Last year, my brilliant, beautiful 26-year-old son, who could light up a room with his smile, took his own life eight days before Thanksgiving. Subsequently, eight days before Christmas, my then 25-year-old daughter and I boarded a flight to Nashville, Tennessee. He had lived an hour away in Kentucky. Our plan was to fly in and drive his car, along with some of his belongings, back home to Connecticut.
During our stay on December 18th, which happened to be my children’s Nana’s birthday, who basically disappeared from our lives in 2010, we were scheduled to present a commemorative plaque that included his photo “Living Waters” at a memorial luncheon at his workplace.
Pre-pandemic days, a sea of travelers wearing ugly Christmas sweaters surrounded us on the plane. We wore the faces of shock, disguising them the best we could. We wanted to blend in with the crowd and not alter the holiday spirit.
Everything felt surreal and in slow motion. The plane ride ushered in another remembrance, not nearly as unbearable, that occurred about eight years ago, when we took the train to my daughter’s new university campus where she was enrolled to live and study for four years.
On the train, the two of us sat on our rock hard seats like misplaced weeds in a bouquet of happy students and their families, brimming with dads galore. (My daughter’s dad had experienced emotional breakdown and for the most part abandoned the family the day after her sixteenth birthday.)
How we managed to get through those tumultuous university years is nothing short of a miracle, sprinkled with a fairy dusting of faith I am sure.
Speaking of fairies and faith, I don’t know if it was coincidence, pure luck or a miraculous moment, but sitting next to me in the plane was a young woman about my son’s age. She was blonde with a smile that could light up any room and cowboy boots that could stomp rocks into dust. We started to chat, and she ended up showing me her tattoos. She had one of her handsome grandfather, rendered from his younger years, on one arm and one of Lucille Ball on the other.
In high school, one of my nicknames was “Lucy,” because I emulated Ms. Ball. Growing up, she helped me believe that laughter could solve the world’s problems. The comedienne certainly inspired me with enough smiles and delight to help me endure my difficult childhood.
Out of all the idols to select in her day and age and here this young woman loved Lucy in the exact way I had generations ago. Of course, in the 70s, tattoos were mostly reserved for sailors, and certainly taboo for woman, so I missed a Lucy face imprint opportunity.
During the plane ride, the Lucy fan revealed how she had battled depression for years and finally pulled through and was making a fresh start of it, but not alone. She had her beaming mom, dressed in an ugly Christmas sweater, on the plane next to her and her two other most favorite people in the world, one tattooed on each of her arms. I’m not sure about her dad, but like the famous Rolling Stones’ song goes, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you’ll find you get what you need.”
Pained, I thought about how my son could have easily identified with this woman as I watched her hair roll, bounce and loop into fun circles that you had to resist from poking your finger inside. Who couldn’t love her? Except, ironically, she revealed, she had to fight hard to win her own love. Finally, she won the battle to endure life in spite of it all. My son ceased trying. My daughter and I were on route to pick up the pieces.
The “Lucy woman” had no idea about our mission. We had no idea about her mission either. But I did have a sense that maybe in the chapters of life riddled with nemeses, one wasn’t forced to feel like they were delivered the book in error, because somewhere before the ending a hero materialized.
In my daze, confusion, shock and looking from the outside in, I remember when I touched that young woman’s Lucy tattoo, I felt like I had somehow landed while the plane was still flying thousands of miles above ground. In some bizarre way, I perceived that imaginary wings of equilibrium enveloped me, and I had a sense that I would walk tall and fake brave from that moment on. Maybe, by some slim chance, laugh again in the future watching an old Lucy flick.