Wednesday, July 30, 2014

And So We Begin

There were times that I wondered, in earnest, if my friends and I would be okay- if we would survive our teenage folly to be decent adults. For the most part, I'd like to think that we are, and most of us are still around for the time being.

Here are few of the truths that I've been dealing with recently:
  • There are things that you can't fix, no matter how much of yourself you pour into them
  • People who are determined to remain broken are going to stay that way- don't waste yourself on them
  • Betrayal hurts like a mofo (corollary: if you betray me, I will never trust you completely again)
  • There's a point in life past which your damage is your fault, not anyone else's, so suck it up, buttercup. You're the author of your existence, so you have to fix you.
  • When you're dismissive or disrespectful of people, it reflects poorly on you, not them

and, here's a big one:

  • I may love you, but I don't have to like you. 

I ran into one of my cousins who rather famously thought it was okay, at the age of eighteen, to throw rocks at twelve year-old me when I was sent to fetch him home one summer evening. All I could think, when another relative decided to make him speak to me at the funeral was "ROCKS!" I don't care how distinguished his career as a combat pilot was; to me, he will always be that mean so-and-so who considered his twelve year-old female cousin on par with a mangy dog. I'm forty-five and he's fifty-one. Rocks. That's going to be how I relate to him for the rest of our lives. I love him, but I don't have to like him.

My two greatest fears are being abandoned and being publicly humiliated; I've had to deal with both of those firsthand recently. The thing I wonder about is why someone would gripe about having no life, then verbally eviscerate his only friend. Exit gracefully- if he'd stayed for the fallout, he'd know that I did. (Again, I may love you, but I don't have to like you.) My mother would've been proud of me, although it might have ended differently if I'd had access to rocks...

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wish You Were Here

Stephen's senior picture, from the 1972 Glasgow Scottie

Many years ago, when I worked for the denominational college near Smalltownland, my cousin Stephen came to town to talk to the county and city fathers about a tourist magazine, the kind you find in hotel rooms and at tourism offices. The morning he was to meet with them was the same day that the sewing factory, the largest employer in the area, announced that it was shuttering two large plants, effectively gutting local industry.

I managed, after several attempts, to reach Stephen's secretary to warn him. She got through, and a few hours later, he turned up at the college library to thank me for the heads up. He said it was the shortest meeting he'd ever held; he walked in, said, "Gentlemen, I'm sorry, but we only work in proactive situations. I understand that yours became reactive this morning. When your economy recovers, we will be happy to work with you in future." That was it. He came home with me that evening to visit my mother and father, who hadn't seen him in quite a while.

About a year ago, we buried his mother, and then mine, six months later. The big shocker came when his baby brother suffered a stroke and died in the early spring. The memorial service is the last time that I saw him- I had found his personalized senior yearbook on Ebay and bought it for him. It's still on my kitchen table; now I'll be giving it to his sons.

When I was a small child, we went to visit their family almost every week. Of my father's siblings, my aunt and her family lived closest, about forty-four miles from us. I've written about how I adored my uncles on both sides- the boys' father gave me the run of his enormous interior design firm, where I could frequently be found hiding in the batting loft of the sewing room. My life in Glasgow was sort of magical (to a little girl, it was); my three boy cousins trundled me up and down their street in a hooded English perambulator buggy. They let me get away with blue bloody murder. They were my childhood idols.

Stephen was a gifted musician who was chewed up and spit out by the country music industry long before it gained its most recent commercial momentum in the late 1980s. He left professional music and returned to Western Kentucky University where he finished both a bachelor's and master's degree. He was instrumental, during his tenure with the Glasgow-Barren County Chamber of Commerce, in the establishment of the Glasgow Highland Games, alongside his much-beloved band director, the legendary Charles Honeycutt. I suppose that the Games are his legacy now. He also made a brief return to the music industry, appearing as the father in the Raybon Brothers' video of their cover of Butterfly Kisses.

There was a dark side, though. Stephen was a sickly child whose health remained fragile as he grew. As a young man, he underwent neurosurgery on his spine that was botched, leaving him in long-term chronic, debilitating pain. The additional surgeries meant to correct it further injured his back and led to irrevocable changes in his personality. He became someone I felt that I no longer knew; when I would see him at family functions, I found myself searching for the "old" him, the one I remembered. When his mother died- and he was the one who found her body- we all began to worry about what would become of him.

I had hoped that this speculation would not be so soon answered, and I hope that in death he has finally found the peace that eluded him in life. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hail and Farewell

Today is the viewing for my cousin Susan. She learned, about the time that Mom did, that she had cancer. The difference is that Susan was only 41, with a twelve year-old daughter. Cancer had claimed her aunt, my mother's niece, a few years ago. This is the curse of our very concentrated genes. Susan fought like a tiger to live absolutely as long as possible- to see her daughter turn 13 and go on vacation with her to Florida with Patrick, her husband, who is working long hours as a physician in the Big City. (Doctors' families learn early on that you jealously guard every moment you get when The Doctor is home or available to *gasp* actually travel with you somewhere. Those times are RARE. Patrick set aside his career to be with his family throughout this ordeal, to his credit.)

Susan and I had the same oncologist. She has the reputation for pulling off the impossible, but Susan was past even her ability. The last four months of my cousin's too-brief life were reflective of her sheer stubbornness and force of will. She used every possible iota of time that God would grant her in this world.

Tomorrow, I cannot be there for her funeral. My mother's last living brother has been diagnosed with colon cancer and will undergo surgery to remove the tumor in the morning. This is a man who is nearly six-and-a-half feet tall. I rode on the shoulders of giant when I was a child, because my then-bachelor Uncle Ben would fling me up there and haul me around piggyback. He was an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and because he had little time and few things on which to spend his money, he spoiled me dead rotten. I received a number of crushingly expensive toys from Childcraft and FAO Schwarz, and a number of solid silver julep cups, owing to his largess.

This is the same uncle whom I failed so badly as resident summertime mole-killer on the farm. He also had occasion to spank me once with his very large hands because I defied him, climbing over a barbed-wire fence into a pasture with the bull. It only took once. I was also talking with another Airedale rescuer who has a peacock living in the woods behind her house, about how my uncle would put me on his ATV and drive me to the house of a former tenant of the family farm who raised peacocks. Mrs. Crawford saved the windfall feathers for me, you see, and it was those little excursions that have formed the basis for my desire to someday own a couple of peafowl.

Colon cancer claimed my mother's life in December. I am so ridiculously ill-prepared to deal with either Susan's passing or Uncle Ben's cancer diagnosis. My problems seem so pale and minor in comparison. I will also never complain in earnest about my personal physician's insistence that I have a colonoscopy five years before the normal baseline. I just hope Uncle Ben has it in him to fight as hard as Susan did, because I don't want to do this again...not now. Not soon.

Man plans, God laughs.