Monday, January 18, 2016

For Time to Stand Still

It's April 14th, 1991.
I am a week shy of 8 years old, and I am crying.
I am crying because tomorrow is my mom's birthday.
She is going to turn 27.
I am convinced she is old; so old, in fact, that surely she will die soon.

I am devastated and I sob.  My parents are likely annoyed, maybe a little amused.  My dad hugs me and says "Mom isn't old, she's young. How do you think I feel, I'm almost 30!"

He's trying to be funny. I cry louder.  I'm a very sensitive and stubborn child. If I am convinced my mom is ancient and near death, there's no convincing me otherwise.

A year earlier, or maybe a year later, I cry on New Year's Even with the same level of anxiety and concern, because the year is almost over and we will never have that year again.

Never. Ever.

Because this is the type of thing that alarms me. We eat Chinese Food and I sob.  My sister plays toys oblivious, because I do this kind of thing all the time.

It's the summer of 1993.
I am 10 years old and I am staying with Oma and Opa at our Summer House in Lake Ossipee.
It's raining, which is basically the worst.
Opa is sitting on his reclining chair, wearing yellow shorts.
He's reading the newspaper.
I am reading the comics, of every newspaper from the past few months.
Opa has them saved in a stack behind his chair so they can be used as kindling for the wood stove.  They are the weekly papers, and I discover for the first time that they have comics too.  I
Thank. God.
I'm going to read them all so I don't die of boredom.
He yells into the kitchen "Hey Betty, do you remember [some guy's name]. He died!"
Oma remembers him.  They don't seem particularly sad.

Opa turns to me and says "When you get to be my age you read the obituaries, because the people you know start to die of all sorts of things."
He says this very matter of factly and continues reading.

"That's horrible" I say.

That night at dinner we are eating corn on the cob, and there is no proper salt.
Instead there is a bizarre product called "No Salt."  It tastes like shit, and I can't figure out why they would make something that is called No Salt, but it is used in place of salt, and literally tastes nothing like salt.

Opa tells me it lowers your blood pressure so you live longer.  At the time, I'm not sure it's worth it.  We are also eating margarine which is also supposed to make you live longer.

18 years later, Opa dies.  I am devastated.

At his funeral, I think of the No Salt. I wonder how many extra years it bought him, if any.  My mind starts to wander, "Did it COST him years?" and then I stop myself.  I cannot let that be so.

We know the truth about margarine now, and often, I wonder if there's a truth to No Salt.

I don't allow myself to Google it.

I can't remember the time frame of some of these memories.

At one point, my Oma's best friend dies.  Her name was Anne.  She was a wonderful woman I had met dozens of times.
Some time passes, and Oma and I are in the car.
I'm not sure where we were driving.
A Rod Stewart song comes on the radio.
It reminds Oma of her best friend and she cries.
We talk about it, a little. I know all the words and we sing it together.

When I hear someone has died, I hope they are old. Somehow, it sounds better if they are old.

"She died of old age"
"She died, but she was very old"

Anne did not die of old age, she died of cancer. I know this is exactly how you don't want to die.

But if you just die from being old, then that's easy right? It sounds absolutely innocuous to die when you are old.  As a kid, I imagined that somehow, when you are old and you die, everyone around you is ok with it. Because after all, you were old. And old people die. It's only sad when a young person dies, because that's just tragic. Right?

The first funeral I remember attending was my Oma's mother.  She was a fixture in our family. Her and her husband, who I think was named Bill.  We called her Grammie, and she was blind. Bill (was that his name?) was a nice man and would always walk around holding her hand, guiding her.

When she died it was strange.  I don't remember if I felt sad, I just felt... strange.  Dodie, who was my grandfather's cousin, but basically a bonus grandparent/aunt to us, asked me if I wanted to go to the funeral. The answer was yes, because I had not been to one before.

I don't remember the funeral being weird, but I do remember everyone seemed relieved and I don't know that I saw anyone cry.  We went to Howard Johnson's afterward, and there was a bunch of food left over.  Dodie insisted we bring the leftovers home, since they'd been paid for, after all.

They were good sandwiches, but when we brought them home, no one ate them. They had been delightful and delicious at the gathering after the funeral, but it was as if they had crossed the line after that point.  The death was to stay at Howard Johnson's.

Don't bring death home.

We've always been a food loving family, but it was as if they were death sandwiches, and we all knew it.

I remember my mom throwing them away. Good riddance to them. Now we were all safe.

Through all these years, my family was constant.
My mom and dad, my Oma and Opa, Dodie and John, Grandpa and Pat, my aunts and uncles, my cousins.
It was as if they had always been there, and always would be.

When Opa died in 2011, the bubble burst.  As ridiculous as it probably seemed, until that point I was fully convinced my core family was impervious to death.

I had known many people who had died, but it seemed like our family was well beyond that. We'd just be eternal like rocks.

When Opa died, everyone seemed vulnerable.  Every car ride was a potential fatality, every cough was the sign of a cancer that had spread to the lungs, every phone call was obviously someone reporting to me that someone had died.

When anyone calls, the first thing I say now is not "Hello," but rather, "Is everything ok?"

And normally it is, except for when it's not.

And when I think back to when I was a child, and all the times that I had wished for time to pass, I can't shake the feeling of regret.

I wished the time away so very often.

It would be forever until I was in "real school" when you got to stay all day instead of just half day for kindergarten.
It would be forever until I got to be a 5th grader and take part in the Invention Convention.
It would be forever until I got to be in Middle School.
It would be forever until I got to be in High School.
It would be forever until I got to move out.

Gone, gone. All the time gone.

When my 6-year-old sits on the couch at night and we look at books, his feet are gigantic. He puts them on my lap and they are not the tiny baby feet they once were. I think back to when I wished away the sleepless nights, wanting him to be bigger. Now I don't want him to be bigger at all. And now I don't even necessarily want to sleep, because it seems like a waste of time.

Now when I lay in bed at night, I hope that time will go slowly.
I hope that hours will take days.

I think of how annoying my 2-year-old was at some point or another that day, and how I'd happily have him annoy me just the same way for a decade or more as a 2-year-old.

I lay and wonder how many more times I will see my dad, or my mom, or my sisters, or my Oma.
I love them so much and they are so far away.
I wonder, will I see them 5 more times?
Will I be that lucky?

I wish that time would stand still, if only just for a while.

And I wish it would give me all my people back.




 
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