Wednesday, April 5, 2017

You can't always get what you want

I've always taken a weird pride in the fact that Tyler and I don't live in our hometown. I am living out my lifelong dream of seeing the world while teaching overseas. I was so obsessed with this dream that I fantasized in high school about not making it to our 10 or 15 year reunions because I was too busy living in some fabulous exotic location, and my classmates would all be jealous of my life. I've basked in the glow of all the "I envy yous" and "your life is so excitings" every time we've met someone new or caught old acquaintances up on our annual trips home.

But all that basking comes with a price. Babies are born, engagements are celebrated, and funerals are held and our employers overseas don't exactly care that we're missing huge moments in our friends' lives. There is no bereavement leave when the mother of a close friend passes away. We can't rebuild our credit card points stash fast enough for all the last minute flights we wish we could take to show our friends we love them, and as the years go by the old "out of sight, out of mind" adage becomes a looming reality.

That's just the way it goes with this life we've chosen. Doesn't make it suck any less when, like this morning, we discover that one of our dearest friends from high school has died suddenly and we're finding out by piecing together the clues in vague facebook statuses. While we're having all these experiences that no one else gets to have, our lifestyle also means that we're not having the experiences that everyone else does get to have, like getting a phone call with sad news or getting to run to a friend's side to offer comfort. There will be no consoling or grieving with friends. We are powerlessly watching as hearts break back home and all we can do is impotently say, "I wish I could be there." Days like today are the only days that I regret this silly dream I'm living out and wish I had returned home after college. I wish so badly that I could be there.

The fact that her friends couldn't hold in their grief long enough for everyone to get the news personally doesn't surprise me. Kimmie was the most resilient, hilariously irreverent, and kind person my hometown had to offer and she touched so many lives in her time here. Strangers would say she suffered from muscular dystrophy, but the reality is that she made that disease just a detail of her life, no woe-is-me or suffering attitude necessary. To most of our high school classmates she was "that girl in the wheelchair," a moniker she owned like a champ, even making it the name of her hilarious blog.

She was one of the funniest people I knew and was unashamed of her disability, sometimes using it to her advantage. One such case was one time when we went to a Nashville Sounds game (Nashville's minor league baseball team), and as we were leaving the game the Scientologists were outside the gates handing out pamphlets. I watched as Kimmie sort of slumped over in her chair a bit and rolled on by, no pamphlet offered or eye contact made by the Scientologists. After we'd made it out of earshot, she sat back up and said sometimes when she saw people like that she would get a blank look in her eyes and pretend to be nonverbal so they would leave her alone.

She visited my classroom once to be a guest speaker when we were studying adaptations made for people with a handicap. My kids were enamored with her, so much so that they were afraid to ask the obvious questions like, "How do you go to the bathroom?" because they didn't want her to think they were disrespectful. She had recently gotten her modified van, so after her Q&A session she asked the kids if they wanted to see her new ride. As she wheeled herself out to the parking lot she activated the ramp, which caused the van to lower and she immediately sky rocketed in the cool points category as a few of my sweet kids exclaimed, "Ooohhh you've got hydraulics!!"

She picked Tyler and me up from the airport on our first visit home from Saudi Arabia when we surprised Tyler's family and mine were out of town. She was the kind of friend that wouldn't begrudge us calling in a favor after not seeing her for almost a year and then not really devoting a lot of attention to her the whole night because we were surrounded by our family. She was happy to help out a friend with no expectation of a reward.

Our annual lunch at Cracker Barrel never focused on Kimmie's health or disability. We usually spent the hours with her catching me up on all the trashy reality TV and pop culture gossip I was missing and telling me about the joint Halloween costume she and her boyfriend were already planning, 4 months before Halloween (the woman loved a costume party). When we couldn't make it to the restaurant, I would invite myself over to her house with take out, and if she was bothered by that rudeness she never let on.

I can't imagine a visit home without Kimmie. She was everyone's bright spot in their day and I'm a better person for having had her in my life. I'm glad to see that none of the facebook memorials so far have said anything like, "Now she is whole and walking the streets of heaven." Mainly because crap like that would have made Kimmie roll her eyes permanently to the back of her head, but also because the fact is that she was perfect exactly the way she was, shitty lungs be damned. I can't express how much she will be missed and I want so badly to get on the next plane home so I can join the masses that will be gathering in my hometown soon to help each other grieve. This is just another example of the fact that as expats we can't always get what we want.

Vicariously yours,

If you're up for a laugh and want a small taste of how awesome it was to be Kimmie's friend, read a few highlights from her blog:

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