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.

So It’s October

So. It’s October. And you may have noticed I’m not counting down to Halloween as I have in years past on the blog. I guess I’m a little depressed this year, given the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death coming up. I just don’t really feel like counting down to anything.

Last Halloween was shitty. I have to get this off my chest. I haven’t told this story to anyone. I spent the day at the hospital watching my mom on the dialysis machine as she drifted in and out of consciousness. And consciousness wouldn’t even be the word for it. More like in and out of context, whatever that means. I don’t even know what that means.

I had a terrible head cold. I stopped at Big Lots on the way home from the hospital to buy extra candy in case I didn’t have enough for the trick-or-treaters. I bought the world’s WORST EVER GENERIC bag of candy. It was the world’s cheapest, most rock-bottom, gutter crackhead candy. Seriously, it was personally hand-picked by Satan out of the dumpster. It was the only thing that was left.

I was also breaking down in Big Lots. Losing my mind. Fighting back tears, or really, it was beyond that. It was that point where you’re fighting back gigantic gulps of air. I was nearly shaking. I needed to cauterize it IMMEDIATELY. So I did what any reasonable person would do in this situation — I bought a ten-pound gingerbread man cookie.

Whoa. I know. Stay with me folks.

It worked. The fact that ten-pound gingerbread cookies existed shocked my brain enough to get it off the fact that my mom was dying. I just remember standing at the register with my bloodshot eyes, shaking hands, sniffling nose, a ten pound cookie, and Satan’s candy, knowing that I looked like the saddest human being ever that day in Big Lots.

The story gets worse. It rained. We barely got any trick-or-treaters. I did not need that crackhead candy at all. I had tons of candy leftover, like basically, all of it. I kept the chocolates and good stuff for myself, but man, I needed to get rid of that crackhead candy. Pronto. It felt like disposing of a body.

The next day I thought I might give the candy to my mom’s nurses. Except none of the nurses could even look me in the eye. They don’t look you in the eye when your mom is dying. They were all so cold and sterile. They just hope to go about their workday as quickly as possible.

So I pawned it off on my friend, casually, without really mentioning it. Like, hey man, I got all this extra candy. You want it? And he took it happily, until he got home and realized it was filled with ROCK HARD STALE Sugar Daddies and off-brand gum with the wrappers half hanging off. It was a terrible thing to do to a friend.

Then there was still that ten pound gingerbread man cookie, which ended up taunting me straight through December, when I finally worked up the nerve to toss it. Just… just fuck that cookie. I don’t have anything else to say about that.

Phew. That was last Halloween. Ugh. And now you know why I’m not counting down this year. I just can’t. However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been hoarding and stocking up on Halloween stuff as usual. In fact, it’s the power of this crap that’s breaking through my depression.

For instance, this:

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Candy Corn Pebbles and TrueMoo Orange Scream. This is easily the most exciting thing to happen to me in months. I mean, after my son being born of course. My life happiness list currently looks like this:

1. Son born
2. Candy corn pebbles
3. Orange flavored milk

People, I don’t even like milk. I hate milk! But orange milk in October is somehow the greatest thing ever to me, enough to bust through my wall of depression. And the verdict? It’s actually very very tasty! And as for Candy Corn Pebbles, well, they taste like a failed cereal idea. DON’T CARE. I LOVE THEM.

So it’s October. And so that’s kind of how it’s going for me.

Dude, Lunchables Makes Breakfast Versions Now

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The label should say Peel Back Plastic, Hate Yourself Forever. Or, Peel Back Plastic, Smell Oddly Like Syrup For Rest of Day. Which is the worst feeling/smell/state of existing that there can possibly be. But before I knew all of this, I was just pretty damn excited. Dude, Lunchables makes breakfast versions now?

DUDE.

Hastily, I snapped up both varieties in the grocer section as though there were about to be a red light special announced on them, and a horde mob was about to descend. As though I were on the game show Supermarket Sweep, and these were worth as much as the big ticket hams. As though I was starving for more than food, but for the very meaning of life itself, which could be found in the tiny plastic compartments within.

Immediately, I decided I would be having them for lunch. And I did.

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First I had the cinnamon rolls. And like ten raisins. It’s the most pathetic little tray of raisins. I also hate raisins, but I ate them anyway for science. And for the slightly desperate hope that the raisins would somehow counteract the rest of the sugary awfulness I was about to put in my body.

The packaging says that you don’t need to heat the cinnamon rolls, but bear in mind that you will be eating cold, rock-hard cinnamon rolls. It’s one of the most unpleasant experiences known to man. Aside from the fact that they were rock-hard and ice-cold, they were also a little stale. They tasted like the generic Pecan Twirls you find in the sad bread aisle of dollar stores.

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The icing situation isn’t much better. It’s almost like a spackle, also rock-hard and ice cold.

Overall, I’d have to give the cinnamon rolls a rating of NEVER AGAIN.

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Next I had the Pancakes and Bacon. As you can see, the bacon is salad bacon bits. I’m pretty sure it’s child neglect in eight states to feed your kid salad bacon bits for breakfast. As a vegetarian, I fed the bacon to the dog.

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Her review of the bacon is:

BESSSSSSST
THING
EVERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

So there you have it.

As for the pancakes, I actually liked them. I would rate this one as edible, except I’m still starving and felt like I haven’t even had lunch, even though I just ate nearly 600 calories in about two minutes.

Oh god. Raisins, I just hope you’re working your magical healing powers inside of me.

Babypalooza

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The wife had mentioned something called Babypalooza, and we were going to it. Saturday. Don’t forget. So I promptly forgot until a few days later when the wife mentioned it again. Babypalooza. Saturday.

Again, I didn’t really think much of it, except that it kind of stuck. Babypalooza. Babypalooza. What the hell is this thing she’s dragging me to? Oh well, whatever it is, it sounded kind of fun. Maybe not FUN fun, but neat. A neat word, at the very least.

I overheard that word again when she was talking to her mom on the phone about it. Something we’re going to and taking the baby. Saturday. Babypalooza.

It sounded like something that should involve trampolines and elephant rides. I started to feel excited about it. Maybe not EXCITED excited, but looking forward. Like maybe there was going to be free food.

“You’ll get to meet the moms in my mom group,” the wife said at dinner.

That sounded, well, not as fun as watching a fire-breathing Reptar riding a stuntbike while I shoved endless boxes of Cracker Jacks in my mouth. Never mind that I don’t even like Cracker Jacks. The thing is, I want to like Cracker Jacks. They taste so much better in the fantasy in my mind. But yeah, meeting the moms, that’s cool, too.

“And you’ll get to meet Brian’s bros. That’s what I call his friends in the group…”

She started naming his friends—I mean bros. And his girlfriends. Maybe there would be raffle prizes, prize wheels, and a dunking booth. They should totally have that at Babypalooza, if they don’t already. They should hire me as their consultant, if they want anyone to even come to this thing.

Babypalooza should have a ferris wheel, a petting farm with goats, a lazy river, a corn maze, a slushee stand, clowns, tacos, facepainting, apple cider, kettlecorn, and over one thousand ideas for crafts with beans and pipe cleaners, since moms are into that kind of thing.

“And Mr. Harrison might be there, too,” the wife went on. “Isn’t that funny? His mom always puts Mr. in front of his name when she says it.”

“That’s cute,” I said. Mr. Harrison and maybe a zipline, too.

So by Friday night, I was pretty pumped about it.

“I’m kind of looking forward to this Babypalooza thing tomorrow,” I said.

“Oh no,” she said, her voice full of dread.

My hopes instantly began to fade. She knows me too well.

“Whatever you’re picturing in your mind about Babypalooza, downgrade it by one hundred,” she said.

Okay. I’d get rid of the lazy river. But I was too stubborn to let her kill my hopes and dreams. I’d still be excited about this.

Except what she really meant was downgrade it by a thousand. There was no ferris wheel. There was however, a few tables set up with pamphlets about family activities provided in the county. There was no fire-breathing Reptar. There was however, a bored-looking man running the CPR class sign-up. There was no petting zoo. There was however, the wife’s OBGYN practice giving away free pens. There wasn’t even free food. There was however, samples of lactation cookies.

There wasn’t even MR. HARRISON. THEY DIDN’T COME. I mean, whatever, like I care, BUT COME ON.

But I’m still stubborn about this, determined to take something—anything away from this. I’m just going to write all my letters with my free OBGYN pen from now on. I don’t even write letters, but I’m going to start.

Today’s Post Will Have No Words

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