We'd bought the ticket on Friday, to fly out on Sunday and arrive on Monday. She was so excited. She said “See you soon!” We thanked God together, said a little thankful prayer that we'd been able to find a ticket at such short notice, and one into Heathrow instead of Gatwick. A semester at UCL had been her dream since starting college and it was finally going to come true. We were going to have a semester together in the same city. I secretly worried I'd take up too much of her time, wanting to spend it all together.

I should've called every day of the weekend. So many should'ves. But I had to clean my room, buy groceries, have my keys copied, and prepare for Monday's class. So I just shot her little emails, like “Pack all your American deodorant” and “It's not THAT cold but it sure is rainy; pack accordingly.”

She's too busy to reply, I thought. She thinks I know all things about international travel. She thinks I have supernatural knowledge of what terminal to meet her in.

When Monday rolled around without so much as a “k” from my sister, I called Mom. She hadn't called Mom. We brainstormed. Mom called the airline.

She hadn't made the flight.

I was angry. I thought she'd overslept. “I'm worried,” said Mom. Then I was worried, but I still wasn't remotely considering the truth.

Mom called University Public Safety. University Public Safety didn't call back. Mom called again, asking for answers. They weren't forthcoming.

I had to go to class. “Call when you get out, and I'll let you know if anything's changed once you're done,” said Mom.

Inadequacy. Words, thoughts. All things have a dullness. I've lived a month that didn't feel anything like life, anything like my life. I do not know how to make sense of things. I feel like there's a piece of myself that's cut off, that my own thoughts can't reach, like I can't access my own feelings. Sometimes I get a dark, panicky welling-up of something that recedes before I grasp it. It's brought about by strange triggers, not the words “suicide” or “sleeping pills,” generally. Mostly if someone asks me, “So how many siblings do you have?”

When you are the oldest of many siblings, you feel responsible for the others. She needed me to take care of her. I thought she was doing better. I thought, “As soon as she gets here, I'll just tuck her into my bed and feed her tomato soup and grilled cheese. She'll be right and happy in no time.”

If I'm doing okay, then that's still what I'm thinking. Shockingly often I really do not believe it. If I can look around, at things I wanted to give her and things I wanted to show her or share with her, and not feel an ache that makes me want to curl up and hide, then I am under the impression that I will be able to give her all of those gifts and do all of those things. I was lonely. We were going to do everything together. Why didn't she just get on the plane. Matins at Westminster. Riding the London Eye. Indie concerts. Such good plans. I don't want to move on: my sister is in the past, I need the past.

There's no way left to express what I've lost. She didn't leave one. I could have talked about this with her; I could have just hung silently on the phone, and known she understood. That kind of connection doesn't happen more than once in a person's life. I was lonely for months waiting for her to show up and now I'm permanently lonely.

She wrote fantasy stories. She made quilts and gave them to everyone she loved. When she was seventeen she suddenly developed an extreme degree of talent in cooking. The compulsion to eat too many of her cinnamon rolls was inexorable. She memorized things without trying. She dyed her hair bizarre colors and wore it warrior-short. She loved Dylan Thomas, Thomas the Tank Engine, both Marvel and DC, YA literature, Mass Effect and Dragon Age, lettuce and homemade vinaigrette, canned peaches and first snows, inside jokes, Les Misérables, pillows and blankets, bracelets, Winnie the Pooh, Shakespeare, and combat boots. She loved her friends. She gave amazing hugs. Everyone was shocked, totally surprised.

When you are the oldest of many siblings, you feel responsible for the others. I rack my brains pretty much all the time. I know what I missed. She was telling me. She was trying to tell me and I missed it. If I were better at understanding, if I'd been a better listener, I would have heard what she was saying. I don't know how to atone for this. I don't know how to actually handle that feeling. I write things and delete them. I come close to making rather bad decisions. I sleep or eat either not at all or far too much. I have lost many useful things in moments of confusion and almost been hit by two cars. Also I have good days of being pretty much normal, and then I feel bizarre about being able to actually behave normally, and then I feel like everyone in the world is judging me for being able to function at a time like this. And it goes on and on, and although there are wild swings between good and bad times the general trend is pretty stubbornly horizontal. And the future looks unappealing and the best way to describe it is “long and necessary,” and I'm going to have to spend like fifty years without my best friend and that is just miserable.

We've all seen demolitions, if not in person, on television or some type of media. A structure is either in the way of something else new and shiny to be built or it's too old and damaged to be saved via renovation and, for whatever reason, it simply must go. Speaking of renovations, we've all seen this done, too, some way or another. They can range from redoing one room or floor, or virtually the entire structure is gutted and rebuilt. Whichever route is best for the situation, when we are talking about demolitions or renovations, most of the time we are referring to a building: a house, a skyscraper, whatever. But, sometimes, either of the terms can aptly be applied to a life.

From 2012 to 2014 my life underwent either a total demolition or an extreme renovation. I lean toward demolition, but in any case, my life is completely different now in almost every conceivable way from how it was in July of 2012. How often does this happen to people? Yes your life changes dramatically when you graduate high school. When you graduate college. When you get married. And when you have children. They're certainly life-altering events, but some aspects of your life almost always remain and move along with you, like certain items of clothing, no matter how many times you move/pack/unpack, shop, hold garage sales, and reorganize closets, etc. And you usually choose to enter these watershed events by choice.

Mostly not by choice, one by one, I lost or changed every significant aspect of my life that I had held dear, that I had before August of 2012:

  • My home
  • My partner
  • My car
  • And my job

And I almost lost my life. No, most fortunately, I did not take my own life as I had seriously considered doing in January of 2013, but this demolition of my previous life was about as close to suicide - without it actually being suicide - as you can possibly get. The good news is, everything was a trade-up. Bad luck turned into good luck.

I love the house I live in much more than my previous one, although it is a rental. (Although I will own again someday there are actually many great advantages to renting versus owning.) I have a lot more space and it's not a borderline hoarder house like my previous house was (which was mostly not my doing). My partner now is definitely better; I mean, the comparison is dramatic. My girlfriend is actually a good and decent person and that's just where the comparison to my ex begins. She is wonderful and exceptional in so many other ways of course, including smart, beautiful, sexy, and really funny. In September 2012, on top of everything else that was going on, I was rear-ended in what was the worst car accident I had ever been in. I guess I've been pretty lucky that the worst car accident I had ever been in still only resulted in minor injuries, whiplash and such. My 2013 Ford Focus is a much more awesome car than my 2004 Ford Taurus. Heated seats are very nice, especially when the temperatures are in the single digits, like they are today.

When the whole nightmare began in August of 2012 that was quite a shock, but how it ended by the Fall of 2014 was not. Therefore perhaps the biggest shock out of all of this was me being laid off of my job of nearly nine years on June 27, 2014. There was no warning whatsoever. I did not see that coming. Neither did the five others who were laid off that Friday. After spending most of the summer and fall unemployed or taking temp jobs here or there, I finally started a new full time job on February 2nd. And it is absolutely a trade-up, as I am making significantly more money than before and it is at a place I had always fancied working at, ever since I was a kid actually. Sometimes I just want to pinch myself; I still can't believe I'm here. It is literally a dream job.

So, yeah, life is good. Well, at least, it certainly can be. It's been a demolition and a rebuild. The new structure is much, much nicer. The offices certainly have a better view. It's not quite done yet. Some touch-ups still have to be made. Maybe the lesson here is that if you can gather enough strength, you can get through anything. And also, even though it really sucks at the time, sometimes when life kicks you real hard in the nuts it's eventually a good thing. Maybe I was too complacent, as for many years I was just going through the motions and unwilling to make changes for the better that I had needed to change and the Universe saw this and decided I needed a real hard kick.

But even having said all that, I'd really rather not go through all that again. OK, Universe?

L. Ron Hubbard's usual story about science and scientists runs something like "Well, this so-called big-time egghead scientist, he was telling me..."

Follow with a description of how much this guy resembled a donkey with glasses as he gave LRH a superior look in the course of his explanation, the details of which get handwaved aside -- of course this man knows nothing about the surface of Jupiter -- had he ever been there? Well, of course...(insert smug piggy-eyed smile, put hand in pocket, let out gut). End with witty reposte putting the arrogant so-and-so hilariously in his place. Hee-haw.

To a modern listener, this doesn't sound remotely funny. Most middle-class people have college degrees, or have attended college sometime in their lives, and quite a few even know a professor or two. Lots of people have heard academic subjects discussed on TV, TED, or You Tube, and it's fairly obvious that the march of scientific progress is not about the clash of egos.

But all this was true of the man-in-the-street fifty some-odd years ago. Until the G.I. Bill, most American men hadn't gone to college, and even fewer women. Unless you lived in the Northeast, or such islands of academic activity such as Chicago, the Bay Area, or Virginia/DC, you probably never had met a Ph.D, and had no idea of what went on in a lab or a lecture hall. The popular idea of a professor was an pompous, boring know-it-all, who could speak several dead languages but relied on his housekeeper to find his keys, who could tell you how a machine worked, but couldn't get it to run. Scientists were even worse, and doctors...well, they'd vivisect you as soon as look at you, especially if you were in the hospital. And then psychiatrists....On the other hand, all the positive images of scientists showed them working alone, courageous renegades armed with superhuman powers of intellect valiantly battling for the overthrow of the obviously false graven-in-stone status quo in favor of the Truth.

You know, like a van Vogt story.

Little wonder that LRH could play both ends against the middle (at least in the lecture hall): on one hand, the engaging just-plain-folks raconteur and Man of Action who could fix a tramp steamer's boiler room with sealing wax, spit and a few good whacks well enough to last out a raging typhoon despite the naysayings of "the experts", and on the other, a man trained in quantum physics who could work out the whole of topology on the back of an envelope as a rainy day's diversion, whose philosophies were backed with real research, "strictly test tube" results. Your brain knows all the 'tricks of a computer'! Ain't that grand?

So, Reader's Digest isn't "the usual herald of the scientific community"? It certainly was where most of his listeners heard about science, that and perhaps a couple of special issues of Life Magazine or a boring show on Sunday afternoon TV. Never mind about the real meanings of the word "antediluvian" or "gal-ACK-see", or exactly how big a trillion was, or whether the Piltdown Man existed or whether Man's bivalve ancestors coexisted with birds -- what difference does it make? The scientists were probably just making it up themselves, to sell us all a bill of goods.

And besides, what do they know? They can't even find their keys.

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