unexpected events

Writing prompt: An unexpected event

This prompt is more stymying than expected. I’ve found myself turning it over in my head, trying to think of something unexpected which has recently occurred (besides my dog almost dying), and I can’t really think of anything. Nothing big, anyway—there are the usual small things. Coupons in the mail I didn’t expect, an unplanned-for phone call, a last-minute change of schedule. But those aren’t really “events”. Those are just … life. The heyday of the everyday.

I am a routine sort of person. I like routines; the predictability of them. I like schedules. I enjoy the soothing reliability of to-do lists, check boxes, and calendars breaking up the day’s hour-by-hour. I am the type of person who, when working, likes to leave the house at the same time each morning. I usually know what I want to order before I’ve ever looked at the menu—oftentimes before I’ve entered the restaurant.

It’s not that I’m unadventurous. Or maybe it is? I don’t see why that’s a bad thing, honestly. I enjoy stability and reliability. It’s not that I can’t handle surprises or I’m incapable of going with the flow. It’s more that … I guess it’s that I’ve had my fill of instability, and now I prefer the comfort and reassurance of a routine.

The result is a life with very few unexpected events. Over the past year, the most unexpected event that comes to mind is our dog almost dying.

The unexpected event of 2015 was … hmmmm. I guess our spur-of-the-moment trip to San Francisco? We were sitting in the living room talking about my husband’s upcoming weekend—I think it was a 3 or 4-day weekend—and he said he wanted to do something different, like drive straight to San Francisco. While he was talking, I started googling touristy stuff in San Francisco, and looked at Alcatraz. There were tickets available for Sunday afternoon, and I said, “Hey, we can buy tickets to Alcatraz.”

So we bought the tickets, packed the car, and drove down. It was about a 10 hour drive. We arrived shortly before a friend flying in from England to go to Burning Man landed, which was serendipitous. That first night, we ended up sleeping in the car (which was broken into on the street the next day). The following night, we stayed at a campsite a few miles outside the city, and the third night we camped at Crater Lake. It was a really fun trip.

No unexpected events come to mind for 2014 or 2013, happily.

2012 was the Year of the Psycho Neighbor– an unexpected and surreal situation which ended with physical assaults on our family, broken bones, and us having to a file a restraining order. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced—the more we tried to shut ourselves away from them and detach entirely, the more frothy-at-the-mouth this guy got. “Unexpected” somehow doesn’t seem strong enough for how baffling and unreal it was.

You hear about harassment situations, but it’s hard to comprehend how intensely off some people actually are until you actually have to deal with someone like that … there’s always some part of you that secretly, deep down, thinks, “Oh, I could’ve handled them. I could’ve talked ‘em down.” No. It turns out some people can’t be handled. Some people can’t be talked down. Some people are just unhinged.

Nothing unexpected in 2011 or 2010, happily.

In 2009, a family member passed away, beloved to those I love dearly. I was fond of the family member, but did not know them well, due to long illness and the nature of said illness. Even so, the actual death was a shock, and a devastation of grief crashed in the wake of it. The influence of their life, love, and childcare has rippled across our lives in countless ways large and small.

In 2008, I was in my first motorcycle accident. I’d had my learner’s permit for two months, and was riding my yellow Ninja 250 home from a practice ride. A white van ran a stop sign and t-boned me. It was a 45 mph street, but I was going a little under the speed limit. The white van left the scene. I came to surrounded by strangers, with a man asking if I could wiggle my toes. I asked where my motorcycle was, and he told me they were setting it upright—that it was unharmed. The police arrived before the ambulance. I had a mild concussion. The ambulance was blue instead of fire-truck red, so I refused a ride to the hospital. I found my helmet on the side of the road, and an officer asked if I was sure I could ride home. I explained my house was less than 5 minutes away, and I didn’t want to pay $1000 for an ambulance ride when my husband could just drive me to the hospital. They offered to escort me to the house, so I accepted, which is how I came to end one a practice ride with a police escort.

In 2007, my husband was riding his motorcycle to work on Black Friday when a car t-boned him. He had just come out of the 15 mph roundabout, and was in the straightaway heading toward the stoplight. There were two traffic lanes going the same direction and a single lane going the opposite, with businesses on either side. According to the witnesses/ police report, a car driver in the far-left lane saw a car waiting to leave a driveway exit on the left side of the road, so they stopped and politely waved them into traffic. The car took the invitation/ opening and darted forward to cross the two lanes of traffic to the driveway on the other side, ignoring the motorcyclist in the way.

A week later, our house was flooded in a natural disaster. It was especially unexpected because the last time the area had been hit with a 100 year flood (a decade earlier), our neighbors said the floodwaters had never even approached our house. This time, though, the dyke holding back the river broke. Apparently, it was in some amount of disrepair and with the pounding strain of rain and river, it just gave in a great gush of mud and water. Our house, despite being raised 18 inches off the ground, got a good 6 inches of flood water inside the house proper.

So 2007 had two unexpected events, which should be enough for any year. Except that was also the year my grandma died and I found out I had a small inheritance, so really it had four unexpected events.

In 2006 my husband brought me flowers for Mother’s Day. That was unexpected, because by then flowers were less common than arguments. I liked the flowers, though. Flowers are lovely. I can’t remember most of our arguments from that year, but I remember the flowers. The separation in September was not an unexpected event.

My grandpa died in 2005. That was the unexpected event of the year. I knew grandpa wouldn’t live forever, obviously, but I didn’t expect him to die while I was still in my 20s. He played golf and drove his Cadillac around right up until the last year or so of his life. I thought grandpa would live until his late 90s, still pulling wooden nickels out of my ear and dandling my son on his knee. They said at his funeral that when my mom died, all the fire went out from him.

Mom’s death was one of the unexpected events of 2003. I don’t have an unexpected event of 2004. I don’t remember 2004. It was a black hole. In 2003, two of the women I loved most dearly died by suicide. One in spring, one in fall. My best friend and my mom.

I cannot say my son’s birth in 2002 was unexpected, because it was not only expected, it was scheduled. He was induced. I could lie and say the emergency c-section which followed was a surprise, but somehow it wasn’t. It was definitely an emergency and not planned, but for some reason, I’d been expecting a c-section since the first trimester.

So when they told me he wasn’t turned right and his heart rate was dropping during labor, I didn’t feel panicked at the thought of a c-section. Just sort of calm. Like, all right, so this is happening, and I had this weird sensation I get sometimes that’s kind of like déjà vu, but not quite. Not like I’ve experienced it before, but more … as if events are unfolding exactly as they are supposed to. In retrospect, it was quite the curiosity. I can’t explain it. I have no idea why I was so full of conviction the birth would be a c-section, but I was.

In April of 2002, my husband woke up at dawn and collected armfuls of pussy willow buds and flowers, and covered every surface of our living room with chocolates and flora. That was unexpected.

The unexpected event of 2001 was probably the positive pregnancy test and my husband getting laid off a week later from the plant nursery, both occurring nearly two months after our wedding day. Wham-bam, one after the other. You know how people say bad things come in threes? Writing this out, I think they come in pairs.

Unplanned pregnancy + Layoff.

Suicide + suicide.

Accident + flood.

Reviewing this, I realize something else: apparently, I see unexpected events as emergencies or tragedies. When I think of the happy moments in my life, they were not unexpected, but worked toward and planned. Expected (except for, obviously, finding out we were pregnant—which, while happy, was complicated).

Weddings, births, graduations, parties, holidays, celebrations in general … we see them coming. We anticipate them, plan them, and, well, expect them. I had a surprise party once when I was 17, but since becoming mom of the house myself, those are sort of a thing of the past, haha. So I guess I do try to arrange my life to avoid the unexpected, as I associate unexpected events with tragedy, heartbreak, trauma, and instability.

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