Something happens. Some horrible loss or surprising detriment or unfathomable heartache. You’re stuck between complete understanding and dreamlike comprehension, incapable of differentiating between real life and that horrid scene from a film you vividly recall crying to. As some poor soul delivers news armed with unrecognizable words and meaningless sentences, you ask yourself over and over as your hands hold your head in place, “How will I get through this?”
At least, that’s how my something played out.
And it wasn’t more than a few seconds after the doctor left and the plowing tears had made their way to my jawline that 2010 invaded my present. Perhaps it was emotional masochism or internal cutting or a necessary escape from my unwanted yet undeniably current reality. Or, perhaps, it was a poignant reminder that sitting around and crying about shit isn’t how I survived past debacles, and wouldn’t be how I survived this one.
The year before, in 2009, I had graduated college with a degree in English Literature. Convinced that my only option was to till the budding field of education, I enrolled in a post-bac teaching program while moving in with my best-friend-turned-boyfriend. All was right in the world. I had a plan, which had never happened before, I was living with someone I loved, which had never happened before, and I was genuinely convinced I was a happy, safe, and secure individual.
Which definitely had never happened before.
What seemed like the exact moment after I had hung the last perfect picture in our perfect rented condo, the newly painted walls with unnecessary decorations began to crumble down. A pain in my left hand called for surgery, which uncovered a tumor. My beloved left me alone in our new home to tend for myself, calling me an over-dramatic hypochondriac unworthy of his pity or time as he put on his coat and left for a game of poker. The tumor was benign but the cancer in our relationship had already begin to grow. Fed by an equal amount of jealousy, insecurity, and alcohol our love turned into hate, whispers of infatuation into tantrums of disgust.
Soon after, a stick I had peed on uncovered an unwanted pregnancy while rumors uncovered a devastating betrayal. While hormones surged and confusion spread I had learned that the perfect boyfriend I was living with in a perfect condo was having a perfect affair with our perfect next door neighbor. A call to planned parenthood and a whiskey soaked night of violent rage, in which I was almost arrested, solidified the undeniable fact that our cancerous relationship had grown from Stage 4 to terminal. He wanted nothing to do with the drunken, angry woman who hit and yelled and destroyed all that we had believed we had, and I was too lost to know if I wanted anything other than Jack Daniels, pain pills, and useless one night stands. I quit my post-bac schooling, as learning how to help others learn seemed hilariously inappropriate, and spent the majority of my time drinking, drugging and rolling my eyes at a therapist.
Having lost a tumor, a best friend, a lover, and a security deposit, I moved to a shitty studio apartment in a shitty part of town in an attempt to forget the shitty termination of a shitty relationship. What seemed like the exact moment after I had hung the last flawed picture in my flawed studio, the allusion of a new beginning began to fade. My father had, once again, physically abused my mother. This time, however, he left her in a crumbled mess with nothing but the realization that she needed a divorce. I refused to answer my father’s calls as I spoke to my mother about plans, finances, and living situations. All the energy I had used to swim to the bottom of bottles was focused on my mother, a selfishly welcomed distraction despite the circumstances.
Then, on a beautiful pacific northwest day in which I found myself sprawled across a small deck, bikini on, novel in one hand and a whiskey sour in another, I received the hundredth phone call from my father. Perhaps it was the whiskey or the sunlight or the depressing-yet-uplifting novel I had been reading, but I answered. I answered, against all logic and understanding, only to hear that my father had been diagnosed with colon cancer. I was robbed of the ability to hate him appropriately. After all, who can hate a man who has a life-taking disease coursing through his body? Not I. Apparently.
I had lost a boyfriend, ended a pregnancy, my mother had been physically hurt and displaced from her home while seeking a divorce, and now my abusive father had cancer. To top it all off, I had learned that my dog had died and my grandmother was seeking immediate treatment for advanced breast cancer.
I was beginning to think my calling was that of a country music star. All I needed was a broken down truck and a Budweiser addiction and I would have been set.
I left the shitty apartment in the shitty part of town to help my mother through a divorce and my father through a treatment plan. A divorce that left me on the floor of my childhood living room, my mother and one side and my father on the other, deciding who received which pictures and christmas decorations and, yes, even dust-covered dvds. And a treatment plan my father refused. Refused because, as I learned a few years later, he wasn’t sick at all. Cancer is a powerful disease, one he believed capable of mending a battered, broken relationship. We had all been lied to in the hopes sympathy would erase the scars of violence. However, there are some scars, no matter the ointment or bandage or strategic and over-priced surgery, that can never be erased.
And while a career in country music may have proved more lucrative, as I believe the Man in Black himself would have been pretty fucking impressed, I turned to writing. I spent my time with Mac instead of Jack, yelling and screaming and crying and whispering through punched keys and calloused fingertips. And, before I knew it, it was all behind me. There was nothing profound in my healing. I didn’t focus on some existential journey where turning to god or volunteerism lead me to sound relief. I simply kept my head down, focusing only on mere moments, and it all became nothing but a colorfully painted past ready to be displayed in the gallery that is my life. I had the ability to walk back and pause and stare and contemplate the intricate meaning of it all. What was the purpose? Why the brushstrokes of pain and the dollops of deceit and the signature of one fantastic mistake after the other?
Sitting in this doctor’s office, tears dripping from my jawbone as loving hands grasp mine for comfort, I finally have my answer. 2010 didn’t happen so I could sit in a sea of complaint and self-pity. It didn’t happen so I could excuse otherwise inexcusable behavior, forever pegged as that girl who does what she does because she has the ability to point to that thing or that thing or that. It didn’t happen to evoke empathy from others who, no matter how dear their intentions may be, cannot possibly understand.
It happened so I can stop crying now. It happened so I could pick my fucking ass up off the ground instead of sinking through tear-soaked floorboards, stuck in the quicksand of true and utter loss. It happened so I could stop searching for a reason that does not yet exist. A reason that, instead, will choose to manifest itself in the fibers of a future not yet forged.
It happened for the exact same reason every horrible, tragic something happens:
So that we may be fortified with the resolve to see past temporary pain. For that is all anything ever is. Temporary.
Especially a career as a country music star.