I was in my early 20s, and really living that single life.
Life was friends gathering around a table of drinks most nights after we got off.
Around the corner from the public library and catty-corner from O’Donnell’s Funeral Home is an apartment building and on the first floor — all the way to the right — was my very own one-bedroom, 500 square-feet, piece of the American Dream.
And to my 19-year-old self that was pure rental heaven.
Life was ahead of me, and on the raggedy old couch taken from my parent’s basement, I often sat in my little living room, overlooking Lyon street, and dreamed about the future (and usually forgot about the frozen pizza in the oven).
After clearing the smoke and assuring the neighbor it was just me cooking again, I ate dinner and barely noticed the significance of what was happening across the street from me probably every night.
People gathering in a parking lot. Circling around each other. Grasping onto one another for strength as they took surreal steps into a place no one ever really wants to go.
I mean it’s a beautiful funeral home, and they do an amazing job, but many people live out their worst nightmares in that very building. So, while I sat and made plans, others were coming to grips with the unplanned — realizing that life sometimes just uproots without any notice.
I don’t exactly blame myself for paying little attention, considering where I was in life. My timeline was barely lived, and death was for old people. Tragedies were for other people.
So, I continued life in that old apartment for another year or so, and then moved to another apartment. It was a little bigger and closer to work.
Now I was in my early 20s, and really living that single life.
Life was friends gathering around a table of drinks most nights after we got off. Wondering if that guy noticed me or waiting for him to call. Thinking about career choices. Wondering who would be at the end of the aisle when my Dad walked me down it and thinking that fate was taking its sweet time (turned out it was Shawn who was just slow to see what a catch I was).
All of that was still ahead. It was frustrating because I was always in a hurry for the next phase, but exciting, too, because who doesn’t love a little mystery?
Again, I never paid much attention to my neighbor.
Sure, I noticed her. Sitting on her front porch, she would often smile and wave at me as I flew out the door to all my young pursuits. Some afternoons before work, I sat beside her and talked about all the things happening in my life.
“You remind me of myself at your age.”
The faraway look she often gave when talking about her late husband, or when remembering the good old days, now I understand it. Faces she missed swirled around her but I couldn’t see them — I didn’t even know they were there.
But now I do.
I’ve lost loved ones, and watched friends suffer tragedy. People I love are aging, and, well, to be perfectly honest, I am too. My hair starting to thin on top, and I wear a hat in the sun, so I don’t burn my scalp to a crisp.
And all of this sounds wildly depressing — but it’s not. It just has delivered a new perspective.
That dear lady who lived beside me represented a life well lived, and those gathered in O’Donnell's parking lot had someone special to remember. And through the pain of loss, I know they would never take back a moment of the lives they are now remembering.
And seeing that — I remember that is the life I am living right now.
Today, my kids still need me — even if they won’t admit it. Connor is off to middle school in August, and Logan to third grade.
Today, my husband is fixing the dishwasher (again) and representing the plumber’s crack like a champ. We are still making those memories.
Today, my parents are at home waiting for me to stop by, and I will stop because at almost 40 years old, I am still their little girl (and they are still giving me couches from their basement).
And today, and I still sit on those couches, daydream about the future, and wave off burnt pizza fumes. There is still so much to come.