Monday, March 8, 2021

More Than Words




I always have words.  It's my thing, my gift.  When all else fails, words can rescue me; when I am drowning, words are my air.  When I am stuck in the trenches, words offer me a rope to get out.  Writing things down is how I release the toxic, dead weight from me.

On Thursday January 28, 2021 at approximately 3:30, I had to let my beloved Gideon Wainwright Hernandez-Cude go. 

Well, let's back up.  I didn't have to.  I made a decision.  I could have just dodged the issue and waited for him to pass at home and he could have lived days and maybe he would be miserable, but he would have had love, and life.  Or, I could have let him go two days prior, when I took him to the vet.  Dr. Utt has been his doctor since he was a puppy, and has performed three hip surgeries on him.  When I brought him in on January 26, 2021, the tech who collected him said "We have him down for possible euthanasia.  What are your thoughts?" 

"If Dr. Utt says it is time, I will accept her advice.  I know the time is closing in.  But I never want to let him go because it's hard on me to let him live.  But look at him - He still has light in his eyes.  He still wants to be here.  If I can buy him even one more day, I want to do that. I'll do what Dr. Utt says."  

I had to wait in the car. They tried to carry him in on the gurney, but he was just too big and restless.  So he walked in.  

Dr. Utt called me as I sat in the parking lot. "He's struggling.  I can try a steroid injection.  Sometimes it helps.  You'll know within 24 hours.  Do you want to try?" 

"Yes." 

Gideon walked back out to my car.  At home, Marcos lifted him out of my cargo space, but he walked into the house.  He tried to lay in our front room, but I coaxed him up to lay on his orthopedic bed.  He didn't walk or stand again.  

The next day he laid on his bed all morning. He ate, and he looked happy to have our love and attention, but he didn't stand.  The weather was beautiful, so I dragged his bed to the backdoor and let him lay in the open doorway.  A breeze blew by, and he urinated on his bed.  He looked at me saddly, and I grabbed wads of paper towels to soak it up.  I kissed him and told him it was okay.  I called the vet, and made the appointment for the following day.  I slept downstairs on the fold-out bed that night.  Throughout the night I woke up to see him panting, in pain, but he never cried.  In the morning, I put chicken thighs in the crockpot for him and Noelle. I spent most of the day sitting next to his bed.  He was offered, and chomped at the chance, to eat bits of food.  When the chicken thighs were ready, he devoured the first one I offered him.  I packed another two to take in the car with me, and then it was time to go.  

Marcos had to pick him up, and he let out the first and only painful cry I heard from him.  I carried his bed out right behind them, and stuffed it into the cargo space of my car.  Marcos set Gideon down on top, and off we went. 

Marcos and the girls were home in quarantine for COVID.  I had just made it through my ten days in time to take Gideon t othe vet a couple of days prior.  I still felt bad for going, but I didn't know what else to do.  If I had waited even one more day, Gideon might not even be able to eat.  So, as it was, we sat together in my cargo space and on my tailgate.  I offered him the chicken thighs I had packed, and he ate heartily.  I kissed him repeatedly through my mask, trying to do "my part" but also thoroughly resenting my part on that particular day.  

When the tech came to get him, she asked if he could walk.  I said I didn't think so, and she asked me to back my car up to the back door.  She and another tech brought the gurney out.  They tried to lift him - He was huge, almost 100 pounds.  We finally worked togther to lift the bed onto the gurney.  I kissed him again, and said I would see him soon. 

Soon enough, a tech came out, and I prepared to follow her inside.  

"Um.  He's very restless.  Dr. Utt wants to know if we can give him a sedative.  He just - he won't calm down."

"It's not time," I said frantically. "Maybe it's not time.  He's not ready, maybe today isn't the day." 

She touched my arm. "No.  It's time.  He's just scared.  You don't want him to be scared.  Can we give him the sedative?  It will be mild."  

"Yes."  

When they brought me in, there he was, his massive body on that table, his eyes already vacant.  I realized I had said my last goodbye in the parking lot, without knowing it, and maybe it was better that way.  I stroked his coarse fur. Dr. Utt came into the room.

"It's the right thing to do, right?"

"It's not the wrong thing.  This is so hard on a big dog. He's a very special guy." Ever the doctor.  I just wanted some reassurance that we shouldn't just turn around and go back home.  She couldn't give that to me.  I just had to trust my heart.  

As she injected him, I kissed him relentlessly, whispering in his ear, "You have been such a good boy.  I love you so much.  Thank you.  You've been such a good boy."  The medication took a long time to course through his giant body.  My strong boy, to the end.  

And as I stood there, I was transported to that June day, 2011, when I said goodbye to my only son.  I recalled the tears I had cried into that wiry brown fur.  The times I held him because I couldn't hold Gabriel.  The weight of 10 years of struggle - 10 years of loving and caring for this beautiful dog and all of his medical issues, 10 years of loving my medically fragile son who could not stay to be cared for, 10 years of putting on a brave face, 10 years of exposing my brokenness but ploughing ahead anyway - the weight of my grief came crashing down on me as my dear Gideon took his last breath

I proceeded to get very drunk that night.  Selfishly, I had hoped Gideon would make it to the following week, AFTER I marked the 10 year anniversary of Gabriel's Diagnosis Day, January 31, 2021. 

What is it about 10 years?  Is it because we have a name for it - a decade - that makes that particular year so rough?  If I were celebrating 10 years of marriage, or 10 years of sobriety, or 10 years at a job, or 10 years since I graduated high school, the celebration make sense, and others would join me. But grief - We don't treat it that way.  10 years of grief means you grieved 9 years too long.  That should have been put on a shelf long ago.  10 years means you can let go now, FINALLY.  You don't have to count birthdays.  You don't have to think about the what ifs.  You don't have to make note of the empty chair at the table.  You don't need to hang his Christmas stocking anymore.  

But grief doesn't work that way.  Motherhood doesn't work that way.  I can't table the biological connection to a little boy that I carried inside of me, who changed the makeup of my body, and who made me a little more aware of the soul that I was created to be long before I was born.  

When my Aunt Naomi told me she had a litter of puppies, and one male left that I could have, but he had a "lazy leg," I didn't ask what was wrong with him, I just took him.  I wanted him, without condition.  And when I found out on September 28, 2010 that I was pregnant with the baby that would be my first and only son, by that point his neural tube already abnormally developed, I did not ask what could go wrong.  I wanted him, and I loved him, and I love him without condition.  I would not give up on Gideon or Gabriel because it was hard.  And I won't stop grieving them now just because it is hard, or it is "time," or because I have surviving children and a surviving dog. They are part of me. Words cannot express how they changed me, how they have both imprinted my soul.  I could never describe it; it takes more than words.   







Monday, August 10, 2020

Blue



Less than three minutes.  The walk from our new home to the public elementary school the girls were supposed to attend this year takes less than 3 minutes.  That's the number one reason we chose the home, which is lovely and suits us well but we had a perfectly lovely home that suites us well before we moved, except that it wasn't a three minute walk away from the school.  We didn't live in the neighborhood with their would-be classmates.  

Marcos first raised interest in living in the neighborhood surrounding the school during Eden's kindergarten year last year.  I was easily sold on the idea, as I was bussed out of my home school neighborhood starting in the 3rd grade.  I rarely got to go to a friend's house after school, and even less frequently was able to have friends over to my house.  I loved the idea of cooking dinner in the kitchen for the girls' friends once in a while, and being able to walk their friends home down the street.  

Like a fool, I honestly believed we would be returning to school in two weeks - Maybe after Easter break.  As we signed the closing documents on our home, I certainly didn't think we would not be returning to school in the fall.  Sitting on the school campus, reviewing enrollment documents for Delilah with the staff, I believed that this Wednesday, August 12, I would be taking that three minute walk, the girls' hands in mine, to their first day of 1st grade and TK.  

Things aren't going to play out the way I had hoped.  

The school, along with all of the other schools in the district, will be starting the fall with distance learning.  We've made the very difficult decision to withdraw the girls from the public school system for now.  I still find myself vacillating as to whether we are doing the right thing for our children, just as I am sure the people who made this decision for the public schools have wavered themselves.  I don't know what the right decision is this moment, and I know that we will still be seeing the repercussions of today's decisions many years down the road.  My only goal is to mitigate the disruption to Eden's and Delilah's lives.  5 months ago they were abruptly shut out of school and other public places, isolated from their grandparents and their cousins and friends.  The same thing that every other child was going through, except every other child isn't mine - Eden and Delilah are mine.  They sacrificed without being asked if they were willing to sacrifice.  And now I am angry that we couldn't pull together as a community to sacrifice for all of our children and I'm driven now by what is best for them.  

I do understand that everyone's plans for this school year have changed.  

But I'm tired of having to change my plans.  And even more than that, I'm tired of being told I just need to change my plans and roll with the punches, as though the punches don't suck.  

Having my children attend school, just as I attended school and my parents attended school and as we have structured our society for decades now, didn't seem like so much to hope for. 

Having my son live for 11 days didn't seem like so much to hope for.  

9 and a half years ago my dreams for my son were shattered with three words:  "Incompatible with life."  So why should three words, "All distance learning," be so devastating now?  But they are.  Words can't express how defeated I feel right now.  Why can't shit just go right?   That's about all I can come up with. 

This is my annual "Blue" entry.  I usually write this entry in June, around the time of Gabriel's birthday or anniversary of his passing, depending on the time, and when the words find their way to my brain and out through my fingertips.  Two months have passed since Gabriel's 9th birthday, and I still don't have the words.  Every ounce of my brain power goes to my job, which has become increasingly stressful as we still have not been permitted to return to in-person appearances.  Every bit of my creative thought goes into figuring out how to reassemble a  sense of normalcy for my daughters.  Every day I find myself teetering on the edge of a hideous breakdown and wanting to flee, but there's no where to go and so every day I find myself resenting the trap I am in, but knowing that some degree of lockdown is still what the community needs.  I would go to the bar and have a drink and a think on the issue, but, you know. 

I think some people find the response easy:  We definitely should be locked down, or we definitely shouldn't be locked down.  I envy them.  But I think most of us are somewhere in the middle.  I don't know what's best.  I know I worry for my mental health every day.  For as long as I can remember, I spend most days fighting thoughts that I am worthless, and now our culture is largely telling me, "Yes, Andrea, you are in fact worth less than the person who you may or may not infect."  So I tell myself, "They're right.  You're not that important."  Every day, I have to look for a reason to live.  Sometimes the reason comes easily, when I first hear the girls stir in the morning.  Other days, it's not so easy to find, on those days when I genuinely believe the girls would be better off without a mother who has to regularly claw her way out of depression and anxiety.  On those days the reasons may be as big as fear of hell, to wanting to know the judge's decision in a pending trial, to the season premier of The Handmaid's Tale being so close if I could just not kill myself today. I always find a reason and I suspect I always will but my guess is I will always struggle.

So maybe that's why I like a plan.  A calendar of deadlines to keep me from dying so that there's always one more reason ahead of me. 

I was really looking forward to that first walk to school with my girls, and even if I mark my calendar for next year, I'm not sure how I'm going to make it there.  

Friday, January 31, 2020

My Will Surives



Roll over.

Throw the blankets off.

One foot on the floor.

Two feet on the floor.

Walk.

I will myself to start the day, because that is the hardest part.

Soon, the girls will wake up and I'll be too busy to notice that I am grieving, but I will feel it with every step.

Though some days are harder than others, not a day has gone by since this day 9 years ago that I haven't struggled just to keep living.   I wonder daily what right I have to breathe when my son cannot.  I wonder why I simply couldn't take his place and give him, with all the potential of a new life, the opportunity to live.

But I did give him life.  I carried him, even under circumstances where most women wouldn't, and every single day that I carried him I knew he would be something special.  Even when those dreams shifted, even when I knew his life would be short, I knew it would be meaningful, because he was unique, his own person, with his own destiny and his own purpose in life.

Some days those thoughts carry me.  We aren't promised a long life.  Not a day is guaranteed.  It's cosmic.  It's scientific.  It's the way things go.

Other days - today - I can't understand how the world keeps spinning, how the sun goes on shining, why business is still conducted, why people still drive the streets and still drive like such assholes and I hate them all, every single one of them because they dare to be on the road with me on this day that the world ended yet still somehow went on.  How is my heart still beating with this tremendous hole deep inside of it?

Nothing makes sense.  My baby had just started moving; how could he be dying already?  My son has died; why am I still alive?  My heart is broken; how can it still love?  My daughters are healthy and thriving; why isn't my son?  The world ended 9 years ago today; so how is it that life has gone on?

Determination.  Hope.  Gideon.  Will power.  Promise.  Whiskey.  Noelle.  Clients.  Mock Trial.  Marcos.  Eden.  Delilah.  Spring Training.  Love.  Every day I search for a reason, and every day for 9 years I have been able to find one.  I search for the reason, I will myself to start the day, I get through the hardest part.  Life is hard.  It is fragile.  It is unfair and imperfect and sometimes it's short.  So I take every day I am given.  I take every day because my son only got ten of them, and I take every day because I pray my daughters have thousands of them.  I take every day, the weight of Gabriel's death weighing deep in my bones, bleeding from my heart, eased by the hope that I will see him again some day.  That is how I get by in this post-apocalyptic world - Finding the beauty in what remains, and hope in what is to come.


Monday, January 6, 2020

The Couches

One fine day, I reported for an ultrasound.

The baby was not cooperating, and I should go walk around a bit.

"Something's wrong," my child's father asserted.

"You're paranoid."

But actually, he wasn't. A few moments later the tech told me to wait for the doctor and a few moments after that, a doctor who ruined my fucking life brought my world down with three words: "Incompatible with life." In two weeks we would see a specialist, who may or may not confirm the diagnosis.

So I did what anyone would do.

I shopped for couches.

"We're having a baby. We need something to bring a baby to."

With all the moronic faith in the world I turned over the pittance of a tax return, our first as a married couple (and as it turns out, one of only two we would file together), to buy a sofa and a loveseat. 

How stupid of me, to believe. 

It didn't fix anything. Not long after, a specialist confirmed the words of that bitch ass whore slut idiot doctor. My baby had anencephaly. He would die.

I had options, but there was no choice for me. I did the only right thing, and I carried my baby, and I had my baby and 2 days after his birth, Gabriel and I were discharged from the hospital and sent home.  We laid on those couches and lived and cuddled and loved and fought and snuggled and after eight days on those couches, he died. In my arms. On the couch.

I waited long hours on those couches for Gabriel's father to come home, drunk. I crawled from the depths of my despair, some days dragging myself from my bed only to get so far as those couches.  When I was divorced and needed a roommate to help with the rent, I relinquished the couches to a stranger as a part of communal living space.

One day, sitting on the sofa writing thank you notes my baby shower, I became quite aware my unborn child would be born that day, and Eden came barreling into the world hours later.

Those couches were picked up and moved to our new home and the memories of my son were stretched thinner as I built a new home and a new family and new memories of those couches.

We decided to buy new couches, and I could handle that. But the old couches, The Couches, must stay in our living room until we were sure that the new family sectional was a good fit.

So every morning the memories and couches greet me, assaulting me with reality. People live, but people die. My beautiful daughters don't know how every breath I take both rewards and punishes me. They still jump and play on the old couches, unaware how The Couches are haunting me.

It's January. And I'm fucking sad. I'm sitting on my new reclining sectional, plugged in to its power source, with my cocktail in its built-in cup holder, grieving the 9 year old couches in the next room.  Grieving the Andrea who died the day she learned her son would die.

Countdown to D-Day has begun.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Possum

About two weeks ago I saw a possum that had been struck by a car, lying dead on the painted center divider on Truxtun extension.  For a week I passed by that possum, watching his little body get flatter and flatter.  I passed by him every weekday and wondered how he came to be crossing that main road alone, and who struck him on the center divider.  Why hadn't animal control come to clean him up.

One night I woke to the sound of rain and I started to think about the possum.  I thought about his tiny body decomposing as the water dumped on him.  Did he have a family?  Do they wonder about him?  Was a possum waiting for him on the other side of the road? 

He was still there today, just a flattened carcass.  If you drove by today, you wouldn't know he was a possum.  He's got a story.  He lived a life.  Then one day he was killed, and he never even got a proper burial.  It's like he never even mattered. 

That's gotta be the worst thing.  To die, and disappear, and it's like you never even mattered. 

For the first time since he passed, I did not go to the cemetery to visit Gabriel's headstone on Thanksgiving.  'They' say visiting the cemetery isn't as important as keeping his memory alive.  And I know that Gabriel's memory lives on and that I am the one keeping it alive.  But I hate the thought of him not having flowers at Thanksgiving.  I hate the thought of somebody passing by his plaque and thinking, "That poor little baby.  He only lived ten days, and now, he's forgotten. It's like he never even mattered."

Because he did matter.  He was my whole world.  The whole world ended the day that he died and while I managed to crawl from its ashes, I'm living in a whole new world, where love is fragile and guarded and life is uncertain and the rain pours down on a possum who never even knew what hit him. 

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fade Into Blue



It niggles at me a little every day, and has for the past almost two months.

I never did write my annual "Blue" entry for Gabriel's birthday or passing.  The tradition began on June 12, 2012, one year and two days after he was born, with an entry called "The Blueberry Bush Revisited," and is a reflection of another year since the birth and death of my first born child and only son.  

Eight years into this process, I seem to have simply faded into blue.  Every morning, I spend at least some time searching for motivation to get up, to breathe, to live.  Every morning, it would appear, I find it, somewhere, however nominal it might be that particular day.  One foot in front of the other, I make my way to the bathroom to get ready for the day, to raise Eden and Delilah, to maintain a career, to tend bar, even to tap dance.  My life is full of joy, but a big part of the experience of joy, for me, is sheer grief.  

Two days ago as Eden lined up with her new kindergarten classmates to walk with her teacher to her classroom for the first time, tears slid down my face.  Tears of pride in the bright, strong, healthy girl that brought the color back into my world.  Tears of mourning, over the two children before her that won't go to kindergarten, the siblings that she'll never get to meet on this earth.  Tears of desperation, over the high likelihood that she and Delilah will be my only children that I will get to see off to kindergarten, and the speed with which this all seems to be happening, my family not at all what I imagined it to be.  One foot in front of the other, she walked with a lightness that has long left me, with a carefree ease I pray she is able to keep.  

At about ten minutes to noon that day, shortly before I was to leave to pick her up after her first day, I sat alone at my kitchen table, eating what I wanted to eat and watching what I wanted to watch in a rare moment of quiet in my home.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began to sob.  Nothing is louder than a quiet house and the absence of voices and footsteps that you expected would fill your home.  My miscarried child and Gabriel would have been in the third grade this year.  I thought there would be at least two more children following Delilah.  The hollow sound of what might have been. 

Though the years have gone by quickly, the days are long, and busy, and rarely is there time to feel these things in a dedicated moment of grief.  Instead, it just lives in me, in the soles of my feet, in the crevices of my broken heart, in the weight on my shoulders, in eyelids that burn to cry while still holding back tears.  This is it.  The Fade Into Blue. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Grey Joy



















*Heads up:  This entry will contain spoilers for the final season of Game of Thrones





















Only twice in my life of television viewing can I recall drastically changing my opinion of a character from loathing to championing.

The first was Todd Manning, introduced to viewers of the long-airing soap opera "One Life to Live" when he and his frat brothers gang raped Marty Saybrook at a party.  Over the years, the sincere remorse that his character showed for what he had done to Marty, as well as the odd friendship that he developed with her, led me to let my guard down and learn to care for this character too.  I kept the events with Marty in the back of my mind for the many years that I continued to watch the show, but allowed myself to be swept up in the storylines that gave dimension to his character such that he was no longer defined, for me, by that one gravely criminal act.

The second has been Theon Greyjoy.  In the first season of Game of Thrones, he shows us no redeeming qualities.  He is a shallow, oversexed, callous teenage boy, and the complexities of being raised by one family while being the heir to the lord of the Iron Islands isn't explored.  By the second season, he's demonstrated himself to be an uninspiring leader, a traitor to the family that raised him, and willing to kill two young boys to earn his father's favor.  In the beginning of season 3, the average viewer is probably thinking that the torture Theon suffers is exactly what he deserves, but for me things started to turn when Ramsey Bolton uses two women to tempt his shell-shocked prisoner Theon, only to castrate him.

I really don't know what someone could do to make me believe that they deserved the life that unfolded for Theon after that.  Even as I would recall Theon having killed the two farm boys, lying and trying to pass them off as Bran and Ricon Stark, I found myself applying Game of Thrones realism - That the act was part of playing the Game of Thrones, which is deadly and brutal.  Torturing Theon, abusing him into submission, mutilating him, and stripping him of his identity was sadistic, and went beyond just trying to be a lord or king.  For me, it was one of the most painful storylines to watch.

It only got harder when Sansa Stark returned to Winterfell to marry Ramsey.  There's a case to be made that Theon should have acted sooner to defend Sansa from the disgusting brutality she suffered at Ramsey's hands.  But everything in Theon's presence - from his posture to his appearance to his limited dialogue - indicated that he was truly Ramsey's slave.  He even slept in the kennels, with Ramsey's hounds.  I should probably find the housing appropriate for his crimes but the thing about Game of Thrones is that your normal sense of morality is suspended and your sense of justice changes to accommodate the violent series backdrop.   No matter what he had done wrong, I couldn't accept that Theon deserved what happened to him.

As the series went on, I started to think Theon would never redeem himself in the eyes of those who knew him.  Ever.  He killed Myranda and saved Sansa from certain death if Ramsey had caught them.  He helped her flee, pushing her to keep going through the winter snow, through an icy river, until she had been safely delivered to Brienne.  From there he returned to the Iron Islands and conceded the throne to his sister Yara, and conspired with her to thwart Yuron's attempts to take the throne.  But for every two steps forward, it seemed he took two back.  When Yara's fleet was attacked, he jumped ship (like, seriously) while Yara was captured.  And when he rescued her, she thanked him by punching him in the face.   He might have deserved that.

When Theon returned to Winterfell once again to fight during the Long Night battle, I unexpectedly cried when Sansa greeted him with a hug.  The Game of Thrones world is strange and complex and in the real world Sansa might never want to see Theon again, but in the Game of Thrones world, relationships are strange, allies are few, and friends are fewer so you take them.

During the Long Night, Theon was assigned to guard Bran.  He was the first character I heard say, "Make every shot count."  It seems so small, but most of the battle was futile and Theon seemed to be the only person who was battling thoughtfully.  He seemed to understand the gravity of his role.  For me, the most powerful moment of the Long Night episode was hearing Bran say to Theon, "You're a good man.  Thank you."  I didn't think Theon would ever get to hear those words.  They seemed to set him free.  He died in a pointless attempt to kill the Night King, and I was disappointed in that.  But I was happy that he was at rest.

I think every day about the many, many, serious mistakes I've made in my life.  They are the kinds of mistakes that I can't really talk about.  Things that will likely haunt me until I die.  Things that lead me to believe that the tragedies I've suffered are just what I deserve.  My friends and family will say to me, "That's ridiculous.  That's not possible."  But I think maybe it's not impossible.

My joy is always shadowed with grey.  It's always weighted with sadness and regret.  I love my children so very much, but I also know that they have been given a mother who is burdened by her mistakes, who has been damaged by her own actions, who isn't the best mother she could have been because she's already sent herself down a broken path.  My life is full and my blessings are many; still, I know I'll live my life of grey joy and regret, hoping that at the end of it all I will hear, from the One Who Matters, "You're a good woman." And I never rest easy, believing that I will.