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Thursday, March 16, 2017

"Truth Be Told...I Never Was Yours"

Two nights ago, Jake woke me up standing beside my bed in the dark, doubled over with stomach pains.   When no change of position or reasonable amount of time changed his pain, I told him to throw on some pants and get in the car.  You just never know.  Cory woke me up the same way years ago and she was in surgery the next day.

I woke Tim to tell him we were going and to my surprise (and disbelief...if you only knew how difficult it is to get Tim to wake up and get out of bed, you'd be in disbelief, too), he announced to wait for him, he was going, too.  He wanted to go.  That's what he said, "I wanna go, too."

In the driveway, with Jake moaning in pain and me tapping the steering wheel impatiently, his words came back to me, "I wanna to go, too."  All I could think about was the twenty something times I'd taken Cory to the e.r. when she was getting stabilized and when she'd had ovarian cysts, and he'd been no where in sight.  I didn't need him tagging along.  I was more than capable of this little errand.

At the e.r., after all the electronic signing and bracelet clasping amenities were over, they stuck us in Room 3, which was the most eerie sort of time warp because Cory was not there, Jake was seven years older, nearly a man, and there were two parents in the room with the child instead of only one.  Tim was there for him, which is what a caring dad should do and what I want for Jake, so why did I feel so hurt and pissed off?

Maybe it was because when I looked down at the narrow bed, if I blinked just right, I could see Cory curled up in a ball on her side, wearing the hospital johnny, all of her clothes taken away because she might present as "a runner" before psych answered their page.  I could see her, lying there, eyes huge, fidgeting, and looking all around, so afraid, sometimes confused.  And in the waiting chair right beside me had been a much younger Jacob with character pajamas and tousled hair.  I had watched over them both, scared, tired, and alone.

Naturally, since my husband did all the correct things a caring father should do this particular night(asking pertinent questions, requesting a warm blanket for the patient, making stupid jokes to lighten the mood, gazing down at his child with eyes that were both worried and loving, I picked a gigantic fight with him.  This didn't happen until we were back at home and Jake was tucked in his bed sound asleep waiting for the meds they gave him to take affect, but it did happen.

Tim was first puzzled, then defensive.  And maybe he should have been.  Cory had forgiven him long ago.  I said I did, too.  But that did something to me.  All that hurt was resurrected and it walked and talked, filling the room, casting dark shadows in its path.  There was no stopping it.  The leash was off.  It was going wherever it wanted.

He tried to fend off my observations of what he hadn't done for Cory with excuses, which made me even angrier.  Admit you fucked up.  Say you feel awful.  I felt terrible for her in that triage room and I wasn't even the one who abandoned her.  Take some ownership, for God's sake.

And in the effortless, mercurial way of arguments, the trail had soon disappeared behind us.  It had gone from why weren't you at the e.r. with her to why did you not take her on a single visit the entire four years we were separated?  Why did you leave her?  Why did you hurt her?  You can separate from your spouse.  You can divorce your spouse.  You aren't supposed to do it to your kids.

It quickly became vicious and tearful, changing from why did you to how COULD you?   And let me just share that a child doesn't stop becoming vulnerable once they are dead...and a parent doesn't stop becoming protective.  If anything, any perceived hurt or slight to them is magnified tenfold.

So in typical bipolar fashion, Tim gave it right back, finally spitting out the meanest thing he could think of to say, which indeed, left me quite speechless, "Well...where was her real dad?  Was he at the e.r. with her?"

This remark left my mouth gaping and I stormed away, unable to believe he could say something so awful.

What I said the next day was choked out between tears, "Weren't YOU her REAL dad?  You can't just take her on, give her your name, raise her for eight years, and then toss her aside when the biological father shows up to see what's happened in the last ten years since he last saw her."

The argument than became what exactly was said by whom and how it was taken, what the true intent was and all of that jazz.  Meaningless, of course, because I will never forget those words out of his mouth.

Eventually, you just get tired of arguing about something that can't be changed.  I made a summary statement, "She deserved better.  She deserved your love and concern, for you to stick around.  So what if Bob came back into the picture?  She should have been able to have both of your love if that's what she wanted."  and retreated.

I was done picking over that ugly pile of bones.  It brought me no comfort and it changed nothing.

A couple of days later, when I'd finally calmed down completely, I realized that Tim's question had bothered me so badly because he referred to Bob as her real dad when I'd thought he had claimed that role the day we got married.  To think that he didn't take that role as seriously as he took it with Jake, who was his own flesh and blood, hurt me on Cory's behalf beyond words.  She was not interchangeable or disposable.  She was worthy.

Here's the thing:  in a fit of rage, Tim made a comment that made his role a question to me, but in the years between age six and fourteen, and the years eighteen and nineteen, his role was no question to Cory.  Tim was the one who helped provide a roof over her head, food in her belly, and clothes on her back.  He helped put together all the toys every Christmas Eve night while she slept soundly dreaming of Santa.  He filled her stockings and Easter baskets.  He put tooth fairy money under her pillow.  He drove her to the orthodontist.  He hectored her to eat her veggies and complained about her messy room.  He told her to turn the music down.  He did the Bill the Moose voice for a stuffed animal she received at age six that she requested off and on until the day she died.  He told her the loser boyfriend she had wasn't worth her time and that she was worth waiting for.  He did those things.

He asked me if her "real dad" was at the e.r. meaning Bob.  Well, of course not, and frankly, it wasn't a big surprise to either of us at the time.  He hadn't been someone we could count on over the long haul.  But Tim had been.  We expected more from him.  I expected more from him.

Yes, she deserved better.  But somehow she found it within herself to forgive him.

 We talked about her wedding before she died and her plan had been have us both walk her down the aisle- me on one side and Tim on the other, you know...her real Dad.

Friday, February 17, 2017

They Persist

I'm in one of my favorite safe places right now- the coffee shop, just puttering around with my journal, a little water color here, some washi tape there, surrounded by a semi-circle of pretty fountain pens and leather stationary goods, blessedly alone.  I am coping, in other words, with her upcoming birthday and the heartbreak, guilt, and anguish that accompanies it.  I always listen to music while I write and draw, so it wasn't long (especially considering my mind set right now) before one certain line of song lyrics triggered all the alarms.  "Only One" by Yellowcard came on and this line, "scream my lungs out and try to get to you" came along...

and BAM!  I am transported to running down the road, hearing my shoes hit the ground and my heart pumping blood in my ears.  So real.  So absolutely crystal clear...crisp.  I could remember it all, and it was less of a remembrance and more like reliving it, every sensation, every emotion:  the oppressive, baking heat of the day, that first initial pang of anger at her that I've never told a living soul (certainly none of the four therapists or even Dr. Z) about..haven't I told her to be careful, to look both ways?!

Deep in my flashback, the anger just as quickly was gone and instead a small but mighty bird of  PANIC was set loose inside my body, desperate to find a way out and unable to, left instead to careen into every surface it encountered.  Arms pumping...feet slapping down on the pavement...slap...slap...slap...trying to calm myself by thinking of what she would need put into a bag for the hospital because she'd probably broken her leg and would have to stay overnight, but that was okay.  We'd been through worse.  What was one night in a regular hospital room compared to weeks in a locked psych ward?  We got this.
Sitting in my seat at Starbucks, I could actually smell the air as it was that day and I could feel my muscles working as I ran faster than I have ever run before.
 My mental list making, while a tried and true coping skill, was completely unnecessary.  My girl would never make it inside an ambulance, let alone to the hospital.  She'd be picked up by the hearse 90 minutes after laying there in the hot sun.  (I stop here wishing so many things...that I'd cussed out the first responders for not even trying or pretending to try to save her, that I'd physically fought the cop who forced  me to leave the scene, that I'd made good on my death-by-gnome fantasy of killing the driver who has never contacted me.  Rage swallows me up and I go willingly, taking deep breaths for several moments until reason returns and I see that it is too late for the first two actions and the latter would only leave me behind bars, unable to see or finish raising my son.

Calm at last, I  turn my thoughts to something light and fun...distract yourself, Nick, pivot, woman.

And there comes the sheet floating down over her.  Lazy.  Billowing.
Forcing myself not to scream in public, I dig my nails into my thigh and let the hot tears stain my face, not giving a shit who looks at me.

This is what flashbacks are like.  They don't play fair.  They come for you when you are most vulnerable.  And they don't give up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hell Month

February is hell.  Have I mentioned that?
I'm sure I have.  But I'll say it again.  Hell.  Burning hell.
Sleep is poor.  Concentration sucks.  The flashbacks have returned.  I mentioned this last to Jake the other day who nodded in a matter of fact way and said, "Well, Mom, it is February."
And while the accident happened in July...the other end of the continuum- the celebration of the day the world became a world with Corinne Nicole Davidson, six years later to become Corinne Nicole Mansfield in it is almost upon me.  And it weighs a ton.

Sure, it could be viewed as a celebration of the time I was lucky enough to share with her, and it has been suggested by many that I do just that.  There's one little problem with that.  The joy and gratitude I feel about the nineteen years I spent with her will always be overlaid with the searing pain of losing her and the constant, gnawing ache of her absence.  I spend way more time than I'm sure is healthy just wondering what she'd be like at almost twenty four years old.  What would she be doing?  What would she look like?  What would she wear?  What would she like?  What would she be listening to?  What would she think of this or that?  Who would she spend her time with?  What would her goals and dreams be?

Those are hard things to wonder about your child.  Nothing is promised, but boy, don't we assume?  You pick up that little newborn in the crook of your nineteen year old arm, scared to death you'll break her and you gaze down at her little red, wrinkly face, suddenly knowing you made the absolutely right decision, most likely the best decision you will ever make.  You know you will do whatever it takes to give her a good life, maybe not a rich life, but a loved life.  And you know it will be hard, because you are still pretty young yourself, but you have family who will help you.  You look down at that little seven pound eleven ounce bundle and she in that moment becomes the most important person in the world to you...and you assume, that if you try really hard and do a fairly good job, you'll get to watch her grow, watch her have a baby of her own some day, and always, always be in each other's lives, whether you live in the same house, different houses five minutes away from each other, or even across the will be together in some fashion until you die and she buries you... because that's the way things go.  The circle of life.  Amen.

Never in either of these moments do you consider the possibility that she could die before you do.
That's when the horror begins.  It never ends.  And it screams a little more loudly in July, November, December, and February.  It fights for your attention, and it will be satisfied.

Obviously, I've been avoiding grocery shopping and cooking for the last couple of weeks.   It may very well be take out for us until February 23rd has past.  So be it.  I've been holed up re-watching the entire series of Gilmore Girls.  I'm on the last episode tonight, in which Lorelai cries while watching Rory sleep the night before she leaves town for her first big job, and I thought, oh, man, you've no idea.  She will call you.  She will come home to visit. Dry it up, already, you lucky bitch.

I was actually pretty jealous and angry by turns.  Ridiculous, I know.  But we feel what we feel, don't we?
I also listened as Lorelai told Rory all the things she needed for her trip, fussing and worrying herself into a buying frenzy, and suddenly all that crazy brand new underwear-perfume-lipstick-a-good-book-I-knew-she-loved-to-tuck-in-the-casket shopping after the accident made a strange, but solid amount of sense.  It's what moms do.

And this quote from Lorelai to Rory as they prepare to say their goodbyes sent such a chill up my spine:  "I'm finally gonna give you that orange sweater...I know you've always wanted it."
Cory always wanted my little black sweater with the pearls on the front, and that's why I chose it to bury her in.  That flashback hit me and I just crumpled.

This is a hard time.  February.  These days leading up to her twenty fourth birthday...they burn.  But I'll get through them.  I buried my child.  I put my heart in the ground.  And I still walk around.  There's nothing harder than that.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Last 42

And so it has begun...that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, somewhere between the rush of joy and pride I felt that Jake has turned another year older and the heartbreak upon realizing, as if for the very first time (this happens every single year), that Cory never will.  Her birthday is now just weeks away.  My anxiety shows its face in the scribbled side margins of my papers where I have repeatedly calculated how old she would be on any given day and it also manifests itself in the physical symptoms of the cursed "Wolf Teeth" phenomenon, the one in which I constantly clench and unclench my jaw with the dismaying perception that my teeth are growing too large for my mouth.  (Today she would be 23 years, 11 months, and 6 days, and please excuse me while I go look in the mirror at my teeth for the tenth time today).

In comparison to past years, I am doing pretty good with this impending "difficult date".  I have missed no time at work and have needed no walk in counseling appointments.  Fingers crossed, I will make it through without any crisis type situations.

I spent awhile going through pictures of Cory the other day, though, and found one that upset me greatly.  It was one of the last photos taken of Cory and her little brother before the accident.  It seems like there should be tons, but those last few months were a busy time with Cory feeling better, socializing more, and me taking classes at night.  I can remember so specifically cutting my time short with her to work on research papers or get my required reading done.  I'd give anything today to have those hours back.  Even the night before she died, I left her watching a movie with Jake and Tim in the living room to hole up in my room with my papers and books.  The last chance I had to watch a movie with her and I gave it up.  Unbelievable.

 I can remember, though, too, how proud she was when I crowed over an "A" paper or read her some of my teacher's comments and how she said, "Man, Mom, I wish I could be as good of a student as you."  "You can, Cory.  You are." I'd tell her, all the while hoping she was watching closely as I hunched over my books and fretted over two points here or there.  Because they follow the examples we set, right?

But back to the picture...
I was able to pull the date and discover it was taken six weeks before the accident.  I looked at the smile on her face and the shine in her eyes and quite felt like throwing up.  Forty two days left to live? Out of the little over seven thousand that she got to have? Desperately, I searched my memory banks, trying to remember what those last forty two days had been like.  Did she have more good days than bad?  Did she laugh a lot?  Did she get to eat any of her favorite meals?  Did she get enough hugs from me?

I cried over this picture, over the look on her face, and over what I couldn't remember about those last six weeks for a long time.  Eventually, I turned on some music for awhile, switched over to Netflix at some point, went to talk to Jake, got out my art supplies, and stopped beating myself up.  Or at least took a break from it.

 "The will to save a life is not the power to stop a death."

Cory, I would've done anything I could to give you more days.  I hope I made you feel loved and cherished for the ones you had.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hold the Confetti

Here it is, another year.  I had to stay off social media on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  The jubilant outcries were just so foreign.  I couldn't join in without feeling like a liar or the worst sort of fake.

This new year?  I can survive. I think I've got that part worked out.  But, I am terrified...terrified...of her becoming smaller in the frame of my future.  All the new stuff crowds her.

As time marches forward, and these years just fan out, one after another, effortlessly, it would seem, although trudging through them is excruciating, the gulf between us seems to get larger and larger.  I live in fear of the day she will have been dead longer than she was alive, as if the tipping of that scale will negate her very existence (and it's only fifteen years away, if I live that long!)   Is that irrational?  Maybe, but it doesn't feel that way.

Rationally, I suppose, she will never be any farther from me than the day her heart stopped beating.  That was the moment the world stopped for me and never rightly began again.  Sure it moves, but everyone marches along in line so fast, and I seem to shuffle along, never going fast enough or jauntily enough to suit those around me, most of whom have been lucky enough to not have their pace disturbed in quite the same way.

Here's the thing:  each day that goes by, there are moments where she should be, but isn't.  And yes, it's the right thing to make new memories with my remaining child and my family members, but it's scary as all hell, too.  They pile up, the new songs and the new movies, the books and the world events, and if  I wrote them all down, ripped them out of my journal, and laid them at my feet, eventually I wouldn't be able to see the ground for all that paper piled up around me, let alone be able to remember with crystal clear accuracy the time before all of it happened, when she filled my world, when her voice was one I heard every day and her face one I saw every night before I went to sleep.

I want that recollection to remain intact.   I need it.

I'm supposed to feel proud of all the new stuff I did this holiday season, right?  After all,  I did put up the tree and baked the cookies and cooked a couple of  holiday dishes.  I went to Christmas Eve and Christmas day without any meds.
 But it's not over.  It'll never be over.  There is no fucking finish line.  I check off all my neat little boxes and then the blasted thing just starts all over again.  This grief thing is a sorry ass business.  And I'm not as progressive as I might lead you to believe.

See, I still haven't taken her coats off the coat rack in the entry way by the back door. It's going on five years now.   I thought about about it awhile back for a split second and felt like such a traitor I could barely live with myself.  So I left them right where they hung.
 But let's be realistic, she doesn't need those coats to be there... I do.

Because in the light of all this lovely progress that has everyone so pleased with me, there will be the moments that still bend my knees when I think of her in any small fashion...the line of a song, something on tv, a conversation...and there will come, most likely, another moment like the one last night, when it was raining and I got up to put the dog out, during which I broke out sobbing as I opened the back door, for no other reason than my child is dead and it is almost too much to bear.  I shut the back door, still crying, and turned to her coats, hugged them and tried to smell them- futile since her scent has long since departed them- but it didn't stop me from trying...trying so hard to recreate that feeling of having her precious body in my arms.  After I'd let go and stepped back, I searched her pockets, hoping to find a note in her handwriting that I'd missed by not being brave enough to look before, but finding candy wrappers instead, which I nevertheless cried over considerably.  If that doesn't say desperation, I don't know what does.

It's almost too much to bear.  Yet I am bearing it.  The pain is so great sometimes I think I will die but then I realize I may not and that's even worse.  It's a stretch of hell, not a happy new year, all masks aside and truth be told.  Of course, I'll keep going for her little brother but I'll pass on the streamers and party blowers, thanks all the same.

Logically, I should put the coats away.  But grief isn't logical at all.
Logically, she doesn't get any further away with the more time that passes, but it sure feels that way.
It sure does.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Sink My Boat

Of course it was Jacob who went down to the basement with me, hand in hand, to retrieve one of Cory's Christmas ornaments, per Dr. Z's homework assignment.  How appropriate that it would be Jake to help me through this horrid errand, as we have suffered through the loss of the biggest person in our worlds with a million words to say about it and him wanting to say none at all...yet, somehow, we have held each other up.

So, I already knew which one I wanted to put on our little tree that was looking less Charlie Brownish once Jake and I had given ourselves permission to give it a little love and care.  I wanted the little circle ornament that Cory had made for me at my Mom's daycare when she was about two.  It featured a candid photo of a tiny Coy Girl with her signature Pebbles ponytail off to one side, wearing little denim jeans with ruffles and a pink flower printed sweatshirt.  To top off this adorable ensemble, she had ventured into the dress up box and came out with a football helmet that she pulled jauntily over her head with a look of infinite pride because nothing toughens up an overly sweet girly look like a piece of athletic equipment.  Duly noted, Cory.

I had already decided not to look at or for any thing else, but instead use my grief-stricken tunnel vision for that one ornament and get out before I had a complete mental breakdown beside my fourteen year old in my dusty basement.

Isn't it funny how we plan every move so painstakingly just to watch shit blow up in our faces?

My heart started hammering a little too fast when the ornament box wasn't with the other Christmas decorations.  It began beating faster once I discovered the tubs of Christmas decorations were in various places in the basement instead of all together the way they are supposed to be.  Jake and I, having watched many episodes of Law & Order SVU began a grid search.  We covered every inch and came up with nothing.  All the ornaments had been stored together in a Rubbermaid ornament storage box- the clear kind with the lock-down side handles.  It couldn't have just walked away.  The sinking feeling began before I even texted Tim to ask him where he had put them.  Why were all the little hairs on the back of my neck standing up?  Why was I so certain the ornaments were gone?

/Which, in the end, they were-
over twenty five years of ornaments.  The Precious Moments expectant mommy ornament my first bosses had gotten me when I found out I was pregnant with Cory- the one that Bob broke in a rage and I glued carefully back together...because that girl?  She was a survivor.  Gone.

The Baby's First Christmas engraved ornament from Things Remembered that was a gift from Bill.  Gone.

All the ornaments Cory made for me through the years at daycare, Sunday school, and grade school:  school pics glued to foam snowflakes, the popsicle stick Rudoph, the lop-sided, glitter laden little kid creations.  Gone.

All the ones that Jacob made, too- foam stockings with his name spelled out in glitter at the top, 3-D snowflake foam sculptures, school pics glued to predictable Christmas shapes- his shy smile making them glow.  Gone.

The picture ornaments Cory, Jake, and I had picked out together at Target during much happier, healthier days.  I remember the exact day and errand. I remember their hands, smaller, when they took them down off the racks.  "Can we get this one, Mom?"   Gone.

A few of the plain bulbs that had to be twenty five years old now, tireless soldiers, first hung on a tree at Elm Street in the apartment I shared with Bob, but pulled out every year to put on every subsequent Christmas tree.  Gone.

The pet ornaments carefully chosen to represent family members no longer with us.  Church.  Sassy.  Oliver.  Romeo.  Boo-Kitty.  Gone.

A special ornament given to me from my Mom, if I remember correctly, a year or so after I left home under not the best terms.  Gone.

The handful of ornaments Bob's mom had sent to Cory when she was little and the two newer ones she'd sent to Cory and Jake when Bob came back into our lives.  Those ornaments meant something to me.  Even they were short-lived, there were moments of glorious happiness for my little family.  I wanted to hold those moments in my hands always.

Twenty five years of my life.  So many changes.  My family.  My families, actually.  My dead child's life- her straggling letters and her toothless grin.

 Can you understand the enormity of my despair?  My rage at such a careless mistake has passed...finally... and now I am just sick to my stomach.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Little Help Here

You know how they say it's easy to give others advice than it is to take your own?

I woke up out of a dead sleep at 5 am this morning and realized what I need to do to get through the holiday gatherings.  Well, two things actually.  Since they are things I suggest on my job ALL the time, I don't know why I didn't think of them sooner.

Whenever a child is struggling with an activity they find overwhelming in our program, we often suggest giving them a helper job.  It gets them out of the fray if they are feeling overstimulated by all the noise and traffic.  It gives them a focus and a purpose.  They feel successful because they have accomplished the transition, just in a slightly different fashion than the rest of the class.  And that is ok.

I need a helper job!  I can't keep going to these holiday gatherings, trying to get through it the same way everyone else does.  My needs are different now.

My helper job will be to take pictures.

I got this idea, I think, from my planner/art community who has had me trying something called "December Daily" this month.  The premise is to write, take pictures, and draw about every day in December in an effort to appreciate all the joy the admittedly stressful and busy season brings.  This has been a good assignment for me.  I have a devil of a time finding joy this time of year.  It didn't go so well at first as my journal was chock full of my sad-face girls and pictures of the cemetery, which is honest and ok, but made me think a little harder about fitting Jake into the frame.

Gradually, as the month bore on, I included a memory that made me smile in public out of nowhere about holidays past with the babies.  I took some pics with friends.  I baked cookies with my son. It all went into my December Daily.  As I flipped back through my pages,it started to look not so scary and sort of nice, actually.   Conscious Discipline is onto something: you will get more of what you focus on.

That's where the brilliant part of my helper job comes in- not only will it be a distraction, it will keep me looking at the good things life still has to offer.  The coolest part is at the end of the gathering, I will have treasures of my parents and sisters to keep forever.  Until you've lost a piece of your heart, you may never know just how valuable those pictures can be.  I do.  I really, really do.

So part two of my little behavior plan here will be to pull the positives from the experience.

Stay tuned; we shall see how this goes.