Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spring Break 1994

Though not as fun as last year's spring break trip to the Redwoods, our break this year has been equally memorable. It will best be told through pictures, but not today. Today I am going to flash back seventeen years.

Just typing that seems preposterous, for some of the events from that spring still seem as fresh as if they happened this year. This is the story of my spring break freshman year. Before you get excited for juicy tales of some hedonistic lifestyle choices, I should tell you that this is not that kind of story. That I don't actually have any stories like that. And, well, if you like that sort of thing you should just find another blog to read.

My roommate, Pocohantas (the original Naked Mole Rat, I've mentioned her before), started college with a boyfriend. He wasn't exactly "in tow" as he stayed behind in our home town, a scant hour away. He put off a serious pursuit of college while waiting to go on his mission. I hesitate to say "preparing" to go on a mission, because like many other young men in his position, he worked a little and played a lot. Pocohantas, on the other hand, hit the ground running at college. She wanted to be an optometrist and had to support herself through college and so she had little time to waste.

The summer between high school and college was one of those idyllic times for Pocohantas and Beau. (I had half a summer like that once.) They left their childhoods behind with a bang: drive-in movies, bridge-jumping, a backpacking trip to the Continental Divide, hanging out at the dam, waterskiing . . .

As Beau's birthday wasn't until the spring, he was a frequent weekend visitor at our apartment. When he didn't come, Pocohantas went home. Besides dating Beau, she also worked a part time job selling wedding dresses to bridezillas every Saturday. Her schedule intensified as her classes got harder, science classes designed to select against all but the very fittest. Money grew tighter than expected and she took another job at a local sweatshop making back packs every afternoon.

It is entirely possible that as Pocahontas got busier, Beau got more laid back. He took a few cursory classes at the college, but spent a big chunk of the winter skiing. Pocahontas hated the skiing, though not because it represented just how uninterested Beau was in growing up, but because he was such a daredevil. She finally had to ask him just to stop telling her the stories because they made her freak out.

Yes, this is a spring break story, bear with me through a bit more back story. In November of 1993, a beloved Aunt, in her early 30's was diagnosed with malignant colon cancer after dealing with flu-like symptoms for nearly two months. She was given an open and shut operation the over Thanksgiving holidays. Opened to cut out the offending portion of the colon, and closed when the doctor saw that her abdomen was filled with cancer, and that full surgical removal was impossible. They began an aggressive course of treatment.

Beau received his mission call to Washington D.C., and as young men are prone to do (and, admittedly, young women), he became even more protective of the time that he and my roommate had together. And though he never asked Pocahontas to "wait" for him, it was clear that his fondest hope was that she would still be around when he came back. You see, he had loved her enough to change his whole life for her. Early on in high school, he was headed down a road that wouldn't bring him any happiness, but after meeting Pocahontas, he wanted to do whatever it took to be her guy. Beau was the perfect combination of rebel-factor and Darcy Effect. But even as he turned his life around, he never lost that mischievous charm that made him so much fun.

Back in the day, USU was on quarters, and so Spring Break was preceded by Winter Semester finals. Apartment 41 was a madhouse of caffeine, late nights, oddly-timed power naps and b.o. Early in that busy week, Beau called Pocahontas, with no little frustration over her inability to commit to spending more time with him. He would, after all, be leaving in just over two weeks. Even during the break she was scheduled to work every day at the gown shop. Just before hanging up with a few cursory endearments, he said, "You are spending spring break with me. One way or another."

Then came other phone calls.

The first was my newly-engaged older brother to tell me that he had been scheduled for emergency surgery during spring break because of a birth defect that had caused his lung to partially, spontaneously collapse.

Another call came from my mom. A childhood friend had been involved in a terrible car accident in a late Utah snow storm. She was in intensive care with her jaw wired shut and a leg full of pins.

The third call came from my mom also. My aunt, just over four months after diagnosis, had died. Her funeral would be over spring break. She was survived by a young, grieving husband and four shell-shocked kids ages 2-12.

But it was the fourth call that really turned the world upside down.

It was for Pocahontas.

Beau had been in a bad skiing accident. He had been life-flighted to the hospital and was in intensive care in very unstable condition. He would spend three months in a coma. And he was right--Pocahontas spent every single day of Spring Break with him.

On the first day of the break, my dad had to drive to eastern Utah to look at an area near where his company was bidding a road construction job. It was the middle of nowhere. He invited me to come along and I went for it, knowing that I could spend hours in the car and not really need to talk if I didn't want to. I didn't.

When we arrived at our destination, I got out of the car and walked around a bit, staring out over the sparse, still un-vegetated landscape. And I asked a lot of questions. I'm not sure if I directed them at God, who wasn't my favorite Person at that point, or just threw them out to the universe, but I know that for the first time I really questioned the meaning of existence, and the worth of all I'd been taught. I suddenly felt very strongly that I had to know if religion in general, and mine specifically, was just a series of fairytales people had invented in a lame attempt to feel better when awful things happened, or if the things I'd always been taught were truth. THE Truth.

Later that week, I sat in the car at a rain-soaked cemetery waiting for everyone to arrive at the internment. As I looked out the foggy window, I saw my uncle standing at the graveside in a black trenchcoat and holding a black umbrella. His three oldest children clung to his legs and his baby, with his sprinkling of freckles and his mother's red hair, cuddled against his shoulder as if he would never let go. Even now, 17 years later, it is a picture that still comes unbidden to me sometimes, a constant reminder that each life is fleeting and that things shouldn't be left unsaid.

On that day, I questioned more than ever.

In the months to come, I got serious about my questions. I spent many hours on my knees, pleading for peace and revelation. And then, it came. I still remember the chair in which I was sitting, the book that I was reading, and the words that settled with such clarity on my heart. I've never regressed to the person I was before that time.

Pocahontas continued her biweekly visits to Beau's bedside throughout the spring--even when they moved him to a hospital two hours away. Always the most social and outgoing girl in our class, she became withdrawn, tired and alone. My heart ached to help her, knowing that I had so little to give that she needed. Already a young woman of remarkable faith, her own questions were probably deeper than mine. When she happened to be around, we would spend our time in deep conversations. I remember her saying to me once that so many people kept telling her things happened for a reason, that there were lessons to be learned from each situation, that God was always in charge. She hoped nothing she had to learn in life would be so important that Beau and his family had to suffer so terribly. I cried when she said it and told her I didn't think it worked that way. But I'm still not sure.

What I do know is that the Lord can bless us with peace and knowledge even when your whole world is falling apart. I learned that a broken heart is finally soft enough to accept what the Lord wants to give you.

In the aftermath of that awful week, my brother was fine. His lung was repaired and has had no trouble with it since. My friend also came through her accident with flying colors. She now has four beautiful little girls. My uncle has finally come to a place of great happiness and my family has witnessed miracle after miracle in the lives of his children. I firmly believe that my aunt is watching over those much-loved children from the other side and is helping them in many ways. They are some of the strongest twenty-something adults that I know and each is making their mother proud.

As for Beau . . .

I mentioned before that he was in a coma for more than three months. He finally woke up, but he never really came back. He was paralyzed from the waist down because of trauma to his spinal cord. In addition, a massive brain hemorrhage, likely caused on impact, created stroke-like conditions for him, causing him to lose most of the use of one of his hands. It also gave him problems with slurred speech, destroyed his short-term memory, and left him locked in the mind of a six year-old. Remarkably, his happy personality persisted, though his face traded twinkling mischief for disarming innocence. Everyone who knew Beau in the after years loved him. And Pocahontas still did.

Two years later she met a wonderful guy and said the hardest thing about getting engaged was having to tell Beau, but especially his parents. To Beau, hardly any time had passed. He was still going to serve a mission. Still going to marry Pocahontas. Still going to be a star. But to his parents, my friend's happy news reminded them of how much they loved her too, and that she would never be a true part of their lives.

Beau left this life last weekend, in a tragic turn of events that also claimed the lives of his parents. When I heard the news, I, like everyone who had any contact with the family, was shocked and horrified. I found myself again on my knees, pleading for that peace. I know now that some things are beyond understanding, but the Lord can always send peace.

Saturday morning, one of my paper customers left me a lovely bouquet of yellow daffodils. I cried as I picked them up, their cheery faces reminding me that spring always comes again. That the atonement and forgiveness is real. That God's grace makes resurrection and eternal families possible. I was reminded of those lessons learned through the furnace of affliction so many years ago.

Later that day it occurred to me that now Beau is getting a chance to serve the kind of mission he had one day hoped to. And though it isn't a fairy tale, happily ever after really is possible. Good-bye, friend. Your life and suffering weren't in vain. You touched so many lives for good. Everyone who knew you is better for it.


heidikins said...

I have no words. I Thank you for sharing this.



Kimberly Bluestocking said...

Thank you.

simple easy and quick said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I remember when this happened. I remember how hard it was for Pocahontas, she was very much changed by what happened in many deep and profound ways. It’s so sad to see how it all ended for the family. Even though we would like to, we cannot judge unless we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. While I was Young Men’s President in Memphis, we had a very similar tragic situation, one of the nicest, most spiritual, popular, athletic 18-year-olds that ever lived was killed in a car accident on his way to a basketball game. Teaching the lesson that following Sunday to a room full of tearful Priests was one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. Just like you mentioned in your blog, when tragedy happens that’s when you find out what you really believe and how firm your convictions are. There are always two ways to view these things, God is punishing, or God is teaching.

Jenny said...

so much tragedy.
Thank you for sharing the peace.

emandtrev said...

I honestly have none of the right words, other than thank you. This touched me deeply. Hugs...

TheDooleys4 said...

"Beau" touched my life too. He touched so many....Beautiful entry Nan.

Brooke said...

Nan, thank you for a beautiful post about this beautiful life. I posted on Mike's fb page about my experiences with Beau... I didn't know him in high school. Um, look at his jacket and know that we ran around in different circles. But after his accident I had several opportunities to talk to him and hear him speak, and boy, oh boy. My life has not been the same since. His beautiful, radiant smile and his love for life was other-wordly. You are right that his suffering was not in vain; he did so much with his short life.

After his passing, I read something that touched me on a fellow Weber Warrior's fb page. It said, "Finally you are reunited with your perfect body." And that made me so happy.

tnralvords said...

Wow. As I read this I cried, no, I bawled. Thank you Nan for your testimony. Really, thank you!