Friday, January 20, 2017

Christine's Hope.

Getting out of bed is painful now. All I can do is lay here, watching Alyssa play. She brings her toys in every morning, and spends most of her day playing no less than 10 feet away. Her sweet little humming is the most incredible sound I've ever heard. I drink every note in. I want nothing more than to help her brush her dolls' hair. I briefly consider it, but I know gripping the comb will hurt. I'll only manage a few seconds. Just a few months ago she asked me to play with those same dolls, and I shrugged her off. I was too busy with the things I thought were important. I was such a fool.

I can hear Jeremy in the kitchen cooking dinner. Smells like lemon chicken. The garlic and citrus scents are overpowering. It was my favorite dish, but now the smell makes me nauseous. I want to ask him to close the door so the odor will be contained in the kitchen, but I don't have the heart to do it. I know he's trying his best to show me kindness. I know he feels so helpless, watching me wither away. He refused to listen to the doctors when they said there was nothing else they could do. He spent weeks writing specialists all over the country. I was amazed he kept at it as long as he did. I didn't stop him, I knew he needed to do it. But eventually he saw what they all saw. I was dying. Hell, I was basically dead already.

I don't blame Jeremy for holding out hope. I did for so long. I spent my weeks at the hospital dreaming of coming home a new woman. I imagined what it would be like to dress Alyssa for school. She'll start Kindergarten next August, and I was so sure I'd be there. But eventually the doctors were less confident. There was more whispering outside of my room before the doctors came in- more pitying looks from the nurses. It didn't take me long to catch on. Once they finally sent me home to be "comfortable for as long as I had left", I took it like a champ. I didn't spiral like Jeremy. I'm pretty proud of that. I think it would have been easy, dropping into a depression and letting go for the time I had left. But I couldn't. I had things to do.

Jeremy took so much time off of work. I was thankful in the beginning. I needed him so desperately. I needed a shoulder, a strong arm to lean on. But when I knew things were over, something inside of me strengthened on its own. It doesn't make sense when I think of it now. This should be when I break down, when I loose all semblance of any grit I once had. It would be my right to break down and let everyone else shoulder the burden of our lives falling apart. But I never got there. I hope I never do. I hope I can hold out until the end.

I insisted Jeremy start back at work part time. He reluctantly agreed. The bills were piling up. Thank the gods I have life insurance. Once I kick it, they'll be okay. That's one huge relief to me. But for now, Jeremy needs to start getting back into the habit. He needs a place to go, and think, and be without the shadow of my frail life hanging over him at every moment. I called my friend Jill and asked her to sit with Alyssa and I for his first day back at work. I also thank the gods for friends like Jill. What the hell I would have done without her, I'm glad I'll never have to know. Jill never danced around anything. We both knew I was dying, and we both admitted it. There was no pretending, no awkwardness. So I felt comfortable telling Jill what I needed once I was gone. We were talking about Alyssa's blonde bouncy curls when I unceremoniously dove in.

"They'll need you, you know. When I'm gone. Jeremy would never know how to handle those curls. She'd end up with hair a lion would envy if you're not here to help him figure things out. Could you imagine?"

Jill laughed. I mean- she fucking laughed. A full, intense, from the deepest part of your belly laugh. She meant it. Sitting on my bed next to a dying woman, she laughed at the idea of Jeremy having to do Alyssa's hair when I was dead. That's why I loved Jill. I knew they'd be okay with her around.  We had a long conversation that day. I detailed everything I needed from her. I told her every worry, every fear, every possible thing I thought they might need. I waited for her to tell me it was too much. She never did. She promised she would do it all, and damn if I don't believe her.

I heard a plate break in the kitchen followed by a loud, "Shit!" from Jeremy. Alyssa looked up at me and giggled. "Daddy said an uh-oh word". I felt a flutter in my chest and a chain of giggles bubbled up my throat and out of my mouth. I was surprised they found their way out, it was so hard to do anything these last few days. My laugh triggered more from Alyssa, which drew Jeremy into our room. He walked in to find us in a fit of giggles, though mine was admittedly weaker than Alyssa's child-powered glee. The look on his face was a treasure. There was so little happiness left lately. He looked us over and, unable to resist the infectious laughter, joined in with his own deep chuckle.

"I have a suspicion that was all at my expense, but I'm not sure I mind" said Jeremy once we all calmed down.

"It most definitely was" I told him. We locked eyes and I gave him a weak smile. He winked, and beamed back.

"As I'm sure you've guessed, I have a mess to clean up in the kitchen. But once I'm done, you'll need to come in for dinner 'Lyssa." Jeremy gave me another quick smile and left the room.

I was already paying for the moment of levity, pain blossoming in my chest and back. I repositioned myself and reached for a pain pill, hoping to get ahead of what was to come. I took a sip of water, struggling to get the medicine down my throat.

After a while, Jeremy came in to grab Alyssa. He grabbed her around her waist and flew her around the room like an airplane. She shrieked and pretended to protest, until they made it to the table. They sat down for dinner, and I strained to hear parts of their conversation. Alyssa was easier to hear. She was so animated. She told Jeremy about an ant she had followed around the room while I slept today. It crawled to the windowsill and found a magic door in it that took it back outside. She looked forever but couldn't find the door the ant took. I reveled in the story, drinking in every word.

Soon, the pill began to take effect and I started to slip into sleep. As I began to drift, I felt such contentment. I knew I would slip alway for good very soon, but I was so sure they'd be okay. "They'll carry on so well," I assured myself. They'd hurt for awhile, but the pain would heal and they'd be able to move on. To love again, to carry each other through life. That hope would carry me through the pain, until I would finally hurt no more. My eyes became so heavy that I couldn't fight any longer. I slipped into an easy sleep, where the pain couldn't reach me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

This is my first time writing a response to one of Chuck Windig's prompts. I've only written a handful of times in my life, but I hope to start getting some practice and experience. Please feel free to leave comments, critiques, questions.

My Greatest Fear. 

My body sinks into my warm, soft bed. I look forward to slipping into my red sheepskin blanket all day. It's so comfortable, the softness of the sheepskin makes me feel like I'm enveloped in a cloud. It should be my happy place. But the moment I lay down, the panic begins.

"Are you sure you saw them breathing?" I ask myself. I run the moment over and over again in my head. I placed my youngest daughter in bed next to her sister once she fell asleep. I removed all pillows from the bed.  Why did I move the pillows? They're 3 and 7, they should be well past the age where one would suffocate in their sleep. But what if the pillow moves the wrong way? What if my youngest gets stuck under her sister's pillow and can't get out? Images of her thrashing alone, terrified, and unable to escape fill my mind. I cringe and shake my head. That's why they can't sleep with pillows. That's why I carry them out of the room after my oldest falls asleep, so she doesn't reach for one if she wakes up in the middle of the night. I can't take the risk. After the pillows were gone, I took away their large comforter. I brought out the small blankets, the ones that are less likely to cover their faces. I covered each of them up and stood back to look. And I waited. I watched each of them breathe, their stomachs rising. I watched Alice until I feel like I've seen her stomach rise long enough. I turned to Eliza, watching her shoulders move slightly with each breath. They're breathing. They're breathing. They're breathing.

I tried to reassure myself with the memory. They were breathing. I saw it. Did I see it? Did I turn my head away a split second too early? What if right as I looked away Alice started to choke? What if she was struggling to breathe and I didn't see, didn't notice? I try to fight it, but I can't. I rise quietly, trying not to wake my husband. My feet hit the hardwood floor and I make my way to their room. I walk in, turning on the light, secretly hoping Alice will wake so I can bring her to sleep with me. Eliza is old enough now, old enough to be safe. But Alice, is she safe yet? I stand at the edge of the room, holding my breath. I don't want to breathe in, because if I do it could compromise what I'm seeing. What if my brain is tricking me into thinking they are breathing as I take in my own breaths? I see their chests rise. I see them taking their breaths. They are safe, they are whole, they are living.

I turn to leave, but see the window in the corner of my eye. Is it locked? I think I checked earlier, but did I really? This thought feels intrusive, irrational. Maybe I shouldn't check. But what if I don't? What if someone sneaks in because I didn't check? What if they take the girls? They would be so scared, so alone, so afraid. I take a step towards the window, unable to push the thoughts away. I lift up on it with all the strength I can muster to be sure. It's locked. Which reminds me, did I check the doors?

I walk through the house as quietly as I can, checking the doors. I turn the handle a few times, until they all feel right and secure in my hand. They are locked. We are safe. I pass by the oven and press the off button a few times, just to be sure.

But what about the dog? Was she locked in her crate? If she isn't she could get into the girls' room and accidentally smother them while they are sleeping. I check her cage once more, lifting a few ties to be sure it's secure. I make my way back to my room.

I hit the pillow, sliding into my sheep-skin blanket. So soft, so secure. I close my eyes waiting for sleep to take me.

I feel the first touches of terror. Thoughts of Alice fill my mind. She's terrified, alone, she can't fill her lungs. She's hoping I'll help her but I'm not there. I'm not there. I'm not there.

My feet hit the hardwood floor.