Some days I catch myself thinking of her, eighteen and at her high school graduation rehearsal, learning in a sea of classmates that her father has died. Suddenly and unexpectedly.
She must have felt like her life was just beginning. And then, not anymore.
It must have felt like nothing mattered. Like her life was ending too.
Some days I think of myself learning similar news. At 8 or 13 or 22.
How grief sneaks up on you and even though the wave has already crashed, the news already broken, it can take days for the rumble of the wake to shake your legs and pull you down.
I think about those three days of disbelief in 2003. How on Day 4, the floodgates opened. How I couldn’t close them back up. How hard it was to push push push that door closed, the water streaming in.
Those are crossroads moments. Some of us catch them and some of us point as they drive past. Some of us lock them up tight and some throw them to the wind.
I was always a locker. A keeper. A carrier.
And though it might feel heavy at times, mostly I like it. Mostly it reminds me why I do what I do. Why I am who I am.
At sixteen I was messaging this guy back and forth on AIM, and I remember him saying, “you’re a very emotional person.” I don’t remember what prompted it or if anything did at all, but it’s stuck with me.
When bad news comes and the clouds roll in, it might seem harder. But then it’s the reason we feel so much for the people and things we lose.
All those moments that add up to a life well worth it. Because they mattered to someone like me. Or you. Or him or her or them.
Some nights, I zip up my knee-high riding books or slip on my Target moccasins and lock my front door. I tumble, yes tumble, there is an awkward falling quality to it, down the flight of stairs and press the key fob to unlock my car door.
I turn the ignition and wait for music, wait for something that might keep me from feeling alone. I wait for another voice to fill the hollow space inside this car that’s mine but not yet mine. This car that doesn’t yet smell like me.
Sometimes, just stuffing my feet into those shoes and closing that door and smelling that leather and hearing those first few notes are enough to calm me from whatever I’m inevitably trying to avoid.
In another life, I’d be a singer.
I’m not terrible, can pick up a melody and learn it, but I have no illusions about someday earning myself a record deal. Nashville will never hold my heart.
Maybe, in the far-off-don’t-think-about-it-or-you’ll-only-be-sorry future, I’ll feel comfortable enough to sing for some boy (man?) who doesn’t make me feel like I’m in a room full of strangers who would rather a juke box accompany their next round of beers.
It’s not something I think about.
Kind of like the reason I’m sitting in the car, putting it in reverse, shifting to first and cutting the wheel hard, squeezing it till my fingertips are white because I’m sure that will stop me from scraping the back of the Kia Soul that yes, does have a stuffed hamster on the dashboard to match the dancing ones on the commercials.
Loneliness. That’s what lingers in those lyrics that the other tenets are bound to know over tooth brushing and flossing, shower shaving and tea brewing.
They are bound to hear my good days, my bad ones, as I sit in front of the computer and try to pretend I am alone, on an island, with soundproof walls and no one around for miles.
That doesn’t help the loneliness.
And probably the only thing that does is knowing that someday my once-broken, twice-broken, gosh-how-many-times-can-you-break-a-heart-before-you’re-twenty-three heart will come in handy when I want to master a melody about the things that chisel away at us.
And dying without goodbyes.
For boys who never became men.
For girls who always break first, before he has the chance.
Getting stood up.
For divorce and disease and forgetting the name of your own family. Forgetting where you live. For growing old and wishing you didn’t have to wake up anymore. For goodbyes that take too long and aren’t long enough.
Maybe that’s why I’m sitting in my closet on the floor, trying to find lyrics and notes to hold all those things we, as humans, are inevitably going to have to handle.
Maybe that’s why we have driver’s licenses at sixteen—there are nights when the car will always need to hold melodies for us, when we will need to remember that sometimes, all we know how to do is stop at the red light and use our turn signals and wipe the rain away when it comes.
Because it will come. If not today, then another day.
And there will be a song on the radio and you will wonder why every single country star knows somebody who died of cancer and why must every single commute feel like the world has ended and put itself back together in just the span of 15 minutes while you sit in traffic?
It will happen. Maybe you won’t sit in your closet. Maybe you won’t be alone. Maybe the music will fill the spaces you don’t want to deal with right now.
“I was thinking about the word ‘handle,’ and all the unholdable things that get handled.” – John Green, The Fault In Our Stars