Granted, I was only 15 years old and my life had been pretty easy, especially if you don’t count the time Mom and Dad left my sisters and I out in the Impala while they put a few coins in the slot machine in Vegas, and I got so upset about it that I threw up all over the back seat, and then the police came and went searching for my parents and . . .well, yeah, that was a bad day.
But the day my sister Kathy got married was worse.
And not because I had anything against her husband-to-be, Mike. He was great. I liked him a lot. I just didn’t like the idea of change. Kathy and I were the youngest of eight children. All of our older siblings had long since married and moved on. We had settled into a comfortable relationship (as opposed to the fisticuffs that had marked our relationship during the previous years) as the last two remaining children at home. There was a good division of labor between us (she helped Mom inside the house, and I helped Dad outside – which was great for me because Dad wasn’t nearly as fanatical about the outside stuff as Mom was about the inside stuff), and a mutual understanding that I was Mom’s favorite (at least, I understood that).
Our life as a family was comfortable. I liked it. And I didn’t want anything to change.
“Why do they have to get married?” I asked Dad a few days before the wedding. “Shouldn’t they just date for a few more years? Wouldn’t that be the best thing for them to do?”
Dad was an eloquent man. He never used three words when he could come up with 300, which is why the simple directness of his answer surprised – and sobered – me: “No.”
So I accepted the inevitability of this significant change in my life, even though I wasn’t happy about it. The night before the wedding I didn’t sleep. I slipped out of the house and spent the night roaming the streets of our small town, muttering, mumbling and occasionally crying. I found myself in front of Mike’s house. I was so angry, I tried to pull out a section of their front yard sprinkling system. The only damage I inflicted was to my back.
Eventually I found myself back at our house just as Mom and Dad were preparing to take Kathy to the church for the wedding.
“Get ready fast,” Dad said tersely as I walked in the door. “I’ll send someone for you.”
Dad’s eloquence waned when there was a schedule to be kept.
Mom, meanwhile, was aware of the struggle I was having with accepting this change. She followed me into my room and wrapped her arms around me, holding me as tears trickled down my cheeks and fell onto the top of her carefully coiffed head. At last she leaned back and smiled at me, her own eyes moist and red.
“I know this is hard for you,” she said. “But just because something is going to be different doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be better. You’ll see.”
She was right, of course – double negative notwithstanding. My relationship with Kathy evolved into a warm and intimate friendship despite the new distance between us, and Mike became a beloved brother, and a powerful influence in my life. And I had Mom and Dad all to myself throughout my high school years and beyond, and cultivated a unique and lasting closeness with them as a result. Things were indeed different from that “worst day” forward.
Different – and better.
It’s often that way with change, isn’t it? At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself lately, as I find myself in the midst of swirling change: children moving out, children moving in, young friends from our church youth group graduating and moving on. And then there’s the whole job change thing – after a 21-year absence, I’m returning to my professional roots in daily journalism. Frankly, I don’t know how excited I am about any of these changes, let alone all of them, all together. But I will say this for sure: things are going to be really different.
And hopefully, better.