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|Essays · Poetry · Comedy · Art · Video||summer 2021|
published in Fall 2006, llandry
I turned 40 recently. While I don't feel over the top about this milestone, it definitely is not going unnoticed by my psyche. I feel sad that I didn't get to do all the things I wanted to do as a young(er) person. Most notably, that I didn't take more risks and travel more.
I find it kind of funny at 40 to be married with a baby, when, at 30, I had resigned myself to a life of singlehood, and, at 31, moved cross-country with a rather unsavory rocker. My life could have turned out so much worse.
Two days before my birthday, I received some sad news about a cousin who died in a motorcycle accident. She was two months older than I and turned 40 in November of 2004. Maria and I could not have been more different. So different, in fact, that I don't think we had had more than five minutes of conversation between us since we were 14.
Maria lived her life fast and hard and for a lot of the adult years, I think her existence on Earth was sad, painful, and violent. She was never the sharpest knife in the drawer and always got a tsk-tsk reaction from people who mentioned her.
She got pregnant in high school and married the father, Reggie. Reggie was a long-haired, gangly man who, even at 16, looked rough and worn. They had a son. I don't know much about their lives except for family gossip, which included tales of drugs and abuse. Reggie couldn't keep a job. Even Maria's father, who hired him at his service station, couldn't keep him on. Her son, "Reggie, Jr." grew up and also dropped out of school, fathering a child at 17. Reggie, Sr., became increasingly violent and depressed. So much so, that a few years ago Maria moved out of their house - a trailer that was parked behind her parents' house - and into her parents' house. One night, after getting himself drunk, Reggie, Sr., set the trailer on fire and shot himself, giving Maria what was probably her first sense of freedom.
I saw her last October. I was pregnant. She was laughing about going to clubs and flirting with young guys and freaking them out by saying she was a grandmother. She gave me her cell phone number and told me to call her to hang out. Of course, I didn't do that.
Eventually, Maria found a mentor, a woman she worked with. She told Maria she needed to get away from her family. They all lived Cajun-style, in the same yard, so Maria's whole life was within a 40-arpent plot of land: her grandparents in the front house nearer the bayou and highway, her parents in the next house, her burned out trailer behind that, and even her son had moved into a little house next door. Her mentor convinced her to get out, and she did, buying a house in the slightly larger town of Houma nearby. I think she had been in her new house and in a new job for about a year.
Last Thursday, she went out to a restaurant. I imagine she was probaby drinking a margarita or two. Some guy came in the bar and she was talking to him and he said he had a motorcycle and she said she'd love to go for a ride. He took her outside, gave her a helmet to wear, and the two of them set off, riding through the streets of Houma, Louisiana, on a cool, January night. They lost control in the Houma tunnel. They were both thrown from the bike. Maria was taken off life support the next morning and died.
My family and friends in our small community were greatly affected by her death. I'm not sure how much was due to curiosity, how much to direct caring and a real feeling of loss, how much due to guilt or feeling helpless in not being able to rescue her, but my mom told me that St. Mary's Church in Raceland was packed for her funeral. I'm sure a mixture of all those things was in play. Maria suffered, but whenever she was around, she remained bubbly and upbeat. I'm sure many people just shook their heads behind her back, feeling sorry for her, thinking she was a bit dim, not really knowing or perhaps caring enough to reach out. Her death had come at a time when she seemed to be getting some peace, getting something for herself for a change.
Even I, so far away, with honestly no connection to her anymore, felt mixed emotions of guilt, sadness, and loss for her. But, as I reached my own birthday, I had to think, it was good that she survived her husband in that way. She suffered so much abuse and difficulties in her short life, and the way some stories of abuse go, it's amazing that her husband didn't bring her down with him. I'd like to think that she was able to be a free spirit for a brief time.
I'm thankful that I was able to change directions with my own life and I'm still around to savor it all. And, as my life continues to unfold, I hope that I can continue to embrace and appreciate it all. And Maria, good for you Grandma... riding motorcycles, drinking margaritas, and flirting right up until the end.
Lynn Landry is writing again after a lot of goading, coddling, and shaming by friends. Technology has set her free as she discovered she was "born to blog." Check out her daily musings on life in Oakland, CA at Bad Mother.Got feedback on this page? Share it with the moocat!
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