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Twenty Years in the Deep

Twenty years. Seven thousand, three hundred days. One hundred seventy five thousand, two hundred hours. Ten million, five-hundred twelve thousand minutes ago… I don’t remember what I was doing that night twenty years ago. I like to think that I was basking in the “normalcy” of my mundane mid-twenties life. Was I up watching the news? Was I out at a nightclub with my friends? Was I talking on the phone? Was I getting ready for bed – washing my face, brushing my teeth, thinking of what I would wear to work the next morning? What was I doing “before” the “after”? 

I hope that I was enjoying the lightness of not knowing… Not knowing that the world could just stop with one phone call. That a human being could actually age as a result of receiving news about someone they love. That the whole world and everything that one feels, thinks, knows, cares about could be unequivocally altered almost instantly. That the things that used to bring joy could become permanent reminders of how much had been lost. 

I am pretty sure that I did not enjoy the bliss of the “before”. It took the stark contrast of “after” to showcase what had been truly simple and joyful in my life. I wish I had been able to see the world through a more grateful lens prior to May 24, 2001. I had been through break-ups, had felt disappointment, sadness, anger and frustration. I had even been truly mad at God. But I had not yet experienced the raw heartbreak that accompanies a cancer diagnosis, or miscarriages, or the overwhelming love and pain that is motherhood. I felt comfortable in my shallow waters. I felt safe.

Twenty years ago, my Dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer. As I sit here on the anniversary of my last day in the Shallow, dates and times don’t make sense in my mind. How could twenty years have passed in what seems like a blink of an eye? How can the same twenty years seem like an eternity when I try to think of the “before”? Why did “six months to one year” seem like such bullshit coming from the mouth of my Dad’s oncologist. Who did he think he was, that man pretending to be a doctor or God or whoever? Who. Did. He. Think. He. Was. Like he gets to control time. 

Why is it that I can still laugh as my friends and I recall adventures in high school, and can I picture every single detail so clearly…but I have to close my eyes and concentrate SO hard to remember my Dad’s voice – and even then I have to convince myself to feel his voice in order to believe my own memory? Time is so tricky like that. 

In the Shallow, I didn’t see people. I did not truly understand that other people were struggling and hiding behind shiny dispositions, promising jobs or other success metrics which I had created. I don’t think that I dared to go behind the curtain to truly empathize with people in my life. It was ignorant cowardice at best. Life felt easier when I just believed in the good parts of the world. It was simpler to avoid difficult conversations. I was stubborn and defiant and self-righteous. I didn’t know the humility that accompanies a traumatic change. I didn’t understand how much I truly needed other people and how to let people help me. In the Shallow, I could do it all myself. I didn’t truly “need” anyone else. I was “fine” on my own. In deeper waters, asking for and accepting help from other people was a survival skill. 

Twenty years ago, I tried to stay in the Shallow. I had heard the words, the prognosis, the treatment plan for my Dad. I heard it and I tried to not feel it, which was a luxury that did not last long. One of my dear friends from high school got married on my first day in the Deep. I went through the motions – I showered, curled my hair, put on my favorite red dress, black heels, red lipstick, waterproof mascara (thank God). I thought I was in the clear. Don’t feel = not real. I felt lost in an emotional Purgatory – a confusing place where I was truly happy for the bride and groom in a very heartfelt and honest and present way…and simultaneously devastated to a degree which I had never felt before. I had surface level conversations and tried not to make eye contact with anyone who would see past my facade. It lasted until one of my oldest friends followed me into the ladies room and knocked on the stall door. She came in and said nothing…and it was everything. I cried on her shoulder and kept whispering “six months to a year. My Dad.” She went out, got my husband and helped us make a quiet exit. 

I didn’t realize for years that she had helped me make a quiet exit from not only the wedding, but from the Shallow. From the “before” to the “after.” As I sit here in bed, lights off, sleeping humans and dogs surrounding me in my room, the faint noises of teenagers and TikTok on phones down the hallway, and heavy eyes that yearn to fall asleep but just need to get these words out… I just can’t wrap my soul around the concept of “twenty years”.  How can it be? 

When I get this urge to spill words and emotions on a page, I try to decipher some meaning or lesson or reason…and tonight I am not sure what profound message is trying to come through. If this were a commencement speech, I would have two different endings – and they would both be an accurate description of how I am feeling. On one hand I would tell young people to “stay in the Shallow as long as possible…to reserve the pain for later, to enjoy every second of every day because we don’t know when the “after” is coming.” On the other hand, I would share that the “after”, although more painful and raw, can be beautiful. Seeing other people is what makes a life worth living. Sharing our pain and vulnerabilities with other people is magical – our cracks let the light in and create a space for others to showcase their humanity. But I am not writing a commencement speech – I am just a girl with words in my head tonight. I have no answers – just thoughts and reflections on time and love and grief and befores and afters and shallows and deeps. 

Twenty years. How can that be real? 

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Kari Shideman

I'm Kari...

and I am a Scorpio of Italian, German and Irish descent who feels things deeply and has shit to say about it.

I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a cynic, a dreamer, an encourager, a believer in unexpected blessings.

I believe that life is both amazing and brutally hard at times. To be human is to connect with others, and to fully accomplish this, we need to live in the REAL. Life is not meant to go through on the surface level.

My hope is that somehow I will inspire people to dive a little deeper, to laugh a little harder, to live a little more connected.

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