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Parallels of Pain

My grandmother was my favorite person in the entire world. I spent nearly every weekend I can remember at her house with my cousins. We would play games, watch old Western movies with my papaw, make bacon with my grandma, and drink coffee with her. This was my happy place, the house where my grandparents and great-grandmother, Granny, lived. I spent countless nights running through the house, playing with my cousins: Faith, just two weeks younger than me, my best friend, and her younger sisters. The house was our castle, our playground, and our safe place. This house was ours, with the piano in the living room, the endless supply of Oatmeal Cream Pies and Cheetos for Granny. Our laughter and joy filled the house in a way that hadn't been there since our parents were kids. My grandmother was my hero. She worked the hardest out of anyone I've ever known in my life. She worked for the Indiana State Board of Health. She was the healthiest person, never sick a day in her life, until she was.

One of my earliest memories was when I was 8 years old. It was an ordinary Wednesday, February 10, 2010. My grandmother, Gigi as we called her, had been ill for a while. I was sitting in class, Mrs. Brock’s class, second grade, during silent reading, I think. I heard the phone ring and felt a pang in my stomach.

Mrs. Brock turned to me and said, “Your dad’s here to get you. Get your stuff and go down to the office.”

I was confused. Why was my dad picking me up in the middle of the day?

Then I reached the office, and my brother was sitting on the blue and brown benches at the front of the building, waiting on me. I asked him if he knew what was happening, and he said no. He was just as confused as I was.

We stepped outside to my father sitting in my mom's car, a reddish-purple Honda Pilot with tan interior, 3 rows.

Andrew and I put our backpacks in the trunk of the car, mine was rainbow tie-dye, his was probably orange.

We opened the car door, and Andrew pulled the lever to move the seat forward. I climbed into the far back seat of the three-row car, separate from both my dad and Andrew. Andrew sat in the seat in front of me.

I thought, where's Patrick? Why isn't he here? Patrick went to the high school at the time, not in the same school as us.

I remember sitting on the edge of the seat, putting my head on the edge of the row in front of me, waiting for my dad to speak to us.

He turned around and looked at my brother and me.

He said, "Gigi died this morning."

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t even think.

Apparently, my Gigi had been sick for some time, and they didn’t tell us. They didn’t want to worry or scare us, especially me and my young cousins. I knew something was wrong when she missed my 8th birthday just the month before. I knew she was sick; I must have overheard something my parents said about it. I just knew somehow. I was upset and angry at my parents for not telling me sooner, not letting me say goodbye.

All I remember is numbness. I remember feeling absolutely nothing. I guess that’s what shock feels like. I also remember that I didn’t cry. Not yet.

I could hear my brother in the seat in front of me, always cold and emotionless, but now a puddle of tears and feelings, unsure of what to do with himself.

Why am I not crying? Why is Andrew crying? I don’t think I’ve ever seen Andrew cry before. Where’s Patrick? Where’s Mom? If we’re in Mom’s car then where’s Mom? Does Faith know yet? I should call Faith. I should call Mom. Mom. Where’s Mom? Do I have to go to school tomorrow?

Questions and worry raced through my mind. My chin rested upon the backrest of Andrew’s row in the car, always separate. I think we went home after that, I was too numb to pay attention to where my dad drove us. I probably went home and sat underneath my black metal loft bed. At some point I ended up there, crying. Finally crying.

How is she dead? What’s Papaw going to do? What’s he going to do with Granny? What’s Mom going to do?

I don’t remember anything else until her funeral. I remember going to Kentucky. I don’t remember what I wore or what I felt, but I do remember one thing, vividly.

I remember my Aunt Holly, ex Aunt now, wiping her mascara away during the funeral. I remember the tissues coming away from her face, streaked with black. I remember sitting next to my cousin Faith, who is 2 weeks younger than me. We watched her mom together, giggling at how silly she looked with those black lines on her face. What a strange memory to have from your grandmother’s funeral. I know.

Then when we went to Florida that March or April, whenever Spring Break was, we took some of Gigi’s ashes to the beach and held another little funeral for her there. It was her favorite place in the world, St. Pete Beach, Florida. She and my Papaw had bought a time share there at Hideaway Sands Resort when my mom was just a kid, in the ‘70s. We still go every year; it’s a family affair now, grandparents, uncles, friends, everyone. We all go; every year of my life.

After a while, all of the years and memories of that place start to run together in my mind, all bleeding into one another, creating a big monster of a place in my mind. One sticks out above all the others, that little second funeral. We all got dressed up and stood in circles on the beach. The grownups shared stories and I think someone read a poem or something, Gigi would have hated that. At the end of it all, we spread her ashes there on the beach and dumped some in the ocean, so she could be in her favorite place forever. Then, all of the grandkids got a little pink and white conch shell, so we could hear the ocean there in St. Pete and have a piece of Gigi forever. That shell sits on my bookshelf to this day, next to a photo of me and Gigi together.

6 years later, I was 14 years old. I was a freshman in high school. I still slept in my black metal loft bed. I still cried every year on February 10, missing my Gigi with every ounce of my being. One day, not long before February 10, I don’t remember the day, I couldn’t sleep. I was laying in my bed, thinking. I could hear the TV in the living room, my parents were watching some show or movie. My brother, Andrew, had moved out that year to go to college. Our house had never been quieter; it was just me and my parents.

They turned off the TV and went to bed. I heard every creak in the floor and the squeak of the hinges on their bedroom door, right across the hall from mine. I also heard them as they began to speak.

“When’s the biopsy, again?” My mom asked.

What biopsy?

I don’t remember what the rest of the conversation was. My mind had already taken flight, full of ideas and questions.

What’s wrong with him? Does he have cancer? Why haven’t they told me anything? Where is the biopsy? Does Andrew know? Who knows? Why won’t they tell me? I deserve to know that my dad is sick. I deserve to know that my dad is going to die.

It wasn’t a chance to me, it wasn’t some odd or percentage, it was a fact. He was going to die. It was cancer, and it was deadly.

I thought they would tell me a few days before the biopsy or even a few days after, if they were nervous for it themselves. But instead, they didn’t tell me at all. I began to be overwhelmed with thoughts and questions. I was filled with a rage and anger like I had never felt before. How could they do this to me? Why wouldn’t they tell me that Dad was sick?

I felt so angry and betrayed by this that I prayed for my dad to die. I asked God to kill him with cancer. I thought that this would be some twisted form of justice, a punishment for treating me this way.

This went on for weeks, maybe even months. My anger grew; and so did my distance from my parents. Then, it was time to go to Florida for Spring Break. We left for two weeks, headed to our happy place, our personal paradise. I was so excited.

A few days into the trip, my mom texted me to come to my grandparent’s room for lunch. I walked across the place, from the beach up to the pool and into my Nana’s condo, room 101, right next to the pool. It was just my parents sitting there. I instantly wanted to leave and run away. I wanted nothing to do with my dad; I wanted to get as far away from him as possible.

My mom told me to sit down. I did.

“We have something to tell you.” She started to say.

Finally. About Damn Time. I thought.

“Your dad had a biopsy a little while ago, and we’ve just gotten the results back.”

Cancer. I already know.

“It’s cancer.”

Called it. He’s going to die. They all die.

I got up and walked back out to the beach. I felt numb again. I think I was too angry to feel sad. I was too upset that I had been right. I went to the spot where we had sprinkled my Gigi’s ashes, exactly 6 years earlier. I sat down in the sand. I cried. I talked to her. I talked to myself. I got angry again, angrier. This time at God.

How can you do this to me? Go ahead and take everyone, it’ll happen eventually. I hate you. I wish you would leave me alone. Leave us all alone. You’re supposed to love me and take care of me. You’re killing me. You’re killing everyone.

I felt like I was 8 years old again, sitting in the back of the Honda Pilot. Screaming inside my head while sitting on those tan seats, but here I was, 14, and sitting on the tan sand this time. It felt exactly the same. I had been lied to, not told what was happening, and now someone was dying again.

I know that in both of these situations my parents were just trying to protect me from being worried or scared if it turned out to be nothing, but that’s not how it felt to me. It felt like lying and betrayal.

That’s the thing about parenting, you’re going to screw up. You won’t be perfect. You’ll make mistakes. My parents made the mistake here of keeping secrets poorly and hurting my trust of them. I know that they were doing their best with what they had, but so was I.

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