Please Come Back

​Six years later and I still have anxiety whenever someone I love leaves me for anywhere, for any amount of time.  Please be safe, I whisper.  Please don’t go.  

Six years later and I still have to practice breathing again whenever I hear an ambulance siren.  Whenever I drive by a crash.  Whenever I hear of a horror.  If my daughter, 700 miles away does not immediately respond to our group texts with me and my other children, I have a creeping panic until she writes, “Omg, Mom.  I’m in class.”  Even when I know for sure she’s in class.

Six years later and I hate winter.  I hate its lifelessness, its starkness, its death and especially its darkness.  I’m frightened of the dark now.  Of the panic attacks and the memories and the embers of the shattered dreams that glow in the darkness.

Six years later and I love to excess, smothering excess.  Six years later and I am cold as fuck.  The same heart that burns like wildfire is walled in ice, ferociously protective of those already inside, dispassionately protective of itself.  Six years later and still I’m terrified of what’s to come and who’s to go and where we will all be in the next six years.  

My oldest daughter suffers many of the same anxieties.  She faces them.  I hide from them.   I hide behind my keyboard.  I hide in destructive relationships where screaming is the norm because screaming at least allows me to feel something.  I hide in denial from myself.  My daughter accused me a month or so ago of transferring all my anxiety to my house as I, room by room, made excessive changes.  Ripping out carpets, redoing floors.  Buying new furniture and new throw rugs and lamps and a new washer and dryer and a car.  Repairing unused patios and lights and tossing memories out in the dumpster.  

 You’re going crazy, she told me.  You aren’t happy.  I argued with her then.  I told her I was so very happy.  Look at me!  I’m so happy!  I’m finally concentrating on something else besides just caring for Damon; I’m making my surroundings beautiful and colorful and bright.  What gives you the right to tell me I’m not happy?  

Concentrate on yourself, she answered quietly.  You are concentrating on everything but you.

You need to care for yourself like you care for Damon.

I laughed at her. I rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of what she was saying.  But I began to question. I questioned more a few days later when someone, a total stranger, said he saw a deep sadness in me, making him want to make me happy. I smiled sweetly. I took his offered arm and used it to push him away. 

By the time my daughter left to go back to her apartment, I knew she was right.  

Six years later and I work up the courage to look in the mirror. Six years of too much sadness and too many deaths pounding on a psyche already injured from years of emotional abuse has left me broken.

I know I need to make changes.  I know I am stagnating.  I must face the fact that I am not immortal, and can’t merely keep putting one foot in front of the other to only survive each day. I will need to take an active role in my own life.  

As I gaze at my reflection I realize I don’t just miss that girl who disappeared six years ago, but the one who disappeared many, many years before that.  The girl who had no story.  The girl who was able to twirl, unhinged, like a ballerina and throw caution to the wind.  And live.  

I need to bring her back, whatever it takes.  I need to bring her back. 

Six years later and I must now endure another crash, but this one inside my head and my heart. A complete demolition.  I know I have to break down before I build up. I need to rip apart that diseased part of my mind that is too frightened to move on. I know I need to tell the whole story.  I know I must face truths that are uncomfortable. I know I will leave some destruction in my path, and as a tornado doesn’t wait around to clean up its mess, I will not hang around to clean up the toxicity I toss out of my life.  

I know the people who love me will continue to love me and I know my inner circle is all I really need.  I know my Facebook friends are like ghosts I can put my hand through; they do not really even exist.  It doesn’t matter what they think any more. I write for me.

Six years later and I now know I need to care for two people going forward, not just one. I may never rid myself of my acquired anxieties, but I need to take care of them, not hide from them, with the same compassion and gentle understanding, love, and patience I use to take care of Damon. 

For six years I have been on my own form of life support, but the equipment has been flawed, and I have been barely breathing.  I know I must breathe again totally on my own…deep, deep breaths that fill up my lungs and make me giddy with too much oxygen.  I know I must grasp tightly onto offered fleeting moments of happiness, of truths, of passion, of goodness because without them my soul will completely wither away.  

Six years later and I know I somehow have to make this journey.

Stay safe, I whisper to myself.  Please come back.
 

In Response to Another Heartbroken Mother

 

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Photo credit http://www.thehopeline.com

No it’s not fair. It’s not what you wanted. It’s not how your life should be. You ache all the time. Physically and emotionally. And the pain never goes away. People are there for you at first, but they go on with their own lives because of course they can, and that’s ok, but it hurts when they forget you and it hurts worse when they judge you later…your decisions and your choices…. from their pedestal of normalcy.

No matter how close they once were to you, even family members, they will never fathom your life and how affected you are by the day to day to day, and they will never see that your smile has dimmed and your heart always hurts. They will judge you as though you are the same you, the you you once were, or judge you as if they were in your shoes – which they are not because they cannot even imagine the horror and the hope, and God willing, never will. They convince themselves that you are the same, but you are changed and they are not.   How dare they judge the you who you are now?  The you who is crumbing inside. How dare they question your behavior in a life for which nobody is ever equipped to handle?

You smile and say I’m fine because you don’t want to burden them with the burden you live.  And they accept that you are fine because you say so and they don’t question your fineness because then they may have to deal with it, so they think of you as fine.  And by thinking of you as fine they feel the right to judge you as if you were fine, so they make no provisions for the you who is not at all fine.  They give you no leeway, instead they walk away and talk away and stop calling because you are no longer fun or interesting or the life of the party.

And you hurt more and feel more and think more.  You see hate and unkindness and it affects you more deeply because you live day to day with the reminder of the fragility of life. Their actions stab you in a heart that’s already broken.  A heart that’s already bitter.  Their stabs, although pinpricks compared to the original slashing, renew your pain and remind you all over again that your life is so different and not at all what you expected it to be.

But you will meet others.  You meet others who feel, who didn’t know you then and can accept you now. You now being the only you they’ll ever know.  So many will lift you up and make you laugh and will truly want to know the you behind the mask of “I’m fine”.  You will see the good of humanity as in the time the small white guy and the large black guy took it completely upon themselves, not knowing you or each other, and stopped the flow of mob traffic leaving the concert, so your child could exit in his wheelchair, the littler guy ahead tapping shoulders to move out of the way, the bigger one clearing the path right in front of you, making you feel like a running back with the best blockers in the business.  You will feel the smiles of humanity when someone takes the time to stop you and ask for your story, not afraid to hear the truth, and then hugs you because no words are ever enough.  You will feel the good as you’ve never know it to exist. And this is what you need to concentrate on.  What you need to believe in.

The goodness. The light.  The hope.  And the love.  Especially the love.  It still exists in your new world, but to see it you need to feel it, you need to open yourself up to it and try to dilute the bitterness of how you feel, of what you feel.  You need to let go of that other life, hard as it is, because that other life is nothing more than a memory and no longer can exist for you.  You need to let go of the people who let go of you and let go of the old dreams and the old plans for a future that has drastically changed.  You need to somehow accept.  To somehow move on.  To somehow move forward and create new dreams and a new life and look at a new future.  You need to make the new future sweet and beautiful and, although different, not any less.

You need to believe that you can still be happy in your new sadness.  You can find laughter while in pain and you can find love within the heartbreak.  Take one small step today toward something, anything, that makes you feel better.  It will take you many steps and many days and many months and maybe years to reach a new happy, but if you look for it, and walk toward it, it will be there.

No.  It’s not fair that you need to reconstruct and recreate your dreams.  But it’s possible.  And that’s what matters.

You’ll be fine.

Driving in Reverse

jeepride

For a split second, in my mind, he was not quite seventeen yet. For a split second, as the wind whipped through our hair and the music blasted and the sun beat down through the open roof, I was sent back to that summer before it happened, that summer of happy, when he was just a beginning driver and the Jeep was only six months old, and dreams were alive and opportunities were endless and his future was wide open and we were all free and everything was perfectly fine.

For a split second I forgot that it had just taken three people to physically lift him inside his Jeep and place him gently onto the passenger seat, adjusting his legs and his arms because he couldn’t do it himself. I forgot that I wasn’t sitting next to him because I was teaching him how to drive. I forgot that I was driving because he couldn’t, and I forgot that he probably wouldn’t ever sit behind his steering wheel, again.

I forgot that all our lives were now shattered.

As we drove, that entire three-and-a-half-year-heart-wrenching-span-of-time since the accident just seemingly blew out the windows and swirled with the dust particles that had been sitting inside the Jeep for the same amount of time, and then disappeared.

The heartbreak, the grief, the dread, the denial, the refusal to believe what the doctors told us, the twenty-four-hour-a-day care, and the total exhaustion. None of it existed in that split second.  Time rewound in sync with our distance and speed, and we drove faster and further away from the present.

As I navigated the roads, he adjusted the volume on the country music stations I had taught him to listen to and love so many years ago. He turned it louder and louder with his one good hand, and as he sat back and listened to his favorite songs he watched the old familiar roads and the scenery, the scenery he can’t usually see from his perch high up in the wheelchair van.  I knew how happy he was to be in his Jeep with the top off and the hot wind in his face, and my heart became lighter than air but full of something so much heavier.

I turned slightly toward him, and as I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye I pretended he was no longer disabled.  In my mind, then, he was fully abled. He was strong and tanned. He was sitting tall without slumping, without any form of assistance. He was all that a carefree teenage boy with a new Jeep and a new license should be.

I fully turned and looked into those beautiful blue eyes and I saw him smile. From my vantage point I could only see one side of his smile, so to me that smile seemed perfectly symmetrical and the muscles on both sides of his face gave the illusion of working together.   And as he smiled, I laughed. I laughed as untroubled and easily as I always used to laugh when I was with him in his Jeep going anywhere.  And I laughed until I began to cry.

How often had I begged to no one in particular in the dark hours of the night when my heart screamed with the pain of losing the boy I knew….how often had I begged and offered my soul to whomever might want it, for one more chance to be with him as he was before his accident?

“Please let me go back, just one more time.” 

On that day, in that moment, as the dirt roads passed under his Jeep, we drove forward but time somehow reversed.  I knew I had been granted that wish of reliving a memory with the boy I once had. Not just in my mind or in pictures or dreams.  This memory was real enough that I could feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my shoulders.  I could smell the fresh cut grass and the wild flowers as we drove through the fields.  I could reach out and squeeze the hand of the boy sitting next to me in the passenger seat, and he could squeeze back.   I could taste the joy and wild freedom from so long ago, now so lost.

For a split second, I went back to the time before time stopped.