Becca Wilhite Blog

August 4, 2016

Unanswerable

Filed under: gratitude,history — becca @ 7:05 am

Dear Friend,

Letters are the only way I can talk to you now. For six months I’ve tried to write about you, about what you have meant to me all the years of my life since I was seven. I’ve tried to write about your illness. Your cancer was such a bully. I don’t know how to say what it meant to watch you fight it like a warrior. How I felt like a coward for keeping my distance, even though I know that this kind of fight (especially for you) needs a little space. I’ve tried to write about your gifts, your character, your talents. I know you hate it when I talk like this, but I don’t even know where to start. You are one of the only people I ever knew who was universally liked. Who was good at everything. Who balanced so well.

I wrote you a letter the night I came home from your viewing, and it was a jumble of nonsense. I couldn’t say – even through my fingers – any of the things that I meant. I certainly couldn’t say them to your kids that night. Or your husband, who stood for hours, tender and loving and strong, hearing the awkward condolences of literally hundreds of well-intentioned but human people. Raw grief is so messy, and when we offer it up, it has to transfer heart to heart. The words-to-ears grief never translates quite right. That night I could only think that you didn’t look like you because you weren’t smiling with your teeth. That’s how I always see you in my heart – those perfect teeth showing when you laugh.

You’ve been appearing in my dreams for the last few weeks. You show up unannounced and sit on the couch or help me chop onions in the kitchen or take a seat in the car. You brighten the dream world like you did the real one. You slip in naturally. You fit. You laugh and show all your teeth. I wake up in a combination of sadness and joy, and that’s what life is made of.

I want to tell your story, because it’s the way for me to tell my story. You are etched into my history and onto my heart. I want to tell about “meeting half way” on our bikes, but I (almost) never left as quickly as you did, and you (almost) always had to ride the long half. I want to tell about you playing violin and me singing with you or (once) accompanying you on the piano – and how even when we were small, I knew you had a great gift. I want to tell about baking and decorating dozens of bright colored cakes. I don’t do that anymore. But we spent days and days and days over the years practicing and eating and laughing.

I want to tell how you were my touchstone through my growing and grown years. How you ground me to my past and believe in my possibilities. How you gasped with joy when I drove the long way home from the publisher so I could bring you the first copy of my book. Twice. How you’re the one I called in the middle of the night when my mom died. How you called me in those months you were home sick to ask for reading recommendations. I’m so glad you got to meet Scout and Atticus and read “The Secret Life of Bees” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “The Book Thief” before you were finished here. How even though you loved to learn, the whole reading-fiction-for-pleasure wasn’t so much your thing until you decided it should be and then you asked me. I felt like I was sitting with you and we were sharing the open-mouth dazzle of Zora’s prose. And sobbing together at that second-last chapter of Book Thief. Oh, Rudy.

And I had no idea that you were living your last month. When we went for that three-hour breakfast with M and M over Christmas break, I’m not going to lie – you looked tired. But you felt so good. Remember? You said that you were a little afraid they’d make you go back to work soon. And on the way home, I said a long prayer. And I asked God to not make you go back to work.

And then.

And then.

It happened. I got a text. It said that probably I should get over there. And I came in my sweats and I sat in your bed with you and I listened to you and I whispered answers to your questions and I still hoped that it wasn’t the last time. And we told each other things we already knew. Good, important, best things. You offered to carry a message to my mom. And we cried tears and we held hands like we never used to do because your boundaries came right down. I saw your soul and you saw mine and we were together in a minute of eternity.

And I still can’t imagine writing about you in any way that does you justice. You were the best of us. You are the best of us.

I miss you, friend.

Love, Becca

April 19, 2016

Long, long ago…

Filed under: anxiety,dumb things I do,history,rambles,school — becca @ 12:39 pm

I just had occasion to remember something.

When I was in 7th grade, (can you, reader, already feel the tension mounting? the horror building?) I had a co-ed PE class. (Now? Now can you feel it, reader?)

The end.

Just kidding. But I really did have a 7th grade co-ed PE class. One for which we “dressed out” daily. And there were various and sundry humiliations attached thereto. But I just want to tell you about this one day, this one moment, and the eternal fallout that it caused.

PE class was ending. I don’t remember what we did that day. Don’t remember what we played, but I know it was inside, so not golf or tennis or a mile run (all of which I did very, very badly). The moment was after that part. After going down into the girls’ locker room at Batesville Middle School and changing back into my dress. I don’t remember why exactly I was wearing a dress to school, but there must have been an occasion. I have always pretty much been a jeans-and-sweatshirts kind of girl. This dress, though. I remember it clearly. It had large pastel squares on it, like maybe 6-inch squares of pink and blue and light green and yellow and cream. (Do you remember, reader, that “cream” was totally a color in the mid-to-late eighties?) The dress zipped up the back. I fear it may have had a rounded collar, but that could be a misremember. I know it had a very, very full skirt. Like the kind that even at the mature age of whatever-I-was-in-7th-grade (12, of course), I couldn’t really help myself — I had to twirl. Not in public, necessarily. But for sure at home. It was an excellent twirling dress.

The dress also had a belt, because it was the 80s. The belt was wide and pink and vinyl/plastic. It flattered my 12-year-old waist. Oh, I loved that dress. And so. I wore it to school for whatever the occasion was. And at the end of changing time in PE, I walked back up the steps and into the gym.

7th grade PE was co-ed but divided (occasionally). The girls sat on one side of the gym, and the boys sat on the other. After changing back into our “street clothes,” we took our places on opposite sides of the gym and waited to be excused. I didn’t want to wrinkle my cotton dress, so I stood in front of the bleachers, facing the other girls, maybe talking to one of the Angies, maybe just waiting and listening and totally not twirling. Meanwhile, the boys were slouching on the bleachers opposite.

Could someone have told me? Could the knowledge have descended like a bolt of figurative lightning? Maybe the teacher tapped me on the shoulder. Maybe a creeping sensation caused me to check. I don’t know how I knew, but suddenly, I KNEW.

My skirt was tucked. Up. Into my belt. In the back. And there I stood, already way too body-conscious at 12, with my backside completely THERE. “Facing” the boys.

I could try to describe the humiliation. I could endeavor to explain the horror. I could even delve into the certainty that none of the girls — literally no one from “my” side of the gym — tried to hide me or help me. I remember that I spun (fast) in a half circle. I tugged. I smoothed. I tried to smile. I tried to ignore.

But I never forgot.

To this day, I have a compulsion to check the back of my skirt EVERY time I leave a room. Sit in a chair? Check the skirt. Stand up? Skirt check. Use a bathroom? MUST CHECK THE SKIRT. And, although some may say it makes me nosy, I am always willing to tell/hide/help anyone who is in a Dire Skirt Predicament. Because sisters, reader, need each other. And I will die happy if that particular event never happens to me again.

January 7, 2015

Crazy-Amazing

Filed under: gratitude,happiness,history,school,Where do I live? — becca @ 5:41 am

Some days you want to forget, you hear me? And then there are days like yesterday.

I never want to forget yesterday.

Because Amazing, is why.

So I got called down to the principal’s office, which is usually a good thing, but somehow it still has the power to make me a little nervous. (Full disclosure – is was the Assistant Principal of Academics and Whatnot, who is thirty-seven percent more intimidating than the main principal.) As we sat down, he told me he had good news. I happen to love good news, and said so. He told me that a businessman in town approached the administration with the desire and ability to support academic achievement at our high school. He told me a bit about this local businessman, about his reasons for generosity, about his work, about where he’d like his support to go. That he’d like me to be point-guy for the process.

My grin was genuine. It was all Very Good News Indeed. Remembering that I live in a very small town, I asked, “Do I know him? What is his name?”

When he told me the businessman’s name I pretty much said, “STOP.” Because it’s the same name as a very dear friend from college. And not a particularly common name. We identified that it was, in fact, the same friend. (One of my first thoughts was, “Hey, wait. I thought this ‘local businessman’ would be a grownup,” and then I remembered that I’m 41.) I laughed, probably loudly, when I said that he and I had been great friends in college, that we’d met early in our first year and had been very close. That I’d introduced him to my sister and they’d dated during a crucial time of his growing-up life.

Then I started two-minding. People say you can’t do this, but you can. You can give one of your minds – the whole, entire main one – to the conversation at hand while outlining thoughts to think about later with your “behind-mind.”

My main mind was engaged in a gratitude-and-wonder conversation with the administration. With discussion of ideas, vision, and plans.

My behind mind was making lists. Places I’d gone with this friend. (He was with me the first time I met Idaho, which you know [if you’ve met Idaho] is something you’d like to remember forever.) Late night conversations. So much laughing. Brick Oven pizzas (mine with cheese, his without). Football games. Studying. Playing. Walking. Me, doubting that his name was really his name. Him, doubting that I really had a step-twin. So much talking. The night we spent in the hospital with our mutual friend who thankfully failed in his attempt to end his own life. Disasters large and small. Successes large and small. A dozen-dozen memories.

And now, after twenty years, he walked back into my world. Or I into his, or something. The worlds, they collided, is what I’m saying. And when, by chance, he showed up at school again in the afternoon, the principal brought him to my classroom. And I laughed and hugged him and was unsurprised that his startling blue eyes and sincere smile haven’t changed. I told him I was thrilled and excited to see him and to be able to work with him. I think I forgot to say what was huge in my heart – the Thank You part – but I’ll be sure to lead with that at our next meeting.

When you think of old friends, don’t you sometimes throw out a prayer that they’re well? That they’re good and happy and fine? One of those prayers was answered yesterday. And I’d like to remember it.

November 18, 2014

Twenty-Five Years Ago Today

Filed under: emotion,events,family,history,libraries,Mom,musings — becca @ 12:32 pm

Five years ago today, I posted this. I’m reposting it now because reasons. Mainly that I was thinking about it this morning and so I shared it with my English classes. I cried when I read it to them – not for sadness, but because my heart was leaking love for all the people in the story. All of them.

I’m sure it must have been embarrassing for my class to see me lose it a little – that’s not an everyday occurrence. I apologized, but honestly I’m not that sorry. It’s okay for them to see me feeling things. There are worse things than feeling too much.

___

Standing at the circulation desk, filing cards grown soft at the corners, I heard the phone ring. Eager for a change of pace, even if it meant I’d be doing someone’s research over the phone, I grabbed up the receiver.

“Batesville Public Library, can I help you?”
It was my dad. Calling from the hospital room in Chicago where my mom had been admitted during their getaway weekend. He just wanted to check in on me – he’d missed me when he called home to talk to the boys.
“I’m good. Work is fine. I’m excited to go to Cincinnati this afternoon. Can I talk to Mom?”
Pause.
Now, I should explain that pauses in telephone conversations with my dad are not unusual. There is always… a great deal… of… white space… in talking with him. So why was I suddenly hot around my eyes, and tight in the back of my throat?
“Dad?”
Throat-clearing. “No. You can’t. Mom’s in a coma, Bec.”
Did I know that? Was there some conversation in the past few days where this information was given to me, and did I somehow forget about it? Is that even possible? But if not, how could he have neglected to mention such a vital fact to me?
The library, quiet anyway, went fuzzy like cotton around me. Even the whispers were muffled, and I felt wrapped up in the familiar. I didn’t even sit down. I tipped my chin to roll the tears back into my head, and finished the conversation like a well-bred teenager. Which I was.
Maybe years of living with a mom who spent a week every year in the hospital calloused me. Maybe the idea of her in the ICU was just part of my childhood. I’d lived with it my whole life, you know. So maybe you won’t find me a completely unfeeling ingrate when I tell you that the rest of the day was more than fine – it was fun.
After a rowdy drive into Cincinnati, Missy and I got dropped off downtown, scoured a few ballet supply stores (for her) and a bookstore (for me). We ate at Taco Bell. For a skinny person, Missy could really eat. She ordered no less than five menu items, and I watched, impressed, as she downed every bite. We met at the rendezvous point to get picked up for the dance.
The dance.
Here was where I belonged, in this under-decorated church-building-turned-social-hall. With these kids, from towns and cities an hour from my home — this was where I felt like me. Good kids, and all so different. Different from what I saw every day at school, and different from each other. I felt loved there, not judged, not watched, not weird. This was a place for a great deal of hugging.
Dance, dance, dance. Cute boys and happy girls and jokes and laughter and music. Forgive me for forgetting, for a couple of hours, what was going on a few hundred miles to the northwest.
After the dance, Pizza. As ever. Mr. G’s pizza, breadsticks, and root beer. More laughing. More talk. More teasing. Gentle teasing from the others, and more pointed teasing from my brother. I shook it off, like I’d learned to do (not like the years and years that I would scream and yell and then get in trouble for overreacting).
Somehow on the long drive home, I didn’t know. I had no premonitions. The earth didn’t shift. Air wasn’t sucked from the atmosphere. I just rode home, laughing and not sleepy and not afraid.
I checked on Marc. He was sleeping in the parent’s big bed, elbows and knees everywhere. Good. Wash face. Brush teeth. Change into jammies. Lights off. Climb into bed.
Knock at the door.
Blood runs cold.
Ignore it. It will go away. My fear of the dark, fueled by far too many Stephen King novels that first year I worked at the library, overtook all logic.
More knocking. Monsters. Axe murderers. Doorbell. Vampires. Psychotic animals. More knocking. Another doorbell.
I picked up the phone in my room and called our own number. I don’t know if this works anymore, technologically speaking, but that night, I hung up quickly and the phone began to ring. Once, twice, three times. It stopped. I grabbed the receiver.
“Nathan?”
“What?”
“There’s someone at the door.”
Only the intervention of a benevolent God prevented him from reminding me that axe murderers do not ring doorbells.
“Okay. Coming.” The bravest words of a brave big brother.
I stood, shivering at my bedroom door. Saw him walk from the basement stairs across the small family room. He turned and I heard the door open. Heard the Rockwoods’ voices, hushed appropriately for the time of night and the delicacy of their mission.
I didn’t wonder if we’d left something in their car. I didn’t wonder if anything terrible had happened to their kids between dropping us off and getting themselves home. I didn’t wonder anything. Because I knew.
I knew.
I walked to the front door. They’d come in, but only just. Their backs were pressed against the door, and I knew again. There were no jokes, and if the Rockwoods weren’t telling jokes, this was more serious than anything I’d ever experienced with them. Jolene, tall and stricken, held her arms out to me. I shook my head, not because I didn’t want her comfort, not because I didn’t believe, but because my head would shake. Back and forth as I was folded into her arms.
Whispered words: “Your mom…” Head shake, back and forth.
“… dad called…” Head shake.
“Come home with us, sleep at our house…” And then I could nod. Yes. Your house. That is the right thing to do. Because we shouldn’t be here alone. And we should give you the thing you need, too. We should allow you to do the only thing to do when there is nothing, nothing anyone can do.
 
Before getting in the car, I did the only thing I could do when there was nothing else to do. I went back into my room, picked up the phone again, and listened as the buttons sang Jorja’s song – the eleven-note jingle that meant I could reconnect with my far-far-away best friend.
Her mom told me she was asleep.
“Please.”
“I need her.”
“My mom died.”
Gasp. “Oh, Becca.” A quick waking, and there it was. The comfort I needed, across a thousand miles. The words, just right.
Will you be shocked, or will you understand when I tell you we laughed? Will you know what it is to share a heart, and to realize that there is a time for tears, and a time for laughter? And, sometimes, will you understand the need for both at once? Will you know that both, in equal measure, are required in order to heal?

May 9, 2014

I Was Never Abandoned

Filed under: history,Mom,rambles — becca @ 4:28 pm

My parents never left me anywhere. Once upon the late seventies, a two-car, two-family caravan mixup resulted in leaving my cousin Rebecca (not to be confused with my sister Becky or, you know, me) at Peking on Fresh Pond (a restaurant where they left the head on the fish, ack) in the environs of Boston, but I’ve never been left behind. Not that I’ve never been forgotten. But that’s a blog post/therapy session for another day.

Nevertheless, having never actually been left behind didn’t prevent me from  fearing abandonment.

Constantly.

When I was in middle school, our family went to Florida for spring break. It rained every day. We spent some bonding hours in front of MTV, my brothers and I. (That was this TV station that played music videos, kids, and our parents didn’t approve, so we didn’t have access to it at home, but it wasn’t specifically forbidden during the wet week in Florida, so… guilty joy.) One day, my mom took the rental car and hit the grocery store  – most probably to avoid ONE MORE PLAYING of the ridiculously chipper jingle, “Please stop calling MTV, cause the phones are closed, da-da!” Certainly she was off to breathe quietly in the car and avoid any more togetherness for a few minutes, but I was positive that she’d never come back. With only angsty middle grade novels to blame for this thought pattern, I was certain she got behind the wheel and headed out on the freeway to never, ever return.

(Spoiler: she came back. With groceries. From the grocery store.)

I’m not sure why that thought has been in my head today (except that I kind of want to go to the grocery store ALL BY MYSELF and not tell anyone; but fear not: I have no intention of never returning home), but I want to put it out there that my parents never tried to run away from me. You know, in case something like the desire to sit alone in a car and just breathe ever appears in a book and someone tries to tie it to a childhood trauma. There are no childhood traumas here, okay? Just early teen drama and imagination, and the occasional grown-up sympathetic understanding of what a temptation that escape might have been for the mother of thirteen-year-old me.

September 7, 2013

Zoom

Filed under: history — becca @ 7:17 am

<<<<<<<<<ZOOM

August happened.

ZOOM>>>>>>>>

(know what I mean?)

July 23, 2013

Remain Unnamed

Filed under: history — becca @ 1:51 pm

Years ago, I used to see her always:
Cook things at her house.
Help her fold her laundry.

Once we made sweet bread —
Zucchini or banana,
I don’t remember. It hardly matters now.

When we pulled it from the oven
And sliced it hot and crumbling,
She spread the slices with butter.

It’s never quite
Tasted just right without the butter
Since.

August 29, 2012

To the Moon

Filed under: history — becca @ 8:15 am

Guys. Look at this. It is so cool. This is the speech that President Nixon had his speech-writer (William Safire) prepare in case the Apollo 11 mission (that’s Armstrong on the moon, children) had failed. I got it here. I’d never really considered the fact that if Neil and Buzz couldn’t get the rockets to restart, that would be the end of that. No rescue mission. No hope of salvation (and what a story plot resides right there, in that thought). It’s a sobering idea attached to what is pretty much a huge adventure story. (Rest in Peace, Mr. Armstrong, an epic man of flesh and blood.)

 

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice. These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one: in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

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