Life

 
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It’s a long story.

And to be honest, I don’t even know where to start.

But it seems like whenever I sit down to write something I keep coming back here, to the beginning, this point where it seems my life split like the wood of a tree, each end sharp and new. It seems I cannot start until I tell this story. Like the peeling off of a band-aid, I need to rip the band-aid off before I start anew.

A few months ago my life looked like this: me in my small apartment in St. John’s, spending my free time making art, drumming away at the remnants of my degree, seeing a few friends, waiting for the day I could start working towards my future. I was content. I was happy even. Then suddenly, I wasn’t.

I was in a hotel room in St. Lawrence Gap, Barbados. My friend was on her way to St. Vincent to start medical school and I flew down with her for one last hurrah. She was sitting on our patio overlooking the Caribbean ocean, an expanse as wide and as bright as both our futures. I had seen something pop up on Facebook a couple times that stopped me. People were sending my cousin get-well wishes. I had thought he had broken a leg or something. I Facetimed my mom from our bathroom.

“What happened to Kev?”

The look on her face was a look I recognized from a November morning five years ago when my mom had come home from working a night shift at the hospital thinking she had to deliver me the worst news I’d gotten in my life, but that my best friend had beaten her to just moments before: someone I loved had died.

Kevin was in the hospital. The details weren’t totally clear. But he had collapsed and was on life support. Mom, always the upholder of optimism, said he was going to be okay. It was Thursday. I wasn’t due to leave Barbados until Sunday. She held on to this optimism. So from a Caribbean island, I held on to hope for four days. I got drunk to stop worrying. But I would just confess my worries to whatever Bajan local was unfortunate enough to cross my path. There were a few.

On Sunday, after a million calls to my mom for more updates and to have my worries abated, I made it to the airport to be told my flight was delayed for six hours or something. In hindsight, it feels like I spent years in that airport.

I was sitting in the middle of the airport, surrounded by people, trying to find a wifi connection when my mom Facetimed me. She gave me the news we had been so desperately praying would not come. Kevin was brain dead. My response was “what does that mean, mom?”

It turns out years of experience and knowledge cannot prepare for you that moment, that moment when you sit atop the precipice of loss, staring it in the eye as you cross the threshold from denial to acceptance. I felt my voice crack and my eyes fill and suddenly I realized I was amidst a mass of strangers with nowhere to go where eyes wouldn’t follow me. I ran to the bathroom. I lost wifi. I ran to a corner near an elevator with a glass wall and a staircase behind me. I stood there as a man stood on the other side of the glass watching me fumble with my phone trying to call my mom while struggling to keep it together at the same time.

I wanted to go home. I wanted to be anywhere besides in that airport. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to see Kev. I kept calling my mom and talking to her for a minute and losing connection but there was nothing she could do through a cell phone a continent away anyway.

I stood in that corner for a while, just watching everyone move through their lives. Looking back, I think I was the most desensitized I have ever been. I stood there and watched people go back and forth the stairs next to me. Little children with their parents moved up and down the stairs with not a worry in the world. People from all over the globe moved around me. I thought about their lives and all the lives that had felt loss like the one I felt at that very moment and how interconnected we all are but how fucking alone I felt. How their eyes would pass over me for a second, taking in another white girl with a sunburned face and dishevelled hair lightened by the sun and tangled by the Caribbean ocean silently crying in a corner, chalking it up to a heartbreak in paradise or being overwhelmed in an airport in a country that was not my own.

I made my way to a bench alongside a wall that people passed on their hurried walks to catch their flights. There, I let what was happening sink into my sunburnt shoulders. And I cried. A lot. Violently. Loudly. I covered my face and put my head in my lap and let my shoulders shake and grief overwhelm me like it does during those moments when the only thing you know is sadness and the rest of the world has ceased to exist.

Ironic to have felt that in an airport, a literal crossing point of lives, where the world hopelessly continues while people move to their next destination.

A British woman stopped me in passing. She asked me if I was okay and what had happened. She hugged me. I let her. I put my head on a stranger’s shoulders and I cried. I am eternally grateful for that hug. Wherever you are, you are a good person and I hope I can someday be the kind of person who stops a crying person to see if she is okay.

Two women hugged me that day. This British lady and a Bajan woman. Both were black. I mention that only because every white woman who looked at me that day averted their eyes and I am sure something can be said here about race and compassion and privilege. But I’ll leave that for another discussion.  

To say the least, that day sucked. The flight to Toronto sucked. I put my head on my neck pillow and cried, snotted and slept the way back, hoping that the woman two seats down from me didn’t mind too much. The following week in Ontario, where my cousin, his family and a lot of our relatives lived, sucked. Seeing his friends sucked. Being referred to as Kev Pardy’s cousin time and time again, as much as I love being known in relation to him, sucked. Writing a eulogy for someone I loved deeply and missed even more, sucked. Leaving my heartbroken family and Kevin’s friends whom I loved so much and who my heart broke for, over and over again to go back to Newfoundland sucked even more. I had never not wanted to do something as badly as I didn’t want to get on that plane and fly back to a city I called home but to a place where no one knew Kev or where it seemed no one even knew me anymore. Because that day in an airport in Barbados, I changed. My life changed. And none of us who knew Kev and loved him would be the same after.

So I left my mom and aunt in St. John’s airport and went back to my small apartment and tried to pick up where I left off but found that everything was the same but I was so different that I no longer fit. A week into trying to be normal, I gave up. Kev loved tequila so I left work one evening and bought a bottle. I hated tequila. But I sat in my apartment alone and drank margaritas till I threw up. I Facetimed my friend who I had been in Barbados with and sobbed incoherently while she sat on the other end never once judging me but only wishing she could be sitting there drinking them with me. I drunk texted Kev’s friends and wished the earth would open up and swallow me whole.

Grief is a weird thing.                                 

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My life continued in that manner for a while. My own company was so unbearable it made me want to tear my skin off. My parents were concerned I was depressed. (I was). There was talks of seeing a therapist. (I knew I needed some help). My parents told me to come home. So after three months of struggling to get it together and failing, I packed up the life I had built in St. John’s and moved home. 

It just so happened I had finished my degree in May, most of my friends had left St. John’s already, and I was working in a restaurant that I hated, so going home was my best option. Although admitting defeat is not something that happened easily.

(First, I went fishing. Something I have written about separately because it was a huge deal that warranted its own six-page write-up and subsequently got me published in a magazine at home).

I spent approximately two months at home, in my small hometown in rural Newfoundland. I had nothing to do besides go visit my grandmother, whatever small tasks my parents required of me, and constant working on myself while being surrounded by people I love. I walked to the beach almost every day, sat in the sand and just meditated on my life, everything that had happened, and my place in it.

I needed that more than what I needed air. The time with my family is what cured me. No one should be alone while they’re at their bottom. So thank you again, mom and dad. From the outside, it didn’t look like I was doing much. I was twenty-three, living with my mom and dad and unemployed. It’s hard to explain that to people. But I needed it. And there is nothing to be ashamed about taking time for yourself.

I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to spend much longer in my small hometown that lacked cell phone service, a store and any sign of a social life. And since leaving Ontario in April, I had been wanting to go back.

In truth, I’ve wanted to be in Ontario since I was a kid and realized Kev had a life here that seemed more fun than mine and I had wanted to be a part of it. I had always wanted to hang out with him for more than a few weeks every summer and then even farther apart than that. I wanted to be here. I had always wanted to be a part of that.

So, call me crazy. I packed up my car and came here. At the moment, I’m here for only a short time as I kill some months before I can move to Asia and teach English for a while. But I’ll be back after. Part of me wants to stay. I have family who I love here. People whose lives I’ve wanted to be a bigger part of since I can remember. Friends that I’ve made. I even procured myself a boyfriend.

My whole life has changed since that day overlooking a sandy beach in Barbados where I told my friend what had happened to Kevin, words I had never thought I would ever speak. But life is this endless ride of ups and downs. I’ve had a lot more downs in the last few months than I ever have, but I have this practice where when a good moment strikes to be present. I take it in. I feel it. I let it resonate. Then when a bad moment comes along, I can pull out a good one to help me get through.

I’m trying to worry very little about the future, something I constantly have to work on and enjoy the present. Things don’t have to be forever to be good. The length of something doesn’t equate its value. Because if I have learned anything, life is short.

If you’re happy, just be. 

 
Sabrina Pinksenlife, grief, loss