The Other End of the Line

Did you ever have to make a hard phone call? Maybe you were going to let someone down, quit a job, or end a relationship and for whatever reason, the phone was your medium of choice. You likely picked up the receiver to practice a few times before you actually dialed the number – rehearsing lines and contemplating potential reactions. These things almost never go as planned.

I remember a difficult middle school conversation. I found myself in a frustrating relationship with Meg Sutter and decided to make the ultimatum call – him or me! Of course, you don’t do these things in person, this was middle school!

After memorizing what I planned to say, I steeled my nerves and dialed her number only to get a busy signal. This was before call-waiting and that annoying tone mocked me for hours. Just when I gave up, the phone rang. It was her! I was so glad to hear her voice that I forgot my plan – which didn’t matter anyway because she dashed my heart beneath her feet in two seconds flat. She chose the other side of the ultimatum without even knowing about my ultimatum… Ah, middle school love.

That wasn’t anywhere near the most difficult phone call I have made, but it seemed so at the time.

No, the most difficult phone calls I have ever made came two years ago as Kylie’s health descended. When she realized she was going to die, she asked me to call her closest friends and tell them before making the news public. Eight friends… eight calls.

I steeled my nerves. I thought about how hard these conversations would be from my side of the line. I wept a little before each one, but dialed every number in turn. I spoke to parents and gave them the terrible news, considering only how hard it was on my side. I never truly considered what would follow on the other end of the line.

One by one, eight parents had to digest the news and figure out the best way to tell their thirteen-year-old daughter that one of her closest friends was soon to die. I sometimes get so wrapped up in my own loss that I forget that besides her immediate family, there are grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, classmates, friends, and eight girls who lost someone special to them when Kylie died.

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I am always delighted to flip the calendar to March. February contains the anniversary of her birth and death within 11 days of each other. This past Friday should have been her fifteenth birthday. Instead we huddled together and ended the day at her favorite hibachi place. Saturday held the third Smiley for Kylie Cabaret which raised over $10,000 for pediatric cancer research – the mission she gave us. You would think we would rest on Sunday. But instead, we did something very special.

We invited those eight girls – all now freshmen in high school – to dinner at a local restaurant without telling them why. We had a nice meal together before I finally drummed my fingers together and said, “I supposed you’re wondering why I’ve called you here tonight.” (I’ve always wanted to do that.)

I would like to introduce to you Smiley For Kylie’s Junior Board of Directors:

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While our course is uncertain, we are dedicated to funding safer and more effective treatments for childhood cancer. These beautiful young ladies are vested, valued, and will have a great deal of say in what happens in the future.

They were chosen personally by Kylie on February 11, 2015 and will be engaged as long as they desire.

Deja Shoe

I had one of those déjà vu moments – déjà shoe actually – because I looked down at my shoes and had a fleeting thought that they had been exactly there before. Have you ever had one of those? They can feel so real and some would say that they are; there are spiritual and esoteric theories about the phenomena. Déjà vu has hit me over the years and I refuse to waste a lot of mental energy on the theory of it. After all, I only have so many synapses firing. If I try to analyze every thought of a previous thought that might or might not have been an actual thought, I would get stuck inside an internal Inception vortex from which I would never recover. I think of those moments as brain farts and move on.

 

Only at this particular moment, I knew for certain that I had been exactly in that spot. And I knew precisely when.

 

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Science has various explanations for déjà vu. Besides my vaunted brain fart theory, this is the one to which I subscribe:

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I would dumb that down for you, but when a statement uses the word parahippocampal, there is no dumbing down.

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I love my new job. I love feeling like I am daily making a difference in the fight against childhood cancer – the mission I was given by Kylie. I work with an incredibly dedicated team who are great at what they do and all passionately devoted to the cause. They made me feel perfectly welcome from the day I started and not just because they needed me to lift heavy things and reach the high places. I have been there only four months, but in some ways, it’s like I’ve been there much longer.

And sometimes, I get to meet the kids and families who are in the middle of the fight. I see hope, fear, and angst in their faces as if it is written in indelible ink. I read them as only one who has lived their story can. Whenever I have the opportunity, I love being able to serve as I was served. I am always careful to not reveal my story because all I want to serve up is hope and encouragement.

This was what I was doing when I experienced my déjà shoe. I was serving when I realized I was standing in the very place where exactly two years prior, a huddle of doctors told me that Kylie’s cancer had spread beyond hope of treatment. I couldn’t look up at them anymore, I could only look down at my shoes. I will never forget that place. Four days later, she would be dead.

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One might ask why… why would I put myself in a position to relive my pain and loss every day? I have gotten that question a few times and my answer is simple. I am a simple man, after all (ergo the brain fart theory). I reply that being at home is no easier – I drown in loss there, too.  In fact, I have found no place to take my shoes where I am free. I can run but I cannot hide.

 

So, there I stood, looking at my shoes – wondering about the fact that two years ago I hated this view and now I love it. And I hate that I love it.

 

I awoke from my shoe reverie because a mother with deep creases of story written on her face needed me. We talked briefly. She smiled through a battle-weary fog. I returned her smile as I was taught by my girl and hope the encounter recharged her.

 

 

And somewhere in heaven, a little girl smiled down because she had led my shoes to exactly where they were supposed to be.

 

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February 13, 2017 – 2 years gone today and missed every minute.

Source for science stuff: Deja Vu : Scientifically Explained | MEDCHROME