I understand the term paradigm shift as it applies to the human experience. It’s not a phrase I ever use in speech and rarely consider, but today the term came to mind. Paradigm shift: “a popular, or perhaps, not so popular shift or transformation of the way we Humans perceive events, people, environment, and life altogether.”
Twenty years ago today, I experienced loss. Swift, unexpected loss. That kind that leaves one gasping for breath and grasping for meaning. And revision.
Almost immediately after the initial phone call came the paradigm shift. At one level, the shift involved something along the theme of “indestructible youth” evolves into “nothing gold can stay.” But at the true heart of things, this was that point at which I began to realize the seriousness of life and the impact of decisions. Something very Big had happened. Something much bigger than breaking up with my boyfriend (that was Dr. H). Something bigger than my student teaching. Something much bigger than where the next band was playing or how to deal with my alcoholic suite-mate.
It’s the moment when you say to yourself, “I must grow up now. I have a grown-up thing to do.”
Bryan was my first boyfriend. I was 15, and 16, and 17. For our first Christmas, he gave me a monogrammed stick pin. For my 16th birthday, he sent me a rose. The card read, “Love allways, Bryan.” I remember feeling a twinge of guilt that his misspelling annoyed me. He sang badly. He smelled good. His voice cracked. He was a great runner. He and his twin brother fought furiously but were rarely apart. He broke my heart on a regular basis. And I loved him.
In the picture above, he is about to go away to college and I was about to spend most of my junior year of high school in Germany. And so we moved away from each other, and back again, and away again, until I made a clean break. I had a new boyfriend. I went to college. I had another new boyfriend. And another. (This one, I told Bryan, I was going to marry. And eventually, I did.) On holidays and college breaks we always saw each other at least a few times. You have to. When you have spent over 1,000 days pondering a person, you cannot flick them away so easily.
And so. On October 17, 1987, my brother called my dorm room to say “Bryan is dead.” He was killed in a car crash, instantly. He was the driver. The other people lived. The call came early in the morning. I suppose I packed then and drove the 15 hours home, although I don’t remember any of that. I just remember being there, in my hometown. My brother and I went to the bay of the lake, where we’d often had bonfires in high school. He played his guitar. He said, “Bryan was just like you.” I never asked him what he meant by that.
I wore a brown suit to the funeral. His casket was closed. I hated his brother for not having the foresight to bring me any of the things I’d given Bryan over the years. I loved his brother for wanted to throw his ashes in the ocean. I kept a blue ribbon from his casket. His mother held me, and I her.
And then I returned to my regularly scheduled life. Except that nothing was normal again. Everyone has that moment at some point in his life, sometimes several times. A birth, a death, an accident. A being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Or the right place at the right time. A betrayal. That is the human paradigm shift, when the shadows change. When what once mattered becomes minutiae and other things loom large.
I became both reckless and independent. I came back to college and continued doing my student teaching at a local high school. “You seemed to have lost focus midway through the semester,” said my education professor at the end of the grading period. Yeah. Whatever. I halfheartedly did my work study as an English tutor. “You turned a whole pile of papers in a week late! I was frantic,” said the chair of the English department. Whoops, sorry! My boyfriend died and I am experiencing a paradigm shift. Whatever. There are some things you just can’t explain. I trudged. I flew. I prayed.
And ultimately, you go on and tuck this portion of your life away for safekeeping. And, trite as it sounds, you are stronger. Twenty years have passed, and now my oldest child is the age that I was when I first met Bryan. I remember the way he watched me. And his crooked teeth.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - Untitled Comment
Posted by hsmomof2 (22.214.171.124)
Yeah, I have one of those too. Somewhat different. But the phone call... you never forget the phone call, do you?
Thursday, October 18, 2007 - Untitled Comment
Posted by Suzanne (126.96.36.199)
Thanks for sharing this.
Thursday, October 18, 2007 - I'm glad...
Posted by DrHibiscus (188.8.131.52)
... that you don't remember the morning you left TN to drive back to NY. I do, and it wasn't pretty. We had just broken up for the 17th time, I think, and I wasn't all that good a friend when you needed it. I still think about that sometimes and regret it.
Anyway, that was a beautifully written post.
Thursday, October 18, 2007 - interesting
Posted by onfire (184.108.40.206)
the thoughts that come unawares when you read a certain post.
this has never happened to me. ever.
and what gets me pondering of late is this,
whatever will I do when I do loose someone I love, and have no village to help me through it?
it isn't as though death looms around the corner waiting ... or is it? it is all part of the cycle of life.
I remember when my Mom's Mom died. I was pregnant with Jonam. Only my Dad, my brother, my Mom and Neal were there for the funeral.
I was struck by these lyrics just this morning, Dr. H would know them, I believe ... It is better to burn out than fade away ...
Thursday, October 18, 2007 - You made me remember...
Posted by LaDonna C. (220.127.116.11)
the day I got "the call" about Justin's friend. We were re-furbishing FCC's playground. And everytime we pull into your church parking lot, I remember that day. This was so beautifully written, I want to share it with his friend's mother, with your permission.
Saturday, October 20, 2007 - Hi there
Posted by Bahamahomeschooler (18.104.22.168)
this is a beautiful post. So very real and true. So it was nice to meet you and I am glad I found your blog. Stop by anytime.
Sunday, October 21, 2007 - Great post...
Posted by Learn4life (22.214.171.124)
You're a great writer and I love this post!