Death changes things.
When I was seven, I got kicked out of the foam pit in my gymnastics class. Gymnastics is a tough sport. I mean, you’re expected to stand on your head until all the blood rushes to your brain, flip cartwheels and hang from the horizontal bars until your hands give out and you fall on your ass. So as you can imagine, the foam pit was a nice reprieve.
The pit’s real purpose was to allow us to practice new moves without being scared. But of course – every once in a while – someone would lounge around in it, just a bit too long. You see, our “Pit Permit” was good for “Two minutes. Tops,” according to our instructor, Mr. C.
One day, I tumbled into the pit and was trying my damndest to get out, but it was like I was wading through tar. The foam blocks were nestling up, in between my legs and arms and I was having a hard time making my way to the edge. I could feel Mr. C’s eyes on me. And then, I heard a whistle blow, “Meghan, your two minutes are up. The pit is not a place to play. Get out! Now! I said now!”
I struggled through the foam, defending myself. But Mr. C told me I had purposefully taken advantage of the foam. I had cheated the system, thinking he wouldn’t notice if I would sit in the pit for an extra minute or two. And for this I would be punished. I would lose my pit privileges for the remainder of class and month, for that matter.
I got out of the pit and sat down on the mat, my head hung. Did I strategically plan to spend more time in the foam? Mr. C’s accusations really got me questioning my innocence. He was so convincing. Looking back, I can see how false confessions happen. Your mind totally fucks with you. The month ended and I was allowed back in the pit, but I passed. I was terrified I’d get stuck again, Mr. C would think I was lying and well, you know the rest of the story.
Years passed and I was kicked out of many more places, for good reasons: violin class, the school bus, a strip club and an airplane. But, it wasn’t until 10 months ago, when my uncle, G, passed away that I was, once again, wrongly accused of something and kicked out of a place I wildly adored: my family.
I moved to Arizona about 10 years ago and became incredibly close with my aunt, uncle and two cousins, S and B and their significant others. I was 1,500 miles away from my nuclear family and they took me in and treated me as if I were theirs. We did things families do: spent major holidays together, bought each other birthday gifts, cooked together, teased each other, fought with one another and defended one another.
I was over at one their homes nearly every weekend – eating dinner, boating, watching movies or just keeping my loneliness at bay. They were my people. But, at the same time, I respected my boundaries. I knew my place, well, I sort of knew my place, it was a fine line to walk. I was sort of like Cousin Oliver from The Brady Bunch.
Although G was not my blood – he was married to my mom’s sister – I loved him deeply. He was an amazing person. Bigger than my words can describe, but you can read more about him here. His passing was unexpected and devastating to everyone who knew him.
He’d been in ICU for a few days and I was in the waiting room, on the phone with my mom, when he coded. S was flying back from a business trip when it happened. B and my aunt were in his room with him. The rest of the events are sort of a blur, which I think is common in highly emotional situations.
Naturally, I told my mom G coded and she was already packing her clothes to fly out to Phoenix to offer her support. I’m not even sure who came out to the waiting room to tell me G had passed. I just remember going into his room, kissing his cold forehead, telling him I loved him and saying goodbye. I also remember feeling awkward, not knowing if I should be in there. Was this just a time and place for real family? I mean, he wasn’t my dad – only my uncle. And, S wasn’t there yet and didn’t know G had passed. Did I have a right to be there before she was?
S eventually arrived and it was about as awful as you can imagine. Not being there when your dad passes away has to feel terrible. We all said goodbye again, the chaplain came or maybe the chaplain came and then we all said goodbye. And then, I went home.
Leading up to the funeral, I spent every night at my aunt’s. I just wanted to be there. They had been married 45-years and had a lovely marriage, so I couldn’t imagine what she was going through. After the funeral, however, things got weird. I’d call and offer to help clean, pack, bring food, or just visit. And, each time I’d be told, “No.” So, I backed off because I understand that everyone grieves differently. But, months went by and I was the only person my family was avoiding. I had a gut feeling I said or did something offensive. I mean, I had gone from being over there nearly every weekend to not seeing them in four months.
I didn’t want to make the situation about me, but I wanted to fix whatever I had done. So, I asked. My aunt told me nothing. I had done nothing and why don’t I come to the country club for Thanksgiving dinner. Of course I would go.
This was where it was clear there was a problem. S wouldn’t talk to or look at me. On the brightside, she did refill my wine glass. I didn’t stick around to not be invited to Christmas. I flew to Dallas to be with my brother and shortly thereafter I found out what I had ‘done.’
Try as you might, secrets can’t be kept for long. Word spread through the family and I learned S was mad at me because she thought I told my dad G died and he told someone who told someone who told someone before S found out. I felt like I was right back in that foam pit. Had I told my dad? I didn’t remember calling him. I rarely talk to him in day-to-day life, why would I call him in such an emotionally charged situation? I knew I hadn’t even called my sister because she called to yell at me for not doing so. My seven-year-old self was questioning my innocence. I was driving myself nuts, and then it finally hit me to scan through my phone records, which determined I had, in fact, not called my dad.
But in the end, does it even matter? G is gone and everyone is hurting so much, why add to the pain? And then again, maybe S isn’t really mad about what she claims. Maybe she’s just mad and needs someone to be mad at. Maybe she needs more than two minutes in the pit and will venture out, in her own time.