Monday, September 8, 2008

What I Didn't Say

I've always been a bit of a dreamer. That is to say, I have a bit of a problem with fantasizing. Not in a creepy way, to be sure.

No, I get swept up by imagining myself on a stage in front of thousands of people....

I can feel the stifling haze of the bright lights as I pull out a chipped black stool and arrange myself elegantly on its seat. I hear the hush of the audience as they behold me in all of my magnificence. I open I mouth....and melodic notes pour forth from my upturned soul. I.Am.Wonderful. The crowd loves me, and I love them. But I don't let it get to my head. I still wear Gap jeans and hug my fans. I raise my children amidst the glitz of the spotlight, but I do it with effortless grace and amazing poise. The world has never been met with the combination I present; lyrics of intellect and spirit paired with low, husky vocals.

Please tell me I'm not the only one that does this. You imagine stuff too, right? It is only normal and natural that we envision ourselves in positions of (supposed) beauty, talent, and accomplishment, right? You used to practice your signature for fans just like I (do) did?

I have always found solace and an alarming amount of encouragement in the world of make-believe. I have to call it this, because I really don't think I'm destined for the stage. I don't like to smile that much, and that would be the least of my hurdles. But nevertheless, I slip into the world of my imagination because here I am the producer, the artist, and the performer. I am what I want to be, and I do what I want to do. But I'm usually pretty nice about having all that power. I rarely drop a piano on someone's head. My therapist encouraged me to (mentally) beat someone up, and I did that with an extraordinary amount of vigor. Usually, however, I am kind and gracious. I'm funny and I always have a clever quip. I write books, I talk to Larry King, and I really like to hand out gifts. I pay off my parents' house, send single mothers on spa trips, and buy everything on my sister-in-law's baby registry. I am magnificent. I love the world, and the world loves me.

So you can imagine that I had 'envisioned' some of the more outstanding moments of my life when I was but a wee babe. I can't say that I knew what my wedding would be like, but I knew what I would say. Poetic magic would be emitted from my perfectly glossed lips. I would make others weep with my declaration for my beloved.

I knew what I would do when it came time to tell my spouse that I was expecting a baby. Yes, I would be creative and clever and somehow still manage to be perfectly poignant.

I hope you are realizing by now that I really do truly live much of my life in the dream world. I realize that as fun as this can be, it can also be...weird. And perhaps damaging. And I have found that life can be surprisingly better, or at least more authentic, than anything I can dream up. But I wanted you to understand these things before I begin (Yes, I'm just now getting started).

When Austin proposed, I knew it was coming. I did. On my birthday, we were eating at a pretty restaurant and I was waiting for the moment when he would drop to one knee and express his undying affections. Instead...he tossed a small box towards my plate. I was mad. THIS WAS IT?! Alas, no. It was diamond earrings. But it did take me offguard so that I was sufficiently surprised when he did propose later that night. I opened my mouth, and into the frosty still night I yelled one word. It wasn't YES or WAAAAHOOO or anything like that. It isn't a word that I normally include in my blogs, but it sometimes gets published like this: S*%T. Yes, indeed. I didn't have time to bring the dream world words past my real world lips. It just went so very fast.

I was surprised (shocked, beyond my ability to fathom) that my wedding was nothing like what I had planned in my Own Little World. Not just the flowers and the cake or the guests who neglected to Repondez S'il Vous Plait. But the things I was to say...the beautiful words that would be a modern-day equivalent of Jane Austen meets Shakespeare....they never were said. I was lucky to get through the day without vomiting my breakfast on my bouquet. I barely remember saying the vows, and it all went so fast.

When I found out (incidentally, about 3 weeks later) that I was pregnant, I was so shocked that I didn't plan anything. I didn't have some clever little game planned where Austin would discover at the end that he was to be a dad. No, I think I looked at him with utter shock and perhaps a weeeee little bit of hatred when he walked in the door of our apartment. I was holding the test, so that made it all pretty clear. In the span of a second, he knew what I knew and there was no need to make pretty speeches. It would have been redundant, and besides, The Shining Moment had passed. As I was finding out, it all went so fast.

I had similar reactions when finding out I was pregnant the other 34 times. Not once did I get it all out the way I intended. Even worse reactions when the 2 children (I don't have a billion kids, don't worry) were actually born. After birthing Moira, I asked if someone would PLEASE get me a FRIGGING CHEESEBURGER and after Sabra I asked Austin (without pause or shame) if the child looked normal and not ugly. You can guess that what I experienced just seemed to fly quickly, so very fast.

It bothers me that when it really seems to matter, when The Moment arrives, I'm doomed to silence at best and idiocy at worst. I want to say what I want to say in the way it should be said and, more importantly, when it should be said.

Almost a year ago, I sat in a church building while many black-clad figures around me looked bewildered and sad. The air was filled with that sweet, sickening fragrance of bereavement flowers. The balled-up tissue in my hand hung in pathetic strips. The crumbled paper held an entire application of mascara that I should have known better than to apply. I held the hand of my husband on the right, and his sister on my left. They buried their father that morning, his siblings and their respective families. My father-in-law had enough time to plan his funeral service, and if you knew was so him. Unlike most funerals, there were no remarks or funny little stories about Dennis. There was the full liturgy, sermon, Eucharist, the whole bit. Even those who were not Christian, or Christian but not familiar with this type of service, participated in this service. It was what he wanted. always....I was selfish. It wasn't what I wanted.

I wanted someone to stand up and say that he had been a good man, someone who cared about education and fine cigars. He was a pastor, a songwriter, and I think a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman once upon a time.

I wanted someone to say that even though, like most men, he had flaws, he cared about his kids. He loved his grandkids, and he especially loved to tease them.

And for some reason, I really wanted someone to get up there, push the Bishop aside and talk about grief. I thought that all those people probably wanted to hear that grief is a long, dark, strange place. I thought that they, like me, might want to know that one of the ways to alleviate the strange pain of death, if only for a moment, was to laugh. Dennis loved to laugh, he loved to joke and tell horrible little puns. He liked dry humor, and would wait all night to bring the conversation full circle into a tidy little joke.

I wanted someone to just talk about him, to say his name out loud and tell us of something memorable that he did.

And as I sat there, tired and hot and desperate to find sense in the madness of the death of a 56 year old, I began to slip away into the world where I make some of the rules. And what is strange is that at that moment I didn't dream him alive and well. I have since done so, even found him ambling down the street, unaware of who he was until I reminded him that he had a family and a job, and I put everything to right again. But at that time, even my dream world couldn't resurrect the numbing pain of loss that I felt, and that I knew was magnified within the breast of those sharing my pew.

Instead I imagined not just 'someone' but maybe me....getting up....making a few remarks...reminding the assembled throng that remembering someone is the best compliment, the best pain management, the best and only way to keep them with us.

And as I came back into the real world, my heart started to pound. I felt light-headed, the homily was coming to a close. I

I could do it! I would say something! I'm not sure what would happen, but I was going to honor him with words.

And then, it all went so fast. And in what seemed like moments, I was outside in the sweltering heat, discussing with my family where to go for lunch and how long I had until I could pick up my girls.

I've thought so often about that day; the things I didn't say. Of all the times and all the rehearsed words, it sticks out the most. Strangely though, I don't regret it. It wouldn't have been right, perhaps. Keeping quiet has its bonuses just as speaking out does.

But still...I'm surprised at how quickly the moments, both big and small, just rush by before I can open my mouth. I'm left looking down the road as those moments drive on to other people.

Maybe those people have enough time to think of what to say. Or maybe like me, they too are left in a cloud of flurry and chaos and only realize what happened after the moment is driving on.

I'm not sure how to wrap this up; I am still so undecided on such moments in life. I didn't want to yell an expletive when I became engaged, though it does make for a funny story. I didn't want to ask for a cheeseburger before asking to hold my first child, though I was really very hungry.

Perhaps that is why I enjoy writing so much; it gives me back the power to say what I wanted to. I create snowflakes that fall on Austin's dark hair as he twirled me in the moonlight. No, it didn't really happen that way. But when I write it down...well, it could have happened that way.

So in my mind, in my dream world, if all had been as I imagined it, here's what I would have said:

I am not the person that should stand here today and talk about Dennis Cagle. But those who knew him best are hurting so badly today that they can do nothing but weep or stare. We are here because we lost someone. I lost my father-in-law, the Papa of my girls, my former boss. He was many things to many people: priest, teacher, administrator, husband, dad, grandpa, son, board member, colleague. You might not have known him in all of these roles, but if you knew knew these things: He loved to teach, he loved to learn, and he loved to laugh. Among my favorite memories of my father-in-law is the time when I thought he wasn't listening...I was speaking with Austin's mom about my upcoming appointment with le bebe doctor. She told me (I'm still not sure why) that the doctor would be able to see right away if I was indeed pregnant because a pregnant woman's cervix turns blue. I thought for a moment, pondering this odd information, and looked quizzically at my dinner plate as the conversation went on. Dennis caught my eye, gave me a knowing look, and said, "miner's hats". It took me a few minutes to realize that he was answering my puzzled look and being quite funny at the same time. He kept eating his dinner, asking Chels to pass the butter (in Spanish).

It isn't profound, but it is something that I remember when I think of Dennis, and it still makes me laugh out loud. He died so young, and it pains me to think that there was so much left he could have done. He can no longer meet new teachers, new parishioners, new grandchildren. But through me, and through you, they can meet him. As the days go by, and as those days so quickly turn to years, remember Dennis. Remember him for yourself, and remember him to other people. It is the very best way to keep him with us, which is of course where we want him to be.

And that's what I would have said. So thanks for listening to my dream world, where I always get the chance to say what I want to say, how I want to say it, and when it needs to be said.

No comments: