The other day, as I was coming back from a walk with Stella, we approached our front steps and a black cat who had been hanging out on our front lawn caught sight of Stella (who was oblivious, her only focus being on getting back in the house and getting fed) and dashed across our path to get away.
I felt myself freeze up. I can be a little superstitious, and that was bad luck right? A black cat crossing our path? In a year with the number “13” in it? Why didn’t I just smash a mirror while walking under a ladder and yelling “Macbeth”? Sheesh.
It got me thinking about how often lately I have said this has been a tough year, full of disappointment and bad luck. The “tough year” and “disappointing” parts are definitely true. I can give concrete examples of both. But I started really thinking about the “bad luck” part – did I really have it? Are the things in my life that are making me unhappy truly fate dealing me a crappy hand, or am I more responsible for my own misfortunes than I’d like to admit?
Certainly our financial struggles are 100% due to money we chose to spend on the stuff we spent it on. Yes, we’ve been hit with medical expenses and home repairs and car repairs and things of that nature, but I don’t really consider those things a result of bad luck. I think they come with the territory of aging and owning a home and a car. Expenses are going to come up, you KNOW they are, so you should plan for them. Then, when things need fixing, you aren’t crying about how bad your luck is, you’re just feeling grateful that you planned for it. If you can’t plan for stuff like that, it’s possible being a home and car owner are not the best things for your lifestyle. (I don’t know what to do about the aging thing though – I think it’s just going to be difficult. My very blunt grandma used to say, “I’m not gonna lie to you – enjoy your youth. Because the “golden years” are no fun. Getting old is a BITCH.”)
There are other things that have been unexpected and out of my control this year – like not being cast for things, which does affect my bottom line, but is that bad luck? I kind of think no, because over and over again, I’ve noticed that when I don’t get a particular project, some other interesting opportunity always comes to fill its place, and I’m typically glad things shook down they way they did. Having an open space in my schedule has given me time to learn to do things I’ve been too busy to learn in the past, or to participate in other mediums that my availability usually prohibits.
So why do I keep using the term “bad luck” about my year? Do I really have the right to use that phrase? Do I really know what bad luck is?
In grade school I knew a girl named Mandy who had cystic fibrosis. Although her disease gave her a haunted, gaunt appearance, she actually always had pretty high spirits, and never played the victim card, or used her condition as a reason to be treated differently. I had heard from a friend who knew her family well that Mandy was not expected to live past her sixteenth birthday, but Mandy didn’t really focus on it. And it’s not like people were oblivious to her condition – it was obvious, and as we are well aware, kids can be hideously cruel. I remember a boy in our class sneeringly calling her “old lady” and “grandma” because of her appearance, and I remember a girl at a slumber party complaining loudly and bitchily that she couldn’t sleep because Mandy was wheezing so loudly in an effort to breathe, and yelling at her to go sleep in a different room. You would think that knowing Mandy potentially had a limited number of slumber parties to attend would have made that girl be nicer, but life doesn’t always work that way.
I can only imagine what Mandy’s parents went through, knowing they would probably lose her early in her life. When we were in the sixth grade, Mandy was diagnosed with scoliosis, and had to wear a back brace, just like the title character in Judy Blume‘s Deenie. I remember thinking, “Why are they making her wear that awful brace? If she’s supposed to die by the time she’s sixteen, why worry about correcting it? Just let her be comfortable.” Of course I was only twelve at the time, so I couldn’t see beyond what looked uncomfortable in the moment, or consider that maybe her parents were choosing not to live as though Mandy were going to die at any given moment – they were proceeding as though she had a long life ahead of her, and taking measures to make sure she’d be healthy and happy in the long run, if she was fortunate enough to have it.
Mandy also had a younger sister, Stacey, and I remember feeling glad about that, because if something happened to Mandy, her parents would still have Stacey. Stacey was a parent’s dream – good student, played the viola in the school orchestra, pretty, popular, lots of friends, liked by her teachers, the total package. She also was a really good friend to Mandy, which made you like her even more.
At some point when we were in middle school, Mandy and her family moved to a different school district. I still heard about her through a mutual friend, Cindy, but I didn’t really see her much anymore. Her health issues were still present, but she did make it to her sixteenth birthday, and then her seventeenth. It seemed like she was beating the odds.
But then one day when I was talking to Cindy, I heard that Stacey, who had been studying in Germany as an exchange student, had been in a terrible car accident on the Autobahn. She had died instantly, at sixteen years old.
I hadn’t seen Mandy or Stacey in years, but I remember feeling heartbroken for her family, and bewildered at how they could have had just so much…bad luck. One daughter was already not expected to live long, and then one who had seemed to have such a bright future in front her had been cut short by a freak accident. It seemed cruel and horribly unfair that one family had to endure so much loss and suffering.
Mandy actually made it to her twentieth or twenty first birthday (I can’t remember which), but she died shortly after that. I hadn’t stayed in touch, but Cindy and I were at the same university at that point, and she told me about Mandy’s death. Though she had beaten her doctors’ predictions by about five years, it was news I was not surprised to hear. I thought a lot about her parents after that, and wondered how they were coping.
I still think about them sometimes. Did they feel like victims of bad luck? Or did they feel lucky to have had both those girls in their life, even if for only a short time? I hope it’s the latter, but in all honesty, I probably feel that way because it makes me feel better to think that.
While I’ll never know how they felt, I do know that in comparison to what they went through, I don’t really know what bad luck is – certainly not on that scale. I’ve made some bad choices, and I don’t always get what I want, but do I have back luck? Probably not. That right there should make me feel, well, I guess grateful. Or even, dare I say it? Lucky.