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Chapter XVIII: Collapse

The final full McKenna of my twenties was what signaled the collapse of who I’d been pretending to be for years. Many friendships fell away, my desire to continue to work two and three jobs was fading quickly, and I was realizing that I was coming to terms with who I was meant to be.

All toxicity was purged from my life for the most part. Another dog came home, and then even a few cats. The pack was stable, work while listless was stable, life was ok.


Carefully, I waded into the waters of re-establishing a connection with my parents. Shockingly, it didn’t back fire.

Fully medicated, even though she and my Dad were still drinking, my Mom was a much more muted version of herself. She was non-violent, and while her intellectual decline due to being so heavily medicated was profound, she was someone who could still make you laugh and occasionally kick your ass at scrabble.

Thanksgiving 2016.

Eager for my parents to meet my pups Nova Tiberius and our newest addition Huxley Blue, as well as show them I knew how to be a parent, I loaded the kids up in my minivan and headed down to Florida.

Stopping and gallivanting through Cahokia Mounds, The Smokey Mountains, Atlanta and then south Georgia, I gave the boys a true adventure romping through the south. Growing as a pack in a way I never knew we would, they truly became my best friends. We arrived and had what I can only call the greatest time I have had the privilege of spending with my family.

Keeping it a surprise to everyone but my Dad, I arrived mid day the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Shocking my Mom and Grandma completely. It had been years since either had seen me. I’d chopped my hair off, lost weight, my face had grown into that of an adults, they were seeing the newest version of me.

For the first time in my life, my family welcomed me with joy and open arms. It was confusing, but brought me a sense of gratitude. We’d spend twenty five years being such a fucked up dysfunctional family, and yet here we were, sitting together, just so grateful to be in the same room.

There was a calmness, an unspoken understanding that this is what we could be as a family now. It would always require distance, safety nets and strong firm boundaries, but we could be a family that loves one another to the best of our own abilities.

Feasting for the holiday and spending our time at the beach with the dogs or around TV playing scrabble. These were moments of such normalcy, and we’d never really experienced them before without the fear of another shoe dropping hanging over our heads. My Grandmother had regular moments of lucidity as Alzheimer’s had not claimed her mind yet, and my Mom was present, polite and beamed of gratitude.

Time moved quicker than it ever had. The trip was over before I knew it. Hugging everyone deeply, a little feeling in the pit of my stomach told me this would be the first, and only time in my life I’d experience such joy with them. The pack and I packed up, heading home, and life moved on.

November 7th 2017.

For the entirety of that year I’d been working full time as a photographer and graphic designer. Every opportunity I’d be provided to do something photography or art related I jumped on. I was a working artist, raising a beautiful pack of furry kids, and managing to pay my bills with my creative efforts. Life was fucking fantastic. Even after being laid off for the winter season from one of my full time jobs, I’d still planned ahead well enough that my world didn’t disintegrate.

Arriving home from a gig on that Tuesday evening, I got a call from my parents. They had just been calling to shoot the shit, give me updates on Grandma and her decline etc, etc. Our silences grew in the conversation and while I realized it was time to go to avoid any awkwardness, things were going well and I still wanted to hang out with them as much as I could.

“Do you two wanna play scrabble online with me tonight before bed?” I asked my Mom.

“No, I wanna play with your Dad. I can actually beat him, it’s no fun to play with you, you always win.” She responded. We chuckled.

“Well, I just wanted to hear your voice tonight, I love you Rue.” She said as we said goodnight.

“I love you too.”

November 8th, 2017

Forty five minutes away from home, at a Walmart like wedding venue, I was operating a photo booth during a tasting event in hopes of getting bookings. Knowing a few other vendors there and knowing the owner of the venue, I knew I’d be getting a free meal and some extras to take home making the gig worth the pay and drive. My phone was dead on arrival and I’d plugged it into the wall at the beginning of the event around seven that night. Ignoring it and doing my best to bark up some business, I remained focused on working the event until folks had begun to leave and vendors were allowed to eat. Gathering a full plate and a to-go box too, I returned to my table, grabbing my phone from the wall checking it for the first time in hours.

Nineteen missed calls.

One text message.

All from Dad.

“911. Call Me.”

I shot up from my seat and bolted towards the kitchen doors knowing that the back door of the kitchen led to the smoking section. Dialing out while I walked across the ballroom my Dad answered on the first ring.

“What’s going on, is it Sophie?” I asked

“No, Rue listen...” He said, but I cut him off,

“Grandma, what’s happened to Grandma?” I barked at him, my heart was racing, my blood pressure was shooting up, each step I took was heavier than the last, and just as I took a deep breath in, I felt time cease to exist. The feeling was identical to the moment I woke up in the mirror, when I watched the sky shatter, the only things that existed in reality in that moment was him and I on that phone call.

I was feet from the back door where much needed fresh air awaited me that I believed I had to breathe in as quickly as possible when the words escaped his lips.

“Mom’s dead Rue.”

Air left my lungs so rapidly I could nothing but crumble into tears while collapsing to the floor.

All images are copyrighted material of Sarah Rue. These images may not be used without the expressed consent of the owner under penalty of law.

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