By Natalie, age 18, Ohio
Editor's notes: Avere Fede means "have faith" in Italian. What follows is the introduction and first two chapters of a book Natalie is writing. Additional chapters will follow in future issues.
When you're little you are told you can be anything you want to be; more or less this is true. You can be a doctor, a dentist, or a dancer - hey, even president, but you have to fight like hell to get there. Funny thing about that fighting thing, and that "dream" they instill in your head, is they never actually tell you whether you will succeed in what you want to do, or even that you'll make it that far. I'm a firm believer in being able to do anything you set your mind to, but I hate that you have to trample and stomp on people along the way.
Now don't stop reading just because I got negative for a second. I promise you that this whole book isn't going to be like that, but it's something that I realized while trying to get my life together. I actually learned a lot during the few weeks I spent thinking about my life instead of trying to make someone else's life better. I learned that I needed to stop giving up things for other people and start getting what I wanted. I learned what I wanted and what I needed, and I learned that I wasn't going to let anything have the chance to stop me.
So here I am today, writing. Believe it or not, when I was little, my mom dropped the "you can be anything you want to be" line. Sure, I had a few different choices, but writing has always been a choice. And over the years, I've been told that I'm a fairly good writer, that I have a gift, and that's something I needed. I've spent my whole life doubting myself and doubting my abilities, and I've never really looked back at my writing or my views. I'm a fairly intelligent human being. I know that sounds cocky, but ... I guess I have a lot of proving to do.
As a young adult, I trusted too many of the wrong people, and I let them into my life with no thought about anything. My main problem with that is I'd make the same mistakes multiple times. And the outcome was always the same - always. I have my scars. I guess sometimes I've wondered why I have the scars I do. I'm not afraid to hide them either. My scars make me who I am. My legs look like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but it's okay. People can look and point and stare all they want. I got weak. I let things get bad. And yeah, I dealt with it the way I felt I had to. But that's beside the point. You wanted a book, right? Well, this one caught your eye? So hey, start reading.
I've always wanted to be a writer.
I can remember them clearly, the two moments that honestly made me rethink my entire life. The first was in my aunt's house in late December, in what their computer room is now, but what was my cousin Jessica's bedroom at the time. My dad's mom was diagnosed with a terminal case of lung cancer. Then again, when isn't lung cancer terminal? She was given six months to live; she lasted almost a year. But it's not the extra five months she lasted, or even the time we spent with her then. It was the night she actually died that has a very clear calling in my head. The house was dark, and Matt, Jessica, and I were crowded in a corner with a lamp talking about what was probably going on in the basement. Jessica, whom my grandma had actually adopted early on (which, yes, actually would make her my aunt) was crying and holding my hand. It made me wonder what I would do if I lost my mom or dad. All I could do was hold her hand and pray that she'd make it through another night.
We must have fallen asleep or dozed off because we woke up to the sound of footsteps running up the stairs and someone screaming. She didn't make it through the night. Actually, to me, she was dead long before that night. She was hooked to so many different machines and had so many problems she was long gone before that night. She was easy to let go of, at least that night. I walked down the wooden basement stairs numb to the seriousness of the situation. I touched her hand, which was still warm at that moment, and said my goodbyes.
It wouldn't come to hit me that she was honestly dead till about three months later when we had her memorial. She had chosen to be cremated, and a funeral was not in order. I couldn't even read my speech that they had made time for me to read, and I really didn't care. It wasn't that it made sense or even that it was worth the time I'd put into it. I managed to get a few words out. "She didn't provide much for her children, not saying that she was a bad mother, but she provided for her grandbabies. She gave us all that she could." I broke down into tears after that moment. Lucky for me they got it all on tape, and about a month or so later we received a copy in the mail. I watched my whole breakdown again, and this time I believe I bit my lip and forced myself not to cry.
The second moment? I was sitting in the middle of freshman hallway waiting for my stupid boyfriend to come out of his freshman English class to come sit with me for a while. The "Bird Lady" (which is what we called her - to this day I'm still not quite sure of her real name) came and asked me my name. I told her, at which point she asked me to follow her to the office. I figured I was in trouble, but when Josh walked around the corner and gave me a hug I knew something was wrong.
By the time I had made it to senior hallway, my heart was racing and I was starting to panic. There was my dad, standing in the hallway. He turned around and thanked the Bird Lady for finding me. He told me that my Grandma had died in her sleep and that we needed to go home now. As he finished the bell rang, and I collapsed on the floor. A few of my friends walked by and checked to make sure I was okay, and all I could bring myself to do was cry. A few of the boys helped me to the car, and my dad thanked them. I crawled into the back seat crying my eyes out, unable to look at my mother or the rest of my family.
The drive home was unimaginably long, like we couldn't even speak two words to each other without someone crying or sending someone else into a downwardly spiraling rage of angry words. I sat quietly in the back, letting my iPod blare in my ears. I fell asleep somewhere between Interstates 270 and 71, listening to Rascal Flatts, and woke up when we pulled into my aunt's driveway, still listening to the same thing - Rascal Flatts' My Wish.
When I decided this time that I had the right to speak at the funeral, I decided as well that I was going to use lyrics from that song in my eulogy. Who knew that once again I'd get stuck sitting in the front pew listening to everyone else talking about my Nana, but not me? To this day, I am still bitter about that moment. I had important things to say, important words for people who knew her, people who watched me grow up, but apparently not important enough.
The sky was gray and rainy that day, and it almost broke my heart when it opened up as we drove to the cemetery. In my head I kept hearing the words of that song. When they stopped the limo beside the open hole in the ground I felt my heart sink in my chest. The tears had started once again like they had done so many times before. It's as if the days before flashed in my head - the funeral home, the thousands of people who hugged me and told me how sorry they were and asked me if I was okay. There's that part of you that wants to scream, "No, I am not okay. My Nana is lying over there in a casket. No, I didn't get to say goodbye to her. And no, I am not okay!" But I just smiled, and told everyone I was okay. It seemed as if there were days on end of that.
We huddled underneath a tent, and listened to the final words before they lowered the casket into the ground. As it slowly descended I felt my heart drop. As we walked away I looked like a cold heartless child. I refused to turn around. I buried my heart that day, and I couldn't say goodbye to her. Goodbyes meant forever, and I wasn't ready to lose her forever.
I never actually said goodbye.
Tomorrow is Mother's Day. I have never been a big fan of the holiday because as a child my mom was always working and I never really saw her. As a teenager I saw her a lot, which wasn't exactly what I wanted at that age, and now as a young adult, I see her way too much, and our home is frequently a battle zone between me and whomever decides to step in my way. (This goes for my little brother too.) My aunt and my mother plan on dragging me to church in the morning, which I also dread. I haven't been back to a church since my grandma died, frankly because I have sinned a lot since then, and I'm afraid one of these days I'm going to realize that when I say I'm going to hell, I very well may be. But I'll go, because it's Mother's Day, and for one day out of the entire year I might as well be nice.
After church they'll take me to the cemetery, and I will cry and pick the grass from around my grandparents' headstone, and talk to my grandma in my head. I never really know if she's listening, but I hope she is. I have no one else to talk to, and I loved her a lot. They will cry too. After all, she was their mother, and most likely they loved her more than I did. I flash back to the funeral every time we go. I have to take tissues. I hate my mother seeing me cry.
Now I have nothing against my mom. I love her, she's my mother, and she's made me who I am, but we fight like it's our jobs, and I really hate that. I hate that she pushes me to be something that she wants me to be, and not who I want to be. I swear I'll never be like my mother, even though I love her so much. I mean, to have my children feel how I've felt when my mom has talked to me, degraded and ashamed. I swear I will never be like this when I get older, but I will turn out like my mother. It's inevitable.
Someone told me at a baby shower today that I sounded like my mom. I guess my fear is catching up faster than I can avoid. Oh gosh, I'm starting to sound like my mom ... should I be nervous? Thank God I'm only eighteen and I barely knew the woman who told me this, plus I doubt she knows my mom anyway. I hate how people automatically assume they know you just because they know your name. Hi, I'm Natalie. Do you know who I am? No. So please don't act like you do. I appreciate that greatly.
My mom wants me to go to college, and I want to go, but I don't want to go to be a nurse or a doctor because they scare the crap out of me. Why would I want to be someone who tells people that they are sick day after day? I'm terminally ill, by the way - juvenile diabetes. I was diagnosed when I was 8. I want to be a teacher. I want children to learn something from me, and I want to have an effect on people's lives. Who knows where I will end up?
I guess maybe I'm afraid of what I can do with my life. Maybe I'll do something huge, and make a name for myself. Maybe I'll do nothing. But I intend to be remembered, no matter what happens between now and then.
I'm terrified that I'll be forgotten.