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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Joy

Tonight, Jacob sat next to me in the booth, and no one asked him to...

Mr. Oliver

As my orange tabby cat, Oliver, took his last breaths on our bathroom floor, I covered him in a warm towel and held him for awhile.  I tried to meet his eyes, and let him know I was there, but I could tell he was in too much pain to even know what was happening around him.  My sweet little old man, sixteen, almost seventeen, had lost weight seemingly overnight, and felt just the way Sassy had felt in my arms that last time at the vet:  no more than a bundle of sticks.

Sassy had been silent and aware, so weak she couldn't lift a paw, but trading messages with me with her gaze for all she was worth.  I love you, Mom.  Don't leave me.  She died in my arms, and I was completely devastated, grateful to have been there for her, and upset that I had not been there for Cory in her last moments.

Oliver was not silent.  He cried, and struggled to breathe, and it was another of those horrible pictures you wish you could unsee, but once seen, must own for the rest of your life.  He couldn't support his own weight or move at all, but his limbs occasionally spasmed on their own.  I sat on the tile beside him with my heart in my throat, just crying to see him suffer.

There was no last moment of recognition.  There was only his concave side that stopped moving and his mouth flung wide open, in the extremity of his pain and anguish.

If you are a pet person, you already know that I sobbed my heart out, and knew not another wink of sleep that night; that I covered his precious face that no longer looked familiar and crawled my way out of that room, leaving my husband to move his wasted body to a more appropriate placement.

I went back to my bed for the last hour before my alarm went off for work, and went back and forth with thoughts of Oliver and Cory.  A song lyric came to mind, "Love is watching someone die."

Yes, it is.  But the more I considered this hard truth, the more I realized it may have been better than I didn't run down my street in time, after all.  What I saw of Cory on the road haunts me.  It was the most horrendous thing I've ever seen.

 I remember when my cat, Sassy, died, and I held her as she went gently away, thinking  I'd been cheated those moments with my Cory Girl.  But what if her death had not been quiet?  What if she had been in extreme pain and struggling to breathe?  What if she tried to speak, but couldn't say my name?  Or worse, what if she wasn't even aware that I was there, and that she was not alone in this unthinkable time?

I don't think I could have seen those sort of things, and continued to live.  So at a most unexpected time, I find myself grateful for something I never considered a blessing.

What's that saying?  "What is healing, but a shift in perspective?"

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SOS

Dr. Z said that one day the sweetness of the memories will outweigh the pain of her absence.

I love that man, but I'm not always sure he knows what he's talking about.

 However:

the other night, I started having flashbacks.  Nights are always the worst for this, and for missing her.  It didn't help that earlier that evening, when dark had fallen, some random guy walked in front of my car on West Michigan, wearing DARK clothes, including a hoodie over his head.


FUCKING REALLY?!!  

Of course, he made it to the other side of the road safely, all limbs and organs intact, and I just continued driving down the road screaming like a lunatic at the injustice of it all.

Maybe that's where the flashbacks came from.  Safe and warm in my bed, covers to my chin, my eyes began to scan the ground for her body, finally seeing something flung to the side, surrounded by people, I shook my head in the dark.

Stop!  Stop!  Stop!  

I tried to tell myself I was not there, roadside, I was in my bed, and it had been two years-- I spied the hump of her back, her splayed legs, the way her hair had fallen forward, thereby judiciously covering any telltale slumps or bulges.

Stop!!!!!!!!!!

I sat up, suddenly wanting more than anything to just hear her voice.  I got out my phone, pulled up that video on Facebook- the one where's she's singing along to a song.  Watching and listening to videos of her makes me joyously happy and dangerously suicidal, at the same time.

So this time, I snugged down under the covers, anchoring my cold butt to the mattress warmer, grabbed my stuffed animal, pulled the covers back up to my chin, and put in my ear buds.  I closed my eyes, and let the video play.  Her voice, so sweet and familiar filled my head, and the only thing I got from it was comfort.  Why had I never thought of this before?

Stop.  Orient.  And Soothe.

I think I'll download this video clip to my phone where I can play it on a loop, and let her sing to sleep some nights.  She'll be right beside me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Girl Power

How exactly did Cory end up to be the character that she was?

Let me tell you a story.

I have sometimes felt I was born in the wrong decade, and picture myself as a housewife in the fifties, with a squeaky clean kitchen, content to iron my husband's shirts, while looking fresh and delicious in one of those fabulous dresses, wearing lipstick and heels at home in the daytime...clickety-clack.  Of course, I realize if I indeed had that, I would no doubt be miserable, dreaming of working outside the home, showing my husband that my brain was of as much value as my tiny waist that looked so fetching in those belted dresses.

You always want what you can't have, right?

Well, one particular winter as a single parent to my teen-aged daughter and young son, what I desperately wanted was a man to shovel my driveway for free.  We got absolutely dumped on; the kids had a snow day, and the rest is history:

It started out as a "family effort".  Jake had his tiny plastic shovel, mostly for show, you understand, and Cory had a shovel surely meant for gardening, if such things actually took place on my property.  I grabbed the snow shovel, and together we trudged down our long driveway, ready to finish this little task up in five minutes or so.

By the time the snot had begun to run clearly down their faces, the kids put down their shovels and fled.  Cory promised me hot cocoa when I came in, and backed away, a look of horror on her face, "Sorry, Mom, I just didn't realize snow was so heavy, and I can't feel my feet anymore."

Yeah, yeah.  I branded them both deserters, and hit my angry music playlist on my I-pod.  I'd shovel for about three minutes steadily, and then bend over, winded.  I have always been skinny, but not necessarily fit.  I could not believe the barbaric nature of this chore, and vowed to eat more, as I had a snow blower, but not enough ass to get the stupid thing started.

Eventually, I was sweating so much, I had to strip off my sub-zero puffer coat.  Every time I looked up, positive I was nearly done, I would glance up the driveway, and see my progress was actually about a foot and a half.  Some emotions were stirred during this shovel-thon:  mainly bad ones, and aimed at the men not currently in my life...you wanna talk deserters, let's talk deserters.

I was getting myself quite worked up by this point.  How dare these men just leave me holding the shovel?  I had borne their seed!  We had had legal and and non-legal sacred unions together.  You can't shovel my effin driveway?!  Didn't they know men are generally physically stronger than women for one reason?  To move snow!

I started thinking about Ma and Pa Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie, and was pretty sure this was not the way the crap went down in The Long Hard Winter.  Surely, Pa would come in from the blowing snow after milking the cows, and currying the horses or some crap, place a strong hand on Ma's collarbone the way he always did, and say, "Hey girl...I love the way you churned that butter...the snow removal's all me."

I can't get a Pa?  For real, guys?

Half-way through, I turned this back breaking Godforsaken task into a test of my personal character.  I would clear this driveway for my children, and show them we didn't need a man!  I could do whatever needed doing.  By the time I'd made it two thirds of the way to the end, fearing a coronary
event at any moment, I'd decided I could do anything, as long as I had my kids.  Give me some scrap
lumber and a bucket full of nails, and I'd build a lean-to outside the backdoor, and stock it with homemade apple butter.

I may have stopped once to call my mom and say my final goodbyes, the way I am always tempted to do when I feel the end is near.  Mom, who I suspect has never shoveled a driveway in her lifetime with my father (a true Pa sort of man), sounded dubious, but encouraging, and not quite sure what all my dramatics were about.

With the last shovelful flung weakly to the side, I dropped the shovel where I stood, and made my way to the house.  I was out of breath, hot, yet freezing, fed up with the opposite sex, yet strangely exhilarated...victorious, really.

I crawled up the two steps of our landing, fell to my knees in the dining room, and with a loud cry, whipped my shirt off to my bra.  Jacob looked on, mouth agape, as Cory turned to me from her place at the counter, where she was making hot cocoa while safely cocooned in a snuggie, and said,
 "Oh my God, woman, what are we going to do with you?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Proof Like BOOM!

I read passages out of a couple of Cory's journals the other night.  I keep them near, but don't take them out very often.  I love to see her handwriting, but then, too, I can see the course of her mental illness through the letters that began to straggle weakly across the page.  It hurts to recognize.

As I read over some of her entries during her hospitalizations and just various days at home, some as recent as three months before the accident, I was reminded of something I'd read once about pain.  Someone asserted that the young, through illness or accident, may come to know bad pain, but only the old know true suffering.  As I read about how the voices tormented her and scared her, ordered her to do terrible things, and made her doubt her self-worth, I could see only too clearly that author was wrong.  Cory suffered plenty.

Reading what she'd written was so much like hearing her voice.  Tim finally took them away.  I couldn't stop shaking.

So there was the trigger, next came these thoughts:

I made her sick.  My anxiety made her worse.  Should I never have let her walk to the store?  Was she hearing voices that day?  Did I get her help soon enough?  Did I do everything I could?  Did my relationship choices set off her illness?  Did the stress when I was pregnant cause it?  How could I have prevented her illness?  How could I have prevented her death?  If I'd made better judgment calls, would she be here, whole, sitting at the end of my bed?

They tumbled on top of each other, these thoughts, until I had examined my role in this disaster in every nook and cranny I could think of, beginning while still I carried her in my belly and ending as I watched her walk out the back door.

Reaching for my journal in my bag, I came across the index cards Lady has encouraged me to try.  I scanned one, "I couldn't have loved her more." and instantly thought of a picture of us together.  Before long, I had a semi-circle of photos, washi tape, and index cards spread around me, and was carefully choosing an image to match the remaining statements:  I saved her many times, If Cory wasn't feeling well she wouldn't have offered to go, Some things are outside of my control, Letting her go to the store was part of a greater decision to allow her to contribute to the family, be independent, grow up, let go of fear, and be what she was meant to be.

Oh, how "let go of fear" sent a shiver up my spine!


These pictures, each illustrating the statement on the card, were evidence.  They were visual.  You can tell me anything all day long, and I'll think you're full of crap unless you show me.  I could look at these images and believe the statements were true.  Once I'd finished affixing them all, I turned through them slowly, going back to the beginning the second I'd finished, like a child with a favorite bedtime story.

I felt a lot better about myself, my role in Cory's death, and my role in her life.

Maybe I'll think of some more pages to add to our story.  It's a good one.






Friday, January 16, 2015

She's Still With Us

Yesterday, Jacob turned thirteen.  He is officially a teenager, and I dread the day he'll be too embarrassed to kiss me full on the lips.  Cory would be turning twenty two next month.  That's the way it was supposed to go, and I wonder what she'd think of this sudden growth spurt that puts him practically eye to eye with his grandmother.  I wonder what she'd think of his quiet wit, his silliness within his safe circle, and his adult-like observations of life around him.  Would they still be friends?  Yeah, I think they would; they went through a lot together.

We took Jake to dinner, and I had a moment in which my heart jumped into my throat:  Jake slid into the booth next to me to sit, a first.  I am such a chump.  One look at Tim's face, and I knew he'd asked Jake to sit next to me...so not the same.

I tried to keep upbeat.  Jake deserves happy birthdays.  But every occasion that brings our family together will be bittersweet, if not outright painful.  After his presents had been doled out, I made a quick run into Barnes and Noble.  I paid for a sleek, simple looking black leather journal that was big enough to accommodate Jake's messy handwriting.  I took the bag over to a table in the cafe, and fished in my purse for some adhesive and a picture of Cory and Jake together.  On the inside cover, I carefully affixed it, and wrote these words:  "She's still with us..."

A gift from Cory, to include her, and to validate any pain Jake might be in to not have her at his birthday table.  Here is a private container to house his memories and his feelings about losing his best friend in the world.  I hope he uses it, when he's ready.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Nick in Orange?

It's like someone hit pause.  Nearly two and a half years to the day, Tim has begun to mourn Cory.  I know he had a huge job taking care of me and making arrangements directly following the accident.  Beside all those tasks checked off one by one in his shaky penmanship in his little memo book was a scribbled admission, "I think I'm going crazy."

 That was a handful of days after the accident, when we were up to our eyeballs in flowers, caskets, and graves.  There was a small pocket of safety within that shock, and that's where Tim lived between the day Cory died and the day we buried her.  Back and forth, he paced the house, he ran errands, and he told me how sorry he was.  Looking into his eyes, on the rare occasion I was able to make eye contact, I remember thinking he looked panicked and afraid.  How to do this?  Bury a child?  Bury the Cory Girl?  This can't be happening.

He took such good care of me.  I cried, and talked to people- sometimes not making a whole lot of sense, I'm afraid.  Tim made sure things got done.  He didn't have much to say back then.  What could he say?

I was horrible to him.  Did you know that?  I was horribly, unspeakably ungrateful and just plain mean.  But he still took care of me.  He let me scream at him,  pass out, throw up, refuse to eat or drink, pass our son dark looks, and aggressively cuss out the first cemetery keeper we met.

  I was so angry at the driver, at the world, at God, but mostly at myself.  I could hardly stand to be in my own company.  I wanted to kick my own ass.  All of it- her babyhood, her childhood, her adolescence, her mental illness, just to come to a messy, dirty end on the side of West Michigan Avenue.  Really, Nick?  Was that the best you could do?

What Tim didn't do was talk about Cory or what losing her felt like to him.  It's only now, years later, that he's told me how it felt to walk into that flower-filled room and see her lying there in the casket, half of her bracelets intact and still on her wrist.   It's only now that he'll talk about watching them lower her into the ground in front of us, and how the sound of my screams will haunt him forever.  It's only now he'll tell me how much I've scared him because he wasn't sure from the day it happened that I would want to live, and he had no idea how to help me want to.

And he's angry!  He wants to hurt people!  Or at least one person, anyway.  Is it wrong that this makes me so happy?  He loved her.  He did!  I can only nod my agreement, and reluctantly tell him if I can't drive by her house, neither can he.

The other day, I pulled into the parking lot of my doctor's office, and paused to kick some ice and hard-packed snow off of the rocker panels over my tires.  I had my big, heavy below thirty degrees Sorels on, and got the most satisfying surge when I felt a chunk go flying under the force of my foot.  Before I knew it, I was kicking at all the ice, at all the snow, and kept going, kicking my tires, my car, and a nearby snowbank before I could stop myself.  I was so into it, I was making gutteral noises way down in my throat like a damn dog.  I stopped, breathing hard in the cold, and looking around.  The parking lot was quiet, and I just stood there, the adrenaline racing through my body, feeling big, feeling strong, feeling furious, feeling powerful.   I could knock down walls; I could do damage; I could kill someone.  Cue the angry music...ARRRRRGHHHHHHH!!!!

Over the weekend, I watched Last House on the Left.  I told Tim it was a scary movie, and it is, but I mainly wanted to watch the parents go after their daughter's rapists with sweet, deadly abandon.  One guy ended up with a hammer buried in his skull and the other had his head put inside a microwave. A MICROWAVE!! Are you feeling me?

And that girl LIVED!  Don't they always survive in the fricking movies?  I think so often, couldn't she just have been hit?  I remember running down the road to her, thinking she'd surely have a broken leg, but we'd go to the hospital, and she'd be okay. She never even made it inside the stupid ambulance.  All they gave my girl was a sheet and a place in the hot sun.

Why did she have to die?  And in pieces?  Especially when so many others live so much longer than you'd think they have any right to.  Like Tim says, "What did she ever do to anyone?"

I told my therapist, Lady, the next day that I'd watched the movie to explore my feelings of rage and need for vengeance in a safe way.  What I didn't expect was to be left feeling a little hollow about my own murderous fantasies.  The people in the movie who hurt the young girl about Cory's age did so willfully, purposefully.  The driver was most certainly careless and negligent, but I'm not altogether convinced that she meant to run Cory down on that wretched day.

Does this make me any less angry with her?  No.  But I suddenly questioned if my actions of revenge would be as justified as what I've previously imagined them to be.  Do you inflict blunt force trauma on someone for not paying attention?  Should you?  Is that fair?

I ponder this, all the while, reminding myself that however I feel is okay, and while anger is a natural part of grieving, orange is not my best color.