30 November 2009

Post Mortem

I drove myself into the ER this morning having decided four days of 104-105 temps with a body wracked in pain was enough. (I remember my sister had a t-shirt with a dead cow depicted, flat on its back, legs straight in the air. It said, "No really, I'm fine".)

Turns out I now have a severe kidney infection. Hospitalization severe, except I forgot that I had kids and wanted to come home. "How? How can I have this? Do you know how many anti-biotics I'm on?"

"You'll need to call your primary care physician, today. He needs these results."
In the meantime, IV Cipro, ten days of Cipro.

I'm tired now.

Not just in the physical sense but tired in a sense that I hate about me this year.

I was looking at my legs shaking on the table and realized how much muscle I've lost since my surgery. I haven't run much since. Hard to do when you are dragging a leg behind you. And I wondered then, "I wonder if he knew. If, in those last seconds, he put a hand to his chest and thought 'my body has betrayed me'."

When I was ten, my uncle died at the age of 26 while playing in a basketball tournament.

It was a cold, cold night in February and my parents had gone with my grandparents to the Valentine's Ball at the Lions Club. We were home with Aunt C when the phone rang.

A raced to get it and, still I see in slow motion, her pulling the phone from her ear, eyes wide, staring into mine, running to me. "It's Aunt M. She's screaming." She clung to my long nightgown (we had matching ones) as I pushed her behind me and turned to watch C fall to her knees, screaming, a howl I've heard from one human since.

I walked over to take the phone from her. M was still screaming on the other end. I quietly, softly tiptoed over and hung it up. C crawled to the couch, picked up her coat and said, "I need to go outside. It's OK, I need to go outside." She smiled, a lie, in our honor, to shield us, to save us. It is now, recalling this, that I weep with her slow transition out of my life.

The Parent Trap was on. We watched the TV in horror, listening to her screams from our porch. I looked out at her, the clear sky, the bright moon shining down, on her knees, rocking, her breath visible in the air as it staggered, jagged and torn, from her chest.

I took the kids and I told them we were going to be OK. We would be safe. I got their pillows and our afghans and put them in the walk-in closet in the front room.

"Nothing bad will find us here," I promised. But it did.

My aunt M arrived, then another. My parents did not. I directed the girls to change their prayers. The damn prayers of a Catholic. My parents were gone because I meant to run over A's foot with the Big Wheel. My parents were gone because I thought bad thoughts about my CCD teacher. I'm angry, still, that I didn't know a kinder God then.

"Please let it be anyone but mom and dad. Please let it be anyone but mom and dad."

Our hands clasped together, murmuring over and over, louder and louder as the sobs outside the door permeated within.

My mother walked in and got us out of the closet and put us into the bed that A and I shared. "Where is dad?" "He's here; he's outside." "What is happening mom?" She told us that our uncle was sick and kissed our foreheads.

A and I took turns crawling down the hall each time we heard a car, a new voice.

"The priest," She reported.

"A man with blond hair," I informed.

"They are talking about what to do with his dog and car," A whispered.

I crept down the stairs and finally saw my grandparents. Gram had on a long turquoise dress. She was shaking. We didn't go down again.

We laid in that bed, hands, arms, legs entwined, waiting. We didn't know for what, but we waited.

My mother gathered us in the morning and took us to the couch. "I have to tell you something hard. Something sad."

I try to imagine looking into the eyes of my children now, to deliver to them what she had to say to us.

"Uncle K is gone." We sat.

"Uncle K died." We wailed.

She gathered us into our afghans and rocked us all.

My father came out, finally, and we watched from the kitchen. A man of little emotion, a rock. He picked up the phone to call the subcontractors that worked for the family business.

"Yeah, Bill, we, uh, we won't be, we aren't..." And the howling, the piercing scream, I heard again as he fell to his knees and my mother took the phone.

We looked at each other and we locked legs under the table.

Now, as an adult, I understand what happened next. The thought, quickly pushed away, the thought of that loss; I understand now.

I understood not then as we were divided amongst our mom's siblings and taken to their homes, screaming, pounding the windows, "No! No! We'll be good. We'll be quiet, please, no!" My eyes went from mom to A, our palms on the windows, our eyes locked.

I thought I would never see her again. I was insane with a new grief.

We didn't know of death until then, so this was confusing. Young people died? Why not Busi? Why not Dzia-Dzia? Why him? Are we next? Are mom and dad next? Who is next? How do you know? How do you sleep again? What if we never left the house? Would you die then? How do you dribble a basketball ever again?

I went back to school ten days later, a shell, I know of what I was.

I was in the third grade.

My best friend, Lill, sat in silence with me on the playground for days until one day we laughed.

I was in the third.grade.

We had selected poems to memorize and read aloud in January, in a different time, a different world.

I had selected "If Nancy Hanks Came To Town", a poem about what Abe Lincoln's mother would ask of him if she came back as a ghost. The opening stanza:
If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She'd ask first
"Where's my son?
What's happened to Abe?
What's he done?"

It was the first time writing made me weep. My teacher, her small frame belying her large soul, pulled me aside. "I thought that maybe you would want to read this instead. You don't have to memorize it, you can just read it and be done, OK?" I nodded and began to read:

Whose woods these are, I think I know,
His house is in the village though....

It wasn't until years later that I understood exactly what she had done for me that day. How she had probably given it so much thought, how she somehow knew that one day I would still love to read so much that I would discover his words, too, spoke of death, of what lies ahead.

I thought of her and wept at her kindness when for the first time, in the first home that I owned, I painted by hand that poem unto my wall.

It took me days.

It took me a lifetime.

I wonder now, my body once one that was strong and hard and muscled, what he thought then. If he ever understood what had happened. I hope not. I hope he thought, "Oh God, I'm going to fall," and began to laugh, never knowing there would be no arising from this faltering.

On my last day of third grade, my teacher handed me a folded paper. "I thought that someday you might understand this. I will never forget you."

In her perfect handwriting, I read:

To An Athlete Dying Young

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

It meant something then. It means something now. They are different, those things, but they still hold me.

So I wonder tonight, shaking as I type, unable to stop the chills, unable to not write, unable to sit on my left leg, unable to recognize the shape in the mirror. Lighter, now on the scale than when at my prime health and ironically, I feel heavier.

But I won't, always. No matter what it takes, I won't. One day, maybe not this week, not this year, not in the thaw of the next, but one day, I will turn from my driveway, my steady pace comforting me and think not of what lies behind, but what lies ahead.

My face will turn to the sun. I am a runner. It is my turn to run.

29 November 2009

I Got Kidney Stones for Thanksgiving & Other Holiday Miracles

This year while my relatives were gathered over a fowl and ten different desserts, I was huddled under my blankets, chattering profusely, willing the narcotics to work already. Oh, and peeing into a screen; I don't mean to leave out the fun parts.

I've yet to eat one single piece of pie and I'm bitter, so bitter that I took a banana pudding cup and mixed it with cool whip and after two bites, decided it wasn't a great idea and gave it to the dog instead.

I bided my time between pee breaks by reading magazines, surfing the net and taking part in telephone conversations that I most likely won't recall, except for my conversation with my sister, who said, "So you're not going to remember what I'm going to tell you then?" To which I told her yes I would and I typed up notes that now are quite humorous to read and were helpful in recollecting our little chat.


One of the last stops on the net that I found one evening was this one: http://twilightsaga.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Twilight_Saga_Characters

I went there because earlier in the week, I had watched both of the movies that are out and learned the following vampire "facts" from Adriana:

  • Vampires CAN go out during the day, but they have to avoid direct sunlight, NOT because they burn, but because they shine, like diamonds, and are easily identified from the beauty of the moment.
  • Despite my old school training regarding vampires, garlic, crosses and getting stabbed through the heart are not effective when killing a vampire or keeping it away. The only way to kill a vampire is to rip it apart, limb by limb, and then burn those limbs.
After sitting through the second movie, I couldn't wrap my brain around the concept that in both movies up to a pivotal point, vampires appeared to be very, very fast, could fly, and traveled the globe within minutes. However, in order to save Edwards "life"(?) they had to drive in a car, to an airport, after which you see a plane flying over the ocean, then drive a second fast car to the desired location. I told Big A I'd be OK with this if she could answer just one of these questions:
  • How did they get through airport security? On two continents?
  • Why didn't they just fly themselves, like through the air?
  • How did they get a rental car that fast, because we all know that is impossible?
  • If I agree to become a vampire, can I too own only very cool cars?
Anyway, back to reading that site: NOT a good idea when addled with narcotics and in a home completely alone. Just not. I doubt that the good vampires would be in my home when I have orchards full of deer that they subside off of, so I could only assume it would be the bad vampires coming for me.

According to my emails, I made only one on-line purchase during this three day period and actually needed what I ordered.


By Friday/Saturday early hours, my thought process was like this:

ME: Need to get up and pee.
ME: I am not moving again. I'll just pee the bed.
ME: How can I have the flu and kidney stones when I'm on a gazillion anti-biotics.
ME: Need to get up and pee.
ME: Fine.
ME: OMG. It hurts to move. Why are my clothes soaking wet? Did I pee the bed?
ME: From your fever, you asshole.
ME: I hope to God there are no vampires out there.

Exciting, I know.


My family that lack the mental fortitude of I went Christmas shopping on Friday morning at like 4:00 a.m. or something. They openly admitted they accomplished almost nothing, to which I laughed smugly until I reviewed my notes and found that A had to wrap Christmas presents, which meant that some were purchased. I suck at note-taking.


Today I am not taking any narcotics to see if I am actually still in pain or just high to the point of assuming I'm in pain, so then manifesting the symptoms of pain upon myself.

And today, the first person that revealed to me that there was a love more fierce than what I felt for those I loved the most turned eight.teen.

From this:

Jennifer Barko Joshua
To this:

Without so much as a warning. A bit of wisdom for you Bosh, as you venture into this thing called adulthood:

It's not the vampires, it's Time.

23 November 2009


What it meant today was different than what it meant two weeks ago. This grief changes shape so easily while I feel so unable to move.

Two stones, in our yard. Two markers, covered in flowers picked from all of our tear-stained hands. Two stones, "Peace" and "Love". Two stones, anchoring a part of me that I've yet been able to express adequately. Two lives, loved so very much and gone so very differently.

One ripped from me by a force that still leaves me with one hand tapping my chest or rubbing my neck or twisting my legs somehow. Anything to avoid the still, the quiet, the knowledge that there will no longer be the "one, two, three. pause. one, two, three. pause" drinks from her water dish at night. There will be no more three circles and a black body cradled to me under the covers, just her nose reaching out for air.

Writer Jennifer Barko Serving The Queens

She would sleep like that all night.

I wish I remembered now if I'd turned her three times before she laid to rest. That thought bothers me a lot. A lot more than it should, I know. But there are parts of my brain that don't stop working no matter how loudly I demand them to.

One broken, willing herself to stay, out of the sheer love that she had for me. I never would have thought that I had it within me--to hold the body of my best friend who doesn't want to leave and look into her beautiful brown eyes and know this is it, this is goodbye? I think now that I didn't have it in me, and I will be realizing that slowly, each time my hand reaches for her at my side, for many years.

She took many beautiful photos, but this was one of my favorites:

Constant Companion Jennifer Barko Serving The Queens

I titled it, "Constant Companion".
Wherever I was, she was as well.
Until the day I sent her from me.

What it meant today as I was facing down deadlines and calendars and thinking of the presents that I needed to buy was that for the first time in 16 years, there will be no gifts for The Smoosh and Jessie under our tree.

And there shall be no gifts for my grandfather under a tree hundreds of miles away, but that is another story.

This year meant to me a lot of loss; painful, wounding, sobbing on your knees loss. So much loss at times that I was afraid to face the next day, wondering what it would bring.

But still, I'm here. Not the same; I'll never be the same. But still, I'm here.

I feel that this year has written upon me "grief", over and over. I believe that I will recall this year always and feel cold and wrap my arms around myself.

I feel that this upcoming year, I shall write upon it instead "joy", over and over. I believe that I will recall next year always and tilt my face to the sky to greet the sun when I do.

I am a writer. And it is my turn to write.