Three Words.

My mom grew up in a household where “I love you” was not frequently said. Hugs were an anomaly. Her parents, for the most part,  did not take great interest in her activities. Perhaps this standoffish approach is a generational thing. My mom’s parents are very, very old (87 and 91). Maybe something about growing up in rural central Utah during the 20s and early 30s resulted in non-touchy-feely personalities that are quick to argue and slow to express affection. Perhaps my grandparents were just tired, when my mom came along. They were 42 and 45 when she, the youngest of six…spanned over 19 years, was born. Whatever the cause, my mom vowed to be the antithesis of her parents. That is, to be hands-on; to express affection; to support her children in their activities; to tell her children that she loves them.

In many ways, my mother is indeed the antithesis of hers. My grandmother is a post-WWII era housewife: quiet, submissive, passive-aggressive, OCD. From what recollections I have of my parents’ marriage, my mother was an equal partner. Decisions were made together. My mother was the assertive one. She may have acquired some of her mother’s preoccupations with a clean house, but she doesn’t scrub floors with toothbrushes. My mother has also gone out of her way to support me and my siblings in our extracurricular endeavors. She has attended numerous soccer and basketball games, swim meets, piano recitals, band and choir concerts, plays, marching band competitions, awards nights, and more. She reads my papers when I need another set of eyes to look at them. My mom is my oldest friend. Even after a yelling match, she hugs me and says “I love you.”

I don’t doubt it.

There are many ways in which I am different from my mother. There are many ways in which we are the same. I am a unique hybrid of her and where-on-earth-did-this-come-from-?. We are both loyal, almost to a fault. We firmly believe what we believe, though we believe in different things; our belief systems guide all our actions, and we are eager to share what we know to be true with those we encounter. We are criers. We think the solution to a crappy day involves Nora Ephron movies and chocolate and Redvines. If that doesn’t work, it is naptime. We believe in telling the people who matter to us that they do, indeed, matter to us. We see healing power in a perfectly-golden grilled cheese sandwich. We know how important the words “I love you” are.

Somewhere between the importance of Dr. Pepper and classic rock.

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“Little”

My “little” brother is leaving. I give him a hug as he walks out the door and I tell him to let me know if he wants company when he goes downtown. “I’ll probably just go tomorrow.” I feel something inside me drop. My heart. My stomach. Something vital and resembling an organ. “But we should do something anyway.” And my insides return to their positions, once again.

My “little” brother is leaving. And all I can think about is how to not let my existence increase everyone else’s burden. I want to tackle him to the ground, pin him down, tell him I should have tied a brick to his head so he stopped growing up so fast. I want to tell him how I don’t know if I’m going to make it through these two years. I want to tell him that even though things will be different when he gets home, I will always love him. And I hope he will always love me.

My “little” brother is leaving. Tears well up in my eyes every time I think about it for too long and, even now, my tear ducts prove to be in working condition.

My “little” brother is leaving, and I want to apologize for every time I did something that made him feel little. And I want to apologize for every time someone told him he had to be a man when he was still a boy. And I want him to know that despite the resemblance, he is his own person — he should grow up to be himself, and no one else. And I want him to know that whatever he grows into, while he is gone, I will still expect a hug when he comes home.

My “little” brother is leaving. And I feel so…little. I know that I grew up too fast, but I wanted him in Neverland forever. I wanted to be the first to leave so I did not have to cope with being left behind. I wanted to scout out what is ahead, and send word back. Be the big sister. Look out for him. I wanted more time.

But people tell me that is just part of life: wanting more time. Wanting something does not make it so.

So. I wish you well, little brother.

Love, Me

Cultivation: A Lesson in Patience.

I am sitting in Jennifer’s backyard, watching him dig. He is creating a garden. For weeks, there have been soda bottles and gallon-sized jugs and plastic cups filled with dirt and seedlings. Tomatoes. Melons. Peppers. Beans and peas in what used to be egg cartons. He transplanted a blackberry bush into a pot, last night, with the intent of taking it with him when he moves to the north pole in little over a year.

He has been talking to the worms, telling them to hide from the robin who will bring his friends and swoop in for some grub.

He’s a good soul.

And I am amazed at his patience. His excitement over the prospect of how beautiful the garden will be in a few months, his willingness to pull rotted roots from the ground, haul rocks, rake and sift through the dirt. I can’t help but wonder if that is how he thought of me, when we first became friends. The crazy girl in an abusive relationship with an anxiety problem and suicidal tendencies. Worth the work, because there is the possibility of beauty and goodness. Maybe. Doubtful, but maybe.

I think he’s just a good person.

But he takes pride in his work, and it makes me smile to see him giddy at the sight of new seedlings sprouting in the kitchen or to listen to him talk excitedly about how the dirt isn’t as bad as he thought it was going to be.

I want to have a window box where I grow herbs. I want to get as excited about growing something as Jennifer is. I want something to nurture.

We’ll see. I am not as patient as he is.

Dr. Win , Medicine-Person.

Today, progress was made. I’m all about progress.

So, few months back, I was referred to a neurologist by my primary care physician, also known as my most favoritest person in the world ever. *cough cough* The first appointment available for me to see this neurologist character was today. So, at 7 o’clock this morning, I rolled off of my mother’s couch, showered, and made my merry way to the neurologist’s office.

So, until this past November, I had been under the impression that the medical field performed certain functions, namely:

  1. To hypothesis a diagnosis, based on symptoms/medical history/risk factors/environmental components
  2. To test for proposed diagnoses
  3. To create a plan of action with the patient, in order to treat — the intention being to restore the patient to as close to good health as can be managed
  4. To counsel patient
  5. To listen to patient concerns, and set at ease the mind of the patient, as much as possible.

Yes. This was my utopian vision of the medical world, previous to November and the Freezing of My Face. (Momentous event. Definitely deserves caps.) Much to my chagrin, my interactions with the medical world thereafter shattered this idyllic image.

And then today happened.

The neurologist asked me questions about my symptoms, my family health history, how my family manages health problems, my lifestyle, my medical treatment thus far, and what my expectations are, concerning treatment. I responded, and was probed for elaboration. This took up almost half an hour. Before today, but since the Freezing of My Face, doctors had not asked me many questions, and did not seek elaboration on any answers I offered up.

Then there was the revelation: my primary care physician is a moron. Why? Because PCP told me I had mono, when the blood test for mono came back negative. The neurologist was confused as to how anyone, let alone someone with medical training, could misread the results and interpret EBV — NEGATIVE as meaning “Ohp, she has mono.” But, whatevs. Neurologist recommended I switch PCPs, and recommended one to me.

Then there was the exam. Actual poking and prodding.  At which point an apology was made for having to repeat tests the PCP had done — minus the part where PCP had done no such tests. Neurologist looked puzzled, because the tests were basic reflex things that can help rule out MS. The results are that I most likely don’t have MS, but we’re getting an MRI anyway.

That’s right. An MRI. THE VERY FIRST TEST THAT SOMEONE SAID I SHOULD HAVE DONE. Four point five months later, voila. And how long am I going to wait before I get an MRI? One week. I could have gotten in on Tuesday, but I’ll be in Disneyland. 🙂 That same Thursday, I get to have my nerves shocked and my muscles poked with a big needle, to rule out other neuropathies. And then I have an appointment with my shiny new PCP, who can hopefully read paperwork.

Then there was discussion of treating me, instead of treating five billion different little symptoms. Talk of multiple approaches, from lifestyle changes to medication to physical therapy to counseling to having an open mind and a positive attitude–all integral to becoming healthy, even if the new-fangled healthy Me might be in pain the rest of her life. In the past, I have been treated as a drug-seeker, and any treatment plan after imaging and blood work ruled out initial diagnoses consisted of a phone call from a medical assistant. “Welp. We dunno what’s wrong with you. Have a nice life.”

On top of that, other specialists I may need to see were contacted while I was in the office. Appointments were made. A follow-up visit was scheduled with the neurologist, in order to check up on me and see what progress is being made, regardless of what the MRI or shocking/poking tests are going to reveal.

And then there was the part where I was taken seriously. As though I am a person with a desire to feel whole and healthy again, and not a small child who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Progress is being made.

Read Some Books.

I used to love to read. So much so, in fact, that I majored in reading things. I mean, c’mon. Literary Studies. Fancy words for “reading really cool stuff.” And it isn’t that I don’t love reading, anymore. It is just a different sort of love. Sort of a compulsion to break ideas down into their basest components, examine them, put them all back together, and see what new ideas have been created in that process. I no longer read for the sake of enjoyment, if enjoyment is not to include masochism.

But I often think about what I read when I liked reading. And what I read that brought me to love reading. And how I love the things I’ve read because of what they’ve shown me about living in this complicated world of ours.

So, I’ve compiled a list, or two, of books that brought me to where I am now. (It is Spring Break. I am making to-do lists every ten minutes, so the brain is in listing-mode. My apologies. But then, no apologies, because I like lists.)

Stories I read when I was little that made me love reading:

  1. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. I think my dreams of travelling the globe began with Madeline. She wasn’t scared of anything, and I thought that was so cool. Plus, she lived in an old house covered in vines. What isn’t to love about old houses covered in vines?
  2. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. I didn’t realize how much I loved this story until I went to Boston. In the public garden, they have statues of the mother and the ducklings from this story. I cried when I saw them.
  3. What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss. My FAVORITE Dr. Seuss story. Which is saying something, because I love Dr. Seuss. Aside from learning to love rhyme and the ability to create new words and phrases, I loved how each conflict ended in reconciliation. Someone vowed to take care of the truffula seed. The Sneetches with or without stars upon thars became friends. And people decided that it didn’t matter if you ate your bread butter-side up or butter-side down. But this story was my favorite. I’ve always been easy to scare; a worrier; a paranoid. But this story reassured me that sometimes we just need to get to know the things we are afraid of, in order to realize how irrational our fear is.
  4. King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood. Sometimes, you have to join in the crazy. Embrace people in all their eccentricities. Like King Bidgood. Other times, you have to be the one to sneakily pull the plug–because it’s time for bed. Also, I love most everything by Audrey and Don Wood.
  5. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. I still cite this story when I’m having an especially awful day. My desire to flee the country when things get tough probably came from reading this book. But it puts into perspective how everyone has tough days. Even in Australia.
  6. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I have yet to see this movie, because I am worried it will ruin the book for me. But Max taught me that no matter where I go, it is always nice to come home again.
  7. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. I have this need to “sign off” when the day is over. I have to say goodnight to people. Oftentimes Jennifer is said people. But, it helps me to calm down. To end my day by wishing someone well for the night. This book is to blame for that.
  8. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. The power of positive thinking. I don’t buy into it as much anymore, but I still find myself saying “I know I can” when things have been really rough and I need that extra push to get over the hill.
  9. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault. This is how I learned the alphabet. Well. This and Barney and Friends. He’s a dinosaur sensation. Don’t judge me. Anywho. Alphabet.
  10. Corduroy by Don Freeman. Even if you’re missing a button, you deserve love.

Books and things I have read throughout my life that have made me love reading:

  1. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. I got the first book for my 8th birthday. It had only been out in the US for 9 months. I fell in love with Hermione, and also somewhat with Harry, and so I hopped on the roller coaster that was the entire series. But this is still one of my favorite literary experiences.
  2. His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman. This is how I came to love dystopian fiction. It took me ten years to finish the trilogy, but I did it. And I love the way Pullman makes you rethink what we call God’s word, and shows how this line of thinking isn’t toxic…unlike C.S. Lewis and those who don’t fall in line for the cause of Aslan.
  3. The Giver by Lois Lowry. Another dystopian piece. Let us think about memories, and how important it is to remember where we come from.
  4. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. My favorite novel. From Billy Pilgrim’s adventures being unstuck in time to the narrator’s description of the bombing of Dresden…this book changed my life in ways I cannot convey. I think I owe my academic preoccupations to this piece.
  5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. A dear, dear friend gave this to me, just weeks before I graduated from high school. It is heartwrenching and beautiful.
  6. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I read this on assignment for my Honors English class, junior year of high school. I always believed that literature had prophetic properties, but that belief was reinforced by this novel. Now it is less of a belief in prophecy, and more a profound respect for those who can observe the workings of the structure they have been in and predict accurately where things are headed. Regardless. Paton does some great work in this novel.
  7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. SO many people interpret dystopian literature as the nay-saying against communism or godlessness. I have always just seen it as arguing against totalitarianism of any sort, or fundamentalism in any regard. But Atwood’s world illustrates a system that is more within our grasp than Huxley’s or Orwell’s, and more sinister in many respects. I hope to someday teach a course on dystopian fiction, and this will definitely be on the syllabus.
  8. The Midnighters series by Scott Westerfeld. The same person who wrote Uglies and its sequels. Major guilty pleasure. I loved the idea of an alternate dimension. People with different powers. Creatures for whom multiples of 13 are kryptonite. I read these while my friends were reading the Twilight series. (To be fair, I read all but the last book in the Twilight series. I just liked The Midnighters better.)
  9. Richard III by William Shakespeare. I was six years old (not exaggerating) when I read my first Shakespeare play. As You Like It. I thought it was boring, but I kept reading the Bard’s works anyway. In second grade, I recited the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet for show-and-tell. Now you know why I have so few friends. As time went on, I became more involved in theatre. I learned to love Shakespeare by performing his pieces and approaching the text as an actor, rather than a reader. The last Shakespearean piece I performed, as a solo actor and not as part of an ensemble, was a monologue from Queen Margaret in Richard III. I read the play after I had performed my monologue and fell in love with Richard’s lines. Such an eloquent villain. I still have great respect for people who can write villains that I love to hate.
  10. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I don’t believe in “aha!” moments, but I sometimes have them anyway. I was sitting in my Introduction to Literary Criticism class, part deux. Retaking classes has been a habit of mine, because I have a tendency to break down partway through the semester and then never show up to class again. Anyway. I was sitting in Intro to Lit Crit and I read on the syllabus that we were to read Hemingway. It was a summer class, so there were only 7 weeks in the semester. However, Hemingway was the only non-theoretical text we were reading. “How the hell are we supposed to focus on one novel for 7 weeks?” I thought, and then later asked Jennifer. But I started in on my first Hemingway. I was only two chapters in when I felt this feeling of contentedness settle over me. It was through Hemingway that I found myself committing to English as my primary discipline. He holds a special place in my heart.

And now that I have sufficiently bored you with the listing of things I have loved reading, I am going to return to Supernatural before sorting laundry, and watching Slavery by Another Name. Heavier things.

Now, go away. Read some books.

In Stereo.

Somedays it is all I can do to keep from bursting. I feel…that’s just it. I feel. Everything. So intensely that being conscious is a burden and sleeping is a piss-poor respite. I’m learning things. I love the sound of breathing. Listening to someone inhale, and then exhale, as they sleep. Me, brain moving at mach 5 and hyper-aware of every sound. Car doors slamming. Footsteps. Doors opening and closing. Cursing from neighbors. Rain on the windowpane. Everything in stereo, and I don’t know how to tell it to be quiet without also disturbing the music–inhale, and then exhale. I’m learning that loving and being in love are not the same thing. I don’t know if I believe in being in love. But I believe in loving. And I’m so full of feeling that I might burst. I just want to give and give and give until there’s nothing left…and maybe then I can learn to take some for myself. To ask. To nuance. Maybe then I will be healed, and whole, and I can listen to the breathing, the music, without panicking that it is only a matter of time before it goes away again and I am left alone, in silence.

Sob Story.

Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Technically it was yesterday. But, I haven’t slept yet. So, it’s still today.

I won’t go into all the details. Something about the possibility of being kicked out, mixed with a 16-hour panic attack, mixed with midterms, mixed with the inability to focus because of the pain, which is exacerbated by the anxiety, which is exacerbated by the insomnia, which is exacerbated by midterms and the possibility of being kicked out.

So, earlier this evening, I hopped in my car and headed north. I called my mom, and asked if I could come hang out for a few hours. Aaaaand…I promptly broke down and sobbed my way through a five-minute phone conversation. Mom told me to come on over.

I probably should have been doing homework. But, I couldn’t think straight and I knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything accomplished if I just went home and stared at my computer screen. So, I drove to my mom’s house so I could get in a good venting session and get a therapeutic hug or two.

When I was a teenager, I never imagined my relationship with my mom would be like this. I remember so much fighting between us, and I just wanted my mom to have my back. Then again, my relationship with my mom has always been like this, and she has always been the only person to have my back.

It’s been a rough go. I’ve seen a lifetime of pain and sadness in my short 21 years; a lifetime I would never wish on anyone. And through it all, my mom has had my back. It typically isn’t in the way I want her to. She makes sure I know when I’m being irrational or when my world is falling apart because I’M the stupid one. Some days, it’s precisely the way I want her to. Like today, when she let me just ramble on for three hours, and told me that it isn’t me who is overreacting. But whatever the circumstances, and however “in the loop” she is about the situation, I can count on her to be my shoulder to cry on and to give me that reassuring hug that let’s me know she’s in my corner, no matter what.

She helps get me out of my head long enough to do a bit of regrouping. Which I appreciate, because heaven knows I can no longer get out of my head by myself.

Anyway. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. And then it became a little less terrible, and a little more bearable.

Thanks, Mom.

Corndogs.

Some days, all you need is for someone to wake you up, gently, from a much-needed nap (I use “nap” liberally, here. The three hours of nap were more than the two hours of sleep from last night…) with corndogs.

Seriously. Jennifer woke me up from my nap and said, “I put corndogs in the oven.” I had fifteen minutes of easing into a functional state, which was much appreciated. And then I grabbed two corndogs.

What is it about wrapping a hotdog in cornbread, and dipping it in a ketchup/mustard swirl, that makes a hotdog edible? Not just edible but…delicious?

I have no idea. All I know is that today was rough. And I found out that I paid a lot of money for a test that yielded negative results. Normally, people would be excited about this. But being told that your scans came back completely clean when you’re in excruciating amounts of pain for no discernible reason does not get me excited. And I’m looking forward to a very busy night at work, tonight.

A good nap and some corndogs were a much-needed pick-me-up.

And Jennifer, of course. Jennifer may have had something to do with it. 😉

Necromancy and Parallel Universes.

When I was younger, I used to think I could write my father back to life. Life played out just like a novel. The big events, strung together, comprised the plot. But the beauty of the narrative was in the details. As a rational human being, I know that not even the written word has the power to bring people back from the dead. But it doesn’t stop me from trying.

My alternate history. The family formerly known as the widowed and the fatherless.

We live in the same place. My parents are proud of the little house they paid cash for, even though a loan had to be taken out to afford the remodel. One bedroom doesn’t house three growing boys very well. My dad went back to school, after the cancer was gone. Got his teaching certificate, and then a job at our local high school teaching English. Or history. We don’t live a life of luxury, but we appreciate the stability of a tenured teaching position. It beats the short-lived stints at insurance companies, followed by months of unemployment.

Because this is an alternate history, I avoided the years of cutting and pill-popping that were my actual junior high experience. I got a 4.0 every semester, went on to be VP of the Freshmen class, because the gpa requirement was higher for vice than for president. I was not, by any means, the obedient daughter I was raised to be. But I was open about it.

There are no secrets in our family.

Today, I am in my final semester at Princeton. Chuck is about to start his second semester at USC. We are both on full-ride scholarships. Evan is a musical prodigy, who has absorbed Dad’s talent for both composition and playing by ear. Dad even broke out his old recording equipment, and hooked it up to the Clavinova. Paul is Mom’s sport star. He’s a free spirit, and that irks Dad. But Paul gets spoiled, nonetheless.

Mom went back to school and got her Master’s degree in Social Work. She works part-time as an LCSW for a clinic downtown, and talks about going full-time when she and Dad are empty nesters. Dad is still head-over-heels for Mom, and she feels the same way about him. 23.5 years of marriage will do that to a couple.

We all volunteer whatever free time we have to people going through cancer treatment, whether it’s to babysit while they see the doctor, or to read to them so they have visitors, or to stop in and bring groceries to them. We know our family could not have made it through the havoc that tumor wreaked on my dad if it weren’t for kindly people who looked out for us. We do all we can to give back.

And each year, we take one big vacation as a family. We are aware of how short life is, and how dangerous it is to put everything off until someday. Someday never comes. We only have right now, and we intend to use that time with the people we love. We plan on hitting up the Heritage Jazz Festival in New Orleans, after my graduation.

Only Dad and I actually like jazz, but I’ve been lobbying for a Dixieland trip since I went to the Fest in high school.

Dad has been in remission for ten years, come March. Mom says a happy, healthy family is all she could ask for as she turns 45, but Dad’s going to take her to Victoria anyway.

All things considered, life is good.

And it will be, for years to come.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

But despite the craziness that is my actual reality, I do not know if I would trade in this story for that one.

I would like to think, on some level, that doesn’t make me a terrible human being.

But, all things considered, life? Life is good. And I intend for it to continue to improve.

For years to come.