That my writing is now available to eyes unscreened is quite possibly the most exposed feeling I’ve known. I have boxes of spiral note books, beautifully bound blank journals purchased that always lived in the same hiding place until they were filled, post its of thoughts I later developed into short stories, poetry, collections of poignant words describing overwhelming grief or overflowing joy, letters to people I never intended to send. I have written for so long, that sitting behind a screen and hitting “publish” is akin to an artist full of nerves and notes going on stage for the first time. This fact, I have determined, with grit and commitment, will not alter the rawness of my words. I refuse to dilute what my heart is cracking to unburden. So, as I begin entry number two for you, the world, as many or as few who find it, I will share uncensored content of the outlet that has often kept my sanity, soothed my dis-ease and brought clarity in uncertain times. Also, the topic I believe I am sitting down to develop often morphs organically, and I find I have written about a memory, feeling, an event that wasn’t even on my mind when I sat down to write. Today is one of those times.
Often, it truly is us against the world. And after it is all said and done…we are OK. If that sounds trite, I’ll tell you about December 17th, 2015. My yellow lab, 10 year old Thor, was 3 weeks post op with over 150 stitches on his torso following a malignant tumor removal. He hadn’t eaten since the surgery, but, being told this is wasn’t uncommon, to keep him hydrated and continue bringing him in for bandage changes and incision checks, I followed instructions and, just as they’d said, he kept holding on. “Everything looks great,” they said. It wasn’t long until Thor’s new life was routine appointments and lots of TLC when suddenly life tapped me on the shoulder, reminding me that nothing stops anything, and my daughter developed acute tonsillitis, so severe, the doctor gave her multiple medications just to open her breathing pathway enough so he could operate. All the drugs failed. The swelling continued. They had to risk the operation without their comfort of diminished swelling, I was equally afraid of asking and knowing why they were so concerned with the excessive swelling. Breath. Breathing. That simple act we too often take without deliberation or gratitude. They were prepared for a tracheotomy should her oxygen saturation drop significantly during what should have been a routine procedure. In the waiting room, I caught myself in an audible, exasperated exhale. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. A breath for her. A breath for me. A breath for all the weary faces surrounding me. I scanned the sterile room filled with dozens of identical chairs, burnt orange with light wood frames, a busily patterned carpet designed to hide the wear and tear of foot traffic that led from our “No entry” threshold into our holding area, where, thousands of times before, “they” would come out with the briefest of updates, leaving more questions than answers. Silk plants, magazines, horrible art, all placed about the area in an attempt to soften the environment while we all waited and our love manifested as worry, tears, fear… as loved ones awkwardly and urgently searched for the hand of the one next to them while the other hand blotted a damp face. Finally, my daughter’s surgeon burst past the threshold into my holding area, sat and said, “She did great.” Tears. “She is having some difficulty coming out of the anesthesia, but nothing to cause concern. It’s not uncommon.” Like, what? What is happening to her? When can I see her? “Well, involuntary muscle contractions; they can appear seizure-like and once they stop, we’ll have you right back there with her.” And, with a smile, he was gone. At home, my dog, also recovering from surgery, was alone. I felt alone. My daughter…she was alone. When you most need to be in the physical space of the ones you love, sometimes the cruel truth is, “You can’t. Not now. Not yet.” Another hour passed. A nurse came out for me and said I could come back. I entered quietly. She was sleeping, a large plastic mask covering her face as humidified O2 encircled her nose and mouth. Tubes. Needles. Beeping noises, blood pressure cuffs. I stared a moment, then touched her hair. This was my 6th surgery between two kids. This should feel more natural by now. I fell apart. It was a tonsillectomy, granted a complicated one, but a tonsillectomy. And, I was falling apart. I sat and watched her sleep until her eyes finally, with great strain, opened slightly, and closed. Several times, as I stroked her hair, she sought to make sense of her surroundings, and with a nonverbal facial expression, she rolled her head toward me, relaxed the muscles in her mouth, eyes, forehead… and took a deep breath, as if to say, “It’s over, I’m ok, I love you.” Later when I told her this, she said she remembered thinking exactly those 3 things and not much else. Another 2 hours, with rather extensive do’s and don’ts, we were discharged, driving home in a Colorado blizzard. I had her space prepared before we went to the hospital. I had the jello, the ice cream, applesauce, broth, the cold gel packs, the extra pillows on the bed, the remote on her night stand…but, when I walked her into our house, her arm around my neck, mine around her waist, she broke free from my support before we made it to her bedroom. She didn’t see Thor. The extra big, cushy bed we’d made for him was empty. With me now two steps behind her, and trying to catch up, she’d found our Thor barely warm, not breathing, on the cold tile in the bathroom. He was gone. Her body went limp over his and she cried. I cried. And, we sobbed for the last time on that precious animal’s back. He’d been with us through some dark, dark days. And, more than a few all-nighters. Not the best insertion of a detail so monumental, but, it will be expounded upon at a later time…Forty-four days prior, I buried my dad. Thor’s surgery had to wait when we got the call that my dad had died. In true domino fashion, Lindsey’s then mildly irritated tonsils waited after we flew home from the funeral and launched into doing all we could to save Thor’s life. Too much loss. Too close together. And, we had yet to pick up the phone and schedule a check up for a sore throat. She protested and I didn’t push the issue. It could wait while we lost all semblance of order over the loss of my dad, her papaw. While we fretted and babied our lab through his recovery. In that moment, watching my daughter, 19, who’d known more of her life with this dog than without, sob those eerie sounds that carry the very weight of pain, itself, I questioned everything. My dad was gone. My dog was gone. My daughter was now bleeding badly from a 4 hour old surgery. The tears and the blood and the loss wouldn’t stop. Call it panic, call it stress, call it an involuntary physical reaction from all things happening at once, but, for the first time in my life, I threw up from sheer stress. From the whole world closing in on me, on us. And, I couldn’t stop it. Just like I couldn’t stop that damn blizzard outside. I despise snow. I do. I despised that I couldn’t call my dad and ask him what to do. I despised that I couldn’t keep my dog alive. I despised that I couldn’t even make my kid comfortable after a $140 trip to Walgreens to purchase every imaginable post-op aid. I despised that I had to hit pause to throw up. In the moments following, I just remember mental chaos. Thor had to be taken to the vet for cremation. Lindsey had to get into bed immediately. I had to pull it together. It is at exactly these times that we find our drawstring. Like raking the brown leaves that no longer shade us and getting the last few into the enormous black bag, we pull the drawstring and somehow contain what had accumulated and littered our entire landscape…another season passed, the death of last springs promising buds, the acceptance required to get through this life on the rare days when everything happens at once. When blood, and tears, and puke and loss make a mess of all that was beautiful, you fall apart, and, somehow, the bleeding stops, the tears dry, the heaving ceases, and you find the drawstring. And the rake. And, you are OK.