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Playing The Hand You’re Dealt

May 16, 2012

I don’t know much about playing cards. I can play a mean game of Go Fish!, but for the most part the extent of my knowledge and experience playing card games is limited to pushing buttons on a video poker machine. However, it should be noted that I did pay for cooking school off the winnings from a royal flush. I just want to make that clear in case you came here looking for poker tips. Oh, and I’m not going to read your tarot cards for you either. You and I both know you’re doomed, so why dwell on it. Fix yourself another drink.

I was thinking today about all the little “what-if’s” there are in our lives. What if I hadn’t started that food fight in 8th grade that got me ostensibly kicked out of private school? What if I hadn’t put out in 10th grade, but had saved it for marriage? What if I had been asked to prom? What if I liked vegetables more than cheese dust? What if? What if? Would changing any of these little elements of my life changed the outcome? If I hadn’t donated my virginity to Jim at 15 would I still have wound up married to Dave at 40? Or would there have been some butterfly effect that would have landed me in a loveless marriage with 4 kids and a penchant for vodka before noon? Perhaps one has nothing to do with the other, and yet…

Surly and Grandma Maggie, 1966


Our lives are shaped not just by what has happened to us or by the people in our lives, but also by the things that haven’t happened to us, and the people who are absent from our lives. Whoa. That’s deep. Jack Handey deep. Work with me, I have a point. Had my paternal grandmother not died of lung cancer when I was in elementary school, would my dad have grown up to be such an incredible asshat that neither my sister nor I wanted anything to do with him? I’m inclined to think not. While I do not remember much of Grandma Maggie besides the fact that she chain smoked Parliaments, had manicured red nails with which she gave awesome back scratches, and always had white flocked Christmas trees; I do believe that she would have set my father straight about paternal responsibility if for no other reason than to be able to see her grandchildren.

Grandpa and Surly, circa 1984

My maternal grandfather, who was the driving male force in my life, died of renal cancer 19 years ago this month, and I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been had he lived a little longer. Would I still have continued to live at home with my grandmother? Possibly. But would I have ventured down the same career paths? I certainly wouldn’t have been showing my grandmother the X-rated chats from Bianca’s Smut Shack where I got my first lessons in internet life, something that would end up guiding my career choices and opportunities. Gotta admit I still treasure the bemused grin on her face when I read her a snippet of chat in which the “gentleman” was telling a woman that “my dick is so hard it is pointing north like compass.” Would he have insisted that I get a proper office job instead of working from home on my computer for a virtual reality company? Had I not worked there, I would not have worked at the company where I met Dave. So, if my grandfather had not died, would I still have ended up married to Dave? (Let’s not get the poor bastard’s hopes up.)

Grandma and Surly, circa 1994

When my grandmother passed 10 years later from lymphoma she bequeathed to me her dog Angel Bear. At that time Dave and I were playing at living together. Or rather, I was living at Dave’s house and he was wondering how he got himself into the predicament and if he should ask me to go away. The day after my grandmother died, the call came to come get Angel Bear because the poor beast was despondent at the loss of my grandmother, who had taken her last breath while holding Angel Bear’s paw fast in her hand. Dave looked at me and said “Let’s go get OUR dog.” From that day forward there was no question that I was staying, the decision was made. Had my grandmother outlived Angel Bear, would Dave and I have stayed together?

Parrish and Surly, circa 2005

The absence of my sister, Parrish, has had some obvious effects on my family. My mother survives in a perpetual state of grief, and two of my nieces are legally considered to be orphans by the state. While my sister was not the glue that held my family together, her battle with brain cancer was a rallying point. The family pulled together to see her through the treatments, the remission, and the end of her life. However, after her death, we’ve not fared quite as well as we did when she was alive. Had she lived, would I still be at odds with my youngest sister? Would my mother possibly be living out her golden years taking year long cruises looking for a third husband from a distant land? Would my nieces be trying so hard to live out her dream that they graduate college?

I do know that their deaths are part of the reason I am surly, or surlier than I might have been otherwise. They don’t get credit for all the glory that is me. But their deaths have definitely had an impact on my life, and continue to do so each passing day. Without their passing would I have written a note on Facebook that would be the catalyst for my starting a blog? Can you imagine your life without me? Yeah. Drink that in. Did you just have the fleeting thought “Gee, I’m glad they’re dead!”? You did, didn’t you?

Their deaths have also been the catalyst for what is now one of the greatest joys of my life, cycling. I started cycling last year with Team in Training because I wanted to do something positive with my grief. Well, that and I wanted a good excuse to wear lycra in public. Really, who doesn’t? I think my sister would have enjoyed mocking me for the way I look in the helmet I wear, but I also think she would have been pleased that I do it, in part, to raise money to help find a cure for cancer so that someday someone else may not have to wonder “what if?”.

We don’t always get to pick the paths our lives take, sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt.


In the solid tradition of shameless self-promotion, I’m fundraising on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society this year for my 120 mile ride in Las Vegas. If you’d like to help me say “Fuck Cancer!” please consider making a donation here: http://pages.teamintraining.org/los/vbvegas12/surlygirl.

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