MY LONG LOST FRIEND

I didn’t think I would run into her anytime soon.  I was sure that with the current state of our country, her family dynamics, plus having to balance work from home, would keep her life busy.  I stopped giving her much thought and like a lot of things in my life, she slipped into the back of my memory bank.  I compare it to that old raggedy pair of favorite sweats you keep tucked away.  You love them, but know they have seen better days.  Still, you keep them because they are a part of you and your past. Every once in awhile, you will pull them out from the back of the drawer and slip them on.  “Well, hello old friend.”

At one time, she was all I could think of.  I worried and agonized so much over her day and night that all other aspects of my life took a back seat to the pain she was experiencing. But, as time passed,  normalcy gave way and other more important and timely things  took precedence. And if I was to be perfectly honest, lately  I hadn’t thought of her much. I knew she was moving on. Her social media posts were happier, funnier, more upbeat than usual.  There were pictures of her smiling, laughing over a glass of wine, taking trips, enjoying her family life!!  I naively assumed she didn’t need to be coddled or soothed like in the past. I thought that this was an answer to prayer. After all, I had prayed day and night that she would become a stronger more resilient human being. It seemed like her sadness had finally dissipated. She would once again be whole.

So, there I was, minding my own business at Vons. My brain was somewhat muddled.  I walked aimlessly up and down the aisles wondering what apocalypse I had wandered in to.  The empty toilet paper shelves, the missing pasta, the lack of water.  I watched as people’s shopping carts were close to toppling over due to the amount of non-perishables they kept piling on.  I must admit…the insanity started to pull me in.  I began to panic. What if my family was suddenly without?  I hurried around a corner, my mind racing trying to figure out what I needed to start grabbing. Just then, as I raced by the produce isle narrowly missing another flustered shopper, I ran straight into her!  I froze! I tried desperately to turn my cart around, divert my gaze, to pretend I was REALLY interested in the price of kiwi, but it was too late. There was no turning back, no running away. I just stood there, unable to move and it really didn’t matter anymore.  She saw me, but most importantly I saw her.

There was an audible gasp and my eyes locked on hers.  I stood there facing her, not saying a word.  I wanted to say I was sorry…to forgive me for not thinking of her, but I couldn’t get any words out.  I wanted to sit and talk to her and tell her I was proud of how far she had come.   How I was too scared to tell her because I was afraid of the real truth and that she would tell me it was all a farce…a well-played misinterpretation of her life and that in actuality, she was in a deeper darker place than before.

She just stared back at me, not saying a thing but reading my every thought. She had this look of anger, bitterness, deep sadness. She looked like a frail, beaten down old lady.  I saw the dark circles under her eyes.  They seemed sullen and the wrinkles around her face were more intense than ever.  Her hair seemed thinner and grayer than I remembered.  Her shoulders were slumped over. She looked defeated. She was someone I hardly recognized.

My head dropped.  I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. A huge lump formed in my throat. I didn’t know what to say. I just started to cry, my head hanging low, and I didn’t care. The crowd around us seemed to have disappeared and an eerie silence filled my head. She just stood there and watched me as tears rolled down my face.  She knew I was hurting; she knew I was in pain, but she didn’t care.  She wanted me to feel her agony. She wanted me to feel that burning, gnawing feeling in the pit in of my stomach.  You know the one. That horrible nausea that alerts you to the “something is wrong” emotion.  Just like the gut feeling I had the day Joey died. She had this grasp on me and I felt she didn’t want me to walk away, ever so oblivious to the pain that, no matter how hard she tries; she can never get rid of. 

I don’t know how long I stood there. With no tissues in sight, I started using the cuff of my t-shirt collar to dry my tears and snot. The young produce guy stood by me and asked me if I needed help finding something. I mumbled some idiotic remark under my breath. I think I scared him, so he just nodded and walked away.  I, though, just stood there. I felt guilty just walking away and honestly,  I didn’t want to walk away.  I knew that by turning my back to her, it would only intensify the guilt I felt, and the bitterness she clung on to. I mustered my strength and squashed any embarrassment I may have felt. I decided right there and then  that she needed to hear the truth.  She needed to know that even though she only crossed my mind on rare occasions, I still loved her and prayed for her.  Nothing in this world, other than husband, my children and grandchildren, meant more to me than she did.  She needed to know that it was okay for her to laugh. She didn’t need to feel guilty if the tears didn’t come as often or if a day went by without her recalling her worst nightmare.  I needed to tell her that moving into this new phase of grief was good and that it would NEVER diminish the love she had for him.  It was a new part of this journey and I was honored to be a part of it with her.

So, as I stood there, looking in the mirror that gleamed with mist from the vegetable wash, I looked at my reflection and I mustered a smile.  With the Iceberg and Endive lettuces as my captive audience, I finally gave myself permission to not be held captive by my grieving self.  I told her….ME…that it was perfectly OK to have a “normal” day or two, in my “abnormal” world.

Joey would be happy and so very proud of me….tears, snot and all.

 

WHEN TOMORROW COMES

When tomorrow morning comes, and I wake up, I will be grateful I survived another year without him. I will take a deep breath and do the same thing I have done for the past 3 years. I will roll over in bed to stare into the green light from our security camera that sits on the top corner of our bedroom. Four grief filled years ago today, that camera gave me strength to wake up another day.

When everyone left our home on the night Joey died, I went upstairs and crumbled onto the bedroom floor. My husband laid beside me trying his best, yet failing miserably, to comfort me. There was just no comfort to be had. When he finally got me into bed, he desperately fought to stay awake. He was afraid that in my dark state of mind, I would take one or five extra pills to take the immense pain away. I assured him I would be OK. I convinced him that I only felt like dying but that I would never follow through. He was so exhausted. He closed his eyes “for just a minute” and quickly fell asleep. I, though, just laid in bed gasping for breath. I felt as if I was suffocating. I could not breathe…I could not move…I could not feel…. I did not feel human. It felt like those night terrors most of us have experienced. You try desperately to wake up, but you can’t. You scream and no sound comes out. Then, just when you finally exhale a sigh of relief knowing it was just a dream, the terror drags you back in. The nightmare continues.

I needed to get control of myself. I was not of sound mind. I felt like I was in a house of mirrors with no way out. If I did not squash the thoughts of despair, I KNEW, without a doubt, I would not wake up in the morning. I knew I had lied to my husband. I was not OK. I just wanted to die along with my first born.

As I laid in the darkness of our bedroom, I began to stare into that green light from our security camera. It was almost as if something or someone was drawing me to it. I muffled my cries into the palm of my hand in order not to wake my husband. I quietly started begging God. “Please God! Bring him back…Joey, PLEASE come back! Don’t leave me! Oh honey, please let me know you’re OK ! I NEED to know you’re OK or I can’t do this!” Then, as soon as the last words left my mouth, the green light that, by the way is hardwired and I had never seen blink in the 8 years that we had it, started blinking. I began to feel a strange sense of peace came over me and I started to count those blinks. One…Two…Three… I got all the way to 16, and then it stopped blinking. I glanced over at the other camera light in our hallway, thinking there may be a glitch in the system. Nothing. That hallway light never flickered once. I waited for a few seconds just to be sure. Then, as I was reaching over to wake my husband from his sleep to let him know about the light, it started blinking again. Once again, I started counting. Once again it stopped at 16. I laid there, almost paralyzed. Could it be? Was it my grief playing mind games with me? Was it that far fetched thinking that God or Joey heard my cries of despair?? How can I deny this ‘coincidence’? Joey was born on the 16th and left me on the 16th. God lent him to me for only 32 years. Two sets of 16 blinks. 32 blinks for 32 years. I let out a sigh of relief, closed my eyes and fell asleep.

So, when tomorrow morning comes, and my body wakes from its slumber, I will thank God for helping me make it through one more year. I will then turn on my back and gaze into the green light. I will close my eyes and I will lie as still as I can . A huge sigh will escape my body and my breathing will begin slow. The peace and quiet of the room will engulf me. I will place my right palm over my heart, and I will begin to feel the beats radiating through my hand. I will hear each beat echoing in my head. One…two…three… I will count each one until I hit 32. At the precise moment of the 32nd heart beat fading away, I will open my eyes and quickly remove my hand from my chest. There is no need to keep it there any longer. My heart stopped beating when his did.

Are You Really Gone??

I was just slapped on the face by life.  Now I sit here, in dire disbelief, feeling the sting of it.  Not the sting of the slap, but the sting of life…the unbearable sting of death.  You see, a few minutes ago, it dawned on me again…you’re gone.

My life is a go, go, go.  Well, actually due to recent events, it’s at a standstill. It is my mind that keeps going, going, going.    These are crazy times we are living in and all that is happening in our world, the never-ending doom and gloom headlines, the daily life stressors, friends, family, etc., I sometimes  feel as if I carrying the world on my shoulders.  Everything seems to want to take priority and little things consume my thoughts.  And then there are times like today when out of nowhere, my world comes crashing to a halt and hits me like a cold bucket of water.  You’re gone.

Your sister and baby Hayden just moved into their own place.  As we were going through this box of “Why did you pack this, Alix?” “I don’t know, but I may need it later” I ran across a memory stick.  I was going to trash it, along with the 50 some pens she had hoarded, thinking it may be some unwelcomed memories of a time she would rather forget.  Instead, I stuck it in my pocket.    Once I got home, I threw on the kitchen counter not really giving it a second thought.  My muscles were aching from moving boxes and all I wanted to do was take a shower and climb into bed.  That key was the last thing on my mind.

The following morning, I went to grab it and was just about to  throw it in our junk drawer, ( the one where unwanted items go to die but you can’t trash them just in case you may need that one single Las Vegas dice or that little mermaid pen that’s out of ink ).  For some reason, I had second thoughts.  I left it right where it had landed the day before.  For the next couple days, that memory stick was gently pushed from one end of the counter to the other.  It just didn’t seem right to throw it in the drawer of doom. Ehh, I would get to it eventually.  Finally, as I was getting ready to turn off the lights tonight and go to bed, I caught a glimpse of its bright blue color that reminded me of a beautiful piece of intricate glass.   I felt as if I was drawn to it, so I picked it up and went straight to my office.  As I was inserting it into the port, I got this butterflyee (it that a word?) nauseated, sick to my stomach feeling.  It was  the same exact feeling I had been struggling with for a couple days. I keep trying to push it away, thinking it was nerves because your  sister was going on her own with the baby.   I told Scott that I hated when I felt like this.  It is the same dreadful feeling I had on the day you left me.

I watched nervously as the files were downloaded and then there it was.   There YOU were.  Your entire life from the days when you were just born to the months before you passed.  They were all in front of me on this giant screen.  I scrolled through every picture, devouring your smiles, your face, and your beautiful eyes.  It’s the closest I’ve been to you in years. Even the picture we used for your obituary was there, along with the one with the wings painted on that we used for the program.  I clicked on a couple that were short video clips. I heard your voice.  I heard your laugh.  I heard you sing to Sarini as she playfully laughed and made fun of you.  My stomach went into somersaults.  I wanted to click the screen off, but I couldn’t.  Each picture drew me closer and closer to you.  I reached out and touched the screen yearning to feel you one more time.

Scott came in to see what I was doing.  I think I heard his heart drop.  I never turned to see him.  All I said was “I forgot, honey,  he is really gone.”  All the emotions came flooding back.  Th antsy, ugly, nervous  feeling I had that entire morning.  Your dad’s phone call.  Scott’s words to me. My silent scream. The walk into the hospital. How everything was in slow motion.  The walk into the ‘viewing room’. Your beautiful body laying on that stupid metal bed with a stupid pink waffle blanket on top of you. I remember laying my head on you and feeling your cold body.  I buried my face into your chest and cried for you to come back to me.  I wasn’t finished loving you yet.

I went through each and  every picture and each picture brought the memories flooding back to me.  The way you played Pretty, Pretty Princess with your baby sister.  How you and your brother would sit on the couch on Saturday mornings watching the Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles.  You would wear your ninja turtle underwear and P.J.s pretending you were each one of the characters.  How handsome you looked in your uniforms. How you KNEW how handsome you were! HA! The many looks and fashion eras of Joey!    We teased you how if the house ever caught on fire, and you had to run out, there better not be any mirrors along the way!  You could not walk past a mirror without first stopping to check yourself out.  Man, you loved yourself!  God, How I love you and how I MISS YOU. 

I haven’t said that for a long time….because I forgot you were gone.

I Can See Chirstmas Through Your Eyes

I saw Joey last night.  I touched his hair. It was beautiful.

Before you think I am starting to lose it…again, let me stop you.  This wasn’t a moment of hallucination or a dream.  It wasn’t some drunken stupor or a figment of my imagination.  I saw him as clearly as you are seeing the words on this page.  Humor me, while I explain.

I stopped at my local grocery store last night.  It was crazy busy!  Dinner time, Holidays, last minute milk runs.  I was able to snag an empty stall right in front of the store.  Fresh christmas trees were lined up all long the front of the store.  I saw this little boy of about 6 or 7 years old running ahead of his parents.  Something made me take a second look.  He ran back towards them as glanced at the LED light from my car.  The excitment was written all over his face.  His eyes were dancing in delight! He was so cute and excited, that I chuckled out loud. His dark brown wavy hair and large brown eyes reminded me of Joey.  I watched as he grabbed his moms hand and pulled her towards this 10 foot tree that would require atleast 3 people to load it on a car rooftop.  The mom looked over her shoulder in an attempt to locate the man with them.  He had stopped to stand up a tree that was no taller than he was.  The mom gently pulled the young boy towards the man and the average sized tree before him.  I could see the little boy resisting.  As far as he was concerned, he had found ‘the tree’! For some reason, I just sat and watched in anticipation of what was to follow.

I didn’t understand why I was so fixated by the events unfolding before my eyes.  Maybe it took me back to when I would take my own childrent to pick out our christmas tree.  This was before the day that artificial would become a norm in my house.  I could leave it up longer, it was less messy, and it can handle the heavier ornaments. Memories of walking through the tree farms and the smell of christmas evergreen came floooding back to me.  I remember trying to find the perfect one, all while  I tried to keep an eye on my two toddlers running from tree to tree.  It never failed, Joey would always find THE tree.  Sometimes it would be crooked or missing branches, but he would always say          “Momma, dis it duh twee Santa will wook foe”. His pronounciation got better as he got older.  Still, no matter how much I tried to discourage him as I showed him a real magestic looking tree, he wouldn’t budge.  His eyes of disappointment would always win me over.  And there is where  saw Joey.

I saw Joey in the face of that little boy.  The determination that he had found THE tree that Santa would look for.  I saw his shoulders hang when his dad shook his head.  His mom started brushing ther hair off of his face, bending over to tell him something.  The little boy shook his head then nodded.  I could feel the joy escaping him.   His mom walked over the the man and said something to him. I wanted to yell out, ‘GET HIM THE TREE!  DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND LIFE ISNT PROMISED, GET THE DAMN TREE!”

I sat in my car trying so hard to will the man to just buy the tree. I think I was just as disappointed as that little boy.  Out of the corner of my eye, the presence of the sales person shook me out of my trance.  I didnt know how long I was sitting there, but I knew I needed to get home.  I got out of the car and I started to  walk past them.  I could see the little boy, fidgeting with the branches of his tree as his dad talked to the salesperson.  I  stopped and said to him, “Ooohhh it’s that your new tree?”  “No”, he said, “daddy said we needed a smaller one.”  “Aw man, that’s ok, though, because Santa know where ALL the trees are at!”  He said, “Yea, but he could see a real big one from far, far away!  Do you have a big, big tree?”  “Yup”, I said.  But mine is real, real big because my little boy is in heaven right now and I want him to see it.”   At that moment, this little boy looked at me, straight into my eyes and said “That’s better than Santa Claus finding you.”  My throat closed up.  The parents were standing beside him. I could feel the tears building up.  I asked if I could hug him, the mom, with tears welling up in her eyes nodded yes.  I pulled him tight,  thanked him and as I brushed the hair off his forehead I wished him a Merry Christmas. “Merry Christmas” he replied, “I  hope your little boy see’s your tree.  If not, you can ask Santa to tell him”….‘tears’

I wandered  into the store and grabbed my groceries.  I kept hearing that little boy’s sweet voice.   As I walked out to my car with my packages, I saw the little boy and his mom again.  He was holding her hand and was jumping up and down.  He was singing his own version of  ‘Santa Clause is coming to town’.   His mom kept trying to have him control his excitement.  I looked over to find his dad. There he was… his dad and 2 clerks.  They were  helping him tie down this 10 foot tree to the top of their suv.

Merry Christmas, Joey

TEARS ARE THE WORDS THE HEART CAN’T EXPRESS

I can’t remember when I cried last.  Not just my eyes tearing up,  or a few tears rolling down my cheek, but a heart wrenching type of cry.  The type of cry that startles those around you leaving them in a state of shock.  How do they try to console a person that sounds like a wild animal waiting to be put out of their misery?   Crying out to God and begging for a day when we are no longer in this agonizing pain.

We long for the days of our idyllic days.  The days that when we did cry, they were for joyous reason.   We call them ‘Happy tears’.  Tears that sweetly rolled down our faces were because we were tickled.  Those silly faces from their kindergarten school pictures, homemade mother’s day cards…first proms.  Learning to take their first steps and passing their driving test!  Learning they got in to college of their dreams.  I so yearn to have those tears again.

Even through the difficult teen years I cried.  Missing curfews,  speeding tickets, being grounded, having bedroom doors slammed.  I had to restrain myself from wanting to strangle my child.  I couldn’t understand how such a young thing could push so many buttons! How could this beautiful child, that I  once referred to as angelic would turn into such a…not angelic child.  What I wouldn’t give now to have my chld, in any form, back to me.  To have him call me out of the blue as I answered the phone “what’s wrong?”  I could hear him laugh and tell his best friend “HAHAHAHA, See I told you! Mom nothing is wrong!”

He was my first real love.  He was my little Joey…the light of my life…the one that made me whole.  He taught me to love unconditional, no matter how much he pushed my buttons, I loved him with no regrets.  I once stayed awake one night and slept on his toddler bed with him.  He was really sick and had a high fever.  I put cold cloths on his head all night long.  I rocked all 40 pounds of him when he cried  cause his head hurt. I wanted to take his pain away. One time we sat on the couch as I held his hand and rubbed his back while he cried uncontrollably.  A girl broke his heart, on Valentines day.  I watched as the delicate tears ran down his face to the floor.  He told me that it was true…a heart does break.  As I held him, I told him, “yea, I know”.  I knew it was true because my heart was breaking, too.

One cloudy day, as the neighborhood kids played  outside, a scream made me stop in my tracks.  The idyllic day filled with the laughter of kids playing, suddenly turned to terror.  Kids were screaming and running.  As I ran to the street, there he laid screaming.  A neighbors dog had viciously attacked Joey and tried to drag him off. A neighbor managed to scare the dog away.  My heart stopped. I did the only thing I could think of.  I scooped him up, ran with him in my arms and put him in car.  I screamed for my neighbor to watch my other 2 kids.  I sped down the street, scared out of my mind, honking at the cars to get out of my way. I  kept pressure on his bleeding wounds, and I prayed! ” Please God, don’t take my Joey.   Don’t you dare take him!”   I turned to look at Joey as he was crying in pain. Then,  with fear in his eyes, hi sbig beautiful brown eyes looked at me as he quietly asked “Mom, am I going to die?  Please don’t let me die.”  “YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE, JOEY!  You are going to be ok!  I promise!  You will not die!  God is watching over you!  God will NOT take you from me!!  Your hear me! Don’t close your eyes, Joey!  We’re almost to the hospital, ok?  You stay with me!! I’m supposed to die before you but not for a long, long time form now! Ok Baby!!!??””  

He didn’t die.  God gave me the gift of having him another 26 years.  I wanted 60 more.  I always wonder that if I had been with him when he died 3 1/2 years ago, I could have kept him from dying.  I would have held him and sternly tell him “YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DIE, JOEY!  You are going to be ok!  I promise!  You will not die!  God is watching over you!  God will NOT take you from me!!  Your hear me! Don’t close your eyes, Joey!  We’re almost to the hospital, ok?  You stay with me!! OK, baby??!!  Stay with me…I’m supposed to die first, Joey! Did you forget that!  I was supposed to die first!  I WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE FIRST!

Now, if you’ll please excuse me. I feel the cries of agony suffocating me as they try to escape my lungs.