By May 7, 2009

A decade of rememberance

It is safe to say that I was a different person ten years ago. I was living in Virginia for the first time, in a small two bedroom apartment with my girlfriend from college. Even though I had already done professional Web work for two years, I had just started the job that would cement my career in this industry. I had a dog and a new car.

It seemed like I had my entire life ahead of me.

I have never been really close with my family. There are a few reasons for this, not many of which I am going to get into right now. The primary reasons are that I am eleven years younger than my next closest sibling. By the time I was old enough to carry on a realistic conversation with my siblings most of them had moved away to go to college or beyond. The other primary reason is that I am the only child of my parent’s marriage. I felt, and still feel, particularly estranged from my father’s children from his first marriage. We have never had a falling out or anything, it’s just coincidence that we are related somehow. Otherwise they are just people to me. My two half-sister from my mother’s side lived with me during my early childhood. Out of everyone in my family, I was closest with the younger of my two sisters. She was the one closest to me in age, and while I didn’t really realize it at the time, she became the one person I could talk to about anything. She was old enough to give me advice based on experience, but not so old that she forgot what it was like to be stupid and not listen to advice.

She had bailed me out of more trouble than I should retell on a public platform. From the time I stole my Mom’s car at fifteen to the reason why there were metal detectors installed in my high school after I graduated, she always stood by me. Even when I fucked up, and that’s more than I can say I did for any of my friends or family.

At any rate, back then I felt like I had plenty of time to reconnect where I wanted to, especially now that I was done with school and had some sense of autonomy. I wasn’t interested in getting married, but I was in love with my college girlfriend and there was no end in sight. I looked forward to visiting my mother, stepfather, sister and uncle in New York state, and had designs on visiting my father in Colorado someday. I had friends scattered all over the country, and now that I had this job I could stop scratching for every penny and start making bigger plans.

It seemed like I had my entire life ahead of me.

I will never forget the morning I got the phone call from my mother. In fact, most of that morning is still very clear in my mind. The raw hysteria in her voice, screaming over and over that my sister was dead. In between wails I discerned that my mother had found her in the morning, and that my uncle was there to call the paramedics and stayed with the body after they arrived.

I remember telling my mother that I’d be there as soon as I could, and the look in my ex-girlfriend’s eye as I hung up the phone. I don’t know if she heard my mother’s screams or if she just knew from my posture and tone that there was trouble. There were no questions. All she said was, “let’s go.”

I remember calling my father to give him the news. The dozens of heartbeats that we shared in silence. “Damn, damn, damn,” he said softly. I look back now and realize it was a defining point in our relationship. Under the extreme pressure of those moments, I was still his son, but I was no longer his child.

The funeral and following weeks were a blur. I wore my hard face. I wasn’t shielding myself from any sadness, nor was I in denial about what happened. The truth was, I remembered who my sister used to be, and in the two years before she died she was no longer that person. She was a strong, assertive woman and even then I chose to honor her memory in that way. I hugged my mother, shook my father’s hand, and tried to start moving on with my life.

I didn’t realize the cracks that had formed in my spirit until years had passed. Something strange had happened with my perspective. I became more cynical about the long term. Views of my own life, my country, religion, humanity. My perspective narrowed, and it became very important to be immediately kind, to be immediately gracious, to try to improve my immediate treatment of people around me and close to my heart. The longer-term concepts lost their value after being struck in the face with a sudden death. I couldn’t do anything about the future, but I could do something in the present.

Our concept of the future is bullshit. The idea that there is time tomorrow to do what you did not today. That there is an “ever after,” happy or not. There is today. That is all you get, and sometimes you don’t even get that.

My life has gone through many changes in the ten years since my sister has been gone. The one thing that has remained constant is the idea that time waits for no one. I have done things this last decade I would not have dared. Motorcycling is one obvious example. The physical and emotional freedom I feel while riding is only possible because I ride without the fear of death. “You could die on that thing,” many people have told me. Yeah, but we’re all going to die. And I’ve learned the hard way that some of us are going sooner than later.

My sister’s sudden passing drove home the fragility of my existence, for better or worse. I began to do what I wanted, not what anyone expected of me. I held doors for people because if I died that day I wanted to know I did something nice for someone. I took risks — emotional, professional, physical — because I no longer appreciated the concept of tomorrow. I moved across country twice, changed my address so many times it’s hard to count. I bailed out of relationships because I wasn’t happy deep down, even though the day-to-day was acceptable. What some saw as acceptable “in the long term” because anathema to my short-term vantage point.

So, ten years later, after missing you often, and thinking about you every day, I want to thank you. I often thank you in my heart for this lesson. But I want to write it here so that if I may too move suddenly on someone else may realize how I feel. Thank you, thank you Suzanne, for imparting upon me the harsh wisdom that has freed me and enriched my life:

There is no tomorrow. There is only today.

Pet your dog, tell your parents you love them. Tell your friends you love them, and that they are important to you. Make a stranger feel special. Hug your children, or your grandchildren. Call someone who is important to you — right now — and tell them that you are glad they are in your life. Ride like motherfucking hell. Be the person you want to be now, because you may never get that chance.

It was ten years ago that I lost my sister. It seemed like I had my entire life ahead of me. Now I know I only have today, and I am going to make the most of it.

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6 Comments on "A decade of rememberance"

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  1. Tommy says:

    I was on the verge of tears BEFORE I read this. Your words are beautiful sir. I hope I see you tomorrow.

  2. Starbuck says:

    I wish I could have met her. Love you

  3. Shane says:

    Without a doubt, one of the most powerful and eloquent pieces I have read in quite a long time. Will catch up w/ you soon no doubt.

  4. Jake says:

    Gee, thanks, I really needed to hear something like that. It set me thinking. Thank you for your inspiering words.

  5. Sedagive? says:

    I have just experienced the death of a close friend in the same sudden and unexpected manner. These words of yours, DrFaulken, have helped me find perspective with their honesty. What a wonderful way to honor your sister’s memory.

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