Collide

2011. I often heard this song on my early morning runs through the streets of my old town. In 2010 I first discovered my love for running, when life was often out of control and stress was high and I needed an outlet. I wasn’t “allowed,” really, to go anywhere without the kids in tow in those days. I was the 24/7 nurse to my type 1 daughter. I was up 3, 4, sometimes 5 times a night checking her blood sugars at the boss’s command.

Running became my way to escape, if only for the time it took to run 3 miles out and back. It was exhilarating, it was liberating, it was mine. I ran through all sorts of music. I ran through Linkin Park – the angry, screaming lyrics driving me forward with all the power in my legs, my anthem to myself to reclaim the life I deserved. Life was complicated then. It was stressful. And there was Todd, in the middle of it, my anchor in the storm my ex had promised to deliver so many times during our marriage. His way, I suppose, of intimidating me to never leave.

2018. I was driving back to the bowling alley after dropping Veruca off at her dad’s. Collide had begun to play on the radio, and it took me back to those early days of fear and anxiety and the only certainty I had was that I was going to be free.

I reflected on how much has changed. How we didn’t see all that lay ahead, all the changes, both good and bad, all the illnesses, the losses.

Over seven years ago, I was running down the alley behind Main Street and Collide began to play on my iPod. I felt a relief and a profound love wash over me and I smiled out loud. I had found Todd again and he had found me, and the butterflies in my stomach ached to get to that place of peace. We weren’t able to see each other every day.

The divorce was [mostly] peaceful. It was the custody that turned ugly. I fled the house with the kids, at the urging of several friends and family who said it was safer to get out.

Over the last seven years, I lived with my dad and stepmom, I worked at the restaurant on weekends to earn money, I stopped eating and was down to an astounding 113 pounds. I hocked a pile of gold jewelry for the $1000 I needed for a deposit on a house in the kids’ school district, in order to maintain temporary custody. Every text and email exchange with ex was nasty and accusatory and threatening. I got an upper respiratory infection that lasted weeks. I started back on anti-anxiety meds. Todd proposed to me.

We married in a civil ceremony in the district courthouse yards away from the home that once felt like a prison. And, after thousands of dollars, I won custody of the children and five days later Todd and I threw a real wedding with our loved ones.

We moved to Maryland into Todd’s home and established new roots and friends. We have wonderful neighbors who are also cherished friends. We’ve been through a handful of emergency room visits, several family members in hospital, my mom’s first major surgery, my first major surgery, four new cars, my first auto accident.

My once 8-year-old and 13-year-old are now halfway through their last years of middle and high school respectively. Opac finally has his driver’s license, and is looking forward to high school graduation and college next fall.

We attended a couple of galas where I could wear a fabulous dress and pretend to be rich for an evening, and two weddings watching long-time couples tie the knot and their happily ever after.

Todd left the college where he spent 18 years, to start a new journey where he can do things and leave a lasting legacy as a dean. Seven years ago, we certainly didn’t see that coming. I finally extricated myself from restauranting, and landed a job at CHOP – somewhere I’ve wanted to work since we moved down here. I am earning more money and I have my weekends free to spend with my husband and friends and family. I love the people I work with.

We’ve made many new friends and strengthened the ones we had. We are building on those friendships because they are valuable to us, even though we all have limited time and occasional scheduling conflicts. Two of my closest girlfriends, who know who they are, I have been talking about planning a girls weekend in the near future.

In these last seven years, I’ve lost an uncle and my maternal grandfather, and both of my stepmother’s parents. We lost someone to a horrific suicide. We’ve lost two friends/family to cancer, and another four to pancreatic cancer. One is still holding on after battling brain cancer, though he will never be the same. A family member was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer disease, and so we begin to cope with this journey. We have family members who choose to be estranged, through no cause of ours.

As Green Day’s song goes, seven years have gone so fast. It sounds like a whole lot of loss and sadness, and for what it’s worth, this post was actually inspired by my mind’s ramblings after hearing Collide two weeks ago. Collide always made me smile, and it still does, and I know I’m being redundant by saying it made me think about all that has transpired since that morning in the alley.

I have a much better life today. I am happy. I am complete. Todd feels the same way, I think. He would say so, and I know him, so I am free to speak for him. The unfortunate things that come to pass are a part of living, as life goes on whether we like it or not, with whom we share it with or not. But SO MUCH has changed.

It gives me pause, to think back on everything and thank God I got here with few scars, a pile of meds to keep me calm, and lessons that caused me to grow. I have Todd and he has me, for as long as God has planned, and I thank Him every day for this blessing.

 

Even the best fall down sometimes

Even the wrong words seem to rhyme

Out of the doubt that fills my mind

I somehow find you and I collide.

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I’m Okay, But I’m Not

At 12 weeks post-op, I was back to normal. I was feeling great.

There’s been a lot going on in our lives lately. A lot. I’m now officially working more hours and I’m grateful. Work is where I can be normal, and not think about my personal life. I’m making more money and I’m grateful for that too. The kids are busy and back in school. Opac is a senior now, and has this thing called senior option where he goes in late some days and leaves early on others. He still doesn’t have his license, but we’re one behind-the-wheel lesson away from being allowed to take the driver’s exam.

I’ve been working on letting him go in the ways a normal parent would. Like going with friends to places and trying really hard not to worry about him until he walks back in the front door. He’s good – he texts me regularly to let me know what’s going on. I’m grateful for that. I know that will one day have its end too.

On workdays, I count on him to see Veruca home safely from the bus. In the first few weeks, it caused me significant anxiety. They both text me when they’re home so I can stop worrying. Surprisingly, I am not worrying about my type 1 daughter being home without me. But then when I think about it, I have anxiety about whether I should be worried.

I’ve been letting Veruca go too – with friends after school, walking to nearby food and coffee joints so she can hang out for an hour like a teenager. I worry a bit, but I’ve exhausted the lectures about sticking together, not walking alone, and never, ever approaching a stranger in a car who might beckon. She’s crystal clear on this. Maybe a little too much.

In case you missed the clues, I have anxiety. I can conjure up just about anything to fray my nerves and raise my blood pressure. I’ve forgotten how to pray and leave it all to God. And THIS causes me anxiety too. I take medication for anxiety. I know that anxiety is chemical and biological and that it is also genetic, so I come by it honestly and [abnormally proudly] from a beloved relative who is no longer with me.

Nevertheless, I was feeling good. The lingering post-surgical stuff was gone and I was returning to life feeling confident that surgery can be a good thing, and that I’m ready to start running again.

Until September 19th.

It was a beautiful day after 40 days and 40 nights of rain in most of our region. The sun was bright and the air was warm. You should take the convertible out, he said. The 2001 Mustang GT convertible hadn’t been out on the road for a while and I was weary of driving to my mom’s an hour away and back. Instead, I took the 2012 Mustang (nicknamed the V6), so I could do a little stick-driving on the beautiful back roads in my hometown area. I learned to drive stick at 16, and there is nothing more satisfying than shifting gears and letting go that clutch and letting the car do what it was made to do.

It was a great ride, but my spidey senses were tingling all the way – people were driving recklessly all around me. It made me hyper-alert and I took my time on the ride. I got back to our area shortly after 1 and drove directly to the high school to pick up Opac.

I’d just turned onto the main roadway a half-mile from the school. The speed limit is 50, there were a lot of cars traveling in both directions. I saw this car begin to make a left turn right in front of me – I mean, RIGHT in front of me, and there was no time for me to do anything other than brake as hard as I could. I was trying to avoid hitting her and realized she was following through on her turn anyway. I veered right, sort of into the road she was heading into, in an effort to avoid her hitting me.

She kept going and slammed into my driver’s side door, hard, spinning me around until my rear bumper on the passenger side hit the guard rail, effectively stopping the car. My driver’s side airbag deployed. I don’t remember turning the car off and removing the key from the ignition. I sat there stunned a moment, and looked through my window at her in her car and she was looking back at me – and I was trembling and raging inside. Did you know that when airbags deploy the ignitor emits a smoky smell? Neither did I. I panicked, tried to open my door, and then moved the seat back enough to climb out and over the gear shift and opened the passenger door.

At this point I had no idea how old this girl was, or the condition of the driver’s side of my car. First instinct was to flip out on her for causing this accident, but by the time I’d actually gotten myself out of the car, I’d lost the desire. Todd would’ve been so proud.

I looked directly at this 17-year-old child who accused me of speeding, and bit my tongue for all the things I wanted to say – because I’m 49 and I know waaaay better, and also that less is more. Hysterical, screaming people are generally viewed as just that. So I said to her, you need to step away from me right now. I repeated myself twice.

The state trooper arrived. The ambulance arrived. One of the drivers insisted I sit down. Apparently people in accidents act normal all the time and then boom, they go down? I called Todd, who said, you ARE going to the hospital, right? I honestly thought the car was just going to get towed to our auto-body shop and I was just going to go home. But the EMTs said, you’re going. And the trooper said my car was most likely totaled.

Todd: Well, at least you had the dash cam. Which made me want to cry, but I guess some people in shock don’t cry – because …. I’m not driving the Edge.

Oh, he said. Which car were you driving? But he didn’t care which car it was.

I’ve since seen the neurosurgeon, had a repeat MRI and x-rays (hardware is still well-positioned and I have no acute changes to my spinal cord or surrounding discs). The pain in my neck has returned, depending on my activity and/or work, and it travels down my right arm and encircles my shoulder, just like before my surgery. It’s uncomfortable and I’m upset about it. All providers are in agreement that my pain is muscular, and the efforts now are pain relief and return to normal function without this pain. I’m in PT three days a week now. I’ve had two rounds of trigger point injections at neuro and considering going back again.

I’m sad and angry some days. I’m sad that I can never drive that car again. I’m sad that it all changed in an instant, and I’m angry that it could’ve ended so differently. Todd told me the reason he bought that car is for this very reason, that it’s solid and designed to protect you. And protect me, she did. No part of the other car touched me, and no part of my door touched me. It was intact on the inside, and the only thing different in an otherwise pristine cockpit was the telltale airbag.

I’m an emotional person. I feel things. I think sometimes it’s over the top and that most normal people don’t react to things like I do. I want my car back. When we went to the lot to clean it out, I couldn’t sit in it. Todd went with me and I ran my hands over the hood and felt its warmth and the smoothness of the metal, and stood there thanking her for what she did for me that day with tears in my eyes. It’s been a month. I won’t get in Todd’s other Mustang, or drive it.

It’s been a month. The girl has a new car already. This makes me so angry. Did she learn anything? I want justice in some way that I cannot articulate. Maybe I just want her to tell me she’s sorry, and mean it. But, Todd told me to let it go. I can only live My life, and keep moving forward. But I don’t want to let go of it yet. In a 10-second decision, she destroyed a 2012 Ford Mustang, somebody’s beloved car that cannot be easily replaced, and she’s already driving around in a new car.

Meanwhile, I’m alternately angry and sad. I have moments behind the wheel where I panic, especially when there are other cars around. I’ve seen my counselor. We’re working through this. And then last week a minor infraction by the truck in front of me…I was nowhere near having an accident, but the thoughts racing through my head brought spots before my eyes and I pulled over until the lightheadedness passed.

We’ve begun the college touring with Opac, which also makes me emotional. He’s already been accepted at his first choice, which is thrilling but we need to see that financial package soon. He turns 18 tomorrow, and I’m feeling the acuteness of that milestone.

There’s more. But I think this is enough for now.

Where I’ve Been: Recovery & Coffee-Mate-Gate

First, a technical update: Six weeks post-op two-level cervical arthroplasty. The post-op x-ray shows a textbook-perfect cervical spine with two shiny new titanium discs “well-placed.” The pain is mostly gone, except when I wake up in the morning or I do too much (still). I can’t remember the last time I felt pain radiating down my arm, or the last time I took a muscle relaxer (well, except – last night). The incision is healing, but still looks like I got caught in a street fight. I am cleared to live my life.

I went back to work. I so needed to get back to a purpose that didn’t require hours of “healing” rest and endless, useless doses of Tylenol. First day back I was feeling the pain by mid-afternoon, but Todd and I still wanted to go out to dinner. One – because it was the plan we’d made, and two – it would be the last night for two weeks that we’d be able to dine outside.

ICYMI: The east coast was pummeled by rain and thunderstorms for two solid weeks, widespread and flash-flooding. Hershey Park and Knoebels were under water. The restaurant Todd and I went to that night is in a small, old waterfront town that was later under voluntary evacuation.

So we went to dinner. They don’t take reservations so we had a 40 minute wait. Todd had a beer and I had a club soda, while we stood on the deck overlooking this band of middle-aged white men playing top-40s who had the audacity to play Let’s Go Crazy and everybody who knows me knows this is NOT something I want to hear. But – I listened because I couldn’t escape it and noted that the guitar skills weren’t half bad. Still – please don’t.

After dinner we walked back up the hill to the car and my legs wouldn’t move. I was literally breathless and taking two steps at a time and stopping. The only other time I ever had that happen was when I arrived at the hospital in labor with V and I got halfway across the parking lot and couldn’t move. Kind of scary.

Anyway. Weeks 4 & 5: I worked a full-time schedule. It was a BEAR. One was an 11-hour day that I came home from and hugged V and just started to cry. That is what happens to me under extreme exhaustion and [unnecessary] emotional stress I put on myself.

Opac had senior pictures taken. It was in the high school auditorium, and I sat there all tense trying to hold back tears. Am I handling my son’s rapidly-approaching adulthood well? Ask me again in 3 months, when he turns 18. Or at his graduation – I’ll be the red-faced, swollen one clutching a handful of wet tissues and blind with tears. I’d…. say…. No. I cried at his preschool graduation. He was five.

I worked my last Saturday morning for a while (new schedule means I don’t work weekends anymore, except for one in rotation). Todd and I went to an antique store in Havre de Grace. It was crammed with so much vintage stuff, I was just turning around and around trying to take it all in. Todd lasted about 20 minutes and went outside to break the itching from the dust.

We drove to Concord Point Lighthouse and walked the decks lining the Chesapeake hand-in-hand like tourists. I don’t think of Havre de Grace as a touristy place, but Todd schooled me: Historically, it was considered for the state capitol, but lost to Annapolis. We took pictures and saw residents walking their dogs, an old woman in a wheelchair under the shade of a tree overlooking the Bay, and a 50-something couple blasting music from an iPhone, dancing like they were all alone at a  Dead concert.

The next day: Costco on an empty stomach and I scored one chicken and cheese ravioli in pesto sauce, a small cup of diced pickled beets, and one piece of a Snack Factory Pretzel. It was not a terribly stressful shopping trip, all things considered. (The man who blocked the entire display of blueberries, inspecting every package for Just the Right One.) Sometimes the state of humanity can be summed up in one trip to Costco and, in worse cases, at Walmart. For all that Walmart is and isn’t, I’ve never found anyone there to be nasty. Inconsiderate and oblivious – yes – but not nasty. Meanwhile, more people at Costco are giving the stink eye on the day God rested than anywhere I’ve been recently.

V was in Avalon with her dad last week, and Mom came to visit for a long weekend here. We took her to the Chesapeake Inn for an early dinner – another marvelous restaurant on the Bay with valet parking, live music, and great food. Had two Pain in de Asses, or maybe three? Mom took it upon herself to order us another round while I was in the bathroom.

Opac went out Saturday with friends for a Gym Class reunion. This class was a close-knit group of guys whose teacher baptized them the Mountain Dewds and had t-shirts made up for them. So they went out to dinner and then hung out at one’s house – O spent the night and needed a ride home the next morning. I picked him up around 7:45 – he said he hadn’t slept – and I took a detour to the store for more Coffee-Mate (which we were out of). I was wearing pajamas and he was fully clothed, so I did what any mother would do. I asked him to go in for me.

He is about as cooperative as a tree. First he refused to go in. I pointed out my attire and the fact that I came and picked his ass up. I only needed ONE THING. He didn’t know what he was looking for. I GOOGLED a pic of Coffee-Mate and showed it to him. This! He said, but we’re not at Target (the source of the pic). I told him where to look for it. In the coffee aisle, on the left side, past the cans of coffee, top shelf.

Ten minutes later… he comes out empty handed, looking royally aggravated. That was nothing compared to the storm waiting for him inside the car. He insisted they didn’t have what I wanted, there were all these weird flavors like hazelnut and “some blueberry flavored shit,” I  looked, and you shouldn’t drink coffee anyway, no wonder your teeth are yellow (oh YES he did) and… I’m not going back in there. He hadn’t showered, was covered in pet hair, hadn’t slept, and needed to shave. I told him very matter-of-factly that there was absolutely NO ONE in that store he knew at this hour of the morning on a Sunday, and I KNOW they have Coffee-Mate in there.

He was not going back in there. Well, I told him, I’m not leaving this parking lot without it. The stand-off continued, until my phone rang and it was Todd. I figured he was wondering where we were, since I was gone so long. I explained to him pleasantly that we’ve stopped at the store for Coffee-Mate. Oh, that’s great, he said. I have a favor to ask you.

Now at this point you should assume that my nerves are bristling over the stand-off with Opac, but I’m not letting on with Todd because Opac is still in the car. But I already know that my case is going to go volcanic if I have to ask O to pick up One. More. Thing. But Todd only wants me to stop at the mailbox on the way back, and I sighed heavily which he read only as she doesn’t want to be bothered, and said, you know, nevermind, forget it. I’ll just walk up myself. He had no idea what was going on in that car, at that moment. The twig was just about snapped. We hung up and I tore into Opac.

!!!I’m still recovering from major surgery, I’m in pain, I can’t take meds when I have to drive and I picked you up this morning early because you wanted to come home, my boobs are popping out of my pajama top, and ALL I NEED IS ONE CONTAINER OF COFFEEMATE. He took a loud deep breath and stepped out of the car, pausing to dramatically rest his forehead against the open door to “get some air.” And then he walked back in.

A few minutes later he sent me a pic of the Coffee-Mate refrigerator case – which, by the way – is at the OPENING of the aisle, ON THE RIGHT SIDE. If you’ve remembered the directions I gave him, this is all kinds of wrong. And I know exactly what display he’s looking at, and it’s not the powdered Coffee-Mate I want. I called him. He didn’t answer, little turd. So I start frantically stabbing letters into a text, reiterating the original directions, cause if he comes out again with nothing I will have no choice but to pummel him in the parking lot.

Eventually he comes out, WITH the Coffee-Mate, and all is right with the world again. Don’t mess with momma’s coffee. My mom laughed that I pulled the surgery card, and I told her I also pulled the Nannie-needs-Coffee-mate-for-her-coffee-too card.

There’s more. But my ex just called to ask if he could stop by to drop off some paperwork in an hour, and I need a shower.

It Starts Again

After a long summer that didn’t feel like it went all that fast, we’re back to real-life rush hour. The first day of summer always feels like I want to slit my wrists when Veruca is demanding an activity schedule worthy of an organized, intinerized trip. Yeah, I totally just made that word up.

The kids had their vacation with their dad and Todd and I had ours. We spent time together, we spent time apart. Summer slogged along. Then football started the second week of August, and suddenly time jumped on the A train and took off like a bullet.

This is the first year I wasn’t counting the days until the first day of school. Instead, I’ve been checking the tears at every door we pass through. Seriously, two weeks ago I totally used my burning eyes from a long day staring at insurance verifications to cover the tears that kept welling up as I watched Opac begin his 3rd year in football.

To say I’ve been emotional lately would be an understatement. I sat there in the bleachers, watching him across the field, and acutely felt the loss of the little child I held in my arms with his head snuggled into my shoulder.

He’s a Junior this year. He has two years of high school left, before he leaves the nest to go be a college kid and create his own life. Two Years. Two years is a blink in the world of parenting. And I’m not ready. I’m not ready to let him go. Of course, he still doesn’t have his driver’s license, so I suppose he can’t go too far. Yet.

I have several friends who drove their firstborns to college this year and that, itself, has nailed home the reality. Nephtoo began college this year. Which reminds me, he still hasn’t sent me his address so I can send him stuff. And why? Because he’s off living his own life and adulting, and has temporarily forgotten his family.

I hear dumb music and I start to cry. I think about his soft baby hair and his little hand resting on my chest, and the long lashes that curled over his big brown eyes – because I would sit on the couch and hold him while he slept. He never learned to sleep in a crib.

Every moment he walked out my door, he took a part of my heart with him. Every moment I think about the inevitable bearing down on us, my heart feels like it’s being squeezed in a vice. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m terribly emotional about him.

This is the first year I’ve felt the weight of the second child growing up. V started 7th grade this year. I remember my middle school years, probably better than I should. I don’t remember clinging to my mom quite like she does, or smothering her with my love and attention. My mom keeps reminding me that V loves me so much, and that I should enjoy it. I’m not good at being smothered though, which is where I struggle with her. Smothering me was the kiss of death for many a boy, once upon a time.

This year, however, while I’ve been working on setting those personal space boundaries with her – which, ironically, is a topic that figures into my next post – I’ve also begun to embrace the moments she’s close to me that way because it’s inevitable that she may change her M.O. as she enters the teen years. And if my teen years with my mom are any predictor of the future, or at the very least Karma – it’s gonna get ugly.

In any case, I’m experiencing some occasional sadness. It’s not every minute, or every day, but it comes with the suddenness of a drive-by shooting. I’m feeling sadness over my kids growing up, over growing older, watching my parents age and what that means, what life will look like in 20 years.

And these are the times I’m most vulnerable, and then the door to the attic of my soul cracks open and I start to feel everything. Including the things I’ve tried to heal, and locked away. I think of the child I lost, and it opens a Pandora’s box of whys and why nots. And suddenly I’m feeling that loss again, not nearly as acutely as that day, but a dull ache in the pit of my stomach. And I have my reasons for that too, but there are some things I prefer to keep to myself, even as I choke on them.

So it starts again. School is three days underway and we’re back to a bumpy groove, as O has practice daily after school and games every Friday, and V has softball practice at night and games every Saturday. Even Todd has the schedule from hell this week. The four of us have not had dinner together in almost 2 weeks. I’m behind on personal appointments, and I’m picking up extra hours at work. All of those things on my summer to-do list have now been transferred to my Fall to-do list.

I had big plans for the first week of school, but like all plans, even the best laid plans don’t always get laid.