The summer before 6th grade was the last of our family trips to Florida. It was tradition every summer that my family would fly out (or drive to) Florida. We would stay for up to 10 days, go to all the theme parks, hang out with my father’s side of the family and make all sorts of memories. The summer before 6th grade may have been the summer that my cousins and I were let into a club although all of us were underage; I don’t think that was the summer I got massive sunburn, it could have been.
I only remember one moment more vividly than any other.
That time, we drove out there. Before leaving the state, we visited every family member to say bye. On our last pit stop, I went to say bye to my cousin Johnathan. I gave him a hug and said “goodbye,” like I normally did under any other circumstance.
My cousin scolded me. “No. Don’t say goodbye, Erica. Goodbye means you’re never going to see me again. Say I’ll see you later. Goodbyes are final.”
Granted, Exactly what he said is lost on me but the sentiment of his words stayed with me throughout all these years. I thought he was being silly. But I did not expect the year to unfold the way that it did.
Come that December, we found out that my dad was cheating on my mom. Family trips to Florida were no more. The scene was set next to the 6 foot Christmas tree that we all helped to decorate. Upon hearing the news, I broke down in tears and I was carried away by the brother that I usually did not get along with. My mom let out her frustration in the form of screams and scratches.
Years later when my youngest brother went to counseling for his anxiety, he was asked to draw a picture that represented family. He drew the typical stick figures and labeled each accordingly, putting mom first. Then he did something very strange. My mom showed me the picture explaining to me (something to the effect), “Erica, look. Steven drew this picture to represent his family. He put me first and look at how he drew you. But I don’t know why he drew a Christmas tree.”
It’s amazing what the subconscious will retain. If I was 11 and the image of my family falling apart next to the Christmas tree is etched in my mind, I can only imagine what that looked like to a 4 year old.
My mom hung up the picture on the wall by the hallway. I could never miss it on my way to my room. It broke my heart to look at. I never explained to my mom why my little brother might correlate a Christmas tree to family time. It reminded me that my little brother may never have witnessed my parents in love, only out of love. Truly, the thought is terrible.
Fast forward to my marijuana habits causing me to get out of my mother’s house.Fast forward through living in a one bedroom with my father and the family he hid. Fast forward through all the poor decisions that I made searching far and wide for a version of love. Let’s move right into how I finally achieved self sufficiency in the form of paying my rent and a few bills; overall, providing for myself. Know that we skipped past the overexposure to sex, the rebellious years, the determination (and failure) to go to school, the indecisive nature that accompanied not having a say in detrimental life decisions (my mother ruled all reason at one point), the partying, the vile family connections, the double standards, the division – we overlooked all the dirty details.
Let’s get to this terrible sadness that’s overwhelmed my every waking thought. At the most recent Low Culture Lab, when asked how he felt that day, a friend responded “I wake up every day with an overwhelming dread.” He said it in his happiest face and most lively tone. He dismissed the comment as soon as he made it, not even realizing how it resonated with others in the room, myself particularly.
When asked how I’m feeling or generally commenting on my well being, I feel terrible. At work, my boss keeps a mental tab on the times I say I don’t feel good. Apparently it’s often. A sadness has followed me since I made decisions for someone else and not myself. It’s gotten to the point that the decisions I do make for myself seem like a debt I have to pay off to my younger self – a debt that will never be paid up if you think about it.
I like to think I’m alright but stress is a killer.
I’m unsatisfied. In church on Wednesday, we spoke on how enough is not enough in this culture we live in. Boy, am I aware. Of all that I have, I still cannot be satisfied. Enough is not enough. I want more. Enough feels unsatisfactory. Enough feels less than. Enough feels sad.
On Sunday, I went to a BBQ gathering of old and new friends. It was not the scene that it was just a few years before but as things adapt, you have to adapt with them. The BBQ was everything that it needed to be. No more and no less. While there, an old friend sat me down before I had to go and imparted life into my spirit. She encouraged me from the soles of my feet to the depths of my mind. She recognized all that I had been through-enough so, to ask meaningful questions about how I was doing. You know there are questions that pry and then those that prick. Her questions pricked and pried but not in an intrusive way. She mentioned that although other people may not understand what I’ve been through, she has kept her eyes on me and she is so inspired by my life. “People are watching you, whether you know it or not,” she reassured me, being one of the people that watches me.
Even with this encouragement just days before, I currently find myself in a state of utter disappointment. A cloud follows my experiences. These days I’d rather watch the rain than dance in it. I can be so high spirited one day and so downcast the next. I will find myself barely wanting to talk to God because I know what’s in my heart. Anguish. I find myself crying out for this world. Like why aren’t we just born with God, why can’t we all go with God? Why can’t I know how and where it all ends? The unknown leaves me in such despair!
Yet, here I am complaining about life when that same cousin who schooled me on the solidarity of “Goodbye” has cancer. I see posts by family members or by him about his constant fight. Just yesterday I saw a picture of his father walking next to him, the caption being “Thanks pops for the push . . . before this picture I haven’t walked in about 4 weeks.” It occurred to me: how many times will our parents have to teach us to walk? God is still teaching me since the last time I fell.
Scrolling through my cousins page brought tears to me. (I cried through this whole post.) I am so inspired looking at him. But I still cannot understand his absolute will to stay alive. He refuses to be defeated by this cancer. He pushes for his son, for his family, for the sake of life. While I sit in my absolute privileged health, complaining about my motivation for life, my cousin is in his sickness fighting to be alive.
God will remind you.
All the time.
Goodbye is actually a shortened version of “God Be With You.”
So in case we never see each other again, may God be with you.