Clock says almost three. No point in trying to sleep now--the kids will be up in a few hours. I hate it when I'm dead tired but just lay here for hours unable to sleep. Tonight is just like every other night. I'm just going to stay up—I don't feel like sleeping 'til noon again. Should have taken something to help me sleep, but I never think about it until it's too late. That stuff knocks me out for at least ten hours, so I have to take it early.
Maybe today will be better than yesterday, or at least not as bad. Chances are we will have the same conversation we have had over and over for the last nine years. "Are you going to go look for another job today?" Pointless to even bother anymore, because even if he does, it might last a month, if I'm lucky. I have heard every "good" excuse he has been able to come up. "There weren't enough hours." "There were too many hours." "They lied about the pay." "They are all dope heads." "I have a new job lined up--they are just waiting to get my background check done." All bullshit. With this last job, all I heard was "blah, blah, blah," but I'm positive whatever he said fell into one of those categories—it always does. That's the one thing I have always been able to rely on him for—a bad excuse for putting us in this bind. He has yet to disappoint me there.
Every time he does this shit I start looking for a job, but I'm limited because of daycare hours. Within a week he always seems to find something, and I get told "no, you don't need to work, focus on your school." How the hell am I supposed to do that when I'm worried about how the bills will get paid? How am I supposed to focus, when in the back of my mind I'm wondering if this job will last long enough to even get the car payment caught up?
The current job he has lined up, my friend Anna's boyfriend got for him. I thought Jimmy was a pretty good guy. He's somewhat older than she is, which I thought would be a good change from the line of losers our age she had been dating. The first time she introduced us, the three of us got high. Great first impression. While we were sitting at the table smoking, Jimmy mentions that they are hiring where he works. Ought to be easy enough to get a job when you actually know somebody pretty high up. Literally. Dumbass didn't go back to work after hearing Jimmy say that; it's been over a week now.
Jimmy turned out to be the biggest loser so far, at least that is my impression. Anna found out she was pregnant. She planning to have to have an abortion because of the side affects of the medicine Jimmy is on. He broke up with her three days after finding out she is pregnant. I'm taking her to get the abortion next week.
When he broke up with her, she tried to get me to move in. I said I couldn't afford to, which is partly true, but bad enough. Things aren't in the right place for me to do something like that right now. I reconsidered my answer today though, and every part of me is screaming to do it. The only reason I don't is because of my kids. My messed up sleep patterns, not being able to find a job that works with daycare, and the fact I know he will fight me for custody are the reasons I feel trapped. The reasons I get so frustrated, drink, have migraines, and a whole list of other shit. But at the same time, I've learned to focus most of that frustration into my school work, and also now I have some of the best friends anybody could ever ask for.
When people ask me why I don't leave, I tell them the timing isn't right. They don't understand why or how I can live this way. I don't understand either, maybe its because at this point I am completely numb. This isn't a choice, its something that has to be done. I just hope this doesn't break me. Eighteen months of school left--that is a long time, and a lot of things can happen.
I took my son to McDonald's the other day because I had promised him a treat for bringing home a perfect spelling test. This made four weeks in a row. Normally we don't like to sit down inside and eat—the kids get cranky and fight, and what should be a nice time turns into an ugly scene. This McDonald's is the worst; they don't even have a play palace or anything for the kids. Mine always whine about it the entire time we are there.
Pulling into the parking lot, we noticed that the drive-thru was backed up to the street. "Great, just great," I muttered. We decided to go in and order something "to go". I parked in a spot along the fence, and we make our way to the door. Gabriel, my son, lead the way, and as he opened the door it was as if time stopped for a moment. I stood there just looking at my son, wondering "when did he get so big?"
I know at some point every mother looks at her kids and wonders the same thing. I never thought it would happen to me. Has it really been eight years since I was sitting in the NICU at Children's looking through the glass of an incubator at this sickly little baby with tape holding tubes and wires in place? Honestly, he scared the hell out of me. Eight years. A lifetime—his lifetime. How it began (or almost didn't) seems so long ago now. Kids grow up so fast, or maybe we finally do, or both. They change in ways we don't expect and are always full of surprises. Lately, I've noticed things about my son that I never noticed before. He has a great sense of humor. He's bright. He's incredibly sweet, at least most of the time. And he is getting tall. In a few years he will be taller than I am, and I'm not exactly short.
When it was our turn at the counter, he ordered a 10 piece chicken nugget meal. I ordered a 4 piece for his sister and an iced coffee for me. Back in the car and heading home, I turned down the music for a moment. He looked at me half expecting to be in trouble for something. I said softly, "When did you get so big on me?" He looked at me and smiled and said, "Mom, I didn't do it, God did. He did it just like when I was a baby, and they had to take me out of your tummy, I was small and sick, and he made me better, so I could stay here with you."
Maybe it's a cliche, but I feel blessed to have my handsome "little man" and his beautiful little sister. I couldn't always say that, but now I can. Perhaps without them, I wouldn't have changed in the ways that I have. I have my two miracle babies—miracle children. That is all I could ever ask for; that is all I really need.
So many mistakes. So many regrets. How did it get so crazy, so ugly, and so sad so quickly? I can't help it—I think about these things almost every day. Somewhere I read "you change your destiny just by missing a bus" which to me suggests that simple things, ordinary things, the boring details of daily life make a big difference in the short run and the long run. Missing a bus—that's not something you choose, or is it? If you procrastinate, if you aren't serious, if you don't care, you miss lots of things, busses and a whole lot more. I've also heard that your choices—how you act and react—create your destiny, moment by moment. If I could change even the smallest detail of my past—turning right instead of left, for instance, standing still instead of moving on—would I still have the one thing that matters most today—my kids, my beautiful, innocent kids. If changing the past erases them from my life, I wouldn't change anything at all! But before they came along—that part is up for grabs. There is so much that I would do differently if I had the chance to do it over again. Why? To avoid this trap I'm in. To have a better shot at life—a life without marriage right after high school—a life that didn't get off track so easily. To get a chance to find myself, a chance to grow up—in the real world—on my own. A chance to enjoy it and hate it, to make it real, to make it mine. Instead I make do with what I have. I manipulate the situation I'm in. I find happiness wherever I can. I can be myself only when I'm comfortable enough to be so—the rest of the time I'm fake, because there isn't room for the real me. My life won't like the real me, won't allow her to breathe. She doesn't fit—she doesn't have a place—in the life I created, the life I chose my way into, eyes half shut, not knowing or caring until it was too late. She wouldn't stay if she had a way out. She won't. But that's for later. That's to come. For the moment, it's easier to pretend, easier on everyone else anyway. I can plan. I can work. I can wait. Those are choices too.
If I had a chance to do it over again, would I make the same mistakes I did the first time? Or make others? Would I get it right? I long for the life I could have had, but I know there's no point in daydreaming, if daydreaming means escaping by doing nothing. Nothing changes until I do. And when I do, new things become possible. A thread unravels. I pull on it some more, not absentmindedly but on purpose, knowing that this garment that no longer fits me will be discarded. At some point I have to snap it off. What incredible tension exists between wanting something and having it, between not wanting something and being stuck with it! Is that conflict the root of the anxiety I struggle with, the reason I often can't sleep? Everything is still possible, only infinitely harder now. My eyes are wide open, wider than ever. I've got determination and patience. What a difference those things would have made ten years ago! Perhaps I had to fall into the trap in order to discover the way out of it, to get on the right track, to begin to value the things that really matter and make a difference, to see that I could do them too and do them well, not perfectly—far from it—but better than I ever imagined. I'm taking school seriously now, and it shows in my grades. I'm holding on to a job now rather than quitting just because I'm bored. I'm dealing with people better too, even when my feelings are hurt or I'm misunderstood. That's the key to the whole thing. Dealing with crap, my own and others'. Not giving in. Not giving up.
If I had a chance to do it over again, would I make the same mistakes I did the first time? I can't be the only one who asks this question. But after asking it long enough, it seems to lose its power, it's appeal. The spell is broken. There is no going back, only forward. The mistakes I made served a purpose, and all is not lost. Far from it. I made things harder than they had to be. Perhaps that's what is making me stronger than I used to be. Perhaps I had to screw up in order to grow up. If my daydreams serve to motivate me, to keep me focused on a goal, they are time and energy well spent. Who needs a second chance? I always thought I did, and I by and large gave up on things, on me especially, because I couldn't have one. But now I know the choices I make today are the closest thing to a second chance I'll ever get. I never thought I'd say this, but I think I'll pass on the second chance and take the present opportunity instead.
Do you remember when we were little, sitting in front of Granny Reed's house next to the white picket fence, playing that little fishing game, the plastic one that grandpa bought me? That's the only time I remember seeing Granny Reed before she died. That's one of the few times I remember seeing you when we were little.
Driving around town a few months ago, I was thinking about all the Saturdays we spent riding our bikes there. I always loved it when grandpa would come get me on Saturday and take me back to his house only to find you there waiting for me. Never once did he tell me you were there; he always liked to surprise me—he knew we always had a blast together.
The other day I was going through some stuff. I found a picture of you from prom, the one with you standing next to that sweet red Camero you had. Your hair was still black then, and you had on that goofy bow tie. I remember the first time I saw your new car. You had gotten it on your 16th birthday, and you drove three hours just to show it to me, so we could go "drag". When you found me, I was at my aunt's mowing; I had on that goofy camo hat my dad gave after he went on that drug bust in Northeastern Oklahoma. You scared the hell out of me that day, pulling up with those blacked out windows and just sitting there. I thought you were a pervert or something. That was the night you introduced me to my first clove cigarette—those things are so harsh. You showed me all the places you had found to hide your other smoking materials.
That summer and the next were the best summers of my life. We had more fun cruising the drag and listening to Manson then I ever had before or since. I remember after you started college you came down a few times. You never did let me drive that car of yours. Maybe that's why when I turned 21, I went out and bought one just like it, only silver. The last time we talked was at a family reunion my senior year of high school. You had a friend with you that year, so we didn't get to talk much. That was the last time I ever saw you.
I saw your parents a few weeks ago, and the only thought that crossed my mind was I that made grandpa a great grandpa, and that your folks will never get to experience that. Your mom hugged me tight for what seemed like forever, and she whispered in my ear "You look great kid... I luv ya." I squeezed her tighter, knowing she was thinking of you and wishing she could hold you the way she used to and tell you how much she loves you still. Your dad is not the same anymore. He always used to smile and seem happy, but he changed after you were gone. I can see that a piece of him died along with you. His eyes are empty now. When he's talking, he's there physically, but his mind is always somewhere else.
August 12, 2001 is a day I will never forget. I had just graduated and turned 18. Mom called—we hadn't talked in weeks. Fighting, again. What else was new? "Don't hang up," she said. "Something happened that you need to know about." The first thought that crossed my mind was my dad. I asked her what it was, and she said you had drowned. I sat there silent for a moment then stammered "How...? He is an excellent swimmer!" She told me that you and a friend were on your way back from a concert when you stopped on the side of the road to go swimming at a farm pond you saw. The two of you were swimming, and he went up to the car to get a cigarette. When he came back, you were gone. They had to bring in divers to find your body. I had never before felt the bottom drop out of me that fast, that far. I never have since. Before we hung up, I was already bawling.
The day of your funeral I was selfish and didn't go. I hadn't stopped drinking since I got off of the phone with mom a few days before. I sat in my boyfriend's apartment with a bottle of Jack in one hand, a clove cigarette in the other, and Manson playing on the CD player. I was the saddest I've ever been in my life. You were the brother I never had. You were the friend I could always count on. You were the one that I could be "me" around. The only one, ever. And you were gone. I was sad because I was alone now. There was this gaping hole my life—in my heart—that nobody was ever going to be able to fill. Nobody ever will.
I regret not going to your funeral. Your mom needed me, and I wasn't there for her. I let her down, and I let my grandpa down. My sister said he kept looking at the door waiting for somebody to come in late. Every time I've seen your mom since then she hugs me tighter then anybody ever has. Writing this, I finally realize why. She knows I go to the cemetery and leave flowers, even though I go alone and don't mention it to anybody.
I love you and miss you everyday that I'm here and you're not. I know the rest of my life will pass without you in it. Your brief appearance made it better than it would have been, but the memories are bittersweet. I cherish those memories, but I know that a day will come when they won't matter anymore. A day will come when this hurt will go away. A day will come when everything will be made perfect—the day we meet again by the white picket fence.
I had a birthday recently—another year has passed. I'm still in my twenties, but "mid" has replaced "early" and it seems like "late" isn't that far away anymore. Now that I've got a family of my own—and all the problems that come with it—I've been thinking a lot about the role my grandpa played in my life. Don't get me wrong—he hasn't gone anywhere. I just wish my kids could have the kind of relationship with someone like I had with him. You see, grandpa did what others didn't—he showed me compassion, understanding, and patience. He gave me guidance. Most of all he made me feel loved. He was the only one who truly showed how much he cared. All these things ought to be done by parents, but sometimes it just doesn't happen that way.
For most kids, Saturdays are special because there's no school, and you can watch cartoons 'til mama yells "Shut that off and go outside and play." For me Saturday meant much more than that. Saturday was special because of where I spent it and who I spent it with. When I was growing up, grandpa drove a truck over-the-road. For some, the occupation "truck driver" suggests a certain kind of temperament, but grandpa wasn't a rough man—he was straightforward. He was honest. He was real. He never sugar coated things; he always told it like it was. My earliest memories of grandpa are sitting on his lap, his strong arms around me. He had a tattoo from his days in the Navy, an anchor that filled the outside of his arm. I don't know exactly how or when our special Saturdays began, but my younger sister, Charlotte, and I were both in grade school. (Jillian, the youngest, wasn't born until the summer before I started Junior High.) Every Saturday morning grandpa came by for Charlotte and me. The three of us went back to his house where we would eat breakfast—grandma always made a big breakfast on the weekends since grandpa wasn't around during the week. After breakfast, grandpa and I would leave for the day, and Charlotte would stay with grandma. Weather permitting, we usually went fishing. To this day I still love fishing, partly because of the memories I have of grandpa and me. Sometimes my Uncle Johnny came with us. Our first stop was always the convenience store. Grandpa loaded me up with pop, beef jerky, and jalapeno crackers—whatever I wanted.
Sometimes we went to the lake, towing the boat behind his red Chevy pickup. Other times we went to farm ponds with a smaller boat we had to carry. There were days we just fished from the bank. He fixed me up with my own tackle box and Ugly Stick—my first rod and reel. I'm stubborn or perhaps just sentimental—to this day I still use the same kind of rod and reel. Those fishing trips usually ended with Uncle Johnny visibly annoyed at something. He and grandpa were "serious" fisherman, and there I was just fooling around, having fun. It was bad enough that I wasn't serious—I always caught more fish than he did. I saw Uncle Johnny in the grocery store a while back, and he hasn't forgotten. He looks different now—older—with gray hair, not dark like it used to be. I remember one day while we were on the boat, he lit a cigarette—he was the only person I knew then who smoked. He said, "These damn things will kill me yet". He quit over 10 years ago! Good for him. I wish I could do the same.
Sometimes we fished a few hours; sometimes we spent the whole day. When we got back to town, grandpa would pay me to clean out the inside of his semi. We would take it to the car wash and while he washed the outside, I did the inside. There was never really much to clean—he is a neat and tidy man. It was mainly just wiping down the dash and vacuuming the floor and between the seats. He did it just so that I could earn some money. He always found a way to give me what I needed, encouragement above all. We often ended up at the city park before the day was through. I roller-bladed around the old tennis court, cracks and all. I don't remember there ever being a net. Before we left, he made me practice my free-throws. Playing "post" you end up getting fouled and having to shoot a lot of free-throws. I never liked playing basketball all that much; I only played because I thought I had to. Grandpa practiced with me every week—it was part of our routine. I loved that. I got good at free throws too! He was the only person who ever practiced with me; he made it fun. He made it special.
When it finally got dark, we went "home" for supper. Grandma and grandpa's house felt like home. I remember grandma made a great Mexican-style casserole. There was always a homemade desert too, usually a pie, or my grandpa's favorite—pineapple upside down cake—or sometimes jello with fruit cocktail mixed in and Cool Whip on top sprinkled with nuts. The four of us always ate together like families should, like families do, without any bickering.
My grandpa was always very thoughtful in his own way. During the week, he was away on the truck, always out of town, often out of state. He wrote me frequently. He sent me post cards from all across the country. Each said the same thing, "I miss you and I will see you soon. Love, Grandpa." I kept them all in an album. Honestly they are one of the things I treasure most from my childhood. For a while I thought I lost them—the album disappeared in one of the moves. You can imagine how I felt when it turned up. I was in 5th or 6th grade when he started the post cards. Every time one came, I wrote him a letter back about what was going on in my life that day. Everything about school, my parents and sisters, all of it. On Saturday when I saw him, I had a large manila envelope full of letters and pictures for him to read on the truck the following week, when he got bored or lonely. It seemed like he was always thinking of me. I wanted him to know I was always thinking of him.
Even after my youngest sister was born, things didn't change between grandpa and me. Grandpa was still always there for me and for my sisters too. Things didn't change until the summer we moved away. I was 16. It hasn't been the same since. We didn't live in the same town anymore. I had my license by then, and I used it every chance I got. I was working too—anything to get out of the house. Things were just different. I'm not sure that time was the issue, but something got in the way. Somehow I lost focus. I paid more attention to the stuff I thought mattered at the time, the stuff in high school that now seems so foolish and childish or just plain stupid. I lost track of my priorities. They—I—changed and not for the better. Still grandma and grandpa were there for me, even when I didn't deserve it. When I moved out of my parents house, grandma came and helped me with my new apartment. When I graduated high school, grandpa and grandma bought me a beautiful bracelet. I still have it—it's upstairs in my jewelry box. When I got into serious trouble—arrested for public intoxication—my grandpa called, worried and sad. He didn't understand what had happened; I didn't either. He didn't understand why I was drinking. I couldn't tell him why I was so unhappy. I didn't know why. He was disappointed. Knowing that, hearing his voice, I felt lower than ever. I had let down the one person who mattered, the one person who stood by me and never let me down. We haven't really talked about anything meaningful since. I know he still cares. He tells me so.
At times I get different things from grandpa that make my heart soar. When my daughter was born he sent a beautiful card that still makes me cry when I read it. My youngest sister stayed with grandma and grandpa last year, right after she got a cell phone. One day I received a text from her phone that read "This is grandpa. You will always be my little girl. I love you".
This man has been my guardian angel since the day I was born. He has always been there when I needed him and even when I didn't. He made my childhood more than it would have been otherwise. He showed me things others couldn't or wouldn't or just didn't. He gave me memories worth remembering, experiences I could be proud of. To this day, he does the same for my youngest sister. I thank him for that. I thank him for everything that he has done. I thank God that he was a part of my life. He didn't have to do any of it. He is my moms step-dad—he is not a blood relative. He isn't mine and I am not his, but we have a bond closer than anyone could ask for. Whoever said "blood is thicker than water" never had someone like my grandpa in his life. In everything he did, grandpa made one thing obvious. Grandpa showed that the thickest thing of all is love.
Sitting in the mauve colored recliner in the far corner of the room, I'm in a terrible mood. The incision hurts every time I breathe. I'm swollen and stiff—they said it would go away after they took the baby, but it hasn't. My blood pressure is sky high, still. Nothing has changed. I am grateful for one thing. They said the baby was healthier than they had expected. He was perfect considering the circumstances.
Two days ago, it was just another Friday. My husband and I visited the city—he interviewed at a company on the south side. Was this number twelve or number fifteen? I had lost count. I spent the day sitting in the car. August is supposed to be hot, but I was burning up. I knew the AC worked—two weeks earlier Pep Boys charged me over a hundred dollars to fix the compressor. I had on pregnancy shorts, a Toby Keith tank, and the comfiest flip flops I owned (worn out, of course.) Sitting there, bored, I passed the time jotting down baby names that I liked. He wasn't due till mid October; I figured I had plenty of time to pick one out. Paul, Robert, Ben, Patrick, and Mark were my top five. I always said if I ever had kids I would never name them after anybody I was related to. My list turned out to be nothing but names of men in my family. My bible was laying on the dash—not because I was reading it—I had found it under the seat on the drive up. For some reason—who knows why we do things—I glanced at it. The name Gabriel came to mind. Lord knows I'm no expert on the Bible or anything else, but I know he appeared to Mary and told her what God was to do with her. I sat there for a minute thinking about Gabriel. It stuck in my head. I wrote down 'Luke' and 'Gabriel', then folded the paper and shoved it between the seats. I slipped off my flip flops off, laid back, and took a nap.
My in-laws had just moved to the city, so we stopped for a visit before driving the two hours back home. Sitting on the couch she asked me how my first appointment with my new doctor went. I told her it was just a normal appointment. They measured my stomach, and we listened to the heartbeat. I had gained seventeen pounds the prior month. My previous doctor told me to lay off the french fries and Dr. Pepper. This time I didn't gain anything. The new doctor was nice, he actually sat and talked with me and my mom for a little while. She asked how I was feeling. I said, "Fat." She laughed. I told her I felt fine—my feet just hurt. My feet had been swelling for a few days, which I was knew was normal. What puzzled me was that my flips flop didn't fit anymore. My feet were so swollen the straps were leaving marks across the top of my feet. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if that was something I should worry about. I called to talk to Mikey, the nurse at the doctors office. I was surprised when she said, "Come up here, and let me check your blood pressure." I told her I wasn't in town and by the time I got back the office would be closed. She suggested I go by the ER when I got back and have them check it, just to be safe.
As we pulled back into town it had just gotten dark. We didn't even stop at home first. I didn't call my mom. I didn't want her to worry. She always made a big deal out of everything. When we got to the ER they told me they would have to register me, even though it was just to check my blood pressure. After waiting, they just took me into the hall to check it real quick. The nurse checked it, then had me follow him into an exam room. He handed me a cup and said, "Go pee for me". This struck me as odd, but I did it. When I got back to the room, he told me to lie down for a little bit. I asked, "Why?" He said they needed me to relax, because my blood pressure didn't look right, and they wanted to redo it in a little bit. So I lay down. They turned the lights off and left me lying there in the dark, alone. After a few minutes my husband came in. The ER doc followed. He checked my blood pressure, then told me they needed to start an IV and that they were going to do some blood work and hook up a monitor for the baby. By this point I was scared. They wouldn't tell me why. They wouldn't tell me what was wrong. They wouldn't tell me anything. After they got the monitor on, had drawn blood, and tried several times for an IV, they put me in the dark again. This time they weren't as nice as before. Instead of "Lie down and rest," it was "You need to calm down." I wasn't upset! I was asking questions, but who wouldn't be? A few more minutes passed, and my new doctor that I had seen a few weeks before came in. I was surprised to see him but relieved also. I knew he would answer my questions that nobody else seemed to want to. He came into the dark room and leaned against the counter in front of me. He then very bluntly said, "You will be having your baby in the next few days." I laughed as if he was joking. "You're kidding, right?" He said, "No—I'm serious." I felt my heart sink to the cold, tile floor. At that moment I truly felt something for this unborn child who I hadn't wanted, who I had yet to even feel move in my womb, whom I had yet to even connect to. I was scared I would never have a chance to do these things with him. I immediately began to to cry, as if that would somehow make me feel better for how selfish I had been throughout this entire pregnancy, the six months he had been growing inside me. What kind of mother would I be when he actually got here, if he actually got here?
My doctor told me they were going to transfer me to University Hospital in the city. He said that would be the best place for me, the best chance that the baby would have to survive. He had talked to a doctor up there, and they were already getting ready for me. The tears had stopped by this point. The medicine they had been giving me to make my blood pressure go down or the stress—something had me extremely swollen. My eyes hurt. My whole body hurt. I turned to my husband and told him to go call my parents. He left the room; I didn't see him again for three hours. A lot can happen in three hours. I wasn't alone. I was surrounded by people I didn't know, people with needles. They continued to try to start an IV. The ninth stick was successful. The doctor then told me they would have to put a second line on the other side since I was being transferred, in case something happened in the ambulance. There I was lying on the exam table, monitor strapped across my abdomen, with someone trying to take blood in one arm and the doctor trying to find a vein in the other. The entire time they kept telling me to calm down. Calm down! Calm down? How? How was I supposed to do that. I was scared, and everything hurt. I don't know which was worse. The uncertainty made everything all the more unbearable. Honestly, I was as scared as I've ever been, scared to death. They finally got a second line. I still hadn't seen my husband or heard whether my parents were there. I asked again, and the ER staff told me that my parents came but were told to go ahead and go to the city. They weren't allowed to see me. My husband left with them. It wasn't until several days later that I learned they had gone and gotten gas, stopped by the house and picked up a few things before leaving for the city.
The ambulance arrived, and I rode, scared and alone, the two hours it took to transport me back to Oklahoma City. In the ambulance, the EMT kept telling me the same thing that everyone in the ER had been saying, "You need to calm down." I told her that I was sorry, that I honestly couldn't calm down. I didn't know how to with everything that was going on. In an attempt to take my mind off the situation, I started asking her questions, whatever came to my mind. She probably thought I was a very morbid individual, because I asked her things like "What is the goriest accident you've ever worked?" I was trying to distract myself, trying to keep from thinking about what was in store for me when we got to the city. I'm sure she understood. She humored me. She actually answered my questions. She even went into great detail and told me the locations. It worked. I felt better, maybe because someone finally answered one of my questions. My blood pressure went down some. I lay there and tried to rest on what must have been one of the bumpiest rides of my life. Half asleep, I heard the driver say, "We're pulling into the parking lot." Just hearing those words sent my blood pressure back up to worse than it was to begin with. Again they were telling me to calm down. They brought me in through the ER, but I don't remember seeing anybody, not a soul. Were we in the right place? They took me down these winding hallways with horrible lighting. It was half dark. What kind of place was this? It seemed desolate, decrepit. I felt more alone than I have ever felt in my life. I thought I was going to die. Out of nowhere, we came across my in-laws, sitting in the hall. I was so happy to see them, to see somebody I knew. They put me in a room right next to the nurses' station. They strapped the monitor across my stomach and attempted to draw blood. I was so swollen at this point they had an incredibly difficult time finding a veins. It always took at least tree tries. It hurt so much; I still have scars to this day from it. Soon enough my parents and husband showed up. I don't think I've ever been so happy to see my mom. We've had many differences, big ones and bad fights about them, but I knew she would stand by me, and that she would never leave me alone. She has always been there when needed or at least when other people could see that it was needed. She tends to put on a show and make things about her more than they really are, more than they have to be. The older I get the more I realize a lot of the "good deeds" people do are all for show. At this point none of that mattered. She was there; that is what mattered most.
After a few hours, once the admissions clerk had come and gone, the doctors finally came in. You know the situation is bad when you have three doctors come in to talk to you. I got a different story than what was said at the ER by my family doctor back home. I asked how long they thought it would be before I had my baby. The said a few weeks, maybe a month, possibly at term. They told me blood would be drawn every three hours. The baby monitor had to stay on at all times. I couldn't get out of bed, period. No matter what, I would stay there, in that hospital room, until the day it was time for my son to come into this world.
Saturday was a very uncomfortable day. The doctors came back early in the day. I was mostly asleep, but I remember hearing them say "What if comes down to us having to save her or the baby?" Mom answered, "Save her. She's young enough she can have more kids later on." I didn't say anything. I'm not sure if that's because I couldn't or just wouldn't. My mom made a difficult decision on my behalf, and I honestly don't know what I would have said if I could have answered that question myself. There are times in our lives when we think back to the moments where difficult decisions had to be made. Either we made them or someone made them for us. We can ask ourselves if we could have or should have made a different decision. What would it be like today had we chosen differently back then? We can ask. We can argue. We can doubt. We can insist. We can deny. But ultimately we have to believe something. We have to accept.
Later on the day got worse. As mom sat by my bedside, various members of my husband's family came and went. At one point it felt like they were having a family reunion in my room. People were talking amongst themselves all day long. It felt like nothing was going on other than their meaningless conversations, their gossip, their petty arguments. My breaking point was when my husband's uncle let his young daughter come in and talk to me. She was worried, and they expected me to console her. They acted like everything was fine, like I was on a vacation or a trip to the spa or something. My mom got up and told everybody to clear out right then and there. She told them they could have their family reunion somewhere else, that I needed my rest. To this day, nobody in my husband's family understands what happened. They don't see what the "big deal" was.
Sunday was somewhat quieter. All of the visitors had left. I was feeling better. I could sit up in bed and hold conversations. The frequent blood draws got to me by this point. It hurt. I didn't want to be there anymore. I felt trapped and tortured. If they missed the first time, I asked for somebody else who could get it right. I was annoyed. I was unreasonable. I'm sorry but, they had worn out both arms to the point of being black and blue. Each time they missed they would wiggle the needle around in my arm trying to find the vein. That is excruciating! They brought a guy in from a different floor who was supposed to be the best in the hospital. He got it the first try. I asked for him every time they came to draw blood after that. The cafeteria closed at 6 PM. At 5:30 I ordered a sandwich for supper. A few minutes after six, the monitors started going off. My blood pressure spiked, and the babies heart rate dropped. Mom went straight to the nurses station. They immediately took me for an emergency C-section to deliver the baby. The anesthesiologist missed twice. I cried. It hurt so bad I screamed. He said if he missed again, they would give me general anesthesia. Luckily, he got it the last time. I remember as they moved me from the bed to the table, I was stiff as a board. I heard noises, but I couldn't see anything other than a room full of doctors. There were at least ten people in the room. The anesthesiologist kept asking me these stupid questions, but he always ended with "You're doing great."
After two days of being told I wouldn't hear the baby cry because his lungs weren't developed, I was finally at ease when he was born 6:37 pm, August 4th 2002, crying his little heart out. I immediately feel asleep after hearing him. I remember waking up in my room. I was told the baby was being transported to the NICU, which was connected to the building I was in. I looked over and saw an incubator. I couldn't see anything or anyone in it though. I fell back asleep. When I woke up a few hours later, they said the baby had to be put on a respirator. He only weighed 2 pounds 12 ounces. Once again, I cried. My heart sank deep in my chest. I thought everything that had happened, that was happening, was my fault. It was my fault he was sick. I wasn't prepared for this. Nothing like this had ever even crossed my mind. I was told I still had to stay in bed, that I still wasn't well. They had said after I delivered that everything would be fine. It would all go back to normal. They were wrong. I still had a lot of water on me. The radiologist came in to take an X-ray of my lungs—they thought there was fluid in them. I remember him saying he had to get a cape to cover my stomach to protect the baby. I didn't even bother to tell him I had already delivered. I know he couldn't tell. My entire body was swollen. They said with all the water retention I was about 50 pounds heavier than when I had arrived Friday night. On Monday I was moved to a normal room. I also got to see my son for the first time. My mom pushed me in the wheelchair across the long indoor bridge. We had o take elevators in each building to different floors. I know it was hard for her, considering how much I weighed with all of the water retention. When we made it to the NICU, I was nervous. We went through these swinging doors, had to wash in big sinks, and put a gown on. I was wheeled to the room my son was in. They pushed me in front of his incubator. I couldn't see anything. My husband helped me out of the wheelchair. I stood there, leaning on the incubator for support. I saw my son for the first time. I fell straight back, landing in the wheelchair, crying. When I looked in that incubator, all I saw was this tiny baby, with a tube in his throat, an IV in his tiny hand, a nasal cannula so he could breathe, and lots of wires for all of the monitors. "That can't be my son!" is what I kept telling myself. I told them to take me back to my room. The first time I saw my son, I didn't tell him how much I loved him. I didn't touch his tiny hand. I didn't ask any questions about how he was doing. I didn't pray for God to watch over him and make him healthy. I didn't do anything other than be selfish and think of no one other than myself. Did I feel this way, because I was only 19? Because I wasn't prepared? Because I thought he wouldn't make it? Eight years later I still don't know why I reacted the way I did. I just know I wasn't there at the most crucial period of his life. He doesn't know that, of course, but I do. I hope he forgives me. I hope I can someday forgive myself.
The ride back to my room was unbearable. I was an emotional wreck, and people were only making it worse. My husband pushing the wheelchair, my mom walking right beside me. My husband kept saying we needed to go back to the NICU, that I needed to go be with my son, that he needed me. I tried to tell him I couldn't, not yet. He didn't understand. I was in tears the entire way back. The same five words that everybody kept repeating since this nightmare started wee now coming out of my mom's mouth. "You need to calm down." Calm down? I wanted to die. I wished I would die. We got back to the room. I got back into bed. I hadn't stopped crying. A nurse came in. She wasn't the same one from earlier. This one was rough and had no bedside manner. She told me they were worried about my kidneys. She said that I needed to try to go the bathroom every hour. When I told her I couldn't, she walked over to the bed and attempted to encourage me, to get me to at least try. I snapped. As she went to grab my arm, I jerked it away and screamed, "Don't touch me you trailer trash bitch." Most of the time I can bite my tongue; this wasn't one of those times. She backed away, perhaps scared I was going to throw something at her. Before leaving the room she told my mom to calm me down or she was going to. My crying and frustration got my mom to crying also. We were both stressed. I often wonder if she cried because of stress, because I was crying, or did her maternal instincts kick in for a brief second as she watched her first born daughter lying there crying in pain, scared that her first born might not make it through the night.
Tuesday I stayed in bed most of the day. By mid afternoon my mom talked me into going back to the NICU. I held my son for the first time that day. The NICU nurse was very patient with me. There were so many wires, I was scared I was going to knock one loose, or rip one out. She took him out of the incubator, laid him on my bare chest, and covered him with a blanket. Gabe and I bonded for the first time. He lay there for a couple of hours, until I couldn't sit any longer. I remember he never even moved, never made a sound. From time to time one of his wires would come loose and the monitors would go off, scaring me half to death. To this day, it was the most moving experience of my life. I couldn't put it into words then. Years later it dawned on me. The first time I felt love and truly knew the meaning of the word was the first time I held him. I don't know how mom talked me into going back to the NICU or how she got me to hold my son that day, but a thousand times over I thank her for doing so, for not giving up like I had. Mom and I have had our differences. Still do. But when I needed the right nudge, the right push, the right thing said or done, when it mattered most, somehow she managed to do it. God knows how we've fought. But when it came down the most crucial, critical thing imaginable, she pulled it off. Call that a miracle. Call it mom rising to the occasion. Maybe some of both.
That night one of my friends came and saw me. While we were talking this lady showed up. I didn't know who she was, but she said she knew me. She told me that she was a friend of my mother-in-law. I still couldn't understand why she was there. She asked a few questions about the baby. My mom and friend stepped out of the room so we could talk. A few seconds after they left, this stranger went crazy religious on me. She put her hands above my body and started praying. It was no form of prayer I have ever heard, and she kept get getting louder and louder. I was getting freaked out. My mom and friend came back in and told her I needed my rest. Thankfully she left quietly. We sat there and laughed trying to figure out what exactly had just happened. After a few minutes passed I asked mom to take me back to the NICU, so I could check on Gabe before I tried to sleep. We got to the NICU and the lady at the desk said "You just missed the clergy you sent to see your son." I immediately knew who she was talking about, and I was furious. I asked her how they could let anybody into the NICU without having one of the parents present. The clerk said, "Well, you called and told me she was coming, so I thought it was ok." I went and sat with my son while my mom called the campus police. Before leaving the NICU we made it to where anybody who wanted to see my son had to know a password. When we got back to my room, the campus cops were there waiting as well as a city cop. We told them everything that had happened that day. They reassured me they would take care of it, and that they would be back in the morning. I called my mother-in-law before going to sleep to ask her about her friend. I told her what had happened, and her response was "Well she is a little hyperactive. You're making a big deal out of nothing." I told her to keep that psycho bitch away from me and my son. Wednesday morning I found out that I was finally getting discharged. They couldn't tell me why my blood pressure was still high or how long it would stay that way. They also told me that if I decided to have more kids the chance of this happening again was extremely high, and that it will likely be much worse. The city cop showed up before I left the hospital. He wanted to let me know that he had personally went to the crazy bible thumper lady's home, and that she would no longer be bothering any of us. I was relieved.
The next month I stayed at various places in the city, spending all my time with Gabe. I went home two days a week just to go the doctor. At one week the nasal cannula came off; he was breathing fine. Then he had jaundice. When he was two weeks old, I decided that, since he could suck on a pacifier, he could try to eat on his own. The nurse agreed that since he had been sucking on a pacifier this entire time that he should be able to take a bottle. We tried and he took about half of it. It was a tiny bottle. I got in "trouble" by his doctor for bottle feeding him. So I didn't try again, until two weeks later. They still hadn't even been trying. I was getting frustrated with the staff. The nurses were great, but the doctor I didn't care for. One day I was talking to this nurse I really liked. I told her how I knew he was ready. I then asked her what she thought about the whole situation. She simply said that he was my son, the decisions where mine to make, then she winked at me. I smiled and asked her to make sure that every shift knew to try the bottle first at every feeding. Twenty-four hours later I got a call from the nurse. She said "Sweetie, it's time to come take your son home. He took the entire bottle at every feeding". I couldn't believe it. So we drove back to the city, and stayed overnight at the hospital with Gabe. We had to check his temperature every 3 hours which is every feeding. We had to take infant CPR classes. Finally, we were able to bring my four pound two ounce son home. I was truly blessed that he got to come home without the monitors or oxygen like most preemies have to do.
The next three years were filled with nothing but worries and doctors appointments and late night trips to the ER. For the first three months, we had to go every week to get weighed. For the first four months, he had to be fed every three hours. For the first nine months, we had to go to the doctor once a month for a shot to help prevent RSV. For the first year, he was on a special high calorie formula, not WIC approved and expensive. We had numerous appointments to make sure his eyes and hearing were okay. The ER visits usually ended up just as breathing treatments and sometimes intravenous fluids. Anytime he would get a cold, he couldn't breathe. It's still like that to this day.
Today my son is 8 years old. He's still underweight, but not because he doesn't eat. He is shorter than all of the kids in his class. I started him a year later than I could have. He doesn't have asthma, but he has to have an inhaler for when he gets a cold or sick in any way. He has had tubes in his ears and two surgeries, so far. He is also incredibly bright, has a great sense of humor, and is surprisingly independent. One can't expect a lot after having delivered eleven weeks early. You expect the worst, because that is what they prepare you for. There is no middle ground—there's good and there's terrible, skipping bad all together. I thank my mom for never leaving my side, for being there when I needed her the most. I thank God for taking my son into his arms and blessing him, and for giving me the opportunity to be the person I never thought I could or wanted to be, a mom.
I'm a strong believer that all things happen for a reason, though we might not want to see it at the time. Did all of this happen to open my eyes? To fulfill some sort of plan for me or for Gabe? To restore my faith? Did I need to see something in that incubator in order to see something in myself? Did I need to be confronted by someone whose needs were so much greater than mine, someone truly helpless while all I ever cared about until then was ME and getting what I wanted at the moment? All that mattered up to then was freedom—MINE! The consequences were for somebody else to figure out. From 15 on I had done what I wanted when I wanted with whoever I wanted. Here was someone—a part of me—that might not make it to his first birthday. I could walk away from anyone and anything that was not to my liking; my son was trapped in a Plexiglas box. I could throw a fit, be a bitch, or disappear anytime I chose; my son could barely breathe. Until Gabe was born I walked away from everything in my life that bored me or bothered me, that put demands on me. School. Jobs. Marriage. Family. Ditch responsibility and the stress that goes with it! I was very good at that. I walked away from everything and everyone except my son. I suppose you could say he was my accountability angel. I know you're not supposed to find yourself in your kids, to define yourself by them, to use them to solve your own problems—that's codependence, isn't it? What I found in my son sure beats anything else I ever tried. I was awful before he came along. I was a terrible person. He would have never made it unless I became someone other than who I was. I didn't rescue him or save him. The doctors and nurses did that. God kept him alive against all odds. He rescued me and doesn't even know it. He probably never will.
I didn't change overnight, and there was a long struggle to become the person I should have been all along, but everything has a starting point, and he was it. He needed me, and I knew it. I wanted to look the other way; I wanted to run away. Don't think I didn't, but I couldn't. What I didn't know was how much I needed him. I saw that, and it scared me. It changed me. He's grown up to be a pretty good kid. I grew up too, later than I should have, but perhaps just in time. We've both come a long way. I wish I was half the mom he deserved. The pregnancy was unexpected, unplanned, and definitely unwanted. There's another whole story behind that, something else that had to change too. But my son, my precious child, was and is the greatest gift I've ever known, the greatest experience of my life. The first time I felt love and truly knew the meaning of the word was the first time I held him. And the next time, and every time after that.
Something dawned on me the other day when I was sitting in my therapist's waiting room. Like every other time it was a room full of women, some my age, some older. There sure are a lot of unhappy women in Oklahoma! That's right, and there's a reason for it. Most of these women are unhappy, because they have miserable marriages. Being a wife in Oklahoma in 2012—it might as well be the Flintstones, except it isn't funny. Get married at 17, bang out a bunch of Rugrats, and clean up your husband's (and his buddies') mess for the next 30 years. See if that makes you happy. Oh, but this is the heartland. We have family values. I was born and raised in Oklahoma. Don't tell me I don't appreciate family values. Real ones, not excuses for laziness and immaturity. Degrading your wife is not a family value. Never has been. Never will be. It is not a Christian value. It is not the kind of value that makes things work at home and in the community. Hmm, interesting observation. Where can we go with this? The doctor and the experts on TV sit there and say that our unhappiness is due to an illness. Why isn't our unhappiness due to what's really going on in our lives? Why can't they admit that? Why can't we admit that? It seems to me that our potential is at stake. It's spiraling down the drain. You can see it, feel it, slipping away a little bit more every day. That ought to make anyone profoundly unhappy. These are the years that won't come back. We're wasting them on immature, porn addicted guys who want their mommies to clean up after them. I married a boy in man's clothing who plays video games all day long but won't hold a job. My sister married one who smokes pot non-stop! What was she thinking? Probably the same thing I was—not thinking at all really. Just thinking about the moment, what we were getting out of, getting away from, not getting into, getting stuck with. When the doctor and the TV insist that we are ill instead of pointing out that we are being robbed of something valuable, the doctor and the TV are part of the problem, call it a mindset or whatever, that degrades us, that diminishes us. That makes us feel worthless. That makes it harder than ever for us to grow. That robs us of dignity and integrity for decades, for a lifetime even. You think I would have gotten up and walked out when I saw that. I didn't. I needed my Xanax and my Ambien. That's another way they trick you, get you hooked on pills you can't get off of.
Maybe somehow I can.
Maybe next time I will.
I said something else once in this space, something honest and from the heart, but it bothered people, and they let me know. So I took it down. We're not talking strangers. We're talking people who you think will understand and care about what's going on in your life, who will support and encourage you. But how could they? Mom? She knows better—she ought to anyway. My sisters? They're just starting out in life. They haven't made the same mistakes I have. Not yet, anyway. Haven't felt the same frustration, the same pain, the desperation, the heartbreak. It's all a big adventure for them. Dating. Guys. Sex. Getting pregnant. Starting a family. The nightmare hasn't set in yet. They still believe the dream. The dream is a Goddamn lie, but if you point that out, if you speak up, they say it's just you. You're the bad one. Isn't that the story of my life? Tell the truth. Get in trouble. Sooner or later you stop telling the truth. Just isn't worth the grief. You cave in. You sell out. You buckle under. Call it what you want. You learn to pretend, to be fake. In time and with practice everything becomes fake. Problem solved, but there's a catch. There's no more you.
I've always had a problem with caving in, selling out, letting others win, giving up on what I believe in, not standing up for myself. It's hard to do that when you feel all alone, when you ARE all alone. The biggest lesson of growing up is that the world doesn't care what you think, what you have to say. It only cares that you shut up and go along. You learn to deal. You learn to cope. You learn to let others believe what they want to believe—think what they have to think—to give you what you want or, at least, leave you alone. I've gotten good at that. Too good. A survival skill gone overboard. When you grow up in a situation where that's the only skill that works, it becomes the only skill you own, the one you find comfort in, the one you rely on. It becomes the way you deal with everyone and everything. It turns into the way you lead your life. It turns into you. You don't think twice. You don't look for options. You wouldn't choose them even if you found them. You become someone who copes in ways that do more harm than good, but it's harm that no one else can see or feel, so it doesn't matter to anybody but you. Before you know it, you're buried in a tomb of lies you have to tell to keep others happy. You're drowning in a sea of lies. Don't even think of getting out, because that means disappointing everyone, and they WILL let you know. Authenticity? Integrity? Dignity? Try them on for five minutes and see how far you get. See how far they get you when it comes to relationships, family, jobs, marriage. Everything that matters. Everything that's supposed to anyway.
I said something else once. You can read it here. You be the judge.
I was asked to write a brief biography for this page. Here it is.
Born in the early 80s in Littletown, Oklahoma, I have yet to find the place where I belong. From growing up on the farm driving tractors and working cattle to living in the city, shopping with my favorite Starbucks beverage in hand, nothing feels right. Half country—half city—I have never felt comfortable in between.
With a long list of bad choices lurking in my past, I can only hope that tomorrow will somehow turn out better than today. While working on this better tomorrow, I still try to have fun with friends, so I don't completely lose myself. Fun, for me, means drinks, music, movies, dancing, being able to laugh, feeling that there is a reason to hope, a reason to live.
Regardless of the past and what others think motivates me to change, my kids are what matter most. They didn't ask to be born into this situation, and its hard on them. I see it everyday. They deserve so much more than I will ever be able to give them. My hope is that in changing my life, I can change theirs as well. My hope is that history doesn't repeat itself, again. I want to give them a chance to get it right the first time. They deserve a home with stability, a dad who actually plays with them and spends time with them, and parents that actually love each other and don't have to fake a pleasant conversation when they are in the room.
That is my hope.
And this is my story.
I took it down when they said I was a hypocrite. I caved. I sold out. I gave in. I wouldn't fight for something as simple as a few paragraphs of honesty.
What is worth fighting for?
Will I ever fight for me?