woman gets hit by truck, dies

My friend Yvonne swore that she had an orgasm when she smelled caviar for the first time. I didn’t believe her, but I loved her stories. She had fly-away hair and big necklaces and her vivid lipstick had always gotten on her teeth because her mouth was always in motion. She was glamorous.

I don’t know what made me look at the local paper on my parents’ table when I was over there the other day, but I saw the headline  “woman hit by truck, dies.”

“It’s terrible,” my parents had been saying, “A woman died crossing the street—just down the road, you know, by the light.”

“That’s terrible,” I said.

I kept reading the article, and I kind of had a feeling. But maybe I’m just imagining the feeling retroactively.

mac-neon-orange-lipstick1

(source)

When I was fifteen, I joined a writing group at the local arts’ center. Everyone else was over fifty. When you’re homeschooled you do lots of stuff with people over fifty, because they’re also around during the day. Yvonne was immediately one of my favorites. We used to “get tea.” That meant we sat around talking forever in a coffee shop. She’d worked at one of those homes for disabled kids, back when they just locked them all up together and left them screaming in their own excrement. It broke her heart. It hardened her. She said it taught her what the world was secretly like, but she was also a poet. She was divorced, but she’d been married to a man who loved music more than anyone else loved music. All he wanted to do was go to the symphony. She liked to watch him loving music. He was the best listener.

I didn’t understand her poetry. It was fluid and random and dexterous. I was writing a fantasy novel about a young queen who is not allowed to fall in love but she does anyway. I had lots of descriptions of the gowns she wore. Yvonne was in her sixties. She threw her head back and laughed. She said, “Don’t knit your brows like that, you’ll get a crease.” She was tall and graceful. I never put my shoulders back because I was embarrassed about my big nose so I was trying to hide in my hair, even though I was also cocky in plenty of ways.

I can’t believe she got hit by a truck when she was crossing the road and she died. Minutes from the house where I grew up. Meeting a friend. For tea?

 

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(source)

My dad always shook his head and said things about young people being reckless. Like when someone my brother knew died in a car crash with some kids coming back from a party. You know, one of those cases where no one is wearing a seatbelt because they’re too busy impressing each other to bother. He always said something about how young people aren’t afraid of death. They don’t know to be afraid of death.

I always got a little offended when he said that, because I was always afraid of death.

I thought it would get better for some reason, but it’s definitely only getting worse.

Maybe I was a little proud of myself for thinking like an adult back then. For having adult fears. For hanging out with grownups at my writing group and for really being friends with them. Now I’m an adult and a mother and I am not proud of myself for being precocious anymore, I’m just more and more aware of how fragile everything is.

One of the women from my birth class is even younger than me (where I live, I’m always the youngest with a baby), and she said, bouncing her huge baby on her knee, “Birth is the closest you get to death before you actually die, don’t you think?”

We were getting together—all of the moms from the class—to show off our babies and catch up. We had been joking about sex or something, but when she said that, we all just nodded.

She said, “I think I really believed I was going to die.”

I remember, for a second, for just a second, at the worst part, I wanted to die. And then, quickly, I didn’t want to die. Because GOD, I really, really don’t want to die. I am terrified of becoming nothing. But there was that tiny second.

That woman from my birth class, she is religious, and she went to India and worked in a hospital and she saw women die in childbirth because they were already very sick. Rickets and malnutrition and things I hardly believe in since they seem so far away and historical.

“Think of it this way,” says Bear, when I tell him I am depressed over this, “Wouldn’t everyone choose to exist, even for a little, instead of never existing at all?”

“Maybe,” I say. “Or maybe it’s not worth the pain.” I cite the example of a boy I knew growing up who died of cancer before he could go to college or find a life partner or even think about having a kid. What if he wanted to have a kid, too, one day? It’s not fair.

“But when you exist, you get to see colors, you get to hear music,” Bear says. “Those things are amazing. They’re worth living for. Even one color is worth living for.”

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(this one seems like a good start. source)

But later he says, looking at Eden sleeping, “I’m worried. What if something happens to her?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“She’s my heart,” he says.

“I know,” I say.

We do such unwittingly brave things—like loving each other. We do them naturally, constantly.

God.

It’s terrifying.

Sometimes I lie in bed with my eyes wide open and I wonder how this is the way that life is set up. I think about how vulnerable I am, at every moment. I really thought no one ever died in childbirth anymore. It’s the closest you get to death, starting a new life. I wonder how I’ll ever have another child, knowing this now. I want to believe that no one ever dies from anything anymore, instead of that people die all the time, from everything, and that when you bring a new person into the world, you place them in immediate, constant danger. You place yourself in immediate, constant danger from loving them. I wish sometimes I could just watch TV forever and not care about anything. I also wish that I would wake up and watch the sun rise every morning and, before anyone else was awake, I could just think about being alive. Just take time to appreciate it. Look at the colors.

I wish I understood things better. What I should do, in order to make the most of my time, mainly. I get mad at myself for not having already done everything I want to do, just in case.

But that’s stupid.

Some things I can’t do until I like myself better, and it’s such a slow process. 

Yvonne pissed me off a couple years ago when we hung out and she said, “You were always pretty quiet.”

“Not really!” I said, defensive. I like to imagine that I was a big, splashy deal, even though I was slouching because of my nose.

Maybe we didn’t really know each other that well after all. That day she was with a loud, difficult man who definitely wasn’t a good listener. He got drunk and started telling everyone about how he’d been a toastmaster or something and so he knew exactly how to make a good speech and he noticed everyone else’s verbal tics and I had said “um” fifteen times in five minutes (he’d taken the trouble to count), and I should really work on that.

toast

(I can’t help it, toastmasters just makes me think of toast. source)

I didn’t think about her until I read that article in the paper. And then I think I maybe sensed that she was dead before I got to her name. Or maybe I saw her name before I even noticed I saw it. Pettily, I was still a little annoyed at her, maybe for turning out to be less epic than I remembered, even though she got hit by a truck and died. Pettiness is so useful in the face of mortality.

But then, slowly, lying in bed, I began to think about her slim-fit, flamboyantly colored pants and her shiny shoes and her dramatic hands and her vivaciousness. And I was thankful for having known her. I was also mad at the reporter for calling her ”woman” instead of describing how awesome she’d been. It should’ve gone: “Woman who tried to fix the world and wrote flowing, fierce poetry dies as dramatically as she lived!” She was really here. She meant something.

I am thankful for being alive.

I’m even a little proud of it, for being a person who can really appreciate her own existence and the fantastic gift of love and Bear and Eden and my parents and my brothers and in-laws and friends and even miniature but sweet exchanges with people on the elevator.

If I’m going to be terrified all the time, I might as well also be thankful.

And in the spirit of this, I want to allow for the possibility of someone having an orgasm just from smelling caviar.

black caviar

(source)

Even though it doesn’t really have much of a scent does it? I haven’t had much caviar. Isn’t it just salty?

But whatever. Maybe for Yvonne it was exquisite.

Maybe all of this is at least a little bit exquisite.

*  *  *

what are you most afraid of?

unroast: Today I love the way my bra shows through my shirt slightly

P.S. I know this was dark and stuff, but still, happy Chanukah to my Jewish readers! And happy belated Thanksgiving to the people who celebrated that! And happy Tuesday to everyone!

26 Comments »

Kate on December 3rd 2013 in being sad, family, fear

26 Responses to “woman gets hit by truck, dies”

  1. Rachel responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    Holy shit, Kate. this was fucking beautiful. I’m sitting here trying to study for my finals, took a mental break to check in on your blog, and now have quiet, pathetic little tears rolling down my face because I don’t think I’ve ever read something that so perfectly and unflinchingly acknowledges the utter imperfection, beauty and terrifying-ness of life. You’re so talented. Keep writing about stuff like this, please. It keeps me thankful and thinking and open and honest and never fails to broaden my perspective on life. Not that you write just for us readers, but…shit. This piece is everything I love about your work. Thank you.

  2. Kate responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    wow, thank you for this. and I’m a little sorry for making you cry but mostly really proud of myself

  3. Terri responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    Kate, though I wasn’t home schooled most of my time has been spent with adults. Because of growing up in a hospital due to medical conditions, I was never afraid to socialize or befriend adults. So like you, I grew up thinking like an adult and having adult fears.

    My greatest fear was dying so I did everything cautiously. However, after hearing the obituary of my father-in-laws funeral a while back, I was in awe of how much he lived and accomplished. Thats when I realized I haven’t done much of anything. And just like that my greatest fear shifted from dying to not truly living. For the past 25 years, I haven’t allowed myself to live because I was always wrapped in adult-like fears. To make sure I live, I’ve decided to spend an entire year doing one thing that scares me everyday. I can honestly say that doing so has gotten me even closer to “living” than I could have ever imagined.

  4. Emily responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Kate, your sentiments and the way you unfolded them, were absolutely stunning. It is such a gift, this life we have. It is an even greater gift to be conscious of the prize.

    Thank you for sharing your soul.

  5. onebreath responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    This was really powerful and moving. I’m filled with fear these days and somehow it is comforting to know that someone else out there feels that same mixture of terror and wonder at this thing called life.

  6. San D responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 6:30 pm #

    I grew up a fearful child. My father was in the army during the Korean War/Cold War/Vietnam and frequently at war. My mother was a German war bride who bundled us together every time there was a thunder storm because it reminded her of the bombs raining down on her home town. I am afraid of my own shadow and a whole list of things. But that said I was determined as a child, NOT to let those fears rule me. I am the biggest chicken, but yet fearless. A real contradiction. Having cancer ended my fear of dying. Because I know we all die. But when I thought I might die, I looked back at my life and because I was fearless, I truly had no regrets. Then when I came out of the cancer tunnel, I forged on to stretch myself to do a myriad of things I never thought possible. Does that mean I don’t worry? Does that mean I am not afraid? NOPE, still the biggest chicken on the planet.

  7. Maya responded on 03 Dec 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s death. What a terrible thing. But it was a beautiful eulogy- I felt like I got to know Yvonne just a little, just from reading it. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  8. Val responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 2:23 am #

    I’m so glad you sit down at your typewriter and talk. I hear you. I have very few answers, but I hear. love, Val

  9. Danielle B. responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 3:45 am #

    Wow. This was so beautiful, but true, and speaks so clearly to my heart. Such, such, SUCH SUCH good writing. I mean it.

    The part about not being proud of being precocious anymore (it’s no longer cute to be afraid of terrifying adult things, when it becomes your job to deal with them. I’ve just had longer to be scared of them.)

    I lay out the obits in the newspaper, as part of my internship, and it dug into my gut and bothered me. Like:

    one day we will all be little 1×1.5 in, black and white headshots, on some intern’s screen, as they try and get the formatting right, and learn InDesign. And the details of my life will be reduced to some pat sentence, like, “she loved writing and her friends, and always made time for those she loved.”

    and it’s so easy to despair in that moment. I’m living in a city, where I no no one (after 6 months I know…3 people. Plus my co-workers who I’m not very close with) and the thought occurs: “Literally no one would know if I lived or died right now. It would take a while to notify my family, and no one sees me on the street.”

    I was homeschooled too, and surrounded by so much love that I took for granted, it staggers me to think of it. Maybe it’s easier for people who never assumed that someone caring for them was a given.

    The words, “heaven and earth may pass away, but My words shall never pass away,” were a great comfort to me, after losing my Grandma. Faith is the only basic reason for being I have, because, as Lewis said, “by it I see everything else.” Even then it doesn’t make you immune from being shaken by life’s earthquakes.

  10. Emmi responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 9:36 am #

    This is a spectacular piece. Thank you for it!

  11. April responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 10:05 am #

    Your talking about colors was beautiful. It reminded me of this Benjamin Moore ad I that I tore out of a magazine. It’s tacked up on my board now. Even if it doesn’t exactly have to do with what you talked about, but it’s about colors. I love colors.

    “There’s a color for the thing everyone wants most. Maybe it’s ruby. As in slippers. And three clicks. And the feeling there’s no place like it. It’s the color of the heart’s deepest desire: to be where you truly belong. For everything that matters, there’s a deep, rich, enduring color. It’s the color of being gone a little too long, then finally coming home.”

  12. Kelly Miller responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    You are an amazing writer.

  13. Q responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    I am most afraid that all of the bad things I think about myself, my life, are true. Or will be.

  14. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    The only moment in life we ever have is the one we’re having right now…oops…it’s gone…but, here’s another one! Enjoy!

  15. Autumn Kalquist responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    That really was a beautiful post. ;)

    I have to say, though… none of the mamas in my mama groups talk like that. I wish they would.

  16. Becca responded on 04 Dec 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    Crying. Thank you. So much more to say but I’m one hand typing over my sleeping beautiful baby. This piece dug right into my heart.

  17. Rae responded on 05 Dec 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    I loved your words and I can relate. In college, a guy stopped on the side of the road to move a ladder that had fallen off somebody else’s truck. He was hit by a car and flipped off the bridge. He died & I think about him all the time.

  18. Aimee responded on 05 Dec 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    Kate, thank you for reminding me that even one colour is worth it all, your piece was so poignant and this particularly was something I sorely needed to hear.

    Simply, thank you.

  19. Alexis responded on 06 Dec 2013 at 11:28 pm #

    Hi, Kate.
    I’m a new reader of yours and simply wanted to say hello. You’re writing is beautiful and perfect, but you already know that. And this piece is really wonderful. I’m trying to write things too and have often thought long and hard how it would be almost impossible to say what you just did.
    Thanks for proving me wrong. And sharing with us!
    I love your style.

  20. Kathleen responded on 08 Dec 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I first read your blog today when a friend of mine posted your blog about breast feeding in public. I thought it was great and so I popped in to read some more and I’m so glad that I did. This post is beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss. In college I almost died from a weird health issue and went through exactly the thought process you described above. Oddly enough, I was taking a course on the writings of Albert Camus at that time and he thought about death exactly as your husband does! As hard as it was for me to read existentialist writings while I was recovering from nearly dying, in the end his philosophy helped me tremendously. My favorite quote of his is, “Great courage is really to keep one’s eyes open to the light, as well as to death.”

  21. tanner responded on 10 Dec 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    I don’t appreciate life and this was a gentle albeit haunting reminder to do so. Thanks.

  22. Kate responded on 11 Dec 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    @San D
    This is like a tiny, lovely book, in a comment

    And so interesting, the way cancer changed your fear

  23. Kate responded on 11 Dec 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    @Kathleen
    Thanks for coming over to read more!
    I love that you read philosophy during your recovery, and I love that it was helpful. That sort of makes me proud of humanity’s intellectual accomplishments. At least we can help each other through some of the toughest things, with words.
    (I feel like I’m taking credit now, as a human, for Camus! But I’m just going to go with it…)

  24. Kate responded on 11 Dec 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    @Alexis
    Hi! Thanks for the comment :-)
    Sometimes I know my writing is beautiful, but a lot of the time I’m like “this is good enough, I think.” So I always, always appreciate the encouragement.
    Please write even if you think it’s impossible to express something. Maybe those are the things most worth trying to express? And anyway, we need lots of writers doing this all the time. I’m pretty sure it’s better for the world.

  25. Kate responded on 11 Dec 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    @Rae
    Aahhhh!!! This stuff just makes me want to yell “WHY?”

  26. Jade responded on 16 Jan 2014 at 6:43 pm #

    Reading this in bed next to my boyfriend and now I’m crying quietly. Too beautiful