the thing about memories is that once you remember one, there are usually about five more sitting just beneath the surface. very often, i have a hard time keeping up with the lightening speed that the memories play back in my head. i’m not sure whether or not i’m alone in this experience, but i know people have often looked at me strangely, as i go from one story to the next, and then try to remember, “wait…what was my point?”. most of my friends and family “get it” now and can help me re-trace my thought process without a second thought. there usually IS some sort of link between one thought or memory and the original story (it just might take a moment to figure it out). the speed in which the memories are triggered and played back intensify when i’m anxious. right now it really feels like i cannot keep up with the pace.
amy’s unexpected gift and the incredible timing of it have definitely opened up the memory floodgates even more and have me scratching my head and asking: are there ever really any coincidences?
reflecting back upon the accident the other day, i started thinking about a series of interactions that have been burned into my brain forever.
about a week before i had the body cast taken off, one of our neighbors, sheila, was babysitting at our house.
sheila was the youngest of five girls and she and her sisters were our parents’ go-to babysitters. because of that, our families became quite close over the years. only in 8th grade, she handled the four of us (and our runaway dog, grover) like a champ. she was very nurturing and kept her cool during the some very stressful times. one time when i skinned my knee, she had me sit down while she searched through the medicine cabinet for bactine and band-aids. instead, of bactine, she pulled out a bottle of rubbing alcohol. unfortunately, the top was not screwed on all the way, so when she lifted it out of the cabinet, the entire bottle poured right into my eyes. sheila rushed to helped me, and because it was before cell phones, she called her mom who came right over. my eyes were totally fine after some flushing, cookies and a good cuddle from her mom. her mom was thoughtful, generous, kind and caring and it was obvious that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. sheila carried that attitude with her every single time i saw her, even when i was acting like a big jerk…
so wait…now where was i? choosing grace…the necklace…amy…oh yes, the accident. still stuck in the body cast and my dining room bed, i was very irritable, itchy and annoyed, when sheila innocently came up to me and asked, “what do you want for christmas?” i responded very rudely that i wanted the treetop fairy doll that was very popular at the time. she got the specifics (like the name and that it HAD to be the blond one) and went off to play with my siblings.
about a week later, the body cast came off and i was sitting in the dining room for a final wrap-up session with my tutor when the phone rang. my mom answered it and screamed, “OH MY GOD!”, my tutor and i looked at each other and she said to me, “that doesn’t sound good.” my mom could be a bit dramatic, so i didn’t really think it was that bad, but when she quickly came over and closed the door between the dining room and kitchen, i was a little worried. even grover stayed quietly under the table. later that morning, i learned that sheila and her family were in a terrible car accident caused by a drunk driver. all but one of her sisters were in the car and everyone suffered multiple injuries. sheila and her father died instantly.
the days that followed were incredibly sad and quiet. this beautiful family was very well-known and so very loved – it was a huge loss for our school and parish. a few nights later, my dad and i were sitting quietly on the sofa listening to christmas music and looking at the tree. “silent night” was playing when someone knocked on the front door. my dad went to see who it was and returned holding a handful of wrapped gifts for the four of us. i didn’t know who it was from, but was excited to get a present, so i quickly opened up the gift.
it was the blond treetop fairy doll.
many years later, i was sitting in my office across from a student and we somehow made the connection that her mom and i both went to the saint ignatius. after a few more questions, it dawned on me that her mom was sheila’s oldest sister. she said she didn’t know much about sheila because she died so young and so long ago. i then asked her if she wanted to hear a story…she did.
i told her about the gift.