Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Things I've Forgotten

These are the things I've forgotten.

They are the things I don't think about when I look back, the things that don't ever burn or sting. They don't actually make me feel anything.

That's the beauty of forgetting. 

I don't remember the sound the pressure cuff made when I peeled it from my arm after the doctor left the room to arrange my transport into Boston. "Unfortunately, there's a mass on your brain," he had said, so there was not, I decided, any further need to watch my blood pressure or track my pulse or even for me to stay in the johnny. They already knew what was wrong with me. I don't remember getting dressed or brushing my hair or refreshing my lipstick before I started making phone calls. That piercing rip of the velcro from the cuff as I freed myself from the bed and took what little action, what little control I could...I don't remember that sound at all.

I forget the understanding that settled upon me in the ambulance ride from the small hospital to the big one. Stuck in rush hour and hockey playoff traffic, I forget that moment of realizing the EMT didn't know what to do with me. I forget how he got chatty, how he felt the need to fill the sad space that was the back of the rig with words about his daughter preparing for college. I forget how he asked again and again if I was too cold or too hot. I forget how I wanted to put my hand on his arm and tell him that it was okay, that silence didn't scare me. That I needed the calm and the quiet to catch my breath in preparation for what was next. I forget how he eventually grew still and the gratitude I felt for it as I waited to be delivered to my fate. I forget that his mustache was reddish blonde and that the driver was young. I forget how I made a joke to that young driver as they lowered the gurney out of the ambulance. I made him laugh. I forget the look in his eyes at that moment, in the second after he laughed, the look that fell just shy of pity but not quite shy enough. I forget how that look chilled me. 

I don't remember the moment,a few hours later, when the nurse gave me a steroid shot. I don't recall the terror I felt as I bolted upright. Something was wrong; my chest was buring, every pore of my skin alive and prickling and stabbing. I don't remember the way it felt like tiny shards of glass piercing my skin, from my scalp to the roof of my mouth to my legs and my feet and I tried to say as much but all I could do was grab my friend's hand and gasp, "Shards of glass!" I don't remember how the nurse moved down to my ankles and grabbed them, holding them tight. I don't remember the way he looked at me, steady and sure, and told me I was okay, that sometimes this happens and that it would spread through my entire body but it would be over in about a minute. I don't remember that the way he held my feet grounded me in that moment or that, when he told me it was almost over, I believed him. I don't remember it at all.

I have forgotten the minutes and days and years that hung in the air when the neurosurgeon on call that night asked me, "What year is it?" I forget the work of trying to answer. I forget the "19-" that came to my lips. I forget the thought, "Wait...wait...not 19...wait." I forget the blackboard I saw in my mind that said, "20-" and how I couldn't figure out what came next. I forget the way he told me that it was alright. I forget the realization that I hadn't been able to answer, that it wasn't alright. I forget that I cried in that moment, the moment I knew this was all really happening.

I don't remember it at all, really.

I don't recall the fear that weaved in and out of those days.

I don't recall the lists and plans I made in preparation for potentially leaving my children motherless. I don't recall kissing them good-bye. I don't recall the feeling in my chest in that moment, a feeling exactly the same as the first time I touched them as newborns. I don't recall thinking that this was a delicious secret, how the intensity of love is the same at the end as in the beginning and I don't remember that I thought that was beautiful and gracious.

I don't recall the night before surgery, alone in the dark of my bedroom, lying awake staring at the ceiling and making my peace with the possibility that I would die the next day. I don't recall feeling at the same time that I had never been so sure of anything as I was right then that I was strong and ready to do anything I  needed to do to get back to the little boys I loved so much.

I don't remember these things. To remember them would be to dredge up the pain and beauty and clarity and fear and pain and love and grace and strength and pain and pain and pain.

These are the things I'll fight to forget.

These are the things I've already forgotten.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Scars

The human body has a single goal: to stay alive. That is its sole driving force.

Keep the brain working. Keep the heart beating. Keep the oxygen flowing. Stay alive. No matter what.

When the body endures a major injury, its immediate focus is recovery. 

But once the physical systems are stable, the body essentially says, "We didn't like that, don't do it again. In fact, here. Have some intense feelings. This should help you avoid whatever it was you were doing when you nearly killed us."

This is called trauma. 

*     *     *     *     *

I loved my incision, in theory. I viewed it as a badge of honor, a permanent reminder that I was a warrior. 

But I hated looking at it. The swollen skin was unnaturally pink, so puffy and pinched. The black dash-mark stitches cut along its length, with deep, crusty scabs dotting the patches between. It was harsh. 

It was violent. 

I'd face it each morning, examine it closely, trying to familiarize myself with it. I would stare it down.

And then, I would look away.


*     *     *     *     *

"You can wash your hair now," the nurse said the day the stitches were removed.

She kept talking. "You HAVE TO wash your hair. You have to keep the incision clean. Don't be afraid to wash your hair."

My long hair was a braided, matted mess after two weeks of being covered by a turban of gauze and then head scarves. A good deal of it was encrusted with blood. I wanted it clean.

But my head had been screwed into place and cut into, the skin, the muscle, the bone all cut into. They cut my head open. I didn't know how to do this normal thing, I didn't know how to try to wash my hair and be a pretty girl again after my head had been cut open. 

"Don't be afraid to wash your hair," the nurse said. 


*     *     *     *     *

My friend Karen rinses the shampoo from my hair.

I sit in the bathtub. I'm wearing my bathing suit. 

I cry as I watch the rust-colored water flow off my hair, swirl at my feet, and then slip down the drain. 


I cry hard. 

*     *     *     *     *


Incision. June, 2013. Photo by Erin Lockhart


















2 weeks post-surgery. June, 2013























Finally with clean hair. July, 2013























1 year + post-surgery. September, 2014

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pink Moon

What would you do if you only had a few months to live?

How would you spend your time?

Who would you surround yourself with?

What words would you be sure you said?

We hear story after story of lives that change in a heartbeat: the 35 year old man who drops dead of a heart attack, the woman suddenly diagnosed with a terminal illness, the family killed in a car accident. These stories shake us. We share them and say things like, "Life is short."

And then we go right back to wasting our time.

We stare at our phones. We date the wrong people. We worry about the extra ten pounds or the thinning hair or the wrinkles.

We don't take time to simply sit outside and breath in the sweet air, to be warmed by the sun. We don't linger in bed smelling our lover's skin as night stretches into morning stretches into afternoon. We don't grab our children's cotton-candy-sticky hands and run with them to the roller coaster. We don't say yes to the things that bring us joy, the things that evoke our passions, the people who truly matter.

How old are you today?

How many years do you have left?

40? 20?

How many days do you have?

100? 30? 10?

You don't know.

What would you do?

And why aren't you doing it?






Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now?

Two months ago, I moved out of my house and into an apartment. I immediately began obsessing about our noise level: were the kids stomping? Was my radio too loud? Did the door slam? 

For the first week or so, I figured the walls here were pretty thick because I heard very little from my next door neighbors. Occasionally, when I'd be in my bathroom, I would hear a muffled gross sound from their bathroom.

But I could deal with this. Because people need a place to make gross sounds. 

Besides, the gross sounds were contained to the bathroom. This was an improvement from an apartment I had lived in when I was in my early 20's, where the walls were so thin I could lie in bed and hear the guy next door pee. 

Guys tend to pee very loudly. I think it has something to do with the whole standing up thing, like maybe some physics concept about the distance from the opening to the water and velocity or something? I don't know, but dudes pee way more loudly and forcefully than we ladies do (although they don't go about 73 times after only 2 glasses of wine, so they've got us beat there). My neighbor, however, must have also had a giant whale-bladder, because he was an exceptionally heavy pee-er. Every morning, I woke to the sound of the guy in apartment 39 taking a leak. 

So muffled bathroom sounds heard only in the bathroom of my new apartment were not so bad.

But when I woke up one night around 12:30, six weeks after moving in, I learned that the walls were not as thick as I had thought. 

I'm a very light sleeper, so I sleep with a white-noise machine. It was humming away, doing its white-noise machine thing when I awoke. But as I tried to fall back asleep, I picked up on a noise below the din that, once I heard, I couldn't un-hear.

The people next door were definitely having sex.

My first thought was that this was very icky and intrusive, to be overhearing someone doing private and intimate things. But then I was hit with a worse thought as I realized that, if I could hear THEM having sex, then they had quite possibly heard ME doing the same.

I dragged a pillow over my head, embarrassed for them and for me. I stayed that way for as long as I could, giving my neighbors a decent window to finish their business. When I finally pushed the pillow off my sweaty head, I listened. 

I listened hard.

It was quiet.

Although, I swear, I think I might have heard that guy pee. 










Thursday, August 14, 2014

In the Still of the Night (Part 3)

     “You’re drunk,” he insisted, hoping that saying so would somehow negate the impact of what she had just said. He stepped closer to her, looking hard into her eyes. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”

     She took a drag of her cigarette and exhaled away from him.

     “He told me he didn’t ever want kids. And that I…” she paused for a moment and looked away from him. “That I wasn’t the maternal type.”

     He wondered for a moment if she might cry, might step forward and lean her head against him, softening against his chest, allowing him to wrap his arms around her, comfort her, care for her. Instead she dropped what remained of her cigarette to the ground, turned, and began walking briskly away.

     He caught up to her quickly, but she remained quiet as he fell in beside her and rounded the corner onto his street.

     “So what did you do?” he asked.

     “I had an abortion,” she said, her voice steady and firm. “It was what he wanted.”

     She stopped again, looking across the street. He could see his apartment building, could see his living room window on the second floor. He was eager to get her inside, to shut the door behind them and lock out the rest of the world. She was open and exposed out here on the sidewalk, under the expanse of the sky, where anything could swoop in and snatch her away from him. He needed her contained.

     “Hey, isn’t there a park over across the way?” she asked.

     “Yeah, a little playground-“

     “With a slide?” Her eyes were bright and she moved in close, looking up at him with a sly smile. “Let’s fuck on the slide,” she whispered.

      “I don’t think-“

     “Don’t think!” she laughed and in a flash she was running away from him, darting into the quiet street, unsteady with drunkenness as she turned to look over her shoulder at him.

     “Come on!” she called. He was too drunk to run smoothly, so he stuck his hands in his pockets and strode across the street.

     Contained. He needed her contained, but she was so damn fluid, so utterly uncontainable.

     She was walking backwards, looking at him, making sure he was following her. She passed beneath the glow of a street light at the park’s entrance and disappeared into the darkness behind it. It had engulfed her completely; he could no longer see her. His heart was suddenly pounding, his palms sweaty.

     “Where are you?” he called.

     She stepped out, laughing, from behind a small field house to his right.  

     “Kyla, let’s go. My apartment is right there.”

     But she did not respond, instead pulling off her top and tossing it aside. She was walking away from him again, heading past the swings and toward the slide at the back of the fenced in playground. He followed, his pulse quickening as she reached around, unhooked her bra, and let it slide down her arms and to the ground. He had always found her bare back beautiful, long and smooth until it widened out at her hips. God, he wanted her.

     She was already naked when he reached the slide.

     The taste of alcohol was heavy on her tongue as she wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him in for a kiss. He was overwhelmed by the cocktail of cool night air, whiskey, and her skin, unsure of where to touch her first. He wanted to touch her everywhere at once, wanted his hands in her hair, on her face, on her hips, on her back, on her breasts, sliding between her legs. He was dizzy with wanting her.

     Her hands were at his waist, fumbling with his belt buckle. He looked quickly around the park. The back fence was lined with trees and the streetlight at the entrance was far enough away that they would be protected by the darkness.

     She was breathing rapidly, her chest rising and falling urgently as she pushed his pants down. He normally loved the feel of her hands on him, longed for her to touch him more, but tonight he did not care that she was barely touching him. She had grabbed his wrist and was climbing onto the slide.

     “Hurry,” she said breathlessly as she laid down. Maneuvering on the slide was not easy, but it only took him a moment to get his footing.

     He felt the weight of the night fall off of him the instant he slid inside of her. She grabbed at his back, digging her nails into him as she pulled him deeper. He felt a rush of excitement that went beyond anything sexual; he would erase the night with every thrust inside of her. There was no abortion, no Facebook status, no ex, no fiancĂ©. He would erase it all until he felt sure none of it had actually happened.

     “Wait,” she said. “Condom.”
   
      “No,” he said and moved faster inside of her.

     “Get a condom,” she repeated, her words slightly slurred.

     He ignored her, instead taking her wrists in his hands and pinning them up over her head. She arched her back and moaned. Her breathing was fast, her eyes shut, her legs wrapped tightly around his waist.

     “Look at me,” he told her. He wanted to see her need for him in her eyes.

     She opened her eyes but quickly turned her head away.

     “Harder,” she half moaned, half whispered. He obliged, but as he looked down at her face turned to the side, he saw her cheek was wet.

     “Are you crying?” he asked.

     “No,” she said quickly. “Now don’t stop, keep going.”

    But even as she insisted that she was not crying, a fresh tear slid down her face, disappearing into her hair.

     “You are,” he said. He let go of her wrists but did not move off of her. Her legs remained tight around him.

     “It’s fine,” she said, wiping the tears away as new ones fell. “Just keep going.”

     He touched her face tenderly. Finally, she was soft and small beneath him. Finally, she was crying before him.

     “What’s wrong?” he asked softly.

     She kept her head turned to the side, looking, it seemed to him, at some distant, invisible spot in the trees.

     “He said he didn’t want kids,” she said, her voice so quiet he could barely hear her. “But she’s having his baby. And he’s going to marry her.”

     Adam Greene. All of her fucking, her wanting, her urgency, it had all been about Adam Greene. He felt a wave of heat and adrenaline wash over him, a rush of fiery anger like he had never known before.

     His hands were around her head in a flash, without thought, lifting it and slamming it repeatedly against the slide, 1-2-3-4, with as much force as her betrayal warranted. She grunted, a stunned look on her face, but before she could make another sound he had released her head and clenched his hands around her throat.

     Her throat. Her sweet, delicate throat that he loved to run his tongue along, loved to kiss, loved to smell, felt small in the fierce grip of his hands. She was panicked beneath him, her eyes wild as she clawed franticly at his arms. This was just like Kyla, to be so full of fight. His sudden anger had caused him to go limp, but he felt himself grow hard again as she struggled, the crushing of her windpipe within his hands leaving him in awe of his own strength. He squeezed tighter as her eyes rolled back in her head and she slipped from consciousness, but he did not let go, not until her chest had stopped rising and her throat was no longer pulsating beneath his fingers. Only then did he release her, stepping back from her body to catch his breath.

     She was more beautiful than he had ever seen her, lying there naked and exposed, one leg draped over the side of the slide, the inside of her pale thigh still shiny with fluid from their sex. Her neck had turned a brilliant shade of purple and he was glad for it. It was a tangible sign that she was his now, that he had finally, at last, contained her. Her head was resting at an unnatural angle against the rail of the slide.

     He wanted pictures. He wanted to be able to remember this, to look upon the photos whenever he was feeling low or insecure. His phone was in his pants which, with his shoes, were next to the slide. He hadn’t bothered to remove his shirt.

     He no longer felt intoxicated, he noticed, as he was easily able to balance as he stepped into his pants. It wasn’t until he had pulled up the zipper and buttoned them that he realized his belt was no longer strewn within his pant loops. He peered around the area surrounding the slide but could not see it. He tried to recall Kyla taking it off him, but it seemed her hands had gone from struggling to taking his pants off in an instant. She had most likely pulled it out of the loops and tossed it aside, he rationalized. No matter, he had others. And he wanted to get pictures of her body while it was warm.

     He began photographing her from afar in order to capture the hard sloping line of the slide in contrast to the soft curve of her leg dangling over the side. As he moved closer to take pictures of her face and neck, he scowled with the realization that he hadn’t had the release of an orgasm. He briefly considered masturbating right there, next to her body, but ultimately decided against it, as it was beneath him to do something so lewd in a public place. No, he would go home, take his time viewing her pictures, and let his excitement rise and fall until he could no longer contain himself.  

     The pictures were stunning. He felt confident that he had successfully captured every angle of her that he would ever desire. Satisfied, he made his way back to the park entrance. He was eager to get home and as he crossed the street toward his apartment, he found that he felt happier than he had in months. For once, hue felt a sense of pride in himself as a man. He had asserted control in an out-of-control situation. He had contained the uncontainable. He was the master of his own universe, he thought as he strode up the stairs of his building and let himself into his apartment. All was right in his world. He would sleep soundly tonight, of that he was sure.


     It was the call of approaching sirens that woke him the next morning.   


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Girls Chase Boys Chase Girls

FROM: Boy
TO: Girl
SUBJECT: sorry

I'm sorry okay

*     *     *     *     *

Boy and Girl connect on dating website. Boy emails Girl. Girl replies. Boy and Girl exchange a number of emails before Girl finally gives Boy her phone number.

Boy texts rather than calls. Texting has its place, but it's not a great way to get to know someone new. Girl is not impressed.

But Girl likes meeting new people, exchanging stories, getting to know each other a little. So when Boy suggests Girl meet him for a drink, Girl says yes, Thursday night. Boy picks a place, as Girl is new to the area. Girl checks it out online and texts him that it doesn't look too murdery, so it's a go. Boy responds, "It's not very loud, so you'll be able to hear me talk."

Girl suddenly realizes Boy has not asked her very many questions about her. Girl begins to think that a cold beer alone on her couch with the company of a good book sounds like a better way to spend her Thursday night.

Wednesday afternoon, Boy texts Girl, "I can't make it tonight, hung up at work."

Girl is relieved. Girl doesn't bother pointing out to Boy that they were supposed to meet the following day. Girl figures Boy wasn't all that interested, Girl wasn't all that interested and it all worked itself out in the end. Girl texts back, "Okay, no problem" and assumes that is the end of that. Just as well since Girl already has another date, one she's excited about, lined up for Saturday.

(Girl will go on to cancel Saturday's date when THAT Boy tells her he has only been separated for 4 months and is living in an in-law apartment attached to the marital home where his wife still resides.)

However, a week later, Girl will receive an email from Boy saying, "I'm sorry okay".

Boy feels bad and wants Girl to make him feel better about it. Now, Girl is not an asshole. Girl has been dating long enough to know that it's complicated, that old baggage and fear of rejection linger behind every step of the process. So Girl says, "Dude, if I had a dime for every time I freaked out when a guy either gave me his number or asked me to meet, I'd have enough money to pay for every date ever with a guy I finally want to go the distance with. Dating is hard, people get freaked out and bail, I get it. But I've found that the times I've freaked out have been because I wasn't really ready to be dating, I wasn't actually interested but felt like I should give someone I had no online chemistry with a chance, or I WAS interested but there were red flags that I couldn't ignore. So don't sweat it, it's usually your gut telling you it's not right. First dates should be exciting, something you look forward to, not something you dread and want to bail on."

Boy replies, "I think it's sexy that you called me dude."

Girl shakes head. Boy is definitely not her type.

Boy messages, "Your sweet lets start over"

Girl responds, "I think at this point we should just wish each other well..."

Boy replies again with an "Awww come on" that Girl ignores.

Boy and Girl don't speak again.

And so Girl keeps looking.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Send Me On My Way

I knew this house was ours immediately.

It wasn't the bright kitchen or the jacuzzi tub in the bathroom that lured me in. It was the sunlit staircase, with one window at the top of the stairs and another at the bottom. I had only been a bride for two months then, but we agreed that children were in our future and as I stood just inside the front door, I could see myself carrying a baby down those stairs. We told the realtor we needed to think it over and then parked just around the corner.

"We're going to have babies in that house," I said.

And so we did.

The house bore witness to my life, as houses do. I waddled pregnant, rocked infants, read stories, nursed fevers, kissed boo-boos, calmed tantrums, set up sprinklers, stuffed stockings, planned birthdays, baked cupcakes. I cooked Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner and Easter dinner. I nurtured, and then ended, a marriage. I fell to my knees on the living room floor and cried for the death of my father. I blared the kitchen radio at 6 a.m., high on adrenaline and strength, the morning of my surgery.

I adjusted as the house continually ceased to represent my former life and morphed into my current one.

I have long loved this house. I love the way the light comes in through the expansive kitchen window. I love the way my bedroom smells, like fresh air and perfume, when the windows are all open. I love the scraping sound my son's door makes when he opens it in the morning. I love being under a blanket on my couch, watching the snow fall out the front windows. I love sitting on my back porch with a coffee or a beer or a book or a friend.

I love this house and the life I have lived in it.

But a person cannot truly move forward if her feet remain in the same spot. You can't stay where you are, I remind myself as I pack boxes, digging through the rubble of the last 13 years of my life. You have to keep going. 

I'm excited for a new beginning, a place that is free of ghosts. A place where I am not the ex, not the mourner, not the brain tumor.

A place where I am just me.

A place where I am home.