The summer of 1998 was a tumultuous one for me. I had just graduated high school & was preparing to leave for Harding University in Searcy, AR in the fall & for many reasons, I just didn't want to go. Elizabeth's death was the first truly sad thing I'd experienced. We buried her on Monday, June 1st. As things drew to a close at the graveside & people were about to turn & shuffle back to their cars, Elizabeth's sister, Nicole, requested that those gathered sing Jimmy Davis's You Are My Sunshine because their mother had sung it to Elizabeth when she was young. A kind Tommy Inman, who led singing for the service, began to sing . . .
You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You'll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away
I don't think I sang; I can't remember. Standing in the hot Louisiana sun as a crowd softly sang Elizabeth her last lullaby remains the saddest moment of my life. It would have been sad had she been a stranger to me. It was a bit surreal, like a scene from a novel, but Hemingway himself couldn't have penned a more gripping scenario.
Later that week, my family & I, joined by our friends the Zeiglers, left for vacation in Destin, FL. The night we arrived, I couldn't sleep. I stayed up all night & talked to Trey & it became apparent that I needed to talk. It was the first time Trey & I had a conversation that extended beyond card playing, movie watching, or mutual irritation with our siblings' softball tournaments (there were a lot of softball tournaments in those days). At some point, we moved outside to the condo's balcony & we talked there until the sun began to rise & the air grew sticky. About six am, I left Trey watching Imus in the Morning and attempted to get a little sleep.
That summer, the movie The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey, was released.
I saw it for the first time in Destin (& we visited nearby Seaside, FL where it was filmed) & returned to see it two or three more times over the summer. I still love the movie, but I think it appealed to me then because it is about discovering your own reality, the truth of the circumstances in which you've lived your entire life. Truman of course discovers his perceived reality is an elaborate lie constructed by a man named Christof who has broadcast Truman's life from the time of his birth without Truman's knowledge or consent, all from inside a large dome in which the outermost edges mimic the horizon.
I have lived a sheltered life and in many ways still do; I am aware of this & I honestly welcome it. I always resented the few occasions when I was told my life was sheltered; well, I guess it is more accurate to say I resented the people making such comments. What is a shelter, after all, but a place to go when storms rage. My parents still hold my hand in many respects, and I am not letting go if they're not. What are parents for, if not to create a dome, a safe haven, in which their children can thrive until they are ready to stick that first toe into the cold water of the outside world. The goal is not to hold children captive, as Truman was. The goal is to provide them a safe place to grow & give them what they need to survive outside the dome when the time comes, reassuring them the door to the dome, their shelter, will always be open.
Elizabeth never had a dome or a steady hand to hold. Her death awakened me not only to the realities of her few years, but to the stark contrast between her life, short as it was, & my own. It was sobering, to say the least. It was quite an internal struggle, as much as a seventeen year old can have an internal struggle, to appreciate & give thanks for your many blessings when you only fully become cognizant of them because you learn someone you loved & lost never experienced what you've been blessed with in spades. It was an awakening of sorts for me, or, as my eleventh grade English teacher Mrs. Graham would say, I had had an epiphany.
Life continued to move. I went to Harding that August, making trips home as often as I could. In a twist E.A. Poe would have appreciated, every time I drove to & from Searcy, I passed the graveyard where we'd stood in June. A few times I stopped, but usually I just turned my head in that direction, half expecting to see a group of sweaty people softly singing and dabbing their eyes.
In January of 1999, Trey & I started dating "officially" & I woke up in my dorm room one morning that spring & decided that my freshman year at Harding would be my only year at Harding. As usual, I worked out all the details in my favor & transferred to Louisiana College in the fall of 1999, losing not one of the thirty-two hours I'd earned at Harding.
One of the nice things about being married to Trey is that we've no need for conversations about our respective pasts because our past is a shared past. I never had to tell him about my cousin dying when I was seventeen, & he never had to begin a conversation with "Let me tell you about the time I stole a porta-john . . . "
Trey & I, circa 1999:
Below, Jordan Huffstutter, Deni, Lance, Jessica, & I burying Trey in the sand in Destin (it's the best place for him on the beach - he burns):
A month or so ago I was in Target & saw this on the shelf:
I immediately picked it up for Reagan, took a few steps, & turned around to get another for Miss Marykate.
Below, Marykate Elizabeth & my Reagan Elizabeth:
And, my sunshine: