Saturday, March 18, 2006


Rebecca Ann Miller 1958-1980
26 years ago today, my sister-in-law was killed in a car accident. We were both 21 years old at that time. Becky's death changed my life in a number of profound and subtle ways. Not the least of which is the textbook way a peer's death forces you to deal with your own mortality. I also learned a lot about the duality of her life: the good little girl image portrayed for family and church juxtaposed against the more daring vamp she was in her other, hidden life. I can't even speculate which was the "true" person or which personality was just a reflection of the world around her. My fascination was with living in two worlds. Something I had never done and moreover, felt incapable of doing. I felt both superior to and envious of the life she led.

Many of Becky's belongings, particularly those from her wilder side (that were distasteful and disturbing for her religious parents to see) came to me. And fueled the awakening that had already begun in me...that following all the rules may not, in fact, lead to joy. That my life was out of balance and the controlled side of me was ruling to the detriment of the passionate side. A simple idea, but for a devout Mormon girl struggling with salvation and damnation, it was like being knocked to the ground by a lineman.

When I examine the significant events on the path of my life, the timeframe of profound change is usually fuzzy—occurring over the course of years, with an accumulation of experiences factored in. Some however, are more easily pinpointed: "here is where the road forked and this is the path I took." Becky's death marked just that kind of crystalline change.

Since that time, of course, there have been many deaths. Not the least of these was her brother, my ex-husband, who died almost four years ago of a brain tumor. I feel the need to qualify that my life with Barbara is rich and full of joy, but that doesn't mean that I don't feel his absence—at times with inexplicable acuteness. Our relationship was, like most youthful, terminated marriages: a patchwork of love and hate. Then there was the loss of Karl, one of our dearest friends, who died of AIDS at the ripe old age of 34. He followed Bill, Raymond and Rob. Janet had MS, Barbara had breast cancer, Tom was killed on the highway during a particularly bad storm, and on and on.

mortality and irony
There has been some morbid jocularity at work over the
tragic and ironic death of Miss Deaf Texas. She was text-messaging while walking close to the train tracks and didn't hear the train. That snow plow thing in front is wider than she expected, evidently. Of course, it's not funny for a young girl to lose her life. But the tragedy precipitates the incredulous response, what the hell was a deaf girl doing so close the train tracks? Isn't that one of the first things you learn when you're born with this kind of disability?
Don't position yourself anywhere where the ability to hear is a deciding factor in your survival. My son is color blind, so he won't be working on the bomb squad (the green wire or the red wire? it's all gray to him...). Everything is so clear in hindsight.

Okay. But this, the Darwin Awards, the speculation that Becky would have probably lived had she been wearing her seatbelt, Karl might be alive if he'd insisted on safe sex...underscores our collective insecurity. If we can clearly point out the foolishness of the another's demise, we might be able to cheat Death for a little while longer. Regular check-ups, whole grains, burglar bars, airbags, avoiding dark alleys and intravenous drugs, using condoms and taking martial arts classes are our arsenal.

But, of course, this comfort is shattered every time a perfectly healthy, cautious, sane human being is plucked from our midst. Like the
school teacher in Culver City, California who was walking her little brood of students when two quarreling motorists lost control of their car and jumped the sidewalk.

I have no final conclusion (pun unintended but cheerfully welcomed). I vacillate between the fear of losing my loved ones to realizing that it's all a crapshoot. Mostly, I just want to be as truthful as I can be. And when I go, if there is any irony in my exit, I damn well expect all of you to laugh. Because I sure as hell would.

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