What I Chose

“When I chose to live
there was no joy
it’s just a line that I crossed
It wasn’t worth the pain my death would cost,
so I was not lost or found.”
–Dar Williams

Two weeks before Philip died, Natalie and I were talking. It was a Sunday night, and we were headed south on the  New Jersey Turnpike, driving back to Rutgers. Some weekends she’d take the train from there to New York City to visit her boyfriend, James, at Columbia University. On Sunday, she’d take the train home to Montclair. We’d have dinner, then I’d drive her back to Rutgers. I liked that time with her. I liked any time with her. Driving home, I’d think about the things we’d spoken about.

It was good.

That particular night, we were on the subject of stability. Or lack thereof. How nothing would be here forever. This highway won’t be here one day, I told her; this car we’re riding in – gone. Nothing stays the same. Including us. We won’t be here one day, either.

And then I said something like , as far as  what happens when we die – who the hell knows? But I believe something remains. I think the energy that animates us remains. I’m not talking about heaven or hell, reincarnation or afterlife. I don’t know what I think about any of that. But I do think something remains, and that’s as far as I’ve gotten.

“Of course, if anything happens to you or Philip,” I added, “All bets are off.”

Naturally I’d say that. What parent wouldn’t? My kids’ dying was an abstraction, something I knew would be nightmarish but I didn’t really know.  Thinking back on all that’s happened is sort of like watching a movie. In the theater, you sit in the dark and you know something bad’s going to happen. The damn rabbit’s too cute not to end up dead, even if you didn’t know it’d be boiled.

What a relief; it’s not us. Even better when it turns out well, when they don’t get divorced and he’s learned his lesson and the kid gets another rabbit and and we get what we think is a Happily Ever After. Afterward, back in the sunlight, we adjust our vision, our world safe because the bad’s already happened and been resolved and what we don’t realize is that the ruby red sands of time are running out on us. And our kids, and everyone-and-thing we care about.

On February 23rd, 2012, I did not yet know things were converging, things were in motion, things I couldn’t imagine. Choices were being made, choices that could create life or destroy it. And before 10:00pm or so, this was my mental/emotional/spiritual condition: I’d finally decided to start living life instead of fighting it. Not because the thunderbolt of enlightenment finally zapped me awake, but because I’d had enough of wondering what the hell I was here for. What did matter? Point is I was here, and it was up to me what I did with what I was given. I chose life, and it was a choice I had to make every day. I knew I was part of something greater than me, something maybe people called God but I called Life. That maybe I couldn’t see the why of things, but there was some sort of order and my part was to accept it, leave it, or change it. That was my version of faith. I was workin’ it. And on February 23rd, 2012, I was workin’ the shit out of it as my son lay dead in his room, and I didn’t, couldn’t, know that the hell I thought I didn’t believe in was headed my way.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Unconfirmed Bachelorette
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 00:07:04

    So many thoughts run through my mind when I read your posts. I want to stop and tell you. Stay still long enough to capture things with words. But instead I flag them, turn the light out, and sleep. Promising to stand still with my thoughts tomorrow.


  2. Denise
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 00:32:04

    And I hope you sleep well. I probably said this to you already – you make me laugh and that’s not so easy these days. Love your blog, I do. ;o)


  3. tersiaburger
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 14:45:52

    Denise lots of hugs to you. I don’t have words.


  4. Denise
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 17:16:00

    I need hugs more than words, so thank you.


  5. nataliehemmerich
    Jun 16, 2013 @ 19:31:46

    Thank you for continuing to share your story. My absolute favorite Dar song… probably one of my favorite songs ever…


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