Tuesday, April 6, 2010

September 8, 2007 - The Good Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 1, 2010

September 6, 2007 - Lifting the Hood

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

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

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

September 5, 2007 - Basketball and Trying to Kick Xanax

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

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