Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This Weak and Idle Theme



I am thankful for the desk separating me from the mob of anxious case managers, each motivated by their own caseload of frustrated clients, and each wanting something from me.  They are each armed with a list of cases which need to be reviewed for settlement, walked through for settlement, or are set for a hearing in the next week.  I am reminded of my Friday nights behind the bar, patrons clamoring to get their order filled.  Except, I can't solve these problems now in front of me with a long pour.

I sigh.

"One at a time. Walk-throughs first.  Who has a walk-through for this week."  They each raise their hand.

My head feels heavy, my neck inadequate to carry it, as I turn to look out of the window just as a delivery truck passes by.  At the wheel I see Sean, squinting behind his wire-rimmed glasses, wearing the gray windbreaker that. . .

This isn't right.  That grey windbreaker is stuffed in a box, where it has been preserved since he died, which is stored away in my closet.  His glasses are in the box too - Two of the handful of keepsakes I saved from his apartment.  His parents would have given me more, but they were the ones who had lost a son, so I didn't ask for much.

I observe the van pulling into a garage, where the door closes behind him.

My focus returns to the crowd of co-workers standing before me.  Of course, this isn't right either.  Although sometimes the effect is the same, I am never mobbed by the case managers who do in fact each have a slew of cases, each with work that needs to be done on them.

"We have to go," one of them says, completely out of turn.  But I know, I have to go, I have to get out of this office, I have to find that van.  So, I follow her lead and we all leave the office.

In the parking lot she herds us all into a bus.  I turn in my seat to look at the garage door rising, the delivery truck exiting, a new driver at the wheel.  Behind him I can see Sean, but Sean doesn't see me.  The delivery truck has a new banner covering the sides. The driver is observing his surroundings in a way that is at once experienced but anxious.

Sean is in trouble.  They have him and won't let him go, for some reason.  He needs help.

I don't know what to do.  The bus is moving, and I don't know where we're going.  I look at the road ahead and turn to see that the truck is also turning, as we continue straight.  I begin to run to the front of the bus when everyone else on board also begins to exit.  We step off the bus at the entrance to an underground tunnel, where we are shuttled to another stop.  Upon leaving the shuttle and the underground tunnel, I find myself in a bustling plaza.  I scour the area, the shops and kiosks all around me, the people buzzing by, seeking out the grey wind breaker, the glasses, that face that haunts me still, nearly 12 years later. . .

Delilah's chatter weaves in and out of the scene as I toddle the lines of consciousness.  I hear Marcos - "I'm going to start breakfast."  Slowly I begin to realize that Delilah's voice is coming from the monitor on my nightstand.  I am lying on my back, a particularly difficult position for me to wake from.  I am still half asleep, still searching for Sean, willing my eyes to find him or in the alternative, for my body to wake itself from this dream.  Finally, consciousness wins.  My eyes snap open.  I am awake.

I lay still for a minute.  I didn't even get to talk to him.  I didn't get to ask him not to go.  He always goes, every time, but at least I get a chance to tell him that he should stay.

It's been three nights since the dream, but I still fill the emptiness of the missed opportunity. Three words pleaded in a dream, "Please don't go," are weighted with the things that never had the chance to be heard: "I want you to stay.  If you go, so many people will miss you.  I'll miss you.  I'll spend years feeling guilty for your death.  I will be tortured by the unanswered questions, the lack of resolution between us.  Twelve years down the road, I'll still miss the best friend I had in you, the man that tore down the walls that sexual assault built around me and showed me that I am beautiful not in spite of my flaws, but because of them.  I will think of you every day.  Please.  Let's see this through.  Let's have a normal break-up and discover, a year from now, that we are better off as friends.  Don't end it like this.  Please don't go."

Sean hasn't been in my dreams for at least two years.  Before that, he showed up about once or twice a year, and before that, two or three times a year.  The format is always generally the same:  I know that his time will be short, but he doesn't.  I know that when he walks away from me, he won't be coming back.  Since he hasn't been in my dreams, I've imagined what I think the dreams in recent years would have looked like, and written them here, in my blog, following the format that has presented itself for years.  When Sean showed up in my dreams again three nights ago with these new twists, I didn't know what to think.  I only knew that I had to write it down.

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Days and 10 Innings

"When Gabriel was alive, did you ever think he might be one of those cases that lives for months, or years?"

I did.  I prayed, and wondered, and hoped, and even worried that we would be that family, and that my son would be that boy that proved all of the doctors wrong.

I remember the conversation with my mother in law.

"I wonder if his living longer than expected will make things harder?"

"Oh.  It will," she told me, as if that would be my punishment for carrying my son to term, and "forcing" her son along for the ride.

I would much rather remember the conversation with my own mother.

"Your dad keeps thinking maybe this is a sign.  Maybe he is supposed to retire right now and help you take care of this little boy."

We could dream.  And we did.  For ten days we clung to our hope, knowing how unlikely our dreams were to come true, but also knowing that days 2, 3, 4, and 10 were unlikely too.  See, by the time he was born, the medical community had written him off, and every day that he lived he made the impossible feel possible.  Even when he died, taking a piece of my broken heart with him, I was filled with gratitude for the boy who fought so hard, defying the odds and the expectations.  Maybe he wasn't going to live for months, or years, or even 11 days.  But he will always be my son.

Fast forward 5 years and several months to a Saturday night, game 161 of the regular season, and the Seattle Mariners entering the 10th inning of a game that would decide whether or not game 162 would matter, whether game 162 would be their last chance to make it to the Wild Card game for a chance to play in the World Series. They were tied in a game against the last place team in the division and one might think it would have been an easy win, but the Mariners had already won the last two games of the series and statistically, they were due for a loss.  But then again, back in July, most people probably thought that by October 1, the Mariners would have long been eliminated.

The game wasn't airing on any of the channels available to me, so I kept my phone in my hand, checking the game status every few minutes.  In the 10th inning, Oakland scored, and even with the last at-bat, the Mariners couldn't catch up.  The Mariners lost, and the play off dream was deferred for another year.

Oh, but what a season!  3 players, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager, hit over 30 home runs this season - The first time since 1997, The Griffey Jr. Year.  Seth Smith hit two grand slams.  The Mariners won 86 games this season, finishing at .531 and looking like wild card hopefuls until the second-to last game of the year.  Seeing that loss, knowing what it meant, tugged at my heart.  But the 2016 Seattle Mariners had given me hope, and sometimes hope just has to be enough.

You see, I am no fair-weather fan.  One cannot have followed a team for 15+ years, watching them make it to the playoffs only once in that period of time and to this day, never having an opportunity to watch them in the World Series, and be a fair weather fan.

One cannot plead with God to make her a mother, beg God for a baby boy, but say that she loves him only so long as he is healthy, looks just like other children, and will outlive her.  I prayed for my little boy, and rain or shine, he is mine.  He is the love of my life.  The grief of losing him poured down on me and threatens to drown me still, and still I hold on to my love for him, the hope of seeing him again someday, and the dream that I may be worthy of the promises of Heaven.

10 innings. 10 days.  They can test your limits, and they can change the world.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Grind



Maybe, if I lay very still. . .

But it's too late.  Eden has already heard Marcos downstairs, and she's taken this as her signal that it's time to start the day.  I know she's on her way, so I roll over and glance at the clock on my phone - 5:45 - before she appears at my bedside. I turn to look at her and see my pile of hair and remember that last night was hair washing night, which means this morning is hair straightening morning.  I've got to stop planning my Monday mornings this way.

"Good morning baby bear."

"Momma.  Let's go downstairs."  She replaces her soggy lovey with the bear head back in her mouth and stands there, clutching her blanket.  Neither are supposed to leave her room, but since she realized she can get herself out of bed and down the hall in the morning, all bets are off.

"Why don't you lay in momma's bed for a minute with Mr. Bear."

"No.  I want to go downstairs."  I stagger towards the bathroom, toying with the possibility of just tying my hair into a sloppy ponytail.  After all, it's Monday, there's a lot going on in the office today, but none of it involves my appearance in a court proceeding.  Maybe I can even skip make-up today.  But when I turn on the light and I'm greeted by the frizzy tangle of hair I realize not straightening it today is not an option.  No one else will care, really, but every time I walk into the bathroom and see my reflection, that feeling of defeat and self-loathing will overcome me again.  I've finally reached a point where people seem to ask if I am pregnant again only once a week, compared to daily.  I'm starting to look like a person again, instead of a zombie.  No sense in ruining that streak.

I manage to straighten one of the five sections of hair that I've methodically developed over the years before Eden's chatter wakes up Delilah, and we can hear her on the monitor.

"Delilah's awake!  Let's go check on her!"

"No, Eden, let's give her a minute. . ." but she's already dashed off down the hall and over the monitor I can hear Delilah's door creak open and Eden say to her, "It's okay Delilah."  I sigh at my reflection and turn off the straightening iron before collecting Delilah from her bed and heading downstairs.

When we get to the kitchen I see that Marcos has already started warming Delilah's bottle.  I change her diaper and set her on the floor to play with Eden while I start Eden's breakfast.  With Marcos' assistance I manage to get Eden set up at the table to eat her oatmeal while I settle down with Delilah for a bottle.  Marcos kisses our goodbyes, and he's out the door and for a few minutes I enjoy Eden's happy response to the cubes of cheese I've put on her breakfast plate this morning, and Delilah's head on my chest as she drinks her bottle.  I know that she is on the cusp of ditching at least one of her four daily bottles, and I am worried it will be one of only two that I get to offer her on a daily basis.  Soon, Eden is telling me that she's finished and she wants to get out of her chair.  I ask her to wait while I finish feeding Delilah, but she won't and before I can stop her she's rattling the chair to free herself and in the instant before she's slid from the chair to the ground I imagine her tumbling backwards and striking her head against the wall just right, like some Million Dollar Baby moment, paralyzing her for life.  But she lands safely and scampers off to play.  Delilah has finished her bottle, and is struggling to get from my arms to the floor.  Our brief harmony is over, and so I say to Eden, "Come on, Eden Bear.  Let's go upstairs and get ready for our day."

"No Momma.  I'm just going to stay down here.  I'm going to watch Dora the Explorer."

"No, no Dora this morning.  You know we don't watch cartoons in the morning, we watch the news.  Come upstairs."

"No Momma."  Delilah is hanging from my arms, laughing at our interaction.  I run her upstairs to my room and set her down, careful to lock the baby gate behind me as I head back down for Eden.  I find Eden in the baby bouncer, her new favorite place to be.  She's so tall that really, once she's in the harness, there's not much for her to do but kneel.  I pull her from the chair and set her down, asking her to come upstairs, but instead she runs into the living room and throws herself onto the floor.  "I'm just going to lay on Ice Bat."

"Eden, it's time to go upstairs."

"No Momma."

"Eden, come upstairs.  Delilah is having a pizza party.  We're going to have a pizza party without you."  This catches her attention, and she runs towards the stairs and climbs anxiously, joining Delilah on my bedroom floor to play with her plastic plates, spoons, and pizza.

I had promised myself when we moved that my room would be my retreat.  I wouldn't allow toys to overtake it, but there, on my neatly made bed I dropped three stuffed animals for the girls to play with while I got dressed.  On my floor, just vacuumed last night, plastic utensils and a toy laptop and a set of animal flashcards and some board books are already strewn, just in the time it took me to go down the hall to get the girls' clothes for the day.  I alternate between straightening the rest of my hair, changing diapers, dressing the girls, dressing myself, and trying to cover the monstrous, stress-induced zit that has erupted between my unkempt eyebrows, all while singing along to the Sesame Street radio station on Pandora and shouting at Eden over and over and over again not to jump on the bed, ironically, while "5 Little Monkeys" plays over the radio.

We make it back downstairs by 7:20.  Eden has refused to wear shorts.  Eden has refused to wear shoes.  But Eden allowed me to brush her hair this morning and I consider this a small victory, earning her the right to go pantsless today.

"Momma, I want Nature Cat."  I look at the clock.  7:22.  I cave.

"One episode of Nature Cat, okay Baby Bear."

I'm now that mom.  No, not the mom that lets her kid watch TV in the morning.  I'm sure there's lots of moms, great moms, that do that.

I'm the mom that can't spend two hours with her children without having to run to the television for help.  I'm the mom who dreads the sound of her children rousing early, before she is ready.  The mom that counts down the minutes before it is time to leave for work, for an escape, only to spend the next 9 hours counting down the minutes until she gets to see her girls again, and then in turn to spend the evening counting down the minutes before it is time to start bedtime routine.  My dogs, my beloved dogs, stare at us longingly from the windows - Sometimes I go days without even touching them so entrenched am I in just getting through the day with my children.

I am the mom who finds on the weekends, her children are strangers to her.  I don't know what to do with them when we are together for a whole day.  Who are they?  What should we play?  What do we talk about?  Is it naptime yet?  How do other women do this, day after day, with a smile on their face?  I feel like such an asshole.  I look to the front door wistfully, wondering if we all wouldn't be better served if I just walked out and never came back.

With a guilty conscience, I snap myself back into the moment and finish packing lunches for the day, and loading my car with the diaper bag, my purse, my own lunch, and a pack of Delilah's diapers that my dad will need for her care this week.  Eden refuses one of my requests and as a consequence, I turn off Nature Cat before the episode is complete.  I take Delilah to the car and plead with Eden to follow me.  She won't, but instead climbs back into the bouncer, so I run back inside, lift her out, and carry her to the car, no pants, no shoes, but grateful for the attached garage so that I don't have to feel so very bad about having left Delilah for a few seconds.  Life was easier when she was in the carrier and I could just drag them both out together, but, ob la di ob la da, right?

"Momma, I want Delilah's Song," Eden requests from the back seat.

"Not today,"  I respond and begin clicking through the radio stations as we drive.  I'm searching for some song to make my morning.  I know that with today's technology I can just click over to my USB drive and play something from there, or stream a song that I know and love.  But I want to the song to be brought to me, some sign from the universe that everything will be okay.  I drop the girls off at Papa's house where the patience for them is greater, the hands on deck more plentiful, and besides, Delilah is almost ready for a nap, giving a slight reprieve to their caretaker.  I get back in my car, still searching the radio, through the local stations, through Sirius radio, looking for something to soften the blow of the morning.  Hundreds of radio stations are available to me at my fingertips, but nothing suffices.  I land on an old default karaoke song, Patty Loveless' "Blame It On Your Heart," but today I just don't feel like shouting about someone's lying, cheating, cold deadbeating, two-timing, double-dealing, mean, mistreating, loving heart.  I settle instead for the "Loco-Motion," the Grand Funk Railroad version, though I would have preferred Little Eva or Kylie Minogue.

These are the first moments to myself that I have had since I woke up, yet I've felt so alone the whole time.  I'm lonely - In the evenings as I march through the monotony of the work week, on the weekends as I try to find ways to interact with my girls while we are all cooped up inside to avoid the 100+ degree heat and smokey air hovering from a local wildfire.  I know that life changes when you have kids, and I know that I longed for these girls, ached for them.  Imagine my surprise when they didn't provide all of the answers, but instead caused me to have to look even deeper into my soul on a quest for - What?  I don't know anymore.  I'm drowning. I feel the waves threatening me, so real that while stopped at a red light I tilt my head up towards the imaginary surface so that I can breathe.  Green light.  Go.

I am at my office early.  I was the first to arrive on this dreadful day - The day our new case management system is launched firm-wide, causing guaranteed disarray in each of our 15 offices throughout the state.  Clients will call, annoyed at our inability to smoothly access and work this system, still demanding that we meet their needs in this world of glorified customer service called worker's compensation defense.  My billing, finally falling into place after four years of acclimating to an environment wherein I must account for every minute of the work day, is bound to suffer in this change - even the best attorneys will suffer this.  I know that I should get a head start on the day and aim to get my hours in, but instead I open my web browser, turn to this page, and write.  And write, and write, and write.  And write, and write, and write some more.

And then, it's back to the grind.



Friday, August 12, 2016

Alex Rodriguez: This is the Way the World Ends - Not With a Bang But a Whimper

  V

    Here we go round the prickly pear
    Prickly pear prickly pear
    Here we go round the prickly pear
    At five o'clock in the morning.

    
    Between the idea
    And the reality
    Between the motion
    And the act
    Falls the Shadow
                                   For Thine is the Kingdom
    
    Between the conception
    And the creation
    Between the emotion
    And the response
    Falls the Shadow
                                   Life is very long
    
    Between the desire
    And the spasm
    Between the potency
    And the existence
    Between the essence
    And the descent
    Falls the Shadow
                                   For Thine is the Kingdom
    
    For Thine is
    Life is
    For Thine is the
    
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.


-Excerpt from "The Hollow Men"
T.S. Elliott



Tonight, this mid-August night with 48 games left to go in the 162 game season and with what I anticipate will be little fanfare, Alex Rodriguez will play in his last game with the New York Yankees, for a team experiencing a lackluster season and currently riding in 4th place in the AL East.  Unlike when Derek Jeter retired one year ago, there will be no parade of celebrities from all avenues of entertainment tipping their hats in respect.  After 22 years with the MLB, Alex Rodriguez retire with 696 career home runs to his name, making him 4th in the history of Major League Baseball.  With so much focus on his batting, the public might easily forget that he was once a stellar short stop, taking what in baseball would constitute a demotion when he was traded to play third base to Derek Jeter's short stop upon his transfer to the Yankees.  But tonight, Alex Rodriguez will be riding the bench, waiting for his chance to bat - Request for him to play third base in this inconsequential game against the Tampa Bay Rays has been denied. 

Once upon a time, though, Alex Rodriguez held all of the potential in the world.  He was the child of Dominican immigrants who moved to the Dominican Republic for a brief period when Alex was a child, before returning to the United States where he grew up in Florida.  Though he was recruited by colleges to play both baseball and football in 1993, he elected to sign with the Seattle Mariners when he was a first-round amateur draft pick.  By 1995, he was finishing the season in the major leagues. 

A few years later during my senior year of high school I caught my first glimpse of the young, green eyed ball-player, and it was love.  I had to know who he was and when I found out, I had start watching the game that I had abandoned when I was 14 years old and lost two teeth after being struck in the face by a softball.   I began following the MLB, a passion shared with my brother Timothy, and although for different reasons, together we became Mariners fans.  They were primed for glory at that point, boasting a roster including Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez.  Of course, baseball fans know how that ended as the team started piecing off in the coming years, resulting in the 2001 Mariners still holding the record as the team with the most regular season wins, only to lose their shot at the World Series in the first round of the playoffs.   



It was following the 2000 season and going into the 2001 season that Alex Rodriguez became a free agent and was signed by the Texas Rangers with what was, at the time, the largest contact in sports history.  By that time, I had fallen in love again, this time with the Seattle Mariners, and I elected to give them my loyalties and say good-bye to Alex.

But like all great loves, I frequently wondered how he was doing.  He wasn't hard to keep track of - After three years with the Rangers he was traded to the New York Yankees, where he has remained, and remained in the spotlight for a number of unsavory reason, most memorable to me: A speculated affair with Madonna while both he and she were married.  What the world will most remember, of course, is the scandal created by suspicions followed by hard evidence of the use of performance enhancing drugs.  The shadow of this controversy, which began to take root in 2007, never really left his side.  Nearly ten years later, his use, the suspicions, and his bold-faced, vociferous denial of the accusations are how he will likely be remembered.  

Sometimes, things just don't work out the way we think they will.  Just as Alex Rodriguez likely thought he would be playing in tonight's game to the adoring cheers of his fans, I thought I would be watching this game with my five-year old son by my side.  Somehow, nothing calls my attention to Gabriel's absence like a baseball game - I guess because up until January 31, 2011 I was planning his own career in the Major Leagues, before I switched to planning his funeral.  Perhaps because, although I believe I am slowly but surely instilling in my daughters a love for this subtle yet spectacular game, I know that they will not get to play in the MLB.  Perhaps the dream - statistically unlikely to come true in the first place - will be renewed if and when I have another son, or maybe it died with Gabriel.  But when I hear the crack of the bat or the smack of a third strike rocketed into a mitt, I also hear the silence of a little boy who is not cheering beside me. 

Tonight, I will watch the man who was once my favorite player, donning a uniform that now brings so many mixed emotions for me, as he says goodbye to a game that we both love.  Derek Jeter was quoted just today as saying "I've spent 22 years playing against, playing with and watching Alex from afar, and there are two things that stand out to me the most:  The conversations we had when we were young - hoping for the opportunity to play at the Major League level and then somehow finding a way to stick around - and the championship we won together in 2009.  That was a season everyone on that team can cherish.What people don't realize is how much time, effort and work that Alex put in on a daily basis.  He lives and breathes baseball.  I know it will be difficult for him to not be on the field, but I am sure he will continue to give back to the game."  



He lives and breathes baseball, even with the darkest of clouds hanging over his head.  Tonight I will watch this game with my girls and I expect I will feel what I always feel:  Not only the ache of missing the little boy that I always dreamed of, but what has also become a familiar feeling, as though my chest has been cracked open and I am watching my heart sing and dance in the two little girls that I'd also always dreamed of, even if they aren't exactly what I expected.  At bedtime, apropos for this special night, we'll read one of my favorite bedtime stories to share with Eden and Delilah, "Good Night Yankees."  

"Good night to each player, you played a great game.  We're rooting for you to make the hall of fame.  Good night to all the young Yankees fans, too.  All falling asleep, dreaming of their Major League debut."  

Goodnight, Alex Rodriguez. Thank you for the memories.   








Saturday, July 30, 2016

Willie White

I didn't process what had happened for a few seconds.  I had turned away for just a few seconds, and when I looked back, Willie was looking at me, his long, slender fingers still wrapped around the dice cup, with six aces sitting in front of him.  He was smiling like it was just another day.

"One flop?  You did that in one flop?"  It was a stupid question.  Of course he did; I had only turned away for a matter of seconds, only heard the dice cup slam on the bartop once.  True to his word, he split his winnings with me right down the middle.  If there was one thing to be said about Willie White, it is that he had integrity.

But there's much more to say about Willie.  Since I returned from law school to work at The Wright Place, Willie is the closest thing to a grandfather that I've had.  Our closeness was a quiet one - He was a private man with a backwards way of showing his affection.

"You know that song 'Hard Hearted Hannah'?"

"Yeah."

"You know that line about Hannah pouring water on a drowning man?"

"Yeah."

"They wrote that song about you, didn't they?"

"I'm guessing this is your last beer, Willie.  Am I right?  Because you're at about 85.5 right now."

Willie teased all of the bartenders, used the same lines on all of us, I'm sure.

"How you doin' today sweetheart?" he'd ask.

"I'm good."

"I didn't ask how you look, I asked how you're doing."

But I don't think there was any question that our relationship was special.  During my first week of my first maternity leave when I was out for Gabriel, he tried to start in on Natalie one night while she was covering my shift.

"Look Willie, I'm not going to be your Andrea while she's out."

After three maternity leaves at The Wright Place, I'm pretty sure he missed me for every single one of them.

"Are you and Andrea mad at each other?" someone asked Willie one night.

"No.  Why?"

"Well, you guys are being nice to each other."  Our banter was well known, but most people didn't know the personal moments between us.

"That must have been really special," he told me one night as I shared what it was like to bring Gabriel home on hospice care, when we thought he would die before we ever left the hospital.  Willie had cared for his late wife in her dying days, before she passed from cancer years before.  We also had an unspoken bond - That of parents that have lost children.  Though Willie was in his 70s when his adult daughter passed away, and at 29 years old I had buried my 10 day old son, Willie and I both walked around every day with a part of hearts, a part of our core, missing.  But we both loved life.

On the one hand, when Willie was diagnosed with cancer himself a couple of months ago, I was stunned - Willie had retired when he was 50, but never did slow down.  He was up early every morning and walked three miles every day.  He met with friends for coffee at McDonalds and somehow found a way to fill the days with activity.  He saw a doctor on a regular basis, and he ate well, and weighed the same thing he'd weighed his entire adult life.  But, he was in his 70s and more importantly, I've learned that sickness and death are a part of life, and no one is immune to either.

In the days after he was first admitted to the hospital, his death was reported to be imminent, and I thought I would never get to see him again.  When he survived the weekend, I went to the hospital to see him on a Monday morning before work.  This 6'5" tower of a man filled the hospital bed with his length, but his already-lean frame had become thin, and frail.  He invited me to sit in a chair next to his bed and when I did, he reached across his blankets and took my hand.  His long fingers looked even longer, barely more than bones.  We talked casually about who had visited and which members of his family were in town, and then a nurse came in to take him for an x-ray.

"He'll be right back, if you want to wait."

"I-I-I don't know if I can. . ." I hated to leave for the pile of meaningless work on my desk, but duty called.

"She has to get to work.  She's a lawyer." I could hear the pride in his weak voice.  I knew it could be the last time I would ever get to see him.

"I'll come back soon, Willie.  You take care of yourself, okay?"

"Okay, see you soon."

"Willie.  I love you."

"I love you too, sweetheart."

I darted back to the elevator, trying to outrun my tears.

I did get to see Willie one more time.  But although he survived another 6 weeks or so after that, I kept finding excuses not to go.  I knew I would regret not visiting again, but increasingly I heard that he was struggling with lucidity and I wasn't sure I could handle if he didn't recognize me.  Another friend went to see him and told me how bad it was.  "The only time he smiled was when I mentioned you."

Without question, our relationship was special, because Willie was special.  I suspect just about anyone that knew Willie well enjoyed a special relationship of their own with him.

I don't usually find myself at a loss for words, but just as I didn't know how to say goodbye to Willie, I don't know how to end this blog entry dedicated to his memory.  I will miss Willie terribly.  I look forward to seeing him again someday, to hearing him say one more time, "Cut me some slack, Jack!."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just A Bridge Away



In our backyard in Bakersfield the morning sun was already baking our lawn, but in Oregon the sky was overcast and the air was wet but cool when we pulled into a parking lot at Sirrosis Park in The Dalles.  I was drawn right away to the playground, a sophisticated complex of tunnels and bridges and stairways. As we unloaded the girls from their car seats Marcos' mom approached us and we all walked to the playground together, the sight only getting better the closer we got.  Eden sprinted ahead to begin climbing to the tops of the various slides while Marcos' mom took a seat on a bench.

"Would you mind holding Delilah?  So I can go play with Eden?"  "Grandma Nichols" happily obliged, reaching for the sweet smiling baby that charmed her Oregon family, and I dashed off to one of the structure's towers.  Eden was already engrossed in the slide and laughing with every attempt while her daddy waited for her at the bottom, so I worked my way through the maze.  I unsuccessfully tried the suspended balance beam, scaled two side by side tires, tried my hand at a set of monkey bars and parallel bars, and attempted  a stack of tires meant to serve as a ladder.

At some point I overhead my mother-in-law say to Marcos, "She said she was going to play with Eden, but it looks like she's the one doing all the playing!"  It was true.  Though I intermittently watched Eden as she played with her cousins or even by herself, or took a few moments to observe Delilah in the swings, I was lost in my own adventure.  Here and there I caught shadows of the 5 year old little boy that should have been with us, doing all of the things Eden just isn't old enough or coordinated enough or tall enough to do yet, sneaking up on his sister one minute, then holding her feet to assist her on the monkey bars the next.  Gabriel's memory, or more accurately, his hypothetical, is always there, a part of every experience.  That's my normal.

Around us the trees stretched high and park-goers weaved between them with their dogs, but not a trace of litter could be found to indicate that anyone had ever been to the park before we got there.  Other families arrived, their children racing up and down and across the child-sized fort.  Eden would stop to laugh or smile or shout orders at them, then pick right back up with whatever activity she happened to be performing.

While in Oregon we toured The Bonneville and Dalles dams, went on a cruise on the river, saw Multnomah falls, watched the trains dart by on their extensive railroads, and waded in the Columbia River - Just a few of the sights that Oregon has to offer.  But of all that we squeezed into that trip, in my memory our visit at Sirrosis Park will remain the most vivid.  There, I felt like we had a moment of Heaven, everyone there, happy, playing as they like, but together.  My heart felt full. I couldn't see my son, but at times, I even had to search for Eden and Delilah.  No matter where I turned, no matter where I went, there I felt like every one of them - Gabriel, Eden, Delilah, Marcos and even Baby Cude - were just a bridge away.  There I felt surrounded by everything I could ever want.  I felt whole.








Monday, June 20, 2016

Am I Blue?

The blueberry bush sits dry and likely, dead, but still a part of my home amid the greenery in my front yard.  It seems like watering it when needed is such a simple task that there is no real good reason why it shouldn't get done.  But there are no simple tasks these days, and many things don't get done.  Every once in a while I am horrified to discover a dirty diaper under a pile of laundry, unsure as to how long the diaper has been hidden there.  I feel like I must be the biggest slob in the world, which doesn't make sense, because I also feel that I am constantly on the go.

Nothing gets the attention it should these days.  Not my kids, not my husband, not my dogs, not my house - certainly not my work.  Direct file referrals are pouring in for me these days, and I'm on the brink of two appellate decisions that I am fairly confident will be favorable.  Maybe they will be.  Maybe they won't be.  But either way, I am moving files - exactly what clients want.

Actually, clients want a lot of things.  They want to be your priority.  They want everything done right now.  Everything is a rush.  Everything should have been done already.  Nothing can wait until tomorrow.  Everything is extreme.  EVERYTHING.

There was a time in my life when I was motivated by this kind of pressure.  How many A papers have I written in the 12 hours preceding their deadline?  The appeals mentioned above were written and submitted within a crunched statutory time limit.  I can pat myself on the back, for I have shown a tremendous capacity to take pressure, grief, anger, and pain and turn it into steam to propel me through life.

But I feel like I've run out of steam.  I don't know why.  I guess we all have our breaking point and I suppose my breaking point is a lot farther and a lot less destructive than others' might be, but it's still devastating.

It is then that the weight of the loss of my son crushes me.  I live with his absence daily, the ache is constant and painful.  Now, as I tread water to stay afloat I feel the hole inside of my heart being crushed by the heaviness of having lost my son.  Five years ago today I held my son in my arms through his seizures and labored breathing until his heart beat one last time, and he died.  I felt his tiny body stiffen with death in my arms, and I kissed him one last time before giving him over to a very kind and solemn undertaker so that he could burn my little boy to ashes.  I took those ashes and placed them in a little, tomb-like cavity and marked his place in this world with a little plaque, and a few times a year I visit that final resting space but every single day I long to feel him again.

Am I blue?  How can I know anymore?  How can I distinguish between the depression that I have experienced all of my life, and the grief of the traumatic experiences that I've been through, and the postpartum depression compounded by back-to-back pregnancies, and the stress of every day life?  When are my responses selfish, and when are they self-loathing, and when are they natural, and when are they wallowing?  I don't know anymore.

Above all I am thankful that Gabriel was trusted to me to love and care for.  I know that this was no accident, I know that I was blessed - Blessed with the gift of a child, blessed to be charged with the care of a terminally ill unborn baby, blessed that I got to spend ten days with him when most people walking in my shoes will never get that opportunity.  I am blue, but I am blessed.  I don't have time to water plants, but even in life's rush I carry Gabriel with me every day.  His life and his loss are a part of me. Even as the branches of the blueberry brush dry and harden and threaten to break every day, I keep and guard them.  Life isn't easy, hearts don't break evenly, and all I can do is hold on for the ride.