This is a “purging the demons” post. There’s funny stuff coming in a few days, I promise, but the next couple posts are rough. If I ignored the rough stuff and only shared the funny stuff, that would defeat the purpose of doing this.
Inevitably, every couple of months I feel the need to mentally list the Gains and Losses resulting from this experience. There are more Gains than you might think: readjusted priorities, a better marriage, a greater feeling of belonging in my church/school community, a wonderful neighborhood that I love (despite its dysfunctional Facebook groups). When I start the Losses, there are always several swirling in my head: coordination, strength in my left leg, sensation in my left foot, confidence (not completely lost, but diminished), independence (again diminished, not lost). There is, however, one Loss that tops the list no matter how many times I rewrite it: a friend. I lost a friend. I’m not going to name her. I don’t think she is going to read here, but I suppose she might stumble across links through mutual Facebook friends, of which we have many.
Two years ago, she was still very much in my life. I saw her weekly until I went into the hospital and interacted with her almost daily either by phone or in our yahoo-based mommy group. Our mommy group wasn’t what it once had been when all of our firstborns were little and we were desperate for companionship. It had split into factions beginning in 2011 and I had taken the fragmentation too much to heart. In the months before my diagnosis, I spent many a dizzy, ear-ringing afternoon parked with the napping toddler, pondering how to “fix” the mommy group. Overinvolved? Probably. Emotionally overinvested? Definitely.
Which brings us back to May 7, 2012
Ativan? You don’t really have to ask. Just give it to me. Oxycontin? Yep, I’m not going anywhere today.
It was the day before surgery. A Monday. My eldest would have been at school where I heard the little guy stood up at Morning Meeting and told his entire first grade class about his mommy being in the hospital with a brain tumor. His teacher told Matt that he was being bombarded with questions and just wanted to answer everyone at once. My middle son was off on Mondays and I don’t know where he was. I don’t know where the toddler was. Or my husband. Or my stepfather. Or my grandfather. I’m sure they were around.
Two things that I remember about that day. First, our monsignor came to give me Communion and the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. I know my mom was there when he came by. I think this is also the day Cindy came to visit (which would make sense since her kids would have been at school). It’s funny because this visit completely fell into the black void and I only remembered it when she mentioned it on Facebook as I marked my first anniversary last year. Now, I remember clearly she was sitting next to my bed and she said, “someday we’ll laugh about this.” There is, in hindsight, an awful lot to laugh about in my story and, if you’ll stick through the next couple of heavy posts, I promise to share it with you.
Matt must have brought the boys by after my son got out of school. I’m sure I hugged them and I vaguely remember warning them that mommy wouldn’t look right when they saw her again. Her hair might be gone and there might be tubes and blood and she might act strange. Staples, I should have mentioned staples and “strange” doesn’t even begin to cut it.
Matt and the boys went home before dinner because Matt had to go give the final exam to my night class. Matt, my mom, my stepdad and grandfather planned to be back before surgery the next day, so this wasn’t goodbye yet. My friends had planned to come and spend the evening with me. I think about four of them did. I can’t remember exactly who as this night kind of merges in my head with a night in rehab when they all came by again. I just remember that around 10:30, it was time to say goodbye, but my friend said she would stay longer and I really wanted her to. I didn’t want to be alone.
I had things I needed to think about. I had things I needed to talk about. Dark things. Scary things. My husband is an eternal optimist and it serves him well, it served me well during this crisis, but I didn’t want to tell him my dark scary things because he would have reassured and dismissed. I didn’t want to be reassured and dismissed. My friend didn’t reassure or dismiss me. She went there with me. Down that dark path where I don’t come out after surgery, where I leave my husband and children and don’t come back. She had lost her own father to a brain tumor when she was a child. She had lost her sister-in-law to a brain tumor. This is something I would have done well to keep in mind before I asked her to escort me down the Path of Darkness. I shouldn’t have asked her to take me. I should have been more like my husband, the optimist. But I didn’t know. I didn’t know it would all be okay. That I would still be here, two years later, hashing it all out over the internet.
I asked her if she wished her father would have left her something, would have written something for her. She said she wished that more than anything. Through tears, I thanked her and told her I was going to write something to Matt and each of the boys. Something to remember me by. I hugged her and said goodbye. Then, I set about the business of writing “Goodbye, I’m sorry I died” notes to my family. Ativan, Oxycontin, exhaustion and emotional upheaval are not a good mix. By 2am, I was hysterical. I called Matt and asked if he could come to the hospital (my parents were home with the kids). He was there in 20 minutes. I blubbered my way through a confession of what my friend and I had talked about and what I’d been trying to do.
“Did you really think that would have been enough? A note?” he asked. I told him I thought it would have been better than nothing. He told me that, should anything happen (which it wouldn’t, of course, he assured me), it would be his job to tell the children about me, not some hastily scrawled piece of paper. I don’t necessarily agree. Had I actually been terminal and had the time, I would have, of course, left something for my boys. But it was what I needed to hear that night. I was exhausted. Matt got into bed with me and held me until dawn when he went home to get our eldest ready for school.
My husband and my friend never got along again after that. He didn’t like that she had, even unintentionally, upset me that night and they had another couple of run-ins after surgery that I have no memory of whatsoever. She continued to visit me in the ICU and in Rehab. She began to pull away once I got out of Rehab and was downright cold by late that summer. Things got more and more tense between us and there was an angry email exchange last summer. Now we don’t speak. We aren’t even Facebook friends.
I don’t know that it was the events of that night that ruined our friendship (or at least set things in motion), maybe I just want to think that. It’s vaguely poetic to think of two emotionally damaged people who went too far, tore down too many walls and became too vulnerable to remain friends. And so, I thank her deeply and profoundly for that night, whatever the cost.
Not to diminish anything I just wrote, but lest I appear completely naive, I do know it wasn’t any of this that ruined our friendship. It was cliquish immature bullshit that ruined our friendship. It was you chose her over me and you were nice to her when you were supposed to shun her Mean Girls crap that ruined our friendship.
But let’s pretend it wasn’t. Let’s pretend it was because she dared to be there for me on a very dark night when I needed her.