Archive for October, 2008

3. search and seizure 3

make it wit chu (QOTSA #7)

todd, may 3, 2008.

Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

Background to this story. In November of 2006, Todd moved from California to New York. He drove here over the course of a week. This happened two days after he arrived and was written the day after.

I wake up not quite sure where I am. Look around.

A hospital bed. Not my hospital bed. Someone else’s. I open my eyes and the person I love is laying there next to me in a hospital gown with an IV stuck in his arm. I blink a few times. How did we get here?

Oh, yea. Last night.

Did you ever look into the face of someone you love while you think they are in the middle of dying? Pretty frightening.

Have you ever been in a situation where you are pretty sure you are supposed to be doing something to save someone’s life but you’re not sure exactly what? Terrifying.

This is where I am. About 10:15 at night. One minute he’s standing by the passenger door of my car. Then there’s a thud and an empty space where he was just standing.

I walk around the side of the car and there he is. On the ground. His limbs are shaking and I can see the white of his eyes. I’m looking at him laying there, knowing that something is really wrong and that I’m pretty helpless to make it right. Just saying wake up wake up wake up please wake up over and over again isn’t really something you’ll find in medical books as being very helpful.

I realize right away what’s going on. This isn’t the first time. Just the first time I’m seeing it. I remember the call from the previous January. “Hi. I had a seizure.” Typically nonchalant. So I know from that episode what’s happening now, but that doesn’t make it easier.

I call a friend who is all too familiar with this situation. I ask her what I’m supposed to be doing. Apparently I’m not supposed to be doing everything I am. I stop. Why did I think I was supposed to put my fingers in his mouth? I have this weird flash of a memory from fourth grade when they told us that’s what we do if Jenny ever has an “episode.” That’s what they called it. An Episode. Good thing I don’t follow through on that thought because he’s kind of gnashing his teeth.

I just hold his head so it doesn’t hit the ground. I touch his face, touch his hair, try to talk in soothing non-panicky tones so that if he comes to there is something familiar there for him. Just a voice or a touch. But Jesus, I should be doing something else. Yelling for a neighbor? Giving him CPR? Obviously, I am not good in these situations. I am frozen with fear.

It’s kind of amazing what can go through your mind in the space of two minutes. What if he dies? What would I do without him? What would I tell his parents? Yes, he made it to New York but….Jesus. I couldn’t do that. I can feel myself starting to cry. I tell myself to stop, that’s not what I need to do right now.

I’m going to lose him.

That thought, 100 times at least, running through my head.

Then: No, I’m not. Just focus. Keep focused. Stop overreacting. Stop underreacting. Quietly saying “don’t die” to a person who isn’t hearing you, on a dark side street late at night is not going to make anything better. Get him help. Now.

I make a call.

Everything is bathed in red and white. Ambulances coming down the block. I’m sitting on the curb, trying to hold him up. Dead weight. He has stopped all motion. His eyes are closed. I open one eyelid. Thank god. They have stopped rolling in back of his head. He’s no longer shaking. My god, that shaking was scary. But is he conscious? Alive even? I look for a pulse, but my own pulse is racing and I can’t remember where to put my fingers and my heart is in my stomach and I think I’m going to throw up. Don’t be dead. Don’t be dead. Don’t be dead.

His eyes fly open all of a sudden. He looks at me. He’s aware. Ok. He’s out of it. I talk to him. He knows his name. That’s good.

But he’s looking at me with a blank stare.

He doesn’t know my name.

He doesn’t know who I am.

That’s a weird feeling.

Before I can feel bad about that I remind myself what it must feel like for him. To not know where you are. Who you are talking to. How you got there. I can see the frustration on his face as he tries to remember.

He doesn’t know me.

I try very hard not to cry.

I answer some questions for one of the paramedics while another fires off questions at him. He doesn’t know where he is. He thinks he’s in California. No, he doesn’t know who I am. He only knows who he is.

He’s on the stretcher now, they tell me to follow in my car.

Now I cry. Just because.

I know he’s going to be ok. I know this. Everyone says it. He’ll be ok. He’ll remember soon. He’ll be fine. I drive behind the ambulance. I can see him talking to the medics.

The WhatIfs starts. What if he doesn’t get his memory back? What if he hit his head when he fell - the sound of that thud plays in my head on repeat - and now he has some kind of permanent amnesia? What if. What if.

What if he never remembers me? His parents? His life? I have no idea how seizures work and or what they do or what the effects are. I only know what I was told about Jenny, maybe 30 years ago or more. Jenny, who had An Episode in school and never came back.

Thinking about this stuff is keeping me from thinking about the other big things. Like, what if this happened when he was on the road? Or alone? There’s really no use in thinking of things that did not happen, but they hold off thinking about the things that did happen, or having an anxiety attack over things that might happen.

I told you, I’m no good in these situations. I’m a bit of a panicker.

I give myself a mental slap in the head. Concentrate. Focus. Just get to the hospital and let them handle it and everything will be fine. It’s just a seizure. He’s not dying.

What if he never remembers me?

I get to the hospital, find a parking spot, go into the emergency room. There he is. Still on the stretcher. I walk up to him cautiously. If he doesn’t know who I am, I don’t want to make him nervous. I glance up at him.

He looks at me. Says “Hey babe!” Smiles that smile. That grin.

I breathe out for what feels like the first time in hours.

I thought I was going to lose him there. Looking into his eyes as he lay on the ground, just me and him and some kind of medical thing between us, that was the scariest moment of my entire life. Scared that I didn’t know what to do. Scared that I was going to do the wrong thing. Scared that his life was in my hands. Scared that he was going to die on me.

I start thinking in cliches. The whole “appreciate what you have because you never know when it will be ripped from you” thing. I mean, the guy just drove almost 3,000 miles to move across the country to be with me and not two days into his residency as New Yorker, not two full days into our new life together, I’m staring him in the face telling him not to die.

He probably was never even close to dying, but I didn’t know that. In my mind, he was a breath away from leaving me forever. So even though he wasn’t hearing me at all, I told him I love him. It was all I could do. Silly as it seems, I just wanted that to either be the last thing he heard before he left, or the first thing heard coming out of it. Small comfort either way, I suppose.

He spent a couple of days in the hospital and then let himself out before they could drug him up. I spent most of the time there with him, sitting on the hospital bed watching endless repeats of Mythbusters on the tiny tv, eating crappy food, sleeping in positions that killed our backs and necks, and still feeling pretty lucky. Cuddling on a hospital bed while all you hear around you is people coughing and screaming and nurses yelling and sirens isn’t exactly quality time. But it’s time. Something we really don’t have enough of. Enjoy it while you can.

I took some time after that to educate myself about seizures and what to do in case of one. And what not to do.

Apparently, whispering “don’t die” is not proper medical procedure.

The more you know.

2. i love you. i know. 3

i love you. i know. (365-191)

photo taken may 12, 2008.

Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

I know this couple. They have been married long enough to have accumulated children and a complete set of china. They met in college, brought together by the politics and hierarchy of fraternal university life.

I hear them on the phone sometimes. Rather, I hear him. I watch him. He talks into the phone when she is on the other end, but he looks elsewhere. He looks at papers, at the computer while she talks. He looks at his watch and the television and at the stain on the cuff of his shirt. Sometimes he sees me looking and he rolls his eyes as if the person on the other end of the phone was a telemarketer, not his wife. When he ends the phone calls, it’s always with a declaration of love, but without the motions of his hands or his eyes or his distraction, his wife can not really know what exactly he is declaring to her.

She doesn’t seem to read his voice well. I know, after all this time, the difference in his tones. Sometimes he just says "love you" and hangs up and the words are like machine gun fire, short and sharp. She hears "I love you today more than I did yesterday" because that is what she wants, expects to hear. I hear only the requisite answer to her words, to the "I love you" that she uttered to him with her heart. His words only serve to end a conversation he was bored of having.

Sometimes he says "I love you too," and she hears "I still feel the same about you that you do about me," and my fine tuned ear hears only reciprocal words that are thrown out to close a deal. He is saying "will you shut up already" but she won’t hear that. Her heart is not so jaded as one that can hear that frequency. It’s a signal only the once-bitten can hear.

He talks about her often, but he never has anything good to say. I wonder what he says to her in the privacy of their own home. I wonder if he tells her to her face that he thinks she is dumb and naive and a bad mother. I wonder if she knows that he thinks she is a nuisance. I wonder if she knows all this and hears all this and chooses to put it somewhere else, where she can’t see it or take it out and examine it too closely.

She is a beautiful woman. Not supermodel beautiful or that beautiful that causes a man to whistle at her as she walks by. It’s a different kind of beauty. She is pretty like an Ivory Soap commercial. She is crisp and clean and perfect skin and hair and teeth. Looking at her makes you think of mountains and clean air and running through fields of flowers. She could make a man’s heart ache just by looking at him, just flashing a sincere warm smile at him.

I look at the pictures that line their walls, pictures of them together from college and the years beyond, down the hallways and up the stairs in timeline order. In every picture, she clings to him like a security blanket. Her hands grip his shoulders. They encircle his waist. She gazes at him with puppy dog eyes, never looking at the camera, just him. There are no pictures of her alone, no framed portrait of her, no snapshot where she is just laughing or playing or not attached in some way to him.

He didn’t want to marry, that much is obvious. But his position in his firm was one where a wife and children were a natural extension of your job description. I’m sure that somewhere in the fine print of his employment contract, it says "family man" under requirements. Because family men are good in his field of work. Family men get promotions. Family men get raises. Family men come to the company picnics with their beautiful wives and Stepford children and they get the bonuses.

Sometimes I lie in bed at night and think of her. I think of her being home all day with her young children, doing her best to keep them in line and make them beautiful and smart like trophies. I think of her wasted degree because the wife a family man doesn’t work. She doesn’t need to. Her brains serve no purpose outside of the home. She keeps her house clean and tidy and the yard green and filled with flowers, and she can bake and sew and go to mommy-and-me and be class mom. She can voice her opinion, but it’s usually wrong. She can complain about the way her life is going, about the boredom and sameness of it all, about her loneliness and that place in her soul that is going unfulfilled, but he will only remind her of her stunning waterfront home and her expensive car and she really has no right to complain about anything at all. What more could a woman want besides the perfect family and the perfect home?

She calls me sometimes and she cries because deep down she knows. She says she doesn’t know why she is sad, she doesn’t know why she is crying. But I think she does, she just doesn’t want to know the reasons. She is not a dumb woman. She just thinks she is because she is treated as such. She has let herself become what he thinks of her. She calls him fifteen, twenty times a day. About the car, the school, the plants, the water heater. It’s as if she can’t make a decision without him. Or she doesn’t want to.

And he sits at his desk and marks off his calendar with dinner meetings and weekend golf and holiday brunches, anything to keep from going home, to keep from facing the life he has there that he doesn’t want, but has to have. He has sacrificed the heart and soul of his wife for his place in the company. For a few more dollar bills in his pocket, the dollars that go to hookers and drink, he has turned a once shining star of a woman into a cardboard cutout.

He sits at his desk and she calls him and she tells him anything, just to talk to him. She asks him questions that she already knows the answers to, just to get him to talk to her. Just so at the end of the conversation, she can say "I love you," and she can hear him say it back, and it doesn’t matter to her what he is really saying because she won’t hear it on that level.

I only thought about this so much today because someone said to me "When do the words I love you become meaningless? When can you say them so often that they lose their definition?"

They never do, do they? Those words never lose their ability to throw your heart into high gear and make you smile or shake loose those butterflies, as long as they are true. I just wonder how someone can not know when the words are false. Or how someone can hear the words, know they are false, but accept them as if they were truth anyhow.

I love you.
I know.

1. life, after all 1

photo taken march 29, 2008. New York City subway, waiting for the Q train.

Welcome to my new site. Please read the about page to see what this is all about. See also, the companion photo site, lyrical photography

Life happens. That’s the only way to look at it without being too hard on yourself. There are things you do in life - paths you walk, choices you make, turns you take - that sometimes seem like the good thing, the right thing at the time, but in retrospect were absolutely the wrong thing. And the funny thing about following the wrong paths and making the wrong choices and taking the wrong turns is when you are in the act of doing them, you mostly know somewhere in the deep recess of your mind that it’s not right. A small alarm goes off, or a whispered voice in your head tries to warn you, but you dismiss that and think to yourself, no path is every going to be perfect, so let’s just take the one we are on and ignore the brambles and sharp stones and hope for the best.

As you walk further down the path, you see that it’s not really anything like you first though. It’s darker, rockier, strewn with debris and there are so many things impeding the path that the effort you have to put forth to get even ten feet down the way is monumental and you think often about just giving up. But you don’t. Because you don’t want anyone to see you giving up. You don’t want to appear weak, or worse, wrong. You don’t want to admit that you took a wrong turn, because you spent so much time convincing everyone you were absolutely headed the right way, that you needed no help with directions, let alone a borrowed map from anyone who has been down the same path. No, you were going to do this on your own and show everyone that your path was the good one, the right one.

So when the skies darken and the storms start, you point to the lightning and say, see look at all the light on this path. And when the rocks become sharp beneath your feet and cut into you, you pick up the one smooth stone and say see, this path isn’t so bad after all, even though you are trailing blood beneath your feet. And when the weeds begin to wrap around your legs and the tree branches scratch your face and the darkness seems to be suffocating, you plow on and only talk about the one flower that shoots up between the miles of weeds, the one branch that you are able to move out of the way. Are you lying or denying? You don’t know and don’t care. All that matters is staying on the path so you never, ever have to admit that you made the wrong turn.

Eventually even the most stubborn, defiant, in denial person will realize that the path is a dead end. Some people will still walk on, go straight up to that dead end and, like a toy car that meets up against a wall, keep revving the engine and spinning the tires and pushing, pushing, pushing as if the wall will give way to something, anything, besides the end of hope. Some people will recognize the wall just before they hit it and bail out before the impact.

Some see the dead end up ahead and stop short in their tracks. You recognize the place you are in. How? Because you had been staring straight ahead at it all along. Maybe your eyes wouldn’t focus on it or your conscious mind wouldn’t accept that what you were seeing was a huge, impenetrable wall, but it had been there all along. Then that small place in the back of your head where the alarms had been ringing, but muffled, where the sound system was pushing out warning signals, where the doubts and uncertainty had laid low, that place opens up and an explosion of light and awareness goes off like fireworks. The sound is deafening. And disheartening.

Here’s the thing about paths. I believe that every path we walk down in life, we walk down for a reason. Every rock we step on, every branch that hits us, every lightning strike and downpour, every fallen tree or weed-choked clearing is put in front of us with a purpose. The path you are on now is not necessarily going to be the only one you take. In fact, it’s more likely than not that you will change paths at least once. We all make wrong turns, wrong choices, go the wrong way. It’s how we learn and how we grow and we how we come to recognize the right path when we finally come upon it.

When you do come upon it, it’s like seeing for the very first time. It’s an awareness that makes every single step you took before this echo in your head in the middle of the night and make you wonder how you ever thought those steps were the right ones. It’s a flash of lightning that bathes everything you just left behind in a glaring light and you can see, finally, fully see, everything for what it was. Or wasn’t. It’s an awakening that leaves you feeling at times stupid, at times full of self loathing, but thankful for the fact that you at least woke up. You think, how could I have done that to myself? How could I allow myself to think that was the right path, the right way? How could have been so naive, so stupid, so willfully in denial that I was taking every wrong turn one could possibly take? How could I have cared so much about not admitting defeat, not admitting I made the wrong choice that I subjected myself to all of that?

Someone said to me recently, “you get what you tolerate.”

You get what you tolerate. Think about that.

So you stand now before the right path, the good path. You know it when you come upon it because you have learned. You know how to listen for the muffled alarms. You know how to stand stock still and listen for any signs of ill winds, how to search the sky for dark clouds, how to look for clawed branches and sharp rocks. You have learned. That path you just came from served at least that purpose.

Sometimes, if you are lucky, there’s another person standing before the new path who is willing to walk it with you. A person who knows that sometimes you are going to come upon the sharp rocks and whipping branches, but who is willing to help you move those things out of the way rather than let you fight them alone. A person who, like you, knows that whatever path you just came from was like walking through a nightmare, but the nightmare was a necessary road to take to get to this one. And, like you, they would relive all their pain and darkness and broken dreams again just to get to walk down this new path with you holding their hand.

Life happens. You may have to wait a long time for that to feel like a good thing, but when it does, it’s like waking up in a world you had no idea existed.

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