By Matt Gordon
When she turned up bruised and beaten, I didn’t quite understand it. Why would someone do this to my sister? My mother’s reaction was different after helping her pummeled high school daughter into bed. Seeing a car parked outside our house, my robed mother charged into the street with a baseball bat, challenging the ne’er-do-wells as she went. Turns out, it wasn’t the culprits–just a teenage couple on what had been, up to that point, a quite promising date. As we all must sometimes, they drove on.
Now I understand the whole thing better.
Driving home for Christmas one year, Kerrie pushed her Dodge Neon hard against the sleet. She yearned for home, for action of any kind, for movement. Accelerator down, speedometer up, up, up, ice crept under tires and we spun out of control. There was almost a joy in the movement, and then an odd silence as we flipped over-end off the roadway into the inhospitable woods.
We limped away mostly fine. Moving.
When Kerrie got married, her husband described to her a longing to serve his country. She obliged and he enlisted. When he got stationed in Japan, she followed. When he got deployed, she lived in a faraway land doing faraway things. Alone. But moving.
At that point the marriage was in a bad place. The threat of failure was not new. Two years her junior, I recall reading Salinger for my big sister to help her through an especially cruel high school English class. She was in a bad place, but I read and made notes for her. She hobbled through that class, and many like it. Then she did what she so often does—she kept moving: on to college, then advanced degrees, educating herself beyond any of her siblings. I sit still with Salinger; she pushes on ahead.
When her marriage flunked out, it was hard. But she kept on. Learning and growing and hoping and working. She would work her full-time job as an educator, and she put in hours at a home décor store on the side. Anything to keep moving.
A year ago I stood on the beach and said some lofty-sounding words—exchanging Salinger out for King Solomon. She stood, teary-eyed, exchanging rings and vows with her new husband, a stalwart, joyous man. Bruised once, but not broken. Never broken.
For years, her hopes lay in having children. Year after year and setback after setback, it appeared being a terrific aunt would have to do. At least, that is what most would comfort themselves with. It is no small consolation and a high calling. But she pushed the pedal, hoping and longing and crying and dreaming. She was willing to get kicked around by emotional letdown rather than to surrender any part of her dream.
Later this year, she’ll have a son named Jaxon. He is named after the town that gave her a beating and came close to giving up on her. But she doesn’t see that. She sees only the good: the friends she still keeps up with and the teachers she loved and the wild nights watching her peers try to find themselves. There was no need for her to take part in that process, for she arrived on this earth with a strong-willed commitment to who she is. Our parents tell tales of her fighting the very wind in her youth, stubborn and driven and undeterred; she was an absolute menace of a child. One infamous story had her, as a moppet, approach a local pastor, declare matter-of-factly, “I can pick you up,” and proceed in hugging the man’s knees and grunting away till she did just that. Others may not have known what she would become—but she always knew. No Holden Caulfield musings were necessary. She had life to chase and things to lift up.
One strange paradox to my sister is how terribly impatient she is. She knows what she wants and she wants it now. She drives too fast and probably lives too hard, the requisite life of every party. She’ll dog-cuss the thunder for dawdling along after the lightning. And yet Job himself would marvel at her patience with others. She is slow to anger with her friends. Her early career was built on the love she bore for special needs and delayed learning children. Difficult people, too, find a refuge in her; she doesn’t begrudge them their scruples, but loves them in and through their starts and even their stops. In relationships, she is both the flash and the rumble: quick to love, yet patient and loyal.
When she showed up bruised, she was the epitome of life. The world pushes us to surrender—our hopes, our dreams. It slows us. Our hearts go first, then our minds, and finally our bodies heave their last stubborn breath and surrender to indolence. We read books we hate and work unfulfilling jobs. We sow our isn’t and reap our same. Our loves grow tepid and our grand convictions are all hollowed out and made meager. We sleep but dream no more.
But some few of us live authentically. Love with grandiose candor. We are who we are, come what may. And we flail and fail and are beaten. In that bruised sleep, though, the dreams rage on. Moving and moving and moving.
That night, with my mother threatening unknowing teenagers out on our street, I looked at Kerrie, swollen, bruised, maimed. She looked like death. I didn’t understand how this could happen to her. A puffy smile spread on her purpled face—undoing my question with a better, stronger answer. The world stood over her, thinking it was a knock out but Kerrie was just getting started. Only life remained. Moving. Moving. Moving. A resplendent, resilient fighter; dreaming, undaunted, pedal to the floor.
This post is part of a series of “living tributes.” Click here to visit the opening post (and the rest of the series). New entries will post Tuesday and Thursday mornings.