Five years ago I was spending my summer processing pet insurance claims for dogs named things like Zubeluguenbi. It was the summer before I started at CSUN, the summer after I finished at Golden West, and the first college summer where I wouldn’t be returning to Belmont in the fall. The previous school year had been tumultuous at best. I felt lost.
That summer, an entire department was laid off and replaced by us temps. The claims department was being outsourced to Singapore. The only full-time staffer left was the department manager, who was a lovely lady with a few adult children and a grandson on the way. She did her best to make our band of temporary misfits feel like a real group.
Exactly five years ago this morning, she excitedly arrived at the office with a photo of her newborn grandson. We later heard that Michael Jackson had died, and most of the temps were distracted for the rest of the day. Several days, in fact, since when the memorial service was aired half the department mysteriously disappeared to the only break room with a TV.
I didn’t really understand their obsession, but I understood hers. Here is what I wrote about it, back when I still used LiveJournal:
I am driving home, into the sun, westbound on Imperial Highway, waiting for the 57, completely catatonic. I cannot help but think about what would happen if I was like this while traffic was actually moving when I realize that traffic is actually moving and I am driving on reflexes alone. We stop, falling in line at another light, and I stare into the sun as it slips below the makeshift horizon of the roof of the blue minivan in front of me while my hands hold their positions and slip slowly and quietly off the steering wheel. There must be some ounce of me that has a strong will to live, I explain to myself, and it has focused on keeping my foot firmly on the brake pedal. I sit frozen, listening to the CD I just put in. I’m listening to CDs now, partially because I’m too lazy to plug in my external hard drive to transfer music onto my iPod, and partially because my iPod is continually on the fritz and sometimes I just don’t feel like cracking it open and putting it back together. And I’m listening to this one because last night about eight bars of track two got stuck in my head, so I had to play it. It’s old, at least by the standards of the youthful, and I can’t help but think about what my life was like when I got this CD and heard this song. It must’ve been 2004 or 2005. And I think about the good times at friends’ houses and band trips & football games and…
Certainly times were not so unfailingly wonderful then, just as certainly times cannot be so unfathomably terrible now. Anger, fear, frustration, sadness, jealousy, disappointment, resentment, guilt, grief — these are fleeting; feelings that fade. So when we look back, we remember the times that were good, the times when we laughed, the times we turned into inside jokes, rather than the times that turned us inside out. So I wonder if in another five years I will regret this, resent myself for possibly missing out on something memorable in favor of some miserable integrity, some awful grief over the end of relationships I saw coming in the first place. Yesterday Generation X lost two idols, and in the last 24 hours they have taken to the streets to mourn and release their collective grief. It is a memorable moment in our lives, maybe.
But early yesterday morning a baby was born in Denver. He is the first child to a set of new parents. Perhaps someday he will be somebody’s big brother. He is five pounds and eleven ounces, three and a half weeks premature, with a hole in his heart that will someday require extensive surgeries. In the NICU, he barely opens his eyes for the camera, and he holds his father’s finger tightly in his tiny hand. But he is alive, and healthy, and beautiful. His name is Lucas.
In five years, Michael Jackson (and Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon, for that matter) will still be dead, and no one will return to the streets to cry or scream out their songs. I will probably be somewhere else, working a new job, dealing with new problems, making new memories with new (and some old) friends. But Lucas will be five years old, maybe with a baby brother or sister, always a former preemie, still with a hole in his heart that requires a doctor’s attention. And with any luck, he will still be alive, and healthy, and beautiful.
And that is what I will remember about today.
At the end of the summer, Lucas’ grandmother relocated to the Denver office. We did not stay in touch. I have no idea where Lucas is now, or how his heart is doing. But I haven’t forgotten him, and I hope he’s having a lovely fifth birthday.
Happy birthday, Lucas.