A Defining Moment

I am a woman in process. I’m just trying like everybody else. I try to take every conflict, every experience, and learn from it. Life is never dull.

~ Oprah Winfrey

I have always been a bit more emotional than everyone else in my life. Once, in casual conversation, a guy asked me in an effort to connect deeply with me, how often I cried? I laughed and giddily exclaimed, “All the time!” I shared my self-deprecation and my laughter as freely as my tears. I was not embarrassed by or uncomfortable with my emotions – they were a part of me that I wholly embraced. Crying and laughing cleansed my soul in different ways, and with all the emotions flying around inside of my developing body, I needed those outlets.

I needed them because although in retrospect I could see that my family life was dysfunctional, I did not recognize it at the time. I also did not know that I had created a bubble of happiness to surround myself with as I traveled around my little town. At nineteen and twenty years old, with that bubble wrapped tightly around me, I laughed and I cried, and I had the sort of blast that can only thrive within ignorance of the world’s dangers. At that age, my very being was electrified with the possibilities of everything, and newly woven into my bubble was invincibility. I had been loosening the metaphorical apron strings that bound me to my parents, so that by the age of twenty, I positioned myself with my foot against the running block; I glared at the competition on either side of me; and when the starting shot sounded, I stretched my long legs to take flight along the racetrack into adulthood.  

Alas, unbeknownst to me, those strings had been reset, so my legs did not move freely. I tripped where I stood, and as I looked back in confusion, I saw the pained faces of my mother and father side by side; my brother standing near them with a furrowed brow and a beer in his hand. But there was someone else, too, whom I could not clearly see. As the dust from my fellow sprinters returned softly to the earth, I sorted through the unfamiliar features of a stranger in my line of sight: Black hair. Caramel-brown skin and thick eyeglasses. His frame was slight, and when he spoke, his voice was accented and kind. It warmed my shaking soul. I vaguely wondered about the tears running down my cheeks until I saw the movement of the stranger’s mouth and heard the words softly leaving his lips. Today, I can only recall a few of his words, but in reality, I am sure there were many more. I heard ‘Mother’ and ‘cancer’, and the sound of my own sobbing voice asking him what it meant. I remember the racetrack of my imagination falling away as I walked with him to my mother’s hospital room. I remember her loving smile while she reassured me that everything would be okay. I remember her telling me to not bother my dad at work with an update ­– she would tell him when he stopped by in the evening. I remember thinking that that was absurd, but now I believe it was love and kindness and valor.

I don’t remember much from the year-and-a-half of treatment that followed. My self-preserving psyche will only allow me to glimpse that painful time from a distance, as though I am viewing it through Polaroid snapshots taken from eighteen rows back. I know she threw up from the chemotherapy a few times a week, yet I only remember seeing and hearing her once. I know she lost her hair, but I don’t remember the process of her loss. I remember that when my bubble burst into a thousand sharp-edged pieces, I nursed my wounds with alcohol and embraced the pounding rhythmic beats of countless nightclubs after each long day of work. I remember the night someone bumped into me and I prayed that she would do it again so I would have somewhere to vent  my heartbreak and anger. I remember the day when I was driving to nowhere in particular, and it occurred to me that I didn’t know when the last time was that I had cried. That had never happened before. What had become of my gleeful proclamations of crying every day? What had happened to my laughter untouched by sorrow?

Where was Angel? silhouette-3613840_1280

That day, as I gazed over the steering wheel wondering where I had been and where I was going, I knew that this single event in my family’s life had irrevocably changed me. Although it would be a long and exhausting journey to find my way back to some resemblance of who I was, and although my family’s experience with cancer had had a defining impact upon my youthful self, I knew that it would not, in the pages of my life, be my only definition.



6 thoughts on “A Defining Moment

  1. I love your featured image…it matches the title perfectly. I’m a fan of the black and white image below; however, I’m not sure it matches your story. I also love the heart of your story. I appreciate that you are vulnerable and open. I love your word choices and visual imagery. The only word that seemed out of place was “threw up.” It doesn’t quite match the other language choices. Is that intentional? I’m unsure to whom you are referring when you mention Angel. Is this the stranger that you saw in your mind’s eye?
    -For me, the style is perfect. I love the first person, reflective voice.
    – I also like the length: it tells your story without adding the extraneous details that might make it too long for a web reader.
    – A few grammatical thoughts…
    Question mark not needed in second sentence
    First sentence of second paragraph could use another comma
    The first sentence of the third paragraph: semicolon isn’t correctly used
    Thank you for sharing!


    1. The semicolon gets me every time; I am just never quite sure where to put it! ;D Regarding the black & white image at the bottom, it was representative of me continuing to grow beyond the experience. I will consider external perspective further as I write other articles. It felt perfect to me, but I can see how it might not appear in sync with the rest of my story. Thank you, Denise!


  2. Hi Angel,
    This piece is really beautiful. It truly captivates a time of your life when life knocks you down, but somehow you find a way back. Your metaphor was very clever and helped captivate what the moment must have felt like to you.

    *I thought everything in this article was wonderfully written. The only thing that I would’ve liked to see is a little more personalization in terms of images. Since your story is so personal, I think it would have been nice to see more of a reflection of that.

    Great work!


    1. Thank you, Caitlin! I tend to be private with personal images and the Internet, but I will consider sharing more of myself in that regard as time goes by.


  3. – This was really strong for most of the piece. After the line “Where was Angel?”, I feel like it fell apart. With how it was presented, I was anticipating a strong and equally touching finish. But it seemed to peeter out and feel like you never finished your thoughts.

    – You made a comment about the girl bumping into you so you could vent you anger and frustration. Was it discouraged to seek therapy to help you with emotions and thoughts? I find a lot of people either have huge misconceptions about therapy, or are just unaware of getting help with how to cope with extremely stressful events. What are your thoughts on the matter?


    1. Hello! I suppose therapy was discouraged simply by its absence in my family’s lives. My entire family was “emotional” without the necessary tools to manage all of the emotion. Me personally: I have always been openminded, open, communicative, affectionate, expressive, yet it NEVER occurred to me to talk to someone. Honestly, the weight of mom’s diagnosis and the heartache that swept over my tight-knit family shut me down, but I didn’t even know I was shut down until that moment behind my steering wheel. It is strange to me to think about my inability to see what was happening at the time!

      Regarding your questions, those are all accurate. Sometimes it is a lack of knowledge about the help that is available; sometimes it is familial or cultural expectations that prevent someone from pursuing counseling; and certainly, it is sometimes a misconception of what therapy would look like. I should say that I have spoken with a couple of therapists over the last twenty years and what I have learned is the same with anybody that I might engage with: not everyone will be a good fit for me. If I don’t feel comfortable, I look for someone else. If I do feel comfortable, then I proceed cautiously with my feelings until I feel “safe” and trusting of the person I am sharing my thoughts with. It is that simple.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s