"Barbara Inez...just what have you been up to? I mean I've already been gone a week and I'm sure a lot has happened..." "...Barb, I hope you get your tail in gear and get up here to see me. It's just beautiful..." "I've always loved that song "You've got a friend" by Carol King and it fits us perfectly..."
I found these words last week in a yellow and orange scrapbook filled with ticket stubs, letters, newspaper clippings and other relics of 1977. They're from Ann to me, from Utah to Texas, 32 years ago.
So much has happened recently that reminds me of those years. There was Kendall's high school graduation and eighteenth birthday, and then this morning Daniel moved into his first apartment. I didn't move into mine until 1978, but events in 1977 pushed me in that direction.
This morning's sky held gray clouds that hinted at rain, but also patches of sunshine-filled blue...just the right balance of uncertainty and hopefulness for Daniel's move-in day and the beginning of a new chapter in his life...living off campus with his own bedroom and a roommate who's future also hinges on how this semester goes.
Sunshine prevailed - no rain fell to ruin his furniture and clothes packed tight in the back of the truck. We need the rain, but I was grateful for sunshine today. I hope it portends a semester with a happy, sunshine-y ending. I keep hoping my kids learn from my college mistakes - I want them to hang on, bounce back, keep trying.
As if moving Daniel into an apartment wasn't enough, today we bought a brand new car!! Specifically an apple red Hyundai Elantra. It's the first new car I've owned in almost twenty years...the first compact car in more than twenty. I admit - it's scary. But we couldn't afford to NOT take advantage of the government's Cash for Clunkers program. We doubled our money on our old black truck after abusing it for five years...AND we have a full warranty. It was our early anniversary gift to each other - for me, a new car...for Tom, freedom from working on my car.
But it also reminded me of 1977...the year of my first new car - a Toyota Celica GT Liftback - and Bad Company's "Burning Sky" on 8-Track.
1977 was my first real 8 to 5 job...Stephen King books...Star Wars...Ted Nugent...Bad Company...Kiss...Eagles...South Padre on the 4th of July with Ann, Jena and Carey...a week with Ann at Utah State when I found out my parents were getting divorced...a feeling that I was lost, falling, drowning.
1977 was University of Houston... scholarships and chemical engineering...and days driving to Galveston, sitting on the seawall , too overwhelmed by the thoughts swirling in my head to worry about school...
1977 was an intense year - one of more highs and lows than any other in my life. It was almost my last...
It seems ironically appropriate...almost too coincidental, as if it was written this way for a movie...that the autumn night I returned my Homecoming Queen crown was a night I decided there was nothing in my life worth living for. It wasn't a conscious, premeditated thought...the idea had never even crossed my mind before! Rather, it was an impulsive, depression-fueled-by-alcohol action, followed by "Oh, my gosh, what have I done?" In that instant when it was almost too late, I realized that no matter how bad I thought things were, I wanted to live.
I guess that's all God needed - I had turned my back on him a year or two before, but he hadn't forgotten me. He sent angels to watch over me and rescue me that night, and later, my sister's tears washed the remaining dark clouds from my brain - the ones I had let slip in to distort reality. It broke my heart to know I had hurt her and the rest of my family. I'm ashamed now to admit I let such piddly little obstacles break my spirit. I'd like to say I was much stronger than that. But I had forgotten the source of my strength, and when my other moorings were broken, I floundered.
Looking through the scrapbook reminds me how weak I really am, by myself. I shared my experience with my kids years ago, hoping it would be a reminder to them that no matter how bad things get, as long as you're breathing you have hope...you have a chance to change things...and that no matter how badly you screw up, God is standing by, ready to pick you back up if you just ask.
On the practical side, I've also warned them not to drink when they're depressed. I think everyone has up days and down days - that's just normal. It's human. But alcohol magnifies those dark clouds - it keeps you from seeing that there is still blue sky peeking from behind, and that soon the clouds will pass on by. I still have those days myself, but instead of trying to drink my sorrows away, I write my sorrows...pray my sorrows...love my sorrows away.
Back in 1977 I felt like all my friends had scattered and I was all alone. But looking through the scrapbook I see nothing but familiar faces and names...faces and names that for the most part are still a part of my life.
Ann, of course...we still write each other (only it's in e-mails or Facebook messages), talk on the phone, dance, even wrap houses. Mark, my boyfriend's little brother, who I felt was MY little brother. Tamara...another constant friend who had a birthday this week. My sister Brenda, whose tears woke me up. My parents, who taught me about unconditional love. They worked things out and remarried after four years - another example that you should never give up. Randy, who has popped in and out of my life over the years...a friend who helped me remember there were good things about my 1977 self...things worth dusting off and protecting. I have him to thank for encouraging me to stubbornly stay in school and turn back to writing.
They have all faced much, MUCH bigger challenges, setbacks, obstacles, disappointments, sorrows than I ever have ...yet they haven't been broken. Every day they inspire me.
I shared my story just in case it helps someone else who feels like they have screwed up too bad or too often to ever make it right, or that they don't have anyone who cares about them so "it doesn't really matter..." I thank God every day that I'm still here...I look at all the blessings I've been given - my husband, my kids, my family and friends...and today, a new car! We may never realize what our lives mean in the whole grand scheme of things - we can only trust that they do mean something, and try to do our best with what we are given... We have to make sure our lives make a difference somehow. Never, ever think it's too late. Never, ever take them for granted.