The day I turned 16 should have been about begging my parents to come home from work early so that I could go get my driver’s licence. Every 16 year old dreams of that day of “independence” that comes from being able to get in a car with their friends, lower the windows, turn up the radio and just hit the road. The months leading up to that day had been hard, way too many bits of life I shouldn’t have learned about had happened and it made that day just another day to me.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but when my parents handed me a ticket to Europe and a promise of 5 weeks touring around with some friends I was grateful. I needed to get away from my house, other people, and even my family. Barely a month had passed since I had buried the first girl I had ever truly loved. And I was still spinning from how to deal with that. I was watching my grandfather slowly turn more and more to drinking as a way to handle his grief in my grandmother’s passing 3 years previous. I had a friend who was cruel enough to utter the following phrase “You could date anyone in the school just by asking. No one would turn you down even if only for a weekend!” Rack it up to him being dumb, but he was also one of the people who went to the funeral with me, so he got some leeway.
I wanted to grab those car keys and drive anywhere, just me and that radio blasting anything that would make me feel something. Here I was 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighing around 180 pounds and dark curly hair. That was the person you saw when I entered the room. The guy who was inside couldn’t make eye contact because he was afraid of the eyes looking back at him. As an adult I know how hard it is to talk to others about those things, as a teenager I just didn’t understand how to.
Baseball was an escape, singing in the chorus was fun but I still would sit there and look over to where Patre would have been sitting at the same time. At a time when I was hoping to find myself and a course toward the future, I was wondering if the future was going to even be an option. Having come through the first ever round of cancer the year before, and Patre being the person who got me back to where I wanted to be, having that vanish confused that future.
Europe was fun, I worked as a lifeguard for the rest of the summer upon my return. The job offered to me literally the day after I landed back in the States. Another friend who wanted to help me come back. The next school year started with some of the same whispers about me, and I learned to just ignore it. I buried it. I made a new friend who helped remind me that my life needed to continue in different ways and she remained a friend for the next decade. (I moved across the country to take a teaching job so it just sort of faded away.)
The thing about that year that continues to this day, I live with Patre’s family while seeking treatment for the cancer. The odd circle of life bringing me back to a family that had made me part of them, a niece who I adore even if she isn’t blood. If I believed in destiny, I guess somewhere along the line that person who helped save me years ago has allowed for a future where her family is now part of trying to save me as an adult.
So while that year was so very painful in ways that I just try to keep in balance, what I have now because of it has meaning. I still would trade this help for having Patre around, but I live in reality. All the prayers in the world won’t changed history. And that 16 year old guy might have ended up with a speeding ticket for his birthday, just like a few other people he knew!
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Only Sixteen.”