from narrow and limited to meaningful – part 1

I should have died, but I was spared. How could I tell anyone that I wasn’t grateful to be alive? I thought I should feel relieved, but I wasn’t. Betty died. And I didn’t.

I often thought about guests on talk shows telling their harrowing tales of how they came to survive and overcome tragedy. Tears were shed and they were grateful just to be alive. The heads of the audience nodding along as they dabbed their eyes with tissue. I felt enormous expectation to have the appropriate responses for the people in my life. Like the heads in the audience I wanted to have their heads bob along, satisfied with what I was saying.

When people asked how I felt I was never sure of what the response should be. It depended on the day. I tried to tie up the end of those conversations with ‘I’m thankful to be alive’. But, it didn’t come out that way. Some days I was fine. That was a good day. Fine sufficed. Other days it was harder to find adequate words to describe what was going on with me. Devastation was a good word to use. It was strong, decisive. It fit the situation. What happened was devastating. But, more than that, I felt exposed.

In the hospital it was about survival. I was fighting for my life and then recovering from each surgery. Every day was the same and I was safe within my four walls. At GF Strong reality sank in and I had to face that my life, as I knew it, unraveled. I needed to regain my independence and work my way towards freedom. While I did venture outside, I was mostly in a fortress of routine and patients and accessibility for the handicapped. After my five month stint at rehab I was moved to an apartment in a gorgeous area of Vancouver, an area that I would later come to call my healing place. There, I couldn’t hide.

My body wore everything that had gone wrong, evidence of the crash all over me. My pain was on display and I felt vulnerable. I was open to be stared at and pitied. By looking at me you could see my devastation, and my grief was suddenly a friend’s grief, a stranger’s grief. Because people could see me, or had been introduced to me, they shared in it, recalling stories of people they knew that had suffered through trauma or a time when they used a wheelchair. Everyone could relate. I listened, but I was getting tired of being a trigger for grief and tired of people feeling like they knew me. I wanted to say, to shout some days, “This isn’t me!” There was more to me than what happened. And there was a desperation in me to make sure this proved to be true.

I was hesitant to talk about Betty. I rarely did. If she came up there were more questions. My throat constricted and my eyes were dry as I hurried through the part of the story where my friend died on impact. I’m sure my reluctance to talk about her passing away, even with close friends, must have seemed odd to people. There was a sacredness to my friend and my friend’s death that I didn’t want for people to stick their fingers into. I talked about the good things, the funny stories, her laugh, with our (mine and Betty’s) friends, Angela and Loraleigh. But I didn’t like to talk about the end of Betty’s life. She died in that car. She died next to me in that car. And I was pried from that car, alive. I didn’t know how to talk about that. I wanted to respect Betty’s family and the loss of their sister and daughter. My back was straight and my face was strong as people mourned her. I felt protective. It would be years before I let myself cry for Betty.

A local reporter came over to my parents house to interview me one of the weekends I came home. The story of the car accident had been followed closely in my home town and he was there to follow up on my progress. I was angry that day. Angry that he was there, angry that he was intruding on something that I didn’t want to talk about, angry that I had said yes to the interview. I didn’t mean it, but I thought it was the right thing to do. People are interested and want to know how you’re doing, I was told.

He asked me a number of questions, one of them being about my best friend, Betty. I bristled. “She wasn’t my best friend.” The words fell from my mouth, flat, before I could stop them. He gave me a surprised look. I felt ashamed as soon as I said it. I don’t know what I was trying to accomplish when I said that. Of course she was one of my best friends. Of course I loved her like a sister. That’s how I introduced her to people, as the sister I never had. But, all I wanted was for him to go away. I wanted for all of this to go away. I wanted for Betty’s family to have some peace and maybe I wanted to have the tragic, sensationally sad story of two best friends in a horrific car crash to change. If I dropped the ‘best’ from it, it would lessen the blow somehow. Maybe the reporter would leave her out of the story altogether, so her family wouldn’t have to see Betty’s name in print and be reminded, as if they weren’t reminded every day, that she wasn’t here anymore. It was ridiculous, really. There was nothing I could do to change what had happened and now I was coming across as some selfish, sullen victim.

27 thoughts on “from narrow and limited to meaningful – part 1

  1. christy

    I am literally on the edge of my seat waiting for the next part Heidi. You are an amazing writer and storyteller. I feel like I’m full of cliches today – but I really feel like I’m right there with you. I want that damn reporter to go away too!

    Your mornings ignoring the world for the sake of writing are REALLY paying off.

    1. heidi

      Christy, on the rainiest day here you are like this burst of sunshine. I can’t get over how kind you are. Always. Thank you so much.

    1. heidi

      I know I already sent you an email but I thought I should say it here too. If only to point people to your blog and tell them what a great writer you are! Thank you for this. It means the WORLD to me, coming from you. Thank you! And, seriously, people, she has such a way with words.

  2. Kate Coveny Hood

    I think everyone can relate to that “betrayal” of a friendship for such completely unexpected reasons. To say “she’s not my *best* friend,” is something I could imagine anyone saying and then immediatly regretting for one reason or another. Your reason was so personal and fragile and heartbreaking. To think that it could be misunderstood in any way brings tears to my eyes. Looking forward to the continuation…

    1. heidi

      I found it (the incident with the reporter) hard to write about. Almost anything I write concerning my dear friend I find hard. It’s so important to me that she’s honored and loved. Thank you for this, Kate.

  3. anna see

    I am looking forward to reading part two!

    I understand what you are saying about not wanting to talk about something or someone in order to NOT minimize. How very, very hard, especially when so many people wanted details.

    1. heidi

      Thanks Anna! Even though I knew what was coming and the questions were often the same it still threw me, caught me off guard, when Betty came up. Honestly, sometimes it still does. Part 2 will come up early next week. I’m trying to post once a week. 🙂

  4. Toriz

    It’s understandable that you would want to avoid sharing so much with so many people so soon. I mean, with so much to deal with yourself, dealing with questions you weren’t ready to answer couldn’t have been easy. Especially at a time when you weren’t even ready to think about some of the stuff.

    Not that I’m being one of those people who insists they understand everyone’s situations all the time. I just mean that I see where you’re coming from, and – as much as is possible, since I’ve never been in your exact situation – I can understand how you must have been feeling, and why you would want to remove the “best” part, then immediately regret it.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. You are a fantastic writer!

    1. heidi

      You’re right, at the time I was still processing everything almost every day and some days I wanted to be left alone completely. Like you said it was “so soon”. I just wasn’t ready. Thank you for your compassion. 🙂

  5. Loraleigh

    Heidi,
    Just wanted to let you know that I think the way you honor Betty through words is beautiful, and when you do, we are all privileged to a little bit of sacredness. Thank you doesn’t seem to be big enough to match the feelings, so if you were reading these to me out loud, this would be the part where I would sit back on the bench with my coffee and a big breath of fresh air and just savor the moment. It’s beautiful.

  6. JennyB

    Got a chance to read this this morn and I am very moved by how brave it is. Thank you for posting it and for letting us into this part of your life.
    I agree with Christy that the writing mornings are so paying off.

  7. IntenseGuy

    And there is this “tabu” about saying “I feel really crappy.” I don’t know if its the guilt of not being filled of gratitude for what I have…or not wanting to be a “Debbie Downer” but I’ll say I’m okay, even when I not – just so the person that asked will – not neccessarily go away but at least move on to something else… The world is chockfull of things to talk about, why can’t we pick something a little more pleasant (or a lot less painful) to converse about?

    And I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to have been in your place and losing a friend. Even if it wasn’t “my fault” – I think I would still blame myself.. perhaps endlessly… I know I would be in no position to talk about it – and possibly wouldn’t ever be in a “position” to do so.

    Just one thought though… a friend… a real friend (regardless of “bestness”) would be looking over at you and saying, “Don’t beat yourself up over this, its not your fault and even if it was… I would forgive you in a heartbeat.”

    1. heidi

      I don’t know that I blamed myself exactly. (I did find out that the accident wasn’t my fault.) I think it’s more that I survived and she didn’t. You’re right, she would want me to live a full life and to not, as you said, “beat myself up over it”. She was very, very kind. Generous.

      Thank you for ALL of your comments. I was just reading them…thank you…for every one of them.

  8. kendalee

    I’m not entirely sure how to put this Heidi, but it seems to me that maybe something in you even then needed to wait until you could tell your story (and Betty’s) in your own words, from your own perspective, with all the depth and breadth of emotion attached… and truly do the relationship, the experience, justice in a way that no-one else ever could. And now you are – and it shines.

    1. heidi

      I think you’re right. That’s how I feel now when I’m writing this, almost like I was meant to. If that makes sense. It’s the right time. Your words have this way of grabbing a hold of me…I have to listen. I love that. Thank you for that.

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