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.

October 30th to November 6th, 2002 - When Mason Was Born (Part 2), and Also this Heroine Named Rita

October 30th, the day after Mason was born, was our 3 year wedding anniversary. I joked that Terra’s present would be some ice chips and jello. “At least I’m getting jello,” she said. “That’s more than you’re getting.”
Beginning at 8:30 a.m., parade of friends and family walked through our hospital room. Cameras flashed, and people passed Mason around, and everyone smiled and laughed. I was floating through it all, grinning inside and out. I quickly became comfortable changing his diaper (okay birthing class, I guess that's one). I gently pulled Mason from many a guest’s arms. He just felt so good to hold.
Terra was in a lot of physical pain and she stubbornly resisted the advice given to her by 3 different nurses: “get out of bed. Move around.”
The night slid down singing and tired over the day, and we decided to pack Mason off to the special care nursery for the night so that we could sleep for the first night in 3.

At 3:30am, a shadowy figure appeared in our doorway, already talking. Something was wrong. Something about oxygen levels. I struggled to focus. The room was dark. I sat up from my cot. “What’s going on?” my voice was shaking.
Terra was already awake.
“Meconium aspiration,” I heard the scowling nurse say. “His oxygen levels aren’t what we would like them to be, so he’s being treated with oxygen in an incubator…”
As I mentioned before, meconium is baby shit. It has a tar-like thickness. Mason had, indeed, inhaled it in utero.
I stood up. “What does this mean?”
“The Dr. will be in to talk to you very soon.”
I dialed my mother’s phone number (she is a nurse, by the way) and fought tears as I struggled to tell her what what was going on.
“I’ll be right there,” she said as I knew she would.
She and the Dr. arrived at the same time. We still hadn’t turned on the lights in our room. With mecomium aspiration, he explained, it sometimes can a day for it to catch up with the baby. They can compensate, at first, for the lack of oxygen. One would expect, he explained, that eventually, the meconium will be absorbed by said child's lungs and that child can be expected to fully recover. At that point, though, his heart rate was too quick and he was having significant trouble absorbing the oxygen he needs.

We spent the next 6 days in the hospital, feeding Mason with a syringe. I almost did not sleep at all during this time. I spent all my time staring at the heart rate and oxygen monitors. The numbers on the monitors. The movement of the numbers on the monitors. Every few hours they would try to wean the oxygen down a notch. I stared at the numbers. “Please, please, please…”
“No, please…”
Eventually they would have to turn the oxygen level back to where it was. As the days wore on, I became so exhausted that I began having auditory hallucinations. I saw light tracers. I stared, stared, stared at the numbers on his monitors. We were able to hold Mason, but it was difficult with all the wires and the oxygen tube. His nose was chafed from the oxygen. It made me angry to look at it. Angry at the hospital, myself, everything. I was tired and I was desperate and I was... mad.

But there was a nurse, Rita. A warm red-head in her 50’s, she was more encouraging and nicer than any of the rest. “That boy,” she would say, looking me dead in the eye “is going to be absolutely fine. He just needs to work a little harder!” Every time she said that, I wanted to hug her. Every night that she had a shift, Mason would seem to improve just a little bit. She turned the oxygen way down and watched him carefully as he fought for air, saying "nope, we're not going to do it for you any more." She did this for hours, all night long. It would make Terra and I so nervous as we watch the oxygen levels drop…
“You’re just going to have to work honey,” Rita would repeat, sweetly.

On Rita's 4th shift while we were there (our 8th day in the hospital) we could finally see that Mason had slowly but steadily improved. The oxygen levels he had been on were going down, ever so slowly. I had started to feel as if I might be able to fall asleep. Terra and I "slept" on the same tiny cot inside our tiny room that the hospital provided for parents of children in the special care nursery. It was about 2/3 the size of a twin bed. I was worried that I could roll over onto her incision, the bed was so small. A TV was always on in that room and I remember staring at the results of the local election as my eyelids became too heavy to...

BANG!! I woke up. It was 5 hours later. The lights in the room were still on. Terra was asleep! She had slept too! I walked out into the hallway toward the nursery and I saw Rita.
“Looky there,” she sang, pointing to Mason.
His heart rate was normal. His oxygen level was at 98%. He had no tubes!!!!!!!!!! He was breathing normally on his own. My heart JIGGED. I hugged Rita, who stumbled back, smiled and waved me away. I couldn't WAIT to tell Terra.
“You all might be able to go home today. I knew that little booger could do it,” I heard Rita say as I leave. (I have called Mason "Booger" ever since.)
I shook Terra violently awake, and she shoved at me, enraged until she noticed that I was sobbing.
“What is it?” She sat up, worried.
I couldn't speak. I tried to catch my breath. I fanned my face with my hands like old ladies do in the south. I hugged her and sobbed.
“What?!!” She pushed me off. “WHAT?”
“He’s okay,” I managed. “He’s totally off of oxygen…” Relief crashed over me.

After a couple of hours, we were allowed to bring Mason into our room and were told that we could go home THAT NIGHT. I felt so fortunate, and sobbed happy tears all day. I felt such a powerful, intense force of happiness all day, and I wondered if it could be God, who I didn't think I believed in.

October 29th, 2002 - When Mason Was Born (part 1)

Terra sat up in bed around midnight. “Fuck, I feel itchy.”
Darci shook her head violently and her ears flapped like paper caught in a box fan. I forced my eyes open. I managed to square my mind enough to see Terra’s pregnant shadow reach for the old brass doorknob in the half-light of the moon creeping past the thick red curtains. She tuggged once, tugged again, and tugged harder still, until BANG! The vacuum released and light poured into the room. I drifted away again.

At 1:50 a.m. Terra was shaking my arm saying... something... what? I can’t hear focus... OH SHHHHIIITTTTTT!! I jumped from the bed and ran to the living room. The room was full of glass shelves and table edges. The carpet was a dirty white, dulled by footprints and dogs. I looked at Terra.
“I’m having really bad stomach cramps… get down Darci… GET DOWN!!!"
“They are contractions Terra,” I uttered mechanically. I grabbed Darci by her collar and pulled her off of the couch. “We need to go to the hospital right now.”
“I don’t think they are contractions,” Terra sneered.
“Terra, you are a week overdue… come on.”
After a lengthy discussion, she begrudgingly agreed to get ready, but made it clear she would NOT be hurrying. Over an hour later, she had finally finished putting her make-up on and lint-brushing her sweater. (WHO IN THE HELL LINT BRUSHES THEIR SWEATER WHEN THEY ARE IN LABOR?!!) Every couple of minutes she was doubling over in pain. My nerves were tattered as I tried (unsuccessfully) not to appear impatient and hostile as I ushered her into the car. She rolled her eyes.

We dropped our big Boston Terrier, Petey, off at Jo’s house, just down the street from the hospital and I took every turn like an Earnhardt. Into the emergency room parking lot, and out like a loaded spring to open Terra’s door. I held her arm as we (or I) rushed up to the labor and delivery unit. It was 3:30 a.m.
A nurse guided us into a delivery room, and they checked Terra’s dilation and and took some other stats as I paced. Terra continued having contractions so I remembered from our birthing class that I should hold her hand.
The minutes ticked by into hours.
By 7 a.m., Terra has realized that she had no idea what a bad contraction was until right then. She screamed and screamed and looked downright confounded. From 7 to 9:30 a.m., Terra howled in pain. At 10 she decided that she was wrong about the whole natural childbirth thing since this kid was obviously coming out sideways. She said "maybe I WILL have the epidural" sort of casually, in the same way she would say "maybe I WILL have another margarita."
It had slowly become apparent that SOMETHING was not quite right. She had contractions that didn't stop, a couple that go on for a full 5 minutes. After some tests, Dr. Sa quietly says “the baby seems stuck slightly sideways.” (Holy shit, this kid really WAS coming out sideways!! So much for my tension-lightening jokes!) When they attempted to reposition Terra, Mason’s heart rate dropped and Terra was told to remain on her back.

The contractions became longer and more painful, but she was not progressing very quickly. Fear emanated from my face, and Terra returned it with side-glances.
I exited the delivery room occasionally to let our extended family know that we still don’t know anything.
When Dr. Sa returned to check on Terra, he informed us there has been some meconium expulsion (according to Wikipedia "Meconium is the earliest stools of an infant... and unlike later feces, is viscous and sticky like tar"), which means that the baby could be in distress and might have inhaled it. More tests were done. It was determined that the baby was okay for now, but that Terra should be prepped for an emergency C-section, you know, just in case. (WHY DIDN'T WE PAY ATTENTION TO THE C-SECTION BIT DURING BIRTHING CLASS?!! Oh yeah, because were were going all-natural, and the child was going to be born after exactly 3 hours of labor.)
“Please, please, please,” I heard myself chanting. The nurse in the room assigned me the task of removing all of Terra’s jewelry. I didn't realize it, but while removing her necklace, I accidentally pulled out her epidural. (Where were you on THAT one, Birthing Class?)

At 5 p.m., Dr. Sa finally gave Terra the go-ahead to begin pushing. After an hour of this, he looked at her and said, “you can continue pushing for as long as you like, but there has been no progress with the baby. At this point, a C-section is looking more and more likely.” Terra glared at him, angry, horrified and teary. He stuttered “b-b-but that isn’t to say you can’t try for as long as you like, as long as the baby’s vitals are in good shape.”

Terra, never one to want to deviate from a set plan, decided to keep pushing. She was in an incredible amount of pain, but kept at it for another 3 hours. (This is a woman I have often seen near-weeping over losing a specific table pen). She was unable to writhe and could not turn her body. She had to lie there, motionless with the only outlet for her pain being her violent facial expressions. I felt inadequate and unprepared. I held her hand and tried to shuffle my jean jacket on with my free hand. "WHY ARE YOU PUTTING YOUR JACKET ON?!! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!!! KEEP. YOUR JACKET. OFF!!!!!!" I did as I was told.
At 8 p.m., Dr. Sa walked in and informed Terra that there still has been very little progress. He asked us if we would like a moment to talk to each other alone about a C-section. Terra nodded, with her hair matted to her neck and her eyes swollen and crusty with tears.
I did NOT want to let Terra see my eagerness to get into the operating room. I mean, self-preservation is important. I sat with her, quietly.
“What do you think?” she asked between contractions.
“It seems like its inevitable, but it’s totally up to you. What do you want to do?”
“Well, I guess I don’t have a choice.” She looked defeated. I felt like crying. And I was REALLY pissed about that worthless birthing class.
I walked out into the hallway to signal the nurse. “I guess she’s ready for the C-section.”
Quickly, there were nurses and Dr. Sa in our room. He explained what they were going to do. She would be taken down to the operating room. She would be given a local anesthetic in her back. After that, she would be given a spinal. They would shave her privates and set up a sterile environment. At that point, I would be able to join her. I was handed a mask, hairnet, footies that would cover my chucks and scrubs. A nurse, prepared to lead Terra down the hall, loudly proclaimed: “No wonder you are in so much pain. Your epidural is not all the way in!”
I realized, instantly, that I was the reason that Terra had been in so much pain. I guess that's one way to ensure you do it naturally: marry a proactive idiot. Not being a COMPLETE idiot, I chose to not to broach that subject at that particular moment. I stumbled backwards into the bathroom to put on the scrubs. I had an awful time getting the footies over my shoes with shaking hands. I stepped out of the bathroom and asked a nurse for help. Terra was already gone.
Once the covers were placed over my shoes, I was pointed down the hall and told to stop just short of the operating room doors. There were some chairs there. I should sit and wait there for further direction. What was I, a covert operative?
I sat and cried, exhausted and frightened. “Please, please, please,” I repeat.
Twenty minutes went by (I know this because there was a clock on the wall, probably deliberately located so that expectant horrified fathers could listen to watch and listen to the ticktock of time going backwards) The double doors, at long last, swung open.
“You can come with me,” said a masked nurse. I was led around to Terra’s head. There were sterile barriers constructed from Terra’s neck down so that I couldn't see her belly. I was relieved. I sat down and kissed her forehead. Her eyes were wet and panicked. I reached for her hand.
“Okay, you’re going to feel some pressure,” Dr. Sa said.
I heard the buzz of a cutting instrument, a horrible “squish squish”, and a loud suctioning sound.

And then, the greatest audio experience of my life. I heard Mason wail.

The sound sliced up my spine and stiffened my body. I was breathless with a gushing love, like Niagra Falls, only you know, supersized. I was in love with him before I even saw him.
“Here he is!” someone said.
I turned around and saw him. He was bright red and wriggling. His head was elongated into a cone-shape from the 3 hours of being crammed into a birth canal. Dr. Mo, a pediatrician, suctioned out his lungs. “You can come on over,” he said.
“Is he alright? Is his head alright?” I listened to myself.
“Yeah,” Dr. Moore laughed, “just keep a hat on him for a day or two.”
Mason was born at 8:44 p.m. Exactly 20 hours and 52 minutes after labor began. Mason Henry Childers. As I stared at him, I lost time. I did not collapse or black out, but 20 minutes actually disappeared as I locked my eyes on him. The first half-hour of his life was... indescribable. For one thing, I couldn't believe there was now another person in the room! The love continued gush mercilessly. I was washed away in it. It felt, literally, like a miracle.
The operating room nurses cleaned him up, and finally, they handed him to me. I walked over to Terra, crying. She was also crying, exhausted. “Is he okay?” she asked. I nodded and kissed her forehead. She was shaking, shaking, shaking.
“Dad,” Dr. Mo said to me, “do you want to take him down to special care nursery, or do you want to stay with mom?”
I followed Mason as they wheeled the entire contraption he was on out the door and down the hall. When the doors swung open to the lobby, I saw our family, their red eyes glowing and their breaths sucked in. I put a thumb in the air, and Mason was wheeled into the nursery. I followed and stared. Someone informed me that they would need to get something called "an Apgar score," so I backed awat and into the arms of my mother. I pulled my mask back and we sobbed. My father sobbed. Ka sobbed. Terra’s father hugged me. Je hugged me. Relief washed through the lobby.
“Where’s Terra?” Her mom asks, impatiently. Oh yeah!! Her!! Crap.
I ran back through the swinging doors, and Terra was just outside the operating room, lying flat on her back on a hospital bed. Her shoulders were convulsing and her face was twitching.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I can’t stop shaking."
A nurse nearby heard us and offered to give Terra something that would help with the shaking and the pain. “It is hormones,” she said. She put something in Terra’s I.V., and she was wheeled off to a recovery room, as I scampered behind. Within moments, Mason was brought to us, slightly squirming and alive. I took him and placed him on Terra’s chest. She was drugged and smiling now, and she touched his head. I leaned over her, and I was crying again now (good GOD, I hadn't cried like this since I was in single digits.) Tired and ragged, we three were a family. A family.

August 1st, 2007 - When Roxy Died (part 3)

The radio alarm did not so much wake us up as signal that it was okay to speak out loud again. I reached for the snooze button to make it stop, but hit the CD play button instead. “Harmony” by Clinic began with it’s rhythmic blips and bleeps:

"…fill yourself with dreams, fill yourself with dreams, fill yourself with dreams…"

This song would never sound the same to me again. (Perhaps I will never listen to it again.) I did not want to look at Terra’s belly next to me in the bed, but I did. I glanced, and then stared. The bulge of Roxy was leaning to one side, sagging like a half-empty bag of sand. I froze inside my own blind terror. All of my muscles felt knotted and sore. Terra’s eyes were open but she didn't speak. I sat up, touched her shoulder and walked from the room and out the back door. I lit a cigarette and huddled, trembling like a cornered gazelle, separated from it's heard. I was in primitive state, waiting to be eaten by the shadows. The cicadas continued to sing as I carelessly tossed my cigarette into the back yard. So what if there's a fire? So. Fucking. What.
Inside, Terra and Je walked in and out of rooms like ghosts. Terra placed toothbrushes into a black suitcase. I stood in the middle of the living room and turned the TV on and off. I sat down on the couch. Oh yeah, I had to put on my blue jeans so I walked into the bathroom, found them crumpled on the floor and put them on. Didn't bother to change my shirt. Terra walked by and I grabbed her hand and pulled her into me. We hugged, stumbling. My head shook as if I had a sudden, progressive form of Parkinson's. It wobbled on top of my neck as if it was a bell that had been rung.
“You can put those in the car,” Terra whispered, motioning to two suitcases sitting on the floor.
I followed her directions (thankful to have them) and then returned to the living room, sat down on the couch and turned the TV on and off.
“I’m ready to go,” Terra said, blankly. “Are you ready Je?”
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Je answered.
I stood up and we walked to the car.
“We need to drop off these movies,” Terra said, staring out the window.
(Looking back, I think these details got her through those first few days... pack the suitcase, return the movies, feed the dog, remember the toothbrush...)
“Okay,” I said.
We drove silently from our home in Harrodsburg to Bloomington where we would return movies to Blockbuster, and then traveled directly to the Bloomington Hospital O.B. unit so that Terra could deliver our dead child while I watched.
Here's how we did that:
1) We stopped at the red lights
2) We continued cautiously through the green lights (while still looking both ways)
3) We used our turn signals
4) We ensured that we remained relatively close to the speed limit
5) We read the street signs, and we...
I began to bawl as I navigated.
“I knew I should have driven,” said Je, softly.
“Do you want to pull over and let Je drive?” Terra asked. She put her hand on the back of my neck from her place in the back seat.
“No, I’ll be okay,” I muttered, sobbing.

I parked in the Hospital parking garage.
“I’ll come back later for the luggage,” I said. Panic was hitting me like a spray of M-16 bullets. Who would we see in the O.B. unit? Would people congratulate us when we walked in? How would we announce to them what we were here to do? Who was going to do the talking? (Probably me due to my peasant-like inability to inconvenience people with awkward silences). Would they already know when we told them our names? Do all the nurses and doctors and receptionists and janitors have a quick pow-wow every morning to talk about which patients they shouldn't congratulate? I put my arm around Terra and we walked steadily through the bright hallway, past the information desk to the O.B. elevators. I pushed the button next to the “up” arrow and we waited. The elevator doors swung open, and a new mother was pushed out in a wheelchair. Our hearts hit the floor, and they echoed. The elevator was cold and I steadied myself against the railing.
The doors opened on the 2nd floor and I heard the cry of a newborn baby.

We walked deliberately past the check-in desk. You are supposed to stop there, but I just snarled at the elderly woman there. (That is the thing about this peasant thing... when you feel like you are inconveniencing someone, it makes you viciously angry at them for putting you in the position of feeling bad because that really isn't fair, is it- how DARE she think her protocol bullshit warranted us stopping and signing in with her!!). The woman barely shrugged. We continued down the hallway where we passed the special care nursery. I glanced in and saw the little feet and hands going up and down inside the oxygen compartments. In an instant, I was carried back to our son Mason’s first week of life.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

July 31st, 2007 - When Roxy Died (part 2)

Bang!! 6:30 am. Raw sandpaper FEAR woke me up running to Terra, who had disappeared to lay down in Mason’s room.
“I finally felt her kick about an hour ago,” she said, sleepily.
“Oh, thank god. Oh my god. Holy shit that was scary.”
“I’m still going to make an appointment for today, as soon as the office opens.”
“Okay, good. Let me know what time it is, and I’ll meet you there. I’m going to go ahead to work now. I can’t go back to sleep. God, I’m glad everything is okay.”
I kissed her on the forehead and told her to get some sleep. I showered and left.

Three hours later, I was standing at the entrance to the parking lot of Terra’s OB when she pulled up in her ’02 Blue Hyundai Elantra. She waved and smiled at me. I realized I was pacing. I waved back. We walked in through the doors, checked in and waited in the office lobby.
“So is she still moving around in there?” I asked.

Terra didn't look at me.

“No, and now I’m starting to get worried that I didn’t really feel her this morning.”
“No, you would know,” I said.
“Well, I would hope so.”
“Who has Mason?” I asked.
“Your sister.”
She got up to use the restroom and I flipped, absently, through a 3-month-old copy of Sports Illustrated. She returned and the receptionist finally called her name.
A nurse weighed Terra—I don’t understand why—and led us into one of the colorless rooms.
“Dr. St will be in here in a few minutes,” the nurse sang.
I tried to breathe deeply, repeating to myself that everything was going to be okay. Moments passed. And passed. And passed.
“What is taking him so long?” Terra wondered aloud.
I was suddenly aware of muzak being pumped into the room. It was not loud enough for me to place the song.
The door finally swung open. It was the doctor, too busy for chitchat.
“So you haven’t really felt any movement today, is that right?” he asked, bored.
“No movement yesterday, but I think I felt her this morning. We just wanted to be safe.” Terra forced a laugh, apologetically.
“Well, let’s listen to the baby’s heartbeat.” He began fidgeting with the familiar sonogram machine. It crackled like an AM radio station. He lathered it with lubricant and placed it on Terra’s belly. It crackled, empty. I felt... suspended. I could not breathe. He searched. He pressed harder into Terra’s abdomen. Nothing. I looked at the side of Terra’s face. Tears were streaming down. I covered my face. I reached for Terra’s arm. Dr. St was silently searching, whispering “come on, come on…”
Then, we heard a faint, faint heartbeat. Everyone exhaled.
“Is that it?!” I yelled, voice shaking.
Dr. St nodded, “I think so” but looked at Terra, concerned. “I want to go ahead and have an ultra sound just to make sure that it’s not your heartbeat I was hearing, just ‘cause your heart’s beating kind of fast.”
We were led into the ultra sound room, and Terra was eased down into what resembled a dentist’s chair. She was again lathered up with lubricant. Squirt.
The ultra sound device was dragged slowly over Terra’s abdomen. We saw Roxy up on the screen. Our breaths were, again, suspended. She wasn't moving. The ultra sound technician silently snapped pictures of different parts of Roxy. We again heard the empty crackle.
Time stops. The whole world inhales.

“I’m sorry hon, there’s no heartbeat,” the technician said, her voice dead.
Terra’s head turned violently to the left and she opened her mouth to scream. I could see her teeth, but no sound, not at first.
The world exhaled.

Then “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” I knew it was my voice, but it did not sound like me.
“Oh my god…” I was choking.
“I’m so sorry… oh my god…” I was choking.
Then the entire scene happened again and again, beginning with the technician’s sentence and ending with Terra’s face etched into me: Eyes open, mouth screaming, no sound.
From another room it seemed, I heard a voice: “why are YOU sorry? You don’t have anything to be sorry about.” I knew the voice was Terra’s but it didn't sound like her.
Dr. St walked in.
“I’m really sorry. What you need to know is that this just happens sometimes. It’s nothing you did, or anything like that, and that’s something you need to remember,” he said stumbling, looking at the door.
“What now?” I asked. I was shivering.
“Well, we’ll still need to go ahead with the scheduled C-section we were going to do next week. I think we might be able to do this tomorrow morning. I think we have an opening at 10 AM… or if you want to wait, there’s nothing that’s going to hurt, at this point.”
I gasped and lurched.
“Tomorrow,” Terra said. The word was an icicle stabbed into the fumbling doctor's throat.
“Okay, now you’ll not want to eat or drink anything after midnight…” he droned on.

The sun on the sidewalk outside the OB was terrible. We climbed helplessly into Terra’s car together, our hands were clasped, cold and sweating.

“You better call people,” Terra whispered, staring out the passenger side window.

The world felt empty, blanked out.

The cell phone was in my hand and I could see it shaking. If I had been holding a maraca, it would have been fast enough to keep time with dragon fly wings. I was driving somewhere. Where? Completely outside of myself, I watched the car fly.
I dialed my mother’s cell phone number. I had to say it out loud.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Mom,” I choked.
“What, Kenny?” Her voice was shaking, afraid. She had known about our appointment.
“It’s the worst mom.” I was bawling now.
“Oh no, Kenny, what?”
“There’s no heartbeat, Mom.”
“Oh Kenny, no.” She sounded like she was collapsing. “No… where are you?! I’m coming there. Are you going home? I’m coming there.”
“Yeah, we’re going home…”
I hung up.
I dialed Ka’s number.
“Hello.” She sounded bored.
“What?!” I could sense her steadying herself. She had also known about our appointment.
“There’s no heartbeat,” I heard myself saying again.
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god… I can’t… oh my god… okay, I have to keep it together… where are you? Should I keep Mason here with me?”
“Maybe for a couple of hours, but I need to see him soon.” I had gone all black and empty inside. “Can you call Jo?”
Tears, tears, tears. Two good-byes.

Terra took the phone. Dialed. No answer. Dialed again. No answer. Dialed again…
“Je,” she wept weakly. “Je, we went to the doctor today. There was no heartbeat…”
I heard the sound of Je’s voice from the receiver. She didn’t understand.
“There was no HEARTBEAT Je,” Terra repeated.
I heard Je scream something… maybe “you mean she’s DEAD?”
“I can’t get a hold of Dad,” Terra whispered through tears. “Can you get a hold of him?” She closed the cell phone. She had her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wild. Her bottom lip twitched. She was, otherwise, completely, bone-chillingly still.

The cell phone rang. Terra answered. Her Dad.

“I know,” I heard her say, and she began to let out a long high cry. It was so soft, the way it separated itself from her breath.
(Terra’s father is a man I’ve always admired. Very quiet, non-judgmental and sweet, he reminds me of my own father. He is a bit of a hermit, who spends his post-work days clearing brush and mowing his 37 acres. He is a man of slight build, but a quiet toughness, evidenced by the fact that he came to Indiana University in the late sixties on a wrestling scholarship.)
Terra continued to nod and cry, holding the phone to her ear… “will you let mom know?”
Then, with the quickness of a chainsaw starting up, the sound of everything turned up and mixed together like water colors and whirled around me. Was I passing out? Was I dying? I had to concentrate. I was driving. Why was I driving? Because, we have a son.
Terra handed the phone to me.
“Kenny?” her dad, said, sniffling.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“I’m so sorry Kenny. It’s in God’s hands now. It’s all in God’s hands.”
I couldn't tell him what I thought of God right then. “I know,” I cried. I wailed. I shifted and shook. I had to concentrate. I was driving. Why was I driving? Because we have a son.

When I pulled into my driveway my mom was crouched on the front porch. She hugged me. Hugged Terra. We walked into the living room, all three of us in silence, weeping. I sat holding Terra’s head in my lap.

Quickly or slowly (who knows, time had stopped) our family members began to file in, all trying not to break down. First, Terra’s dad. He hugged us one at a time, and continued to repeat “it’s in God’s hands.” Then, My dad. He walked straight to Terra and hugged her. I saw the force of his shaking causing her body to shake. It occurred to me that they might fall and I rose to steady them. Je tiptoed in. More hugs. More silence.

Then BANG the door exploded. Mason was home. Just the sight of him improved my posture. My life raft. My only one. Ka and cousin Jo (also my best friend) walked in behind him, and Ja too. Mason shook the room alive, and we all attempted to greet him with a smile. It was easier than what seemed to make sense. What power he has over us that love him. He had a thoughtful look as I approached him, picked him up, kissed him and said, “Mason I need you to come with me for a second so I can talk to you.” How would I do this? How the fuck are you supposed to do this?! I walked him into our bedroom so that we could be alone.

“Mason,” I gulped. I had to... HAD TO GET THIS OVER WITH. “Mason, I just wanted to tell you… Mason, I wanted to tell you that, um, something happened and Mama and I had to go to the Doctor today. Roxy, um, Roxy… You know how we talked about Roxy, and her getting ready to be born and everything? Well, Mason, um, she, she died.”
“She did?”
“Yes she did. That is why we are all very sad, but I want you to know that we will be alright. You know, it’s okay to be sad...” I heard myself saying things I’ve read in books or seen on Lifetime movies (not that I watch Lifetime). How, oh HOW do you do this?
“Oh," Mason said. "Dad, you know what?”
“What honey?”
“Do you want to watch me play my game?”
“Sure… do you have any questions though? About Roxy, or about what’s going on?”
“No.” (What DID I expect a 4-year-old to say?!)
“Well, Mama is going to have to have an operation tomorrow, and you are going to stay all night with Mimi. Is that okay?” He looked at me cautiously. “She’s going to be okay. Mama’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be fine,” I said, knowing it was a lie.
“Yeah, it’s okay if I stay at Mimi’s.” With this, he was off and running to the small play room off the back of our kitchen. I followed him. How...?

I spent most of the remaining day alternately lying down and standing outside, smoking. After having quit for years, I had, in a 3-hour period, become a full-time smoker again. I don't even know where the cigarettes came from, but I was grateful.

I checked on Terra frequently, but she was surrounded and I couldn't get to her. Sometimes I reached for her hand as I walked by or managed to push her hair back behind her ears. I knew she must be right where I was: Tomorrow morning.
My mind was a wind of panic.
How, how, how could we go through what we were getting ready to go through? How could we walk into the hospital OB area? Our baby is dead. Roxy is dead. How could we go there, check in, go to the operating room... How could we even be awake?
I mean, we would SEE her.
How could I survive looking down at my own dead child?
The fear gripped me, not once, but over and over again. It mauled and scratched me from the inside. It, THE FEAR, was LIVING. I had to lie down, and when I did the pictures and panic played out on my eyelids. I opened my eyes. I needed to run maybe? I walked into Mason’s playroom where he was sitting on the floor. I layed down beside him. My breathing was heavy. I stood back up, walked outside.
Death, death, death. What is it?
Someone spoke to me… “Are you okay? I mean, physically… you’re pale. Have you eaten anything?”
I escaped the conversation and rushed back into our bedroom. Back down on the bed. My heartbeat was thunderous and violent. I tried to breathe steadily. The sound of my breath wiggled staccato. Even my lungs were literally shaking. I was having my first panic attack. And "attack" is the perfect word to describe it. (In all the books, songs and movies, I don't remember seeing it mentioned exactly how PHYSICAL grief is.)

I tried not to move. I tried to focus my breathing. My eyes rolled back into my head, and there were images there, flashing. I closed my eyes again. Why were the lights flashing? My eyes were closed, opened, closed, opened, closed.
“Kenny, do you know if, um, Terra has any breast pads? I didn’t want to bother her about it, but we’re going to the store for you guys.” Ni, a friend of Terra’s, was standing over me.
“What?” I looked at her, scared. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I think it’s okay if you ask her though.”
“Do you need anything from the store?”
“No. No.” I was staring into a closet. No one was there.
The next 45 minutes extended into the horizon endlessly. I tried to concentrate on breathing. I tried not to move. I sat up and tried to look at a book of crossword puzzles. On my back. On my side. On my stomach. Head up. Head down. Feet up. Standing up. Sitting down. I considered screaming for help, but my peasant-like inability to inconvenience people prevents me. (I swear, one day I could quietly die of hypothermia sitting next to a guy with three winter coats in his lap because I don't want to interrupt his newspaper-reading.)
Finally, finally, finally, the white plaster ceiling came into focus. My stomach muscles throbbed like hell and my head-ache was unlike anything I had known. It felt like my brain had been taken out, frozen solid, and put back in my head upside down. But I was finally breathing without needing to tell myself to breathe.
Slowly, people began to trickle out of our house. Long hugs goodbye. If it weren’t for burning stomach muscles and my throbbing temples, I might have wondered if I were dead. The world suddenly seemed that empty.
Mason waved at me while walking out with my mom and dad. I waved back, instinctively.
In eleven hours we would be leaving for the hospital.
Je spent the night, and she, Terra and I stared blankly at the TV for most of it. We were all in the same place: Tomorrow morning.