Helen Joy Hostetler was the most beautifully moving person I've ever had the privilege of loving. She was feisty and charming while she was alive, and I couldn't help but think of her the entire time I was reading Jandy Nelson's The Sky Is Everywhere.
Lennie Walker, seventeen, is trying to figure out how to go through life without her older sister, Bailey, after her sudden death. I appreciated Jandy Nelson's writing and her ability to handle her subject matter delicately. Her poetry throughout the story is especially touching and beautiful; however, the theme of death is what I most related to. Because I was seventeen when I lost my grandmother, and I didn't know how to handle living without her.
“How will I survive this missing? How do others do it? People die all the time. Every day. Every hour. There are families all over the world staring at beds that are no longer slept in, shoes that are no longer worn. Families that no longer have to buy a particular cereal, a kind of shampoo. There are people everywhere standing in line at the movies, buying curtains, walking dogs, while inside, their hearts are ripping to shreds. For years. For their whole lives. I don't believe time heals. I don't want it to. If I heal, doesn't that mean I've accepted the world without her?”
Here is a quick story about my grandmother's last time driving before she was told she was legally blind and probably shouldn't be behind the wheel of a moving vehicle any longer:
"Alex, what color is that light?"
"It's yellow, Grammer."
"Okay," She said, "We can make it."
And we did make it, creeping under the the traffic lights and flying past a stopped Buick.
"Alex, what color is that light?"
"Oh." She said, pulling her forehead to the bridge of her nose. "Too late, Angel."
"Grammer," I said, worried, "are we lost?"
"No, Angel," She said, smiling. "I'm just not sure where the house is."
"Can you see?" I asked.
"Of course," She said, looking down at me in the passenger's seat. "But what is that big thing in the sky?"
"The water tower?"
"Thank God!" She said, "Because we were definitely lost."
My grandmother lived with us until she no longer did. There was never really a day when I thought she wouldn't be there, and when that day finally did find me I didn't really believe it. She was so sharp and brilliant, and she was so loving and kind. My room was always right next to hers, and I always told her I loved her and goodnight before we went to sleep. And then one day I woke up and she didn't. And my mom and dad were devastated. And my sister was a mess. And I felt like I needed to be the one who didn't lose it. I needed to be the one who still believed she would just be back at the house when we got home.
And so for a few years I believed that. I pushed her death out of my head and heart, and I just kept going through life like she wasn't missed. I would avoid conversations about her just like Lennie does with her grandmother. But it's the little things, like Jandy Nelson states, that you realize you will miss the most. They will hurt the most. It's the cereal and shampoo. It's not having her call me when I'm at the supermarket to make sure I pick up her prescription and pecans. Coming home from getting a haircut and her not asking to see it even though she was legally blind. Telling me I look beautiful even though she was biased. Talking about boys with her. Not being able to talk to her about a certain boy now. And there are days I don't think about her; and there are days that I have to catch myself from crying in the shower. Because she is so, so missed. She will never not be missed. You don't stop missing someone who meant the world to you.
“Each time someone dies, a library burns.”
It's true. We are our own libraries. We hold all of this wisdom and wonder and creativity inside us. And there doesn't seem to be any way to save the book that is our brain, and I wish I could read someone else's life sometimes, because it would probably be so scary and thrilling to see if their thoughts matched my own. To see what people say when they talk to themselves. To live all the moments my grandmother did, because she traveled more than anyone else I've ever met.
“I’ve never once thought about the interpretative, the storytelling aspect of life, of my life. I always felt like I was in a story, yes, but not like I was the author of it, or like I had any say in its telling whatsoever. You can tell your story any way you damn well please. It’s your solo.”
Sometimes it feels like my life is a little ball on a yellow string, slowly moving towards the end of the line. No way for me to venture off onto the blue or topaz or orange strings around me. Sometimes I feel as though I have no control over what is happening to me. And then there are days where I have coffee and realize I could pack all of my bags up and leave. I could just put what will fit into suitcase with my Mac and charger and pay for a ticket to wherever I want. I could live in a hotel and I could work at Ruby Tuesday's at night and intern with a publishing company during the day.
And it's not that I want to do that, because there's this boy I love who I want to discover the world with, but it's the idea that I can that is exciting and scary and empowering. And if I can do that then can't I wait until I'm a little more financially stable to try? I can wait. It's hard for me to remember that everything exciting in my life doesn't have to happen right at this exact moment. It's hard to imagine how slowly climbing the ladder in life can be more thrilling than having everything handed to me. I have to remind myself that I don't have to be impatient. What would I have to look forward to if I was already as successful as I ever will be right at this moment?
My grandmother waited to travel. She had ups and downs, and she was poor and then rich. She was single and then she was a mother and then a grandmother. She enjoyed her life so much so while she was living it that she couldn't stay any longer. She lived six lives while some of us only ever live one. And I know she would say she was in control of her life.
And I know she would say that the best things that came to her came at the end of it all.