June 30, 2009
**I am printing this history as a way of new readers to know the history as briefly as possible. What follows is my story***
Third of four children, second of three dads was mine. That makes my siblings all "half" sibs, my mother a woman way before her times with multiple marriages and kids by different fathers. The last man in the arena raised me as his own; my father took off after my mother told him to or. Actually, it was after some not quite innocuous threat regarding the federal government and the almighty dollar which he owed them. Love or money baby? The answer stays etched my soul, undoubtedly a permanent part of whom I have become.
Female parent (referred to as "she" or "her" from now on), and her last husband (referred to as "him" or "he" from now on) raised me. Well, kinda. They put up with me. They smoked a lot of dope. Beat me a lot. That last sentence was just her doing. Not his. Oh, here’s another thing about her. She told me I had "shit for brains" and that I "would amount to nothing." Those are my memories of her.
Him….well, he became a frequent visitor in my bedroom. And not in any kind of tuck your daughter, fatherly way. In a discrete way, with the lights out long after everyone including myself were asleep. I’d wake up. But I would never let on the fact that I’d woken up. It was easier on my mind that way. To just lay there and pretend.
I’ve done a lot of pretending in my life. He did a lot of lying while I lived there. He violated his cardinal rule: Don’t lie. When confronted, he lied.
Got pregnant at the age of 27. My unborn baby’s father, the doctor, begged me to abort, finally telling me I was "ruining his golf game." Same with "her." She seconded the abortion idea. I told both of them to have a long walk. It took them a few months but they realized they couldn't intimidate me.
Resigned, yes that’s the word. They resigned themselves to becoming father and grandmother.
O. was born and the first three years were fabulouso!! Then, came the cancer diagnosis. Brain cancer. Numerous surgeries, therapies, daily injections, medicines, etc. But, she was fine, relatively speaking. And me? Pregnant again. This time, I was engaged. That had happened a month before O’s diagnosis.
Suddenly, the wedding plans were stalled. Focus became O.’s survival and my pregnancy. O and I vomited alongside one another. Her from the daily radiation. Me from the new life growing inside me as she was fighting for her own.
At some point in all this "she" appeared and deeply offended me for the last time. I told her adios…we were now divorced. That is when she ceased to be my mom and became "her."
My siblings chose sides and that was the end of that.
We moved in together. Me, O and my unborn baby in with father of the baby (from now on referred to as FF.) We moved out. We moved in. The three of us, O, N and I finally moved out for good two years later, but not before the physical abuse started.
I worked for many years as a successful photographer, studio manager and sales director. I was making more money than most of my college educated peers. Life was good. There were always medical things to deal with on O’s behalf, but our cup was always half full.
Docs had given O had a thirty percent chance to live to 20 with her particular cancer. I would never allow that thought much time in my mind. "Look at her!" I would say to my friends, "she looks healthier than you or I." She will live longer than either of us, I thought.
We busied ourselves with giving back to the community, volunteering of our time and energy. I was a full time mom to two, one who was medically fragile. I was also a full time employee, had relationships and dates a plenty, managed a couple of vacations across the ocean to warm tropical climates and generally lived. Our life… as close to perfect as I could imagine.
November of 2003, O began to cry out in pain. I took her to hospital where she’d been treated all along. She was admitted. She was sent home. Nothing wrong they tell us. A month later, same scenario. This time, she was sent home with anti depressants and the assurance that since they could find no medical anomalies, they were confident she must simply be depressed and "with plenty of reasons to be" they declared.
Over the next few months, I watch her physical and cognitive abilities decline. In August of 2004 I have my last discussion with the oncologist who had followed O all her life. She tells me she "can not tell me there is cancer there when there is none", and hangs up on me. I take O to Duke University. Their motto on the building reads “Where there is hope.” Man, I think, we must be in the right place!
Nonetheless, I am scared we will now learn the cancer’s back, and have to begin another war to stomp it out What I learn is much different than I imagined. There is cancer present. Different kind. Usually when cancer returns, it comes back as the type as the previous time. It simply regrows. Not O’s. New type. It is like grains of sand in the brain stem, thus it is inoperable, untreatable and incurable. Oh, and cause of new cancer? The radiation therapy I had signed on the dotted line for eight years earlier as "an insurance policy."
Most people with this diagnosis live 12 months, almost like clockwork. I pray for 12 months. 42 days later, O dies in our home, lying next to me in my bedroom. It is November of 2004. 12 months after the first time she cried out in pain, begging me take her to the hospital, quickly. I leave you to draw your own conclusions. I certainly have.
I plummet. I envision a double funeral, or a padded room. That was half my soul. I was not only O’s mother, I was her caretaker, her manager of medical issues, her advocate, her cheerleader. I had lost my job, and I could never get that one back.
N was seven at the time. His grief was perhaps less complicated at the time because he was…well, seven at the time. I imagine a part of him felt a bit of relief. Now, this girl who had taken away mommy’s attention all his life but particularly this past year was out of the picture. It would be time for him. Only things don’t always work out that way, as he would soon learn.
My grief became my most intimate of companions. It knew every last little bit of me. Unlike most everybody before that, it would never leave me. I was horizontal on the sofa for a year or so, and then finding a way to balance on my feet became precarious at best. Along the way, there were plenty of ill equipped mental health professionals both for N and myself. There were many pleas for help.
His father no father left hand prints on his bottom so evident to me that I had to take N to the emergency room which ended up with a report stating there was a “preponderance of evidence to suggest excessive force was used.”
No one really seemed to get us. We were an anomaly in the world. There was not even a word for what we were. We were not widows, widowers, orphans…we just were.
And then, finally N made it to the desert wilderness program.
I got on my knees. And something clicked. It had been three plus years since that fateful day in my bedroom and it was time to look forward again. If not for me, certainly for N. I could deal with me later…when he is an adult. I still tell myself I can “punch out” later if I choose to. Just not now. Whatever happened in the past I can not control. Not from my growing up, to losing O, to not being the mother I’d always wanted to be to N. But that was all behind us. Blinders on, face forward! I also remembered and acknowledged I had steered the vessel to this point, and we were safe. That remains a great accomplishment.
And that is the short version of what brings us to these pages of hope. The long version has been penned in story form. The first draft is written. I am into the edits. What stops me from following that dream of seeing it published thus far? Fear.
Baby steps…baby steps. Maybe one day I can come to these pages and share the ISBN with you.