23 years, wow.

23 years ago I was walking into the last semester of high school—I was a senior with a whole set of goals, the last 18 weeks of my scholastic career spread before me, but I could never anticipate what those weeks held.

23 years ago my parents received a phone call on Wednesday January 13, 1993 that my grandfather had passed away at the local nursing home.  We had seen him that afternoon and by the time my parents had walked into the house after visiting him, he was gone.  It was quiet and peaceful and I had a sense of finality because he had spent a number of years living with us as we grew up in the country.  Time that my extended family did not necessarily have due to distance and schedules was a gift that my siblings and I shared.  I had had moments fishing and boating with my grandpa, and he was the only grandparent I grew up ever knowing.  He taught me to listen to the tone and sound of the turn signal on a car.  Every one of them has a certain tone that says something, my grandpa’s old rust-colored car said, “Tooth paste, Tooth paste.”  I’ll never forget that and each time that I’m in a new car, I pause and listen to the turn signal, and I smile, remembering my grandpa.  I smile remembering him.

There were other things that took place during that week that have shaped some of my outlooks and relationships since that time, situations that to this day impact my life.

I was involved in competitive speech activities and had been all 3 1/2 half years leading up to this point.  I traveled every weekend to all parts of the state and met incredible people,–teachers and colleagues with whom I have established solid relationships today.  I had some great friends, and maybe some friends who tolerated me more than they should have had to–but I had amazing connections to people and I remain forever grateful for them.  Many have no clue that it was my connection to them and the activity itself that saved my life and I do not say that lightly.  These were people who I could see every weekend, people who whether they liked me or not, at least respected what it was that I did.  I even had a connection to a family member that was tight, it was a relationship  that I trusted and took great pride in having.  Someone thought I was important enough to invest time and energy in me and I was thrilled to have the attention–thrilled that someone like them was willing to spend time with me and thought I had talent and potential.

23 years ago, I lost that connection.

Having the natural dramatic bent that I did (and sometimes still do), I tended to make bigger deals of situations than I necessarily had to–sometimes that can be a win, sometimes it can cost everything.  As the news was revealed that my grandfather had passed, I reached out to a friend who also knew members of my family and speech team.  I revealed the information and requested that if they came across family members that they be kind and aware of the loss.  That one conversation affirmed a loss that proved devastating.

As the week wore on and the weekend of the funeral took place, I opted to travel to the speech competition out-of-town rather than attend the services.  I felt ok about the decision because I knew I had spent time with my grandpa and had seen him often during his years in the nursing home.  I also knew that I would have a family member that I would see.  I saw them, I approached them, I tried to speak to them….I received a brush off.  More than that, I was ignored.  Throughout the whole weekend I attempted to connect and was ignored.  The situation came to a head when I finally confronted them and demanded to know what was going on….I was decimated.  Their words, their obvious contempt and hatred for my existence was spewed forth as they, in full viewing and hearing of passers-by heard them renounce my relation with them.  In anger and rage they ended their connection, respect, relationship, and family link.  To them, I no longer existed.  The reason?  I had vocalized to a mutual friend my grandpa’s death and funeral.  They felt I crossed a line by revealing that information to a person who would have no relation to us.  To them, I was no longer fit to be called a relative.
From that moment on there was no conversation, there was no acknowledging that I existed, there was no admission that I was alive or related to them.  That behavior lasts today.  23 years later, to the random onlooker, if they happened upon us in the same area, there would be no indication that we were related at all.  Those who know us have simply accepted the situation and do not comment.

That moment sent forth a spiral of crap that continued the whole rest of the year.  I had applied to state university and the night of a major speech competition where I narrowly missed a trip to nationals (i had qualified as a junior and was expected to do so again.), I received a letter from that college telling me that I was not accepted.

What?  But, I had a theatre scholarship waiting for me…What do I do now?  I had not gotten into college?  How is that possible?  It was true.  You see, even though my ACT  science and language scores were in the 27-28 range, my math score was a 12.  The disparity in scores was too great for the college to admit me.  I had failed.  I was a failure.

Within 2 months of each other I had lost a grandfather, a brother, my national qualifying award, my college acceptance, and a scholarship.  I was done.  It was one of the hardest few months of my life.  No one knew the full brunt of the blows I had received.  No one knew on my graduation day that I had to go to the college  and talk to the theatre department who then had to talk to the admissions department to admit me.  I squeaked in on a scholarship.  No one knew that as I walked across that stage to accept my diploma that members of my immediate family were not attending my graduation or my reception.

I felt alone and I felt like a failure.  I felt worthless, unpopular, wretched, and undesirable. I felt like giving up more than once and often wished I had had the strength to end my life.

I did not end it.  I tried.  I did not end it.

Instead, I worked my butt off to be more than I thought I could be.  Instead, 23 years later I stand, knowing that I’m here and still fighting.

I never did qualify for nationals a second time.  I did not attend my grandfather’s funeral, and to this day, my relationship with my family member is no better than that fated tournament in January 1993–they still do not acknowledge that I exist as anyone related to them.  Other family members are content to allow that to take place and I can honestly say that as immediate family, we have not been in the same room with one another in over a decade.  More than 10 years have passed since we have been together, and even then it was stilted, awkward, and filled with emotions no one is willing to admit.

23 years later, I am still here.  23 years later, I have graduated from that college and even attained my Master’s Degree.  I have amazing children and a career path that fills me with challenging moments and people who inspire me.  I struggle too, though.

I struggle with relationships that I’ve lost, I wrestle with how much is my fault, what I could have done differently–what I did wrong.  I rack my brain to figure out how to fix it, how to undo what can’t be undone, and ultimately how to let go of decades of hurt.  I don’t have it figured out–not even close.

Here’s the thing though.  I can’t stop fighting and the idea of giving up is never an option.  I got into the college and department that I needed to by making an appearance and letting them see who I was and what I was capable of.  I maintained my degree by working hard and concentrating on those areas in which I excelled.

Above all, I invest.  I invest in people, conversations, and ideas that mean something.  I invest in loving people and letting them know that I do.  I believe that is half the battle.

I had someone tell me the other day that my words were a shining example of being able to lift people up.  I am a firm believer that words–spoken and unspoken are the most powerful tool we have.  I truly believe that words that people hear can destroy or elevate them.  Likewise, I believe that most of the problems we see happening are a direct result of reactions to words that have never been said.  Imagine the hurt of a child who has worked their whole life to win affection from a parent only to never hear that adult tell them, “I love you.  You are an amazing person and I am glad you are my son/daughter.”

Invest.  Invest everything that you are to everyone you know and those things that fill you.  Invest in not giving in….invest in breathing–because sometimes that is all you can do, just breathe.  Invest in making it at least one more day.  Invest in the fact that you are more than crawling into a ball, rocking back and forth in the corner in the fetal position.

Invest in the fact that it can be done.  I know it can.  So far, at 41 I’ve done it.

 

Shalom,

cahl

 

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 23 years, wow. | And Yet……

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