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,
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.