Every once in a while life takes a truly surreal turn. It's the kind of thing you expect to happen at some point, but it's always a surprise when it happens, and it seems as though more often than not, it happens in an unexpected way.
When I locked my bike in my work building's parking garage this morning, made my way up to the fifth floor and took out my phone to pause the podcast I was listening to, I noticed a voicemail from my cousin Jennifer, which had been left while I was riding. That's odd.
I immediately turned off the podcast and played the voicemail. All Jennifer said was that she'd like me to call her back because "I have something important to tell you." She did not sound happy, so this did not bode well. I knew it was likely to be bad news, but I had no idea what about. Something to do with Eric's ridiculous shenanigans? Some kind of bad news about her kids? My mind went through possibilities that by and large had very low probability. But then, whatever it actually was, was bound to be something itself with a low probability of occurring, right?
I called her back while I walked into the Accounting area of the PCC office to fetch today's receiver reports. Jennifer picked up, and then she told me what it was: Heidi, her younger sister, had a heart attack and passed away last night.
Now. Jennifer remains the cousin I am by far closest to, but it has been ages since I have seen or even spoken to Heidi. Still, when we were kids, it was often the three of us. Until Heidi basically ran away from home in 1996 and went to stay with another cousin (from another uncle) in Cheyenne, I truly thought I would be nearly as close to her as I always was with Jennifer for the rest of our lives. When Heidi ran off to Cheyenne, at the age of 17, it was a shock. It was less of a surprise that she went to Shane; Grandma McQuilkin used to comment on how "Matthew and Jennifer go off together and Heidi and Shane go off together," when we were teenagers. Heidi stayed in the Cheyanne area ever since, even though she spent most of the time just across the border in northern Colorado.
The last time I saw Heidi, I believe, was at Uncle Paul and Sarah's wedding, in 2003. Strange how it had seemed like so many years since I last saw or spoke to her then -- seven years. It's now been 16 years since that wedding. Furthermore, Heidi and I had kind of not been on speaking terms for a while at the time. I had asked a relatively innocent question about the pronunciation of her new married last name, asking if it was "Peno," and she misinterpreted it hard, writing back in a very nasty tone about how it was Pino. I wrote back attempting to smooth things over and we just never had any real contact again after that. But then, when I saw her at her dad and Sarah's wedding, she kind of chit chatted with me and asked how things were going. It was pleasant enough but had no depth, as nothing about any contact between her and me ever did again. We have been Facebook friends now for many years, but with no direct engagement really between us even online, Facebook algorithms seem to keep any activity from her page out of my feed. I didn't actually ask Facebook to do that or change any settings with that as the intent or anything.
So, this puts me in a strange position regarding the news. I haven't really known Heidi for, like, two decades, so the news is not nearly as devastating to me as it surely is for her immediate family. I have much greater concern for Jennifer, for instance, who is the one I remain close to, doing through the shock of suddenly losing a sibling. Even Jennifer and Heidi were no longer especially close; Jennifer told me during our twenty-minute conversation this morning that she last saw her in person five years ago when Heidi packed up all her kids, was convinced she was finally going to leave Lazarus, and drove them all out to stay with Jennifer for a few days. But, Lazarus apparently called and convinced her to come back. Jennifer and Heidi still spoke relatively regularly over the phone, but Jennifer said this morning it had been about a month since they even talked.
So, Jennifer had gotten a call last night that Heidi had been taken to the hospital, was in the ER, and was not doing well. Heart troubles of some kind. Jennifer apparently called her mom and told her she needed to get ahold of Lazarus and Pamela (their eldest, now an adult). Caren did just that, and within the same evening, Caren, both of their mother, had to call Jennifer back and inform her that Heidi had died. I know little detail beyond that but it was clearly a fucked situation all around.
My own reaction to all of this is a sort of detached shock. I did say, "Holy shit!" rather loudly as I had walked through the Accounting department, and Jana, who was at her desk, clearly thought I was talking about the receivers I was picking up. I kind of rudely waved her off as I continued my phone conversation -- which I later emailed Jana to apologize for; she replied it was okay and she could tell it was something else -- and took in this bizarre news.
Now. On my dad's side, I am one of twelve grandchildren -- one of only eleven growing up; I did not even know the existence of Heather, Uncle Garth's estranged daughter from a different mother than Shane's, until I was a teenager. (She connected with me on Facebook and provided a lot of insight and background I never knew prior, just a couple of years ago, in June 2017.) They currently range in age from fifty (Troy, the sanctimoniously homophobic fuckface who is Aunt Raenae's eldest) to 36 (Toni Marie, actually among the coolest of us, who is Aunt Raenae's youngest, a later-in-life surprise pregnancy). I suppose in terms of the laws of averages and probability, it's not that unlikely that one of the twelve of us might die, for whatever reason, by now. But, before last night, none of us had yet, and it's particularly a surprise that it was one of the youngest ones first to go. In fact Heidi was second-youngest of all of us, albeit barely -- she was only three months younger than Shane. They were both born in 1978, and it would be another five years before Toni Marie would come along.
So, Heidi is gone at the age of 40. She was about to be 41 next month, but still. Jennifer noted to me this morning that Heidi had been having heart problems for a while, had actually been told by a doctor "You could have a heart attack at any moment," which Heidi was apparently skeptical of because she kept saying she felt fine. There was some kind of surgery they were suggesting she get and she was dragging her heels on doing. And another thing Jennifer brought up was just the overall toll already on Heidi's body, having just given birth to her seventh child, at the age of forty. And now I keep thinking about how even though by all accounts that family was hardly functional, the future prospects for all of those kids (with the possible exception of the two eldest who are already legal adults) is going to be way worse now that they don't have their mother. I never met Lazarus -- he wasn't with Heidi at the wedding in 2003 -- but everyone who did agreed to a person that he was a dick. Jennifer commented this morning how she had already thought about the prospects of the younger kids, of which there are many, being raised now by only him.
Starting in 1989, specifically with Danielle as the first one I ever did it with, and lasting with real regularity for the next eight years until it tapered off really around 1997, I used to make cassette recordings of myself basically just goofing off with select friends and family members. They were basically analog podcasts way before anyone had any idea what podcasts would be. At the time I called them "talk tapes," and I created a "group name" for each partnership: Danielle and I were called "Crazy Kids"; my brother Christopher and I were called "The 'M.C.' Brothers"; I even recorded a few in the later years in college with Gabriel called "The Loony Bin." By and large these were always recordings of duos; the single trio was with both Jennifer and Heidi. I have a bunch of recordings of the three of us goofing off on tape between 1990 and about 1995. The "group" made up of Jennifer, Heidi and myself I called "First Attempt." For each recording I created inlay cards to put in their cassette case just like they were albums with album art.
The third "First Attempt" tape was recorded during a family weekend camping trip to the ocean, in the summer of 1992. The above shots, taken on a Washington State beach, were taken with the intent to use as part of that recording's cassette inlay card. They include what is definitely the best photo I ever took of Heidi, of a grand total of 30 of her that I have on Flickr -- a rather small number for a family member I knew since birth. (Compare to how many shots I currently have of Jennifer: 525.) It's too bad the second of the above ocean shots is not clearer, because I remember how thrilled I was at the wave crashing behind her right as I clicked the shot.
As a matter of fact, the majority of those 30 shots I have of Heidi were taken for use on a "talk tape" tape cover. Whatever their origins of intent, I'm glad I have them. And I'm certainly glad I made that home video collection after Grandma died in 2011, as its first several minutes now serve as as much a memorial to Heidi as it does to both Grandma and Grandpa (and even Grandma Rhoda, Sherri's mom who also died in 2011, who featured relatively prominently in it as well).
Death is so strange, and comes at you in the least expected ways. One of my siblings attempted suicide a few years ago, which means that could have been the first death amongst us grandchildren. And that was after apparently another suicide attempt that had occurred ten years prior; the book on suicide I am reading right now notes that previous attempts is one of the biggest indicators that someone will indeed commit suicide, which is of course worrying. For the moment, though, that seems to be of at least comparatively minor concern. And for now, I still have all of my siblings. Angel herself will be turning 50 next month, and Sherri is throwing a party for her. Celebrating the life of someone is always preferable to memorializing the loss of someone, regardless of their age.
I suppose it's a sort of perverse relief that the first death amongst the 12 of us was at least health related and not self-inflicted. Although I suppose it could be argued that in Heidi's case it was at least to a degree self-inflicted, given what she put her own body through. Either way it certainly feels wrong to lose a cousin before losing any aunts or uncles, or of course my own parents -- their inevitable loss being something I dread more as time goes on. I can't imagine what Caren, or even Uncle Paul (but especially Caren), are going through. I asked Jennifer if she thought I should call Dad and Sherri, and she said she already had. It only occurred to me just now as I was writing this that I never thought to ask about when she must have called Uncle Paul. The only person left who I really thought should know but it would basically be up to me to share the news was Christopher, so as soon as I got off the phone I informed him via Facebook Messenger. He was never close to Heidi at all, not even in childhood, but it was still something preferable to hear directly from someone instead of sometime later in some passing post on Facebook.
That was something Jennifer was particularly worried about, clearly making rounds of phone calls to inform them in person so they wouldn't get mad about finding out via some Facebook post. I told her anyone who gets mad about that can fuck off; she can't control what someone else might post to Facebook, and this isn't really her responsibility. She just lost her sister; she doesn't need to be worrying about offending the people who might feel they got the news in the wrong way. She should be sticking to her immediate family and allowing herself to grieve.
Just one last thought, about how far Heidi and I had drifted apart after being pretty close as kids. After visiting Denver a few weeks ago, Heather had noted how close I was to her, and I also got a reminder on Facebook about a woman I went to high school with who now lives in Denver. These were things that gave me renewed resolve to visit Denver again in at least a couple of years, staying at minimum four nights so I could meet up with Alice the ex-schoolmate in Denver, and also take a day trip to Cheyenne since it's only 100 miles north of there. I figured I could finally meet Heather for the first time, and probably also see Shane. For some reason I never thought at all about Heidi, even though she has lived in Colorado but quite close to Cheyenne for two decades. I have so much family in that area, but so little contact with Heidi in particular that it didn't even hit me until this morning that I could have also considered getting together for lunch or something with three cousins at once: Heather, Shane, Heidi. But now that I've been jolted into thinking about it, it's never to be. Not with Heidi.
God, what a strange experience life can be. The world goes on now without Heidi in it. I'm thrown for a loop but otherwise honestly fine. My greatest concern is actually what Heidi's parents and siblings, and especially her children, must be dealing with. I feel worst for them.
Other news? I guess I could mention that Shobhit and I went to our second "Sip & Mingle" wine tasting event at Total Wine & More last night, getting plenty free food, snacks, and wine pours in the process. We got in for free because Shobhit is an employee and a "Grand Reserve" member -- apparently Grand Reserve members don't have to pay the fee for these events. It covered our dinner, with a rather tasty couscous salad and cheese and crackers that I ate a ton of, plus some surprisingly good pumpkin pie. I also tasted eight different wines.
None of it seriously impressed me but I liked most of it okay; the one chardonnay they had was gross. When we were done, Shobhit was buzzed, having drank more than I did (and also having a lower tolerance), so I drove us home -- after Shobhit bought an insanely expensive bottle of wine from behind a lock case, and also two 750ml bottles of a direct vendor vodka from Texas that he got a good employee discount on. So we're good on vodka for a while.
[posted 12:14 pm]