All the old words

With Russ’s first birthday coming up and the realization that we’re already running out of room, we’ve been on a bit of a cleaning/cleansing binge at the Wilhoit house. Jonathan’s been installing shelves in the attic so that we can store more stuff, and we’ve been trying to part with things that we know we won’t use (Why hello, unused-and-still-in-the-box Joyce Chen Bamboo Steamer…meet Goodwill). We’re selling some stuff on Ebay, but most of it is just getting donated. Jonathan has a penchant for dismantling old and non-functioning tech items and selling them online – a market which is apparently booming, much to my surprise.

In the process of pulling things (crap) out of storage (the back of closets where it was shoved years ago), we’ve come across a few things that actually mean something to us. Things that really mean something.

One example is a set of glasses that someone left by a door step maybe two-ish years ago. Since that day, they’ve been in storage, along with the letter that the gift-giver left on top of the package. I don’t know her last name, but here’s the story:

Back in maybe late 2008 or early 2009 (again, I don’t have the exact dates, because I didn’t really think to mark it down), we were at the house working and cleaning up a little one Saturday. I walked out to throw some boxes in our dumpster, and I was hit with the sound of anguish. A woman crying – I mean, wailing in misery – in a small, older SUV just across the street from our mailbox. I stopped and peeked around the corner of the house to see what was going on. Domestic violence issue? Random breakdown? What was the story? I had to know.

Yes, I can sometimes be a little too curious. Get over it.

I saw a woman sitting there in the driver’s seat of the vehicle, laying on the steering wheel with a phone up to one ear, in complete hysterics. It hit me then…somebody has died. I’ve seen this kind of agony before. I’ve even felt it. I know it. Somebody was gone, somebody who was loved and needed and wanted. And though I didn’t know who, I could hear this woman gasping for air, gasping for hope. I had to go to her. I could not ignore it and act like this person wasn’t practically sitting in my driveway, experiencing some momentary piece of Hell.

I went inside and told Jonathan what was going on, but asked him to just let me handle it. Jonathan is a gentle giant for sure, but sometimes his 6’6″ stature can be a bit imposing for people who don’t yet know him (which is funny to me, because I am by far the meaner of the two of us). I grabbed a glass of water and a box of tissues and went outside. She was still on the phone, but when she saw me, she almost dropped it. She looked mortified.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said. “I’m sorry to interrupt you call, I just…I saw you out here, and I know I don’t know you, but I was worried for you. Can I do anything to help?” She looked at me like I was crazy for a moment, and then proceeded to fall apart.

“It’s…my dad…my dad is in the hospital…in Anderson,” she said, gasping for breath. It was like the grief was drowning her. “He shot himself…and he’s on life support…I don’t think I can make it…my legs are numb.”

She was in shock. I handed her the water and got closer to the open car door and bent down beside her.

“Okay, drink some water, sweetie. Now, look at me,” I said. “I need you to breathe. You’re in shock right now. If you want to get there to see him, you have to breathe. Calm. Let’s be calm.” I spent a good 20 minutes out there, breathing in and out with this woman whose name I didn’t know. In my head I kept thinking – I am so not qualified to help with this. After 20 minutes or so, she had a much better hold on herself and she told me a little about what had happened. Her father had tried to take his own life and had survived, just barely. He was on life support and it was clear that he wasn’t going to make it. So this woman was tortured twice over – knowing her father had tried to kill himself, knowing he had been that miserable that he felt that was the only way to deal with it, and knowing that she had barely any time to get to his bedside and say goodbye in her own way. It was heartbreaking. I sat there and cried with her, but tried to hold it together, because I knew that was the only way she had any hope of getting to him. Time was already out. The goodbyes were going to be symbolic and little else. He probably wouldn’t know she was there.

“Okay, I think I’m ready,” she said and handed me the glass.

“No, you stay here, I’ll get you some more water.” She had drained the thing. I guess you really can cry yourself into a state of dehydration. When I came back with more water, I told her to keep the glass, as it really wasn’t glass but just pretty plastic-type material from the sale shelf at Target. Nothing that mattered, that’s for sure.

“Just remember – keep breathing. Slow, calm breaths. You can get there. You can’t change anything else about this situation, but you can get there.”

I wished her luck and sent her and that tacky plastic glass of water down Dillard Road. I could see the car shaking under the control of her uneasy hands, but I felt like she would probably get there in one piece. She was on her way to getting it together.

Months later, having forgotten about the whole weird, random thing, I found a blue gift bag on the front porch. In it was a set of 4 clear (real, pretty) glasses. Shoved in the bottom of the bag was a two-page letter. It was from the woman in the car. She told me how she made it there in time to say goodbye to her dad, how she got to hug him one last time before he left this life. How, in those brief moments that she so nearly missed, she was able to find not peace, but the beginning of it. The edge of peace, I guess. I wept as I read the letter, because it was probably the first time in my life that I felt like I had made any difference in someone’s life (not for a lack of trying, just…this one felt real, profound). I felt like maybe I wasn’t such a crappy person after all.

The letter and gift arrived, to the best of my recollection, just as I was crawling out of the whole of an eating disorder and years of rock-bottom self-esteem and negative thinking. That woman did more for me than I ever did for her. She was a chance to see that I wasn’t just a shell. That all the mistakes in my past weren’t the entirety of me. That nobody is perfect, and that God forgives.

As we cleaned out the closets, I came across those glasses again and thought of that woman again. I hope she’s doing okay. I hope the years that have passed since that horrible day in her life have brought about blessings that equal or surpass all that I’ve been blessed with. I decided to start using the glasses after refusing to open them – for fear of one breaking or something else that would violate my extreme sentimentality – but kept the letter in a folder of documents in our firesafe, by some of my grandfather’s poetry and love letters he wrote to my grandmother by candlelight during World War II.

Which reminds me of something else I found. Old poetry I wrote during my last two years of college. My entire senior year poetry portfolio, as well as edited copies of work submitted for reading in our English 301 Creative Writing class with Dr. Dan Albergotti. I haven’t picked up this stuff in years, and it was very strange to read it now. I’m not the same person I was then, and a lot of the things that felt hopeless then are just a distance memory now.

And if I told you I look back, read it, and love the writing, you would KNOW I was lying. There’s a great distance between now and then. Then, I was a 20-, 21-, 22-year old, still in college, still under mommy and daddy’s financial watch, clubbing every weekend, eating absolutely nothing with more than 25 grams of carbohydrate, dying my hair every third week, skipping from guy to guy in search of self-love (hey, it made sense to me at the time), changing majors at least once a year, only getting servings of fruit when it came mixed with rum or vodka, working as a waitress, and obviously, I had it all under control. Right. I’m blessed now and I know it, but I had no clue how lucky I was to survive those years of stupidity and disgustingly reckless behavior. I’m still ashamed of it, but I’m also beyond it. So when it comes to the writing itself, of course I’m going to look back and feel a little silly about it.

So, on the one hand, I want to share the old words. All the old words. But I’m scared of what people will think, which I guess confirms that part of me is still a self-conscious kid worrying about everything but what I think and feel. I’m okay with the fact that the change from that kid to the woman that I am today might take awhile to completely process. At least I’m honest about what I am, who I am, etc. I can’t make it all happen overnight, but honesty? I can do that part.

Over the next few days or weeks, I’d really like to revisit each piece individually, maybe even post the “old versions” and the “new versions/revisions” in singular posts. I also want to find time to scan the pictures that were such an integral part of that senior year (of college) project and explain the significance and the thought process that went into it all. A lot of stuff went down that year, from 2005-2006. A lot. More than I can cover in 10 blog posts, let alone just one. So…that’s in the works. Along with a 1st birthday party, a few side projects, edits to my dad’s business website, and trying to transcribe old recipes for the family cookbook.

Should be an interesting fall.

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