Sitting before my mirror, that foggy Tuesday morning, attempting to make myself look presentable for the school day ahead, I was completely ignorant to the events that would follow. I gathered my hair into a messy bun to keep it out of my face while I brushed my eyelashes with mascara and covered up the bags under my eyes, noticing how the pendant of my necklace had fallen out of place. As it slid across the chain back to the center of my chest where it normally lay, the light tugging of my fingers was enough to make the chain snap. And snap it did.
On my fourteenth birthday, about two years previous to that dreadful Tuesday, I received a simple golden box from my sister. Inside it lay a necklace: a dainty, gold pendant that revealed a sun, and within it, a crescent moon. It was accompanied by a note that still hangs in my room for my eyes to peek at every so often, reading, “Let your bright light shine. Make a wish and put on your necklace. Like the sun and the moon, you make the world a brighter place. Wear your necklace as a reminder that your spirit, your love and your light are my everything.” From the moment I received this beautiful gift, I knew it was something to be cherished. Few days went by when I did not have this necklace on. It became a sort of trademark for me. My sunny gold pendant gave me a form of safety, and I loved it dearly.
If ever I was bored, you could look over and see my fingers mindlessly playing with the chain, smoothly gliding the pendant back and forth over my chest, like a figure skater dances on ice. When deep in thought I held that sun and moon close to my heart, as if it helped me process the thoughts on my mind. At times I caught myself rushing through life at such a quick pace, and as I placed the pendant to my lips, I was reminded to take a deep breath and appreciate the things surrounding me. I didn’t expect this gift to hold such value in my life; however, as time went on I fell deeper in love with my necklace. It became a crutch for me. I turned to it in order to fill whatever aspect of my life needed extra attention.
The day my necklace broke was the day my heart shattered. Months went by, the necklace constantly on my mind. It was strange taking on life without it. The constant reminder that it was no longer hanging around my neck was unbearable for a long time, as my fingers habitually traced my collarbone, in search of the pendant. I face life each day knowing that the broken chain lay in my room awaiting the tools that could mend it, but I’ve realized in these painful months that I needed to learn to face life alone, to not rely on a shiny piece of jewelry to help me through the day. There’s nothing faulty about depending on something; it’s quite incredible actually. I recognized however, that I had failed to experience life on my own, and at a crucial time of growth nonetheless.
This decision to not get it fixed right away was something I struggled with for many days, for it was a difficult decision, and I knew I had to be careful in the ways I handled it. There was more than just my feelings on the line. Each day it sits next to me, I force my heart to grow numb so I don’t have to miss it anymore. I attempt not to yearn for it, but seeing it lay there as broken as I, makes it difficult.
My necklace was a beautiful gift, one that reminds me of a relationship I once had. Similar to my necklace, I loved someone fiercely, but there came a time that I had to let him go. He was not only a light for me, but he was the person who challenged me and encouraged me to be a light for others. Each day I went journeying with him through life, and my necklace was almost always along for our adventures. Much like the reminder that my necklace gave to me, his spirit, his love, and his light were my everything.
As the feelings began to pile up that maybe I should no longer be with him, I grew fearful. I realized how badly I wanted the freedom of being without out him, but I craved his warm embrace that offered the comfort and security he brought to my life. I am just like any other human: searching for love, but I found it sooner than I expected. As a freshman in highschool I was unprepared to experience love so in depth and because of this, felt dissatisfied sticking to what I’d grown so accustomed to in the past two years. I had always imagined my high school years to be full of spontaneity and various experiences that would define who I am as an individual, but being in such a stable and committed relationship made this difficult. My heart is still being pulled in different directions because I have no “yes” or “no” answer to these feelings. I am forced to sit uncomfortably, awaiting an answer that I expect to appear out of thin air. Maybe one day it will.
I am learning to be content with the fact that I need time on my own before I ever fix my necklace.
I am learning each day, to sit in my discomfort, that it is okay to feel this pain.
I am learning that in my discomfort there is strength and growth.
Trial is inevitable in life. The sooner we recognize and invite pain into our hearts, the sooner we can process and grow into the best possible versions of ourselves. Humans are stronger than we may think. We are resilient, and just like broken bones, broken hearts can be put back together too. It just takes time.
Growing up, you weren’t there for majority of what was going on. Off with another family, worried about your other kids. But never worried about me, about what was going on in my life. When my next meet was, my next concert, next school event. And if you did, you would end up not being able to go because you were always busy or the things that interest me, were too long and boring for you to stay and watch. So many times, I forgave you and let you know it was okay when in reality it really wasn’t. It wasn’t okay for me to go to all these special events and get to see both mom and dads supporting their children at what they love. Especially me being so young. But I’m not the type of person who shuts important people like you out of their life. I forgive but not forget. You always did this too so it wasn’t like a thing that was new to me. Thankfully, I did have people that we’re there for me supporting me along the way to shut out the fact that you weren’t there for me when I needed you the most. I thought I was crazy or wrong for not talking to you and start to act out and defend myself. All up until you started sending me back messages that weren’t right to send to your daughter. Messages that made me seem like the victim and you the guilty one. The time I hurt most was my graduation. One of the biggest highlights of my life, where families come and celebrate this big milestone in your life for achieving so much. Everybody went, everybody but you. That hurt the most, especially because it was all set back to me. It being my fault that you didn’t come. That didn’t stop me from having you in my life although it should have. It kept me to continuing having you in me life because I still loved you. Time after time, I still choose to keep someone like you in my life, even though at times you wouldn’t keep me. All I’ve ever wanted was to feel pure love and support from you and all I ever got was guilt and let downs. Now, being the age I am, having the lessons I’ve learned, I still do love and care about you but do not put forth as much effort as much as I used to. Of course, you blame me and get upset when I don’t call or text you. But if it wasn’t for me we wouldn’t even communicate in such important holidays or important days for us. Oh sorry I forgot, it’s my fault. Now a days I’m lucky to get a text from you, saying that you “love me”, and that you do soo much for me and I’m the one who doesn’t appreciate it. I’m the wrong one for thinking you are. I’m the monster, the one who doesn’t answer the one who choose to pick a new dad and family and in your words forget about my own. Now I don’t do it for you, instead I do it for two of the strongest people I know. My brother and my sister. The ones that also need you the most especially since you’re all they have. I love you, I really do but i can’t keep putting in all this effort for someone who didn’t even call to wish me a happy birthday but instead just a text.
Summer 2006, Shenzhen, China
I was, granted, too young to remember much details. My scattered memories of that summer were filled with bitterness. My parents fought and argued, and eventually they terminated their marriage. To a young child, it felt like the world was falling apart. A couple months later, my grandparents decided to take me and my older brother with them. Being 4 years old, I had no choice but to follow them into an uncertain future.
For the next 3 years, I lived in Wuhan, miles from the murky waters of the mighty Yangtze, first bypassing some of the European-style marble and granite buildings along parts of the river shore (many of which were built by actual Europeans during late 19th-early 20th century), past the old sprawling market and newly built shopping malls, and navigating through the streets lined with apartments a few to many stories high. Wuhan was in some cases wealthy, yet also mired in poverty. Some apartments appeared new, shiny, almost luxurious even. Yet, others appeared grisly and dreadful. It’s walls were cracked and battered, the windows were old and stained, with dried mosses and vegetation filling up the cracks and crevices. Yet, as pitiful as they looked, countless Wuhan residents still call these places home. My Grandparent’s apartment was neither terrifically old, nor new and spacious. It was on the first floor of a modest, blocky 8 story building, with plain grey walls, and skinny, rusted iron bars protruding out of the windows to prevent burglary, or at least according to the people living there.
I was not happy moving to this new, unfamiliar place. My grandparents, then aged in the late 50’s and early 60’s, were sometimes harsh disciplinarians. They certainly did not refrain from giving us love and compassion, but when the rules were broken, they would also not shy away from physical discipline. I was, in all honesty, sometimes terrified of them. Here in the States we frown upon corporal punishment, especially directed towards a little kid, but in China it’s far more socially acceptable, as long as you don’t injure the child.
I missed living with my parents, and their calm temper. I couldn't wait for them to be back. To take me home. My Mother would occasionally come back North and visit us, and maybe live with us for a few days or weeks. If I remember correctly my father never came up to visit us. He had moved away from Shenzhen to find work in another city. He still supported financially, but rarely did I see him.
When my mother left and headed back south , I cried.
During the fall of 2007, I was enrolled in 1st grade at a new elementary school not too far from where I lived. I was 5 ¾ years old, the youngest pupil in my class. The most unforgettable experience I had was befriending one particular kid. He was, in many aspects much less fortunate than I was. The times I went over to where he lived, I discovered that his family lived crammed in a one-bedroom apartment, leaving him to sleep in the tiny, dark kitchen. There was no other place. He was scrawny, almost malnourished. His family operated a old shoes store along a gray, dusty street, that wasn’t doing well.
I felt symptomatic for him. There was little I could possibly do to change the situation he is in. Although I was still very young, I guess it did teach me to be a little more grateful and compassionate, for there were people far worse off than I was.
As September turned into October, the humid, sticky heat of Wuhan Summers started to fade, as the leaves of ginkgoes and aspen trees turned yellow and fell amidst the cooler winds of change blowing from the North. The Winters in Wuhan are chilly, not cold enough to have all apartments equipped with central heating, but cold enough that it still snows occasionally. If it got too cold, we would huddle around the kitchen every morning for warmth, and while the heavy clothing made the outside temperature tolerable, your exposed skin still dries and itches due to the dry frigid wind.
During Early February of 2008, we were hit by the heaviest snowstorm in close to half an century. While it was beautiful seeing thick, fluffy snow piling up against the trees, buildings, and streets, it also knocked out power, and during the Frigid nights that followed horror stories came of people freezing to death in their homes. Granted, those were rumors that could be false, but what is sure is that the snowstorm made the lives of many unbearable.
During the Chinese new year that followed, my mother visited again, and drove all of us up back south, to Zhuhai (where my father lived) for a obligatory new year family reunion. I do not remember much of the details, yet I was happy that the whole family was together again, even if only was for a few days. Yet, I also thought about my friend still back in Wuhan. How is he doing right now? My grandmother reassured me, saying that once the snow melts, life will get back to normal.
Life did went on. In the summer of 2009 my mother took me and my brother back south, this time to Hong Kong, and eventually we immigrated to the States. My parents never remarried, and to this day I still do not totally understand why they agreed to leave me in Wuhan. Nonetheless, I slowly began to realize parents aren’t infallible beings, and when life turns difficult, everyone certainly tries their best to make things right, even though that may not always be possible.
Regardless, at that time I still disliked my parents for what they did, but eventually, as I grew older and more mature, I realized that my 3 year stay in Wuhan had taught me valuable lessons. For the first time in my life it made me see that the world was inherently unfair, and there are a lot of less fortunate people out there, even today, I sometimes remind myself of the need to be grateful for what I have. Sadly, the power of one individual in this world is far too weak. After all, I could not stop my parents from divorce, could not help my friend improve his livelihood, nor could I mend and fix all the problems in this world today, Life can be harsh, but no matter what happens, I learned to be resilient.
(The reason why I am in 11th grade right now and not 12th was because I went to 2nd grade twice, once I left Wuhan and moved to Hong Kong, where educational standards were different, so it was a opportunity for me to go back a year because I was too young. Anyway, story for another day.).
Multiple Narrator Narrative
What a Sad Girl Eats
She likes to eat candy, but not the way she used too. When she was younger, a bag of jelly beans or gummy worms would be followed by a finger or two down her throat in a lonely school bathroom. Now, she eats her feelings but keeps them pent up inside of her, bringing her a rush of happiness that she can’t get anywhere else. Her best friend helps keep her sane, telling her how boys prefer girls who have meat on their bones, who weigh enough to get their periods. The space beneath her bed is covered with wrappers, hidden away from the prying eyes of her health conscious parents. The bright candies hurt her stomach but make her feel comforted and warm inside.
What as Sad Girl Thinks About
Going to class can be too much sometimes. When she can’t take it, she’ll walk to a cemetary down the road from school and take a break from her life. The cool grass against her skin make her feel grounded and the solitude is comforting. Her head is often so clouded that she can’t think but when she cuts class to be alone outside, her thoughts are as clear as the sky she stares up at. She thinks about her brother, who’s mental illness keeps him at almost constant risk of hurting himself. She thinks about her ex boyfriend and how he hurt her, leaving her crying, lying in the middle of the road watching his car pull away. She thinks about the future, and if she’ll be alive to experience what it has to offer. She can’t wait for college, a career, and kids, but she doesn’t know what those will bring and if she’ll be able to help herself through it. These solo field trips bring her stillness externally, but inside she’s full of movement.
Why a Crazy Girl Doesn’t Go to Football Games
She used to love them, the excitement, the cheering, the snackbar, and the acceptance that her school’s team will lose but enjoying watching them play anyway. The first game of the season that year was different. She originally decided not to go, but the solitude inside her house was making her crazy so she joined her friends at the end of the first quarter. Sitting in the hard concrete stands, she listened to her friends talk about the boys in their lives. Some of these boys brought happiness, some brought heartbreak, some brought excitement, the nervous, happy feeling of a newness and the promise of a relationship. She confided in them that she knew hers was going to break up with her, maybe that Sunday when she had plans to see him. They all told her not to worry; she was just feeling insecure and it would end up alright. Thinking about this brought on a wave of anxiety, a tsunami crashing down on her from the top of the stadium. She knew a panic attack was coming, so followed by two friends, she dashed up the steps and then down towards the hallways. She ran and ran, surprised by her own speed. Finally, she crashed into a wall and began to sob, falling to the floor and lying in a messy heap. Her friends caught up to her and tried to console her, but her mind was in such chaos that she couldn’t register what they were saying. All she knew was that she was in danger; from kids passing her in the hallway, from the dark bushes, and from the severed head hiding in the loudspeaker who was knowingly whispering, “You aren’t okay, are you. They’re all after you. All of them.” Suddenly enraged, she threw her purse as hard as she could, hitting a younger boy in the back of the head. He was trying to kill her, probably with the long bloody knife sticking out his back pocket. Her friends called her mom, who came to pick her up immediately. She knew she needed to go to the hospital psych ward but instead, she calmed down, had a glass of tea and went to bed. Ever since then, she’s been afraid to go to football games, for fear of these events repeating themselves.
What a Crazy Girl Talk About in Therapy:
Her therapist is a friendly blond woman who blames her symptoms on her astrology chart, full of Scorpio and Gemini. She tells her that sometimes she wants to jump off a building, not to kill herself but because she thinks she can fly. She tells her that sometimes she daydreams about sneaking into her ex boyfriend’s house and cutting off his wavy black hair with scissors so he can feel her pain, even though she knows that he already does. She chuckles, picturing how he would look bald. Her therapist reminds her of the rules of confidentiality, that the police will be called if she states serious intention to hurt him or anyone else. But she and her therapist know that she won’t actually do any of the destructive things she thinks about doing.
How a Smart Girl Parties
She limits herself to the cheap vodka halfway filling a glass kombucha bottle. She takes as many hits off her and her friends’ e cigarettes as she wants but only two from her wax pen. The best kind of drunk is sober enough to have coherent conversations and to not worry about throwing up but drunk enough to dance and give her snapchat to any boy who asks. Everything in moderation; go out, but not every weekend. Kiss boys, but don’t let them convince you into going further in the back rooms of house parties. She was proud of herself for being safe that Halloween. A boy at the party she went to drank to such excess that he was unable to speak, a mixture of foam and vomit pouring out of his mouth as he stared blankly. 911 was called and the party ended in flashes of red and white lights, the fire trucks roaring away while everyone looked on. She felt bad for the boy, and glad that she had not had the same fate. She knew she was prone to making bad decisions when it came to drugs and alcohol. But that time, she felt mature for pacing herself and having fun without being self destructive.
What a Smart Girl Has Realized
She knows that she has nothing in her life figured out, but that that’s okay. Her feelings are huge and heavy, sometimes coming close to crushing her. But she’s learned how to deal with them and grown strong enough to push them off. She still thinks about the boy who broke her heart, but doesn’t miss the chaos he brought. Being a teenager is about figuring out who she is, which she doesn’t yet know how to discover. In the meantime, she works on taking care of herself and the people she loves, finding happiness in her relationships.
Laughter fills the small kitchen as all twenty-one of us try to squeeze to get close to the big pot over the stove. The room smells like a sticky, sweet day, and we are all trying to get over to Grandma to sample her famous jam. No matter where you turn, there is a relative who is engaged in some conversation. To the kids it sounds a bit like the adults in Charlie Brown, “Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah…”.
It gets too crowded with all the kids running around, and one of the uncles, most likely Uncle Dan, yells at us to scram. We burst out of the small doorway like water from a dam. We run into the adjoining living room and most of the younger cousins go upstairs to push the little red button on the singing fish Grandpa Merle found somewhere. “There’s a little song I wrote, might want to sing it note for note…” plays in the background as the girls go into Grandma’s closet, try on all her pretty dresses and pretend that we are queens going to a ball. It is how we see her, and sometimes if we are lucky, we can drag the boys in to be our princes, but not today. “Take me to the river, plop me in the water, take me to the…” We dance and sing along with whatever song is mumbling along in the background. Someone bangs on the ancient piano. Finally, we are adorned with old aprons that Grandma’s mother made for her and some that she had made for Nanna and her daughters. We all file back into the kitchen and squeeze together to watch the process of the jam being put into jars, and after, we shuffle to the table for Grandma’s homemade veranika, a dish that we have all grown up learning to make, and one that we all love.
Once we are all seated, we pray for the meal and begin to enjoy the food Grandma worked so hard to make. We are not disappointed. We all talk and catch up about our crazy year and how we have been, the kids bragging about all the cool things they got to do trying to one-up everyone else. These kinds of meals are periodically sprinkled with quiet moments, which are almost always broken by an antsy cousin who complains that he is bored of sitting and waiting for the fun to start back up again. It’s funny that there is complaining even though this is the most looked forward to event of our entire trip.
Slowly we are excused from the table and now the conversation is interrupted by the singing fish, “don't worry be happy now ohhhhhhhhhhhh…” Next we are all called down to the backyard, and we walk with Grandpa Merle as he brings a handful of sunflower seeds and cashews for his friends in the trees. We watch in wonder as he seems to talk to all the birds and squirrels in a way that we have only seen in cartoons. We try not to scare the birds away with any sudden movement or noise, which inadvertently makes us look like we are walking on the moon. Once Grandpa Merle’s pockets are exhausted of sunflower seeds and cashews, we go back into the house where all the dads and uncles are sitting around the living room with a beer, and all the moms and aunts are gossiping in the kitchen.
The sound of buttons spilling out onto the carpet causes a stampede of little feet running from the kitchen, where we were sneaking extra dessert from the pans. We are still adorned with old homemade aprons from long ago, and we all fight to get to Grandma, because this is our favorite activity whenever we are at her house. The button tin has been brought out. We run up the stairs and find Grandpa Merle, as always, sitting on the ever warm chair, reading the paper like he always does while we sneak extra dessert and he pretends not to see. I run into the room first, beating the rest of the cousins, and over to where Grandma is sitting next to a pile of buttons, although I have seen them a billion times, the buttons seem brand new and different than before. We each circle around and carefully sort through the assortment of buttons. We know each button has a unique story. We each choose one that we like, and then we wait until everyone else has taken a turn. Grandma always goes from oldest to youngest, which means that I almost always get to go first (unless Seb, Lizzie, and Kenzie came, but they rarely do). The button tin has a rich history of kids, grandkids, and now great grandkids sorting through it for a story from Grandma as she laughs and watches us with pride and joy. The button tin used to be an old cookie tin. It has since overflowed from that tin into an actual box. We all circle around. My button is a deep blue velvet button with a little ship that is embroidered in gold. I hand it to Grandma and her smile grows as she laughs and starts into her story.
This particular button was from a coat that her mother had made her when she was young. When Grandma was growing up, it wasn't very often that she got a store bought dress, but her family had saved for months so she could have a party dress for her 12th birthday, and the button belonged to a coat that her mom had made to go with the dress. She absolutely loved that dress. On her birthday, when she was running around playing in the forest behind her home, she tripped and her coat was torn. When she got back home, her mother stitched it right up. She took a button that she had found and sewed it on as an extra to help keep the mended part sealed. As she finishes her story, her laughter fills the room like sunlight in the morning, the rest of the cousins get their story told, and we all get to keep the button we have chosen. My cousin Logan asks excitedly like he always does, “Tell us a story Grandpa,” because we never get bored of the stories that are shared in this room, and Grandpa Merle always has the best stories.
“Well when I was a little boy it was very different, and when I was 5 or 6 or so I would hop on a train to see where it went, and packed a sack of potatoes or some odds or ends from dinner the night before that I had stashed away in my napkin, and I would go down to the fires that were all along the tracks and would have dinner with the hobos. We had the best stew and there was almost always music and dancing. It was a good time.”
The story always ended with him laughing to himself and saying, “that was a good time.” He would continue on, and we would all get drawn in as he told the beautifully woven stories of people he had met long ago. I don't think you can adequately describe the joy and admiration that writes itself on all of our faces as we listen to Grandma and Grandpa Merle’s stories. We just enjoy sitting and talking with them. The most important thing about family Grandma tells us, is the fact that even though we don't always get along or enjoy being with each other, we always have each others backs. This has been drilled into me and my cousins since we could talk, and it is such an important thing to remember, especially since as we have gotten older, and we don’t get to see each other every year. We have gotten closer to one another, because we know that no matter how cruel the world can be, Grandma's house will always be a little sliver of heaven.
The golden light comes through the window blinds, lazily casting a spotlight on the dust in the air. I sit at the edge of my seat, my shoulders slumped, my eyes downcast, and my mind filled with everything I shouldn’t be thinking of and nothing to do with the work at hand. My laptop is laid open in front of me on the long glass table, quietly humming. The screen is a blank document, pure white, a flickering black cursor line taunting me in the top left corner. I sit silently, counting proverbial sheep in my mind’s eye, as the emerald green grandfather clock goes tick tock in the background.
Glumly, I scratch my ear and run my hand through my hair.
“Hello world.” I type, pecking at the keys.
I press the delete key, once, twice, nine times more until nothing is left on my screen except that taunting black cursor in the top left corner.
I hate that cursor.
I straighten my back and run my fingertips over the metallic black keyboard. Finally, they settle in that position I learned so many years ago in elementary school, when writing was easy and school seemed more like a lesson in fun rather than a lesson in boredom.
Pointer fingers on the “F” and “J” keys. Thumbs on the space bar. The rest of my fingers fall into line, mirroring each other on that smooth metallic black keyboard.
I look down and immediately chide myself.
“Don’t look at the keyboard.” I echo in my head, the ghost of my old computer teacher still haunting me.
And so I began to write.
First the easy part. Name, date, period, class. Title, what should the title be?
“Honey, I shrunk the kids.”
No, that’s been done before.
Clearly I’ve begun to struggle.
Dot. Dot. Dot. More time passes.
“A short story written for the Phreaner writing contest.”
God, I’m clever sometimes.
I look around and write eight quick words, use a comma, a brief pause to look around and take in the scene, and ten more words come. I struggle through this bit, the introduction. A quick description of the setting, a brief background, and I’m off, the flags been waved and the lights turned green.
I hit enter. A new line, a new paragraph.
I hit enter again. The words are coming far easier now, better, faster, stronger.
Now that Kanye West song is stuck in my head again.
I hit enter one more time, more confidently than the times before. The words come too quickly now. It’s like a dam has been broken in my mind and all I can do is write and write and write and the words won’t stop and neither will I because I never know when the dam will close up again until it eventually I feel like I am gasping for air and my mind has far outpaced my own fingers which dance across that metallic black keyboard until finally I cannot keep up and have to force myself to stop, to slow down, to think.
I look down, ghost of teachers past be damned. My hands are splayed across the keyboard, representative of a dead fish. My fingers are tired. The dam’s been closed up again. I take a break.
“There is nothing more stubborn than a Cuthbert.” my mother once told me. My grandmother begs to differ saying, “We are not stubborn! We are strong-willed.” However, those two words are synonyms in nature, so here we are so stubborn that we refuse to admit how stubborn we are.
Summer of 2013, my father and I made the drive to Oregon. This was nothing unordinary as we most likely knew the route better than Google Maps by then. With the absence of signs, I learned to identify region by topography (this is what happens when you are a forestry major’s daughter). I knew we were near Shasta by the audience of Pinus ponderosa (Ponderosa Pine), southern Oregon by the presence of Arbutus menziesii (Pacific Madrone), Douglas County by wondrous firs (mostly Pseudotsuga menziesii), etc.
The morning after the trip, I went to see my grandmother in a tired haze. She had the signature blue eyes of the family, plum lipstick, and her gold Virgin Mary necklace, which you will hardly see her without. As normal as it may have appeared, something was off. She was wobbly, and the intricacies of her movements were not proper. I took the guest room key from my dad, locked myself in, and started bawling. It was just wrong, and I melted letting my emotions run amok like kindergarteners during recess. Something was wrong, I tell you.
In Oregon, the medical system revolves around the primary care, efficacious or otherwise. My grandmother’s primary care simply wanted to write it off as age, but we knew that was not the case. My father and I were not going to be told this is how the system works, and the medical system hoped we would give up. However, when given a problem, we will find a way around it. Maybe that is why we have so many engineers in the family... We went through an armada of doctors, appointment after appointment, and finally found one that saw what we did. Two days later, she was in for a neck surgery in Springfield.
The day she was in surgery, I went up river near the self-proclaimed town of Rainbow where I spent the day with my cousins. We rode around on the minibikes and sat talking with the rushing of the McKenzie. The water’s white noise with the occasional cast of a fishing rod from a McKenzie Boat overcame any silence that may be had. If only I could have fully enjoyed it as I obsessively checked the surgery status on my phone, walking out to the main road to get cell service. Four hours they said. In reality, time passed that mark lasting six or eight.
We drove to PeaceHealth around ten at night. The driveway would deceive one into thinking we were driving to the mansion of a lumber baron, and the architecture resembled a five-star ski resort. I ended up watching the fire in the lodge’s stone fireplace dance the night away until past midnight on the only day I have ever seen my father up so late. Hours ticked away with the resort becoming more empty by the minute. The surgeon articulated if my grandmother had been another day without the surgery, she would have been paralyzed or worse.
On the first day of outpatient rehab, my grandmother drove her Subaru, a car common as ducks in Eugene. The doctors still were grim about how much physical ability she would be able to gain back due to the seriousness of the surgery. My grandmother proclaimed to the nurses, “ I will walk here by the time of my last appointment.” “Okay Anita,” the nurses politely grumbled.
Low and behold, my grandmother strolled in having walked from the her apartment to the Rehab center, about half a mile, cane in hand weeks later. The nurses looked at her wide-eyed, shocked, looking like owls wearing scrubs. The nurses initially dismissed my grandmother’s proclamation thinking of it being impossible, and yet they saw “unlikely” turn to reality in that moment. My grandmother maintains an exercise routine that surpasses most whippersnappers with 90 minutes of cycling and two hours of walking per day, rain or shine, as per the Oregonian way.
She still thinks she is Mario Andretti. Remember this is Oregon, a state where slow is key. Every Sunday, she travels from Eugene to Mckenzie Bridge for church, a little over an hour at a conservative pace.
When we arrived at church, one of the older couples approached us asking, “Anita were you driving?”
My grandmother replied triumphantly, “No Donnie was.”
They rather humorously stated, “ We were placing bets on if Anita was driving because you were behind us for longer than usual.”
Like any race car driver, she prefers to be first taking any opportunity to overtake, where my father rather cautiously passes in the dedicated lanes. With that, all of us chuckled, but in the back of his head, my dad was thinking Mom in the tone that an annoyed child would employ to condemn an action. She is, and forever will be the Andretti of the Subaru Outback.
Years after, at our family cabin, I drove the Subaru for the first time. Right as I was about to turn onto a public road for the first time, something came to me as the indicator blinked leaving the comfort of private property. I wouldn’t have been here today if it wasn’t for all of this tumultuous experience. I wouldn’t be here, right now, driving to meet my grandmother at the Eugene Hotel. I wouldn’t have this sense of belonging: home. I would not be who I have come to accept. Today would not be today. I made it maybe a few miles before I pulled off at Christmas Treasures, panicking as a lumber truck crept closer and closer, intimidating me from behind.
Stubborn, a word the English language denounces to a life suspended in a dark cloud. Granted, the Cuthberts may have strong opinions that we hold closely and refuse to be dismissed unheard. Go ahead, add Cuthbert as a synonym to stubborn or strong-willed Merriam Webster. I suppose we have come to deserve it, although we wear it proudly. Being “strong willed” is a way of life some wish to villainize, but does it need to be? If it was not for my dad and my strong will, my grandmother would be paralyzed or worse. If it wasn't for her stubbornness, she would not be as healthy as she is currently. Call us the Wicked Witches of the West and we will prove those naysayers wrong for we can transform into Glinda the Goods. Stubborn. Without this pervasive trait that consumes the entire bloodline, today would not be today, and I rather like today.