Today, the red flag is up at the beach.
Red, apparently, signifies “High Surf and/or Strong Currents. HIGH HAZARD.” In other words, don’t swim too far out, and if you try, may God have mercy on your stupid soul.
This early afternoon, the green, glassy waves in the Gulf were continuously rolling, a foamy mass of machinery constantly tumbling and hissing. There were a few brave (idiotic) swimmers, no more than a couple hundred feet away from the shoreline, getting smacked over and over again in the face as they attempted to surf or wiggle around on their boogieboards.
Today is definitely a Red Flag kind of day. I’ve been distracted, so distracted. The two tabs of Valium I’ve saved are tucked away in the recesses of my purse, and I keep telling myself I don’t need them.
Exactly three years ago today, my mother died of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. She’d been diagnosed with it only a little over a year before, from what I understand. I wasn’t told much, but no one actually knows much about the disease, only that it’s progressive and terminal. Were the body able to take it, a lung transplant merely extends the lifespan by some years. She was lucky in that she had the best of care, apparently, what little it could do for her at the time. My middle sister was more attuned to what was happening to her as the two of them had developed quite a rapport over the years. Me, I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to know anything…Even as I secretly researched as much as I could via the academic databases through my workplace, as much was available on the disease, I still didn’t believe, I couldn’t believe, this sort of thing was happening to my mother. That her lungs were rapidly becoming hardened with scarring, just useless.
The year before she died, my mom and I took a road trip to visit family and see the Grand Canyon. The evidence of her declining health was there, in my face, every day (the wheezing, the oxygen tanks, for shit’s sake), yet I still didn’t want to believe, want to know. I was much more involved in her life than the projection, the possibility, of her death. She was always filled with this…this zippy energy. The prednisone therapy didn’t help as it only added to her feeling invulnerable. It made her, quite literally, insane.
Even when she was on her death bed at the university hospital in Aurora, I was in denial, unable to believe any of it. There were so many other distractions happening that kept me from focusing on the fact she was too weak for a transplant, that she was going to die. James Holmes’ victims were also at that very hospital, and the traces of tragedy were marked everywhere we went in that vast place, so there was noise, lots of it, and blurry movement happening. In contrast, the ICU room my mother had been assigned to was so quiet, it felt as if it were someplace else entirely. It wasn’t until I watched as she was extubated that I was finally — finally — convinced she was just about to go, and I wept until my eyes burned and my heart felt runny.
Each year since, on the anniversary, my family has sent emails to each other and paid homage to my mother. Each year, during the entire month of July, my mind goes ballistic, my thoughts haywire. It’s residual, that. None of us slept during that year during July. My father rarely slept at ALL that year, being constantly worried about what my mother would do next or what if her lungs just utterly gave out.
This July is no different, really. I’ve kept up a tradition with a college friend since 2013, that we meet at a nice beach and spend the week there. I’ve only been able to sleep lately because I’m heavily medicated. Still, those worries, those tangled thought-horrors, consume me.
July also marks another red flag for me — another end, another death. This weekend will be no different.
It’s not as significant as my mother’s passing, but nevertheless, it hurts. The end of a relationship, apparently, is the equivalent of a death for some. For a long time, I thought it was just a feeling of pure relief, to be free and out of a painful relationship, but I knew someday I’d meet someone who’d thoroughly do me in at some point. It wasn’t my ex-husband. Instead, it was the man I was with after the end of my marriage. I met him while I was in grad school, and I wasn’t initially interested in anything of the sort (I was more into the Trainwreck sort of non-relationship). I wasn’t particularly interested in him at all, but he was kind and understanding. He was also patient with my lunacy, and he was sharp, so funny and calming with a voice like honey. He helped me with my financial aid forms, transported me all over the place (I had no car, having come back to the States from Tokyo), gave me a lot of hand-me-down household necessities, made sure I was all right when I needed to talk to someone. A mutual friend of ours basically smacked me upside the head with the oh-so-obviousness of it all — that the guy cared for me.
After that, my eyes were wide open, perhaps too wide open.
We went out for a few weeks before I was treated to what the kids these days call “ghosting”:
It was his way of breaking it off, non-confrontationally and silently, a sneaky, quiet fade-out.
I was devastated, and I refused to let go of him, or the idea of him. I went out on so many dates with other guys just to see if I could find his clone somewhere. No luck, of course, and I’m not stupid. Just stupid in blind love with a man who just wasn’t ready for the likes of me after all.
Someone once said, “You Jennings girls, you’re too intense. It’s too much.” It could’ve been someone in the family, but I can’t remember who’d said it. It’s damned true.
The unrequited thing wasn’t new to me. I’d adored men before, ones who didn’t care much for me in “that” way, and I’d gotten over them rather quickly.
This guy, though, was inexplicably difficult for me to let go of.
I’d long since moved to Central Florida, and he’d been whisked away to Pensacola on a promising career path. I was somewhat settled in to the unstable life of a contingent faculty member at a community college. I’d also moved to keep an eye on my grandparents (and vice versa), see if they needed my help with anything.
A couple of years, and further embarrassing dating experiences later, I received an apology email from Mr. Post-Marriage. It was kind as ever, but I didn’t understand his ways of letting go. “Ghosting” was not a term then. After a talk on the phone, we planned on his visiting me, with plane ticket and all, but that went awry due to a medical emergency. I later decided, oh, so foolishly (as these things often go for me), to make the lengthy drive up to see him instead. I’d thought about him more than I ought to have, wishing, hoping he’d change his mind about the likes of me.
And it was foolish, damned foolish of me, as I discovered. I fell in love with him all over again, thoroughly ignoring the nagging thought in the back of my head that He Just Didn’t Feel The Same Way. He was the same, laid back, easygoing, witty fellow I’d enjoyed being with. I made another, longer trip later that summer, and I spent a week at his home. He showed me Pensacola, introduced me to a few of his friends, talked all night with me. I knew I was already living in Crazy Town when I actually found myself offering to cook dinner for him and clean up while he was at work during the day. It was a role I’d been acclimated to before, but one I’d loathed, that hausfrau nonsense. It wasn’t me, but I was HAPPY doing it for him. When I got pleasure out of it, that’s how I knew I was in love…and totally certifiable. I was even considering a move, not to live with him, but to be near him. That’s stupid love right there.
On my way back home, I was among a number of people in a massive car collision on the interstate. One of those gigantic chain reactions on a rain-slick road. A girl, who had been texting while speeding along in her vehicle, smashed into a car of kids going back to UWF. Their car ran over the median and into the path of a semi. About ten cars back, I didn’t stop in time and crashed into the woman who’d stopped in front of me. Another car smashed behind me. A few more cars back, another series of collisions happened. Hell. I didn’t know who to contact, even though the obvious choice would’ve been my sister. I was embarrassed that I’d not told her I’d been in her area at all, so I called HIM.
SIGN number one he didn’t feel the same way: He was concerned, panicked, yet utterly unsure as what to do while he was on the phone. He “had no access to his car,” “was with friends” and “would I be okay?” and that I should “Call him again to let (him) know.” A man in love would’ve been there, no matter what…At least try to make it to the hospital where I’d been sent.
(I was fine. Just contusions and scratches. Even still…).
SIGN number two he didn’t feel the same way: Social media revealed I’d been on the back of his mind. A non-issue. It’s just social media, that’s what I kept saying, but there seemed to be the presence of another who was his evident love, his all. A woman who wouldn’t have it.
I visited again the following year in July. I did, stupidly, having been given the apologies, the concerned emails, the kind calls. We’d at least had history, were friends, yadda yadda. This time, my sister was informed, and she’d had her hackles up, remarking on all the obvious that I was perfectly aware of. I knew it though, and I was braced this time. Just not enough. It was lovely…for awhile. I told him I’d been hurt by him, and he was startled that I’d had such feelings, even residually right then, for him.
I returned home, happy, considering what it would be like to get a PhD up at UWF.
Then, of course, I was ghosted yet again. Same pattern.
A year later, I discovered he’d married and had a child…and I felt almost exactly the same way I felt three years later when I learned my mom was dying. In De-Fucking-Nial. I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, believe it. For one, he’d once told me he didn’t want children. Also, he’d never marry because “married people seemed unhappy” (it didn’t help he’d seen the end results of my own before).
I shared the news of his marriage to my sister and brother-in-law while I was visiting them on a holiday weekend, and I just broke. It’s the only way to describe it…I broke.
It’s been 7 years since I’ve seen him, 6 since I discovered he’d married, and now, just thinking about him, I feel nothing but anger and disgust with myself for putting myself through that sort of stupidity over a bloke who cares NOTHING for me.
Why now though? Well, it’s a red flag day…A red flag weekend approaches, continuing on, marking absences…marking deaths…
I’ll be in Pensacola, a place I SWORE I’d never go back to, on Sunday. I’ve a teaching seminar to attend. The place itself, further reminders of the end…the death of a relationship.
It’ll be over on Thursday, at least.
(Quote courtesy of Nancy Myers’ screenplay The Holiday)