The other morning, I called my mother to tell her something. Her voice sounded shaky, like she was about to cry. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m having a meltdown today,” she said, quivering. “I have all these year end taxes, and my printer says the cartridge is damaged, and it’s brand new, and—“
“Tell me about it,” I say. I launch into my litany. When I hang up, I throw a painful temper tantrum. I sound like a siren, a long, low bellowing moan like a thing dying. My voice quivers at the end from the muscle spasm I’ve given myself.
I call my mother back to apologize, and she doesn’t know what I’ve done, so I remind her that I didn’t hear the complete list of her things gone wrong, the ingredients of her meltdown pot. She lets it out, and I offer some possible solutions—like the person I used to be would do.
My husband is back to work. He wakes up every morning at 4:30 and tiptoes past the rented electric recliner—where I wind up sleeping the second half of every night—squeezing himself silently in the twelve inches between my laptop table and the fireplace. He makes two cups of coffee and plans his classes. He gives six different lessons a day (fifth through eighth grade social studies, fifth and sixth grade math) and spends two and a half hours every morning doing his preps. Then he makes Serena and himself lunch (it used to be my job), drops off a cup of coffee, just the way I like it, beside my sleeping body, and goes up to shower, sending Serena down to make her own breakfast. When he comes home, exhausted from a combination of kids and the bureaucratic nonsense that adds pointless tasks to his overcrowded schedule (he eats lunch with the kids in the classroom), he walks the dogs, makes dinner or a portion of it for us all, then attends to his various tasks—school meetings, Serena’s basketball, Serena’s rock practice. (He used to be able to nap. One night a week, he could almost get out to basketball. Not now.) Then he goes to bed. Rinse and repeat.
Since school started, the almost-constant delightful and delighted guitar playing has stopped. Everyone is tense. The other day, Marty put his car keys in his pocket and promptly lost them. He patted himself down, checked every pocket, every room. He stood in the dining room and screamed the way I haven’t heard him scream since his father died.
I sat in this stupid, stupid chair crying and loving him and wishing that I could help him or even stand up and hug him—if only he had the time and it didn’t take five minutes to raise the chair and stand. If only it didn’t hurt me so much.
About an hour later, he came home to get something Serena forgot and apologized for his outburst. They keys were in his jacket pocket, under his coat, over his pants. “You ought to talk to someone,” I said. He hissed through his teeth. He doesn’t believe in therapy, he’s lost touch with most of his friends, and his brother up the street—well, let’s just say that he’s only signed as a wide receiver.
Last Thursday, I got a reply email from my sister, yelling at me for what she thought was a tone or an implication in my email to her. She called me a bitch and told me she knows I’m in pain, but I’ve been a bitch since the day I complained that my house had too many people in it (right after surgery). We went rounds, finally owning our faults and making up.
My friends have their migraines and their depression and their miserable days. They fall and hurt themselves. They lose their jobs. And because they are good friends, they have to ask how I am. I feel insensitive telling them. Sometimes I say “ugh” and change the subject or write “ok” in lower-case letters, which I haven’t done since I started reading Ann Lamott. I want to lie and say I’m great. I am afraid my pain has crowded them out, and they will stop coming.
My dogs just look at me from the floor. I know that spending quality time stroking their fur is good for my heart and my mind. But I can’t reach down to pet them, and it hurts us both when they jump up. I slip them some cheese now and again so they know I still love them.
Serena had a stomachache and headache on Wednesday and wanted to stay home from school. She was disappointed that her birthday (on the epiphany) was not met with the usual fanfare. She wanted to have her movie date and sleepover in the attic. But I can’t have strangers in my house right now. I can barely pull my pants up by myself, and someone has to stand by when I shower and help me dry my legs. I can’t suffer any more indignities.
I think Serena is anxious about me. She peeks around the corner to find me wincing while trying to stand. She sees my frustration with the things I drop and the things that lie along my path and the things that clutter my table, and she wonders how much longer it will be this way.
I finger the lumps around the incision in my back. It’s a thick, tough patch, like my life right now. Like the life of everyone in mine. All of us have this scar tissue. I don’t have any salve or balm I can rub on the people I love to make them feel better. I can only sit here and wait.
the people who love you — really love you — aren’t going anywhere. even if we have to slip you pieces of cheese to remind you we love you.
Yep, I cried.
It is so hard to be still with ourselves, and recovering from pain like this forces you to be still. Forces you to wait. It sucks for controlling people like us, especially! 😀
Like Jen says…those who love you accept this; accept you; and while they may be frustrated and scared and even maybe angry sometimes, they will wait with you.
Slow, even breaths. You can do this. So can your family.
i don’t even know you and you’ve got me tearing up as well. this is the first post on your blog i have read so i don’t know your story yet. i wish there was something i could say to make your pain go away and your day brighter. nothing lasts forever, that’s the best i can give you.
Pain makes us the worst possible version of ourselves, constant, severe pain wears away at the very fabric of who we are. There is light at the end of the tunnel but its hard to see right now, maybe there is a curve in the road, but dammit, that light is there. Your family and friends who really love you will be there when this is over and you’ll all be better people for having survived it.
oh, leslie. i wish i could make it all go away. xoxo
love you, and that’s all i know to say right now. xo times so many.
You found a good one when you found Marty.
I’m sorry for you. Very sorry. This feels terrible, I know.
Your family is suffering. That’s what family does. If one of their own suffers, they suffer. It can’t be any other way and it’s not your fault.
Your friends love you and don’t mind listening. Didn’t I tell you so before.
I don’t know what to say except that I am not going anywhere.
I’ve been there. The worst part, I think, is not being able to take care of everyone else because you’re in so damned much pain yourself. It sucks. But hopefully, this is just the short term, and things will get better, and someday you will be looking back at this and knowing you survived it.
Blessings and peace to you and to Marty and to Serena. Keli and Keith and I have been there. We slogged through that muck and mire for quite some time during the brain tumor period… surgery, painful recovery, drug adjustment, dark days. I was the Marty in the scenario and far from perfect. But I would do anything to help and ease his burden. Marty and Serena and everyone else in your life know that you are doing the best that you can and that you don’t want to be in this situation any longer than you must. When you are well, you will be yourself again. Let go and find some peace wherever you can, Leslie. And know that we are all thinking of you.
Tears. I only met you once, and I don’t know you well, but I know enough to know you are good people, and it hurts a lot to hear your pain. I don’t know what can be said that hasn’t been said, but know that I care and am here for you. Really. Now where is my cheese….
Everything that can be said has been, from your dear friends and even those who are reading your pain for the first time.
You are an amazing woman; that much is clear. And you have a wonderful family, thank God. My heart goes out to you, and I pray for your healing.
You still have your incredible sense of humor, which certainly helps US, and I hope it helps you.
Love to read your writing, and am excited to get that book of yours.
hey Leslie. I wonder if it would help a little if you wrote letters to Marty and Serena throughout the day? or little notes? It would help you express yourself and then they would have the companionship of your words. Maybe you do that already.
Its like notes in a lunchbox,well, kinda.
We ARE cheering for you and sending good energy. Give Serena and MArty all our virtual hugs too.