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Germs Are Literally Satan

What is it about a child’s illness that turns mothers into raging lunatics?

“Is he breathing?” and “Do you think he’s got Meningitis?” are both phrases I’ve said, out loud, in the last hour. My daughter was sick on Saturday night and, like clockwork, her brother had a fever by dinner (it’s Tuesday, for those keeping tabs).

This isn’t my first rodeo with sickness. I have three kids ranging from twins who are a little over three and an about-to-be six-year-old. I’ve been changing diapers, wiping noses, cleaning up vomit, and checking temperatures for almost six years. I’ve seen some nasty stomach bugs that would send even the toughest person running for Lysol. I’ve wiped off more crusted snot than I can recall. Fevers are an old friend. Well, not friends. Let’s call fevers and I “frenemies.”

I understand the scientific purpose of fevers. I know that if it’s under 101°F you should just leave it alone. Fevers are nature’s way of fighting whatever is in the body in the most Heavy Metal way possible—It literally BURNS THE GERMS TO DEATH (mwahaha)! I treat them with mild Ibuprofen if it goes between 101-105°F and I make sure the kids don’t have a stiff neck. I make sure to check and see if the medicine makes the fever drop a few degrees. I do everything that MayoClinic tells me to do.

But does any of that scientific knowledge and triple-checking allow me any relief? Hell-to-the-No. Of course it doesn’t, are you insane? Obviously, my child in dying and if I don’t make sure they’re still breathing every hour they have most certainly died.

I’m the person who comedians joke about when they say, “Ever look up your symptoms on WebMD? Everyone has cancer and is dying!” This is not limited to my own symptoms and despite having dealt with fevers with three different kids, I’m the one on the same damn webpage every single time going, “Does she looks different? Lethargic? Loopy? Is her neck stiff? MAYBE SHE HAS MEASLES EVEN THOUGH WE VACCINATED.”

Why do we do this to ourselves? What is it about when our children get sick that makes mothers go absolutely bananas? Is it the inability to be in control? Or is it because when they are so little they have no idea how to truly communicate what hurts (“I hot, I sad, My Tummy” can literally mean a thousand different things from heartburn, to dizziness, to vomit, to gas)?

I know that if I look at it through Logical-Misty’s eyes I’ll see that they’re fine, they’ll be fine, we’ll all be fine. I know that tomorrow my son will feel better and by this weekend he won’t even remember he wasn’t feeling 100%. But I will. I’ll probably have night terrors tonight that he’s dying and the wood floor to his room has become quicksand—and I can’t reach him in time (yes, I’ve had that dream before, and it suuuuucks). I’ll remember this fever like I remember every single fever, stomach bug, and cold that has ravished their tiny, little bodies. I’ll remember it as I spray Lysol in a wide angled sweep through my house like a tear gas bomb on those God Damn germ terrorists.

Oh, it’s been 30 minutes… I should go check his temperature and make sure he’s still breathing.

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This Was A Lot Easier When I Was A Teenager

As I mentioned in other posts, in 2015, my husband, and the father of our young children, was killed in a motorcycle accident. The hole that it left me in was violent, but I was also left with this weird, guilt-filled sense of self-discovery. Here I was, at almost 30, with a new sense of freedom.

While others would complement our marriage—it’s strength, commitment, and ease– what they did not know that my husband and I never really had sex. It was always a chore for me– I would get anxious even thinking about it and I would sometimes have panic attacks in the bathroom afterward. I really, truly despised it. It wasn’t as though I found him unattractive; I could see that he was a traditionally handsome male. Many women were attracted to him, and I knew that. But it did not make me want to “jump his bones.” There was never a time I thought, “I want to screw that guy RIGHT NOW.” In fact, the children’s conceptions were so minutely calculated that I can actually tell you the exact date and time we conceived them. It was a science experiment with my ovulation.

I quickly want to add that despite our marriage not having the traditional sexual attraction, I loved (and still love) my husband with every ounce of my soul. That aspect should never be questioned, period.

While I often questioned the disdain, I always placed the blame on my hormones or exhaustion. I would watch TV and read books, I would listen to my friends talk about sex with their husbands: “Oh, I have a headache, hunny, not tonight!” They’d say. “Oh, I just lay there and let him get off, it’s such a chore.” So, my distaste for heterosexual sex seemed so normal. Society shows a wife who submits to a wild, rambunctious husband; so I did just that when necessary. I knew that I was married, that I valued that commitment, and there was no reason to sit and ponder my sexuality.

My late husband’s death broke that commitment (in the worst, most painful way). It wasn’t until later, at a wedding of an old friend of mine, did my internal questioning begin.

I was reintroduced to a family friend who had since come out as a lesbian. I was instantly attracted to her in a way that I had never felt with any cismale (that’s male assigned male at birth). Her mere presence felt like a magnetic pull in my direction. We began a relationship shortly thereafter.

Revelations seem to occur almost daily for me. Seeing her walk into a room will cause my stomach to flutter. Her touch causes electric shocks to my skin. There is a massive realization that I no longer despise sex. I feel as though I am a teenager, suddenly discovering lust. It both surprises and baffles me– is this how everyone else feels?

I also finally threw aside the “Suburban Mom” persona that I had so begrudgingly adopted. This time two years ago, I had exceptionally long, brown hair that had precise blond highlights and lowlights. I wore perfected make-up that took over an hour to apply. I had an extensive collection of black leggings and long tunic-shirts. I drove a silver mini-van filled with petrified chicken nuggets and children’s socks. I had Pinterest boards, TJ Maxx receipts, practically lived at Target and I DVR’d Good Morning America. I always felt like a fraud, but I chalked it up to Imposter Syndrome and moved on.

Today, there is so much more to me– I have started on a half-sleeve tattoo that I always wanted. I have begun to stretch my ears again and wear eccentric, wooden jewelry. I wear men’s cargo shorts and women’s sleeveless tops. I drive a new, sexier crossover SUV. I cut my hair short and dyed it every single color of the rainbow. My kids and I have dance parties to Imagine Dragons, The Beatles, and early 2000s hip-hop. I got rid of all my old decor and hung up tapestries, Tibetan prayer flags, and have an herb garden (and I killed it within weeks).

For the first time in my life, a life where I always desperately clung to the idea of “feeling like myself” or even finding myself at all, I feel a peace. I feel like I am finally who I should be (I still live at Target).

Do my clothes, my hair, my choice of jewelry mean anything in the grand scheme of life? Maybe not for everyone. But, to someone who had squashed who she was for so long, being able to live as person who I truly am means absolutely everything.

And yet, despite all of that, I have trouble grasping the idea that maybe, just maybe, this entire time… I’ve just been gay. Maybe I didn’t ever find men attractive “in that way.” Maybe I felt so beat down by societal pressure (even if it was subconscious) that I succumbed and assumed my sexuality. What if it was all garbage? People say, “Well, you have kids, so… [you had sex with your husband].” Well, yes, of course. It’s not as though women’s bodies mysteriously stop producing eggs and having the ability to grow humans just because they are lesbians. I was so committed to the idea of being married, and everything my marriage entailed (commitment to the ideal heteronormative, “picket-fence” life—a family, a house, vacations, retirement) that I never, ever stopped and considered that maybe it wasn’t everything.

I feel as though coming out to everyone was easier than coming out to myself. I also feel like I’ve come out so many times that my gayness is like an automatic revolving door to the most confusing closet– full of passageways and trapdoors. As a confused teen, I was “totally bisexual” and would make out with my friends to make their boyfriends jealous. In my early 20s, I discovered pansexuality and, well, of course, I was that. I justified it because I had been in heterosexual relationships so I couldn’t just be gay. In my late 20s I was married so it didn’t matter, right?

Coming out “later in life” has been as challenging as it has been liberating. There is a taboo surrounding this discovery; it is as though you either come out in your teens or early 20s or you do not come out at all. I aim to change that, albeit on a small scale. From my experiences and hearing from others, coming out is never a walk in the park. I believe there is an added level of trepidation when you are older, and especially when you have children and a previous heterosexual relationship. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I’m also dealing with post-loss new-relationship guilt, either.

I am ever-grateful for my path of self-discovery. It does not matter how I got here, it simply matters that I am finally on my way.

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Losing My Ability To Cry

I do not think I know how to cry anymore.

Doesn’t that just sound ridiculous? How can someone not know how to cry?

I don’t think I do.

Trauma does bizarre things to human beings. Every single person reacts differently to it, and yet, we all share similar recounts of the damages. Like war heroes, we share our battle tales with each other and nod, knowingly, at the painted pictures in our collective minds. Those who do not know the experience seem to believe that losing someone is not nearly as life-altering as it really is.

The media portrays death and loss like small moments in our lives. We lose a person to death, there is a funeral, a “get-together” and then it’s a two-year flash forward to a person who is fine, if not better off. She smiles, softly, at the fond memories of her past but is otherwise completely and totally fine.

While I cannot speak for everyone, that is total and complete nonsense for me.

I’ve always been a crier. My Mom used to love telling everyone that I never cried as a baby and have been “making up for it” as a teenager and adult. I was always very emotional. Crying when I was sad, happy, and especially when I was angry.

After my husband died, I cried heavily. I cried for what felt like a full 24-hour period. The only times I was not crying, I was sleeping. I was not eating, drinking, or experiencing life—just crying.

I cried for weeks. The moments would ebb and flow, but I would cry. I would cry so violently I would lose my breath and throw up. I would cry so roughly that I would burst vessels in and under my eyes. I would cry in the day or night— if I was awake, I was ready to cry.

But something happened after the first few months and I cannot begin to tell you where I lost my ability to cry, but it is gone. I cannot tell you the last time I cried. That is not to say I don’t feel sad. I do. Often and frequently and all the time. However, the act of crying, rather, that act of pure and simple relief from tears rolling down your face is gone.

There are pieces of literature that used to be able to send me over the edge no matter where I was or what I was doing. Some are pieces I’ve personally written about my husband’s death, others are pieces related to death in general. Today, even those meaningful, sometimes morbidly dark pieces cannot even flick the switch.

There is something very robotic about feeling as though you cannot cry. Something that makes you feel inadequate as a person—the very nature of humanity (for me) is to feel empathy, sympathy, and the wide range of emotions that come along with our psychological minds. Except, as much as I spout their necessity for all, I don’t have them.

Death turns people. I don’t like using phrases like “I feel like a zombie” or “I’m a shell of a person”—but they are poignant to some degree. I do not have the same vibrancy as before. It’s not like I don’t feel happiness, sadness, anger, etc.—it’s more that the emotions feel very shallow. There isn’t much iceberg underneath, although I still float through the sea.

I also find this inability to let go in almost all avenues of my persona. While sadness is the most obvious, I don’t laugh like I used to, either. I don’t understand frustrations or anger—social interactions bewilder me as if I did not have that part of my mind anymore. I watch others interact like museum exhibits, studying their behaviors, body language, speech as if they were an instructional video on the how-to’s of life. It does not limit itself to interactions for which I am not involved, either. I have had arguments with others, things that should feel degrading, violent, emotional, and yet I am left staring into the void and wondering why my verbal boxing partner is crying. I get perplexed by their emotions and cock my head like they are the crazy ones for releasing their pain.

I did not come to this realization overnight, although I may finally be putting into words the shallowness that I feel. It is a new trait that I find myself despising. I have never been this way. I was always the first person people would approach when they needed sympathy and comfort. I was always the confidant, the hand-holder, the silent but strong listener. Now I sit confused, like an alien observing this wild, emotional world.

Is there even a way to get back what I lost? How can someone who has stood on the brink of total collapse manage to return to normalcy as if nothing ever occurred? Can there possibly be a normal emotional balance for me or will I live as a person who appears complete but is lacking so many pieces?

Death does so much more than make you cry and feel pain. What death has done for me is infinitely worse; Death has made me unable to cry and feel at all. Death has stripped me of my basic human emotions. It has beaten and broken them into hollow and pale imitations.

The more experienced grievers, who have weathered life long after loss, will say it does change. But you will be hard-pressed to find any of us who say it gets better. It never gets better—it only gets different. The longer you live after you lose the harder life really becomes. When everyone has stopped bringing frozen meals, when others have begun to move forward with their lives—you remain chained to loss like a slave. Every single day, sometimes every hour, you are reminded of it.

Those less experienced will say the first year is the worst. For me, this was not true at all. The first year was easy. People shared in my grief that year. They shared messages of concern, sent food and letters, offered help and comfort. The milestones (the first birthday without him, the first Christmas, the first anniversary of his death) were all easy to manage because I knew I was not alone.

The second year (and I imagine, every subsequent year) has been incredibly difficult. Those well-meaning loved ones have moved on. They are like the woman above, smiling wistfully when his memory comes to them. Their humanity has not been mutilated by his death; their emotions are even-present and strong.

I cannot say I fully envy those who were less close to my husband, because I know that I got to see all the greatest (and worst) parts of him. I got to love him and be loved by him in the strongest way. But I do have jealousy towards them for one major reason:

They can cry.

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Survivor

My husband was killed in 2015. There, we got that out of the way.

He was a few months out from turning 34 years old. I was a few months out of turning 30 years old. Our daughter had just turned four years old. Our twin sons were about to hit the one-and-a-half-year-old mark.

We were three weeks out from signing the closing paperwork on owning our first home. It had been almost ten years since he came home from his military tours to Iraq. We had been together for six years. We had been married for three years.

On May 22, 2015, while riding his motorcycle to work, a man assumed there was space between two on-coming cars and turned left.

That space was my husband.

There are a lot of things I choose to believe now. A lot of pieces of me that changed and cannot be unchanged.

When someone dies in such a sudden fashion, you have no choice but to create scenarios and assume answers. Unlike losing someone to cancer or old age– there is no period of knowing death awaits you. You do not get the chance to sit down and say, “I Love You” or ask, “What do I do now?” Even trivial things like computer passwords and the knowledge of where they store important documents is lost to you.

The only thing that spontaneous death leaves the living is a sense of utter and unimaginable loss. Your sternum attempts to become concave, your eyes widen, your throat seizes. It is as if your physical self is imploding and exploding all at once– expelling every last ounce of energy and using every sense it has to try and find the person who is now gone. This is when you cry the most; the tears that come are violent and they cause pain to your whole body. They weaken you to the point of almost killing you. You scramble, both physically and mentally, to find someone or something to hold onto– a desperate hand grasping out in the blackest night and finding that there is nothing there but more darkness.

I’ve written about my husband many times. At the one month mark, the six-month mark, and the random day for no reason. On our children’s birthdays and on Christmas, on our anniversary and on his death-aversary. But I very rarely write about grief. How it can consume your every single breath and how you will do literally anything you can to escape it. I once remember telling someone that had the children not existed, I very well might have cuddled up next to him in the hospital and died if I could have forced myself. Grief does all that it can to take no survivors, but the biggest joke of all is that we are the survivors in a void where all we want is not to be.

If I look back now at the woman that stood up at that funeral and spoke so calmly, at the woman who managed to do her hair and make-up that morning, at the woman who smiled when she heard the roar of a motorcycle outside timed just right during a moment of silence, to the woman who took the deepest breath and sang acapella to the sky—that woman is my hero.

That woman is me. I have survived and I will continue to survive every single moment of every single day for the rest of the life I am so fortunate to have left. I will survive for my children and I will survive for him.