By the grace of the God I barely believe in, George is alive. I was in a car accident. George would have been in the front seat. He would have been killed. On the way home from a Labor Day soccer tournament, we stopped at a gas station and got candy. The girls, Izzy and Virginia, told my shy Georgie to come sit in the back so they could share their Swedish Fish. The front seat of the rented Chevy was gone. George would have died if it wasn’t for Izzy and Virginia sharing their candy. Izzy couldn’t stop screaming. She thought she was throwing up blood. It was red gatorade from the Sunoco. I saw the car coming but it was too close… I kept retelling the story and rethinking the moment before, the moment during and the moments after. I would include the same details. Izzy couldn’t stop screaming. George was silent.
When the police report arrived weeks later and exonerated me I stopped telling the story quite so often. The other driver had run the red light at a fast speed. Early twenties. On her phone. I hadn’t caused the crash. I didn’t almost kill my angel boy and my friends’ two dreamy girls. Eventually, slowly- I stopped replaying the accident. I stopped rewinding and hitting play every night on my pillow.
My dad died a month ago. I wonder when I will forget the hard memories of the very end. His strong handshake, the twenty dollar bill he handed each of us before we got on the road, insisting on driving his motor boat a little too fast while we squealed- these memories will ring truer and louder and I won’t see him sick. I will forget the thermos that replaced his wine glass. I will forget the hospital bed next to his picture window facing the oak tree lined Sound. I will forget the gracious hospice nurses. I will forget the whirring and slight thumping of the oxygen machine. The end months of an unfamiliar frail man will not be waiting at the end of every sentence. My Dad will be my dad without cancer and without death. The years of highlight reels will roll and I won’t remember the stuff I don’t want to remember. The stuff I don’t want to write. Words like purple or hollow will be replaced by better times and words like warm and charitable.
My ground hog is anger. Will Punxsutawney Phil come out of his hole? The answer is yes. My problem right now, is any sadness- leads me straight to anger. He comes out in sun or shade. The anger is ready and waiting. As a child, I was good at sadness. I remember staring into our huge mirrored wall in the pink tiled Jack and Jill bathroom on Vaughn’s Gap. I sat on a short vanity stool and the pink vinyl stuck to my humid little thighs. I sat and watched myself cry. Watching tears stream down and my chin tremble. I noticed that I was pretty when I cried. It sounds strange but I liked watching myself cry. I cried myself to sleep many nights. I thought it was normal because I heard songs in Grease where people cried themselves to sleep. I cried a lot, copying Olivia Newton John as Sandy. Crying sweetly and innocently. The object of everyone’s sympathy. I was called a cry baby more than once in elementary school mostly because I was. I cried my entire seventh birthday because Trey Simms called me “cupcake girl” when my mom brought cupcakes. Sister Mary Damion pointed out to me that Trey and I had the same birthday and his mom had not brought cupcakes because his mom was at work. This only made me cry more.
Even now, I do cry often but it doesn’t release the sadness. There is no rush of exhaustion after hyperventilating sobs. I cry and I sink deep into my bed with a thought in the back of my mind. A fear of never rising from this mattress. Not suicide. Nothing like suicide. This is the deep desire to hide in bed. A fear of the joy that the hiding could give me an escape. I’m scared I will never want to wake up. I’m scared the bed will win. It grows wild and insistent like the kudzu. I worry that the kudzu will take over as my dad predicted. Riding in the silver Chevrolet Caprice Classic for our Sunday drive, my dad told us that he had read about kudzu in Time magazine. The leafy vine had been brought from China to Alabama. And it has gotten out of control and eventually it will take over every surface of the United States. He pointed it out on the hillsides of Tennessee. Rising to my knees from the blue velvet interior, I was easily convinced. Spotting the thick carpet of green vines, I knew my dad was correct and I imagined all the pine trees on the Natchez Trace Parkway drowned by this King Kong of the natural world. My anger is fast growing and smothering. I could wonder why, like I wondered why did China choose little old Alabama. But it wouldn’t matter. It is already here.
Staying in my bed isn’t an option. Mim. Mim would never allow that. The tantrums would grow in frequency and intensity. She insists on full attention. Her disability fuels our dependence. She is rarely able to regulate her own moods. It is called disregulation.
When met with a challenge such as putting her shoes on- her foot slips and the shoe falls and instead of trying again, she erupts. It is sudden and quick and reverberating to the rest of us in her circle. She needs us to narrate her difficulties and encourage and soothe and impose the calm that her brain does not provide. The strength in my shoulders, my slow deep breaths, my neutral facial expression, the softness of my middle have just enough pull to be contagious. The calm in my body translates and spreads to hers because she trusts me like I trust gravity. She needs me. So hiding is not an option. She needs me. Not just to get the snacks and wipe her tiny bum but to secure her psyche. And that takes all of me. And I need her.
And maybe because of this duty, because of this reverence to my nurturing of Mim, I never get to the bottom of the sadness. If I were completely truthful it is also, how I have developed over time. To avoid becoming the eternal cry baby, I became an adolescent Pollyanna. Focus on the good. Smile at everyone. Don’t wallow. Anger isn’t pretty. People love a happy girl. Smile. Giggle. Flip every tough situation into a good one. It wasn’t that much to ask. I had a pretty good life. Upper middle class girl with soft shiny hair. I continued being Pollyanna into adulthood because it worked. I could fix my emotions without delving into too much negativity.
I adopted a bull dog puppy when BeBe graduated high school.
I buy plants and attempt gardening when I fear that my big kids don’t need me. I can mother these dying baby succulents and temperamental ferns.
I fall asleep to the tumble of the dryer so that I can’t hear silence.
What I am left with in the tiny moments of solitude, is anger. Pure unadulterated anger. I fume over a two year old divorce instead of grieve my dad’s death. I wake up to the Groundhog Day. The dryer tumbles Mim’s tennis shoes and the dog blankets that refuse to smell better. My thoughts tumble -seven years, work trips, she reminded him of Audrey Hepburn, beer cans stashed behind the bush by the back door, promises, lies, shame, and the retelling of the years goes on and on. We were happy. I remember we were happy. Weren’t we happy? My thoughts are on repeat. I push away the tears. I soothe my 10 year old baby girl. My anger surges. I water the succulents too often, killing them with my nurturing. The puppy turns into a dog. I clinch my jaw knowing that next week, I will sit in a room with attorneys and hope I brought the right pay stub, tax return and proof. Hope that I don’t become a cry baby. That Pollyanna blazes in and convinces the board room of my goodness. Our love has come down to this.
And my state, my soul, me- I have become stuck in the Groundhog Day. Wooshes of sadness for my dad and a tidal wave of anger crashes right over it. All mixed up- like when I am watching the surfers and a killer wave comes and Tuck and George are knocked off and I lose them for a second too long. They resurface in a tangle of seaweed, rushing white water and craggy rocks, with their leashes snapped and their boards too far away for this mama’s heart. And the miracle of it all, it turns out ok. I spot my boys. We survive. And I would say tomorrow is another day but it will probably be February 2nd.