Thursday, January 1, 2009

Eight Years Ago, Yesterday...

I was taking a nap hoping that with some extra sleep I would be able to party the night away, and not have to suffer the consequences tomorrow. It was snowing, it was supposed to snow all night, and my mom had asked that I not leave the house, unless there was an emergency. I wasn't planning on listening. But I had decided that I would either abstain from intoxicating substances, or I would sleep wherever I wound up. I didn't want to take foolish chances, but I did want to ring in the new year in style. I was, after all, going to be 21 this year, and this would be my last opportunity to start the year off illegally drunk. I liked doing illegal things then. I felt like I was a rebel. My mom called me her "rebel without a cause." I had a cause, but it was a dumb one. I thought that society put unfair taboos in place, and it was my mission to break all of them. Multiple sex partners makes you a slut? I was nearing 100. Doing drugs made you a loser, I had several prepared for that night. You had to be 21 to drink? I had been drinking since I was 18. It seemed to me that everything that was fun was illegal, or morally wrong, or simply looked down upon. I smoked cigarettes, I danced for money, I took risks, and I lived my life uncaring what anyone thought of me. When my friends told me I was shallow, I told them they were too serious. When they told me I was too skinny, I told them they were fat and jealous.

I had no intentions of staying home, just because my mother had told me that this was a dangerous night. But, I was taking whatever precautions I could think of. So, I slept. The phone rang. It half woke me out of my slumber, but my boyfriend and I were the social coordinators of our group, so I dismissed this phone call as probably one of my circle calling to find out when exactly we were meeting, and other such details.

When Carl came in the bedroom, I was prepared to yell at him, and tell him that he would just have to coordinate without me, I needed my sleep. I'll never forget how unsure he sounded when he told me my dad was on the phone. He sounded scared of being in the same room with me, and prepared to hug me at the same time. I couldn't figure out why. Despite my rebellious nature, I had a great relationship with my parents, and I was sure this was just my father's attempt at telling me what my mother had already sent in an email. "Stay home. The roads are icy, and they're just going to get worse. Celebrate next year." She had written in bold at the bottom, reiterating her entire email in one sentence, "Please do not drive unless it is an emergency. I don't want you to spend New Year's Eve at the hospital."

I got on the phone with my dad prepared to blow him off. To tell him it was OK, the party I was going to was only a few streets away, and they were my friends. I'd be able to crash there until morning, but I wasn't going to miss my favorite party night. When I heard his voice, it was obvious he'd been crying. "Baby," he said and I panicked. " I'm at the hospital. Your mom, she collapsed. They think she's had an aneurysm. She's being air lifted to [my mind goes blank here. I can't remember if I had to go to Cooper, or Jefferson] Hospital. Can you meet us there? I don't know what's happening, but I need everybody there." The fear was clear. I could hear how his voice shook, and how he didn't sound hopeful, even as he tried to reassure me while giving me directions.

I told Carl he had to drive. He didn't really like driving further than the 7-11, but I was in no condition. I cried and screamed all the way to the hospital. Carl kept asking me to tell him happy stories about her, and I tried. I can't really remember what I talked about. I just babbled and cried and screamed. And navigated.

I was the first one to the hospital. I went to the counter to tell them who I was looking for and they asked if I was eighteen. I told them no, I was twenty. They smiled gently, and told me that was good enough. They needed me to check her in to the hospital. No one had arrived yet to do it. They led me into a small conference room, and a doctor sat across the table from me asking questions about about her name, age, birth date, medical history, and such. He asked me if I knew why she was there, and I told them I only knew she had collapsed. He explained to me what an aneurysm is and that since she had survived the initial burst, there was a chance she would recover, but it was a small chance. Then he asked me if it was OK to give her a blood transfusion if she needed it. My mother was a Jehovah's Witness. I had been raised in her cult, but I never really understood their viewpoints on blood transfusions. They don't allow them. That's all I really know. And that it was important to her that she follow her beliefs. I told him as much, and then I told him that he should come back and ask me specifically again if it came to her needing one. I would deal with her being mad at me if she survived. I would explain to her how I couldn't have let her go, based on what I, by then, considered to be fairy tales.

When I walked out of the intake room, my whole family was there. I collapsed into tears the minute someones arms were around me. My grandmother's. She was the reason we were all Jehovah's Witnesses. She had converted when my dad was young, my dad brought my mom in while my older brother was young, and my mom kept us all going until we were old enough to decide on our own what we believed. I told my grandmother that I had respected my mother's wishes, even though I didn't want to. I asked her why she would make me do that, but she had no answer, except to say thanks.

I looked around and noticed my little brother. He was seven. I tried to pull my tears back into my eyes, then. I didn't want him to see how serious this all was. I wanted him to cling to hope for as long as he could. The doctor had made it sound as though with some surgery, and time, my mother would at least be home soon. She may not have all her faculties, but she should come home. I was prepared to move home and take care of her, since I knew it would be too much for my father to have to take care of a son, a wife, and the house. My little brother looked like he was shaken, but he wasn't crying. I was thankful for that. I tried to just remain quiet for as long as I could, staring out at the fireworks exploding over Philadelphia. I remember thinking that it was too bad she was unconscious, my mom loved fireworks, and she wouldn't want to miss this display. I also remember being angry that they would dare to use smiley face fireworks, while my mom's life hung in the balance. Like they knew. Or cared.

Eventually, my grandparents took my little brother for a walk, and my dad, my older brother, and Carl and I went tot he cafeteria. WE talked about mom, and how strong she was. WE talked about hospitals and how awful they were. We made inappropriate jokes like only people who were terrified and sad could. We even laughed at how people must have been thinking we were there for a birth instead of tragedy. I felt guilty for laughing. I think we all did. I know Carl was appalled. He was an outsider. We couldn't stop, though. If we stopped laughing, it would've meant we had given up hope. And we weren't prepared to do that.

I don't remember how long we stayed. I know that eventually we left. My mom was in a coma and we wouldn't know if she would make it for a while, yet. The sun was up, and we needed sleep. I couldn't keep Carl there. This wasn't his tragedy, and he needed to get back to his life.

My mom stayed in the coma for ten days. People took turns sitting with her. Everybody who knew what had happened had written her letters to tell her how important and loved she was. Her co-workers, fellow cultists, friends far and near. My dad and the others who visited read them to her all day. I didn't visit her. I went to the hospital to visit the visitors, but I couldn't go into her room. She didn't look right in that bed, and I didn't want too many chances to burn that image on my mind. My mom never liked having the camera pointed at her, so my memories were the only pictures I had. She seemed to get better for a while, but never better enough for the the doctors to be optimistic. I had been in my own sort of coma. I felt like I couldn't hear when people talked to me. I felt like time wasn't real. I didn't sleep much, I ate when I was forced to. I didn't talk on the phone afraid that I would tie up the line, and I wouldn't get the call. I tried not to hope that when the call came it would be to tell me she had opened her eyes. I tried not to hope that I would drive her to rehab soon. I tried not to imagine her arms around me while she told me she forgave me for wanting to give permission for a blood transfusion. I tried not to think of how empty the mother of the bride chair would be if I ever convinced someone I was worth marrying.

I failed miserably. These were the thoughts that followed me everywhere I went. I walked around in a daze of self-pity. I don't think I even worried about my dad, or my brothers. They were stronger than me. They didn't need her as much as I did.

Eventually, though, I did sleep. I laid down to take a nap. Carl was home from work, and I felt safe that someone was there to answer the phone if the call came. And come it did. It was about an hour into my nap that Carl came in sounding every bit like he did on New Year's Eve. I knew this was not good news. My dad was on the phone saying that the doctors wanted a decision from him. They could keep my mother alive on machines and hope that someone discovered technology that could save her, but as of now there was nothing that could be done. It was my dad's decision, they said, since she had no living will. Fortunately for my dad, my mom had been adamant about not wanting to be kept alive by machines. She had told us all several times. And we knew what she would want. I told my dad with all the calm I could muster that if I were in his shoes, I would do what mom wanted. That, as his daughter, I supported the decision we both knew he had to make. He thanked me for not making it more difficult on him. I guess we all knew that I was the most selfish of us, because he said he'd waited to call me last. I still feel bad about that.


It's been eight years, now. I have two children of my own. Not a single day goes by that I don't wonder if I will put my boys through this someday. I worry constantly that my boys will look to the mother of the groom chair, and see a picture of me taped to the back. I try to make sure I get as many pictures of me as I can so they have one to tape there, just in case. Today, at the beginning of another new year, I can't stop myself from crying. Crying over the loss I've suffered. Crying over the fear that lays inside me. Crying over how selfish I am that I am locked here inside my bedroom blogging instead of out there enjoying my family as best as I can while I have them.

That having been said, I'm going to go share a sandwich with Pete, take a percocet to kill the pain, and do the mummer strut with my children in the street.

4 comments:

Jamie said...

Times like this, I wish I was either in Florida or rich enough to fly there at the drop of a hat just to hug you. Time never really kills the pain... But you had a wonderful mother who managed to raise a damn amazing girl, which given how you are just makes your mom twice amazing!!

Sheila (Charm School Reject) said...

I am so sorry. I'm sending you big hugs right now!!

Jamie is right - your mom must've been an insanely amazing woman to have raised you to be the woman and mother that you are!!

Happy Mommy said...

Thanks, guys. Sorry I haven't been around much lately. I'll be back with a vengance, soon.

BTW, I'm ok. I just have a hard time with New Years.

whall said...

Man.