Friday, September 4, 2015

A Haunted Mennonite

She was crying so much that I could barely understand what she was trying to tell me. When I finally grasped what she was saying I just couldn’t believe it. It was like my mind just couldn’t record or accept the words that she was telling me.

She said, “He is dead, Anna. He is dead.”

“What? Who?”

“It’s Rick, Anna. He is dead, he’s dead!”


She told me that Rick was dead. When she got home she found him hanging in their basement. I didn’t know what to say or do. When she hung up the phone I had to sit down because I felt like I got the wind knocked right out of me.

Part of me wanted to go over to their house. I was pacing back and forth, thinking about what I should do. What would I say to her? I felt so bad for her. I just didn’t know how to be a friend to her at a time like that.

I knew that I couldn’t handle seeing him like that. It would bring me right back to when my grandfather had hung himself and I was still haunted by that. Whenever I thought about that night I could still see him. I could still hear that windmill screeching and squeaking like it was screaming for help all night, knowing that no one would ever come.

I was so worried about how she would be able to go from planning her wedding to planning his funeral. I felt so bad for her and I really wanted to be there for her but I knew I just couldn’t. I relied on the fact that she had so many friends. I thought there must be someone who could be there for her during this time.

I decided that I would go over the next day; tonight I would try to get some sleep. I lay awake all night trying to make sense of it all, comparing Rick to my grandfather. I just couldn’t get past it. Rick was only a couple of years older than me. He was loved by so many people and it seemed that he had everything going for himself.

Even though this was different in ways it was so familiar to me. I wondered about how Christina would deal with not knowing why he did it. It had been thirteen years for me and I was still trying to figure it out.

Going to Rick’s funeral was such a strange experience for me. Though it was extremely sad and many people cried, it was about celebrating his life and remembering him while he was alive that gave me a feeling of hope.

Christina had so many people around her who were constantly hugging her, touching her shoulder and holding her hand. Her family was watching her every move. There were so many people. I felt out of place and uncomfortable at times, but it was strangely interesting to see how different it was from my grandfather’s funeral.

The strangest thing was that there was music at his funeral. I felt like I was committing the ultimate sin because I was in a church and there was music playing. I got the shivers, especially when I heard Celine Dion singing “Because You Loved Me,” which Christina had dedicated to Rick near the end of the service.

I understood most of the words of that song. I got really scared -- it felt like a big monster was about to burst out of me. I snuck out of the back door, ran to my cousin’s car, and just started crying and crying. I cried until my eyes were completely dry. It felt like they were going to fall out. I didn’t think I had ever cried that much before.

I felt so empty after that. I drove home feeling like I had finally cried enough for my grandfather. It was like I had finally left that heaviness behind me in that church parking lot which had been weighing me down for years. I was really hoping that it would stay away for good and not come back.

When I got home I ran myself a warm bath, got in, and just lay in the water, thinking about the many times I had thought this world would be better off without me. I realized that I was not alone in that thinking. Many times while admiring Rick and Christina, I thought, if only I had what they had.

They were both educated, good-looking people with perfect teeth and it seemed that money wasn’t an issue for them. They were loved by so many people. They had everything I thought would make a person extremely happy and want to live forever.

I got back to thinking about my battles, and at that moment they seemed small and possible to overcome. I thought about all the times I had tried to convince my mom that I was doing the right thing and gotten nowhere.

I started thinking about ways to prove to my mom that I was on the right path. How I was going to do that, I would figure out later; but it was the best idea I had had in a long time. I knew that as long as I kept going, each day I would get closer to that answer. And eventually, it would come to me.

In just one week, so much happened that pushed my frightening stalker experience into a distant memory. I realized that every time something happened, which I thought I wouldn’t survive, something even bigger happened and I still survived it. I began to feel like I could accomplish many things.

As much as I was dealing with, I realized that there were good parts to it all. I was learning what I needed to learn. Everything that was happening to me and the way I was feeling about everything was part of it. I began to realize how much I wanted to live and experience more life.

The next day the entire school was reading about Rick in the newspaper. People talked about it all day, it was hard to focus on school work. Chung and Steve didn’t even share any new jokes or laugh about anything. We didn’t accomplish much in the class. The teacher told us that it was okay to have a day like that, that sadness, death, and greaving was part of life. That was foreign to me -- words like that were never spoken of back in my colony.

My next shift at work was empty and quiet without Christina. I was back to working all by myself at my station. The whole factory was so quiet, whenever someone walked past me they gave me a half fake smile and said hey. That was the longest night at work I had experienced. 

At the end of my shift, I walked around my cousin’s car just to make sure there was no bomb or anything under it. Checking the car for notes, candy and bombs had become a regular habit of mine. I had a hard time believing that it was actually over. I hadn’t heard anything from the police since that Saturday when the police officer test-drove the car to make sure it wouldn’t explode.

When I got home I had a message from the nurse at the walk-in clinic. She wanted to follow up with me to see how I was doing. She said I could just come in right at eight if I wanted to. I got up an hour earlier the next morning and went to the clinic.

The nurse asked me how everything was. She asked how I was doing and how my nerve problems were. I went on and on, telling her about my stalker, Rick, and everything that happened in the last two weeks. She was amazed at how much my English had improved.

I told her that I had met George’s mom, that I had half a glass of wine, and that it unlocked my English storage compartment. Ever since then I had been less embarrassed about speaking all the English I actually knew. It wasn’t such a big deal anymore when my poor speaking skills were being laughed at.

“Even though it hurts, I just remind myself that it’s okay when people laugh at me. I can always find reasons to laugh back at them too if I wanted to,” I said.

“That is incredible, Anna. It sounds like you are doing so much better since the last time I saw you. You have had so much to deal with in such a short time. How is sleeping and eating going?”

“In the last two weeks, there were a few nights when I couldn’t sleep. And a few times when I thought about food, I felt sick and threw up. That has gotten so much better since I have been doing the breathing George taught me. I just breathe through it when something is happening that I think I can’t handle. Even though it has been hard and I have felt extremely sad at times, I am doing okay,” I replied.

“Wow, I can tell what an incredible improvement you’ve made. It’s almost like I’m talking to a different person. Good for you, Anna. I am so proud of you. Keep up the good work and come back to let me know how you are doing,” she said while she got up to hugged me.

“Okay, thank you, I will,” I replied as I walked into the waiting room. When I was about to leave I saw Mrs. Braun, sitting there in tears, rocking her screaming baby back and forth while all the other kids were beating each other up with the toys and throwing them around the room.

I thought, “Oh, crap! Why do I have to run into these people every freaking time?” as I walked past her. But it felt different this time, it seemed like she wasn’t even there, as if she didn’t even see me. I just kept walking through the doors. Then I saw her husband sitting in the van. He was leaning back on the seat with his legs stretched sticking out the window, relaxing, and having a smoke.

That scene had been completely acceptable and way too familiar to me as I was growing up.  I was haunted by that scene even though I grew up seeing much of that. I was never okay with it. I was reminded that that was one of the many reasons why I had chosen the path I had.

As we would say in Low German, “mie fua dee wut nenn” -- that scene just ticked off my troubled nerves that day. As I was walking away, something told me to turn around, go back and help Mrs. Braun.

I had a feeling that Mr. Braun was the one calling Mexico and spreading the gossip about me, but there was no way I could prove it. I couldn’t do anything about that anyway. I told myself, “Anna, just hang that thought on a nail and leave it there.”

I thought about how I had felt completely helpless and useless as Christina’s friend earlier that week. I talked myself into going back and helping Mrs. Braun. I thought, “She has no one. She could use my help. I know what to do here, this is a place where I can be useful.”

I knew the only way I could walk past that van without passing out from fear was to pictured George pulling my chin up with his fingers and telling and me, “Anna, chin up, deep breaths, and smiles only.”

My heart was racing out of my chest as Mr. Braun gave me an evil-stare down and I walked past that van with my head held high and a stupid fake attempt of a smile on my face. I made it to the door and opened with shaking arms and walked back into that clinic. Click here to continue reading my story.

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