There have only been two events that have profoundly affected my life. The odd thing is, they happened at almost the same point in my life – the juncture at exactly where it should have according to all the teenage novels and maybe as much as a cliché as any coming of age story – it does matter that it all happened when I was thirteen because everything at that age is imprinted by images and emotions – nothing of logic, the patience or most importantly, time to reflect – and so even now the coolness of the basement in summer and the smug, proud rush of being allowed to wear a halter top for the first time is more vivid and clear than what I did last weekend.
The first was in the form of a death – a death that I have consistently written and thought about, but always in vague terms because I’ve always felt I don’t have the right to write on since it was the death of someone I never knew.
The death was of a fifteen year old girl gunned down by her ex-boyfriend. I did know – or rather meet her mother, father, younger brother, and older sister. The parents were the embodiment of grief – the immobilizing kind- worse than death really – because you are still walking, talking, eating and in every motion and instance, you appear to be alive but you are dead. They were older, wrinkled and instantly forgettable in their complete apathy to the entire world, and I mistakenly interchange the mother with the father in my mind’s eye as I watch them sit, eating at the dinner table – their motions automatic and mechanic.
The brother was my age but even sitting, he was a head taller. We were (maybe it should be are, but were feels more comfortable) of the same generation –tanned, bikini clad girls dancing badly to loud music on MTV, the repetitive motion of thumbs against a video game controller – B A B B A – DDR on easy, for my benefit of course. He was a teenager who could escape to all that – the monotony of the familiar and the easy – but there was a remarkable tenderness to the way he showed me how to play in a way I have yet to seen since from any thirteen year old boy.
The older sister must be a woman I had hoped to grow up to be – mid-20’s, she was singlehandedly driving the family down from Ohio to Texas. Her grief was different from her parents’ which was rooted so deep that it was closed off to everyone else, and her brother’s which almost systematically avoided being labeled as grief. Her grief was readily available – potent through her constant chain smoking, her sarcastic, flippant comments and utter disregard for brushing her hair. I was completely fascinated with her. Never had I sat with someone watching a commercial selling sandwich baggies to hear them yell out “This is what really pisses me off, selling goddamn lies about some fucking, happy WHITE family sitting and eating their goddamn sandwiches, drinking goddamn lemonade in their goddamn backyard. Who the fuck really does that?” I never knew the internet could be used for stalking people rather than reading fan fiction until she asked me if I knew how to track down this thirty year old man she had been seeing but was pretty fucking sure he was married. And never had I sat with someone convincing them that Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t have just died because of all the great things he had done, so her sister couldn’t have just gone out either. You don’t just go out. We don’t. And when she pulled the freshman year portrait of her sister from her wallet and told me, “She was always the pretty one and she knew it. She came into the kitchen one day and said I’m prettier than you, I couldn’t say anything ‘cuz it was the truth so I just gave her the finger and said fuck you.” There was such honesty in her grief, in her entire personality, I think I started cursing from that day on because of my admiration for her.
Even now, I can’t tell this story coherently, I just muddle through with terrible character sketches, disjointed conversations and no point whatsoever. Whenever I do try to write about it, it’s no longer about anything I originally wanted to talk about. I can’t even say exactly how it changed my life but I do know it is one of most defining memories of my life and ironically, it’s for a family whose names I don’t remember and no idea where they were going. Ugh, story of my life.
So… what’s my second thing? Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Obviously.