I do this thing where I shake my head if I have a scary thought or dream. You may see me sitting there shaking my head for no apparent reason, or in response to something that doesn’t warrant a head shake. It’s not a bold, neck-breaking shake, it’s just a small, quick turn of the head. It’s more symbolic to me than anything else.
I have a very vivid imagination. I see everything like a movie in my head. When I think, it’s less a thought pattern, and more a series of images and sounds that I ‘see’ and ‘hear’ internally. I can have entire conversations with people in my head. Academy Awards have been won for the movies going on in my brain.
Sometimes pictures or images pop into my head that I don’t particularly like or want to happen. Sometimes the train of thought makes that happen, l leading to something unexpectedly related to where I started. And sometimes it’s a dream, or a sudden random thought that comes out of nowhere. So I shake my head in defiance, sending a message out to whoever may be watching, that the thing I just saw should never come to be.
Last night I had a really scary dream. When I was finally able to wake up from it, I shook my head. I wasn’t fully awake, but I had to say no to what I’d just seen. I don’t want what I dreamed to happen. Even though my dreams have never been prophetic in any way, shape, or form, I don’t like to take any chances.
I don’t think I started doing this until after my sister died. I think we’ve all had a moment in our lives when we childishly wanted our siblings to be gone. Not dead, but just not around, so that we don’t have to share a toy, our parents’ affection, or the spotlight. I was frequently annoyed with my little sister. She was always the attention-getter, much cuter than I ever was, and with a personality that drew people to her. Occasionally, I wished we hadn’t found her when we misplaced her for a few minutes at Wet n’ Wild. She wasn’t really lost, but she made a scene like she was, and when we ‘found’ her, well, she was royalty for the rest of the day. I was just wet.
There were times I’d long to ship her off to my grandparents for Christmas in hopes that they keep her. They seemed to like her, and she could be useful around the house or in the garden. She had tiny hands and fingers, you know, good for reaching into tight places to pick lima beans. Plus, I needed her room to store my legos. Really, I had everyone’s best interests in mind.
Of course, I never really meant it. Considering all the times we moved from city to city, and how my sister was my only friend, had I really sold her to traveling gypsies for more lego money, I would have missed out on a precious person. She needed me and I needed her. I looked out for her and she found safety with me. She was afraid of the swimming pool unless she could be in the water riding piggyback on my back. She screamed when we’d fly on a plane unless I was there to hold her hand, even when we were older. I’d roll my eyes about those things. Yet to be completely truthful, I actually liked having her around, and didn’t mind playing the part of protector.
But, big sisters are supposed to be annoyed by little sisters. It’s what we do. So in typical big sister fashion, I always kept my eye out for opportunities to send my sister around the world in a hot air balloon. After all, she would have loved the pretty balloon colors, and she did always want to see the world.
Then one day she was gone … for real. And I shook my head; I think for the first time in response to something I didn’t want to happen. But, it was too late.
I know that shaking my head does nothing to save anyone or anything, in reality that is. I also know that the silly thoughts I had as a kid, wanting to trade my sister to the neighbors for a hamster, had absolutely nothing to do with her untimely departure from us.
But I think that’s why I shake my head. The bad things that happen are out of my control, and I don’t like that. This lack of control has been proven to me on more occasions than I would prefer to experience. And even still, I really struggle with letting God be in control.
I don’t have a choice and I can’t save the world. I can’t even save my little sister at the most critical moment. I couldn’t offer a piggyback ride or hold out my hand to get her through. It wasn’t up to me. I will never be in control over the things that take place in my life, or the lives of those I love. I have to let go.
But I’ll probably keep shaking my head, hoping that God and I are on the same page about the things I don’t want to happen, and trusting that even if we aren’t, it will all be okay someday.
[Teri Hebert is a twenty-something writer living in Texas. Her day job is not technically that of a ‘writer’, but she figures if she calls herself a writer long enough, eventually it will come true.]