Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Little Girl, Little Liar

I'm realizing more and more lately that I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I logically acknowledge that I'm a grown up adult with tremendous responsibilities and terrible life experiences. And yet I can't shake the feeling that I'm going to wake up and be 8 years old rubbing my sleepy eyes and thinking, "What a scary dream!" Am I the only 33 year-old who ever stops dead in my tracks and feels stunned, stunned, at the reality of adulthood? I am full grown a woman, and yet a little girl lurks in me still.

The past 5 years have been the most tumultuous of my life. Something clicked in the universe and unleased a shitstorm of massive proportions. I remember the night it happened. The night I knew for sure that the world was a dangerous place. It was a January night in 2004. Todd and I had just moved in together. I was playing house. A light snow was falling outside and I had lifted up the blinds to watch it blanket the grounds behind our condo. I stood there in my barefeet making cupcakes for no reason and the phone rang. When I answered it there was silence on the other end. Then, the sound of my sister sobbing.

"It's cancer. I have cancer."

"I'll be right there. I'm coming over." I hung up the phone, my hands shaking. I turned off the oven, put on my shoes and ran out the door. I forgot my coat. By the time I got to my car the snow had really started to come down, fast and hard. There was snow in my hair and on my face, frozen and cold to match a numb heart. I couldn't believe what was happening.

When I got to Amy's apartment, she was calm. She was on-line looking up information on breast cancer, treatments, prognosis. That night we thought that cancer was our bitch. Silly girls. I said the worst things you could ever say.

"Now you can get a boob job! And you'll lose weight from the chemo!" She laughed at my twisted joke. We thought maybe it would be alright. We can still laugh. Everything will be alright. Little did I know then that people can laugh in their darkest hours, even when they're dying. Sometimes that's all you have left: the bad joke.

I stayed with her until midnight. I stayed until I thought my brave face would fall away. I was all alone with her and her cancer. It was too big for me. I couldn't bear up under that weight. I still think about my leaving that night. I should have stayed with her. I shouldn't have left her alone with her cancer that first night. I'm an asshole for leaving. That's just one of a million regrets I have in regards to my sister. Yes, I let her down in a million ways and there is no one alive or dead that could convince me otherwise.

Watching her die was the worst moment of my life. But I'm glad I was there. It's haunting to see the breath leave a person. It's like seeing their soul make it's escape, wrench it's way violently from the body. Her soul was done. That vessel was ruined, battered, beaten. But it was anti-climactic. I don't know what I expected that didn't happen. Death is just a moment. One second the person you love so much is in the world and you're sticking a syringe of morphine into her mouth and the next minute she is gone. But the sun doesn't stand still. The earth doesn't shake off it's steady orbit. And then I'm on the phone with the hospice.

"My sister just died," I said, my voice clear and strong. I was surprised by my voice. It still worked.

And then the hugging. Everybody hugs everybody when somebody dies. It's just what you do. We're the living and that's our secret club sign. The Hugging.

Amy's boyfriend was sitting next to her body, sucking the morphine syringe. Anything helps. I grab an oxycontin from her pill bottle. She won't be needing this anymore. But I do. How the hell else do you go to fucking Olive Garden and eat lunch with your husband and little girl on the day your sister died?

If there is any justice in the world, I will die alone. I deserve it. I deserve it for all those times I didn't answer the phone when Amy called me. I deserve it for all the times I just couldn't be with her, couldn't face her fucking cancer. I deserve it for all the times I told her that everything would be alright.


  1. You are delicious.

    You better be doing that thing, where you say something aloud and tempt fate, if you believe in fate. So, "I will die alone," assures that you will not be alone. It'll be like Big Fish. Or, perhaps, you will live forever.

  2. Rassles is right. You are delicious.
    And? Knock it off with the guilt. Seriously. If I can get over feeling guilty that I forgot to call my grandpa on the day he was murdered you can get over not being able to handle the weight of your sister and her cancer.
    That murder happend to my grandpa and that cancer happened to your sister. Apparently we're supposed to be here figuring some shit out or we would have been murdered or had cancer ourselves.
    No, I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just saying I think people should have to work through their shit because I did.
    I'm a selfish bitch like that you know.

  3. Lou Reed said on the album New York: self-knowledge is a dangerous thing.

    So's self-hatred. You made the decisions you made, and they can't be undone. Beating yourself up about it for years after isn't going to change a thing.

  4. The fact that you have this guilt is the proof that you shouldn't. I know that doesn't make sense, but if you didn't care and love her and do everything you could, you wouldn't be the type to feel guilty. Try to go easy on yourself.

  5. Yeah, that second-guessing shit sucks.

    My uncle died several years ago, and I was asked to do the eulogy thing. I spent a couple hours writing up some shit. It was good shit. And I guess I delivered; people were in tears and said they had captured his spirit for all to remember.

    And yet, what I should have done, what didn't even cross my mind despite the impact it all made on me as a kid, was just shut up and play "Eye of the Tiger". He was a crazy Rocky fan and that song had been his soundtrack through some terrible stuff. I even had the song ripped to a CD in my car. But it never occurred to play it at his funeral. He would have loved that.

    So, about a year later, I took my laptop to his grave and played it for him. Sat in the grass on a dewy spring morning and listened to a so-so 80s song as the birds chirped.

    Regrets. Sometimes you can make amends, sometimes you can't. But you get to live . . .

  6. I agree with Gina. My late husband's sister, who made his terminal cancer all about her and did NOTHING to help him or our family feels no guilt at all. And believe me she shouldn't be able to look at herself in the mirror.

    As for going to Olive Garden. The day after my husband died, my mother took me for a manicure/pedicure. WTF?

  7. I read this last night and started to comment, but then decided to sleep on it. I still don't really know what to say--my thoughts are either too harsh or too sappy. You gave Amy what she really wanted with your own surgery. I think the sacrifice you made totally trumps a neglected telephone. And I hope that in the light of a new day, you feel better.
    To echo Rassles and MG, you ARE delicious!

  8. You did right by her by being by her side.

  9. G – This post just got under my skin. There's a lot of pain here. And I normally would leave these things alone (seeing as I am apparently a vulcan), but I can't. Not this time. I can’t let you take this all on yourself. That's not fair to your sister, or to you, or to your husband, or your daughter.

    The truth is – yeah, you could maybe have done things differently. Some of those things certainly would have made the situation better. And some would have made them possibly worse. You don't know. Cut yourself a break. You are a human. And you have limits.

    And you are not the only person in your sister's life. Some of what you thought you should have given her was probably meant for others to provide. You gave what you could and what you had to give. And when you got tired, it sounds like there were others there to pick it up and carry it.

    The death of a loved one sucks. Especially someone so young. It never makes sense. And it is natural to beat yourself up over "shoulda coulda." But I would be willing to bet a lot that your sister never felt that you didn't do enough. I am willing to bet that she was overwhelmed with all the support that you did provide. I'm willing to bet that you did way more than you give yourself credit for.

    I, of course, am talking out my ass, since I know none of the people involved. But I know the situation. I have lived it. Not with a sibling, but with a parent.

  10. Wow, I loved this and hated this at the EXACT SAME MOMENT.

    My love of it was everything about you and my hate was everything about me and my stupid tears that won't stop coming today!

    Now I feel weirdly connected to you.

    Stupid internet.

  11. This is a big day for me. This is the first day in my whole life that I've ever been told I was delicious. And by more than one person! Thanks guys. It assuages my guilt, a little, to know that I'm somewhat entertaining to you folks.

    Rassles - maybe I am tempting fate. Is it like one of those things, though, that when you say it out loud it turns off the magic? Like have I stripped the tactic of all its power by acknowledging its existence? I think at this point I do it sub-consciously. I find myself being negative and saying negative things without the overt purpose of preventing those things from happening. But maybe deep beneath the pessimism is a heart bursting with hope and disgustingly sweet optimism. Anything's possible I suppose.

    Mongolian Girl - First of all, I'm so sorry about your grandfather. To lose someone to murder is just, wow. I can't even imagine. Though sometimes I feel like my sister was murdered by her cancer. I know it's a completely different situation. But I want, I need, someone to blame. And unfortunately that someone is usually me, even if logically I know that makes zero sense. I think it's human nature to want to blame someone for tragic events. But you're right. If you got through that shit, then I should have to get through my shit too. I'll give it the old college try. I love you for your willingness to kick my proverbial ass.

    Ian - There is a danger in self-analysis. Sometimes we uncover things about ourselves we really should never know. Maybe I hold onto these feelings of guilt because it gives me the delusion of control. I know that's a fallacy. Thanks for your comment. I know it's not doing me or anyone any good to hold onto to these feelings.

  12. Gina - What you said actually does make a lot of sense to me. If I were truly an amoral, uncompassionate individual I suppose I wouldn't be as disappointed and riddled with guilt over my failings. The only thing I can do at this point is try to learn from that. If, god forbid, I have to deal with death in the future I think I will do things a lot differently. I hope. Thanks for reaching out to me. It means a lot.

    Ty's Daddy - I'm sorry about your loss. I had to write and deliver the eulogy at my sister's funeral, also. It was a hard thing to do. I tried to write some of it before she died. She had asked me to. I guess she wanted to know what was going to be said. By the time I finished writing it, she was too far gone to understand the words of it. But I think she would have really liked what I wrote. I put my heart into it. I guess that's what we get for being the writers in the family, right? We get saddled with the eulogies. I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse. Maybe it's both. Eye of the Tiger is one of my favorite songs. Your uncle had awesome taste in music. I love that you went to his grave and played it. I'm sure he loved that, too :)

  13. Sandi - I guess this goes back to what Ian said. Or at least what he quoted about self-knowledge being dangerous. It sounds like your sister-in-law is guilt-free because she doesn't analyze her behavior. Part of me thinks, "How lucky to be ignorant". The other part of me, the stronger part, thinks, "I'd rather be self-aware and take the pain that goes with that." I mean we can't learn and/or change for the better without it, right? As for the mani/pedi the day after your husband's death - It does make sense to me. Before my sister died it would not have. I just thought I was going to turn into a puddle of sobbing tears or a pillar of zombie-like stoicism after she passed away. But it was more like a surreal, semi-normal existence- a going through the motions. Thanks for your words. It helps to "talk" to others who can relate to my grief experience.

  14. A dear friend of mine told me, after I shared the many regrets I had when ex died, that she'd done everything right when her mom had cancer, and yet, she still felt regret. Maybe it's just inevitable.

  15. Here in Franklin - Thank you, Thank you, for your encouraging words. With the new day definitely came a new perspective, especially after reading all the wonderful comments on here. Sometimes my grief pain is like the tide, coming and going, overwhelming at times, receding at others. I know it was important to Amy that I have the surgery, but it's hard for me to view it as a sacrifice when it possibly saved my life. Thank you for your thoughtful comment : )

    Magpie - I really, really hope it was enough. I just don't know. That's what I struggle with. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Pos - Sorry that you lost a parent. I would imagine that is a very destabilizing and painful event. I have, so far, been spared that particular grief. I know, on a cerebral level, that what you say is true. I realize that my incessant guilt is pointless and non-productive. It's hard to change what I'm feeling. But sometimes I guess we have to pretend and eventually the deceit becomes the truth. I really appreciate your comment so much.

    Betsey Booms - It's funny because whenever I read your posts I feel connected to you. I don't know if it's that we both lost someone so dear to us, or that we both love to escape from our pain through humor and substances, like beer and chocolate :) Or that we both hate crying yet have to do it. I hope that you get to feeling better soon. Thanks for taking the time to write a comment!

  16. Musing - That's very possible. I mentioned earlier that the guilt must serve some purpose. Now I'm thinking I got that idea from someone's blog recently and I can't remember who. I wish I could give proper credit so if someone can tell me who it was that wrote a blog recently about guilt and it giving us a feeling of control, I would appreciate it. Anyway, thanks for your comment, Musing. Your insight is always very welcome.

  17. Gwen,
    I think a lot of what you're feeling comes down to expectations, what you expected of yourself,what you thought your sister expected. Pos is right on, the reason people dying need and deserve a wide support system is even the best people are not at their best every moment.

    I've seen a few people go through and lose their lives to cancer and they too were riddled with guilt at one point or another. Guilt at seeing their families in pain watching them in pain, trying to deal with the unthinkable,trying to know what's the right thing to say at the right moment, when to be joyous, when to be irreverant, when to be somber, when to let that person melt into a puddle of why mes and when to rally and keep them positive. They felt guilt about needing so much helpand "interupting" everyone's lives with their messy,sad illness. Guilt at finally wanting to stop fighting and what the people they loved would think.

    When I went to visit my grandfather for the last time before he succumbed to cancer, he actually apologized for ruining my trip and it being such a downer.

    Anyhow, my point, guilt is retarded and it does no one any good. Do you blame your sister for your pain? For getting sick? For leaving you? For "making" you feel incapable of being there for her all the time?

    I'm guessing no. The people you love know you love them, they know you do the best you can and the best you can is probably better than they ever hoped you'd be able to do.

    I think it's good to say these things out loud. Just because you know you're human doesn't make it easy to deal with regrets. Sometimes acknowleding this stuff helps make it recede.

  18. Amys thoughts... I know you know them. You read them at her funeral..

    I have a great family and wonderful friends who support me. I know that I am lucky. I feel good doing nice things for other people. I've learned to appreciate what I have, instead of always wanting what I don't have. I spend everyday finding something to be thankful for and always make time for myself and the people I love.

    So whatever you think you did or didn't do Amy was happy and it was enough.

  19. Gwen, I love the sheer amount of balls you have for posting stuff like this.

    It's heartbreaking the little things that go round and round in your mind, little details that fail to sit right now.

    Hang in there and keep writing.

  20. Gwen,

    Your sister needed to hear that it was going to be okay when you said it. Because when the worst possible thing happens, we need to hear that it is going to be okay. If it was a lie, it was a lie that you were both complicit in, because she needed to hear it as much as you needed to tell it. Even if it wasn't true.