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Friday, February 16, 2018

He Returns

And just like that, I saw someone I thought I'd never see again.  Dr. Z has returned after a medical leave.  I had been told he would not be returning.  I could barely restrain myself from tackling him with a bear hug when I saw him earlier this week.  It was a very near thing.

He was exactly the same...same broad smile, same kind eyes, same dapper argyle socks, same sensible shoes. 

How did it feel to see him again after resigning myself to never being able to see him again...never being able to  say goodbye to someone who has consistently and kindly helped me through the worst times of my life?  It was like coming home.  It was like making it to the surface to take a breath when you though you'd never get there.  Pure joy. 

He said he felt on top of the world to be back on a lighter schedule, taking his extra time to write down all the stories he wants to leave behind.  I can't think of a better way to spend one's time.

Once we'd each expressed our delight that he was still in the land of the living, conversation turned to how I was doing with Cory's birthday approaching.  It was the biggest relief to lay it all out there without fear of worrying anyone or looking weak:  the constant pressure in my chest, the panic attacks no one really knew about, the pressing guilt, the nightmares that started again a couple of weeks ago.

He picked up his pen.  "What sort of nightmares?"

"Oh, you know, someone breaking into the house with a gun trying to kill Jake, being mugged at knife point, someone chasing me...lots of dreams about Cory on the road..."  I trailed off here, feeling strangely embarrassed.  Like, get it together, Nick.  What is wrong with you?

He caught my eyes and nodded.  "Yes, yes.  So tell me, then, are you getting any exercise?"

I never want to disappoint this man.  So I fibbed about walking the dog which I haven't done since the snow began to fall.  The only exercise I've been getting is walking down the hall to the copier at work.

"And do you still do some kind of art?  The beautiful memory making?"

Here I didn't have to fib.  "I do."  I nodded vigorously.

"Good."  He responded.  "Keep doing that.  You know, it is when you spend the time making something with your hands, thinking of her, that you are able to be together again.  That is how you keep her."

Making art has always been a two fold for me.  I have a safe place to express all my feelings, explore them, and sometimes even figure things out.  But secondly, when I'm creating, I feel close to Cory.  It's the whole reason I started doing it in the first place.  I couldn't let her paintbrushes and things just sit there looking so lonely and abandoned. She didn't have enough time to make all the art she wanted to.  But without her, dealing with this relentless pain, I have nothing but time to fill, a sort of mental life prison sentence.

So in that moment sitting across from Dr. Z, it hit me why I always want to be alone when I head out on an "art day" or why I barricade myself in the studio, sometimes feeling put out when even a pet tries to join me.  My art dates are my new "Mommy/Cory" days.  We used to plan them elaborately, but they almost always included a fixed shopping pattern:  Target-Kohl's-Barnes & Noble-rest of the mall.  After this had been conducted to our satisfaction, we'd go to the movies and then dinner.  Somewhere in the middle, we'd stop to pay a bill so we felt somewhat responsible.  The order rarely changed, so over time it became a ritual.

 So now instead, there is packing up the art and journaling supplies, going to my favorite coffee shop, unpacking it all in a welcoming semi-circle, ordering the hot beverage, putting on the headphones, listening to the music we enjoyed together, and creating while looking through pictures of her.  Sometimes I end up posting memories of her while I wait for paint to dry, thus sharing her with others.  This is my new ritual.  This is my new relationship with Cory.  Visiting her grave never has the same effect.  I often feel the need to go to the cemetery, but I rarely, if ever, look forward to it.  And I usually feel wretched when I leave.  Angry, guilty, and depressed.

So then I asked him the question that plagues my every waking moment these days.  "She'd be twenty five this month.  How do you think she'd be doing?"

He templed his hands beneath his chin and leaned forward slightly.  "You know, I gave up predicting the future some time ago.  I found I'm not very good at it."

I nodded, waiting.

"It's hard to say.  Her illness came on early and was incredibly difficult to treat.  She was so brave in the way she managed what many of us cannot begin to imagine.  It may be that she is better off where she is than what may have been waiting for her.  It's hard to say.  Her illness was debilitating, as was her father's." 

My eyes immediately filled with tears.  I could only offer my silence.  I will never think she is better off dead than here.  This comfort I cannot accept.

Conversation turned to Jake and how he was coping. Jake is quiet, but steady.  He is unarguably withdrawn, but still generally optimistic.  Dr Z nodded, pleased with this report. I shared how he has his learner's permit, was excited at first to learn to drive, but is now reluctant to get behind the wheel at all.  I wondered if this was because of the way Cory died.  He answered, "Most certainly. It is the trauma.  Give him time."

He renewed my scripts and was walking me to the door when he stopped suddenly, raising an eyebrow, "Now wait, please remind me, your son does not have the same father as Cory?  He is your husband's, yes?"

"Yes, he is Tim's."

He exhaled.  "Okay, okay, then.  Yes, then, just monitor for depression.  If he complains of being bored, watch out for that."

I smiled as he ushered me out.  Watch out for that? 

I nearly suffocate the poor boy with my constant monitoring of his mood and mental health status.  Part of it is that I know Cory's death was traumatizing for him.  The other part is that Tim has Bipolar Disorder, too.  I've always been afraid that Jake will develop it.  It was even something Cory and I had talked about before she died.

 But I'll say this.  It's no longer my biggest fear that Jake develops a mental illness.  Instead, it's my biggest fear that he dies before I do.

Everything else...anything else...I know I can manage.

Saturday, February 3, 2018


I have the hardest time with family gatherings now.  Or maybe I should say, after almost six years, I have the hardest time with family gatherings STILL.  You'd think losing Cory so unexpectedly- so horrifically- would drive me to go to every family gathering, holiday or no, and milk every precious moment with my loved ones.  You would think...

but human behavior is not so simple, is it?  Grieving behavior even less so. 

There was a Girl's Night In with my mom and sisters last night. I dreaded going.  I've gotten at least to the point where I will go instead of staying home, but my anxiety about being there without Cory in tow makes every gathering painful and difficult to navigate.

We ate pizza together and started going through old pictures, most of which made us laugh until our stomachs hurt...the hairstyles, the clothing, the barely recognizable faces from decades past.  I found a picture of me with my Mom when I was nine or ten years old.  It was a silly Christmas snapshot- my mom modeling a leather coat she'd received and me sporting a new jogging suit.  We had our arms thrown around each other and my head was thrown back in a face splitting grin.  Silly, so silly! It immediately made me think of how Cory was at that age and I was pretty sure I had a pic at home of her doing almost the exact same pose for the camera.  Bittersweet.

A few minutes later, we'd made it through the years to the grandkids.  I was talking to someone, not paying attention really, when I suddenly came across a picture of Cory with three of her cousins as children sitting atop their uncle's back.  They were all so little, one still clutching his stuffed lovey.  The tears came without warning and I wanted nothing but to run out of the room, out of the house, out of my skin.  Run, Run, Run!  my brain said.

It is the oddest thing how much it disturbs me to see pictures of Cory as a child now that she is gone.  She was my absolute delight.  She was my biggest source of pride.  Why would I not adore revisiting these memories of her?  What is that about?  I know some bereaved parents who take great comfort in their deceased child's younger pictures.  It is so personal what some bereaved parents bring closer to comfort them and what others push away to lessen the pain. 

It's hard to explain.  When other people see pictures of her as child, I imagine they focus on the moment captured, exclaim about her looks at that age, remember something fun they did with her, and keep going.  When I look at pictures of my firstborn as a child, now that she is gone, it creates this painful chain reaction.  I see her little face, so innocent and trusting of her future....her eyes so bright and precocious, full of possibilities and discoveries yet to make...her narrow shoulders seeming to speak of fragility and vulnerability and then my mind short circuits immediately to the way it all ended:  her eyes closed, her skull and bones broken, her future over in a millisecond.  I guess that's trauma.  I don't understand it; I just know that the pictures bother me horribly. I"ve purposely looked at less than a handful since the day of her visitation.
From there, the guilt that I did not protect that sweet girl and prevent her from being hurt, from getting broken, from dying far too young is vicious and inevitable.  It eats me right up.  I feel paralyzed to stop it.  Might as well be swallowed by a python.

I considered leaving the gathering a few minutes later.  I was tired anyways and my heart hurt horribly.  It was no one's fault, of course, it is just what life is like now- you never know when a grief attack will strike.  Instead, I decided to stay a little longer.  The gang had just started playing Catch Phrase and I decided to give it a try.

Hours later, my stomach hurt from laughing.  Everyone's clues and guesses seemed to get funnier as we all became more and more tired.  At one point, I was describing the term "Bittersweet" for my teammates of my mom and oldest sister, Tammy, to guess.  I said, "You know, it's when something is happy but also sad.  Oh!  Oh! And it's also a type of chocolate chip for baking."

Tammy blurted out with calm confidence, nodding ever so slightly, "Semi-sweet."

The entire room broke up laughing and in that moment I knew coming to these gatherings is important.  Staying as long as I can is important.  One day I will lose my dear, sweet mother and my sisters...and these are the memories I will go to in my mind to be with them again.  If I'm not there to add to my memory bank...I lose out.  I will have regret.  Not irrational regret like not going to the store myself that day so Cory wouldn't have died (something I never could've predicted) but the rational regret of not making the most of opportunities to treasure my loved ones while I still had the chance.  That I can control.

So that one day, maybe twenty years from now, when I remember last night with my loved ones and the game, CatchPhrase, a smile will come and go on my lips as I think to myself., perhaps nodding slightly..

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Me, Cory Girl, and a Baby

Three of Cory's best friends are pregnant right now, all at the same time.  Two are already great Little Mommas and the third has been meant to be a Momma since the day she was born- she's just a natural nurturer.  I am lucky enough to get together with two of them on a regular basis and sort of marvel through the experience of watching girls I've known since they were five years old become grown women carrying and then shaping their own little people.  I get to pat bellies and hear delivery stories.  I haven't been able to make it to their baby showers, but I hope they know I'm with them in my heart during those celebrations.  They are just too hard to attend.

It is now about twenty six days from Cory's twenty-fifth birthday.  How much do I wish she could be part of this club?  There are no words.  But I'll try.  And based on the dream I'll share with you, my brain is trying desperately to process it, too.

My sister and I were pregnant at the same time.  Even though I was a little cut off from my family during that time, there will always be something special about carrying our babies together and bringing them into the world within months of each other.  Even more special, perhaps, was the bond that my nephew, Blake, and Cory had together all the days of her life.  Grade school, they were playmates, classmates, present at each other birthdays.  Middle school and high school, they continued to be delighted whenever they saw each other. They protected each other.  I can't remember a single time I ever saw one of them angry with the other.

 They should have graduated together, but Cory's mental illness had taken its toll and she was behind too many credits to graduate on time with her class.  If anything can speak to how she felt about Blake, it would be that she swallowed past her pride and her pain to show up for him at graduation.  I remember how it felt sitting there beside her watching her friends walk past in caps and gowns.  It was like having my heart turned inside out. I cried helplessly throughout the entire ceremony. To this day, I don't know how Cory managed to be there, with a broad smile, flinging her arm around Blakie at the end to get a pic.  It was not fair that she was not up there,too.  It was not her fault.  But nonetheless, I suspect we both felt like failures that night.  She showed up for her Blakie, but within a day fell into a months long depressive episode.  At the next cousin's graduation, I did not let her attend, hoping everyone would understand the price she paid to face all those triggers.  It was just too high.  The voices were not kind.  Her suffering was not worth one night of well-wishing.

So then, I wonder what kind of unbreakable, magical bond Cory's friends' babies will have.  They will be like family even if they aren't related.  When I daydream about what Cory would be like if she were alive and what she would be doing- there are so many scenarios I try on her in my head.  It reminds me of when we'd heap outfits over our arms and disappear into the dressing rooms in Maurices.  "Are you ready?"  one of us would call.  "Almost!  Hold on!"  the other would cry back, still zipping or buttoning.  We would synchronize the opening of the doors, our rooms often directly across from each other, for dramatic effect.  We would feast our eyes on each other, each one hamming it up a little for the other, maybe throwing a hand on a hip or tossing our head back.  Or when we already knew something didn't quite suit us, we owned that too, parading past the other with fabric drooping in defeat or giggling helplessly at a neckline that would never meet public decency standards.  Then it was back again to try something else.

So now that's what I do.  I imagine her as a student- how does that fit?  Or maybe working part time?  Living at home?  Living with a friend?  Boyfriend?  Single?  Hardest to imagine...married?  Please tell me she picked a good one.  A mother?  While some of these outfits fit better than others in my mind, they are each infinitely better than the reality of her ability to try on different roles being over...and having been over for five and a half years now.  This doesn't stop me from going back in those fitting rooms with her all the time.  Sometimes she comes out with books in hand.  Sometimes she has a work badge on.  Other times, I glimpse the glint of a narrow gold wedding band on her little left hand.  And when I'm around young moms, well, sometimes she cries out, "I'm not ready!  Hold on!" and then comes sauntering out with a baby on her hip and a grin on her face.

I've been working with Dr. Z for just as long now...our therapeutic relationship beginning the day after the accident when I stormed into Summit Pointe when the doors open, out of my mind, but somehow confident he would know just what to do, just as he had with every scary out of control situation Cory's mental illness had brought us for the last three years.  Turns out, he was right...your heart will always question the reality.  And argue.  If not in your waking hours, definitely while you sleep.

The other night I had one of those incredible dreams in which Cory is home and fine, the accident never having happened.   It is pure magic.  Bliss.

In this dream, Tim was at work and Jake was sleeping in his room.  Cory and I were watching tv in the living room with snacks- a typical scenario.  What did she look like?  Her walk was the same.  Her eyes were as big and green as I remember.  Her smile lit up the room.  My dreaming brain was hip to the whole accident thing because I kept zeroing in on her arm and how it hung off of her shoulder in a graceful uninterrupted line, no exposed bones jutting out.  I kept checking her forehead and hair, marveling that it was clean, shiny, and free of blood.  In this dream, her hair was a reddish brown with golden highlights. It fell gently just above her shoulders, the bangs casually held back with a couple of bobby pins.   I kept watching her chest rise and fall as she talked to me, actually searching for the movements on the lavender sweater she was wearing.  It was all a dream.  She's fine.  She's fine!!  What an awful dream.

So we were watching something like Law and Order SVU when we heard a high pitched cry coming from outside.  We jumped up and began counting cats, convinced one of them had snuck out.  "Mom, we have to go out there.  What if they get lost like Church did."  I quipped back, "Cory, this is Urbandale! We'll be mugged in our driveway."  She giggled back, "Maybe, but we are Big Brave Dogs.  C'mon, Mom.  We can't leave him out there to be catnapped."

We put on shoes and scrounged up a flashlight and laughing the whole way, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, went outside to investigate.  Just another Mommy/Cory adventure.  Just a regular day.

We made it halfway down our brick driveway when we spied a wriggling little blanket covered bundle lying there.  One of us reached out to pull the blanket back to discover a tiny, shivering, baby.

Weird?  Yes.  You know how dreams can be.  So we scooped it up and took it inside.  We cleaned it up, got it warm, and started foraging for something to feed it.  I watched Cory holding it...a tiny baby girl... and just focused on the dreamy look on her face as she gazed down at is perfect little face.  She touched her finger to its tiny nose, coaxing a smile and asked wistfully, "Do we have to call the cops, Mom?  Couldn't we just keep her?  I'll take care of her."

The craziest dream ever, but looking back, maybe the only chance I'll ever have to see Cory with her very own baby.  Well, an abandoned-about-to-be-turned-over-to-the-authorities-but-Cory's-for-an-hour-or-so-baby.

This much I know.  She would've been a great Mom.  That much I already knew.  All I had to do was watch her with Jake.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Jacob's Holiday Hat

Okay, so this one's about Jake.

I was absolutely jubilant to score the two of us tickets to use The Used in Grand Rapids a month or so ago.  Bear in mind, they are my favorite band and probably Cory's second favorite.  Jake is not quite as big of a fan, but was curious to experience a concert in a smaller venue setting.  The only concert he's ever been to was Panic at the Disco in Detroit at the palace.  It was amazing, but definitely different than what an all ages general admission, standing only, would be.  I was hesitant as to whether or not Jacob would be able to handle the crowd.  His social anxiety is bad enough at Walmart,  sending him in the opposite direction if it's too congested.  "Look", I told him, "you have to know what you're getting into here.  There will be tons of people.  A lot of them will be drunk.  Some of them may be puking.  Lots of pushing and shoving.  Moshing is you still want to go?"

To my happy surprise, he was down.  He was, however, dubious of my promise that we would use our slim physiques and above average looks, to weasel our way to the front row.  "Sure, we will, Mom." he said, and patted my shoulder, condescendingly.

We arrived early to the club to find forty or so folks were also hoping to storm the barricade.  We stood in line, freezing, but hopeful.  Imagine my delight when a staffer with a clipboard walked the line offering Skip the Line upgrades.  We paid the extra fifteen bucks and went to the front to be scanned and patted down ahead of time.  Jake was looking at me with a bit more confidence.  "Do you think we can really get front row?" he asked.  "Hell, yeah!  When the doors open, run like it's Black Friday."

A few minutes later, we were and about twelve other souls that had coughed up the extra cash for a chance to get on the barricade.  We ran as if our lives were in danger.  I looked behind my shoulder to see I'd left my child behind me by about a foot.  I reached for his hand and he grasped it and we closed the distance, finally placing our hands, front and center, on the barricade rail.

Forget the fact that I very badly needed to pee.  Forget the fact that we hadn't gotten any merchandise.  Forget the fact that we were both thirsty.  We had made it and we weren't budging.

I turned to Jake and he grinned back at me.  "I can't believe we made it."

He even put up with me taking a pic of our hands on the rail for my journal.

It was bare moments later that I discovered the victory of winning front row would be tempered with the unpleasant odor of my barricade neighbor directly to my right. This was like the Vatican all over again...why does this always happen to me?  This particular young lady had multiple hygiene issues going on, which was unfortunate, and I fought the urge to mother her into popping a mint or reconsidering her dreads hairstyle.  What made it even worse was that she was super young and terribly obnoxious.  Breathing through my mouth was my only option, but that did not solve the problem that she was throwing elbows and draping herself across the rail in my personal space about every two minutes.  I was annoyed beyond measure, but even this could not dim my excitement to be close enough to make eye contact with Bert McCracken. 

The opening band came out and some of the crowd went wild, while others, including Jake and I stared with polite interest, curious about the bizarre baggy diaper-like cargo shorts the lead singer was wearing and wondering what exactly he was on, as his stare was glassy-eyed and unpredictable.  Whatever, he lacked in fashion sense, he made up for in die hard enthusiasm as he screamed into the mike with wild abandon, vocal cords bulging and diaper-like cargo shorts waving in his wake.  We tried to be supportive audience members throughout the entire set, counting down the moments until intermission, which finally arrived and not a moment to soon.  Our ears were ringing and all communication between Jake and I was down to eye contact.  I asked with my eyes, "What do you think of this band?"  He shrugged his shoulders and raised an eyebrow, indicating, "They kinda suck". I nodded in agreement.  He watched on, sympathetic as the stinky girl beside me threw herself and her smelly dreads all into my personal space. I feared going home with lash marks on my face from her dread-whipping.  I so badly wanted to tell her to please, please, please  wash her pits, brush her teeth, floss, and put on some deodorant.  Instead, I silently endured the constant assault to my nostrils and dodged her flying dreads the best I could.

During the intermission, we watched most of the crowd rush to the bar for drinks, head to the bathroom, or go hunt for merch.  We stolidly maintained our positions.  I crossed my legs and reminded myself to be cautious when jumping...I am over forty, after all.    As the set was changed out and the lights began to dim, the crowd began to fill back up behind us.  It was amazing to watch all the open space pack up with hundreds and hundreds of bodies.  A couple of concert goers in the makeshift row behind us crowed loudly how glad they were not to be on the of them caught our glance and said, "It's gonna be bad.  You might get really hurt.  The crowd is gonna start pushing forward and it makes it really hard to breathe.  I went home with bruises all over my body last year and someone broke a rib..."  She waited, expectantly, perhaps for me to offer to trade with her.  As if.
I turned to Jake and whispered, "Haters".   He giggled quietly, and agreed, asking, "Do they think we're stupid?  I'm not moving from this spot unless I hear gunshots."

Finally, many mouth breaths later, the lights went down...

From our vantage point, we could see the band members walking onstage and the crowd went absolutely berserk when the music started.  Jacob and I were screaming like loons, jumping and turning to see each other's faces lit by the stage lights.  In my mind's eye, I could see Cory beside us, jumping higher than us all, her little hands up the air, screaming herself hoarse.  That is the only thing that could've made the moment better:  having her there, preferably in Stinky Girl's spot, at my right side where she belongs, where she has always belonged.  Whatever good moments there are these days have that in common, they would be even better with her here.  Even in the crazy excitement of the moment when I made direct eye contact with Bert, I was remembering the fact that Cory is dead and mourning it in my heart.  It bleeds into every small win.

By the second song, the crushing wave of the crowd had intensified and we were being pushed from behind pretty hard.  I instinctively put an arm around Jake until the worst of it had subsided and scream-asked him if he wanted to move back.  "No way!!!!"  he scream-answered me.  I nodded, feeling pretty proud of my shy guy.  I tapped him on the arm and motioned down to my arms which were locked at the elbow as I'd told him during the intermission that we should do to help give us some breathing room.  He locked his own and we turned our attention back to the stage.  The Used was amazing.  I've seen them three times now and they never disappoint, but I'd never been front row.  Cory would've went absolutely crazy. Just absolutely nuts.  I see it in my mind's eye and I almost can't bear the combination of joy and longing.

The show ended all too soon.  We screamed ourselves hoarse for an encore, which the band obliged.  And then the lights were up and I could finally take my leave of Stinky Girl.  I was elated from the show, desperate to pee, melancholy for my girl, and proud that Jake had enjoyed the show...since I wasn't really sure if he would.  I happily allowed him to lead me to the merchandise booth, having already decided to spoil him rotten.  The law of child loss for me seems to be when you can't buy for your dead child, double up on the live one.

"Jake, I don't need anything, so you can get a shirt and a hoodie, stickers, wristbands, whatever you want..."

"Really?!" he asked, his eyes bright.  "Thanks, Mom!" 

We stood in line, a few feet back picking out which designs he wanted to get.  Cautiously, he begged, "Hey, Mom, could I get a hat, too?"

If Cory were here, I'd buy her the world.  

"Sure, Jake, go for it.  Which one do you want?"  I squinted up at the display where they had hung a basic snap back "Dad-hat" with the band's logo on it and a winter holiday hat that was red, green, and white, with the band's name emblazoned over a background of Christmas trees.  It also had a huge pom-pom on the top. 

I could hardly believe it when Jake said he wanted the holiday hat.  It was so out of character for my understated boy.  "Mom, when the music plays and I bob my head, the pom pom will move, it'll be awesome!"

My heart smiled to see him so free and playful.  "Sold!"  I answered.

Sure enough, he tugged it right over his head and we played The Used the whole way home to Battle Creek, his pom pom moving to the beat.  These times with Jacob are better than anything.  They make life worth living.  He never fails to make me smile.

We were still discussing the concert, song by song, as we let ourselves in the house at just past one in the morning.  Tim was waiting in the dining room to hear about our adventure.  He'd asked a couple of questions about the drive and waiting in line before stopping mid-sentence and giving Jake a deliberate once over.  I was busy putting the ticket stubs somewhere safe and Tim had to call my name twice before getting my attention.  Finally, hearing him, I turned in his direction.

"Did you guys have a good time?"  he asked.

"Oh yeah!"  we both said in unison.

"Hey, Nicole..."


"Did you really buy our teenage son a hat with marijuana leaves all over it?"

"What?"  I said, and turned to look at Jake's Holiday Hat, that while certainly festive in its color scheme, did not have Christmas trees on it, but instead proudly boasted marijuana leaves dancing around  the entire thing.  Happy holidays, indeed!

I cracked a smile, "Those aren't Christmas trees, are they?"

Jake grinned broadly.  When Tim pressed him to see if he knew what they were when he asked for it, he answered in his quiet, analytical way, "Yeah, I knew.  But Mom, didn't you say there are lots of pros to legalizing marijuana?"

Why yes, yes I did.

I could only giggle, telling him he couldn't wear it to school or grandma's,  wishing more than ever that Cory was here to witness these shenanigans.

  Cory, get a load of your boy.  Seriously, just get a load of him.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Sixth Christmas

How is it even possible?

This will be the sixth Christmas since Cory died.  It's an impossible span of time.  Jake and I went Black Friday shopping together this year.  And on Cyber Monday, we huddled together on my bed and ordered most of his gifts.  He is not disappointed in the least to know what he is getting, in fact, he prefers it that way. "Surprises are overrated", he confided with a weary, older-than-his years tone.  The second my eyes met his, he looked away, blinking furiously.  Touche, son, touche.  Jake seldom says much about his loss, but once in awhile he drops a one liner than says far more than its face value would give away.  You have to know him, know how carefully he chooses his words and how seldom he offers his observations on life to fully grasp the meaning of these little conversational bombs.  You have to be well versed in his body language and understand that the more he looks away without meeting your eyes, the more he is opening up.  He does not take vulnerability lightly anymore. 

So the sixth Christmas without her, really?  Six?  I remember the first one and the last two, but the in between years are a shadowy no man's land of non-memory:  strictly survival.  The first year, I suppose I remember because at that point it hadn't even been six months yet and I was still shocked and puzzled how the world could go on without her at all.  Every breath I drew was like swallowing glass.

 Now I walk around the set of life a lot better, say my lines a lot more convincingly, and don't miss too many of my least not enough to sound any alarms.  But sometimes the feeling of watching myself  is uncanny and I remember how Cory used to describe this odd feeling of disassociation.  She would say it was like watching a play.  Or watching herself say or do things without really being in control...or able to care about the outcome until later, when she felt connected again.  I feel disassociated from others a lot, but sometimes, especially around difficult dates, yes, even from myself.  I go through the motions, mostly apathetic, but with enough muscle memory to nod and smile in social situations.  I can banter through the pain without missing a beat.  It looks social.  It looks appropriate.  But it's all about distance.  It's about giving someone what they expect from you so you can be done with that task and go off alone to fall apart without the weight of disappointing someone.  Because what you really feel like doing would not be nearly as pleasant to witness...the ugly crying, screaming, raging, or staring dully into space.

Twelve days till Christmas and I still need to put up my tree.  I need to decorate it with the carefully selected ornaments my best friend gifted me in an effort to help spark within me some small joy in the season.  "I want you to look at the tree and see your children." Have you ever heard anything so kind in all of your life?

Last year, Dr. Z asked me to put up one little ornament of Cory's from when she was little, just one.  I tried to appease this last request from him, only to discover Tim had accidentally thrown out every single one of our Christmas ornaments from the last twenty years.  My friend went straight to work to replace what she could.  That is love right there.   I have to get that tree up.  And I have to make it through my first Christmas since Cory died without talking to Dr Z, and I'm not quite sure how that's gonna go.  So far, it's going like crap.
 Last year, George Michael died.  This year, Dr. Z has retired. Face it, the holidays are just not my jam anymore.  I don't think they ever will be. 

So here I am just floating above, watching myself immobile, knowing I have a tree to put up and dear parents to treasure.  Jake and I have to take Cory a grave blanket and the giant nutcracker that stands guard.  Twelve days left.  Time to get moving.

Friday, November 17, 2017

"I Miss Her"

Sometimes I say nothing at all.  I just disappear for awhile.  I sleep longer.  I don't bother with makeup.  But sometimes I have to say something or explode.  The pain I carry in my heart is just too heavy and I start to feel like I'm suffocating.  So I say the socially acceptable thing which is:   "I miss her."

But friends, it is so much more.
I've harnessed it now so that I don't fall apart at work, so that I don't lose often...while driving in the car.  I still break into tears unexpectedly but much less often than before.  Am I stronger now?  Or am I just used to the suffering?  The way someone who is abused starts to expect nothing more for herself?

How can I explain what it is like to carry the pain of her absence with me every day, every moment?  There are probably no words unless you are in the same miserable hell I am and if that is true, well, I suspect I'll see it in your eyes when we pass each other and we won't need to say a word.

I'll say this:
It is exhausting.  It never stops.  The gnawing pain and the constant never sleeps.  Cory- her smile, her hands, her eyes, her laugh.. I see them in my dreams.  And likewise, every frame of the roadside...they come to me in my sleep, too.

The sorrow bleeds into every joy, every small win.  The shadow is perpetually cast.  There is no escape.

So, if I say "I miss her.", just know the depth of that statement is so much more.  In that moment, I am drowning.  If it weren't overwhelming me, I'd just suffer silently the way I so often do.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

How Slouchy is Too Slouchy?

I had one of those days last week that I so desperately wanted to tell Cory about, but couldn't.

I told Jake about it, but because Cory and I had both experienced bullying at school, where as Jake has not (to my knowledge), it just wasn't the same.

Since I can't tell her, I'll share with you:

If you're a regular reader, you have already ascertained that I was an underdeveloped, quiet, and meek child in school.  The traumatic sclerosis check of 7th grade that caught one poor classmate and I out bra-less, bare chested, and humiliated is forever burned into my memory and can be read about on this blog.  But as I often say when dishing with a good friend, wait...there's more.

So I recently bought a pair of black faux suede slouchy over the knee boots.  Do you know the kind?  My plan was to pair them with a sweet ruffly flowered dress so there was maybe an inch of bare leg showing in between.  When it gets colder, throw an over-sized, cozy sweater over top (maybe even one of Cory's that I brought downstairs) and I'd be good to go:  my fall uniform complete.  When the snow begins to fly, I'll put on fleece-lined tights and trade out the faux suede for leather and pop a hat on top of my head.  I love dress-tight-boot weather.  It completes me.

So finally this hot weather broke and I was able to give my new boots a go.  They are the sort that pull on and then you tie them securely in the back, just above your knee.

I put them on with one of the previously mentioned dresses from my closet and I was off.  Within an hour of walking around, the boots were steadily sliding down my legs and starting to bag around the knees.  This was not only annoying, as I had to keep reaching down to the pull them up, it was also making me very anxious.  I ducked into the nearest bathroom and surveyed myself in the mirror, honestly wondering if these boots looked stupid, if my body was all wrong to wear them, and if people would laugh and talk about me when I walked away.

Some unpleasant memories had come flooding back:

being in ninth grade, repeatedly and loudly made fun of by a group of girls in my sixth hour.  "Ugh, you're disgusting.  What is wrong with you?  You look EMACIATED.  Why don't you eat something?"
These comments continued for weeks while my face burned with embarrassment and I began to choose my routes in the hallway and my seat in the lunchroom strategically.
"Don't your momma feed you?  Here, you skinny white bitch, eat a fucking sandwich!"  This last bit said, screaming laughter, as she threw a half eaten sandwich and an open bag of chips in my general direction.
Of course, her friends laughed.  My friends tried to ignore her.  Some of the surrounding kids laughed, too, but most just looked uncomfortable.  Me?  I was mortified.  Already shy.  Already anxious in social situations.  If the earth could've opened up and swallowed me, my whispered thanks would've been my only response.  Back then, when I believed in a higher power, Lord, deliver me from Northwestern Middle School was my prayer.

After Christmas that year, I came to school elated to be sporting a brand new pair of Guess jeans tucked into Guess slouchy socks- the ones that had the logo on the side.  I was feeling like a million other words, pretty much the way I feel when I wear boots these days.
So I got to sixth hour and sure enough, the laughing and pointing began.
"Damn, girl, you so boney, your fucking socks can't even stay up!"
Now slouchy socks were supposed to slouch, but sure enough, she had gotten into my head.  I was at home that night checking them out in the mirror, wondering if maybe they weren't slouching just a bit too much and wishing I had a bit more body fat, spread out nicely to my not-yet-existent breasts, rear, and legs.  The mirror stared back at me, reporting a decidedly still-boy-like physique and the waiting would continue pretty much until after I bore my first child.
So this harassment continued for several months and through it all, I had been deemed "Bones Davidson".  To this day, I am sensitive to remarks about my weight.

So fast forward about thirty years, and here I am with these damn slouchy boots, knowing my body is the best it has ever been (man, I could've gotten into some really fun trouble if I'd had this confidence level way back then) and having flashbacks that trick me into to doubting my self.

I really wish I could tell Cory how it is normal to be affected by mean things that people say, but that it doesn't make them true.  And I know Cory could've commiserated because of her own experiences being bullied at school.

Cory's experiences being bullied at school happened during the time her illness was first rearing its ugly head.  She didn't share any of it with me (much as I didn't share any of mine with my mom) until afterwards.  I was completely taken off guard by the phone call from her grade principal telling me she had beaten a girl and would be suspended for ten days.  I remember asking first if he had the right student.  I remember hearing some details of the incident from him and wondering what in the world was happening?  My girl had never been in trouble at school...not once.  

The whole story, in Cory's words, can be found on this blog.  From my point of view, I could not believe how out of character her actions were.  Something was really, really wrong.  I had her drug tested.  When they said nothing was present and referred us to Summit Pointe, we were there at the next availability.  It was much later, having heard what happened in Cory's own words and getting more information about her illness that the pieces fell into place.  At that point, she'd been hearing voices for a year, without telling anyone.  This girl had been teasing and laughing at her for months.  And as she described to me, "it was my clothes, Mom.  She made fun of the way I dressed.  I know I don't have great self-esteem, but the one thing I'm proud of is my fashion choices."

Oh, Cory, you were so my girl.  My heart.  My soul.

The outfit that led to the incident?  Cory had seen Blaire on Gossip Girl wear red tights under shorts and loved the look.  So did I, actually.  Cory's tights were either red or pink, I can't remember which and she's not here to confirm.  So the girl started up making fun of her on the bus, and Cory, already carrying the stress of a brewing mood/thought disorder and tired of dealing with her day after day after day blew up.  I could not picture her having to be pulled off of another person.  I couldn't picture her kicking the girl while she was down.  It was hearing her friend that was there describe it and Cory's own account that finally painted the picture for me.  And in it, I could so clearly see her father's face.  Out of control rage.

Many years later, Cory would share in the dark while we sat up late talking.  "That day, Mom.  I couldn't take the laughing.  It got louder and louder in my head.  Her face got bigger and meaner.  And then this voice in my head just said, 'Get her.'  So I did.  I couldn't stop myself.  I tried to act like she deserved it and I was proud, but I wasn't.  People were giving me high fives in the halls and calling me champ and I tried to act cool about it.  But not on the inside.  I knew it was wrong and I was in trouble, not just at school, but big trouble, like life trouble...and I was afraid.  What what happen to me if I couldn't control myself?"  

Well, what happened for Cory is that she learned she could tell me anything and she learned coping skills.  She was never in a fight again.

What happened for me?  I looked in the mirror again and saw those boots are supposed to be slouchy.  And maybe my legs are a little less thick than other people.  But that's okay.  Skinny thighs can be sexy, too.  

I found out, too, when I googled it, that LOTS of people are having issues with these boots sliding down- it's a fabric and design issue, not a "your legs are too skinny" issue.  Amazon even sells something called a Boot Bra to hold your faux suede over the knee boots up where they're supposed to be.  And, well my birthday is coming up...