Not Ever.

The night my son tried to kill himself, I was dreaming of my own life without him.

It was the middle of the night, and my eyelids were so far into REM sleep, they were fluttering in response to a make-believe world in which he did not exist. A world in which I was still entirely myself. A world in which I was carefully listening to every single of piece of music that came my way, giving credence to every poet and author who appeared before me, and a world in which I was still making way for art and growth and experience and wild abandon. A world where I was still beautiful, still relevant, still alive.

And then, something jerked me upwards until suddenly and without any apparent reason, my eyes were forced open, to focus on the one thing that laid before me: My stupid fucking cell phone, previously silenced. It babbled at me with its glaring announcement that I had a missed a call from a girl I cared for who wouldn’t ever call me in the middle of the night unless it was serious. But I closed my eyes anyway. I closed them and had the world’s stupidest thought, which was: “She’s probably just calling because some dramatic thing has happened between herself and a boy or something.” And I tried to soothe myself with that thought, until I couldn’t soothe it any longer, because I knew her, and I knew something had happened, and that The Thing That Happened was not something that i was allowed to ignore. And so I replied with a text, lazy in my intuitions. She responded immediately. And what came next resulted in me bounding out of bed like everything around me had been set on fire, gone up in engulfing flames in a split second. And then I was at his door, and I wasn’t even knocking first, and I was asking him, in a voice that was not my own, “what did you take? How many?” And the answer was quickly interpreted into my own mathematical equation of “60.” That solution kept pounding through my skull, like some sort of tribal beat until I could relay it moments later to a 911 operator who seemed bored. “60 pills. 60 of them. 60, 60, 60.”

The professionals did even faster calculations, in milligrams, and came upon a number that immediately halted them to a snail-like pace, one that was agonizing to me.

There was no siren. There was no emergency. There were calm voices, men in uniform trudging through my home, pushing away blankets and debris on the floor with their heavy black boots as they sauntered through and all I could think was, “how embarassing that it’s such a mess in here.”

There were rough men asking “why why why” and all I could think was “Why does it MATTER?”

And then there was movement. Mine, and everyone else’s, and I was following closely behind an ambulance, until we had arrived at a hospital that was supposed to give me calm, give me hope, give me something different.

I raced to his room, yelling at people younger than me in administrative positions to “open the fucking door” and then snarling at everyone else to “tell me what room.”

And then I got close, and I reminded myself to breathe, and I walked in calmly, with a face and a disguise no one ever taught me how to create. And what greeted me in that tiny room, was my baby. The first one, the one human being in the entire universe that I learned to love more than myself, in a way that has been so fierce that at times, it has frightened me. And when I looked, I could only see that small, tender boy, with a head full of white-blonde hair and clear, soft skin, in a portable bed that he did not belong in.

Today, after months of acute hospitalizations and anti-psychotics and words that I never expected would be part of my vocabulary, I think back to that moment, when I arrived at his room, in a filthy hospital that did not deserve him. And all I can see are his long dark lashes, his big blue eyes, full of pain and anguish, and how they looked at me with the only apology I would ever receive.

And today, I have learned how to be still and quiet and remember that moment, that first glimpse of my baby in the most horrific pain any of us can imagine. And I know now, unequivocally that my life, under any scenario, was never meant to be lived without him. That being graced with his presence has been proof enough to me that God exists. It has been proof to me over the last 18 years that I helped create something amazing, and purposeful, and beautiful. And that dirty hospital? It doesn’t get to have him. Not now, not this way, not ever.


Not a Speck

When I was eighteen years old, I met a boy who didn’t belong to me. I was drawn to him, a magnetic pull I could not ignore. Whether he felt the same pull, I don’t even know anymore. His arms were covered in scars, like mine, and in a rush of drunken courage, I passed him notes at a party until he was well within my grasp.

My memory holds nothing but a skip to the next scene, and we are hidden away, naked in a darkened room. I have no regrets, and no guilt. Not a speck of it, even when the door is opened and I hear the noises coming from her throat, half wail, half sob. It is animal like, and full of sorrow and despair and I Just. Don’t. Care. I don’t even care that she is one of my dearest friends, someone who was once a lover. All I know is that he is mine now. He is mine and I will keep him forever.

There is commotion, a rush of confusion, and she is hurting me, and I am chasing her up the stairs, grabbing for her. There are angry voices coming from the people I have been friends with for years. They bare their teeth, protective of her now. Sides have been drawn. “Never show your face in this neighborhood again,” we are told.

And then there is another skip, and I am driving, while he is giving me directions from the passenger seat. My vision is blurred and I am closing one eye as we pass through a tunnel. I am amazed that we make it to our destination in one piece. There is a small house, and we are crawling in a bedroom window. We sleep on the top bunk, wrapped up in each other, exhausted.

Weeks pass, but these memories are sparse and dreamlike. He disappears frequently, tries to kill himself. I chase him through the woods, catch him, try to save him, as we dangle our legs over the river below and he tells me of his pain. He is always just beyond my reach, in a world I have only had glimpses of.

We tangle ourselves up in the bathtub together, scars to scars. I know, even then, that I cannot save him. I cannot even manage to save myself. I know all of it, just as I know that he is broken beyond repair.

We always fuck like it’s the last time, desperate and needy. We drive to a run-down motel and drink two bottles of cough syrup. In the parking lot, I reach my arms into the sky and say “Do you feel it? Do you feel the entire universe right now?”

We try to act normal but neither of us knows how to anymore. I never go back to the old neighborhood. I have no real home. He is my home, and he is unstable and breakable and can only sometimes be taped together by love or drugs.

I’m moving from one moment to the next, directionless. Something is late, but I don’t notice it at first. It gnaws at me, my body tugging at my mind like a word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t seem to recall. And then the thought forms, appears hazy at first, until I am sitting in a tiny bathroom staring down two pink lines on a store bought test kit.

The entire world becomes a speeding train that has come to a noisy, screeching halt.

I tell him immediately and there are lots of words, rushing towards me. “It’s okay. It’s going to be fine. Don’t worry. It’s totally fine.”

We are cleaning ourselves up and making our way to the old neighborhood, to sit in the living room of my childhood home and tell my parents something they will cry about. I still refuse to come home.

I am sick in the mornings, in a way that I have never felt before, and it is miserable. I poke him and complain and ask for help, and he drags a bottle of whiskey from underneath the bed and hands it to me.

It is with this single action that clarity appears. My vision becomes clearer each day until the edges are sharp and crisp. My mind is full of a thousand thoughts. I have to. I need to. We have to. We need to.
I am panicked, all the time, while he remains ambivalent and unchanged. My surroundings have become increasingly dirty and they become unsuitable and impossible. I am sick inside and outside and I want my mother and these things annoy him, make him angry.

I cannot keep him, and this revelation comes to me with such startling brilliance, it is painful and freeing all at the same time. I stand up. I walk out. I drive away, back to the neighborhood, back to comfort, back to the nurturing arms of sanity and back to the kind of love that doesn’t hurt and doesn’t drive you mad.

I grow a piece of him inside of my body, the only thing I have left to keep. There is an invisible link that can never be broken, even though I won’t go back to him, will never love him, and will never see him in the same old way ever again.

I claw my way to the surface, kicking myself free of him. I leave him drowning on the floor of the ocean, alone. I save myself, and I save our child, because we are the only two in this triad that I can rescue.

And when I see our child’s face for the very first time, his eyes are big and blue just like his father’s, but they are full of life and they speak of adventure and hope. It is then, that I know I have finally found my home. And I have no regrets, and I have no guilt.

Not a speck of it.

Life, Improvised

Source: Teal’s The Deal

On September 17, 2013, my 13 year old son Tristan, was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkins Lymphoma. The doctors told me, on more than one occasion, that if you were forced to choose a type of cancer, you’d want to choose Hodgkins. (This statement still makes me want to punch someone in the face, but I try to balance that feeling out by reminding myself that it wasn’t Leukemia or a Neuroblastoma, and that my child got to live.)

Hodgkins is highly treatable, and after six months of treatment, Tristan walked away, mostly unscathed. He is lucky. I know this, and I repeat it in my head more often than anyone realizes, because I haven’t always felt that we were lucky. I have felt despair and pain and guilt and soul crushing amounts of anger. I did not feel that, like Tristan, I walked away unscathed.

I tell my therapist that I hate cancer. She nods her head, as if it’s a perfectly natural thing for me to say. Except that it doesn’t feel natural to me.

“It isn’t a person, or a living thing, or even an object. It’s a disease. It’s like hating an idea, and having no one to blame, or to direct that hate, that anger.”

It’s abstract, my seething hate, and so is the cancer that spread to nearly every lymph node in my son’s body. And yet, like all things that produce hate, be it a person, or an object, or an idea, cancer taught me something. In fact, it taught me a lot of things. Nothing new or remarkable, but a string of clichés that now have real meaning behind them. They are no longer abstract ideas that we routinely and flatly repeat, but tangible lessons that I learned firsthand. They remind me constantly of the fragility and fleeting nature of life, about the things that matter most, about bravery and survival and grief and paralyzing fear.

Because of cancer, there are more moments in every day that I sit in the middle of a dirty and chaotic house, and feel an intense wave of gratitude wash over me. For this home, for these children, and for the dirt and the mess and the chaos they bring.

Because of cancer, I laugh more often, and at so many things I wouldn’t have previously found funny. I’ve learned not to take myself so seriously, not to take life so seriously. I learned how humor, as inappropriate as it may seem, is the only surefire way, straight through tragedy. It is not the masking of pain. It is grace under fire.

Because of cancer, I learned that so much is temporary, that all things ebb and flow, begin and end. I learned to survive one day at a time, and sometimes, one hour at a time, because nothing is static. Change is inevitable, and fighting against it is as useless as swimming against a riptide. These days, I let go of what I can’t control, and I relax into that feeling, and let life carry me.

Because of cancer, I know that no one gets dealt a good hand every time. Sometimes, we get dealt a shitty hand, every single time, over and over again, and it feels like our bad luck is never ending.  Almost nothing is predictable, and almost everything changes. And because of cancer, I’ve learned to live a life of improvisation. Sometimes, every step forward results in two steps back. And when that happens, as it frequently does, I veer off into an unbeaten path. I alter the plan. I find my way. I reinvent myself, because I know that there is only one way for me to find joy in this unpredictable, chaotic, dirty, hilarious, and ever-changing life.

This is life. Improvised.