Thursday, December 3, 2015

Pulling a phone out of the wall

I can't quite remember which came first: my mother's eye or the dog.

In the fall of 1995, shortly after I graduated from college, my beloved Nikki, a Siberian Husky who was my 9th birthday present, was 13 and failing; on Halloween, we said goodbye.

I think my mother's eye happened before that, late summer or early fall. One day, her eye was totally red; the doctor said a blood vessel had burst, which happens, and not to worry.

Around the same time (or was it the same day?), my mom was giving a presentation at work when she suddenly had blood in her mouth.

Soon after, she had an appointment with her endocrinologist to check on her thyroid. Her blood pressure was so high that he didn't want her to leave the office. He sent her straight to her regular doctor. The testing began.


My first job out of college was doing layout and page production in a commercial printing department; I worked second shift, and every other week, I interacted with a client who would call with changes to their many-paged booklet that we printed.

The client was a character. He would chew gum the whole time he was talking to me on the phone. "Eh, Kristina," he said one day (chomp chomp chomp). "Long time, no talk, eh? That's a pisser."

One late afternoon, after my parents got home from medical appointments, my mom called me at work. Her kidneys had only about 30% function and were failing, she'd been told. I had an electric feeling throughout my body — raw fear and disbelief. I interpreted my mother's diagnosis to mean she was dying, sooner rather than later.

Soon after (a minute? an hour?), the client called, and my coworkers shoved a big bowl of popcorn in my face — so I could chew in the client's ear for a change. I waved them off and switched phones to one that was closer to the counter where the proofs were. The cord was tangled, I was frazzled, and I tugged at the cord — until the phone ripped out of the wall. I dissolved in tears, handed the phone to a coworker and fled.

Twenty minutes later, I walked in the door of our house, not sure what I would find.

What I found was normal. My dad sitting on the loveseat. My mom sitting in her chair. The woodstove burning. Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy on the television. I sat on the floor in front of the fire and read the newspaper.

I was outwardly normal but falling apart inside. That became my normal.


This morning after my shower, I looked in the mirror. I saw 22-year-old eyes, pained and scared, and the discolored patch of skin on my 42-year-old left cheek — like my mother's cheeks as she aged.

If I could give my 22-year-old self anything, it would be someone to have her back. Someone to help carry the load, physically and emotionally. Someone to lean on when her foundations were shaken.

I would give my 22-year-old self the unconditional love and partnership that Paul gives me.

Paul and I knew each other then; for those of you who don't know, Paul is the oldest brother of my best friend from college. I think we met when I was 19. Paul was interested, but my best friend didn't want me to date her brothers, so I didn't — for 16 years.

I couldn't have managed a lasting relationship with anyone in my early 20s, so I'm glad Paul and I didn't get together then. But I think it would be comforting for my 22-year-old self to know that she wouldn't always feel alone, that she'd someday have someone to lean on, that someday she could face this unspeakable fear and that she wouldn't be alone.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Revisiting the past

I graduated from college in the summer of 1995, moved home and found a job. Five months later, my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure. The next month, my mother's mother (who moved in with us when I was 8) fell and broke her shoulder. A few months after that, my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

I was 22 and scared out of my mind. My parents were older when I was born (my mom 37, my dad 60), and growing up, I was always afraid they would die. Now my worst fears seemed to be coming true, and there was nothing I could do except watch it happen.

I don't remember much about that time. I know that I was highly functional; I drove my parents and grandmother to doctor appointments and cancer treatments or kept up our huge house and yard during the day, and I worked second shift. I had friends, but I didn't feel like I could talk to anyone about fear of my parents dying. Or about how it feels to watch someone you love suffer from cancer. Or about the realities of being a caretaker. 

With the clarity of twenty intervening years, I'm sure there were people who would have listened. There might have been people who tried. The real issue was that I couldn't talk about it without crying, and at that point, I tried my damnedest to not cry in front of anyone. (Funny how important that seemed.) I believed I needed to be able to take care of myself, by myself, and that isolated me more.

Scared. Overwhelmed. Isolated. (Depressed? I can't remember if these were the few years I was off anti-depressants.) Going through the motions but not processing my thoughts or feelings.

Now I think it's time to do that processing. Twenty years is a long time to have buried this. I don't know if I'm ready (I don't feel ready, but I don't think I ever feel ready to tackle something big) — but I do know that I have strength and knowledge gained from years of therapy and intense energy work. If that's not enough to get me through, my husband will share his strength.

So in this darkest time of the year, I'm going within to face my fears and my darkest pain. I'm going to spend time with my 22-year-old self. I can be the listener she didn't have, the person to whom she can say anything. I can be the one she doesn't have to be strong for. I can be the person who's not afraid to cry with her. (Okay, that last one is a lie. Crying with people makes me really uncomfortable. But fear and discomfort won't stop me.) Let's begin.