Life after the house fire became like the movie Groundhog Day. Every day was the same and I could not see any light at the end of the tunnel. I had no family to call and vent my grief as the only member still alive was my sister. Through constant interference not of our own doing we had not spoken in a few years. I just couldn’t seem to pick up the phone and make the first move because I was stupid.
Life was filled with menial things like picking out wallpaper and hand painting a lot of trim. The firemen had given us a couple of boxes that were decorated like Christmas presents. They had not wanted the kids to be upset so they had wrapped up the perished pets as gifts. Since it was in the dead of winter I could not bury them so I made a tiny raft and sent them down the river.
The last pet standing was Snoopy who was an emotional mess and he now slept his life away. The dog knew things were out of his control like I did and had lost his friends in the fire so he literally gave up. I would go upstairs every few hours and coax him down to eat or go outside. But most of the time I just hugged him and cried.
In February my brother in law called to tell me that my sister Robin was sick so the next day I drove down to see her. I was grateful the silence was finally going to be over. The minute I walked in the door and looked at her I saw my late mother’s eyes looking at me. I knew she was terminally ill although everyone around her had such hope. Within three weeks her bowels ruptured and she was diagnosed with the family disease called Lymphoma.
And so began the 3 hour return journeys every second day to see her at the Kingston Cancer Hospital. Most times she was unconscious and did not know I was there. One day I sat in the waiting room and saw a copy of the teen book series “Sweet Valley High” and started reading it. Suddenly the book’s characters Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield became people I could rely on to get me through the day.
If you asked me today what the stories were about I could not tell you. But every second day I was at the library checking out Sweet Valley High books as I was living their normal lives in my mind.
Why was I not reading something a little deeper you ask? The truth be told is I could not handle anything more than that. My life was full of canyons of chaos now so I had to live in a simple fictional world to have some sort of emotional comfort.
I still went to church every Sunday thinking that some higher power might make some sense of it all. I knelt at the altar for communion and I heard an elderly lady named Julia muffle a scream. She came to tell me after the service that she had seen a bright light over my head and told everyone I was an angel. I hugged her and stormed out of the church. If I was an angel how come I could not make my own life better and take Julia’s and my sister’s terminal illness away also?
Every time one of the nurses in the ICU unit would see me they would ask me what was going on in Sweet Valley High. While I sat beside my dying sister I read to her about the twin’s daily antics that did not include a cell phone or texting. Even the carpenters at my lifeless home would ask me which book I was now engrossed in.
As I watched my sister’s life fade away I knew I had to make a change. I walked along the river and noticed that partially submerged beside a log a mile down the river was the raft caught by one of the branches. Right then and there I knew if I did not make improvements to my life that I too would be trapped by a tree branch for life.
My sister died in August after they pulled the plug, deeming that she had no quality of life left. A few months later they found another lump- this time on me. What should I do? What would the Wakefield twins do? I knew I had to do something before I took my last breath. Her death and the fire were the end and the beginning for me.
I started to take a drive down new roads in my life without the help of Sweet Valley High. I slowly learned that change can be done if you are determined enough. Nothing is going to be perfect and there definitely will be some fallout along the way. But if people try and stop you then you have no choice but to reinforce your life before the riptides of life brings you down. I suddenly ran from the waves of blackness that had been part of me for years and survived.
Thank you Francine Pascal for helping get through a year of my life!
Dedicated to my sister Robin Kight Nutbrown 1956-1997
Words and Images: Linda Seccaspina 2011
POETRY: Will be back on Monday… Technical difficulties you don’t want to know about.
“Shorts Shorts” by Linda Seccaspina- Do we Really Live in a Nuclear Free Zone?