to Kitty's Barber Shop to get my hair and makeup done and to get dressed. Natalie is catholic and we were going to go to pre-Prom mass so she was meeting me at Kitty's and we were taking my dad's new car! I arrive at Kitty's to her and her daughter busily talking and getting everything ready. I drag all of my stuff in and we all get started. I had made a headband like what Whit(Kitty's daughter) had a few years back for Prom so Kitty took that and ran with it for my hair. She tested all of my makeup on herself first and then we all collectively did my makeup. After we chatted and chatted and did my hair and chatted and did my makeup and chatted it was time for THE DRESS! I was all butterflies and nerves and excitement to put it on. As Kitty zipped it up, I felt so many wonderful feelings that I had never felt before. I was extatic, elated, excited, nervous, felt like a princess, I felt like I wanted people to be looking at me which wasn't normal. Usually I wanted for people to not even see me, to look past me but today was different. Today and from now on would be different. I slipped into my shoes and did a twirl in the barber shop for everyone. By that time, Natalie had arrived and she looked stunning as well! It took Kitty, Whit, Natalie and my sister to get me into the car due to my huge dress but we were off to mass.
We get to mass with a few of our other friends arriving right after us. We make our way into the church, as i blurt out an "oh, shit!" because I tripped over my dress on the way in AND while trying to get into the pew with my huge dress. OOPS. Well, not being catholic, I didn't think it matter much. Anyway, everyone who was catholic did the whole stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight! routine that catholics do. I just sat there and looked really confused as did some of my other friends whose dates were catholic but not them. They drank
We buzzed around the gym for pictures and then we sat down to dinner and a little entertainment. I continued ot get compliments from teachers and other students. I was on cloud nine and so truly humbled and happy. I was happy. I. Was. Happy. Wow, it had been a while since I had felt that. We all were shuffled into the hallway to roam about and take numerous pictures as they cleared the tables out of the gym so we could get our groove on! After about 20 minutes the music started and we filtered back into the gym. We danced to the fast songs and I quietly removed myself from the dance floor every time a slow song came on. I went out to get a drink or found someone to take a picture with during those. Every time a slow song came on, I had a pang of jealousy for everyone who had a partner to dance with but I was on such a wonderful high feeling, I quickly got over it. One of the last slow songs began and I headed out to get another drink. On my way out I met one of my friend's boyfriends whom I graciously smiled at and said, "She just went that way," completely expecting him to question where his girlfriend was. He looked at me and said, "Nope, I'm looking for you. Wanna dance?" As I took his hand, in that moment, my entire world felt like it turned right-side up again. It wasn't who I was dancing with, it was that I was dancing. I was alive and at Prom, in a gorgeous dress, and had wonderful friends who had done more for me than I ever expected or could have hoped for. I. Was. Alive! I was truly and completely alive and normal. Wow. As the song ended, I had to do a double take of my emotions. As I quickly snapped a picture of the two of us, I knew that my life, once again, wouldn't be the same ever again. But this time, it was for the better!
Part X - Moving Forward
As my Junior year ended, the summer brought lots of sunshine, working almost 40 hours a week at the Daycare, and trying to figure out what to do after graduation. Well, I had always said I would NEVER apply to Truman, where Meg was at , because we were on such horrible fighting terms when she left for college there was no way I was going anywhere near her. I contemplated moving out east and actually applied and was accepted to Columbia University in NYC, early acceptance. I applied and was accepted to Simpson College in Indianola but ultimately decided that i disliked the smallness of my high school(which was similar to the smallness of Simpson) and I wanted something a bit bigger than that. And ultimately found myself applying to Truman State University for early acceptance and got in! God knew what He was doing(doesn't He always though) because I was an incredibly naive 18 year old. I think NYC would have eaten me alive and then spit me out on the cold hard pavement. I probably would have found a way to pick myself back up and survive, something that I never knew I could do but would have done if needed. Through High School I was the girl who didn't drink, didn't smoke and wasn't even invited to or even knew about parties because I was so against it(and my mom had threatened me with the sale of my car if I HAD done anything like that). I was more than ready for college before I even started my senior year, but it was inevitable that I would have to endure another year of high school before my college adventures could start. So I trudged back to school in August for one final hurrah of High School. It wasn't a bad year but nothing close to my junior year. I was enrolled in "work study" and "cross age mentoring" meaning I had enough credits to graduate after my junior year so I worked through the first two class periods and then walked over to school and continued the day with my other classes. The guys made it to the quarter final football playoffs and my friends and I decorated shirts to say GO PANTHERS and painted our faces and stood in the front row at the UNI-Dome for the entire game. One friend was crown Homecoming and Prom queen, another friend was crown Harvest Ball Queen. I went to Prom with Brandon, the nephew of my boss's best friend. I got to pick out a brand new(right off the trailer) Dodge Ram pickup from Jack Walker Dodge to drive to Prom. I made him my special Pineapple pie, which meant I could get whatever I wanted! It felt like as soon as prom came and went, graduation was right on the horizon. My final week of High School came and I was ecstatic to be out of that place. I was semi-sentimental, going to my locker and remembering the first day I had it, going to each class for the last time, getting well wishes from teachers and underclassmen, going to the awards ceremony.............when I finally broke down and cried. I wasn't crying because I was sad that High School was ending, I was crying because it was the first monumental accomplishment when the hole in my heart truly and unabashedly ached. As the parent of one of my friends grabbed me and didn't let go, I cried and cried and cried on her shoulder as I kept saying, "She's not here, she's never going to see me graduate, she's not here, she's not here........" As I dried my tears, reality sunk in a little deeper. High School, college, grad school, marriage, races, kids or anything in between, the ache in my heart would always be there and hurt a little deeper on those special days. But, I was getting out of High School and I was happy, and I felt like High School graduation would pale in comparison to what life had in store for me so I marched forward with vigor. Graduation came(cue the Kenny Chesney song, "For the First Time"), we gathered in the library and I snapped pictures with everyone as we waited to march into the gym, we marched in to the best song ever( I had been waiting for years to be able to march into the gym for my OWN graduation), we listened to three speeches, the honor students and members of National Honor Society were announced(I was in both groups) and then we all stood, to take the stage as our names were read. I couldn't stop smiling as I shook Dr. Macklem's hand and hugged Mr. Sathoff(who was now the principal). I made it back to my seat as I waited for the rest of my classmate's to get back to theirs. That was it, we did it! Hats were thrown, silly-string and confetti were overused, parents cried, and we exited the gym as high school graduates.
Part XI THE COLLEGE YEARS
This section was taking up A LOT of space and time so I've made a separate page just for college. A VERY pertinent part of my life but it needed a space of its own. It, in itself, is a fairly extensive collection of great memories and I want to be able to do it justice, and that may take some time so I'll continue both sections separately, depending on what memory is in my head at the time.
Part XII Life After College, Crap.
Crap. That pretty much sums up how I felt about college ending. I could have stayed for another semester and/or year and turn one of my minors into a major or get another couple minors but due to my insane college loan amounts that kept racking up after 4 years, I decided that I should probably graduate with everyone else I started with. I'm going to break for a minute and go off on a tangent.
Tangent: After my mom died and I saw the black hole of depression, as I slowly climbed out of it I started to realize how wonderful everything was. Simple things began to be my drug of choice. A sunny day, a smile, fresh towels out of the dryer, getting a wiff of magnolias or lilacs on my run; I cherished the smallest of things. Tangent done.
Kirksville, Missouri maybe close to the armpit of the universe but I loved every second I spent there, skullets and all. Cleaning out our house and packing was a task that I put off for weeks and it was easy to do with finals and graduation and planning the last wild nights and hungover mornings, it was a full time job to plan debauchery let alone go to school and do said debauchery. Once finals were over, my roommate(and her boyfriend who had been living with us) and I kicked into high gear. Good thing about KVEGAS(a loving nickname for Kirksville) is that the townies(people from Kirksville, not to be confused with Kirkatoids who just LIVE in Kirksville. Big difference.) know when college kids move out so it was an unofficial "spring cleaning" where we set all of the stuff we didn't want on the curb and the townies took care of the haul away. Lucky for us, our townie neighbors wanted EVERYTHING we set outside. Empty house, check. All of our personal stuff was going to leave with our families and us after graduation on Sunday.
The day of graduation: a great day! It was a little humid and rain looked like it was coming but it just hid behind the clouds and told the wind to show its face. Meg dropped me off at Baldwin where I found roommate and some of our AGD friends, we were ushered into the auditorium, some people got their pictures taken with the standard Truman and US flag, and we waited to get ushered around Truman's campus landing us all in the middle of the football field. It was really just a long walk full of even longer pauses in a huge game of "follow the leader".