I have been absent for a while. It’s bad news, unfortunately. I have been trying to write about this for about a month, but a combination of burnout and antisocial-ness has prevented me from doing so. On Memorial Day, May 26th, my sister-in-law died of a heart attack. She was 37 years old and left behind her mother, father, brother, and her two children.
To explain… Jasmine was born with a genetic heart condition which thickened the muscle in her heart. She had been in need of a transplant since she was a teenager, and she got that transplant eleven years ago. So time was always short for her. We knew this would come eventually, that it was unlikely that she’d make it to 40, but this was very sudden since she’d been doing fine health-wise right up to Memorial Day. She was out with a friend when the heart attack occurred, and she died on the way to the hospital. From what we understand, it was pretty quick. I think her family is trying to believe that she went without pain, but she had had an immeasurable number of heart attacks in her life, and I remember her describing them all as quite painful. So I’m not fooling myself. It may have been quick, but I’m sure it was painful and I think that’s sad.
Anyway. We got the call at 12:30am, right as Memorial Day began. Fairly fitting. She was born on Veteran’s Day, and thinking about these dates in the context of her life, they make so much sense.
We needed to make an emergency trip to NYC, and we stayed for almost two weeks. We experienced a lot of drama out there (which I’ll get to in a minute), but I would like to point out that this occurred during my 8th week of classes (out of 10). So essentially, I had a lot of work due that week (including at least 3 papers) and finals to begin studying for. This was a hard term to begin with, since I was finishing a film that should have been finished the term before, and because I was doing some independent study in addition to my normal course load. So I was already driving myself absolutely insane, not really sleeping, not eating very well, etc. It was a very rough term, and just when I had started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, life stopped. It really did. This event really threw my academic life into disarray, but I am happy to say that despite that I still walked away with A’s and A-‘s in all of my classes, even made it to the Dean’s List. I had to hand in a lot of work late, but whatever. It worked out.
So that was my tangent. Back to the important stuff. As soon as we found out, we started calling and texting a bunch of family members to let them know what was going on. Angel’s mom was beyond devastated, and there of course was nothing we could say or do to make things any better. We had a really hard time getting back to NYC because there were a bunch of thunderstorms in the Midwest the day that we traveled. The trip took about 16 hours (and it was mostly by plane, so this is insanity), but that was certainly better than not getting back at all.
New York was disorienting. Part of it may have been that I didn’t get much sleep that first week. In fact, I probably slept less than 10 hours TOTAL that first week. I just couldn’t sleep, even when I tried, until things were settled and we had a final mass for Jasmine. Beyond this, we experienced reverse culture shock, which was really hard to deal with under the circumstances. It felt like Appleton had been a long dream, and I wasn’t sure if I had ever left NYC.
I also ended up feeling alone. I felt homeless all over again, like I did not belong anywhere. While I was definitely surprised at the support we received from some people, I was equally surprised at the support we did not receive from others. Appleton didn’t feel real, and neither did NYC. I wasn’t sure anymore who was really a friend. And of course I had no family support. It felt like my world was turned upside-down, and to be honest I wasn’t even mourning for Jasmine. We were not close. In fact, she never liked me and we never got along. She called me nasty names behind my back and even tried to convince Angel not to marry me the night before our wedding. So I hadn’t lost anything. That said, I can only imagine how Angel felt given that he DID lose someone very important to him. These feelings have been hard to shake off, and two months after the fact I’m still feeling untrusting and out-of-place.
Anyway, as I mentioned, there was drama when we got here. The friend Jasmine was with when she died was her not-official-boyfriend/friend-with-benefits (I’ll shorten that to FWB), and he was angry that Angel was given so much responsibility in terms of Jasmine’s wake/burial/etc. over him (because, as you’ll see, he was a fucking douchebag). We found this out within the first 24 hours of arriving, and we just knew it would only go downhill from there.
And downhill it went. Originally, FWB was supposed to pick us up from the airport when we got to NYC, but my mother-in-law let us know that he was drunk, so at the last minute I had to call a really good friend of mine who got her boyfriend up and drove to the airport at 12:30am on a weeknight to get us. A couple of days later, we had a big gathering at the house, and FWB invited at least a dozen of his own family members without telling anyone, so suddenly we didn’t have enough food or space or anything. One of the women insulted my mother-in-law, speaking to her in English and then stopping short to ask if my mother-in-law even spoke English. While our family was conserving food to be considerate of everyone else (it wasn’t a fucking party), FWB’s family LOADED UP. FWB made it about himself and we later found out that he had been staying in my mother-in-law’s house before we got there. There’s so much more to explain with this, but honestly there aren’t enough words to describe how hectic, awful, and generally fucked-up this situation was. He even vented to Angel on the night we got back, telling him all about his own pain. Ummm, Jasmine was Angel’s SISTER, and FWB couldn’t even be considerate of the fact that ummm Angel might have been grieving too. You know, just a little bit.
Anyway. The wake went well for the most part until the very end. In the last 20 minutes, things went CRAZY and Angel and I almost got into a fistfight with FWB and a few of Angel’s cousins.
I am not the fighting type, so this was actually pretty serious.
It all started because FWB was at the wake. He got there at the very beginning but couldn’t bring himself to see Jasmine’s body. He’d been there about four hours when Jasmine’s daughters and ex showed up. Her oldest daughter never liked FWB (and I don’t blame her, he was shady as shit), and when she saw him she told me and Angel that she didn’t want him there, it made her uncomfortable. I figured he’d had more than enough time to go and see Jasmine, and that my first and only responsibility was to my nieces who were trying to mourn their mother in peace, so I told FWB to leave. It was very simple, shouldn’t have been a dramatic thing, but FWB went off drinking and was called back by a cousin of Angel’s that didn’t know the situation.
I thought the entire thing was disgusting, and I was disappointed that these were the type of people that Jasmine had in her life, people that would act this way. A couple of weeks later, we heard that FWB thinks we owed him an apology because we chose the girls over him. Our collective response (as we’ve talked amongst ourselves, because why even dignify him with a response?) has been who the hell is he?
So that was the drama. We had to be on watch during Jasmine’s church service because we banned FWB, Liz, and Kiana from attending but were afraid they’d try to show up anyway. Sad that we couldn’t mourn in peace. But they didn’t show up, thank Jesus, so that was the end of the nastiness.
We spend another week at home after that before we came back to Appleton. I made it back just in time to attend the last day of classes and get extensions for all of my work. I made up two weeks’ of work and completed all of my finals as soon as I possibly could. I never got a breather because I finished my work right at the time I started my summer jobs. I felt (and still feel) burnt out and antisocial. People have been getting me out of the house, but it’s a slow process because honesty all I want is to be left alone by the world. I feel abandoned, I feel angry, and I feel disconnected.
But none of this compares to what Angel feels. He won’t express much of anything, but I know he’s in pain. He lost his only sister. They had their problems, but I know he loved her dearly, and now he feels alone in the world. Every once in a while I cry for him. The other day, we were talking about how my sister never takes my damn advice, and then I remembered that Angel used to give lots of advice to his own sister. But now there is no more advice to give. There are no more conversations to be had. No more hugs to give or receive. And I had to step away to cry for a minute (I didn’t want him to start crying too) because I am so incredibly sad for him.
For the first month we were back, he would freak out whenever his mom would call him because he thought something was wrong. He talks much more with his mom now, at least once every day or two. We both reconnected with a cousin of Angel’s who is amazing, which was one of the few good things to come out of this mess. I text this cousin a lot these days. And Angel’s been reconnecting with a lot of distant friends of his because he realizes how short life is and how much he wants other people in his life. So his reaction to this whole thing has been, in some ways, opposite of mine. He reaches out while I have withdrawn from the world.
Okay. I think this is about all I can do for now. This post could be so much longer than it is, but if I wrote everything that happened during that time, all of the politics that are playing out now, and all the things we found out about Jasmine after she died, I would be here for a while. I don’t have the time or energy for that.
Here’s an article that was written about Jasmine after her church service. The person on the front left with the curly hair and gray sweater is Angel. He was one of the pall bearers. Sigh. I didn’t like that they took pictures of us exiting the church, but what can you do? The Daily News is sleazy that way.
I’ll be back. Now that I’ve gotten this out I can start focusing on some of the topic ideas I had before all of this mess.