Saturday, January 20, 2018

Happy Birthday, Mommy!

I wonder - How many times have I broken my mother’s heart?

Was the first time a slow uncertain break, lasting over the course of several weeks of anxious anticipation?  Did it crack a little more each time she went to the bathroom and saw that her underwear were still clean?  And what did it feel like to get the news at 19, that her life was no longer hers exclusively?

When she was pregnant with me, she had a nightmare about a blue-baby, wrapped up in a bag in the corner.  I broke her heart even before I was born.

And I bet I broke it again on the day I was born – or maybe the day after, when she woke up from anesthesia and was finally allowed to hold the fat, hungry baby she made.
Did her heart break with every smile?  With every cry?  With every burp?  And how much did it hurt when she had to hand me back to the doctors to put me under the knife for a hernia repair?  Did it hurt less the second time 2 months later?

Did it break in the car on the way to my first day of pre-school?  Did it break even more when I screamed and cried in a fit of abandonment?  How much did it break when I presented her with my first macaroni-and-popsicle-stick sculpture?

And how much breaking in the decision to leave Ohio and move to California, to “take me away” from grandparents in order to give me a new world of ideas, experiences, and tolerance?  How many times did her heart break daily as she watched, helpless to protect me, as I learned the painful lessons that roll childhood into adultness…lessons on sunburn, bullying, honesty, accountability?  Lessons about sex and danger and responsibility?  Did it hurt to watch me shift towards independence, no longer seeking nor needing her counsel on trivial matters?  And when I made BIG life decisions without consultation or discourse?

And yet, her heart beats on.  How can this be?

This heartbreak of which I speak is different from the type explored most often in poem and song.  It does not arise from dissolution or longing or futility.  It is not steeped in agony, nor in remorse, nor grief.    This type of heartbreak is caused by a love that is strong, deep, and unremitting.  By a love I will never know – save for being on the receiving end of it.

Romantic Love breaks a heart by fracturing it, smashing it into pieces which slowly regenerate under a layer of scar tissue.  A romantic heartbreak hardens the heart.  But Mother Love breaks a heart by causing it to swell.  Mother Love expands the heart until it crushes the spine and smashes the lungs against the ribs.  Mother Love swells the heart such that it feels like it will explode. 

But it doesn’t.  It just gets bigger.  And bigger.  With the capacity for more love and more swelling and more heartbreak.  That is the magic of Mother Love. 

I love you.  Happy Birthday. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Breaking and The Healing

Today is my 28th wedding anniversary.  I have not seen nor spoken with my husband in nearly a year.

I've heard tell of marriages that end gracefully, where safe conversation supports a healthy acknowledgement of individual shortcomings that sabotage communal growth, and where each partner concedes the need to trade acute pain for chronic hope - but this was not one of those endings.  This marriage ended with angry shouts, denials of responsibility, confused motivations, and a general breakdown of communication.  Neither of us behaved elegantly.

The reasons my marriage failed are complicated and dynamic.  I suspect I will spend the rest of my life trying to understand why it didn't last and what could have been done differently (if anything) to prevent its demise.  I do not intend to discuss those reasons here, as there is no point - my position changes daily with my mood and confidence.  Cause and effect become interchangeable as I try to dissect feeling from circumstance.  I do not hold much trust in any emotion that takes up residence in my body, since I know it is soon replaced by another - sorrow, relief, guilt, shame, joy, optimism, nostalgia, anticipation, fear, fortitude.  But I don't want to discuss that because it is all very messy and personal and kind of gross and also very boring.

What is more interesting, in the most elastic definition of the word, is the external manifestations of the dissolution of an institution.  And by that, I mean the institution of 'Kevin and Audra'.  I have always known that a marriage is something larger than the mere sum of 2 individual hearts.  Man and Woman are additive and divisible back into equal parts, but Husband and Wife are multiplicative.  When you split a marriage in half, there is a rather large remainder that doesn't really belong to either integer.

When a marriage is healthy, being part of an entity that is larger than yourself is amazing.  There is a brazen sense of well being that arises from the creation of something from nothing.  There is a vitality that grows out of mutual development.  But when a marriage is unhealthy, you can feel lost in that largeness, like you are no longer even a contributor to this voracious entity that feeds ceaselessly on your own vital energy. Nonetheless, when an unhealthy marriage ends, you still feel far less than whole...far less than half...

What I failed to anticipate is just how much other people interact with the institution, as opposed to the individuals.  When I reveal the news of the break to other people - especially to other married people (happily or otherwise), I see on their faces that they are checking the details of my account against their own interactions - firstly with 'Kevin and Audra', then secondly with each of us as Kevin or as Audra.  When they are assessing the individuals, there is a degree of compassion, understanding, commiseration but when assessing the marriage as an institution, their reactions are steeped in anxiety, fear, consternation.  If we could fall - after all we have been through together -  what does it mean for them?  I sense they look at me with suspicion, as if I am a cancer that might infiltrate their own tenuous togetherness. 

2017 was a year of demolition and restoration, both emotionally and physically.  One year after being hit by a car, my leg is at about 75% of pre-break capability.  One year after breaking my vows, my heart is overflowing.  In 2018, I am looking forward to building physical strength by hiking, biking, and backpacking and to building emotional strength by doing those activities with the many warm and gracious friends who have rallied around me during this amazing and horrifying year.

Thank you, and Happy New Year. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Turn-Back Time

I sat down this morning with the intention of finally writing publicly about my crumbling marriage, but was forced to change direction when I opened my computer to the news that a friend and classmate had died.  I don't have the details.  However, there were some posts that suggested his demise may have been self-inflicted - if not intentionally, then perhaps through carelessness...such things can never be known with certainty.

I reflected, gauged my feelings, replayed our most recent interactions.  Death is somehow creepier in a time when eternal life looms large on the Internet.  Photographs have always held the magic of  capturing time and place, but the Internet preserves conversations over years in one tidy, review-able location.  It also preserves cries for help.  Indeed, the Internet itself is my primary source of  mental assistance, but this morning, I could not find a resource to help put words to the complicated emotions I am experiencing.

A few years ago, when I was candidly sharing my struggles with alcoholism and alcoholics, my friend "reached out" to me.  I put that phrase in quotes, because it needs to be set aside for further consideration.  It is a phrase that is bandied about, perhaps carelessly.  The Internet is full of advice on when and how to reach out - and what to do when someone reaches out to you.  But I couldn't quite find any answers to my most burning question - what if someone reaches out to you and you are not able to help?

In the face of epic failure, it is difficult to hold onto the conclusion that you did the best you could, difficult to not ask if you could have done more - especially if you did nothing...or very little...or feel like you did...

The most useful essay I could find discussed the importance of helping yourself before you can help someone else.  This resonated with me because I am deeply immersed in a lot of heavy problems and my focus, particularly this last year, has been on helping myself - helping myself heal, helping myself grow, and helping myself create a future.  I do this by learning and practicing skills that allow me to cope with the challenges in my life. It takes nearly all of my time and energy, which makes it easy to support the argument for not making someone else a priority.  The hypothesis of needing to be strong to lift others up lessens the guilt of inadequacy.

But what if helping yourself means pulling away when someone reaches out?

What if self-preservation means completely turning your back?

...what if I am writing about my crumbling marriage after all?

R.I.P Keith
What were you trying to tell us all with this picture??

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sixes and Threes

I had no intention of marking the 6 month anniversary, yet here I am at San Jose International Airport, unavoidably wallowing in the memories of the day that changed the course of my life. 

This morning I had a follow-up appointment with my orthopedic surgeon.  Dr Matityahu wear Dockers with sneakers, and looks like Ben Stiller.  The walls of his exam room are covered with pictures of him watching BMX riders crash their motorcycles.  When he enters a room, his cold blue eyes connect with mine in a way that seems far more practiced than authentic.  

“Wanna see your x-rays?” he asks brightly, momentarily filling me with hopefulness.  Then continuing in the same bouncy tone of voice, “Look, here, all the major cracks across the bone are still wide open, like they haven’t healed at all.  And see this wispy bit here?  That should all be thick and solid, but your bone just isn’t growing back.  How much calcium are you taking? You should probably talk to your ObGyn about osteoporosis.  And get your thyroid checked.  Make no mistake, this was a really major injury, and you’re an old lady, so you better start managing your health like one…”

“Look, I realize you went to medical school, head the orthopedic department of two hospitals, and are a published leader in your field, but my friend’s Pilates instructor says that I should be going to physical therapy 3 times a week.”

“Oh My God!  You’re right!” he said, “How could I possibly have overlooked that.  It’s a good thing your friend mentioned your case to her Pilates instructor, or you might never have walked again.” Then he wrote me a prescription for physical therapy and said to come back in 3 months.

A few hours later, I rounded the curve of Terminal A and passed through the ill-fated crosswalk where 6 months to the day – and nearly to the hour - an 82-year old woman driving a 2000 Honda Civic failed to see the flashing lights warning to watch for pedestrians and struck me just as I planted my full weight sending me cartwheeling into the air wailing in pain and breaking my left leg just below the knee.  I wish the next few hours were a blur, but I retained full consciousness for several hours, until I was finally pumped with enough morphine, dilaudid, and codeine to put me to something resembling sleep. 

And so I remember every bump and bruise of being strapped onto a board and lifted into an ambulance, every question and comment from the med tech with horrible halitosis, every stop and start of the rush-hour ride to Regional Medical Center, every humorless joke and half-hearted apology from the ER nurses who finally brought me ice chips, and every scream and curse as I was wrestled in and out of CT scanners. 

Yet all of that pales in comparison to the cumulative pain that lead to the even bigger break that occurred 3 months later, but that is a story for another time. 

Here in the present, things really aren’t quite as dire as cheery Dr Matityahu would make it seem.  I make progress every few days – then I slide backwards for a day or two.  I can walk several hundred yards without my crutches, but I look like a drunk toddler.  I have been out and about on my new bicycle – and oh but that feels like freedom! – but then I have to lay on the couch for a day to recover.  I am excited about the future, even though I am forced to take life one day at a time for now…at least for the next 3 months.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I Don't Practice Santeria...

...oh, wait...yes, I do...

This little leg trinket came from a curio shop in Cabo San Lucas.  I found it in a cabinet filled with similar trinkets - arms, hands, hearts, livers...charms for whatever body part is ailing.  I bought it for Kevin when he broke his leg, but he wasn't amused by my whimsical medical superstitions.

My shabby Spanish was not entirely adequate to receive the instructions that came with the talisman when I purchased it, but I was clear that the wearing of it is meant to corral energies (or maybe spirits, but whatever) to help me heal. I found it when I came home from the hospital.

Yesterday, the leg was gone.

I felt sure that this was a good sign, that it signifies the end of this chapter.  A punctuation mark of sorts.  Evidently, the Universe knows more than I do, because I most certainly do not feel fully healed. At least not physically.  

But my emotional health is ready to run marathons...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

50 Shades of Pain

My mother once told me that the Inuit have 50 words for snow, each describing subtle defining characteristics of various states of snow.  I need at least twice that many words for the amazing variety of pain I experience on a daily (and nightly) basis.

To be sure twinge, ache, throb, sting, burn, and tingle are all lovely words.  I am intimately acquainted with each of them.  I invoke them daily.  However, I need terms that convey far more complex sensations than any of those found in your typical thesaurus.  I've never been very clever when it comes to inventions, so perhaps my kind readers can help me come up with new words that capture the following experiences:

1) Elephants wearing crampons are river dancing on the superior surface of my tibia.

2) Fire-breathing termites are eating the flesh from behind my knee-cap.  They pee sulfuric acid.

3) Someone smacked my knee with a cactus paddle dipped in Ghost chili extract.

4)  Try-outs for the worlds tiniest Bruce Lee look-alike are being held deep within my bone marrow.

5) The feeling you get when your calf muscle suddenly turns inside-out.

6) X-wing pilots and tie fighters are suddenly cooperating and firing lasers at my meniscus.

7) That thing from alien has latched onto my knee and is injecting an embryo behind my patella.

Fortunately, these sensations are as short-lived as they are intense and sudden - which is to say that I might be gurgling away happily one moment then spewing a non-ending eruption of nonsensical expletives, even though outwardly, nothing has changed.  It's actually rather extraordinary, to experience such spontaneous generation of sensation

 Perhaps Spanish is a more efficient than English*, but as far as I can recall, there is only one word for pain in Spanish.   And I clearly remember how I learned it.  When Kevin was being processed through the nightmarish wards of the public hospital in Mexico, every single staff member asked him "?Tiene Dolor?"  I don't know why they bothered to ask if he had pain, when they absolutely no intention nor ability to do anything about it.  I guess they are just a curious people and a crying man with limbs jutting in inappropriate directions presented a mystery that required further investigation.

*Of course, it is also possible that I am mostly ignorant of advanced Spanish vocabulary and I couldn't be arsed to look up dolor in a Spanish Thesaurus - which I only assume exists...

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Week 7 Update

Not much to report, really.  Today's x-rays show strong evidence that the bone is filling in as it should, the hardware has remained perfectly in-place, and that all is well with the dimensions of the joint - meaning I should be spared the garish limp that once got Kevin cut off at a pub before he'd even had one sip.  I am still not allowed to put ANY weight on the leg for another 6 weeks (so I am still off work) I was cautioned against excessive use in order to give the meniscus plenty of time to re-seat, so no working out on the stationary bike or vacuuming.  I am allowed to swim (without kicking), and I was given the all-clear to fly.

Speaking of flying and swimming, my most wonderful and darling friend is giving me the run of his luxury high-rise condo in Miami for 10 days of blissfully healing warm air and soothing sub-tropical humidity!  Although Kevin keeps the wood stove a-blazin', the chill and gloom of winter in Shingletown is beginning to dampen my spirits.  When my friend offered his flat (and by offered, I mean said yes when I begged), I felt like I was given a new lease on hope, something to liven up daydreams, which have lately been confined to wondering what I might eat for dinner.  Of course, I will still wonder what's for dinner in Miami, but I will be wearing far less clothing while I do it sitting by the pool and my options will be much expanded to include Cuban sandwiches and Stone Crab.

Speaking of Shingletown dining options - my fantabulous work-mates chipped in and organized a huge delivery of fun food-stuffs from Trader Joes, which has turned out to be a wonderful life saver on stormy nights when inspiration and raw ingredients are in short supply.  They also sent me some meals from Blue Apron - which should arrive today - I'll report back later on that experience.

Oh wait - hang on, I think FedEx just knocked on the door...I'll be right back.

Hey, here's a bit of fun:

Just in time - my tummy is grumbling.