Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Heart of Summer

I wrote this to a friend a few days ago, and it pretty well sums it up:

"Every time I think I am getting something like perspective regarding Roxy's death, summer comes and the whole god damn thing drops right onto my heart like a piano and fucking smashes it."

The heat is such a visceral call-back to Roxy's death. It was so terribly, oppressively hot. If Hell is this hot, I hope it's at least not quite as humid. I found my mind wandering back three years ago to where I was on this EXACT day, less than 2 weeks from Terra's scheduled C-section... Waiting for Roxy to arrive. A girl!!! What would THAT be like? Scrambling to get things finished, wrapping up loose musical ends, cataloguing and organizing at work in preparation for my absence... feeling hopeful. Jesus, that was, I suppose, the last time I truly felt that way: "hopeful." Since Roxy died, I don't dare "hope" - I "wait and see." That's the best I can do. I guess I am always braced for the worst. No one's death could surprise me, I don't think. A few nights ago, I was sprinting through my house at 4am, checking that doors were locked, checking that kids were breathing, and checking that there were no murderers or kidnappers hiding in closets. Yes, I am that kind of crazy some nights.

My friend Sandi, who lost her beautiful daughter Riley almost a year to the day after we lost Roxy, sent Terra and I an email today and it just had "Roxy" as the subject line - (This post is going to jump around isn't it?) - just seeing her name made me feel SO grateful... anyway, it occurred to me how truly wonderful it is whenever someone says or writes her name to me... I think people avoid it sometimes, as if hearing it could remind me that our first daughter died. As if that realization ever leaves. In every single room I walk into, there is someone missing. Every single room.

Roxy Jean, I remember when the heart of summer stopped beating. I hope it didn't hurt.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My back, my head, etc.

Before my daughter died, I had always imagined that this sort of severe grief was like a guillotine... bang! Comes down the moment you find out he or she is gone, your head rolls off, blood spurts out of your neck hole and that's that. It's not that easy though. I have to say, after 3 years, it's more like a slow, flesh eating disease. It eats you from the inside out. It twists up your bones, wrenches your muscles, jerks and strains your nervous system and turns your skin into wax paper.

After a month of severe back problems, MRI, X-rays, etc., I was ushered into physical therapy. Turns out that depression and anxiety aside from the obvious fun, also create/amplify physical problems as well. It affects posture which, over time, puts stress on your spine and muscles... I've also been having headaches which I thought were due to vision problems. Not so... Apparently, they are cluster headaches, and they are often caused/amplified by (drumroll please)... you guessed it!! Anxiety and depression!!

I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and examined the way that grief has most likely accelerated my aging. My hair is white... my spine is hunched and sore... eyes are tired, dark and creased from squinting... Jesus Christ. I think I'm just now, 3 years later, realizing how tired I am, physically, from being so often in a locked and hunched position.

So... that's my goal for year 4: learning to unlock.

Monday, May 24, 2010

May 24th, 2010 - Lila turns 1

I haven't posted in a while... I got tired. I needed to rest.

Lila turned a year old 3 days ago, and it's felt incredibly magical. When you lose a child, you spend an inordinate amount of time worrying that your remaining children will not survive... I had seen her birthday as a landmark: a line in the sand where LILA WOULD BE OKAY. A point which I would NOT suck all the air out of the room every time my cell phone rang and I saw Terra's number (seriously, I take this giant breath every time, and start to panic, imagining the sound of Terra's hysterical screams on the other end...). But Terra just called me. Apparently, that is not a bridge I will ever cross completely. I will have occasional fits of fear that Mason and Lila will die before me for the rest of my life, apparently. It sucks to have to accept that.

At the same time, this gift of Lila, this magical little creature who already sings and gravitates to music and musical instruments... this little warm smiling package... she is so inherently unique and gushing with sweetness, and she makes me somehow grateful to have survived this long.

Some day she will probably ask questions I don't yet know how to answer, but I'm working on it:

"Would I have been born if Roxy had lived?"
--(I think I will tell her what I believe: she, Lila, was meant for us and she would have made an incredible little sister to Roxy as she is to Mason)
"Do you love Roxy more than me?"
--(Each shotgun-weilding child blasts his/her own hole into a specific part of our hearts. I have been done in, bowled over and electrocuted by the love I equally feel for all my children).

Lila, Roxy, Mason, you are all loved.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

September 8, 2007 - The Good Day

I had to take Ambien to sleep the night before, and the morning crept up slowly. My bones were lead pipes, and my eyeballs were sore. Mason was already awake, quietly playing n the other room. Terra was also awake, but just lying there on her back with her eyes open, looking nowhere.
“What would you like to eat for breakfast?” I asked Mason.
“Nothing,” he answered.
"Here we go again," I grumbled.
I poured him some cereal and pleaded with him to come and eat it. I put Terra’s coffee on, and when I approached her she was sitting up, staring. She had been up late last night web surfing herself into distraction.
“You’re coffee is ready.”
She responded by standing, and walking slowly into the kitchen. I snuck outside for a cigarette (I kept the new habit hidden from Mason). I felt light-headed and dizzy has I sucked on the filter and heard the paper burn.
When I re-entered the kitchen, I had to steady myself against the table.

“Maybe we should drive separately today,” she called from the other room. “I need to get some things from the store.”
“Well, if we don’t need that much, we could all ride together…” I offered.
“No,” she said curtly. “I don’t want to have to hurry. You always make me feel like I have to hurry.”
I didn't respond, taking a seat on the couch. I knew we were going to have a fight before the day was finished. I turned on the television and looked at the floor and then the clock.
“Mason,” I sang, “it’s about time to go to the birthday party. Do you want to ride with me or Mama?”
“I thought we were all going togedder,” he sighed.
“No, Mama needs to go to the store after you get out of school. Do you want to ride in my car or Mama’s?”
“You. Are we going to race her?”
“Yes, definitely. She’s going to stop by the post office so she’ll never beat us!”

After a short stay at the birthday party of another 4-year old (which Mason spent running circles around the living room with a balloon) we followed Terra to the local co-op for lunch and neither of us spoke to each other. We both peppered Mason with questions which he answered with shrugs.
"Did you have fun?"
"What are you doing at school?"
"Who do you like to play with the most?"
"What did you have for lunch at school yesterday?"
What we really wanted to know was whether he was aware that we were totally fucked up. We also desperately wanted to know if he was okay.

After paying the check, Mason and I said good-bye to Terra, and I felt grateful that we were going to spend the day separately. The sadness had her today, and I wanted to get away from it.

Jo had his daughter, Victoria so we met up with them at his house. I could still remember the change in his face the day she was born. She was one year older than Mason, and partly responsible for his existence, because until I saw Jo with Victoria and how happy it made him to be a father, I never could imagine myself pulling it off. Terra had wanted children for a while, but I had always had a hard time seeing myself as a father. I didn’t ever see many dads that were much like me before Jo. Before Victoria, I’m not sure I had ever held a baby. She helped change the way I looked at them. They didn’t seem so terrifying. If Jo could do it, so could I! And so a year later, Mason was born, screaming and wiggling. Mason was born in that room. Mason was born in that room where Roxy died. There was no memory of one without the other.

Victoria was the most eloquent and articulate 5 year-old I’d ever met. She chatted away about her love for The Ramones as Mason crawled underneath the kitchen table and made fart noises. I felt a sudden warmth at the sight of these two beauties. One, so mild and articulate, the other, bursting at the seams with physical energy… the sage and the imp, perfectly juxtaposed. Mason crawled from under the table and sat down next to me. I smiled and put my arm around him.

We decided to caravan over to a nearby park. A large contraption with slides and ladders became the castle. Jo was The Dragon, Victoria The Princess and Mason the knight. The Dragon chased The Knight up the ladder and down the slide. The Princess screamed. I was The Feral Cat. I hunched and fretted.
“Don’t climb back up the slide Mason!” I yelled from the ground.
The Knight ignored me and continued his climb.
“Be careful,” I called, putting my left arm up over my head and biting my lip.
The Knight slid back down and climbed again up the tall twisting yellow slide.
“Mason!” I yelled, “I mean it! Don’t climb up that slide. You’re going to fall over backwards!”
The Knight, preoccupied with The Dragon and The Princess, couldn't even hear me.
“Okay, over here,” I said sternly, “sit down next to me for a minute.”
He could not die, not ever. I would not let him.
The Princess called to The Knight.
“I can’t come there now Victoria, I’m in trouble,” he responded, matter-of-factly, as he turned and walked and counted his paces my direction. I giggled, silently.
I pointed to the top of the slide and offered an explanation as to why I thought it was dangerous. Mason looked up at me, bored. “I have to go poop Dad.” I giggled again. The sunlight began to reach around the grey clouds and I looked at it as it hit my left hand. I felt its warmth inching up my arm. Mason smiled at me and I was suddenly happy.

After about 40 minutes, we decided to head to The Cinemat for their Saturday “Atomic Age Cinema” short film and old Science Fiction TV show feature. Br and U had been telling me about this for years, but for whatever reason, today was our first time. Inside their screening room, there were two young men dressed as a gorilla and a Robin-esque superhero, respectively. We bought some popcorn and found a seat. Br was there with Ella and Winter, and they sat together with Victoria and a couple of other young girls on the large orange vintage couch in the front row. Jo, Br, Mason and I sat behind them. Mason climbed onto my lap. He was captivated by our superhero host, who introduced the first show, Stingray. Stingray was a show from the early to mid sixties, featuring marionettes living in a futuristic under-water setting. Our heroes, Captain Troy Tempest, his navigator with the slow southern drawl, Phones, and Marina, a Brigette Bardot copy with sleepy, stoned eyes. Their bodies twitched and shook as they guided their submarine past a variety of pitfalls and diabolical schemes and the dialogue was wonderfully ridiculous. I was caught up in it, laughing. Mason sat up on my knee, wide-eyed.

Stingray was followed by episodes of Captain Marvel and other older and goofier television shows, and we never moved. I laughed so hard and so often that Mason eventually reached back with his left hand to cover my mouth. When the last episode of Captain Marvel was over, and they turned the lights on in the screening room, I looked at Mason. He continued to stare at the blank screen. “Did you like that?” I asked.
“Yeah that was awesome.”
“It was pretty awesome. We should do this again sometime.”
We said good-bye to our friends, and we exited, hand in hand. On the way to the car, we stomped in some puddles. Mason looked happy and tired.
“We have to go pick up Mama so we can go to Aunt Carole’s Birthday Party,” I told him.
“Can I play my game when I get home?”
“For a few minutes, sure.”
As I drove home, I adjusted the rearview mirror and watched him with a full heart. He shifted a little, and then smiling, he looked directly at me. My heart jumped up and saluted.

That evening, with little rest, we met my entire extended family at The Sushi Bar. Mason sat across from me, between my mom and Lu, the 2-year old daughter of my cousin Mike. Lucy is tiny and blond. Her hair was cut at an angle, the bangs hung down low over her chin. She had wild eyes and bounced in her seat.
“Mason! Mason! Mason!” she shrieked.
There were 20 of us sitting at tables placed end to end. Two toddlers cried loudly, their screams piercing every corner of the restaurant.
“Oh my god,” Ka said under her breath as she sat down next to me.
“You like that?” I asked, giggling.
“Yeah. I think I might barf,” she answered.
“Because! I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m not well.” Ka had been having anxiety attacks too.
The screaming continued. Kids were passed around the tables. Scream, scream, scream. Scream, scream, scream.
I glanced around at other patrons, feeling amused by their discomfort... feeling mischievous. It felt wonderful. I looked across the table into Jo’s eyes. He was nowhere to be found in there. His eyes looked peaceful. (I’ve always been jealous of his ability to disappear like that.) Still, I managed to get his attention and I was laughing.
Going out to eat sushi was not a common activity for many of us. We were from southern Indiana, after all. At one point, Sheila, Jo’s older sister was standing up at the end of the table.
“What is THIS?” She held up a spicy tuna roll. “Is it all like THIS?! I’m not eating THIS!”
I watched the expressions of the other patrons, their faces turning red with disgust. I was mindful of the sneering waitress standing on the other side of the fish aquarium. A goldfish swam across her frown. I took this all in.
My older sister, Carey, was also there at the end of our table. Her gaze was tense underneath her blond hair. (She is autistic, and social situations cause her a great deal of discomfort, even the reasonable kind.) She kept repeating “can I have some ice cream?” loudly.
“No! We’re not getting ice cream Carey…” my mom anticipated a meltdown and began to look uncomfortable.
“Can I have some ice cream?” Carey asked the waitress.
“Kori, we’re not getting ice cream,” said my mother, waving her off.
The toddlers scream, scream, scream. Mason placed his hands over his ears.
“I’m with you,” Kandi said, reaching over to tug on his sleeve.
I watched this all, feeling so oddly pleased.

When we all finally received our checks, I realized that I had been significantly overcharged. I didn't even mind, happy to pay extra for this day. I signed the receipt and sighed heavily.
“Let’s go get some ice cream,” I said to Terra and Mason. Terra looked at me surprised, an eyebrow raised. I smiled widely. She smiled back. We walked across the sidewalk, into the rain soaked parking lot.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

September 6, 2007 - Lifting the Hood

Another day, and another crack at eliminating Xanax from the menu. I did not feel well. Terra scowled and her movements were sharp. I knew one wrong word and she would be slamming dishes down and going to bed, weeping. So far, we had been pretty good at not taking our misery out on each other, but we were both volatile and electric with desperation as we weaved around each other in the kitchen.
“Mason, what would you like to eat?” I asked.
No answer.
“Mason,” I continued, impatiently.
“I don’t want anything,” he said, continuing to mess with a board game on the floor.
Terra walked to the fridge and pulled out chocolate pudding and began eating it, absent-mindedly.
“Can I have some pudding!?!” Mason was standing at attention.
I looked at Terra and nodded sarcastically. Great. I waited to hear how she would respond.
“Um, no, you have to eat something good for you first,” she answered with disinterest.
Mason retreated in defeat back to the living room floor and refocused on his game. I could feel the anger coming up into my spine, my shoulders and then my arms. Anything could trigger a surge of horrible adrenaline in me during those days. “Did YOU?” I asked quietly.
“No, but I’m an ADULT.” She was zero to 60 livid as well.
“Man, I don’t like that. Double standard. I don’t think that’s fair,” I snarled.
“Well, I’m not you.” Terra rose and stomped into the other room.
I continued to hover over the table shaking with rage. Mason was just a few feet away. Breathe. I quickly walked myself through some rational thoughts:
"This is complicated. We get through these moments however we can. It may be hypocritical and cruel, eating chocolate pudding in front of a 4-year-old who can’t have it, but at that moment, maybe that chocolate pudding was keeping Terra from turning the table over and screaming."
I concentrated and kept this thought in my head to avoid turning the table over myself.
I walked outside and Mason followed me. He spoke exuberantly as he poured water from a discarded plate into a plastic cup. “Look Dad! Look! That’s all the water there is!” “Yes,” I said, blank and smiling. I pulled Mason onto my lap and he continued his water experiment. I placed my cheek against the back of his head and I sighed, deeply. "We’ve got to get it together", I thought.

After 20 minutes, I approached Terra who was lying on the living room couch. She had been crying.
“Did you get your records release faxed?” I asked her, changing the subject.
“No, I forgot to bring it in here.”
“I’ll do it for you. Is the fax number on the sheet?”
“Yes, at the bottom.”
I started the fax machine, and punched the numbers in, listening for the right kinds of beeps and boops. I sat down on the floor in front of Terra. I looked at her but I dared not speak.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you,” she said, finally.
“That’s okay,” I answered. “You don’t really think that way, though, that it’s okay to do stuff like that in front of him when he can’t, do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Good. That’s what matters to me.”

After a couple of quiet, sad hours in front of the television, Mason had gone to bed. The withdrawal continued to grow worse and worse inside me. Darkness all over the sky. I paced around my house, irrational, frightened and wild. I felt my eyes dilate and dart. Breathing again became a conscious process. Reminding myself, I would gasp and squint. I smoked and smoked. Teeth chattering, feet pacing... I had not anticipated that after just one month of daily consumption, Xanax would be so brutal to quit. Or maybe this was just how my body FELT when my senses weren't dulled. I tried to read a newspaper. Couldn't. Couldn't write either. My thoughts scattered like cockroaches, and I could not get a handle on them. There were hundreds of words in my head, pushing and shoving, trying to get to the front of the line. I could HEAR them, but not quite understand. Oh god, the thing's coming again. SHE was coming. Roxy. No, no, I couldn't handle that, no. No, no, no, no. Block it. Block it. I was so afraid.
“I feel really terrible,” I said to Terra.
“Why don’t you try taking Ambien?” she asked. She didn't have the energy to babysit me while I flipped out again.
“Maybe I should.”

September 5, 2007 - Basketball and Trying to Kick Xanax

Exhausted. Tired and sore in the bones. The time had come to kick Xanax, and the insomnia was back. While I was no stranger to exhaustion itself, when coupled with grief it was exponentially more debilitating. Sitting up in bed when the alarm went off felt impossible. One muscle at a time, I could feel them all clench and anticipate the ugly movement.
I had now heard all the talk about the various components of grief so many times I could spell the words backwards. Denial, anger, depression, blah blah blah. In my opinion though, “exhaustion” should be added to that list. When exhaustion and terrible sadness are intertwined, a shroud is woven from beneath which sometimes you literally cannot see or hear. The world around you becomes a hum of violence and decay. Your head pounds. Everything is too bright. Like the first and second lines in an ancient Roman army, they attack in quick succession. Exhaustion, with spears, weakens you and then Grief comes galloping in on horseback and cuts your fucking head off.

I had decided to play basketball with my regular group of middle-aged IT and IU Business School employees. If I had to exercise, this was the way to do it. I used to play regularly three times a week over lunch, but lately, I’d hardly participated at all. I needed to get my mind off of this Xanax withdrawal. I needed to outrun it.
The court was brimming with young, new faces. New additions since I’d been gone, to be sure. The games were fast-paced and we were really out and running. Harvard, a 6’5”, 250 pound former division 1 college athlete was on the court, and, by our standards, unstoppable. He was on my team, and we were running, running, running like horses. An hour and a half had gone by, and My lungs felt shrunken and my chest ached. Knowing I shouldn’t, I decided to play one last game by 2’s and 3’s to 20. We were up 16 to 15, and suddenly, my vision began to go. I steadied myself. I couldn't focus.
“I have to quit guys, sorry,” I gasped. I back peddled to the water fountain, nearly falling into it. (I needed to get my peasant ass out into the hallway so my impending death didn't inconvenience anybody). The hall became a dark tunnel all around me as I gasped and silently prayed:
"Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die. Mason needs you. Mason needs you. Oh my god."
I ran to the bathroom and put my head under the faucet and felt the rushing cold water over my neck... "slow down heart, slow down, slow down..."
Soaking wet, I wandered back out to the hall and down the stairs where the lockers were, but I couldn't make it through the door. I found a couch nearby and leaned back into it. I placed my left arm over my head and tried to breathe. This had been going on for a few minutes, when they guys started streaming down the stairs. The game was over.
“Are you alright?” Steve asked.
“You don’t look good,” Mark said.
“Are you going to throw up in my car?” inquired Jim.
“I just need to sit here for a minute…” The lights were flashing. Chest pains!! I remember thinking it must be embarrassing to die.
“You’ve stopped sweating,” Mark said.
“I’ll get you some water,” said Steve.
“He probably needs something to get his electrolytes back up,” said Mark. He appeared with water. Jim handed me a banana and a Powerade. I gulped it all.
Another twenty minutes went by, while I repeated these things in my head: “Oh my god. Mason needs me.”
Young women and men walked by with curious expressions. I can see their thoughts: “I’ve never seen anybody DIE before!” and “man, that dude must be diabetic.”
“Let’s try this…” I finally said to Jim, motioning toward the stairs. I walked slowly, stair by stair, out the door, down the long sidewalk and across the large, 3-tiered parking lot. Jim was nervously trying to make small talk, but I couldn't concentrate. It was 94 degrees outside. The air was so thick you could feel it pushing back against your body. Oh god. I pressed the Powerade to my face and cold drops of water landed on my thighs.
At last, we were back to our building. I stumbled in through my office door, and waved, thanking Jim for the ride. I walked carefully to my desk and slumped in my chair. Needed the water from the fridge. Stood up, 23 steps, grabbed the water, Xanax on the tongue, and poured the water down over it. 30 minutes later, I took another one. I was going to have to kick this on another day. Maybe the next one.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

August 31st, 2007 - The Cookout

We were going to have a cookout. Terra’s best friend, Hi, had come town with her family and Terra wanted to see them... entertain them even. For me, it was an excuse to drink hard and stay out of my head.
We cleaned the house, got Mason down for a nap, and prepared food. I couldn't even tell you what. I chopped onions and drank cans of Natural Light. Terra and I laughed and teased each around the island in our kitchen, chopping broccoli, tomatoes, scallions… I was feeling good. I had actually SLEPT the night before and it was having a wonderful affect on my mood. "I'm going to make it," I thought to myself. I breathed in and the air felt clean. I was able to think of Roxy and let it hurt without shaking my head "NO NO NO NO NO." I opened another Natural Light. Then another. Then another.
Guests began to arrive. Adults and children alike, were scattering throughout our back yard. Whiskey and coke, cheap beer, wine and food all around.
IThe outdoors were blurry with trees and laughter. I spun around one corner of the yard with 5 kids and a giant blue rubber ball. I kicked it repeatedly up into the outstretched branches of the maple trees, and one at a time, the children would chase it down with wild flailing arms and bring it back to me. I was a child myself. I have wandered into the creation of a new game. Something accidental and perfect.
And oh yes! I promised them we would make s’mores!
I had never been drunk in front of my son before Roxy died, and now it was every Saturday.

Natural Light in hand, I gathered good marshmallow sticks from the hanging branches of trees.
“Can we help?” Ella asked.
“Yes yes! That would be great!”
“I want to help too!” Em screamed.
“Me too! Me too!” from all around.
“Yes yes!” I yelled, stumbling.
I gathered up the sticks. Em approached with a heap of brush and hands it to me. “Thank you!” I giggled. I gathered more sticks. I heard Ella and Shell giggling. I looked up to see Ella with gobs of brush sticking out of her shirt, shorts and hair.
“You are totally camo!” I bellowed! Hee hee!!! Ha Ha!!!
Then I heard a mother scream. It is U.
“ELLA!!!!!!!!!!!! THAT’S POISON IVY!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Oh. No.” Ella muttered, sadly.
“Oh shit,” I heard myself say. “That’s poison ivy?” I glanced around with bleary eyes. All the children were holding thatches of poison ivy.
“Yes.” U was trying to stay calm. “Yes, this is poison ivy, see when the leaf looks like it has a thumb…” she explained.
“Oh shit.”
“Yeah, this is not good… Ella, go into the bathroom and wash off from head to toe.”
The party outside had gone silent. I was still holding onto my Natural Light. Guilt hammered me hard, and everything started slowing down. I realized at the exact same time everyone else did that I was completely shitfaced. I sat down. Z, Hi’s 5-year-old daughter, wanted to save me and dragged me back into the fray. Suddenly I found myself again with the giant blue rubber ball, surrounded by young, chocolate covered faces. I kicked and I kicked and I kicked. I was sweating, snarling, giggling and jumping. I stopped occasionally and shouted “nice job!” or “now wait until it’s your turn” but mostly I was just kicking with a beer in my hand. I was disappearing.

As darkness began to descend, scenes from the day were grouping together as I watched. Bocce ball over there, heart to heart over there and Hi and her family had quietly disappeared without much of a goodbye. Aside from signed names on a Christmas card that year, Terra never really heard from her again. So much for entertaining them.

I made popcorn for children watching a movie and kicked over somebody's juice. They had tired, tired eyes.
“About 20 more minutes…” I slurred in Mason’s direction.
An hour later I heard myself saying the same thing again. Outside, the scene was getting crazy. Only the wild ones were left. The music had gotten louder, and I gave a standing sermon regarding The Kinks and how they could eat The Beatles' lunch, and challenged anyone to state differently. Jo and Mike were slapping each other. A group was smoking dope. Terra was drunkenly threatening to fight our friend Mac but instead lurched and sprayed bug repellent into Jo's open mouth.
"I have GOT to put Mason to bed before things get too out of hand," I heard myself say. I wobbled, watching him brush his teeth, and tried to brace myself against the back of the toilet.
“Can we read a book?” he asked.
“Oh, it might be too late,” I mumbled, leading him into the bedroom.
“Oh…” he was about to crack.
“Alright,” I relented. “A short one.”
I stuttered through an awful, uninspired rendition of “We’re Going On a Bear Hunt.” His eyes were heavy. "Shouldn’t take him long to fall asleep" I thought. "Please, please, please..." I was starting to feel sick to my stomach. I had to pee terribly. "Please, please, please.." I stared at him for 45 minutes, both of us in total silence. His eyes were heavy, but his body squirmed. Finally, he stopped moving his knee. Was he asleep? I began to crawl out of the bed.
He moved.
Dammit. I lay back down. The shrieks outside were gleeful and irreverent and I wanted to be out there. I wanted to vomit and I desperately wanted to take a leak. Slowly, slowly, slowly, his eyes closed again. I again started to crawl out of the bed. Tip toe, tip toe, tip toe…
He opened his eyes and sat straight up.
“Honey, I have to pee really badly. I’ll be right back.”
He made a face.
“Really, I’ll be right back…”
By the time I returned, he was sleeping hard. I said his name softly to be sure. Nothing. "Oh thank you thank you thank you..."
Outside, I took shots of whiskey and smoke. I turned up The Kinks and admonished Br for touching the stereo. I talked loudly about Mike’s high school haircut and my wife had started winging wet marshmallows at Josh. So I started to throw marshmallows. A full on scrum ensued, with people running all over the yard, everywhere. Animals, animals, animals. We had clawed our way back to madness.

Then, bang, my head hit the iron table. I was going to sleep tonight.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

August 30th, 2007 - The Shopping Trip, Movie and Beating a Panic Attack

Running late again. I had requested the 2nd half of the day off to take Terra shopping, just to get her out of the house, and I really, REALLY needed to get to work on time today. Terra handed Mason some clothes, and said “can you change into these please?” I was running and fumbling from room to room. Where were the keys? Where were my sunglasses? What time was it?!!! Mason sat his playroom floor, playing a video game.
“Mason,” I said, “you need to get ready right now. We need to leave very, very soon.” He couldn't hear me. I walked into the playroom and stood over him. He looked at me, tiredly.
“You need to get ready right now,” I repeated, fuse lit.
“But mom said I could get ready while I played my game.”
“You’re NOT getting ready! We don’t have time for the game this morning!”
“Well, I’m going to tell Mom!”
The fuse was burning fast now. “YOU are going to put on your clothes so that I can take you to Mimi’s house and you are going to do it right now!” I turned off his game.
He silently changed his clothes while I silently marveled at what a shit I had become.

Even still, once we had managed our way out the door and over to my mother's house (she babysits on Fridays), Mason ran to jump into my arms and he hugged me goodbye. Maybe he understood. Maybe his 4-year-old mind understood better than most. My friend CK used to say "you've probably still got money in his bank." I hoped so.

Work hours came and went like a commercial and I left to pick up Terra. The drive was long and winding. A two-lane highway for most of the 2.5 hours, we spent much of it surfing the radio waves for something, anything to keep from having to talk. We heard preachers and country singers, the odd car commercial (“WE REALLY NEED TO GIT RID OF SOME OF THIS STUFF!”) to dead air, until, finally… “SWAP SHOP!”
Swap Shop is a phenomenon you can find on some small Indiana radio stations (or so I am told). People called in and listed the things they were selling. From what I could tell, it is mostly older folks calling in:
“This is Edna Sasser, and I’ve got a swimming pool for sale. We don’t feel like blowing it up this year. Somebody come and get this thing. Get it out of here. 50 bucks. Get it out of here.”
“This is Harriet Fulford,” another woman said, speaking slowly for anyone writing it down. “I live at 42, I mean 4325 Livingston Court and we are having a big, I mean BIG 6 family yard sale. I’ve got a cabbage patch doll from 1985, still in the box. Not even opened, I mean it’s an original. One of the first ever made, so come on down and see us, Honey.”
The deejay often struggled with his composure, and attempted to succinctly summarize each caller’s products: “that’s right, Harriet Fulford, go out and get you a cabbage doll…” or “yes, Edna Sasser, she’s got a swimming pool just like new, so give her a call." The “caller” had often vacated the line when the deejay connected their call, which left 20 seconds of silence over the airwaves before the deejay finally says “welp, folks I think we lost ‘em there.”
Swap Shop, Swap Shop, Swap Shop!!

Unfortunately, we lost the station around New Albany.

In silence, we continued. We fidgeted and rocked. We stared out of our windows. At all costs, we avoided eye contact and we took turns watching the clock.

Finally! Shoe stores! Massive, massive shoe stores!! The Gap!! Old Navy!! Toys R Us!! (I DESPISE shopping by the way. I don't even like buying gas). Terra spent the day walking up and down isles, picking things up and putting things down. I spent the day trying desperately not to ruin it for her with my bitter and severe countenance. I smoked outside of the stores and grumbled at the backs of strangers in their crisp blue jeans. This antiseptic outlet malls in the wake of my daughter's death, I imagined, was worse than any Hell I'd ever heard about. (Burn me, cast me into the eternal darkness, whatever, but DO NOT send me to one of those Tangier Outlets.) If there was a God, and he was truly omnipotent, then he must also be selfish and cruel.
I found a bench outside of the Baby Gap, and sat on it. Finally. Shade. Quiet. The wind was blowing and the air was cool. It felt good. I watched sparrows in the parking lot fight over a french fry. I watched them as they sat on the skinny blades of the elephant grass, swaying up, down, side to side.
Then, THUD.
A couple walked out with a newborn baby. The woman pushed a stroller ahead, and the very young father held the baby’s face to his own. The baby had thick, black hair. Thick, black hair. Thick. Black. Hair.
It’s Xanax time.

Earlier in the day, Terra had hinted that there may be a sexy reward along the highway if it was dark enough driving home. Romance, sex, none of that had come up in that last month, so it seemed monumental and exciting in light of our new selves.
By the time we she found me outside on that bench, though, that is all gone.
“Do you need me to drive?” Terra asked.
“No, I can handle it.”
We drove directly into the sunset. Its beauty was distracting, and its brightness a hazard. Our car was, again, quiet. All of the promise of the day was gone. Back to surviving it. We again searched the airwaves. We finally found Gene Simmons on NPR being interviewed by Terri Gross. It was a replay, but a good one with plenty of awkward moments. Eventually, as with Swap Shop, we lost reception.
We started passing the cell phone back and forth, making phone calls. We need someone else. Someone outside of this bubble of misery that we lived in.
We would meet Jo!! (Jo never once failed to drop any and all plans he had at the spur of the moment for me during this time... I never even had to mention how desperate I was... He would agree to anything before I even finished my sentence, and he saved me more than once.)

We would go to a movie!! Just like regular people!! It seemed so foolproof... so perfect. Escape.

We decided to see the ‘Halloween’ remake (an excellent choice for anyone dealing with severe anxiety issues!)
The parking lot of the movie theatre was riddled with teenagers. I had always despised large crowds anyway, but lately they were unbearable. Yet another element I had not considered. “Wow, look at them all. This is terrifying.”
“Oh my god,” Jo affirmed without missing a beat (my closest compadre, he would never leave me hanging.)
We stood in the ticket line and giggled nervously. "Uh oh..." and it occurred to me that I could run into people we knew. The thought was horrifying. Why hadn't we just gone home?!! Thank Shiva for Jo, who whispered "I'm scared too," and giggled again. "Oh fuck this", I thought. I was weary of trying to talk myself down. I decided that I would just let it kill me.
I opened myself up, completely, to the waiting anxiety standing right there in that line. I allowed it to cover my skin and pulse through my veins. I INVITED it to attack, attack, attack my cerebellum. How funny that “two tickets to the 9:40 showing of Halloween” would be my last words. I followed Jo and Terra to the snack and popcorn stand, and with each step I felt my body surging with the waves of panic, only, I wasn't under them. I was on top. I could almost enjoy it. As if I were falling, I gave myself permission to feel the pleasure and speed of falling without worrying about the impact.

The rest of the night, Jo and Terra and I laughed and laughed. The movie was predictably terrible. We were the oldest people in the theatre. This was the night that I realized I had to leave my pre-Roxy self behind. I had to learn a new way.

August 29th, 2007 - Finally, Sadness Without Panic (and the Onset of Semi-Permanent Anger)

I started the day off scrambling, running late. I told Mason to change his clothes and eat his breakfast while I showered, brushed my teeth and gathered the day’s necessities:
1) A check to pay Mason’s Pre-School tuition for the 2 week period.
3) My lunch: a bag of half-rotten lettuce and cucumbers (anything, as long as I didn't need to repackage it.)
4) My lunchtime basketball gear.
5) My MP3 player.
6) Movies to return to the library: P.S., The Matador and DragonballZ- the first season.
The phone rang and it was my mother:
“Hey, what are you doing?”
“Just trying to get out of here,” I sighed impatiently.
“Oh, well, Ni got the number for the person to contact who can tell you whether that OB specialist will be covered under your insurance…”
I sighed impatiently again.
“Hello?” she said.
“Yeah. I’m trying to find a pen. Okay, go ahead…”
She recited the info, wounded and I hung up. “Mason, come on, we really have to go…”
“I’m coming,” he sang, smiling.
We ran out the door to another day, with guilt having set up it's shop the crow's feet of my squinting eyes.

One of the things that our therapist had repeated to us was that, really, only time could help ease our suffering and I was banking on it. I tried to hurry through days as fast as I could, just to get them over with. Most of the “fight or flight” panic had begun to subside now (aside from the near-daily panic attack which refused to keep a predictable schedule) but the emotions- the sad, sad, angry, furious, guilty, sad- that had been waiting beneath were no better. My stomach felt less tight, but songs were starting to creep in.

“Girl From the North Country” by Bob Dylan was playing as I drove and that song was no longer about a lover. It was no longer romantic. For me, it was (and is now) about a daughter and about death:

Well, if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Well, if you go when the snowflakes storm,
When the rivers freeze and summer ends,
Please see if she's wearing a coat so warm,
To keep her from the howlin' winds.

Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and flows all down her breast.
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That's the way I remember her best.

I'm a-wonderin' if she remembers me at all.
Many times I've often prayed
In the darkness of my night,
In the brightness of my day.

So if you're travelin' in the north country fair,
Where the winds hit heavy on the borderline,
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Before I knew it, I was crying again, but for the first time since Roxy died, the tears didn't feel completely wasted. There was something GOOD in them. Something furious. Something sad, sad, sad. Something LOST but not afraid, at least for the moment, and it felt like I was kind of alive.

I was off to work with my spine feeling like a spear and my eyes like two 45's. I WANTED someone to say the wrong thing to me. I CRAVED conflict.

After a day spent in simmering hostility and nearly losing it with people all day, I decided to come home early. Terra was in the process of making dinner and Mason was watching cartoons.
“Dinner is almost ready,” she said.
It was Fettuccini Alfredo with Shrimp, Mushrooms and Broccoli. “Come on Mason,” I huffed, “Mama made dinner.”
No response.
“Mason!” I repeated.
No response.
No response.
I lost it. “MASON!!!!!!!” I screamed from the kitchen.
He entered the doorway, bottom lip trembling, 4 years old. I was angry. Angry at him and sick of myself.
“Mason,” I gathered myself, “you’ve GOT to start listening to us when we’re talking to you.” Bottom lip still trembling, he didn't say a word.
“Okay, you look like you might be tired,” I said. “Are you tired?” (Where was this going?)
“No, I’m not tired,” he sighed. He climbed reluctantly into his chair. Terra sat across from him. I sat to his left. Terra said nothing. She had no plate in front of her.
"You need to eat," I said.
“I’m not that hungry and I didn’t make that much. You should eat it.” I stood gruffly, walked to the cabinet and jerked out a plate and piled half of my serving onto it, and said “you should eat something, really.”
Mason looked down at his plate. “Oh, why do I always have to eat this stuff?”
“You know what? That’s really rude. Why don’t you just go to bed,” I I snarled quietly and coldly. My voice sounded unrecognizable. I hated it. I wanted to run but instead Mason did, crying.
We listened as he wailed in his bedroom. I looked into Terra's eyes. “I don’t know what to do,” I said, voice cracking. I felt tiny, hateful, mean. Her eyes welled with tears.
Deep, deep breath. “Okay, Mason, do you want another chance?”
“What?” he coughed.
“Do you want to try this again? Come here please.” He walked slowly and deliberately back into the kitchen.
“Look" I said, calmly (and oh so very together), "it’s rude, after Mama makes you dinner, to sit there and complain about it. The first thing we should do is thank her for making us dinner.” This was when I realized that I hadn't thanked her myself.
“Thank you Terra,” I said, lost. Where had I gone? Who was I now? Her eyes brimmed with tears.
“Thank you for dinner,” Mason said, still breathing hard.
“Okay, okay,” she said, “calm down. Take a deep breath.”
“I wish I could ask Dad a question,” Mason said to Terra.
My heart restarted and I began to feel a deep, deep remorse. I tried to smile. “Mason, you can ask me anything, any time. I just don’t want you to be rude. Sometimes, when you are tired, it makes you act, um, not very nice, and sometimes when I’m tired it makes me act, um, not very nice either.” I hugged him tightly. “What’s your question?”
His eyes lit up and he expelled an extended monologue regarding Superman and his superhero cohorts. I felt even worse. I nodded, hugged him again. He continued, excitedly.

Mason finished his meal and re-entered the living room to continue watching “Kenny the Shark.” How appropriate.
Terra was at the sink. I approached her and put my hands on her shoulders. “I’m really sorry,” I said.
“For what?” She didn’t turn around.
“For being a grouchy dick,” I said. “I shouldn’t act like that. I’m as bad as Mr. Bee.”
“No you’re not! It’s really hard. He’s been driving me crazy today too.”
“He’s just tired,” I sighed. “Please, let me do those.” I took a plate, and wished it were enough.

Monday, March 29, 2010

August 27th, 2007 - Completely and Totally Stark Raving Mad (part 5)

Grief is like waking up one day, deep in the middle of a cave with no flashlight. Your back hurts, your stomach feels tight and scraped out, your eyes burn, the shape of your spine contorts... (2.5 years later, and I can see a significant difference Terra's posture). You hear 50 voices at once calling from all directions. You panic. You always feel like you need to hurry, find a way out. You run into everything, figuratively and literally. Your energy goes. You can only creep, heel to toe, through the black, unforgiving space, feeling your way through the tunnels, that is, when you are able move at all.

Sometimes I would imagine that I was traveling through my own aorta in a kayak, splashing up one side and down the other in helmet and goggles, through the heart muscle and down into the grief pit. SPLASH!!

Sometimes I would see my symptoms from the outside. I would imagine that I was a scientist analyzing my own peculiar disease: “oh I’ve got it! My neck hurts because I am holding my head cocked to the right all day and my head won't stop wobbling and shaking!” Then I would straighten my neck only to be gripped by a falling sensation. GASP. Immediately re-cocked my neck. “Oh I see!!! It all makes sense now!!!”

I was at work. D walked lightly into my office and said “hey, what’s up? Wanted to see how the sexy Mr. Childers is doing today. I mean, Gonzalez resigned. I think that’s a pretty good weekend all by itself.”
I looked at him. “Hey there,” I said, “did he?”
Da and I used to talk about politics nearly every work day for at least 15 good minutes. Nearly every day. 6 years. Today he was getting nothing from me and I saw the question in his eyes. He tapped aimlessly at buttons on the copy machine. He decided to go for it: “want to talk about basketball then?”
I forced a smile. I didn't have it in me to... talk about it. He kindly fills the space and does the talking for both of us. Lakers and Suns, Gonzalez is out, yes! These things happened. After a few minutes, I realized that I had stopped listening or looking up. The peasant inside me shrieked "DON'T BE SO RUDE!!!" and I looked up at him.
“…well, I’ve got some work to do…” he said, and quietly left.
The phone rang.

Terra is crying.

I was aware that every hour since the moment we found out on July 31st, Terra had been tracing her steps back from that day to find the exact moment she may have killed our daughter.
I heard her say “I didn’t totally give up caffeine.”
I heard her say “I drank wine on the boat.”
I heard her say “I shouldn’t have climbed through that window when I was locked out of the house.”
I heard her say “I shouldn’t have gotten into that big fight with her. I mean, that was stressful.”
I heard her say “I wore that pregnancy apron every day when I had to do x-rays.”
She had repeated these things, out loud, while looking me in the eye after Mason went to bed. It was a nightly ritual.

The autopsy results had come back.
“They found nothing.”

One of the things about Terra that has always gotten me ( and something most people never see) is that she cries silently. It is wholly and completely the most authentic and sad things I have ever known. She never makes a sound. She doesn't close her eyes. The tears just fall out of her and she wipes them away as if she were dusting a nightstand. There is something ancient and proud and beautiful in the way she cries. It rips me apart.

Terra was crying. I know, because I couldn't hear anything except the sound of her breathing through her mouth.
I breathed deeply, searching for my words. Surely, surely, surely I could comfort her now… I mean, I was an English major for crissakes. I had read like 10,000 pages of 19th century prose and poetry in two different languages. I had done my homework.
“That fucking sucks,” I said.
She continued to cry.
“I’m sorry baby,” I said, gathering myself. “I know you needed an answer. I’m so, so sorry. This just sucks. Should I come home? I’ll come home?"
Silence, then sniffing. A cough. “No, I’ll be alright. Did you get those addresses?”
She groaned. “For the THANK YOU cards.”
“Oh. No, I forgot,” I admitted (GOD DAMMIT TO HELL SHITSHITSHIT). “I will. I’ll get them.”
“I love you so much Terra.”
“I love you too.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
“Okay, bye.”

A couple of hours disappeared. I picked Mason up from preschool and, as promised for being brave during the horrific foot injury scene the night before, I was to drive him to the video game store to let him pick one out. He was so happy and deliberate as we walked out through his classroom and out the door. He exaggerated his limp as he walked to the car (I checked to see if he had remembered to limp with the right foot- he had. Smart kid.) Once we were in the car, I watched his eyes in the rearview mirror. They were tired. I stared at him until I notice this faraway, kind of ferocious look on his face.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“I’m not thinking nothing,” he said. “Can I hear (The Beastie Boys’) “Shake Your Rump?” (Yes, that's right.)
“Sure.” I cued it up.
We flew through the sun in my dirty white ’99 Hyundai Accent. I stared at him for too long and he became visibly uncomfortable. I readjusted the mirror.

We arrived at the entry way to the shopping mall where the “Electronix Boutique” was located. I had put Mason up on my shoulders.
“Dad, put me down. You can’t carry me like that in here.”
“Sure I can. What do you mean?”
“We’ll get in trouble. Put me down, I want to walk.”
He wanted to limp. The more people that notice his limp, the more pronounced his limp becomes. He was glowing from the attention as we walked into Electronix Boutique.
After examining every game on every shelf, (both the front and the back of the box) he made what definitely seemed like a sound choice: “Wrestle Mania 8," and we headed home.

I was exhausted thoroughly spent. Muttered a hello to Terra and eased my sore back into a chair.
“Your mom and dad are coming over,” she said. “…and your sister and Jason. And my sister…”
“I am so tired,” I said, "so tired..."
She didn't say a word.

People ushered into our house, and I was short-tempered with them all.
“Be careful! His foot!” I yelled to my dad as he sparred and jousted with Mason.
“I don’t WANT to talk about this right now. I don’t WANT you to pay for it,” I said through gritted teeth to my mom when she offered to pay for Mason’s birthday party which was 2 months away anyway.
“I can’t DO anything with that right now,” I said to Terra, who was trying to hand me a plate of food while my hands were full.
“You have to play by the RULES, Mason,” I bellowed during a round of Candyland as he attempted to draw two cards in a row.
“Are you playing or NOT?” I said to Je, who had become distracted by something during our game.
“Okay Mason, 15 minutes until it’s time to brush your teeth!” I said loudly matter-of-factly for everyone to hear; the least hostile “GET. OUT.” I could produce.
“I’ve got to go to bed too, my friends,” Kandi said.
“me too. I’ve got to work tomorrow,” said my mom.
Then Je said “yeah, me too. I love you guys.”
“I’ve gotta go buddy!” my dad said to Mason.
Then I read Mason a bedtime story too quickly.
Then I covered him up and kissed him good night.
Outside (FINALLY) and smoked a cigarette, feeling calloused and twitchy.
Terra, thankfully, put her hand on my arm as I walked in and did not reproach me for the hours of impatient and dickish behavior.
"Want to watch a movie?" she asked.
"Might as well. Not like we're going to be able to sleep ever again."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

August 25th & 26th, 2007 - Completely and Totally Stark Raving Mad (part 4) and The Foot Injury

I spent most of my Saturday immobile. I was, at last, pulled out of my death sometime in the early afternoon by the ringing phone. Caller ID told me it was my sister, Ka. During our adult lives, we had always been pretty close confidantes. She was in the hospital room with us on the worst day of our lives but, somehow, we had hadn’t spoken much since. We had been around each other, but quietly. It had been 24 days, and I had felt her avoiding my eyes and my silent, drunken invitations to let it out or let me let it out. I sensed her wanting to be near and far away at the same time. She cleaned our house when we were still in the hospital. Like my dad, she was more of a doer than a talker. I knew she was calling from New York, where she and Ja were spending their weekend. I heard the hollow shake in her voice as she tried to speak through sobbing, breathing deeply.
“What’s up Ka?” I tried to say as gently as possible, but I heard my voice shaking too.
She fumbled with her words, and choked.
“Wait, can you say that again? I can’t hear you very well.” I noticed that I was pacing around our white tiled kitchen island.
She sobbed.
"It’s okay. I know.”
“I feel like i haven’t even talked to you guys…” she mustered.
“I know. It’s okay. I know you’re there.” Silence.
“I’m glad you called,” i said, finally.
“I don’t want you to feel like you have to console Me,” she said.
“I don’t. I’m glad you called.”
“I just… there’s nothing to say.”
“I know. How is New York? How is Ja’s grandma?”
“It’s fine. We showed people the pictures i took in the hospital.” (Pictures of Roxy)
I shook and started to vomit words... “Oh yeah... I think it’s hard probably, the idle time. Some of the hardest times for me are driving. That’s when i lose it. Something about keeping my body still, i guess. I can’t help but feel it… punching the steering wheel… screaming at clouds...”
“I know,” she sobbed and sobbed. “I’m so sad for you all… i keep shaking my head. How can this be real?”
“For me, there is only moment to moment. Just trying to find the will to keep my body alive long enough to even remember any of this.”
Eventually, we sighed, said good-bye and I went to lie back down. I convinced Mason to take a nap with me.
When we awoke, there were people in our house. Food was brought and eaten. Night showed up again and I had more waking dreams of the doorbell ringing. This time, i heard someone open it and come in. Who visits at 4 a.m.?! This is offensive. I sensed that the cat was pacing. I knew it was a man that had walked into the house. I knew he had red hair and a scruffy beard. I wasn't afraid of him. I didn't even bother moving. I knew this dream. I knew I was wrapped in its sheets and trapped in its design. I didn't fight it.

Morning came several times. First, there was the hint of sun. Then, there were Mason’s footsteps. Then another dream. Then the bright sun, the guilty hour. I imagined myself rising, showering, going outdoors with my son. I told myself that he needs activity. He needed to run. “I cannot just LAY here. How long can I LAY here? What about the birthday party he’s supposed to go to today? What about his breakfast? What time is it?” None of the self-talk produced the energy it took though, and I rolled over. All of the guilt fell into the ocean of ache and there was no splash.

The day flowed like a burning river over my back. Terra managed to shower, feed mason and left me laying on a pile of blankets. I offered, disingenuously, to go with them to the birthday party. "i should go..."
"it's alright, you may be getting sick," she said, protectively.
"Are you sure?"
"Do you want to go?"
"i don't know. I'm afraid of talking to someone's grandmother or something."
Terra looked at me sideways.
"i mean," i continued, "I don't have a problem with grandmas or anything, I just..."
"Seriously, it's alright. Try to get some sleep."
I asked Mason to be good for his mother, because that's what fathers on the TV say. Speaking of the TV, I sat up and stared at it and wondered where Terra found the strength to put on her shoes. I am proud of her. And ashamed of myself. Another thing about grief: there's a LOT of guilt in it.

I wandered outside, deciding to force myself to do something productive. I spent 45 minutes looking for a missing rack for the gas grill. I looked over and over again in the same 50 square foot area. Then it occurred to me that I've mowed the yard about 7 times since the last time i saw it. I decided to burn a 10 foot high pile of limbs and brush. I turned the hose on, in case it got out of control. I lit a cigarette and then i lit the pile. I watched the leaves burn, sending smoke and ashes billowing out of my back yard. The heat. I indifferently watched as it melted a finch feeder that I should have taken down from a tree too close to the fire. Darci circled the tall flames with her ears back. She looked at me. I looked at her. The telephone rang. I didn't answer it. I was suddenly aware that I was, thankfully, alone. The hummingbirds were almost out of food. The cats needed their water changed. The yard needed mowing. The weeds were rising up above the tall grass. Time had passed. Time had passed. Soon, sunday would be over and I would be back in my office. I would answer questions about software, and go to meetings about software licensing and every voice that spoke to me would be sharp and I would sound weary. Everyone was probably getting tired of my grief.

After watching the fire die, I wiped ashes from my freckled arms and walked heavily into the living room. The telephone rang again. Caller i.d.: Terra.
“Hey there” i whispered.
“hey” she sighed. “can you start Mason’s bath? He’s got a pretty bad cut on his foot and it needs to be soaked.”
“What happened?”
“He was barefoot… they were playing on a slip n’ slide. I don’t know. I think he jumped off the porch onto a rock.”
“Fuck. I’ll get it started right now.”
“Okay, i’ll see you soon.”
“Okay, bye.”
I was in the garage when the car pulled in. I opened the door and mason was smiling at me.
“Look at what i did!” he lifted up his right foot.
There was a horrible mound of blood filled flesh about the size of a dime on his foot.
“Wow, that’s a pretty good one,” I said.
“Yeah i know. Would you carry me?”
“Oh i guess,” i teased him.
I hauled him into the bathtub and we let him soak. After 20 minutes, we checked the foot again. We examined it carefully.
“that’s not blood under the skin,” i said.
“Is it dirt?”
Terra pointed out that there was a small gash just beneath the bottom of his big toe through which a small mountain of dirt had made its way.
“Oh my god” i said.
“What?” mason asked.
I looked at Terra. Her occupation as an x-ray technician at a pediatrician’s office surely gave her the advantage here, right? She had seen this stuff before, right? She’d know what to do.
“What do we do?” she asked.
“i don’t know. Should we take him to the doctor?”
“your mom is working tonight. We should call her.”
“Well, he’s had his tetanus shot, but it needs to be cleaned,” my mom said.
“How do we do that? He won’t even let us touch it,” I said.
“I don’t know. I can ask dr. Simpson, but that’s what we tell patients when they call about these things.”
I hung up, looked at terra. “I guess we’ll need to cut that flap of skin off first,” “No, I don’t want you to cut my skin off!!!” Mason said.
I suddenly realized that we had been having this entire conversation in front of him, and he could see panic in our eyes.
“Listen Mason,” I said, trying to sound confident, “if we don’t do it, we’re going to have to go to the doctor. We will be very, very gentle…”
Meanwhile, Terra is gathering q-tips, cotton balls, small medical scissors and then opens the cabinet door for the peroxide…
“Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!! Not the stuff that burns!!!! No no no!!!!!!!!!!” This is going to be awful. I hated the sound of real fear in his voice.
I knew the tears were coming. Mine.
“Listen sweetheart, I know you’re scared,” said Terra, “but if we don’t clean your cut, it will become very infected and we will have to go to the doctor and they will have to clean it and you’ll have to get medicine…”
We eventually had to pull his foot out of the water as he protested. I held it up and simultaneously worked to keep his arms back. We let some water out of the tub. Terra began to cut slowly at the dirty flap of skin, tracing the circle of his wound.
Mason was crying so hard.
“No, no, no, I don’t want that!!! I don’t like those scissors!!” His voice was rising.
As the flap of skin fell, the amount of dirt in the wound revealed itself... It was terrible. Terra poured peroxide on a q-tip.

He was really thrashing now, desperate.
“No mommy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please!!!!!!!!!!! Please!!!! Please no mommy!!!!!!!!!!! It burns!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It burns!!!!”
Terra gently dabbed the peroxide into the open wound, trying to knock the dirt loose. She looked into my eyes and saw me crying. She was disgusted, tired.
This made me angry.
“You are going to have to do it harder,” I said. (The quicker this was over with, the better.)
“I’m TRYING,” she said.
“Mo-o-o-mm-mm-mm-eee-ee-ee…” Mason pleaded, back arched, head back, lips puffing, tears falling.
We told him that it would all be over soon. We said we were sorry, so sorry, a lot.
“I know sweetheart,” I kept repeating, stroking his hair and blocking his hands at the same time. “I know.”
We stopped for a moment. The flap of skin was gone, but the dirt was still heavy in the wound. It had weaved itself into the burning, red flesh beneath his skin.
We called my mother again.
“Mom, I know it’s late, but can we just take him over to your pool and let him swim around? Maybe the water, chlorine and movement will clean it out as he swims…”
“Sure you can try that,” she said. “Poor little guy.”
“Okay, we might do that.”
“I’ll tell your dad to open the pool.”
“Okay, okay. Bye.”
I informed Terra about my plan, feeling relieved. But then it dawned on me… what if it didn’t work and we still had to clean it? Mason was already exhausted. “I’m afraid it won’t work,” terra said.
She decided to try to clean it again. Mason, this time, went straight into violent hysterics.
“M-o—mmmm—mm—m000mmmm-eeee…” He could no longer get the words out.
I was so angry that this was taking so long.
“Do you want ME to try it?” I asked, rudely.
“No!! I don’t think I can hold him!!!”
We were yelling at each other now.
Mason was shrieking.
Terra continued to work. More peroxide. She went from cotton ball to q-tip and back again. Nothing was working.
“C-a-a-a-n I have some w-a-a-t—t-er?” he asked.
I literally felt the chambers of my heart shredding. I was barely a step from becoming a huddled, knees-to-chest mass on the floor.
“Let’s try the pool,” I said. I was incensed, though no longer at Terra. I was angry at the DIRT. I was a burning, wall-punching furious at a half-inch circle of dirt. I wanted to a table over. I wanted to tear down the ceiling fans.
But I refocused.
I asked Terra to grab a big towel, and I pulled mason out of the bath. I suddenly felt strong, my anger successfully channeled. I carried him into the living room and turned on some cartoons. I even managed to get some giggles out of him by poking his ribs. God, what a kid.
“Do you want to stay here and have us scrub it, or do you want to go to mimi’s pool and see if swimming around will clean it out?” I asked.
He sighed heavily and didn’t look at me.
“Can I watch cartoons when you scrub it?”
“Of course.”
Terra and I decided to try a washcloth. She began to scrub and he began to shriek again.
“Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!! I want to go to mimi’s house!!!!!! I changed my mind!!!!”
I couldn’t stand it any longer and grabbed the washcloth from Terra’s hand and put the weight of my entire torso onto his legs to keep them from thrashing. I scrubbed the cut harshly. Within 10 seconds it was totally clean, and bleeding a little again. Mason was crying hard and steadily. I hugged him.
“I’m so sorry I had to do that. We’re done now. We’re done. It’s all over.”
“Good job,” terra said.
“Haven’t you done this before?” I asked her, forcing a half-smile.
“Yes, but never on my own kid.”
I finally saw her weariness and she saw mine. We both shook the tears off, and she went for Neosporin, band-aids and gauze to dress the wound. I just held on to my boy. I wondered to myself whether he had noticed how much I had been staring at him lately. He looked peaceful again, and giggled at a joke on his cartoon.
“Did you hear what he said dad? That guy was farting.”
I laughed out loud and was shocked by the sound of it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

August 24th & 25th, 2007 - Completely and Totally Stark Raving Mad (part 3)

Insomnia, alcohol and xanax were killing my body. In retrospect, I probably should have been on suicide watch. Between the hours of 4 pm and 7 am I drank 17 beers, 3 glasses of red wine and had taken 3 Xanax (do NOT try this at home), but the only sleep I could manage was between 1:30 am and 3 am and between 6:30 am and 8:30. None of the sleep was restful. (I knew what I was doing was dangerous, but that voice was so quiet compared to the one that chanted "SHUT IT OFF SHUT IT OFF SHUT IT OFF SHUT IT OFF.) I was having waking dreams. The therapist said that this happened sometimes when one was overly exhausted. Your body attempted to go into an REM cycle before you had actually fallen asleep. It was a disgusting feeling. I was disgusting. I felt like a burning cigarette in my house, stinking it up and needing to be put out.

On this night, my dreams were full of angry people i could not recognize:

I am in the back of a yellow sports car. The driver is a younger man in his late 20’s. He wears a dingy brown leather jacket. His face is a canine growl, showing his teeth. He drives at breakneck speed through the parking lot of a crowded shopping mall. The sky outside is so dark i can literally feel the darkness on my face. I am not sure if the headlights are off, or if it is so dark they cannot penetrate it. The engine screams louder and louder, as the speed continues to climb. He is not shifting gears. I know we are going to kill someone. I do not have any fear of impact, but i know that i am responsible for the driver’s anger and do not want him to run over a skipping child or a mother pushing a cart full of sale rack blouses.
“Slow the fuck down, dick!!” I scream.
“Fuck off.”
i see his eyes in the mirror. He glares at me. I glare at him. It occurs to me that he is not a stranger.
I close my eyes. I feel my body ready itself for impact. I know we are going to kill someone. I accept the inevitability of it all. I feel us flying, flying, flying. There is no fear and there is no joy, but there is the purest sensation of movement and somehow, it’s peaceful. I try to remember from where it is i know this man. Surely, through some smoke filled room, riddled with alcohol and desperation, we spoke passing, hostile words to each other in a doorway. Radio Radio nightclub in indianapolis at 2 am? Some party in the woods in 1996? Who is this guy?
As the questions rain down, I suddenly notice that the car has stopped. The driver steps out, walks slowly around to the other side of the car. I am in the back seat, and my legs are stuck. I fall out of the car, stand up, ready for a cheap shot to the nose or a knee to the groin. He just looks at me. I feel some need to shake his hand, so i extend my forearm and relax my fingers. He takes it.
“i know who you are” i say. “I remember you now. And all this time, i thought you were God.”
“I was thinking the same thing about you” he said.

I shook myself awake and my body was burning. The clock was wrong, but it had been wrong for so long that I could automatically do the calculation in my head: 8:30am. I dragged my feet into the bathroom. I didn’t feel myself closing the door, but I did hear the television slam quiet. I attempted to concentrate my vision and focus my urine stream inside the toilet bowl. The gradual hum of the air conditioning was coming up through the vent in the floor below me. The loose end of the toilet paper roll hanging on the wall waved in the breeze. “I surrender,” i laughed to myself. Wait, my feet felt warm. I glance down to note that I was pissing onto my black socks.
I snapped to. I heard a voice asking what I was doing in there. How long had it been? I looked for the beer i remembered leaving on the sink. It was spilled. I opened the towel cabinet and something fell out and broke on the floor. A picture frame had shattered and there was glass everywhere. I began to panic and felt faint. My vision tunnelled. “I’m going to get caught!!” i screamed, silently. “I’m not going to make it!!!” I didn’t hear the door open. I turned my head, realized in my periphery that my mother was standing there watching me try to simultaneously towel up urine, beer and broken glass. At 8:30am.
“Do you need any help?” she asked, voice shaking.
i reached slowly for a stray bottlecap on the bathroom floor and squeezed it together. I notice it now had a slight overbite just like Mason. What was I doing? How could I leave him? Again, it occurred to me that I needed to GET IT TOGETHER.

August 24th, 2007 - Completely and Totally Stark Raving Mad (part 2)

I had no idea what time it was. I picked up a toy from the living room couch. It resembled a flashlight but was not a flashlight. It was purple and green with two soft plastic tubes hanging like thin transparent arms. A plastic ghost smiled from on top with hands outstretched. The ghost had four fingers on each hand. Its face was giggling whimsy, drunken and smiling. There were words etched onto the toy: "light chaser." i pushed a green button on the flashlight-like body and the plastic tubes filled with a soft, pink light. They spun and the light became one unbroken circle. The ghost on top was spinning as well, and his body also filled with that soft, pink light.
I didn't initially notice what was happening, but when i stopped pushing the button, my terrible and permanent ache... comes back.
That's when i realized that, for a moment, it had gone.
I pressed the button again and watched the lights spin for a couple of minutes. I felt myself completely swallowed up into it. I was pink. I was spinning. Briefly, i was gone. Everything was wonderfully, miraculously gone. Something bushels of flowers, pans of vegetarian lasagna, trunks full of sympathy cards, and the sincerest words, tears, hugs from family, friends and counselors could not do... it relaxes me. My stomach had uncoiled itself for the first time in over three weeks. The feeling was beautiful. I even said "miracle" out loud. ( Amazing how low our expectations can become.)

But then, crash.

Thoughts entered my head and i couldn't get them out: "This thing takes batteries... Batteries keep this going... Like a heart... Like a heartbeat... The batteries will run out... The goddamned batteries will run out!!!!! The batteries will run out... No heartbeat..." and then the stomach muscles recoiled. Time to go back out into the heat and smoke my brains out.

Smoking. I was smoking a lot. I had quit 6 years earlier, although I was guilty of the occasional cigarette on the rare recreational nights out, but it didn't amount to more than about 10 a year. But now I was buying them again. I stocked the drawers full of them. Basic Lights, Camel Lights, Parliament Lights, whatever, I smoked them at all hours. I was a 35-year-old, born again, full time smoker. In a box, if you had them please.
The things I began to notice as I smoked my cigarettes out on the back patio of our house is how terrible the sound of screaming cicadas could be. They screamed “here I am” over and over again, beginning just before dark and continuing until after 7:30 AM. I actually watched one swoop down and spray urine (I guess) 10 inches onto the cordless telephone I’ve carried outside (why I carried this phone around was a mystery. I wouldn't even answer it if it rang.) The cicada these two hollow black eyes on either side of its head. It was all head. A flying head with awful black eyes. This shrieking sex-machine, it occurred to me, was nothing but a vessel for raw motivation. The sounds filled the sky around me as if I was under water… you know, and the water screamed.

August 23rd, 2007 - Completely and Totally Stark Raving Mad (part 1)

“And Something's odd - within -
That person that I was -
And this One - do not feel the same -
Could it be Madness - this?"

-Emily Dickinson

When love is not madness, it is not love. - Pedro Calderon de la Barca

Today I have received the 2nd note this week from a friend that had been spending a semester in new york city:

“Been thinking about you, imagining that Roxy is healthy and beautiful.
Like her parents and brother, of course.
Hope you are finding quality time to spend with the family before the onslaught of yucky students.”

She hadn't heard and i hadn’t told her. (If there were a Stillbirth 101 class and I were the teacher, 1st thing I would stress is this: LET EVERYBODY KNOW BEFORE THEY CAN ASK). I typed some words to her and exhaled as it all came back into focus again, and today's heart sutures came ripping loose. I felt some pain in my cerebellum. Was it a stroke? Panic. Panic, panic, panic. The therapist, who Terra and I are seeing weekly now, had told me that panic attacks did not kill people and that these attacks could be ridden out without taking medication. In fact, she said, the heartbeat could reach 300 beats per minute, and I would survive, just be sure I wasn't driving.
I really trusted and liked my therapist but... fuck that.
I reached into my desk drawer and took out a plastic bag with 3 little white life rafts: xanax!! I placed the tablet into my mouth. I did not have any water but I wasn't about to go to the water fountain. Noooo nononono. There were PEOPLE there, speaking in tongues. The pill was chalky and terribly bitter and took three swallows to get down. I looked around. I stood up, placed the little grey telephone (seriously, it looked like a Fisher Price toy) onto the charger. It was ringing. I gathered up my mp3 player and my sunglasses and I walked slowly and steadily out of my office onto what felt like the surface of the sun. I found my car and unlocked it, hands shaking. It was 98 degrees outside today. The air conditioner is not working properly. The heat, the heat. My head, my head. My eyes were trying to roll back, but i concentrated. “I’m okay…okokokokokok.” My eyes bounced around from clock to odometer to oh shit cars in front of me to oh shit oncoming traffic... I remembered my therapist telling me “concentrate on your breathing.” i did that. I started to feel a little better. I acknowledged this to myself. The acknowledgment ITSELF freaked me out. I started pounding my steering wheel with both fists, alternately. I screamed “fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you!!!!!!!!!” so loud and hard that I couldn't even recognize the voice. I was staring at clouds. I was talking to god. It took me exactly 24 minutes to get home. I walked in through our garage and filed past terra who was pacing around the kitchen, and made my way to another the medicine cabinet. I take another Xanax (I mean, I was on a low dosage, right?!) I looked at her. She was pacing, holding an envelope. I moved to hug her. She hugged back swiftly and continued her pacing. I finally heard Mason yelling at me from the other room, excitedly. I lowered myself onto the floor next to him and placed my hand on his back. He didn’t turn around and was pointing at the television screen to show me that he had gotten to a new level on his ‘teen titans’ video game.
“look!!!!!” he squealed madly… “I got past the, the, the, the really hard part… I beat the green guy!!”
“you did? Wow, you get better at this every day.”
“i know i do.”
I was searching for words… “so the green guy is pretty tough to get past?”
“No. I defeated him already.”
I curled up around the base of his spiderman chair where he was sitting, and stared blankly into the blue carpeting. “I missed you today” I said, and the words were so true, they were an elixir. I felt my heart rate slowing.
“is that why you came home early?”
“Sure it is. I thought you might want to take a nap” i joked.
“Noooo, i don’t want to take a nap. Mom said i could play my game for 60 minutes.”
“i’m just teasing you. I might take a nap right here though.”
“Are you tired dad?”
“I sure am. Do you ever get tired, booger?”
“No, I never get tired. I mean, yeah, I get tired. I don’t get tired when the sun is out.”
I realized that my panic has gone for now and I felt grateful to my son. The day slid into evening. Terra’s mom made fried green tomatoes (we have scarcely been alone in our house in 3 weeks) and the minute hand tick tick ticks. It was Mason’s bedtime. Toothpaste on his toothbrush, water in his cup, I fought my way through “Hubert the Pudge” and turned off his light.

The minute hand stopped ticking.

On this night, like most nights, insomnia was showing her teeth. I felt hollow, scraped out. I paced outside, smoking basic lights and tossing them into brush that my dad and father and law had piled 10 feet high onto our fire pit. I found some gummy bears, ate them. I checked my email. I kept looking at the clock. I panicked. I took more xanax (the bottle SAYS you can take them every 4-6 hours as needed, and I was on a low dosage!!!). Somewhere around 4 am I slipped into this dream:

I am a fighter pilot in something resembling a b-52 bomber. I suppose my mind doesn’t know enough about the design of a b-52, so it invents the rest. My face is different. I am younger. I am in combat but I am not afraid as I usually am in dreams. I am flying through an milky orange early morning sky and shells are exploding all around me. The explosions sound more like human screams than “kaboom kaboom.” I turn to my co-pilot who does not look back. I stare at his swamp green helmet for five minutes. Everything slows down. I know i should be looking ahead of me, but I do not. I let us fly, break-neck, blindly into the madness of this sky.
“who are we bombing?” I ask.
“Chechnya.” his voice sounds irritated and bored at the same time, as if I have inturrupted a revealed answer on “Jeopardy.” (What did Alex say?!! God dammit.)
“Where is that?”
He does not answer me. He pulls a lever and the bombs fall out of our plane. I know that we have just decimated chechnya, and I realize that my last question didn’t need to be answered. No one would ever see it on a map again.

I snapped awake to the sound of a box fan and can see through a crack in the blinds that the sun had just started to hint at rising. It was hours before i actually needed to get up, but I got up anyway. I urinated, pounded a glass of water, headed outside to smoke, and returned to bed to fall into a waking dream or maybe some kind of hallucination:

I hear the sound of a doorbell. I try to move my body to ansewr it, but can’t. It keeps ringing and ringing. I sit up and try to scream “come here” to Terra, who seems so far away. I cannot wring the words out. It does occur to me that I may be straddling two realities but I can't figure out which one is real. I am aware that my screaming (if I am screaming) could wake up and frighten Mason, but I keep at it because someone someone someone is at that effing door. My body is heavy. I try to fling it off the bed, but my arms and legs are dead. I feel myself wriggling and wriggling, trying to knock myself off. I know the impact of the floor will wake me up so that I can, at last, answer the door.

My head shook, no no no no no no, and I was awake. Frightened, I listened... and listened... and listened. I rose and walked into the kitchen to glance at the white front door. The doorbell was not ringing anymore. (In fact, we didn't have a functioning doorbell). Relief. I was NOT going to try to go back to sleep again any time soon.

August 9th, 2007 - Dear Mrs. Bee

Sleepless and shaky, I drove myself to my office. I took a Xanax before I even logged into my machine (I had been given a prescription). Once I started to feel the shakes subsiding, I sent an email complaining to my friends about the ATA ordeal. Fa offered to to personally call them and "get all Puerto Rican on their asses." She also encouraged me to write a letter to the national organization. I started that one, but decided to write a letter directly to Mrs. Bee herself instead (we English majors love our tersely worded letters don't we?):

Mrs. Bee-

I wanted to write you personally to let you know that we will not, again, step foot inside the Bloomington ATA facility. We are switching to another program and I wanted to let you know our reasons.

1) We were, quite frankly, disappointed in the way you handled communicating our tragic news to others in the class. We wanted parents to be aware of our situation because we are friendly with many of them and it seemed appropriate to let them know about the delicate situation. We certainly did NOT, however, want an announcement of this sort made in front of everyone (including our 4 year old son and my mother and father):

“The Childers’ baby has died.”

As our son is already having a hard enough time w/ our loss
(I really didn't know if this was true), this was a shockingly insensitive approach to delivering this information. We also thought it was extremely irresponsible and unfair to instruct parents to tell their children not to ask questions. Isn’t this counter-intuitive to education? We would not have wanted children to feel like they could not ask us questions about our baby, especially after being told about it in such an insensitive way.

2) We pay $100 a month for your program, and $30 every 2-3 months for “graduation fees”. After informing me that Mason would not need the sparring gear because he was not in the leadership program, you approached me on our first day back after this tragedy to inform me that we WOULD, in fact, have to purchase the sparring gear (which you stated we can ONLY purchase through ATA at the prices that ATA deems appropriate). Frankly, we are sick of being chiseled out of money by you and we are disgusted by the timing and indelicate delivery of your request.

We are requesting a refund of the remainder of our tuition that we have pre-paid: $200. If you do not, we will take the full description of this situation up with the national ATA organization, and we will include every instance where you canceled classes, neglected to inform us of class time changes, etc. I have already drafted the letter. Assuming we do not see a check from you in our mailbox within 2 weeks, I will pursue this issue with the national organization (and if necessary, the better business bureau).


Kenny and Terra Childers

So take that!!!! Once I was finished, I felt SO grateful to Fa. Jesus Christ that felt good!!! I kept the letter in my car with the intention of mailing it on the way home. I felt this TOTALLY satisfying anger pulsing through me as I drove. I turned up Marmoset’s “Walking Thru the Lake” on my car stereo. And then I forgot to go to the post office, and never did send the letter, and we tucked our tails and backed out of the class like beaten dogs. I wanted to burn the place down, but I couldn't find the energy to buy a stamp much less commit murder.

Friday, March 26, 2010

August 8th, 2007 - Back to the World and it's B.S.

(I did not write anything about August 2nd through August 7th, because those days are gone. I know Terra's dad bought us a new set of tires, Terra's mom kept us in food, my folks helped with Mason and that's about it. I can almost remember nothing. Roxy died, and the next thing I knew it was a week later).

It had been a week since Roxy died, and somehow I ended up back at my office. Maybe to be alone. The phone whirs, and I can only sit at my desk for a couple of hours, sifting through emails and communicating what happened to us in staccato- worded emails that always ended in "Ugh, Kenny." I shuffled my feet to 4 p.m. and left.

I picked up Mason up from pre-school (he MUST stay in his routine!!) with the intention of taking him to get ice cream before his tae kwon do class, just to see if he would convey some of his thoughts to me. I so desperately needed to feel like I could help him. And part of me needed him to NEED help. Part of me desperately wanted him to share our grief.
We walked into Jiffy Treat and I ordered a small caramel sundae with whip cream and nuts. Mason whispered his order into my ear: “the superman cone." (He is scared shitless of cashiers, waiters, and anyone in customer service, really.) We waited for our ice cream and found a table. Mason wanted to sit beside me, and I was glad. We were both nervous and quiet. Or maybe I was nervous and HE was quiet. Sometimes it is alarming looking into his eyes. They are these watery blue marbles with a brown center, right around the pupil, and they can be so probing...
“Are you doing okay?” I asked.
“Yeah I’m doing okay,” he answered quickly, as if he knew the questions were coming.
“Can I try your Superman cone?” (I DON'T KNOW, CAN YOU?)
He hesitated… “Yeah, but can I try your sundae?”
“Let me think about it. Hey, are you worried about everything that’s going on?”
Before he could answer, we were interrupted by an old man who has walked up to our table. Thick white hair, a gaping mouth and a large red nose. He was short and thick, and put his face really close to Mason and said “Is your name Dorothy?”
I wasn't sure if this was comedy or senility, but his timing was impeccable and I gazed at him, empty. Mason did not respond but stared into the old man’s eyes, calculating something. The old man looked over at a little girl a few tables away and said “is your name George?”
I realized, finally, that he was doing a bit. I knew we had to get to the punch line as quickly as possible, but I also knew that this guy had all night!
“Can you tell him what your name is?” I asked Mason.
“Mason,” he said, staring down at the table.
“No, you’re Dorothy and that’s George!” the old man said.
The little girl finally bailed us out. She was a talker: “No my name’s not George!!”
“Yeah, you’re George and this is Dorothy,” the old man said.
The parents of the little girl laughed nervously as the old man shuffled over to their table. I wanted to hug that little girl.
“Mason…” I began.
“Is Mom gonna die?” he blurted, casually.
I was knocked off guard and stammered for a moment. “No, no, she’s not going to die. She just had to have an operation. They had to, um, they had to take Roxy out of her belly, but Mama is going to be just, um, just fine. She’s just healing. You know, um, how when you, uh, cut your knee and it hurts for a while and you don’t want, um, anyone to touch it… but then it gets better and stops hurting? That’s, um, like Mama’s belly. It will just take her a couple of weeks to heel.”
“You mean Roxy is not in Mama’s belly?”
“No honey. Remember, Roxy, um… she… like our dog Petey this summer…”
“oh yeah, she died,” he said.
“I want you to know though, that Mama is going to be just fine. She just needs to heel. Do you understand that? I love you so much and you can ask me any question that you want to, any time.”
“Hey dad…”
“Can I play my game when I get home?”
“sure, yeah. Sure. Yeah, after Tae Kwon Do, sure.”

The Bloomington chapter of the American Tae Kwon Do Association, from what I could tell, was run by a husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bee. Mr. and Mrs. Bee looked quite similar: same brown hair, same pudgy build, same olive complexion… Mr. Bee was always shouting in some teenage student’s face in the larger, mat-laden room, while Mrs. Bee took care of the “tiny tigers” in the smaller room. Mason was a tiny tiger. The two younger children of Mrs. Bee would occasionally walk in and out of a door leading into a hidden lair in the back, crying, bleeding, pants off, eating pizza, etc. Mrs. Bee generally seemed kind and maybe a little sad. Her command of grammar was questionable. She was always shouting “you guys are really doing good!” which always made me tense up. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bee were overweight, and the combination of illiteracy and obesity struck a dissonant chord with the sacred oaths they recited every day before class which included the lines “knowledge of the mind, strength in the body.”
The ATA program was overly expensive for what it was at $100 a month, and they chiseled you out of graduation fees as well every couple of months. Still, Mrs. Bee seemed like a pretty nice lady, and the kids and the parents we shared the class with were, mostly anyway, people we had come to really like.

On the previous Wednesday, August 1st, also known as the worst day of my life, my parents took Mason to his “graduation” in order to try to maintain some sense of “normalcy” for him. (He MUST stay in his routine!!) My mother took Mrs. Bee aside, and told her what had happened, and wanted her to let the other parents know. Mrs. Bee hugged my mother and then stood up in front of a room full of parents and children (mine included) and said these words:
“I just wanted to let everyone know that the Childers’ baby, unfortunately, died. You might want to remind your children not to ask them questions…”

Mason and I walked into the ATA building, which was located in a little strip-mall on the west side of town. It sat across the street from the Hideaway Lounge, where old barflies would occasionally fistfight in the parking lot. We were 20 minutes early, as I wanted a chance to speak with Mrs. Bee before class about her... "announcement." I did not see her, so we entered the smaller room and sat in one of the aluminum-framed chairs with black cushions. A door opened, and the 5-year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bee walked out of a back room looking happy. I was surprised, as her expression was usually one of trepidation. She was dancing, and singing a song when she noticed Mason and I: “I’m watching Agent Cody Banks,” she said proudly.
“Hey, I haven’t seen that,” Mason responded.
Suddenly, Mr. Bee, not knowing we are there, bellowed at her to “COME. HERE. RIGHT. NOW!!!!!” We sat, helpless, listening to the daughter convulse with sobs as he growled, inches from her face. Something about not answering the phone properly. She could not catch her breath. I felt desperate to do something for her, or at least my own child sitting next to me, but I was paralyzed. This went on for a couple of minutes, until the daughter returned through the same door she had entered, gasping hysterically.
Mason framed the scene succinctly, “she’s crying because of her dad.”

We continued to sit in our chairs, frozen and quiet, for another 5 minutes. I was completely freaked out (and near to quietly grabbing Mason’s hand and walking out) when Mrs. Bee walked in and sat down next to me. She pushed her brown hair out of her eyes. “Hi sir, it’s good to see you again. Um, I wanted to talk to you about something. As it turns out, Mr. Bee says that Mason will be needing all of the sparring gear.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
She ran down a list of equipment and the total amount: $150.
“Can I see a catalog or something?”
She squirmed… “well, actually, all of this has to be purchased through the ATA, um, organization. It’s required.” She showed her bottom teeth in an attempt to soften the delivery. “But I tell you what,” she continued. “Last week while you were having your “situation” (and she actually did the quotation marks with her fingers) we were offering a 25% discount. I can probably still get you that discount...”
I cut her off. “We’ll think about it.” I glared at her, ready to bite and then turned away. She stomped out awkwardly, like a child.
I sat on my hands for 30 minutes while Mason had his class and resisted the urge to scream my fucking head off and drag him out. I promised myself I would never walk back through that door again.

August 1st, 2007 - When Roxy Died (part 4)

I never wrote anything down, at the time, about the delivery. I just couldn't do it. But it happened. Two and a half years later, I still find that day completely enveloping, but I still have trouble putting the details into words. I'll do my best.

The worst part was the silence.

I told the nurse at the labor and delivery station who we were, and two nurses immediately appeared at our side. One, Su, was the mother-in-law of a friend. She hugged us. The other, a smaller red-headed woman, Ro, looked us in the eyes and told us how very sorry she was, and they both ushered us to a big corner room of the L&D area, and they put a purple flower on our door (and incidentally, I still can't look at a purple flower without feeling death drip through my body). Su and Ro (I am still very grateful for those two), sat with us while we were given a gentle but lengthy prepping from a "bereavement specialist" named May (how do you fall into THAT line of work?). It was explained to us the different ways that parents choose to go through this "procedure" (you know where you have to deliver, say hello and say goodbye to your dead child, all in one tiny set of moments). I felt sorry for May. She really felt it when she told us that any way we chose would be the right way, although I didn't really know what that meant, "the right way." And then suddenly stopped talking and hugged me, and just said "I'm so sorry you guys..." and I felt my self heaving, and I hugged her back. (This woman, 2 plus years later, still leaves us sweet messages wondering how we are on our answering machine.)

After May left, we sat in the room, totally silent, twitching, inanimate, wild.

Finally, finally the anesthesiologist came in, gave us his spiel and we were taken down to the same L&D OR where Mason was delivered. Same procedure, with Terra taken into the room for prep, and me sitting, motionless outside the doors. The same. fucking. clock. This time as I sat, didn't tell myself everything would be alright. I became mildly aware that my head was shaking again. Shake shake shake. Shaking away the reality. No No No No No No No No No No. No way. No. Suddenly, Terra's parents were in front of me, as well as Sf, the wife of my cousin Mike. I was hugged. Sf walked away sobbing uncontrollably. Someone asked me if I thought I was going to pass out. I knew I wouldn't somehow, because then Terra would be in there by herself when the time came.

And then the time did come.

Terra's eyes, wild and darting. Buzzing sound. Squish, squish. In a fluttering moment some voice in my scraped out stomach started screaming "MISTAKES HAVE BEEN MADE BEFORE!!! MAYBE SHE WILL CRY!!! THE WHOLE ROOM WILL REJOICE IN TEARS, AND SHE WILL BE PINK AND KICKING AND SCREAMING SCREAMING SCREAMING SCREAMING!!!!! YES!! YES!!! COME ON..."
Then another voice, this one out loud: "stop it." Again, I felt my head shaking. No. No. No. No.

I had been avoiding looking at, well, anything. Then I caught Roxy's pale gray flesh out of the corner of my left eye. I looked quickly to my right to see a young female orderly's eyes exposed between her scrub hat and mask. She was looking right at me with an expression that said "how will the father live?" or maybe just "I'm quitting this job today." I felt my head shaking and my breathing turn to gasping.

I looked right at her. I looked right at my beloved Roxy Jean. She was gray and somewhat translucent. Her skin was cracked in places and peeling, and blood from the delivery pooled in the cracks. Her hair was ample, and matted darkly to her head. I noticed, right away, that she looked NOTHING like Mason. Nothing. She was and is all her own. Suddenly, a sad, resigned, gushing tranquility washed over me, and I took her in my arms. Even as she lay limp and silent in my arms, no breath in her... I felt suddenly at peace. She was mine. I walked her to Terra, weeping and I smiled. "Look at all that hair. She looks just like you, Terra." I kissed them both, and we wept quietly together, our heads touching Roxy's.

The rest of the day was like watching people fall from burning buildings all around me while I seized, wide-eyed, in my coffin. Roxy stayed with us through the evening and then she was taken away and all we were left with was the collapse of everyone and everything around us. Wailing, shrieking, cursing, and I remember my mild mannered father’s stomping, angry feet. The room had gone mad in, and smelled like flowers. It would not have surprised me if the entire earth burst into flames. I silently dared it to. I remember trying to watch an Entourage box set someone had left. I took my mother in law’s xanax and slept in my clothes. Terra just lay flat on her back, never moving. She didn’t even cry.