Christmaspalooza Blowout Extravaganza Holiday Explosion

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I don’t even know what that title means, but I am going to make it happen. I decided it.

I’ve been so blah lately. For instance, we’ve been re-doing our house. I think the adult-ness of it all is suffocating me. We got new floors installed in our home. They’re a faux-hardwood that looks exactly like real hardwood, which we chose for its price, but especially for its durability. “It won’t scratch as easily,” we said beamingly, patting ourselves on the back for being so sensible. Then we promptly proceeded to scratch the hell out it with one unfortunate highchair incident.

This is why we can’t have nice things. We are the poster children for that statement.

Anyway, thanks to my insane obsessive nature, I’ve been on my hands and knees coloring in the little scratches with oil markers, wax crayons, and Old English. It’s doing stuff like this that’s dragging me down. People, I want to live. I don’t want to obsessively color my floor anymore.

Or take for example, the scary world of home exercise equipment that we entered into. We both have a bit of post-baby weight to lose. So I bought an elliptical. But so far I’ve spent more time setting up the TV / music / entertainment area for working out than I have actually working out. But I guarantee you it will be awesome and fun to work out down there … if anyone ever does.

Our schedule has been booked up with baby playdate potluck socials, dinners with the parents, and re-arranging furniture in the living room. The other day the wife and I went on our second date alone without the baby. And where did we go? IKEA.

I think I need to step back from being such an adult. I need to stop researching “accent lighting” online and instead research…well just about ANYTHING else. I think Christmas is just the solution. I need to take some time to waste money, eat crap, and set up inflatable Ninja Turtles in my house.

And I do have one. Oh yes. Oh very yes.

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So let’s have inflatable Michaelangelo be the welcoming ambassador for what I’m calling the Christmaspalooza Blowout Extravaganza Holiday Explosion. I’m going to try to post lots and lots, review new things, and get really fat and greasy on delicious Christmas cookies. I hope you will be joining me.

By the way, that header picture is not mine. I found it on Google Image Search. It belongs to this blog which I have never read in my life and don’t know who writes it, but I just want to thank you for making a simultaneously barfing and crapping reindeer Christmas sweater. I think you are brilliant. And deranged. One time I had food poisoning like this. It wasn’t pretty.

Tension of the Opposites

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On November 7th last year, I found out my wife was pregnant. Joy. Elation. Thrill. Love. Magic. On the way to the hospital to see my mother, I should have felt like everything was going to be okay. Of course this meant that she would make it. Pull through. But I didn’t feel that way, and I didn’t know why. And I did know why.

I parked on the first level of the hospital garage. It was still early in the day, and I felt good about nabbing a close spot. I felt good. I felt good. I walked to the elevator and pushed the button. The ICU is on floor two, after making a right down the hall out the elevator, you turn left down a longer hall. Walk all the way down. You push another button and they let you in. You walk down another hall. Hospitals are series of buttons and halls. I felt good.

But as I walked down the ICU hall, I began to feel terrible. I got to my mom’s room. I see my dad’s face. I’ve had someone tell me once that great writing comes from staring into the white hot center, without flinching. Fuck it, I flinch every time when I look here. When I reach the end of that hallway and look inside, I see my dad’s face. I look away.

On November 7th last year, I found out my mom was dying. She was in already in a coma, not breathing on her own, and not having a single organ function on its own…so to say I just “found out” would be a lie. But hope died for me that day, and my mom followed two days later.

There’s another detail from the day that sticks out. My wife went to work that day, blissfully unaware of all the hospital drama. Oh, you know, just the hourly revivals from the blood pressure bottoming out as twenty nurses storm the room in full riot gear. That was just too much information to text her. I didn’t feel like it.

So my wife had no idea how serious things had gotten. She’s a social worker and was doing home visits with her elderly clients. Her clients are seriously depressed in many cases, and one of them chose that day, of all days, to go on some kind of hunger strike. The wife freaked out and decided this could not happen. So she went to the grocery store to buy them food.

And that’s how this incredibly weird phone conversation happened:

Me: Where are you?

Her: (Describing client drama, then grocery store drama.) At first I was just going to get them a rotisserie chicken, but the grocery store was out of the freaking chicken, HOW DO THEY RUN OUT OF CHICKEN! So I got them a meatloaf — and then I was thinking it was really weird and random to give my clients a meatloaf — but I didn’t want them to starve — so I…”

Me: So you’re in the grocery store buying a meatloaf?

Her: Yeah. How are things going?

Me: She’s dying.

So in my effort to protect my wife from the horrible details, I just ended up giving her this “meatloaf guilt complex” that she was wasting time fretting in a grocery store when she could have been at the hospital. Really though, we were just sitting in the lobby area sobbing and waiting for things to get worse. I find this whole tangent of a story line kind of funny. Or at least a relief from the major story line.

Then there’s the other story line where the wife found out she was pregnant. Oh yeah, that small minor detail that happened just that morning. I’d like to tell you there are no words to describe the two feelings crashing up against each other. That there are no words for holding the beginning of life in one hand and the end of one in another. That there are no words to describe the tension of the opposites. But the truth is, we live with these tensions every single day, and there are words.

It is like being in the water on a raft, with the sensation of the water trying to pull you down, with the sensation of the raft buoying you up.

It is like being a kid on New Years Eve, excited to have permission to stay awake until the stroke of midnight, and then finding out the next morning you’d fallen asleep.

It is like rain at the beach.

It is like knowing logically there is no God. There is nothing else. Come on, you just know this. But then you refuse to believe that, because you feel something else, something opposite inside, some teeny tiny flicker of light. And that’s called faith.

It is like the day after Halloween, knowing that your favorite season, the fall, has faded away. The leaves are fallen. It’s cold. The stores already have all the Christmas stuff aggressively catcalling you, but the holiday is still so far away.

Among the things we talked about in our last conversation, my mother told me she wanted to drive out into the country to see the leaves changing. She didn’t make that drive. They changed and fell without her, and now they have changed and fallen without her again. It is like that. I don’t know how, but it is.

Things At The Bottom of the Ball Pit

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At one point in life, I might have said the ball pit was my happy place. To a kid, a ball pit seems like the funnest thing ever. I mean, there’s Disney World, Space Camp, and then Ball Pits on the hierarchy of FUN THINGS THAT THERE ARE. Not that I ever went to space camp or could even tell you what it’s like. I’m just fairly certain that space camp rules.

However, the ball pit, for all of its colorful plastic glory, has its limits. There is some magical age — a sort of threshold — that we all must cross in life. And once we cross it, we realize the ball pit is a seething, grimy cesspool of germs… and perhaps far worse.

And now I’m here to tell you, based on my own scientific research, just what lies in that “far worse” category. I’ve been to the depths of the ball pit. I’ve been to the edge of the earth. I’ve been where no man, woman, or child have ever ventured before.

These are things at the bottom of the ball pit:

– Dirty diaper
– Hypodermic needles
– Slice of pizza
– Loose coins
– Child on back of milk carton from 1983
– Goldfish, and I don’t mean the crackers
– Magnets
– (Have you ever noticed how menacing magnets seem when they’re not on refrigerators?)
– Stickers laced with drugs
– Holey socks
– Holy socks
– Whole sock
– Wedding ring
– Postcard addressed to someone in 1924
– Cookies and milk
– Amelia Earhart
– The Arc of the Covenant
– One melted Choco Taco
– One frozen Choco Taco, whoa, magic
– Car keys
– Wallet
– Phone
– Meaning of life
– The three minutes of your life spent reading this far down
– Missing glove
– Two useless members of the Jackson 5, not Michael, sorry
– Not Tito, either, damn
– God’s plans for you, He really can be an asshole sometimes
– Plastic pizzas from the Ninja Turtles Pizza Thrower
– Remote control
– Fake dog poo
– Real dog poo
– Something that resembles dog poo but isn’t
– Kombucha
– Five dollar bill
– Hershey bar
– Eric
– The answers to a particularly harrowing episode of Unsolved Mysteries
– Empty beer bottles
– Brie cheese
– One moist Kleenex
– Twenty-seven jelly beans, yes I counted each one
– Tube of lipstick
– Tuba
– Lips
– Stick
– Aged gouda — dude there’s like a whole cheese platter down here
– Fireworks
– Allergy pills
– Laffy Taffy wrappers torn so you can’t read the jokes anymore
– Gold Treasure
– Chex mix
– Fun size candy bars
– Grandma
– The fourteenth president of the US, don’t ask me who, I have no idea
– Spider rings
– Easter grass (it’s been three years and you still find this shit everywhere.)
– Tree tinsel (it’s been three years and you still find this shit everywhere.)
– Soup (clam chowder, I think)
– Lint
– Tiny ornate carving of Buddha
– Knives
– Drugs
– Blooooooooood
– Fingernails
– Toenails
– Nails
– Santa
– Easter Bunny
– Tooth Fairy
– Trix rabbit
– Pluto, the lost planet
– The letter C

And that’s it.

Halloooooweeen Nintendo Hoodie Giveaway

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My last post was kind of heavy, so now I want to lighten things up and give away a grand prize. I’ve teamed up with TV Store Online, who has tons of great Halloween costumes and merch in stock.

The prize: your choice of one of the awesome hoodies above.

Who can win: You. If you entered a contest before, won a contest before, know me in real life, don’t know me, read my blog all the time, have never read it and just showed up for the free stuff, are too old for this but think it might be a good Christmas gift for someone… — I don’t care. Comment, enter, blah blah blah. I pick these things totally randomly using a number generator.

How to win: Leave a comment. And you’re feeling extra generous, share my blog with others. Oh, and answer the question: Who would win in a street brawl? The Golden Girls or The Full House family?

The deadline: A week from today, Thursday. I will email the winner bright and early on Friday morning, Oct the 24th!

The Year

I’ve gone back over that weekend in my head so many times, trying to pinpoint the exact moment the year began. I’ve decided it was the car accident that happened in front of me. The guy didn’t see the car turning into him. I saw it. The weird thing is I saw it before it happened, in slow motion. Why did I see it in slow motion when he didn’t see it coming at all?

I pulled over. Instantly the scene became a flurry of ambulance lights and gawkers coming out of the woodwork from all around. The acrid smell of motor oil, gasoline, and hot pavement filled the air. Nervously I gave my account of what I saw to the police officer as I watched the guy being tended to on the side of the road. His car beside him was a twisted pile of metal. I couldn’t tell if he was even conscious.

Disturbed, I decided not to continue on in my errands that evening. I turned around and went back home. That’s when I got the text from my father. “Mom in the hospital. Will let you know when I know more.”

Then again, maybe the year began a few days earlier, when my mom told me she wasn’t feeling well on the phone. I told her to get rest and drink lots of fluids before I changed the subject back to general chit-chat. And yet the conversation stayed with me uncomfortably after we hung up. There was something in her voice. I’ve gone over this moment so many times, but I can never tell if I saw it coming in slow motion or never saw it at all.

They say the first year is the hardest. Each day you realize you aren’t going to see your mom today. And it won’t be tomorrow. Or the day after that. Or the day after that. Your body is designed to move forward, to labor through day after day. The brain, on the other hand, realizes this is going to be a very long time. The rest of your life.

It takes the brain a long time to catch up to what the gut knows. Your mom is dead. In fact, your brain finds that out anew and fresh, every single day.

The brain decides to stay back. The first year is all about staying. Why move forward when there’s no place to go? The day after that. And the day after that. Don’t you see this is nowhere? All of these days lead to nothing. Your mother is not waiting for you at the end of any of them. The day after that! The day after that!

Life begins to feel like a mirror maze. One of my favorite things at the beach growing up were the amusements at the end of the boardwalk. My favorite was the mirror maze, which my sister and I always gladly paid the steep admission of three tickets a piece. With each turn we’d take, we’d barge and bang into the mirrors, sometimes head first. I can hear my dad laughing, swearing that our heads must be hollow.

Indeed, our hollow heads bumping into the mirrors would echo and bounce throughout the maze. And I can see the carnie attendant cringing and yelling for us to walk with our hands out in front of us. In fact, I’m pretty sure we were the sole reason that the next season they put up a sign that said WALK WITH YOUR HANDS OUT.

GONG. Another mirror! BAP. Another mirror!

And the day after that. And the day after that.

The worst is not the death itself. The death itself is a relief in ways. Being completely gutted is a relief in ways. Your stomach has been in knots for so long, desperately trying to plug itself up and keep all of your internal organs inside. That initial puncture is a great relief.

The hospital experience still haunts me. Grief is one thing to deal with, the hospital experience is another. Grief is a guest that sits down beside you, goes on walks with you, quietly reflects with you. The hospital is a thief that breaks into your house, smashes your windows, takes a sledgehammer to your furniture, and robs you blind.

Some days, it’s the faces. One of those faces is that of my mother, and I notice she isn’t looking at me, but through me. Most of the time, it’s all of the other faces of the doctors and staff.

In the past year, I’ve gone back and studied every face, and I see it in their eyes. Every single one of those bastards. Every single one knew. I see their avoidance, their sorrow, their boredom, their empathy, and their complete inability to look fully at me. They all saw it coming in slow motion. I saw nothing at all.

You know, I get it. Your mother has septic shock, her organs are gradually shutting down one by one, and this is a textbook case; we see it twice a week here in the ol’ ICU! The mortality rate is 60%, and right now your mom is batting well above that with the most recent shutdown of the lungs and gallbladder!

Make yourself at home here on that creaky, wiry fold-out chair! Plus there’s a coffee machine in the waiting area, where we supply no cups, water, cream, sugar, or actual coffee! Only the best in comfort for you! MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME. WE MEAN IT. Because it takes another two agonizing weeks for the brain and heart to fully die!

I get that’s probably not what they want to say to the families. Yet they said nothing. And perhaps we heard nothing, too deafened by raging denial and hope and the idiotic small talk you pass the time with in hospitals.

Two weeks. Sometimes the entire year occurs in just those two weeks. At first it was just a high white blood cell count. Then it was a personality change. Then it was kidney failure. Liver failure. Gall bladder failure. Then there was the delirium. Then there was the coma.

Then there was the decision we made to amputate her leg. We were desperate. We could all see the angry hornet of an infection, flaming red hot, crawling up her leg. We practically begged the surgeon to do it, who was hesitant and aloof.

My wife is a social worker. I remember her grumbling at one point that the hospital should provide us with a social worker to help us work through this traumatic experience.

Are you kidding me? This place can’t even provide us with coffee!

Then there was the lung failure. The blood pressure bottoming out.

The jaundice. The gangrene. The pneumonia. The stroke.

Oh, and then there was the wife, who found out she was pregnant one morning. And later that day when they told us my mom would pass within the hour. I told my mother she was a grandmother for the first time, thinking those would be my last words to her.

Yet she didn’t die that night. My dad stayed up the entire night, begging her to hang on for just another hour. Just one more hour. So she did.

Then there is the denial. The anger. The bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. It’s kind of like a parlor game to guess which stage you’re in at any given moment.

Then there was the brain death. And finally the heart was the last to go.

Make yourself at home! Two people can sit on the fold-out chair and a third can sit on the toilet! Just make sure you leave room for the eight-foot-tall, four-foot-wide dialysis machine. And the massive breathing machine console. Oh, you’ll get used to them, they’re like old friends in no time.

Sit down, stay awhile, amputate a limb or two, find out you’re having a kid! The coffee machine is in the lobby! There is no coffee in there. The hospital chapel is in the basement. There is no God in there.

The brain, for all its marvels, has a clunky filing system. Memories you’d like to savor forever get promptly archived, so make sure you take lots of pictures to help you remember your vacations. Hospital memories don’t get filed away automatically. You’ve got to do it manually, one by one. This isn’t me writing. This is me filing.

I have filed away so much, and yet there is always something new to see, some unexamined angle. There are some things I cannot file away. They are those sentences I’ve written several times in this space and erased. Because I don’t need to tell you everything. Because I don’t know where the line is that says too much. Because my inner critic says I’m a terrible writer that should quit while I’m ahead.

Yet mostly because it’s the parts that stick to you the worst are too hard to explain. They’re the tiny regrets — the replaying of some idiot thing you said over and over. Or they’re the stuffed animal in the room, a plush dog, purchased from the hospital gift shop. Sometimes that fucking stuffed animal bothers me more than my mom missing out on being a grandmother.

Where do you even file that in the brain’s grief archives? It’s like having a junk drawer full of the random objects that you can’t quite get rid of, but can’t put anywhere else. The stuffed animal, the tear drop, the doughnut, the man in the elevator, the week-old newspaper that sits on the end table day after day.

All of it is so vivid. Yet everything that comes after is a blur. There are the arrangements, the funeral, and the next twelve months. A year.

I’m not broken, yet my life is filled with tiny hairline fractures, caused by the unbearable weight of losing someone. I find the fractures in unsurprising places. I find them in shocking places. Do they heal? They do not heal. Will they strengthen? Yes, but give them oxygen. The fresh air is good for everything.