During Megan Carle’s three decades at Nike, she held various positions across Footwear, Apparel, Equipment and Golf. In 2016, after leaving Nike, Megan started writing and founded Carle Consulting LLC which provides strategic marketing advice to consumer products companies in need of cross functional partnership. Her writing led to a book about how she confronted corporate bullying with the unexpected tools of grief, loss and love. It is currently in the hands of a literary agent who is shopping it for publication.
After saying goodbye to Mom in the hospital Thursday and eulogizing her on Saturday, I board a plane back to LA on Sunday. As I make my way onto the plane, ‘baby jewelry to be worn by grandchildren’ causes my knees to buckle with the realization that, if I have them, she will never meet my children. I need assistance getting to my assigned seat.
Mom was diagnosed, treated, died, and was cremated within seven weeks, and, now, I am supposed to seamlessly slip back to being a freshman Pi Phi at USC. I am a shell of my former self. The University of Southern California is a foreign place to me now; my sorority is dumb and I hate everything about all of it. I can’t focus. I can’t study. I start scaring my roommate, a quiet girl named Penny, with all of my yelling and acting out. I am not a passive mourner. I am mad. I am angry and I will learn how to take out my anger on myself, but for now, my favorite target is the beige rotary dial phone belonging to my roommate.
Penny brought it to our room so we could make and take calls in the privacy of our room. Now, it is the enemy. I throw it across the room, tearing its chord from the wall, ripping up my Richard Gere poster in the process. I hate that phone. I yell, cry and fling the phone. Penny runs for cover. That phone now serves as a constant reminder of the calls I will never make nor receive and it has to go.
My new friends try so hard to help me, but they have no idea what to say or do. The effervescent, outgoing girl who left them a few days earlier is now an alien to them, struck down by loss. One morning, I open my dorm room door in Trojan Hall to drag myself to class and gallons of popcorn fall on me. My friends have papered my door shut and “popcorned” me in. I laugh; they love me. I cry: Mom is dead. A moment’s relief from the unbearable pain and then it lands back on top of me like a suffocating blanket.
A friend takes me to her house for the weekend, trying to jump-start me back to some sort of life. After having dinner with her family—a mom and a dad, a happy family—pure torture, she and I go for a walk on the beach. She tells me, as we are looking out at the ocean, about losing a friend recently and how angry she is about his death. She guesses that, in my sadness, I must be angry as well. I tell her I am. I am so angry. We yell together at the ocean and we stomp our feet into the sand and cry.
Although embarrassed by my outburst, it gives me a moments relief from the unbearable pain and then it is back around my throat, a chokehold I cannot escape. I become angry girl, weepy girl, sullen girl, confused girl. A girl that I have never been. I am lost.
Once a great eater, I can no longer get food down. Each time I try, my throat closes and I feel like I am choking. Once a great sleeper, I can no longer rest my eyes. Each time I try, my thoughts are filled with the final scenes from the final minutes of Mom. Was she scared? This thought is unbearable.
I lay in that space between sleep and wake, terrified and unsettled, sweating and crying out for her.
Over and over, the same scenes play in my head on a jammed Mattel View Master loop—Mom’s small body lying on her hospital bed with that thing jammed into her mouth, choking her. I see her frosted-white fingernails and dark-burgundy toenails on her beautiful, petite hands and feet. I hear the sound of the machine hooked up to her, clicking up and down, a thumping assault to my senses. It comes back to me in a flood I cannot escape — a nurse checking her catheter, who leaves her exposed in a way that my very modest mom would not have liked. “My mom is modest,” I tell the nurse, “please cover her.” The nurse responds by patting my arm. “Don’t touch me,” I think to myself. I want to punch her in her patronizing face.
The girl who had gotten one B in high school and earned an academic scholarship to her dream college, now gets D’s and F’s in subjects she had been so excited about—French, American Government, Art History. Who cares? Mom is dead. How do you want your eggs? Mom is dead. You’re flunking your classes. Mom is dead. You’re scaring your roommate.
Mom is dead.
Before I enter my house, I can see her watching me through the kitchen window, her eyes smiling at me from her sweet, familiar face. Like always, she waits for me to come home and tell her about my day. I am so excited to see her, to talk to her. I run the last few steps to get to her as quickly as possible.
I am home. I burst through the back door into the house, calling for her. I race up the few stairs, into the kitchen, where she had just been. I yell out to her. Soft, in the distance, I hear her voice, “Megan Ann.” I turn to see her in the living room. There she is! I exhale with relief to find her again, and I run to her. I reach for her.
She is gone.
“Megan Ann,” I hear her voice again.
I run throughout the house, calling to her. I catch a glimpse of her in her bedroom. I reach for her. She is gone. In the dining room. Gone. In my bedroom. Gone. In the basement. Gone. All the while, I hear her calling to me, “Megan Ann.” I run to her over and over; yell to her again and again, reaching for her throughout my childhood home. I can see her but I just can’t quite seem to get to her. She vanishes, ever elusive. I continue to call to her, my voice raw and ragged, now full of emotion. She is always just beyond my reach. She is everywhere and nowhere.