Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The only way out is through

A few months back, I wrote about a tactic I'd learned from a bicycling friend, for riding my bike through a narrow place.  If you haven't read that post, you might want to check out that entry, about finding a spot to focus on, just on the other side of the obstacle. (if you click the highlighted text, you'll go to that entry).  In short, I discovered that if I can find a pebble, a stick, a crack, even a dark spot on the pavement, just on the other side of the narrow gateway, I can ride my bike through without wobbling.

This month, which somehow started in the last week of June, with my eldest son's birthday, has been one continuous "narrow gateway", and I've been wobbling all over the place.  There are painful memories of one of Andre's most serious loss-of-control/out-of-touch-with-reality moments that happened at the end of that birthday celebration last year, a moment that terrified us all, and a moment that, in retrospect, should have been the one that caused me to pack up the kids and whatever we could grab and leave the house.  But we didn't.  Who knows how differently, possibly worse, things would have ended if we had. Andre was not one to lose graciously, and he would have seen it as my "winning" if I had taken the kids and tried to leave then.

So,that night, as I had done so many times before, I simply talked him down, tucked the kids away in bed or in their rooms, and prayed for the strength to keep loving my husband out of his "moods", as I thought of them.

This year, we marked my son's birthday with three celebrations that were totally different from last year.  On the weekend before his birthday he hosted some friends for several hours of harmless paintball-shooting mayhem, followed by pizza and cake.  And then on his actual birthday, we were watching the Oakland A's beat the Cinncinnati Reds, and Calvin got to keep a ball thrown into the stands by Yoenis Cespedes, this year's star outfielder.  The next morning, we packed up our gear and headed to Bodega Bay for some camping.

But no matter how much I have tried to wrap this time in fun, the constant "sneaker waves" of memories (I've explained those, too, in a previous post.  Click here to read it. )  are making us all a little crazy: short-tempered one minute, depressed the next, soaking in the delights of summer: birthday parties, sunshine, baseball, beaches, outdoor time, and then suddenly we're lost, swamped in last year, and echoes of other years' bad times with Andre's illness. Multiply those waves by 5 people, and you get a picture of the emotional chaos around here this month.

This week, as the 4th approaches, the sneaker waves keep washing me back to last year's final getaway with Andre.  Last year, on the 3rd of July, we hopped aboard a plane for Maui, courtesy of my generous employer, for a few days of adults-only R&R (and a couple of business meetings for me).  That time, despite the gorgeous romantic setting of the west side of Maui: palm trees, beaches, rainbows, posh accommodations... was full of "I am suffocating and I don't know how much longer I can keep this up" moments.  Looking back from the vantage point of the past year, that week becomes part of the final downward slide to Andre's death, and what could have been fond memories of Andre's last full week of life in a beautiful place are stained by that knowledge

Last night, I got brave and allowed myself to sit through the fireworks at the end of "The Singing Flag" , a patriotic musical revue that is performed locally every year on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of July.  Single shots are the worst, as they have the power to drag me back instantly to the moment of Andre's death.  I've had some awful moments with small firecrackers and even doors slamming over the past year.  But last night, after I breathed through the first couple of single firecracker shots, I was actually ok.

It probably helped that I was with my kids, with my youngest child sitting on my lap and critiquing the height, color, and pattern-spread of each shell as it exploded.  And we were with our dear friends,Gina and Peter, the ones who arrived first on my doorstep the night of Andre's suicide.  That awful night, Gina was the one who stepped right into thinking and managing for me--a job that would go on for months, but started in those first awful hours:  making a plan to get the kids out, figuring out where we would go, what we would do that night, washing the blood off my feet and hands, and helping me through having my mugshot taken by the police, and insisting that a female police officer be permitted to go back into my bedroom (as I was not), to retrieve clean clothes for me to wear when I left the house.  

Gina is fighting her own battle now.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April, has had surgery, and is now bravely and calmly strategizing her way through chemotherapy, with radiation to follow.  When I'm tempted to think that my life is complicated, I don't have to look very far to be reminded that it's not all that bad.   Maybe that's a pebble on the path for me--some perspective.

Our upcoming trip to Yosemite (my pastor has called it "granite therapy") on the day we will put Andre's ashes into a grave is another pebble to steer for, on the way through this narrow gateway.  Funny... to think of those massive slabs of granite as "pebbles"...

But I'm finding that I might need a much larger stash of pebbles on the pavement to get me through each hour of the next week or so.  I guess I'd better start filling my to-do list with "pebbles", in case I need to toss some in front of me, to aim at them as I navigate this narrow gate that seems to go on forever.

Ok, maybe that's a bit too big a pebble... :-)

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