We might not even be able to put some curveballs to the side because we don’t see them coming. There may be times when we have to immediately deal with whatever is thrown at us, even though the effects might stay with us. There might even be a time when we’re pulled in the opposite direction of where we’re going. Either something happens that changes our course or someone tries to sway our decisions.
That’s the very moment when we have to pause, step back and find a bigger picture we’re not seeing at a given moment. We also have to decide if we like the picture being painted – and how we can make changes without tarnishing what’s already there.
My last two years of high school taught me the most difficult curveballs are the ones you can’t completely get away from. It would be easy, almost expected, for me to say my disability had been somewhat of a setback during this time. It would be even easier to say it was a setback all along, but that wouldn’t be a genuine truth.
There were other things in my life bigger than my disability: making and losing friends, spending time with my loved ones and figuring out what my next step was as it related to my writing.
I was in my junior year, preparing to make some big decisions about the year ahead. My mind was set on going to college and pursuing a major that involved writing. So, I carefully scheduled my classes for my senior year with that in mind. I didn’t want there to be any doubt or suspicion I didn’t meet the requirements needed to graduate.
I had come too far for something like that to happen, and I was going to do everything in my power to make sure it didn’t. I wanted to do things the right way because I knew everything I did now mattered more than ever.
I was also aware my family was supportive of my ambition to go to college, even though I wouldn’t be the first to do so. My grandparents wore their pride on their sleeve when it came to their grandchildren. There was an added layer of motivation to not only go to college but to also do the best I possibly could.
I was looking forward to spending the summer with my family, with my intentions clear and my junior year of high school now coming to a close. I got my wish, but my world completely changed as things began to thaw out from the cold, hard winter that followed.
The air was still crisp when I came home from school on March 28, 2003. It was one year before I was set to graduate. My Dad, who had an unusual look on his face, greeted me as I got off the van that drove me to school every morning. I couldn’t quite figure out why he had such a solemn look, or what it meant. I motored my way off of the push-button lift attached to the van until my wheels touched the gravel in our driveway.
I was a bit confused as to why my Mom wasn’t home too, because she always walked over the bridge on our property to come get me after school. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what would be appropriate in this moment.
“Hey toots!”, my Dad said. “How was school?”
“Good…” I waited a few minutes before asking, “Where’s Mom?”
“She had to take care of something with Nana [my grandmother on my Mom’s side of the family.] They’ll be back.”
About an hour later, my Mom’s van pulled into the driveway. I heard doors open and then a long, drawn-out pause. My Mom slowly walked into house with my Nana in tow. They could barely hold back tears as they came in my room.
“Erin,” Mom squeaked out through her burst of emotion. “I have to tell you something…”
She grabbed my hand and squeezed tightly before telling me my grandfather, “Honey”, as I called him, had passed away early that morning, after suffering a heart attack. I immediately became angry and lost complete control. I balled up my first and hit the wall, but my tiny hand had no force behind it.
I didn’t want to believe it. I refused to believe it, because my grandfather had a history of heart attacks and cardiovascular issues due to severe diabetes. He made it through all of that and then some. Not only that, but he taught me so much about what it means to live and love fiercely. There was no way this heart attack was the one that took him away from us.
The more I denied what I had just heard, the tighter my Mom held me. She knew this would break me because this would be the first of three grandparents I’d lose. And it happened to be the one I was closest to. As Mom tried to calm me down, other family members held my hand and joined in our huddle. My Nana wiped away her own tears, leaned in and said, “It’s true, Erin.”
My grandfather’s death marked the beginning of a new, personal struggle – one I still deal with today. It also made me work harder and prepared me for some of the worst times in my life. I take those lessons with me wherever I go and try to pay it forward every day.
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