I used to believe that grief could be measured. That the amount of sorrow you should feel about something was some how dispensed to you and that you got less the further away you were from the epicenter of tragedy.
The flaw in that system is that grief is not a controllable entity. You’re as sad as you are and that’s that. Just because you weren’t as close to a bomb going off as someone else doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to the hospital for the bit of shrapnel in your heart. Sure, others are missing most of their face and appendages, but you’ve still got something that needs tending.
I used to believe a lot that was wrong.
I used to think I wasn’t worth very much, that no one noticed me, and that if you were in the “in-crowd” I was a mild annoyance if anything. The wild card for the school plays and musicals, the one who was only noticed at auditions because she may get the part you wanted. Because, sometimes, I did.
I met Jean Smith my freshman year of high school at Hylton. I also met Jim Smith that year. I made acquaintance with rest of the Smith family over the course of the next four years and proceeded to be absolutely blind to how much I was noticed. I still couldn’t tell you because, now, it’s too late to ask.
In December of 2008, Jean and Jim were killed in a home invasion. I don’t know most of the details and I don’t want to type the ones I do know.
I was 18. Being 18 made me both stupid and selfish. Being myself made me already dangerously close to falling apart. How I approached this tragedy was no different than usual.
I convinced myself I had no right to be sad. I told myself that the countless hours I had clocked with Jean from her being so involved in choir and theater were just that – hours of contact and nothing more. I told myself that Jim would never have considered me a friend. I made fuzzy the memories that we had created from even more hours spent together rehearsing and performing.
I made everything about me and my lack of “right” to feel what I was feeling. So while my lungs felt on the verge of collapse from lack of air and my throat in a giant knot, fighting back tears, I swallowed the truth: I had every right to be sad, to be devastated, because I was, I am.
The only permission I need to feel is the presence of the feelings.
Today, I’ve been crying about it again. Because I’m so sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t go to the funeral. I’m sorry I didn’t go to the wake. I told myself I didn’t belong there, that I didn’t deserve to go. I was so wrong.
Jim was my friend. Who cares what that looked like?
Jean loved me. At a time when I couldn’t love myself and I couldn’t see the love that anyone offered. She loved me.
I learned later on, that she got quite grumpy with the choir boosters when it became clear that if I was to go on the trip I would need a scholarship. Things were cited, like my lack of participation in most of the fundraisers. She didn’t think that was important, given that I spent more hours doing things for the choir and the theater departments than most kids ever did. She fought for me to go on that trip, because she wanted me there. Me, specifically.
She and I spent a good while convincing the choir director that the spring choir concert should involve whatever it needed to to ensure that the whole of concert choir was to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I even sang Billy Joel in a Cracker Barrel with Mr. Tutwiler to make our point.
Eventually, we won and my senior year, 2008, it happened.
Jim and I spent most of our time after we went to Governor’s School together whispering the filthiest thing we could think of into the others ear to see who would laugh first.
After they died was when I noticed that Jean was always paying close attention to what I posted on Facebook. It stuck out to me that she would comment on notes that I wrote (notes were the thing at the time) saying encouraging things.
I imagine that now, whether she told me she did or not, Jean would read this blog.
I also imagine now, that Jim would be pleased to hear all the new filthy phrases and words that slang has birthed since he’s been gone and I would tell him each and every one.
To close, here is a bit of the love to which I was so very oblivious. Jean left this comment on something I’d written about feeling as if GOD was calling me to wait on a relationship we both turned out to be right.
Jean C Smith:
1. You are a quality girl of inestimable intelligence both emotionally and intellectually. When you fall it will be hard, and for someone your equal in these ways.
2. Ben is right. Wooing should lead to dating should lead to courtship should lead to commitment. You can get off the train at any way stop if it is not right until you reach sacramentville. (notice I did not include any “bedroom communities” in this itinerary.)
3. Call it God, call it your gut, call it a logical rebellion to mixed media messages. Trust it. But know that intimacy is really what you are craving, and physical intimacy is the most fleeting of these. Relationships that are based on trust, respect and love become intimate….this is the correct model, whether in friendships or marriages or mentorships. TRL …..you are already good at building those kinds of relationships, so see where it takes you if you feel like you can trust it.
4. To quote the cinematic classic, “My Cousin Vinny” Your biological clock may have begun ticking. hormonesare nature telling you to start paying attention. So, enjoy paying attention, just don’t act on it until everything is right. Just find the right things to pay attention to.
5. Ummm…also, upon reviewing my pics from the fall play, your hair is adorable, and the color is lush. If I didn’t love you sky big, I might hate you…..okay. Carry on.
Carrying on isn’t so easy, Jean. But I’m trying.
Jim, there’s this great trend where people twerk on everything.