Thursday, November 25, 2010

Roadkill Memories

My family and I were driving around Des Moines today, and I saw a dead squirrel in the road. It might surprise you to hear that my first thought on seeing that dead squirrel was about my Uncle Laverne. This always happens when I see that particular brand of roadkill.

Uncle Laverne was one of my dad's closest buddies in the 1960s--so close that Dad served as Laverne's best man when he (Laverne) married Sheila Fisher. Sheila's sister, Cindy, was a bridesmaid, and the best man fell in love with her and married her a year and a half thereafter. So, given the dual connection, I grew up with frequent visits to Sheila and Laverne's house, and they to ours. Their sons and my brother and I were buddies, too.

One of our traditions was July 4. When my generation were all kids (I was the youngest), they came to Sioux City to light illegal fireworks. After we moved to Creston, it was pretty much just Sheila, Laverne and my parents. I would still hang out occasionally when I wasn't with friends. In July 2004, my parents had moved to Ankeny. I had just got back from backpacking Europe and was living at home till I moved to Iowa City to go to grad school in the fall. On July 5, Sheila and Laverne came down for the traditional holiday together a day late.

After lunch that day, Mom, Sheila and I went shopping. As we went around the corner from my parents' street, there was a dead squirrel on the road. Sheila, exasperated, said, "Laverne killed that squirrel. He swerved toward it to be funny but then he ended up actually killing it." We all three kind of laughed but kind of tsked tsked him for it, too.  End of story.

That was July 5, 2004. Less than two weeks later, we got an early morning phone call with the dreadful news that Laverne had passed away very unexpectedly. We truly lost one of our most valued family members that day, and we all still reel from the loss. I spent that morning in shock while Mom went to be with my aunts at the hospital. My brother came over and we went to lunch together to process the impossible-to-process news. On our way to the restaurant, I saw that squirrel. No one from the city had come to get it, so it was just flatter and grosser than ever. 

As I saw it, I thought of that July 5 and Sheila's story. And that dumb dead squirrel made me cry. It was a reminder that someone who had just been to my house, who had just had dinner with us, who had just told stories with us...who had always been in my life, in this world with me....was no longer going to do or be any of those things. The world still existed. The real, tangible, physical presence of him existed there on the road, in a very weird connection. But Laverne did not. It was too much to take in.

And so, six-and-a-half years later, I think of Laverne's absence from the world every time I see a dead squirrel. It's not your typical memory trigger, but I think it's one that would amuse him. And I'm always happy to think of him, so I guess we all win. Except the squirrels.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Weigh Your Words

I just posted on Facebook what I thought was a little statement of positivity. I was feeling good about life and my place in the world, and I wanted to post a little comment about how my general outlook of self-loathing and negativity was proven wrong..again. There have been several moments this week that really reminded me of how good I have it and how valued I am by those in my life. I had a moment where it hit me how many positives I've experienced this week, amidst the moments of crazy, and I decided to post on it.

Then it was quickly dismissed by a friend as a moment of drunk posting, which it was not.

And I fell right back into despair. Because my general view of myself was proven: I'm weird, people think I'm nuts, melodramatic, foolish, and silly. That one little comment, one little negative comment, innocently intended as a glib little joke, destroyed all the warmth I was feeling. All I could think about on reading it was how everyone else would read it the same way, would accuse me of being drunk, of being stupid. They would laugh at me because I'm the freak people have always assumed me to be. I spent ten minutes crying about it until I finally decided it was best just to delete the posting as a form of damage control.

So here I sit. Right back in despair. Because of one little comment that was not meant to overpower a series of messages of warmth and positivity. I can blame no one but myself for this overreaction, but nonetheless, it's a reminder to me of how one glib little passing statement isn't meaningless. We have to watch our words, lest they be taken seriously. We all have a responsibility to choose our statements carefully to avoid turning someone into a gelatinous mess who won't sleep tonight because she's too busy thinking about all the ways and the reasons why people hate her.

Words are not powerless.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Swings and Things

Having just got home from traveling for a few days, I suppose it's not a huge surprise that I'm feeling a little emotionally taut today. I love to travel in the sense that I love seeing new places, and seeing great places again and again. I love being somewhere else--sometimes anywhere else--for awhile. But I hate to travel in the sense of getting to those places. Air travel, especially, as this summer's two-part blog post about the evils of Delta Airlines will demonstrate.

Yesterday was shaky getting home due in part to Delta Airlines and in part to weather issues. I found myself feeling that old anxiety, coupled with anger, fear, frustration, panic, dread. Things were not going how they were supposed to and it was all I could do not to lash out in front of my travel companions who don't know me well (it was a work trip). My gut reaction to these types of situations is either to get angry and sweary or to cry. Fortunately, I did neither.

Once we were on the plane, though, I had a very difficult time keeping it together. A fellow passenger was inconsiderate, and it pushed me over the edge. I had to put on my iPod, lean forward and close my eyes in order to avoid a full-on meltdown. I had a hard time breathing normally and I was in tears for about half the flight. So, yeah. Today's emotional roller coaster is the inevitable day of letting off steam. Going to the grocery store on a Sunday didn't help, but I digress.

What I didn't expect, though, was the meltdown I had while shutting my eyes for a bit to rest from grading. My mind went to childhood, as it often does, but this time rather than focusing on my own directly, I started thinking about my brother. Like me, he was teased as a kid. I remember a few instances of seeing him be teased, and I know of other times when I wasn't there to witness it. I remembered one cold day on the playground before school when we were standing and waiting to go inside. He had his coat all zipped up, including the fur-trimmed hood. The coat had an extended front part that covered the face more fully. I remember thinking it looked like E.T.'s head. We were standing against the building and a kid came and teased my brother about the coat. My brother said nothing in return. I remember being mad on his behalf, but I didn't say anything, either.

I thought about that day this afternoon, and other little things like it, and I just started to sob. Heaving sobs. Because how dare they make fun of my brother? How dare they not see that he's a good person? He and I are so very different. I'm more social and emotional. He's more reserved by far. He has his eccentricities, as I do, but they are a radically different set than are mine. But, like me, he didn't deserve anyone's ridicule.

And that was the thing that became my bugaboo today. That was the thing that let me get out some of that tension build up. There's no sense in it, nothing that can be done. But maybe that's the point. The cause of the tension was my lack of control, my ability to do anything about anything, so maybe so went the release. The idea that there are injustices and frustrations that no amount of optimism or positive thinking can make better. That there will always be assholes. And asshole companies, like Delta. Who knows. Maybe those elementary school bullies are now running the show at Delta. That would make sense, actually.