Sometimes you ask “Why” and there are no answers. Sometimes you say it with a question mark, or an exclamation point, or both, and still the answers don’t come.
Sometimes there is just no answer.
Four days ago, a 29-year-old woman who apparently had everything committed suicide. I didn’t know her well, hadn’t seen her since she graduated from high school, only mentioned her occasionally in conversation. Her parents, for different reasons, had a great impact on our lives and, ultimately, on the places where we are today.
Why does this affect me so? Why has it had such an impact on Jill?
Because this was not supposed to happen. It was the last thing anyone would have — could have — anticipated. No one would have thought, or could have imagined, why someone with so much would end everything.
No one ever can.
I grew up in a small town, or at least I thought it was small. Compared to Houston, 35 miles to the north, Texas City was — and is — a small town.
And with around 40,000 residents, it is 2½ times larger than Reidsville, N.C.
From 1993 to 2001, I lived in Reidsville, moving there as the managing editor of a small newspaper and leaving there to be the managing editor of a national education magazine. I’ve said often that leaving the Houston area to move to a small community where tobacco and textiles were the prime industry felt like going from fifth to first without hitting the clutch.
And yet, during those eight-plus years, my life changed in ways I can’t imagine. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I didn’t leave with a permanent case of whiplash.
To sum up, while living in Reidsville, I:
• Turned 30.
• Got a divorce, rediscovered my love for theater, remarried, changed careers, bought a house, and had Kate, all within an 18-month period.
• Discovered shortly after Kate was born that we were having twins.
• Found a series of surrogate families — and my children at least one additional grandma — that we’ve stayed in touch with over the years.
When we left to move to Northern Virginia, it was time. The many things that Reidsville offered, the hooks and lures that held us there, had their allure. We could have stayed.
Something told us — both of us — that we needed to move on. And I’m glad we did, for our sakes, and for the sake of our children.
But there is something about living in a small town, or growing up in a small town, that never leaves you. It’s an extended family you can’t leave behind.
I just don’t get it.
I don’t think anyone else does either.
Separating the intellectual from the emotional is difficult most, if not all the time.
Retrospect helps you point to signs, like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. But, ultimately, it doesn’t answer the central question: Why?
Jill and I had not seen Lindsay in years. We heard about the different things in her life from friends and acquaintances with whom we still maintain contact, but like all too many people we encounter, she was another person from a place we lived in a decade ago that we assumed was going to be OK.
Her parents are extraordinarily kind people, who’ve done nothing but help us — and others — over the years. Our lives intersected with theirs at various moments; the memories we share of each other are good ones, lasting ones, or at least I’d like to think so.
But as happens all too often in this life, people you care about drift away. You don’t mean for that to happen, but life intervenes and it does.
And then something like this happens, and abruptly, without warning, you are slung back into memories of a time you had left behind.
First and foremost, I’m a chronicler. I would like to be someone who can develop scenarios and turn them into classic fiction, but my writing at heart comes from everyday life. Why create something out of nothing when there is so much around you to chronicle?
That said, although I love biographies, I’m not a person who typically follows others’ blogs, just as I don’t expect you and others to follow mine. I hope what I have to say is something that is of interest to others — at the very least my children — but if not I can say without question that writing has provided me with an outlet that otherwise I would not have.
Earlier this week, I happened to find Lindsay’s blog (http://applebloggingjeans.tumblr.com) and could not stop reading it. It’s a fascinating chronicle of a young, caring, witty, and extremely intelligent woman facing life in her 20s. Naturally, I found myself looking for clues, hoping something would answer my central question, knowing that nothing would.
Somewhere in my reading, I happened on this paragraph that I can’t seem to shake:
“I am, at my core, a person who fights everyday with who I am at my core— both an open book, ready and willing to share all that I am with the world, and a person who deals with many of my own demons, triumphs, blessings INTERNALLY and without desire to share those things even with those closest to me. I have been, for as long as I can remember, a walking contradiction.”
We encourage our children to be open about their struggles. We try to be open about ours.
Of course, bookstores are chock full of memoirs from people whose families did an incessant data dump on the author, who suffered so much in the process that they managed to get an autobiography and an Oprah/VH1 episode out of it.
That’s not what we’re trying to do, in our dealings with our kids or even in this chronicle I’m putting out there for them — and you. What we want them to know is that they can come to us — no matter what.
I think they do know that. And I pray, every moment of every day, that they feel like they have someone to share their thoughts with.
No matter what.