Posted in Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Twenty-something

The Weight of the Heart

Lloyd, 21
Lloyd, 21

We pull away from the parking lot, and my heart folds over on itself–an abandoned weight in my chest–like a lump of bread lodged in a mourner’s throat.

“Did you want him to live with you forever?!” I say to myself.
(I didn’t. I don’t.)

Even so, I can’t hold my husband’s hand or look at him in the eyes for the part he played in crafting this heartache, namely, lending his sperm, 22 years earlier.

A sibling, conceived 5 years after the first, sits in the back seat, with his homework, and I’m thankful he’s still there, I really am, but it’s only a matter of time, so I can’t be too attached.

Basically, I’m fucked.

And the thing is, I knew this from the start–felt it in the vacancy of my belly–just after the emergency caesarean that separated me from the baby inside.

By the time Lloyd was a month old, I understood that this love story couldn’t have a happy ending.

Fortunately, a lot happens between birth and adulthood so the separation is more complex than a new mother might imagine with a babe suckling in her arms.

“Stop thinking about traveling,” Lloyd says, in his new (unbidden) role as our life consultant. “Finish those projects. Build that deck and patio. Landscape!”

I chuckle, bristling at his critique. “It’s not a diversion of funds, but a lack of them,” I say.

He smiles. “You and dad are going to be able to do so much when we’re both out of the house. You’ll probably finish your book in 5 months.”

I smile, and let the fantasy of uninterrupted focus glide over me, like a swig of brandy after a long ski. But I can’t think about that now. Aidan has another two years of high school (2 years!), and then there’s college, and then this: What is this? Who am I to this 21 year old?

“You and Aidan are my patio and my books,” I say. “Raising kind, strong, considerate men like you means more to me than a patio or a book.” And I mean it.

It’s been 57 days since we last saw Lloyd, and no, I wasn’t counting; I just looked that up  on one of those online “how many days” sites (they exist), and seriously, his father and his brother were much more excited about seeing him than I was.

Until we pull up toward the curb at Skinny Pancake.

“Do you mind if I jump out first?” I ask my husband, before he navigates into the parking spot.

Aidan chimes in: “Can I jump out too!”

We both open our car doors.
We argue.
I close mine.
He closes his.

Despite his fierce heart (or because of it) he capitulates.

“Thank you!” I yell back, as I scramble over the snow bank, and look out at Lake Champlain, before turning toward Skinny Pancake, only before I turn, I saw a man, watching, waiting, legs out outstretched.

He crosses the street and we embrace.

“You must be so cold,” I say, “Didn’t you want to wait inside? I’m sorry we’re so late. We stopped at King Arthur, just for coffees, and then Aidan insisted on buying 8 boxes of baking mixes. Then we had to stop again to pee. Don’t you have a hat?”

“I’m fine,” Lloyd says, and gently brushes my hands from his ears.

We crowd inside the restaurant, joining the herd of breath in line at the counter.

“Do you want to go somewhere else?” he asks.

“We’re already here,” I say, sensing the first note of tension that always arises when time and food are involved with this particular child.

We look up at the menu board. The herd inches forward. Aidan joins us, and then Casey. The boys begin a banter that has no need of parents.

“It’s sad, right,” I say to my husband.

“It’s nice though, right,” he counters, unwilling to plunge into grief so soon.

Lloyd and Aidan continue talking for a good 10 minutes, and then just before we make it to the counter, Aidan scrambles up a small set of stairs to claim our favorite booth; and Lloyd and I follow.

“Can I sit next to Lloyd first,” I ask, knowing that the rest of the morning will be spent in Connect Four competition between them (a game they’ve been playing here ever since Lloyd’s freshman year.)

Lloyd obliges, and shimmies in beside me, and I scooch closer to him, until our thighs touch, and my left arm winds around his right, and my lips press into his bristly, but forever familiar cheek, or onto his neck or shoulder.

“Is this too much? Am I too close?”
(I don’t care.)

Ever since he went away to college, and then Central America, and then Europe (Eastern and Western; with a brief foray into Northern Africa), not to mention the extended summer at the Jersey shore, it’s his skin that I want most, more than the depth of conversation we’ve shared over a lifetime, ever since he could talk really, mostly philosophy, but also music and economics and politics.

Mom, how does love break your heart?

Where do faces go when they die?

Does the Sun know everything, even God?

Why is this green piece of paper worth more than that one?

I can’t take any more of Clinton-Lewinski stuff; turn it off!

Each morning on our drive over the mountain, Lloyd and I would listen to NPR, and depending on whether we got out of the house early or late, we’d take in the news before (or after) our favorite part of the morning: The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor (who I finally took the boys to see last summer); and in between the news and the almanac, we’d talk about trucks (if we saw one), especially backhoes and front loaders and excavators (even though one of us was secretly had no curiosity in trucks; something I finally confessed to Lloyd, a year later, in the library, because I just couldn’t read another book about them. He was 5.)

As mothers and first-borns often do, Lloyd and I shared a lifetime before the birth of his brother; and now we’ve come to this: 48 hours together at a time, spread months apart, over the course of an entire year; and this visit, half of that. Which I did count, but not until we said goodbye.

The original plan was that Casey and I would make a day trip up to Burlington to spend the day with Lloyd between classes and restaurant shifts. But his schedule kept shifting. “Wednesday is good,” he said. “No, Monday wold be better.” And then once the plans were set: “Actually Tuesday would be best.”

Finally, I said: “Lloyd, are you sure you want us to come?”

“I do,” he insisted. “I’m really looking forward to it,” and then he launched into all the things we might do, especially if we came on Tuesday after his EMT class and stayed over until Wednesday before his Auto Mechanics class.

I hadn’t planned on an overnight, and wasn’t  eager for the effort or the cost as I’d already been away four times in the past month, but sensing the opening, I made a suggestion: “If I booked a hotel room, would you stay with us,” and when he balked, I later messaged him: “I’ve booked a place on the side of town near TJ Maxx,” knowing that it would be hard for him to resist such a lure as his adolescent mecca–which he insisted on locating on every trip out of our mountain town throughout his high school years, including our week touring Acadia National Park.

“I also want to take you grocery shopping,” I said, “We could do Trader Joes.”

Feeding an adult child or filling his refrigerator is one of remaining maternal pleasures. Last year when Lloyd was living and working on a horse farm in Spain, he gave me a gift I’ll never forget. We were Skyping and the first thing that I noticed, beyond the contrast of our wintry New England dwelling and his equatorial one–the bright lemony light and the sound of birds–was the richer hue of his skin (naturally olive at birth) and his lips… swollen. wrinkled. cracked.

“Are you drinking enough water,” I said, with the desperation of a nursing mother separated from her babe.

“I am,” he said, though I didn’t believe him.

“Are you sure?” I pressed. “You lips are so dry.”

And just then, right in front of me, he lifted a glass of water to his lips and swallowed.

I think of it often.

A year earlier we were on our knees in the kitchen on the morning he would return to school after the long winter break. It had been a rich time of reconnecting until the last week when he regressed into an earlier incarnation of himself, and I met him there, unable to make it anything but personal.

Lloyd came bounding down the stairs sooner than I expected and discovered me sorting though his boxes.

“What are you doing,” he said, furious at the intrusion.

“I know. I know,” I said, “but you put all kinds of things in this box that don’t belong together, and I just wanted to reorganize it.”

He grabbed the items I had carefully sorted and tossed them back into the large box, making it worse than before, until he came upon the electric tea kettle, which I had purchased for him after his first semester, so that he might drink medicinal teas in addition to whatever was served at frat parties, but which I later learned that he and his room mate used to boil hotdogs…
What ensued was a tug of war–a 51 year old woman, a 19 year old man, and a stainless steel kettle.

It could have been funny.
If it was on Netflix.

Finally, we locked eyes, the kettle between us, and I said: “Just let me have this,” and Lloyd must  have seen something that he hadn’t let himself see before, or that I never revealed before or knew myself–that this wasn’t about whether or not he had packed the box right, or who was in charge, or where the kettle should go.

Lloyd let go.

I’m two years wiser now, and so is he, and late on Tuesday night at the hotel, just as the rest of us were getting into bed, he announces that he os going to go do some laundry in the coin-operated machines, and that he’ll go to the gym while he’s waiting.

He returns before midnight, and I easily fall back to sleep with an appreciation of his growing awareness of doors and lights and toilets. An hour later, however, I am woken again when he hollers something about “shifts” and “schedules” and “tables”–the recurring nightmare of those who put themselves through school (and onto planes into foreign countries) through restaurant work, which is how his father and I met.

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-12-26-25-pm
Lloyd (and mom)

I wince, wondering how a mother is supposed to respond to the suffering of a 21 year old, but then I settle back into sleep with the sweet awareness of his presence– beside me–in the next bed–the four of us breathing together–as we had for so many years–and might never again.

Long before dawn, I wake again, with sweat rising between my breasts and in the crook of my elbows and behind my knees–a reminder that these mothering years are soon to be swept away–like the castles we built as a family in the sand.

Soon after, I wake yet again, to a stronger sensation, something I’d never quite experienced before–the pounding of my heart–so insistent–that it feels like a knock on a door.

I put my hand over it, fearing my heart would leap out of my chest; and just as quickly, it stopped, as if I’d had dreamed the whole thing; and I made a mental note to ask my doctor about increasing (or decreasing) my progesterone cream dosing.

The next morning we showered and ate and shopped some more, and then I pressed for some time together beside the water.

After a short stroll, we headed down to a beach, and the guys built rock sculptures as they have for a lifetime, and I took photos of sunlight and the lake that I’ve come to know and love over the years since Lloyd has been in Burlington.

img_7260

I’ve spent many a winter week on Lake Champlain, writing, in a sweet house-sitting gig with a cat named Clyde. One winter (the winter of the tea kettle tug of war), I walked across this water, just past the Marina where Lloyd waits tables in the summer.

“It hasn’t frozen at all this year,” he tells me, and I feel sad and concerned to hear this, but also relieved for him as the wind chill in Burlington is brutal, and winter here has long been his bane, which makes me wild with maternal wonder at why he returns, again and again, insistent on mastering himself in this place.

“I might get my Captain’s license,” he says, which leaves me equally wondering, because we both share a fear of death in frozen waters, and because as an infant, his small, tender sinuses, often blocked, made him gasp for air on breezy days; but now he claims that he loves the feel of the wind on his face on open water.

“Are we becoming one of those families,” Lloyd chides when I press for a group photo; but I don’t bite; because I’m mastering something too–myself–apart from his (or for that matter, anyone’s) view.

This has felt like a shedding of late; molting comes to mind. “Molt, molt,” I say to myself, each time I hold on too tightly.

“It’s time to go,” I say, knowing that it could take at least ten minutes to get across town to the chiropractor appointment that Lloyd surprisingly (and not surprisingly) scheduled in our last hour together.

“Couldn’t you have picked another day?” I asked when he first told us about it; but now, I only say: “I want my goodbye with you, here, in the sun, instead of rushed, in an office parking lot.”

Lloyd and I embrace beside the water and then release, and re-embrace, lingering longer, before we walk up from the beach toward the road where Casey is waiting with the car.

We arrive across town with plenty of time for more goodbyes, but I stay in the car because I’ve already had mine; and still, Lloyd leans forward, and embraces me, not once, but twice (or was it three times), before he gets out with his things.

He stands for a long while beside the trunk with his father and brother, but I don’t look, until Casey and Aidan are back inside the car, and then I watch him cross the parking lot, and turn to wave, and we all watch as he turns back one more time, to wave yet again, before fading around a corner.

We sit and breathe. 3 bodies. A vacant seat. A return home. Without him.

I think of that August day four years earlier when we brought him to school for the first semester of his freshman year. How so many families, like ours, were limping around town.

“Ready?” my husband asks, and when I  nod, he backs up the car, and pulls past the building, where to our surprise, we find Lloyd waiting to wave to us one more time; seeming more like the little boy I drove over the mountain to the preschool instead of the one who lives here without me.

Before turning onto the road, I watch Lloyd step up onto the porch, and turn yet again, with another wave; and just when my heart can’t bear any more, he enters the building, and I wave to the window, but he isn’t there.

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Posted in Fragile Life, Holidays, Milestone Moments

Anthem

maia-flore-1

It was an unseasonably warm day, much like today, but in 1999, when weather like this was so rare as to be a miracle.

I waited to pick up a pregnancy test until after my hair appointment that, not wanting to give up my annual birthday ritual of highlights, but knowing that I would, if there had been a someone, to consider, inside.

A year had passed without two lines on a stick.

My first miscarriage was six-years earlier.In May of 1993.
The second–in November–of the same year, on the day of Uncle Joe’s funeral.
It snowed.

A son had come two years later, and now a second soul was knocking on the door, but I hadn’t found the key.

I stopped at Rite Aid with my fresh highlights and purchased this month’s pregnancy test.
I stopped at the Post Office too.
A yellow notification card.
A package.
A high school friend. A cd. Stevie Nicks.

Once home, I peed on a stick. I pushed play.
I called my husband. And my sisters.
No one was there.

I pushed play again, and hit the repeat button, and turned up the volume and opened the French doors and stepped outside, into the yard, onto grass, instead of snow, and danced and twirled and laughed with the mountains and the woods and the sky. In rapture.

It would be months before this song became an anthem.
He was born just in time.
A week early.

She held him in her arms before she died.
His life and this song became our balm.

Posted in College, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Round Two, Teens, Twenty-something, What's Next? (18 & beyond)

11 Things We Learned~in a week without the kids

empty nest
One summer a few years back, I stumbled upon a brilliant act of self-love. I arranged for both of our boys to be away from home at the same time.

Our oldest departed early Sunday morning on a road trip with his girlfriend, while our youngest was scheduled to be dropped off at camp that very afternoon.

On the drive over to Waubanog, my husband turned to me with a giddy whisper, asking What do you want to do AFTER…!

I could barely contain my delight and hoped my son wouldn’t see or sense it from the backseat.

Mostly we slept, and went out to eat, and enjoyed lots of summer cocktails.

A week later, we’d also learned some things about ourselves; things we could no longer blame on the kids:

1. We make lots of messes.

2. We use lots of glasses.

3. We depend on their noise, demands, connection & love to direct our days, our emotions, our very thoughts.

4. We’d do well to focus more on our own shit. Inside and out. There’s plenty there.

5. They apparently keep animals away from our gardens.
(Either that or they arranged for the groundhog to eat all the greens so that they wouldn’t have to.)

6. Casey & I still enjoy each others company more than we do anyone else. (Following some initial turbulence.)

7. We can’t wait for them to leave, and when they’re finally gone, we miss them.  (Duh.)

8. We have softer edges without them, but much less dimension.

9. There will always be an Aidan and a Lloyd shaped empty space in our hearts once they’ve grown.
(Sappy, but true. OUCH.)

10. Even without the distraction, disturbance & delight of children, we don’t “get done” what we imagined.

11. Our lives without them will easily out distance the day-to-day we’ve shared as a family.

At the end of that summer, our oldest and his beloved set to repainting his walls. Their youthful abandon spilled out of his room and down the stairs and into the kitchen; as did the palpable presence of endings–he would leave for college that week and they would break up rather than endure a long distance relationship (and I was not to ask about how or if we would see her once he was gone.)

Add to this the juxtaposition of my baby sister’s first born who had just celebrated his first birthday. His milestones seemed to be engaged in some kind of parallel dance with those taking place in my home.

I hold no regrets. I have lived well and loved our years with children; and I am proud to see them spread their wings; though what is also true is that I can barely breathe at the thought of a completely empty house, or imagine one that doesn’t begin and end with camps and semesters and vacations.

When the boys were babies, Casey & I would race up the stairs to be the first to arrive after naptime–to be that holy recipient of their precious waking gaze of delight & devotion.

At the end of that week apart, instead of a set of stairs, it was a steep hill, and the baby was 13 and he was smelly, carrying all of his gear from a week in a tent. Casey wore flip flops. I chose sneakers. I may have pushed him off the path. More than once.

What I’ve learned most from my time with and apart from my children is something I feel a bit embarrassed to share…

A deep & abiding love for myself, and the pleasure of my own company.

Which alas, grew out of my fierce love for them–both in their comings and their goings.

This past week, in another brilliant act of self-love, I sent my husband off on a trip to retrieve our youngest from his time at the shore with his young cousin–who is now 4 years old.

It was a hard decision not to go along. I missed his little sister’s second birthday. I missed spending time with my entire extended family. I missed a beach trip I’ve taken every summer since we moved to the mountains 23 years ago.

But I also felt conflicted about leaving because it was my oldest son’s birthday, and even though he lived three hours away and planned to spend his 21st with his friends instead of coming home, I wanted to be here. Just to the hold the place of home if nothing else.

I also wanted to write. And to find myself. And to hear my own thoughts. Especially as my first born came of age.

After the initial pangs of emptiness, I settled into a delicious morning of word and bird song and green tea.

Cue the phone.

Guess who’s coming home.

Posted in Insight, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Parental Adolescence

What’s so funny about…

Donald Trump, Emperor's New Clothing

Lately my mind keeps drifting to The Emperor’s New Clothes, and not because of Donald Trump–though to be sure there’s plenty to unveil there–size aside.

The bill for my own outlandish outfit came today. The outfit I wore on Valentines Day. The one that resulted in an ambulance ride and Emergency Room care.

The one that apparently didn’t demand any of that.

My heart insisted otherwise.

Why then did companions laugh?
Cops joke?
Medical personnel smirk?

Why did Facebook friends write:
This is hilarious.
You were trashed.
So funny.

This is the case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, I said, only I wasn’t sure which part I was playing.

I’ve since read Chapter 9 of Chocolate to Morphine, Everything You Need To  Know About Mind-Altering Drugs, and apparently what I insisted was so, wasn’t:

  • Overdoses of cannabis are unpleasant, but not medically threatening.

My experience of imminent death from an edible, however, is validated by a 911 call–from a police officer–who ate the pot brownies he confiscated from an arrest:

To my horror, I find myself laughing. Relieved by his suffering. Of my own.

Some other cannabis (worth mentioning and personally affirming) facts from the textbook on mind-altering drugs :

  • The effects of marijuana are hard to describe because they are so variable — more so than those of other drugs.
  • The main problem with oral use is overdose.
  • Taken by mouth, rather than smoked, marijuana is a more powerful drug, slower to come on, with longer-lasting effects.
  • Marijuana can cause illusions of time and space.
  • People can become extremely disoriented and delirious, as if suffering from a high fever, which is often followed by stupor and hangover.

(Chocolate to Morphine, Everything You Need To  Know About Mind-Altering Drugs by Andrew Weil MD and Winifred Rosen, 2004)

As I look down at the bill for service–more than a thousand dollars–for emergency care that was not medically necessary–I feel ashamed.

When they released me from the hospital, I was told that I didn’t have to worry–that I just had to let it wear off. But the truth is, knowing what I know now, I would still seek medical care if I felt the way I did that day–by far the worst day of my 52 years.

I wanted to be cool. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But my responsibility to my life force trumped all that, and anything anyone else had to say.

Which brings my mind back to our would be Emperor.
Farce or real threat to our democracy?

Pot Cookie

Click here for the previous post:
Releasing the Role of a Lifetime

Posted in Fragile Life, Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Parental Adolescence

Releasing the Role of a Lifetime

To whom are we beautiful as we go?

~David Ignatow

Ganga Cookies, First Ever, Parental Adolescence

There was an article (or maybe a meme) that coined a new adolescence–for sixty-year olds–healthy, solvent, childless and ready for new adventure–a couple on a bike was pictured, legs outstretched, careening down hill; or maybe I imagined that part.

There’s something freeing (or anxiety producing) about your first-born reaching 20.

Maybe that explains it.

Or maybe it was the combination of two favorites: peanut butter & chocolate;
or the familiar comfort of a potluck gathering;
or the long-awaited return of the sun on Winter Solstice;
or the welcoming words: love & gluten-free–in the shape of a cookie.

All of these came at the tail end of a month–an entire fucking month–of hormonal headaches.

Nothing happened. Not really. Which was always the way it was when I dipped into cannabis in my early twenties. (Except for that single cosmic kiss, senior year, with one of the twins. Which one? I no longer remember.)

I do remember thinking that the ambulance ride over Hogback Mountain (20 years ago)–from our wooded road to the nearest hospital (in my final stages of labor)–was just about the distance it would take for this ambulance to transport me from the coast of my childhood–to the mainland–where my father still practiced.

Only now, time was moving in two directions. Back and forth. Back and forth. Folding over on itself, like the hard, ribbon-like candy that no one buys at the fudge store where we stopped before I began to feel the effects of my second-ever edible.

Valentines Day.

We were “home” for the week. Gathering with high school friends. All of our children grown, or grown enough to leave behind. We called it “Our Big Chill Weekend.” We forgot that the gathering in the film centered around a funeral.

When someone reminded me that we partied on this exact weekend almost 40 years earlier, I felt a chill. The same bitter cold. An equally bitter ending. The vacuum cleaner tossed out the second-story window. The gold fish tossed onto the bed.

But I missed that part. I left the party early to spend the night with my boyfriend, in an empty, ocean-side hotel, where whatever he had consumed that evening, unleashed a torrent of darkness onto me. Words, like daggers. Hurting still.

The absence of linear time makes the smallest distance–say from the beach to the bridge–play in a continuous loop–while in a moment of clarity, and with great effort, I determine that this distance could easily be covered in less than 5 minutes, particularly without summer traffic.

The sound of a siren jolts me from my reverie.
I look for the ambulance so that I can pray.
(Something I did with my children when they were little.)
And then I realize…
It’s me.
I’m the one inside.

Twenty minutes must have passed.

Even in the car, while we waited for the EMTs; even before our friends arrived and called 911; even as I sat there alone in the empty parking lot, I thought: “I can’t believe this is me.”

~

At first, I considered the experience another dud. We took group photos on the street mall. We stopped in the fudge shop. We decided on a restaurant. We chose seats. We ordered beers. My husband and I decided to share a cheese steak. But just as my drink arrived, I felt a thick, gray fog swipe the right of my forehead. A moment later, another came across my lower back, also on the right.

I pushed my drink aside.
A wave of nausea followed.

“Can we change seats,” I asked a friend who sat across the table from me.
I shimmied in beside my husband.

“Something’s not right,” I whispered. “Meet me outside.”

The cold air was soothing. The ocean only a block away. Maybe I would walk.

“I feel weird,” I said. “I don’t think I can stay.”

Casey wrapped his arms around me, and for a moment, I sensed the pure, physical presence of his twenty-year old self. I exhaled into this tender reunion, and then felt its shadow. This boy had none of the substance of the man I knew and needed now, thirty years later.

“I have to get to the car,” I said.

He handed me the keys. We decided that he’d meet me as soon as he paid our check and grabbed our food. I moved on, relieved to have a purpose–but the further I walked from the restaurant, the less I was sure of where I was, or if could find the parking lot, or the car, or the keys.

~

My next impression, after the sound of the siren, was just how many bays there were in the Emergency Room, and how they were only separated by curtains.

Had I ever been inside this ER as a patient? (Probably not as a doctor’s daughter.) Could I return to the privacy of the ambulance? Could they tuck me into some corner? Could I get a private room?

20 years earlier, when they wheeled me past the reception desk of the Emergency Room in Vermont, I overheard the nurses say, “She’s in labor?”

I imagined that same dismissiveness now.
A home birther.
A pot smoker.

I lie there on the gurney shaking, just as I had after my cesarean. Only now, no one cared to keep me warm.

Waves of sensations, like labor, continued to overwhelm me. Hours passed before it was finished. Days within each hour. A lifetime within each moment. It would be 24 hours before the contractions ceased, and more than eight before they had grown far enough apart to leave medical attention.

Inside each contraction, time collapsed and expanded.

“What happened?” I asked my husband.

And:
“How long has the nurse been gone?”

And:
“How long have we been sitting in the car?”

And:
“How long was I here alone?”

And:
“How long have we been waiting for the ambulance?”

First the police; then the EMT’s; then the LPNs, and the RNs; and finally the doctors asked:

“What happened today?” as if this was show and tell.

I stared at their faces, impassively, and said nothing, except to say how fast my heart was beating or that my insurance card should be inside my wallet, or that I wasn’t allergic to any medication.

“Don’t forget my purse,” I said to my husband. “Remember to lock the doors of car.”

I was struck by how similar these thoughts were to my every day thoughts. How I felt a sense of relief when a friend told me that he drank the full beer I’d left behind; that it hadn’t been wasted.

Where was the transcendent consciousness that should accompany death or a high?

But this wasn’t a high. This was the lowest of lows. This was all my bad days poured into one. Stacked on top of each other.

(I made a mental note to meditate more.)

That morning, over mimosas, in the kitchen, where we had been as girls, I moved around the brunch table, offering a massage to each of my friends.

In the car, I tried to explain to Casey that somehow I was now chelating the grief and trauma I felt inside of them.

“Did I just say something?” I asked him.

There was a strange pause between speaking and awareness or between awareness and speaking.

“Did you answer me?” I said. “How much time came between what you said and what I said?”

Someone wheeled in a cash register. Someone handed us a clipboard. Someone apologized for asking for billing information. Someone apologized for asking for signatures. “At a time like this,” they said. “At a time like this.”

Others took my vitals. My blood sugar. The hospital gown was pulled down to my belly. My bra was removed. Tiny pads placed hurriedly around my heart. A week later, there are itchy scabs in those same places. A day later, we were still finding sticky pads left behind.

My husband tells me that he was disturbed by the lack of attention to privacy. I remember looking down to see the familiar slope of breasts which had nourished two children. Attached to wires. Attached to a machine. I asked him to cover me. Not for modesty, but for warmth. He placed my shirt over me. (I wished I hadn’t worn my favorite today.) He made a pillow from my coat. (I wished he’d used that to cover me.)

A series of professionals entered and exited my world.

“You’re a healer,” I said.

“I’m just doing my job,” the nurse said.

“No,” I said. “Everyone has been doing their job today, but you’re the first healer I’ve encountered.”

She kept at her work, brisk and focused, but she returned with blankets to keep me warm.

Gradually, my heart rate began to slow.

I let Casey leave to give our friends an update.

The gaps in consciousness continued, further apart, and wider, into which I fell–despairing and hopeless. All around were sounds of suffering.

On the other side of the curtain, was the barking cough of a young child. A nurse arrived, but instead of providing care, she asked the parent a series of questions.

“Warm water with honey. A chest rub. A humidifier.” I said, quietly, to the curtain, feeling my mother’s clear and composed presence.

My mother would have been wheeled into this same room on the morning of her seizure. My baby sister called me first. “Hang up and dial 911,” I said. We were 300 miles apart. She was 14.

On my left, was the sound of a big man in his sixties. He just received the news that he his hip was broken. He would need surgery.

Our anguish bled together.

I considered dying then, until I heard a loved one arrive and encourage this man back into the light.

I sent him Metta…

“May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you…”

I wondered why I hadn’t thought to do this sooner, and in this awareness, recognized, a turning point.

~

“Here now,” I said. “Here, now.”

This is how I steadied myself, alone, in the car, as the sensations magnified.

“May I be safe. May I be healthy. May I be…”

When even that was too much,  I relied on Ujjayi breath, and then left nostril breathing. After that, I simply focused on my feet.

“I need help,” I said to no on. “I need help.”

I considered opening the door and yelling, which would be less embarrassing than dying, but the parking lot was empty.

“Casey will be here soon,” I said. “Casey will be here soon.”

But time had expanded infinitely.

I thought about people dying in foreign places.
Strokes. Heart attacks. Seizures. Overdoses.

My mouth was so dry.
My water bottle was so close

I thought about children with dysentery.

I was loosing motor control. Or volition. Or both.

“Casey,” I said. “Casey.”

I considered getting out of the car, but when I turned my head left, toward the summer stores, all the shades were down. And I couldn’t look right.

I thought about knocking on the window, and mouthing, “Help,” to a passing stranger. But the window on the left was too far away. And there were no strangers anyway. There was no one at all. Anywhere. The world had been emptied of life, like the apocalypse films of my childhood.

I tried to look right again, but each time, the world would tilt, and something else was there. Everything of which I was terrified. The family who burned in the fire. The toll booth. A scary man.

Left. Right. Masculine. Feminine. I attempted an inquiry, but I was already moving from clarity to anguish again.

Later, I would tell Casey that the symptoms seem to move in a circle. At the top, there was a moment of stability where I could communicate, briefly, and sip water that he held to my lips, but this was immediately followed by fierce trembling and pounding waves of nausea and a pulse that grew alarmingly high.

“Am I having a seizure,” I asked.

There was a truck parked on the road ahead of me, further away than it should have been, but in such crisp focus that it seemed to be right in front of me.

Later, Casey’s face would have that same disturbing crispness, as would the face of the first-responder, whose earnest gaze reminded me of my third grade student, Eric Davis, a boy scout, who wanted to be an EMT, and had grown up to become one, which I discovered, when I spoke at his burial, a decade later. Suicide.

The late afternoon light shimmered on that truck, but didn’t reach the one that sat across the intersection. Its mirror image. Shaded by Our Lady of the Sea–an oppressive, stone structure–where my friend married and later buried her parents.

But there couldn’t be two trucks, because there was no room to park across the intersection in front of the church; which must mean that I was seeing two worlds–one dark, one light–like Stephen King’s, Talisman, which 20 year old Casey convinced me to read.

I was the truck, seeing myself in the mirror. The mirror I had looked into as a child. My grandmother’s mirror. The truck that crushed her. The bridge that ended her life. The accident that emptied my world of love.

“Jesus help me,” I said.

I’d been a loving mother. A loving wife. A loving friend. It was okay to go. But what a stupid way to die.

“Ishvara Pranidhana,” I whispered. (May my successes and failures be of service.)

Hours passed or minutes. Casey was there. Or wasn’t there. I was there or wasn’t there.

He hand was on my left leg. “I need a trash bag,” I said. (But I wouldn’t let him move.) “I need a doctor,” I said. (But I wouldn’t let him leave.)

Out of the sinister angle of the sun, just past the shimmering truck, our friends appeared.

Later one would tell us that she had to say “Marijuana,” three times to the 911 operator, and that the police officers, who were the age of our children, cautioned us about gateway drugs, and mocked my Vermont license plate and Bernie sticker.

“I let Bernie down,” I said to my husband. “I’m so ashamed.”

I knew how this was supposed to go. I was supposed to feel all chill and blissed out. People who panicked were mocked. I wasn’t supposed to need help. I wasn’t supposed to tell.

I had always been one of the cool ones.

I could hear and couldn’t hear the people talking around me.
The door on my right opened.
A police officer bent down to address me.

“I can’t look at you,” I said. “I’m afraid of right.”

Everyone wanted to be amused. Everyone wanted to laugh.
If this wasn’t funny, what was it?

Everyone said, “You ate whole cookie?”

One professional that I think back to the last time I smoked, and recall that feeling instead.

That was almost 30 years ago, in Steamboat Springs, before a Spyro Gyro concert, which ended up being sold out, so we went to the movies, but arrived so last minute that we had to take front row seats, just as the film opened in the jungle of Vietnam.

Platoon.

Everyone gave me choices. Did I want to get out of the car by myself or did I need help? Did I want to walk to the ambulance or go on a stretcher? Did I want to let them strap me in so that we could get to the hospital?

I thought about my years as a preschool teacher.

I tried not to doubt their competency, their young faces. I hoped that their lack of authority meant that there was no danger; but I also suspected that few were capable of considering marijuana seriously.

“Do you live in the area. Do you have a doctor?”

“My father is a doctor here,” I said, in the tiniest of voices, hoping that someone would call him, but equally embarrassed to be 52, wanting my father, who I knew was out of town, and who always considered me the daughter he didn’t have to worry about.

“Your husband will have to ride in the front,” they said. “Protocol.”

I paused.
I wanted to be compliant;
But then I spoke with surprising articulation
(and volume):

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to let the only person who is keeping the patient calm stay beside her?”

Later, Casey told our friends that I thanked each person who helped me along the way through the day.

I was surprised to discover that I was the same person I’d always been. Relieved to be no worse; but disappointed to be no better. Conscious. Gracious. Concerned for my friends. Preoccupied with being cool. Ashamed. Embarrassed. Attentive to belongings. Worried about expenses. Thinking of my children.

“I could die with you by my side,” I said.

“We can’t tell Aidan,” he said.

Aidan, our youngest, had been disappointed when I ate that first cookie on Solstice, and he had rebuked the plans I shared for Valentines weekend with my friends.

“You disobeyed me,” he said, when I sat him down to tell him about the ambulance,  Emergency Room, and then he hugged me, relieved and sad.

A week later, he is still hugging and scolding me.

My children and I have rarely traded roles. After growing up with an addict, I made sure of it. As the oldest of 8 children, I was the one that each sibling relied upon for steadfastness.

I suppose I’ve been more than ready to step out of that role.

We left the shore three days ago. In two cars.
My son rode shotgun.
Our attention was dulled by hours of highway driving until we saw an orchard flanking the highway.

“Imagine it in autumn,” he said.

“I like it right now,” I said, taking in the late afternoon light on the bare and gnarly branches.

~

(Click here for Part II: What’s so funny about… )

Posted in Mid-Life Mama, Milestone Moments, Takes a Village, Twenty-something

toxicity, part III: legacy

my sister’s lake

You know how when someone pisses you off, like really bad, and suddenly, everyone else around you appears that much sweeter… and you find yourself immersed in a new found appreciation for the people you took for granted…

That’s where our family was a week ago after an unexpected, but predictable, and yet no less painful, drama, enacted by an extended family member with our oldest son.

In the brunt of this storm, we held on tightly to each other, and buoyed ourselves with compassion and connection and alliance.

Later that evening, my youngest came into my office, and draped himself over my shoulders. “Thank you,” he said.

“For what?” I asked, as I wrapped my arms around his.

“For you and dad,” he said.  “For not bringing the pain of your childhoods into our family.”

I sighed, and suggested that he might feel differently by the time he’s an adult, and then I stood up to meet him in a full embrace.

Hours later, when his older brother came to my bedside and kissed my forehead goodnight, he echoed the same appreciation.

“Well done.” he said.

I looked up quizzically.

“You raised me without all that crap.”

Wait until you’re thirty and in therapy, I almost said, but then I paused, and took in his recognition, and said, Thank you, and then announced, as much to myself:  “It was hard work!”

I went on to catalogue all the ways in which I’d cultivated consciousness from the time I was his age… Al-Anon, therapy, reading, writing, yoga, meditation. “It never ends,” I said. “Pass it on.”

He smiled and nodded, familiar with my expectations on this account.

As a family we hadn’t made it through this night alone. At the height of the pain at our kitchen table, I hit the pause button. I asked, “Can I call for a lifeline?” My son reluctantly agreed.

A half-hour later, he hung up the phone, at ease. He didn’t send that second email. We all breathed a sigh of relief. (I sent my sister a quick thank you.)

Robin lives on a private lake. It’s become a family refuge over the years. A place for gatherings and heart to hearts and silent communes with nature, and the occasional family meltdown at a holiday or reunion.

Before she bought the property, however, it had been an abandoned and young people gathered there to party. (Even some of our friends back in the day.) Robin still lets the fishermen come, but she’s long since turned away the four-wheelers and the campfires and the broken beer bottles. Even so, the lake and the beaches and the woods continued to unearth old pieces of trash or broken glass despite the seasons attending to what was left behind.

Which brings me to our parents.
And their legacy.

It was my father’s admonition that I choose a career based on the best contribution I could make–which led me to the pursuit of consciousness above all else.

And it was my mother’s devotion to consciousness–in daily practice–alongside her sobriety–which showed me how.

And it was their combined unconsciousness, and that of their parents before them, that taught me the consequence of forgoing it.

What I now find so absolutely amazing–beyond how the patterns of toxicity and pain perpetuate themselves into the next generation–is choice.

My sister might have decided against building beside that neglected lake. Instead she took trash bags on her walks, and we’ve reaped the benefit of her attention and perseverance.

On the morning after our family realized just how much we appreciated who we were together (and who were weren’t), I remember feeling stunned that I felt so crappy.

“What happened to all the love and clarity,” I moaned, as I dragged myself through the day–agitated with residue.

The answer came in the recollection of a title from a favorite read a few years back:

After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

So I grabbed a bag, and got started.
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(See posts I & II: Loved Ones: a meditation on toxicity;
and A meditation on toxicity, Part II.)

An advance resource for toxicity:
This came in my inbox just as I hit save on this post!
How to clear your sinuses and your emotional baggage.