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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Welcome to my life...

My name is Daphne James Pennlawn.  I'm not an actress or a singer. I'm not rich or famous. I'm just your everyday average Joe. I decided to write my story because everybody else does it. I figured if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em, right?  So here i is. Every boring mundane moment of my lifein print for someone to read. This book (if I'm lucky - which normally I am not) should make great toilet reading.

Let's start at the beginning. I was born in the wee hours of a Saturday morning in late November in a small city in lower Michigan. Wait, let me back up a bit more. My mother met my father while working as a secretary in a ballroom dancing studio. I'm told my father was quite charming back then.  To make a long story short, they dated, he proposed, she got pregnant and then all hell broke loose. The scum sucking bottom feeder (SSBF for short) as I now fondly ccall him, dropped the bombshell that he was actually married. He then, of course, took off.  Nice, eh?

Anyway, let's put that unpleasantness aside for now and go back to that glorious day in 1976. Unfortunately, I caused my mom some trouble, but thankfully she survived relatively unscathed. The next four years - or the first four depending on the way you look at it, are a bit of a blur. Oddly enough, we don't seem to remember much when we're really young. I bet that's because the higher power doesn't want us to know that our parents fell asleep while holding us upside down or cursed our confounded endless crying! I know that we lived with my grandparents, two aunts, and uncle until I was about four. I was well taken care of, well loved and maybe just a tiny bit spoiled.  Ok, fine, a lot spoiled.

My mom bought land and had a cute little tri-level house built about 10  miles from my grandparents. We lived on a dead end street called Coke Drive. I loved it! Mom worked at a hospital in the pharmacy for a while, however, she really wanted to be a teacher. We weren't rich, actually, we were dirt poor, but I don't ever remember feeling poor. I was in brownies and then girl scouts and loved it. My mom was my scout leader and we had meetings in our basement. I met some great friends at girl scout camp. One that I still speak to today.

My mother tells me at age 2 I proclaimed that I wanted to be a ballerina. She enrolled me in dance when I was 6 and to this day, 28 years later, dance is still my passion. Around the time I was 9, I decided I wanted to do gymnastics. Once again, mom signed me up. I attended a club where I immediately went from recreational to pre-team to competitive team. I was still dancing, but I loved the competitive side of gymnastics. I had some great experiences in gymanstics and made some life long friends. I also had some not so great experiences. I think it was while I was in gymnastics that my self-estee took a dive. I was never good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, or talented enough. It didn't - and still doesn't - matter that my mom would tell me how great and awesome I was. I wanted - maybe even needed - to be the best. At the end of 6th grade, my dance teacher closed her studio and retired. The doctors told my mom that I had tendonitis in my wrists around the same time. So, all at once, I lost my favorite dance teacher and was considering qitting gymnastics because it hurt. (So maybe I'm a sissy...shut up).

(Stay tuned for more....)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A story of loss

In May of 1991, she was a freshman in high school and had made a pretty big impact on the track team. There was a big track meet on Friday and usually freshman were not allowed to go. The mile-relay team consisted of 4 upper classmen. One of the girls, Kelly, had a hip problem due to a birth defect. Kelly was a huge fan of this freshman girl and because Kelly couldn’t run in the meet begged the coaches to let the freshman run in her place. Before the bus left school that day, Kelly made the girl promise if the team got a medal that she would share. The girl promised. The mile-relay team did fabulous. They took third. The freshman got on the bus after the meet just giddy and talking to the coaches about how excited she was to tell Kelly. When the bus arrived back at the high school at 11 that night, the principal and vice principal were waiting. What the freshman didn’t know, that the coaches found out at the meet, was that when Kelly got off her bus after school she was struck by lightening walking up her driveway and died instantly. That was May 24, 1991. The freshman girl was devastated. Kelly was her idol. To this day, the medal is kept in a special box as she did promise Kelly that they would share it.

July 1, 1991, that same girl got a call from her close friend, Kylie, in the middle of the afternoon. The night before, their mutual friend Veronica, had gotten into a vehicle with her aunt who was drunk. The aunt slammed into a tree and Veronica was killed instantly. Yet another funeral to attend.

September 25, 1991, the young girl’s grandmother delivered some more bad news. The news had been withheld from the girl as her family did not think she could handle it. Before track and cross-country, the girl had been a gymnast and formed an amazing bond with a young man. She had a little girl crush on him. Well, this amazing young man was well on his way to the Olympics, however, he hopped on a motorcycle and hit a speed bump wrong. He was thrown from the motorcycle and hit a tree breaking his neck. His name was James and he died September 21, 1991. The girl was broken. She didn’t want to go to anymore funerals, but was heart-broken that she didn’t get to attend James’s.

At this point, the girl was afraid to answer the phone. It seemed the theme of her life was “another one bites the dust.” Honestly, could it get any worse? Never ever ask that question. Around that same time, a friend of hers that was a grade ahead of her, Caleb, ended up in the hospital. He was bit by a mosquito and had a seizure. Sounds crazy, eh? It’s all true. He was a great guy – big football hero. All around clown. The school was giving everyone updates on his health during announcements. October 4, 1991, Caleb died from encephalitis which is water on the brain that resulted from that one stupid mosquito bite.

At this point, the school had grief counselors basically on staff. They were losing kids at an awful rate and some of the kids weren’t dealing well. This girl, was lost. She refused to answer the phone. She screamed and cried and yelled. The grief counselors kept telling everyone the “steps of grief” that they would go through. She didn’t care what they had to say and no one seemed to understand. No one could stop the pain.

Before I go on, let me tell you that I am not telling you this story so that you will feel sorry for this girl. I am telling you this because I want you to know that there are people out there that do completely and totally understand your pain and so that you know that you will get through this. Even at those times when you think you can’t handle anymore – you can.

For a while, things fell into a kind of lull for the girl. She went through the motions of school and sports and dance, but there was a huge void. The endless question of “who’s next?” Nightmares, chills, tears for what appeared to be no reason. Hating everyone that was happy and not understanding how they could so easily move on.

December 27, 1991 tragedy hit yet again. Her friend Sierra was in a small plane with her dad. The plane hit some wires electrocuting both Sierra and her dad and destroying the plane. Both died not from the electrocution but because when the plane broke apart, the two were dropped into a river. The freezing cold temperatures and the amount of time it took for rescuers to find them ended their lives. Yep, another funeral.

The girl’s mother tried to understand and was a great support system, but it is really hard for someone who hasn’t gone through it to understand. The girl hated that she hadn’t gotten to say good-bye to these friends before she lost them. She just wanted to be able to say good-bye and felt it was unfair. They were taken too soon and too young. There were a lot of weekends at their cabin up north. The peacefulness and serenity seemed to help a bit.

There was a long spell when things actually went right. No one died, no one got hurt. The girl made some new friends. She made friends with someone who had once been her enemy – someone who she had thrown punches at in the past. The girl and this new friend, Laura became inseparable. Laura was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma which is a nasty form of bone cancer when they were sophomores. Her prognosis was a year.

The girls graduated from high school together and everything seemed great. Laura got to go to Hawaii as a gift from the Make a Wish foundation. Laura invited her best friend, but the friend was focused on college and passed up that chance. That was a decision that the girl would regret for the rest of her life. In the fall of 1994 the girl went off to college and Laura stayed at home to attend a community college.

About a month after starting college, she got a call from her friend Ryan who was a couple years younger. He was in the hospital because he had gotten hit by a semi while waiting for the bus for school. He assured her he was ok. 2 days later he died from complications. Again, the endless questions of why were beginning.

In December, when the girl was home for winter break, she (of course) was with her bff. Laura told her she couldn’t have anymore chemo. The girl was only half listening – and took that to mean that Laura was cured. That was not the case. Things went from bad to worse. Doctors gave Laura a month to live in January of 1995. In February of 1995 on Valentine’s day, her boyfriend proposed.

That same day, Ellen, then a sophomore opted to take her dad’s gun and kill herself because her boyfriend broke up with her. The girl had been Ellen's enior buddy and mentored her the entire year before.

At the beginning of March, Laura started planning her own funeral. The girl went home for spring break and went bowling with her best friend who at that point weighed about 60 pounds at 19 years old. Laura was a trouper while bowling. She would take her turn but then have to go back and sit as she was in so much pain. The girls were again inseparable for that entire week.

The girl did not want to go back to college, but Laura made her promise she would. Laura only asked that the girl please call her when she made it back to campus. The girl cried all the way there and then refused to call. She knew in her heart she would have to say good-bye. After all of the deaths she had been through, she was finally going to get the one thing she had asked for – a chance to say goodbye. 2 days went by and finally Laura's mom called the girl at college and told her that Laura was just waiting for her call and that she was in immense pain. So, on Tuesday, March 14, 1995, the girl called her best friend and for 3 hours sat on the phone and cried not knowing how to say good-bye. At 8 o’clock on March 15, 1995, she got the call that Laura had died.

There are some things that you think you will never recover from. When you realize that you will survive, it seems like something else comes up. The girl grew up, had a baby and moved on. Then out of the blue Kylie's brother accidentally committed suicide. That was in September of 1999. It was surreal for her to be at the funeral. There were so many kids just a few years younger than her hurting. She knew that feeling. It hurt her to see them and it hurt her as she had grown up with this kid as a kind of little annoying brother.

There have been more losses, her cousin was killed in Afghanistan in 2003. A young girl that she babysat and who babysat her kids was brutally murdered in 2005. In 2009 she had to say good-bye to yet another friend because of cancer.
The bottom line, though, is that she’s still standing. That is not to say it doesn’t still hurt. It does. The hurt stays. At some point, it begins to dull, but it never fully goes away.