If I was Katrina, I would only have a year left. My aunt by marriage, she died at the age of 39 of sudden cardiac arrest at her desk at work. Her favorite coworker found her and attempted CPR but v-fib takes people instantly. She felt no pain. She was here and then she was gone. Katrina was always magical, and this was her final trick. In her 38th year she found peace with not becoming a parent, found herself in the home she wanted in the town they dreamed of. And with the man she always wanted (since high school!) by her side, she also had hope.
On the eve of my 38th birthday the only person on my mind was her. If I was Katrina, this would be my last year.
You need to know something about Katrina. She wasn’t a size 2. She was blond, a big blond. She was loud and funny. She called my uncle an asshole. She told the truth. You also need to know something about the day before she died. I had been working farther up north (Petoskey) making my daily round trip commute about 3 hours. That day as I ran errands I had an incredible sense of death. It was riding shotgun in my car like a companion. I wasn’t afraid, instead I felt peace. I knew in my heart that today was the day I was going to die. I wasn’t sick, so I figured something out of my control would happen on my way back home. At the time Mumford and Sons was making their debut on the airways. Smitten with their sound and wordsmithing I turned on the lyrics that made the most sense on my last day, “In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life. Awake my soul. You were made to meet your maker.” I blared it, sang along, shed some tears and then made my peace. I made it home that night. To distract myself I decided to get on the treadmill. Surely, since I wasn’t a runner, this would kill me. Brandi Carlile’s version of Forever Young pumped through my headphones. Still alive, I ran downstairs to check in with my dad (yes, I was a 30-something living with her parents). He was watching a sitcom, laughing out loud, “Shea, this character is so much like Katrina.” He then started to imitate her, then I started to and then we were laughing till we had tears in our eyes. There was no one like her and the light she brought into our family when she married my uncle Shane was electric. I said to my dad, “I need to call her. I miss her so much.”
The next day came, my heart was still beating. I assumed that I was insane or secretly suicidal. That morning I had a Dr’s appointment in Traverse and would talk to him about it. He prescribed anti-depressants. I got in my car and headed back up north.
The next thing I remember was a phone call from my mom who was sobbing. She was trying to say something but all I heard was, “Shea, Katrina is dead. She’s gone.” I now know what disbelief feels like. For the record, it feels empty. You float in space for a while touching the stars and have no temperature. It’s the umbilical cord attached to the spaceship that jerks you back to earth. When you land, the gravity makes you feel six feet under while still standing.
I wept. The sky wept. It opened and poured on my windshield. A monsoon of grief all around me.
Katrina was gone. Not me, her. I wanted it to be me instead. I had so much less to lose. No spouse, no dependents, no mortgage and no career. I was overweight, living with my parents and pushing through depression the way an endless winter feels, like when it snows in May. I think that my friends on Facebook might miss my sense of humor and commentary, but no one would really MISS me until they went to call.
I should have called her.
That was eight years ago this summer.
If I was Katrina, I would have done the exact same thing she did that last year. I would have celebrated the clean bill of health, the new home and the move. I would have half-assed diets and loved with my whole heart. I would have told the truth.
In fact, that is what this year will be. I will stop lamenting what isn’t and own what is. My life looks nothing like I wanted it to. Being single, has never felt normal. I’ve never gotten used to being alone or having empty arms. I always thought that babies would keep me busy, not my Pomeranian. And yet, here I am. Feeling fully alive both in sickness and health. In singleness and partnerships. In employment and side-hustles. In home-ownership and puppy life. In hope.
Thank you Katrina. You were the comet over the dark night of our lives giving us just enough light to find our way. I hold the ashes in my hand using them like chalk to write these words.