Shift 42: Passing

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Nadja told me I was crying in my sleep. I don’t recall. I just know I felt so heavy that it was hard to get out of bed.

Everything was going so well. Tracy said it looked like I’d be ready to run track this spring. My grades were all A’s and my test scores were high, so it looked like I’d get academic scholarships, too. I was feeling like everything was working out.

And then, the world came crashing down, and now, I’m not sure how to get through this.

Mary, one of the YOTO volunteers, collapsed at YOTO. She was dead by the time the paramedics arrived.

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I didn’t know her that well, so it’s not like there’s a hole in my heart where she used to be.

And she was old and had lived a good life. They say it was an aneurism. Seeing the paramedics wheel her out triggered something in me. I reacted as if it were someone I knew and loved.

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I felt angry, too. Why was she working here, if she wasn’t well? Why did this have to happen on Aadhya’s day off? If Aadhya were here, she’d know something were wrong, and she’d have had Mary sit down and take it easy. We’re supposed to be safe here. It’s not a place for old people. It’s not a place where people are supposed to die.

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I realized none of my thoughts mattered. My response wasn’t rational: I knew this. It didn’t make it hurt less.

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Darling didn’t help. When I told her at school in the locker room, she got all upset, too.

“Mary died?” Darling said. “She died? I knew her! She was my neighbor! Oh, God! She was the first person to give me a job, watering her plants when she on vacation. How can she be dead? You were there. Why didn’t you do something?”

I didn’t feel better.

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I had a hard time keeping up my training. My restrictions had been lifted, so I was free to train as much as I wanted, within reason.

But it was hard to even finish my morning runs. I came back early. Everything ached.

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Working out wasn’t any better. In between sets, if I could even finish them, I ended up breaking down.

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Aadhya told me to take a break from everything: school, working out, everything. Not for long, just for as long as I needed.

“What if what I need turns out to be a long time?” I asked her.

“It won’t be,” she said.

“How do you know?”

“Because I’ll be right here.”

So, I took a week off of school.

During the days, when the other kids were at school, Aadhya and I talked, and then I slept until they got home.

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During one of our talks, Aadhya asked me, “How many people have you lost?”

“I didn’t lose Mary,” I answered. “She didn’t belong to me.”

“That’s not what I’m asking,” Aadhya said. “I have a feeling this doesn’t have to do with Mary.”

In her silence, I thought of Scott. I was still glad he was out of the picture. I wish I could have been strong when he was around, so I knew I could protect myself.

“I lost my uncle,” I said.

She kept silent. I thought of Gran. Once the EMTs came, I never got to talk to her again. She collapsed, and she was gone. I was alone.

“Gran,” I said. “I never had a chance to say goodbye to her.”

Aadhya looked at me in silence.

My mom and dad drove off, and I stood with Gran and waved to them. I was glad to see them go, because a weekend with Gran meant reading and climbing trees and drinking tea and staying up late to watch movies, cuddled under the log cabin quilts.

“They never came back,” I whispered.

Aadhya held me while I sobbed. I was so alone. All my family, gone.

“I never said goodbye. Not to any of them. There’s so much I never said.”

Aadhya held me. When I looked at her, her eyes were moist and ringed in red.

I held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Aadhya. I love you,” I felt fierce. I grasped her shoulders and I spoke really fast, like the words were racing to get out. “You have been a mentor and more to me, and to all the kids here. You’re like a grandma, only more. If I never say it, you’ll never know it. I love you. Thank you.”

She held me. We wept together. And then I went upstairs to sleep.

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I still felt sad when I woke late in the afternoon. But I got up anyway. I could hear the kids coming back from school.

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I got dressed. I dished up leftovers for myself. I thought maybe I could eat. Aadhya came into the kitchen.

“The volunteer who’s on duty tonight, Nancy, she just found out about Mary,” Aadhya said. “She’s very upset. Do you think you could talk with her?”

“I don’t know what I could say,” I said.

“Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything. Just being there, being present and listening, can be enough.”

Nancy joined me at the table. She started talking before I could say anything. She rambled on about all these esoteric things. She talked about spirit and essence and nothing ever being really lost. I think she thought she was comforting me. The thought made me smile, in spite of myself.

“Thank you, Nancy,” I said.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she said. I could see she was still upset, so I sat there, in silence. It wasn’t nothing, and I wasn’t alone.

“Pain doesn’t have to separate us from everybody,” I said to Nancy. “Sometimes, it can draw us together.”

I was still sad, and I could see that Nancy was, too, but I could smile through the sadness, a real smile that reached out to the person across from me.

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