Thursday, April 30, 2015

You don't know what you've got till you lose it all again

As with Thanksgiving, which was lovely but also incredibly painful, there's another heavy milestone coming up.  Emma's 18th birthday is in a little over a week.

My emotions are very close to the surface these days.  Every conversation I have at some point turns to her, and I cry.  I'll go through periods of a few hours when I'm OK, and then a period of a few hours when my eyes are constantly leaking and if I breathe too deeply I'll break down.

I feel weighted down and anxious, like I've got big, cold rocks sitting on my chest.

Music is a time machine.

When I'm driving, I toggle back and forth between 80s on 8 or the classic 80s alternative station, and I get whiplash from the immediate, visceral associations that different songs bring on.

Journey's Open Arms comes on and suddenly I'm 13 years old and in the downstairs of the student union building at the American International School in Kfar Shmaryahu, Israel, doing the side-to-side slow dance shuffle that is embedded in the DNA of every American teenager at middle school dances everywhere.  I can see the table of hors d'oevres, with the last few tired sprigs of broccoli and carrots lying next to the few remaining dregs of hummus in a plastic bowl. I can see what I and everyone else is wearing, including the high-waisted jeans that, for reasons I will never understand, are coming back in style.  I feel the unfortunately chosen hairstyle that I'm sporting - bangs on my forehead, even though bangs look shitty on me and my hair has too many funky cowlicks and curls for them to sit the way I want them to.  I can smell the Old Spice wafting from the face of the nervous boy with whom I'm swaying to the music.

Then Bruce Hornsby's Valley Road comes on, and I careen 2800 miles southeast and 4 years forward in time, to a hotel balcony in Kerala, India.  My friends and I are on our school's annual "mini-course" trip - a week when the high school students at the American Embassy School in New Delhi fan out across the subcontinent to get hands-on experience in the customs, traditions and history of India - and the trip we've chosen is a week at the beach.  We do some sightseeing and partake in activities with some education value. But for the most part, our chaperones are as content as we are to sunbathe during the day and hang out at night on our hotel balconies drinking beer (we didn't drink with the teachers, but there's no way they didn't know, especially because there was no drinking age that was enforced) and smoking cigarettes and listening to music, including the new Bruce Hornsby and the Range album, which was hugely popular (and which still holds up almost 30 years later).

Against my shins, I can feel the edges of the blue sarong, interwoven with gold threads, that I am wearing as a dress.  I can feel the soft humid warm air on my bare shoulders, and smell the plumeria flowers in the trees.  I can hear the voices of my friends, laughing and talking and arguing over nothing of consequence.  I feel the butterflies in my belly and chest, brought about by the fact that this week, the boy I've been crazy about all year has professed his love for me as well.  We're sitting next to each other and our arms and hands keep brushing together.  Everything is beautiful and new and exciting, and the magic of life is spread out before me like an enormous silk rug.

Suddenly I'm back in my car in 2015, on my way to Sports Authority to pick up cleats and soccer socks for the kids.  I'm sobbing, because the rush of nostalgia - that yearning for the time in my life when everything was possible - mixes with the fact that Emma's life ended just as she was getting to that point.  My head drops and the tears fall and my breathing gets ragged.  I have to pull over.

After a couple of minutes, I take a deep breath and collect myself.  I check the rearview mirror and wipe the runny mascara from my face.  I change the radio station and start driving again, off to run my errands and then meet my children at the soccer fields.


  1. Beautiful writing, Wendy. So evocative. I am right there with you as I read this. And I'm so terribly sorry.

    1. Thanks, Lis. Love you. xoxo

    2. I feel the same way. I miss so much from the past. The past seems so much richer. Maybe because I had such limited expectations. I also went to AIS there, in 1973.