I’ve been thinking about memories lately. Actually, I’ve been thinking more about my memory. It isn’t what it once was. Middle age can suck it. There was a time where my memory was secured in a vault that could rival Fort Knox. I have pieces of memories from when I was really young, but the first full memory I can think of, has broken my heart for nearly 40 years.
I was in second grade, and I went to school this one day, and instead of going out to the Maplewood playground, I asked to stay in so I could talk to my all-time favorite teacher, Mrs. Kirk. Mrs. Kirk had the exterior of a complete hard ass. This was the 80s, her hair was big, her makeup thick and the angles on her face were sharp. But it was the permanent scowl that scared everyone. Until you were in her class and learned just how amazing she was. I guess, maybe that’s my first full memory, but that isn’t a specific memory.
The first full memory of an event in my life, was staying in that classroom while everyone else went out to play, so I could talk to Mrs. Kirk about my sister. Jill was 13 at the time, and she had runaway from home the night before. Not like a kid packing a bag and only making it to the neighbors, because Jill never half-assed anything. No, she was gone. The police were looking for her, my mom was dialing every number in the phonebook, and there were zero leads. You know that meme that makes its rounds every few months, the one about a kid from the 80s being thankful that social media wasn’t around to catch us being idiots? As true as that might be, it can bite me. Well, it sure would have been nice to have a GPS on Jill back in 1984.
That’s really my first memory of something happening in my perfect world on Lodge Avenue. And it was the first time I worried about my sister’s life. I never truly put that worry away, even now, some five months after I received the call that I always knew was coming. I realized this past week, after a good session with the shrink, why I haven’t been myself since last November. I thought my ADD was just acting up, as the meds were losing some of their effect on me. And I was stressed about the prospect of World War III, and dealing with our first trial as empty nesters, being in a new position with a new company and making more than I ever thought I would.
I thought that in all the years of therapy, I learned to understand myself so well, that I’d always recognize what was going on in my own head. I thought wrong. The six weeks or so, after Jill died, was a real struggle for me. But I thought things really took a turn towards acceptance after the memorial. Being surrounded by my family, reconnecting with my niece, going for a walk with my brother and cousins, my wife and daughters unwavering support and a note from a cousin was all so good for this soul.
Everyone left, and I thought life had kinda gone back to normal. A new normal, which has become an all-too common phrase the past couple of years. There were still bouts with the pain that I recognized, and days filled with sadness. But it wasn’t like those first six weeks. In that new normal, I sometimes forgot that things had changed. It still felt like she was just out there in the world, missing, but would turn up eventually, whenever she was good and ready. Or so I thought.
There’s not going to be another phone call. I used to worry that when I saw homeless people around Kansas City, I’d one day see her hardly recognizable face. That won’t happen. Instead, I’m dealing with the grief again. Or still. You know, I’ve never believed in the idea of “closure.” It makes about as much sense to me as a mullet. And the other night I was watching a TED talk on grief by Nora Mcinerny, and she said something that really rang true for me. We don’t move on from grief, we move forward with it. I thought I had figured out some weird lifehack, moved through the stages of grief in warp speed, and was moving on. I lied, or didn’t really listen to myself. I guess I thought since I knew the call would come, and that I had mourned my sister so many times already, that would all soften the blow a bit. But I realized I’ve been punch drunk for five months. Or maybe it’s been 38 years, I can’t remember.