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Gotta Get This Out There

She chose the seat next to mine on the first day of paramedic school.  We were both so nervous!  We chatted a little bit about everything not interesting.  The weather was good, two years is a long time for an EMS program, the drive to school is just the right distance…long enough to clear our heads and short enough to not be a burden.

She was tall, tan, and blond and looked like she was trapped in 1993.  Her long, curly hair was permed and her bangs were very friendly with the curling iron and Aussie Sprunch Spray.  Did I mention I met her in 2004?  Her purple eye shadow was layered and her eyebrows were darkened in with a pencil.  None of this mattered, really.  She was beautiful.  She pulled off the look flawlessly, right down to the baggy sweatshirts and tapered leg jeans.  Her name was Carrie and I can’t imagine her looking any other way now.

We sat next to each other for the entire first year of the program.  She got me a job at the ambulance company where she worked.  We’d switch shifts around to make sure we were together.  Then we’d pass off the nursing home calls to other crews while we hid in one of the sleep rooms and studied our advanced cardiac life support algorithms.  School was intense and stressful and unlike anything I’ve ever done before or since.  I may whine about school now but it is never because it’s hard.  My classes now keep me busy.  Our classes back then kept us FREAKED OUT that we weren’t cut out for this job, that we weren’t smart enough to play in ambulances or crawl into smashed up cars and start IVs, or that we were never going to remember which drug to give for what heart rhythm.  Ever.

Having Carrie there made things bearable.  We’d meet at a coffeehouse in our town and study when we weren’t at work.  Or we’d go shopping.  That girl LOVED to shop.  She was always the most comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt (like me), but she would mosey up and down the aisles, picking up this shirt or that skirt.  What about this?  Do you think he’ll like me in this?

Carrie always had her eye on a man.  Whether or not he returned the affections was up to him.  But that girl was always crushing on somebody.  I couldn’t understand why she was still single.  Lord knows I had a bit of a crush on her myself.

During the second year, Carrie started missing classes.  We didn’t carpool on the way to class because I usually like my alone time and being in a marriage never lent itself to lots of privacy.  I took what I could get and that 45 minutes before and after school was needed.  I didn’t see her at work much anymore because we were knee deep in clinical rotations at all different hospitals.

A text message:  I heard what you said.  The knife in my back hurts pretty bad.

I will never forget those words.  It was an awful day at the ambulance company.  I didn’t want to be there.  I had studying to do and bills to pay.  The crap job only gave me seven dollars an hour.  That barely covered gas and rent.  I was freaking out.  Carrie called and wanted to go shopping.  I hate shopping.  The times I went with her were hardly ever on purpose.  We’d be planning to do something else–dinner or a movie–and she’d need to stop “real quick” at a store.  Anyway, this isn’t an excuse.  Get ready, Internets, because what you’re about to read isn’t a pretty color on me.

I vented to another girl at the ambulance company.  Of course Carrie wants to go shopping!  Her daddy pays her credit card bills!  She’s 31 years old and she’s not even a grown up!  She still lives with her parents, she doesn’t have rent or utilities or groceries to worry about, her dad bought her the Monte Carlo she drives, they’re paying for her school!  So OF COURSE she wants to shop.

Yeah.  I feel sick now.  I feel sick because I said it and I feel really sick because I got caught.  But I’m glad I did.  I’m glad that girl went and told Carrie what I’d said.  It’s a lesson we’re supposed to learn when we’re kids, but apparently it had taken me 26 years to learn that if I don’t have anything nice to say, I shouldn’t say it at all.

Carrie missed a week of school and I picked up duplicates of every handout and put them in an envelope with a note.  I’m not sure what you heard but please know that I’m sorry.  Here is what you missed in class.  I miss you and still want to be your friend. I wasn’t sure if the girl had told her everything.  I wasn’t strong enough back then to knock on her door and talk about it.  A note in a mailbox is all I could do at the time.

She ignored me for a few weeks.  The seating arrangements had been switched up at the start of the second year because our teacher wanted us to get to know the other people in the class.  The girl I was sitting next to now always teased me because I didn’t whisper and giggle with her like I did Carrie.

Then one day Carrie came up to my chair and hugged me while I was leaning over my textbook.  She said she was sorry she had believed what she heard.  She knew me better than that, she said.  You would never have said that about me, she said.  I was so happy to have her back that I didn’t have the courage and integrity to correct her.  I just stood up and hugged her back.

Things never returned to how they were, though.  I got a different job in a different town.  Rent would be cheaper there and the job paid almost twice as much.  Once I was moved, I only saw Carrie during class time.  After the Christmas break that year, I never saw her again.  She dropped out of school.  We didn’t keep in touch.  Life kept turning.

Carrie and I had so much in common.  Maybe it wasn’t obvious in the way we lived our lives or the hobbies we had.  From the outside, we looked different.  I was a slob and she was put together.  Even if it was a look from the early 90s, that girl always was pressed and dressed.  She was tall and athletic, I was overweight.  She had no tangible life stress, no bills, a supportive family, lots of friends and boyfriends.  I was constantly worried about money and working like hell while still trying to learn this new language of emergency medicine.

We were both clinically depressed.  We would talk about our heads, compare notes on medications, dream of a life where all we would ever have to do is sleep.  We’d talk about how low we could get, how scary and dark it was down there.  We’d remind each other of the reasons we had to keep going.  We’d compare horror stories of suicide contemplations and we’d high five when we had a string of ‘okay’ days in a row.  We were going to make it.  Life was going to get better.

Carrie didn’t make it.  My heart is broken and my mind is spinning.  How did she do it?  What were the last four years like for her?  I had sent her a Christmas card last year.  I know I wrote that I thought of her often and I wanted to keep in touch—maybe go to Watertown and meet for a cheeseburger?  I never heard from her.

Damn her for letting the disease win.  I hate her for that.  I hate her.  I love her.  I miss her.  I forgive her.

I loved her.  She was influential in my life.  She is someone that is always in the back of my head, especially when I wear the old t-shirts from the ambulance company we worked together.

Her family requested that no flowers or plants be sent but instead to donate in her name to the Watertown Counseling Center.  So Carrie was trying.  She was trying to rise above the murk and dark.  She was trying to get well.  She was trying to beat the depression.

I’m just so sorry that she never got the opportunity to shuck that hollow shell.

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9 Responses

  1. I’m thinking of you…

  2. I’m really sorry to hear about all this. It’s gotta be a lot for you to process. It can’t be easy, but I hope you’re doing okay.

    • Thanks, Jenn! I’m doing okay. I think it would have been much different if her and I would have kept in touch over the years. The Christmas card I sent was an attempt, but I always think I could have/should have done more.

  3. this took me awhile to respond to. I read it yesterday but had to re-read it a couple of times in order to fully grasp the depth of your words.

    I am so sorry Jen, so sorry that I can’t be there to hug you, to cry with you, to just be in silence with you.

  4. P.S. I can’t find your email address, can you email me your home address at jen@priorfatgirl.com, I have something for you.

    • Hey Jen…

      I’ll send you an email later tonight on a study break. I miss chatting with you via email. 🙂

  5. My dear Jen,

    I’m so sorry. My thoughts are with you and with Carrie’s family.

    Continue to do and be well.

    -jafg

    • Hey jafg! My thoughts have been about Carrie’s family as well. She came from a large family, full of kids and whatnot. She wasn’t married and had no children of her own, but her nieces and nephews were important to her. I think of her parents the most. Her parents who tried so hard to help her be happy. I think I’ll end up writing more about this as the days go on.

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