I wander the halls of this big, stupid house in the middle of the night wondering how the fuck I got here. Not just here at this address, but HERE. This isn't my life. My life wasn't supposed to be my life, but after 20+ years of loving the cute chicks, it became my life. And I loved it.
Twenty-five years ago, if you'd asked me, I'd be looking at early retirement after 25 years teaching, my children would be grown and off to college/married/starting their own lives, and I would be starting my second go at life. Maybe traveling. Maybe going after that law degree I deferred. Maybe just sleeping in and being a bum. But life is what happens when you're busy making plans. I had Sarah, who wasn't the child I imagined having, and I had to adjust. I actually mourned her the first time when she was a baby. I had to be able to let go of the child I had imagined and all the things I had planned in order to truly love and appreciate the beautiful soul God gifted me. I went through all the stages of grief after getting her Autism diagnosis ~ denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It was easier for Jaylee, I had the feeling she was different from the moment I held her in the hospital. And I had experience. But my life trajectory changed dramatically. Instead of a working professional who had children, I was a Special Needs Mom ~ advocate, researcher, teacher, therapist, guardian, full-time MOM. Sarah and Jaylee were my life. Jay still is, she's really the only reason that I get up and dressed most days.
And now, my sweet silly Sarah is gone, and to be brutally honest, folks, I'm not doing well. At all. I can maintain a calm, capable façade when I'm in public, with family who need me to be strong for them, but it's exhausting. To my soul. After Sarah's memorial, two weeks were spent moving and settling Jaylee in. Then she dislocated her kneecap and was in an immobilization brace for two months. During that time, I had to whip the Panhandle house in shape and get it on the market for the Spring housing market. From March to mid-May, I basically remodeled a 1400-sq ft house. Every wall was painted. New wood laminate laid in the living/dining/kitchen/breakfast/utility room. New carpet in the bedrooms. New cabinets and countertops in the kitchen. New refrigerator and stove. My total budget was $7800, I came in just about $10 under. But it was something to focus my mind and energy on. The hardest part was actually being there. Every time I walk into that house I relive February 1, 2018 9:18 am. It sucks. I got to where I could numb myself, feel nothing, think nothing, see nothing but the task in front of me. I had a job and a deadline, and it kept me sane. I'd work from 8 in the morning to almost dark, go home, take care of Jay, take a shower, pass out, get up and do it again. I finished on a Wednesday, we signed with a realtor on Friday, she listed on Realtor.com on Saturday, and showed it 4 times on Sunday. Four days later, one of the ladies who saw it on Sunday made a full-price cash offer contingent on the sale of her house. I know what you're thinking, but I had faith. Long story short, we close August 9. Closing that chapter of our lives. We moved to that address when Sarah was 3 and Jay was 1, it was really the only home they'd ever known. It was Sarah's only home. Her last home. Sometimes I felt changing everything in the house, I was erasing her. Those were the times I ended up outside on the deck sobbing for an hour. I guess the approaching end is spiking my anxiety and depression. I don't know, I just feel like I'm in quicksand and the harder I struggle the faster I sink.
Which brings me to why I'm writing this. My grief counselor wants me to write down as many happy memories of Sarah as I can think of, sharing them helps me keep her close. It's a double-edged sword, it also hurts to remember. So we're going back to her last Prom. You've heard the story of her actual Prom, this is the story BEFORE the Prom. The Preparations.
One of the biggest things about Prom is the dress. Shopping. Sarah, while she loves the dresses, has a very low tolerance for shopping and trying on clothes. Most of her dresses were purchased online with her picking them out. But this time she wanted the whole experience. She wanted to Say Yes to the Dress. It had become a favorite show for her, and she wanted it. So I called David's Bridal in Amarillo and explained the situation. She needed a time that was slow if not completely empty, I'd like to come in and pre-select several dresses for her to choose from so that she's not barraged by satin and bangles, and we need a really patient consultant. Not a problem, they'll be happy to work with us. I really can't say enough about the ladies at David's Bridal, they were all super-sweet.
By this time in her life, Sarah's weight had really gotten out of control, and there weren't that many options that came in her size, but I managed to pull ten choices, all of them available in her preferred hot pink. We went in on a Thursday morning, thinking we'd be the only ones there. Um, no. We were in kind of a semi-circle of dressing rooms with a big stage surrounded by mirrors in the mirror. We were on one end, and four other girl-mom combos were stationed down the line. Sarah was the first one out, in a bright pink flowing chiffon strapless. And sneakers. While she was standing there getting fussed over by grandma and Angela, the young lady two doors down came out. She was wearing a long gold sparkly fitted dress. Sarah, being Sarah, calls out across the unnaturally quiet store, "Oh my! You look lovely! And so grown-up too!" (line from Aladdin King of Thieves) "Hi, I'm Sarah!" The young lady looked over, startled, and stammered a quiet "Thank you" before turning to her mom. Sarah wasn't having it. "I'm a Panhandle Panther. What are you?" Her way of making small talk. "Um, I'm a Randall Raider." "Is that a cat or a dog?" "I think it's kind of like a pirate."
"Oooooo, Pirates." That got a grin.
By this time, Ladies #3 and 4 were out, one in red sequins of which mom clearly didn't approve and the other in a midnight blue ballgown. Same greeting from Sarah, same compliments on their gowns, and same question, "What are you?" We had a Panther, a Raider, two Eagles, and #5 came out in pale pink satin and tulle to announce she was a Bulldog. Ice broken, they started chatting, asking Sarah about her Prom, talking about sports and band (two of them had gone to the same basketball camp), and boys. Sarah was always sad about not having a boyfriend or a date. She might have been challenged in some areas, but she was all girl in others. And a hopeless romantic. None of the girls had boyfriends, all were going stag, and they all assured Sarah that it was perfectly fine. Boys were mean and stinky. Sarah wasn't buying it.
More dresses were tried on, more giggles and lively chatter, Sarah helped blue ballgown find a tiara, white satin with cabbage roses helped Sarah find her Elvis belt. As each girl made her selection and mom went to settle up, they came over to Sarah, told her how beautiful she was, and how much they hoped she had a great Prom She threw her arms open and declared "Big Arm Hug", and each young lady got a hug. Angela, our consultant, rang up our dress and belt, bejeweled flipflops, and hot pink jeweled butterfly headband, shaking her head and grinning. She told us she'd never seen anything like that, that most of the appointments are really quiet, almost church-quiet, and that she'd really had fun with us that day. All in all, Sarah was there just over two hours, well beyond her stress threshold. And not even a hint of stress or meltdown. I had never been more proud of her.
What brought this memory to mind? Over the 4th of July, mom and I were at the craft fair on the Square in Canyon when a young lady approached us. She said hi and asked if we remembered her, um, no, sorry, were you a classmate of Sarah's? No, she was one of the young ladies at David's that day and was wondering how Sarah's Prom went? Did she have fun? Was she with us? Mom is still struggling to talk about Sarah without crying, so I told her that she had died last February. She hugged me and told me how sorry she was to hear about her passing. Sarah's happiness and friendliness had inspired her to look into special education as a major. She had always wanted to be a teacher, but after meeting Sarah, she decided she might want to teach special needs kids. She'll be attending WTAMU in the Fall. She just wanted us to know what a special blessing Sarah was and that she had a legacy. Mom's in tears sobbing by now, and I'm struggling to talk past the lump in my throat. I thanked her for letting us know and told her we were really proud of her. She'll make an excellent spec ed teacher. She left and we went back to mom and Poppy's house and just sat quietly for a while before either of us could speak. Our girl had a legacy.