A to Z Challenge #18 — Random

I believe in a random, “it is what it is” universe. It is value neutral. It just is. Things like luck and fate exist, but they’re never for or against you — they just are what they are, acting on whatever you are.

There’s a song by Motion City Soundtrack that caught my ear the one time I ventured out to Warped Tour at the Shoreline in Mountain View, sometime between 2006 and 2009. I’m no longer sure if I actually heard this song performed or if I didn’t listen to it until later, on the CD I bought there. The line is,

“They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you who you are.”

And I thought, yes. Because there are a lot of things that don’t kill you, but don’t make you stronger, either.

Between my freshman and junior years in high school, I took a vacation with my family to Montana, where my uncle’s family lives. My paternal grandparents moved out there to be near him, the oldest son with the most free time to help them out with anything that assisted living didn’t provide. Within a few years of this move, Gramps developed dementia and had to move across the street to the old folks home. On this summer vacation, part of why we went was to visit him there for the first time. I wasn’t looking forward to this, but I crossed the street with my dad and Grammy. We went in the main entrance and all the way back, what seemed like miles, until we reached and were buzzed in through the doors of the Alzheimer’s ward. I kept close to my family and tried not to look at the shells of human beings staring blankly at the walls, or staring blankly at their hands, or shuffling or being wheeled blankly down the hallways. One man was standing face to face with a large floor-to-ceiling bird cage, agitating the birds and squawking back at them whenever they squawked at him. I know that they’re still people, and that some days are better than others for finding the glimmer of who they used to be, but I was terrified by this blankness. It was one of those dreadful confrontations of mortality, only it seemed to me that these people had passed on but so far neglected to actually die. And the reason by don’t shy away from putting the previous sentence in such harsh terms is because, at one point, I was separated from my family in this place. We were leaving the dining hall with Gramps and his attendant when an old woman reached out and grabbed my arm. She didn’t have a very strong grip, but she was insistent, and she demanded several times that I tell her a story. In the time it took me to panic, mumble something, and disentangle myself, I realized that everyone I knew had left the room and I didn’t know where they had gone.

It was the loneliest and most terrified I have ever felt. Even when I found them I remained on edge — if I were a cat, my hackles would have been up — and it didn’t help that no amount of pictures or prompting could get Gramps to recognize me, his only granddaughter. It broke my heart, and I think I went on to break my dad and Grammy’s hearts by telling them afterwards that I could not go back there again. The next time I saw my Gramps, he was contained in a discrete urn.

This experience neither killed me more made me stronger. At age fifteen, one little turn of bad luck in an already emotionally difficult situation shot me down a path with a lingering sense of guilt and a terror of lost memory and nursing homes.

It was completely random, and it is what it is.

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