Sullivan was out of her slump. She couldn’t continue to sulk and sit in self loathing and celebrate herself as a victim. She had to keep moving forward as she so often told herself to do. She took the ‘one day at a time’ approach, even better, she took the ‘one minute at time’ approach. Sulli told herself everyday when she would wake up, today is going to be a great day. And some days were great, and the ones that weren’t so great, weren’t so bad anyway. To sit around and feel sorry for herself all the time just made it worse. Was she going to always be a victim and a sorry ass bum? No. She was going to be the hero. Maybe not a hero, but a hero for this moment.
Her dad had another appointment to continue on his way back to good health. Each day, each moment, he was getting better. This week was an exceptional week. His last treatment at the Hillman Cancer Center was completed and he continued with his physical therapy and speech therapy. Soon we would have him back to eating, hopefully. But today was going to be a great day.
Sulli skipped along next to her father, walked into the doctors office, happy the sun was shining and everything in her world seemed sun shiny instead of dark clouded and dreary. Within the next couple months she would be back in school and headed toward a new career and better future. All these things Sullivan had focused on when she wasn’t getting sucked into her own pity party. Sometimes it was so easy.
There was always fear sitting in the back of her mind but if she let it get the best of her that’s exactly what she would become she had to push through it as she had done many times before. She couldn’t live in fear. If her dad could get through the difficulties of cancer and cancer treatment she could certainly move forward from having her heart ripped out several times over.
Sulli still couldn’t help reviewing her past. Try to remember how in the hell she got to a place of positivity. How many counselor’s had she gone through? How many times had she fallen down and gotten back up? How many times had she felt pummeled in the boxing ring. Irony laughing on the sidelines, laughing at her, the punchline. She caught herself doing it again. Feeling sorry for herself. She didn’t want to be that person. As Tina Lifford said, ‘your experiences don’t make who you are.’
Sullivan’s experiences didn’t make her who she was but they led her down the road to discover who she was, who she could be. The nurse appeared in the doorway and dad got called back for physical therapy. Sullivan sat alone still remembering that long road she stumbled down and up to get to where she was today. She sat and closed her eyes. Maybe she was sleeping, dreaming, day dreaming, maybe she was mumbling to herself in the empty waiting room.
Another waiting room. Sullivan had seen enough doctor’s office waiting room and doctor’s offices in the last six months to last her a life time. It’s funny how much they’ve changed over the years. They went from being a place of health care and health centered offices to places of business. Big business. Phucking pharma and their phony phake philanthropy. They didn’t care if they were helping you or not as long as that hefty bill was paid at the end of the visit. Her dad had just finished his last immuno-therapy treatment. There was a bell to ring on the wall for those that were able to endure the dreadful treatments like radiation and chemo and immunology. Dad rang the bell loud and clear. He wore a broad smile and although only weighed a hundred pounds, looked like the largest guy in the room.
Sullivan was happy. Happy she didn’t have to see the nurses hunt for veins in her dad’s arms anymore. Happy it was what the doctors called a ‘wait and watch’. She was happy again. Out of her slump. Sick of feeling sorry for herself. She was grateful to still have her father, even though she lost so many before. She still wanted to remember how she got to where she was today. Without a map, without a flashlight, without a plan. How in the hell did she get here?
Sullivan was sure it was a nightmare the last few months she had endured. Losing Megan and Ian back to back. Leaving the love of her life and having to move back home. She recognized the feeling of wishing it was all a dream.
The morning she woke for her mother’s funeral it felt like a dream. She expected her mother to wake her as she always did, tell her everything was okay. Sullivan would be soundly sleeping and her mother would come in and gently take a seat next to her on her bed. Sulli would feel her mom gently shake her and tell her it was time to get up. Then she would scratch Sulli’s back and Sullivan would jump up and look forward to another day. She was involved in musical theater and attended a creative and performing arts school. Her mother being her biggest fan, attended all of her auditions and believed in Sullivan’s talent.
Her mom’s routine was waking Sulli, putting on her make up, and getting ready for her day as well. Her mother was successful in her field working for the healthcare company as a Project Manager, working her way up from a nurse. Sulli would be down the hall getting ready for high school, catching the bus at the top of their street. She never had to decide what to wear or set an alarm clock. Her mom would pick out her outfits and wake her and walk with her to the bus stop. Those first mornings Sullivan woke without her mother there, they should’ve been the most difficult but they seemed so much like a dream. Sullivan rolled over the morning of her mother’s funeral and looked around her empty room. It hadn’t set in yet, she wasn’t even aware of the difficulties that lay ahead.
She remembered exactly what she wore to the funeral that morning. She was all set to speak aloud to the entire church and all of her family. Sullivan had written a personal and private poem to her mother and maybe reading it aloud in front of a ton of people would help her grieve. She didn’t know what the hell she was doing those first few days her mother was gone. That first loss, it was by far the worst. Sullivan learned later the last loss, it nearly topped it, and was just as excruciating. Sullivan woke that morning to a quiet house. Her dad was in his room getting ready for the funeral, the burial, the bizarre social service that came after. Sullivan wore black pants and a lavender cardigan with matching tank from The Limited. She was just a little girl but felt like an animal at the zoo. She was on display, vulnerable, destroyed, but like an exhibit for everyone to watch closely, wait for the inevitable, dramatic fall. She knew everyone was glad they weren’t her. It was the first time she felt depression, fear, anger. What were these feelings and why did they continue to haunt her for years after?
You don’t know you’re different until you see others living their lives in the ‘normal’ way. Sullivan struggled for years to be okay with not being normal. Her normal was all that mattered. She remembers very little from that day, waking in the morning, seeing her father put on his tie and suit jacket. She remembered what she wore and riding to the church and then the cemetery. She didn’t remember getting up in front of the congregation. Sullivan didn’t remember being angry for everyday after that.
But what was important what resonated with Sulli that week was her ability to keep living. Keep hoping. Keep remembering the good things. Sullivan never stopped working to be better. She never stopped trying to live her life with a positive and sunny outlook. Even after all the loss.
Although it took years for Sullivan and her father to build a strong and close relationship she knew her father was always proud of her. They fought and yelled at each other. They struggled to understand each other. They took on the tasks and difficulties of getting to know each other and living without Sullivan’s mother. But Sullivan remembers, reading her poem at her mother’s funeral. Her dad printed out millions of copies of it. Hung it in the hallway of their empty house. Sullivan knew how proud of her he was and they would be okay. They would build their lives together with love and hope and loyalty. Sullivan still had hope and still reads the poem to her mother on occasion, reminds herself anything is possible. Things are not always terrible and it is one moment at a time.
Dad came out of physical therapy with a big smile on his face, as usual. Sullivan escorted him to the car. It was different now from the days her father had to take care of her. He didn’t gently wake her as her mother did, he yelled ‘Hey SULLI!’ every morning and startled her out of bed. It was just one small thing Sullivan had to get used to after her mother passed. She laughed to herself thinking about it. ‘Everything changes but change itself’, Sullivan’s boss from Verdetto’s echoed in her mind. After she left Verdetto’s her place of employment wouldn’t be the only large change in Sullivan’s life. She would have a change so large it would change the course and trajectory of Sullivan’s unknown path. It was scary and jarring and unknown, but it was life, not death, that would change Sullivan in this next hurdle. When Sullivan got home she read the poem she wrote to her mother all those years ago. Reminded herself, keep going, don’t be a victim, keep your head up. Her mother would tell her, ‘You’re talented, your smart, keep dreaming, keep hoping, one day at a time.’ And that’s what Sullivan was doing. Beneath all the self loathing and fear Sullivan was hopeful and sure of herself. Just like her mother.
I enter a room in my house and a memory of my mother plays in my mind. Tears spring to my eyes and y heart aches as I miss her but – who won’t? – and at that I smile. If only her body could keep up with her energy, spirit, and ability to always remain young at heart. Over the past few days I”ve heard memories about her from relatives, friends, and co-workers. Everyone she’s met my mother has had an effect on.
I look back and wish I could’ve said a better good-bye to this wonderwoman, but then I figure, no need, because she’ll always be in my heart.
For my mother on the occasion of her funeral.
September 22, 1998
Sullivan thought she was pretty smart and well balanced for a seventeen year old, maybe she should listen to her more often.