Wednesday, August 29, 2012

August 29th

Had Mother Nature not been such a cruel bitch, Scott and I would have been grandparents by now. Our daughter would have been a new mother, her boyfriend a new father. Granted, not a one of us was ready. But, like many, we would have muddled through and eventually grown into our new roles. We might even have been good at them. Instead, our family was sideswiped by a twist no one saw coming. It might be a long time before any of us feels whole again.

Casey and Mitch drove us to the airport on Wednesday, July 25. While Scott and I were in Seattle for a week, visiting friends and attending my family’s annual BBQ, the kids were going to stay at our house to take care of the dog, cats, garden, mail, and whatever else popped up. The neighbors were due back from vacation the following Monday; Scott planned to fly home on Tuesday; his parents – Casey’s grandparents – were scheduled to return mid- to late-week; and I had tickets for the red-eye out of Seattle on Thursday. Despite the light support system, and though Casey had grown convinced she’d deliver early, she wasn’t due for another month. The timing seemed safe.

We arrived at SeaTac Wednesday evening around 10:30pm, picked up our rental car, and drove directly to Magnolia, where we’d arranged to stay with friends our first two nights back in the Pacific Northwest. The drinking started early and went long into the night. The following morning, I fluttered back to consciousness around 6am, surprisingly wide awake. We had breakfast at Chinook’s – a favorite Seattle area hangout, located at the Fishermen’s Terminal – then did some sightseeing downtown and around the Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods. All via car, by the way. Which reminds me: I should mention I couldn’t walk.

Rewind some six weeks earlier, to Saturday, June 9. Following an evening with friends and playoff basketball, I stepped outside onto the pitch black deck to toss some recycling into the bin and slammed my right foot into the leg of a deck chair. Stunned and likely driven by shock, I slid the chair to the side, hobbled carefully to the recycling bin to finish my quest, then turned and moved with equal care back into the house to sit. Noting the unnatural, nearly 45-degree angle of my middle toe, I calmly asked Scott to fetch the Bandaids from the downstairs bathroom and the crutches from the garage … and please hand me the bottle of Jack on his way out.

I set the toe, wore Birkenstocks, iced my foot three or four times a day for a week, and walked only when it was necessary. By Friday, I didn’t feel entirely up to attending the Operative Me concert in Lake Worth, but we had plans to meet up with friends for dinner, and I didn’t want to miss “the kids’” show. I brought the cane instead of the crutches. And wore “pretty” shoes. I probably should have stayed home.

The first week’s worth of over-compensation aggravated my previously strained left knee, which required me to elevate and ice BOTH legs. No, it wasn’t pretty. Two weeks to the day, the toe re-broke while I was attempting to shave my legs in the shower. By the end of the fourth week, I’d re-broken the toe at least three more times, had watched seven seasons of Weeds, and hadn’t written anything more than one or two updates to my Facebook status. I was beyond frustrated. No position was comfortable. I couldn’t bend, squat, reach, or carry anything. Poor circulation had spawned numbness down my right leg. My left knee started to concern me more than my toe. And daily updates from the neighbor about her ex-husband and the startling leg amputation he’d endured only fueled the fire. Everywhere I looked – inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, the pool, the yard, the dog – things that needed my attention screamed abandonment. I felt surrounded by disorder. That’s when the anxiety attacks kicked in.

Concerned about my blood pressure, I was finally driven to see a doctor. The clinic took x-rays and referred me to an orthopeadic surgeon who, among other things, said I needed to calm down. He offered Xanax. I declined. I was also advised to get an MRI on my left knee and to stay off my feet. He re-taped the toe to the one on the opposite side, slapped my foot in a boot that looked like a Birkenstock, and sent me on my way. Not being able to drive, I was (and still am) eternally grateful for the neighbors for making sure I made every appointment.

So, I shouldn’t have been traveling across the country. But I did. And, with Scott’s help, I made it. There wasn’t a muscle that didn’t hurt, of course; my toe and knee throbbed, my legs and back ached from the long flight and cramped, coach-section quarters, and my shoulders and neck were screaming on account of the cane and the unaccustomed pressure on my upper body. Even my hands hurt. I was relieved, then, when our friends in Seattle set me up immediately Wednesday night with two ice packs and a cold beer. When I woke up Thursday morning, everything throbbed, so our friends hooked me up again, this time with ice and an Aleve. Breakfast was great, the weather was fantastic. On our driving tour through the neighborhoods, I spotted a small park overlooking Puget Sound. Scott pulled over so we could take pictures. Spying a collection of empty beer cans in the grass, I carefully hobbled around and began disposing of them in the trash. There was even an empty vodka bottle! Some people, I thought as I stepped up the moderately steep incline toward the trash can…feeling a “pop” in my right calf as I did so. Scott shook his head as he watched me finish the up-hill hike backwards, to minimize the pain.

Can you say, “Dumbass”?

After another amazing meal at the Fishermen’s Terminal, this time at Bay CafĂ©, Scott and Jim left to see about putting the boat in the water to look for crab. Danielle and I took off to surprise a dear writer friend of mine who had no idea I was about to show up at his book reading. The amazingly talented and prolific Rick R. Reed was, indeed, surprised, as was his partner, Bruce. We walked across the street after the reading to share a drink and catch up. It was a highlight of the trip. After we said goodbye, and I promised to never surprise him like that again, Danielle and I headed to Ballard to meet up with the boys at the Lock & Key, another favorite haunt. As with the night before, the drinking started early. I remember thinking it’d been a long time since I’d had such a good time.

Around 9pm that Thursday night, Scott’s phone rang. It was Casey. He stepped outside the bar to take the call. Grabbing my cane, I followed and immediately didn’t like the look on his face. He mouthed something I interpreted as, “Lost the puppy,” and I grew instantly tense. What happened to my puppy?! Visions of life without our precious chocolate dog skittered across my thoughts. I was beside myself with fear as their conversation continued. Finally, Scott said, “Here, talk to Mom.” He handed me the phone and told me what was wrong. It had nothing to do with the puppy.

Back in April, when Scott and I learned that our jobless, not-quite-graduated, 18-year-old daughter was four months’ pregnant, we swiftly embraced denial. We’d had problems with her in the past, but her life was finally turning around. She’d seemed happy and had planned to join the Navy after high school to be the first girl in the family to serve in the military. We were so proud of her. A baby meant all her dreams would be postponed, might never happen at all. I remembered what it was like for me at 21 to have my first child. It changed my life. Nothing was ever going to be the same for her again. For months, I mourned her childhood and cried over the loss of her dreams. Mostly I drank. I’d wanted better things for her. But, I reminded myself, she’d chosen her path; it was her life now. And I had to learn to live with it.

She started showing early, the family talked through its doubts, and, by mid-July and the baby shower, we were all coming to terms with the inevitable. Casey had successfully graduated high school, had moved in with her boyfriend and his family, and the two of them were working things out. When it came time for our trip to Seattle, the kids seemed to have everything under control, and we were warming up to the idea of being grandparents. Then, not quite twenty-four hours after we’d arrived in Seattle, everything changed again. Only weeks before her due date, Casey was in the hospital. Scott hadn’t said “puppy” – our baby had lost her baby.

I held the phone tight to my ear, tried (unsuccessully) not to cry or think about standing on a sidewalk, outside a bar, 3,000 miles away, and said as many encouraging things as I could. Inside, my heart was breaking for her. My legs felt weak, my chest heavy. I told her I loved her and that she was strong. I prayed she believed me.

We went back inside after the call. Danielle met us with hugs and a tray of shots. Scott and I sat across from each other, locked eyes, clinked glasses, and offered up a toast, “To the lost.” I wanted to cry. Wanted to scream. Being painfully aware of the public spectacle I’d make of myself, I held back the majority of tears and drank, instead. It all seemed so unfair; Casey’s parents were in Seattle; her grandparents were in an RV somewhere in Texas; our neighbors were in Washington, D.C. The only family nearby were her brother, who didn’t have a car, and her aunt (Scott’s sister), who lived two hours away. She was so alone.

Only she wasn’t alone; her boyfriend and his family were at her side the entire time. Before the end of the night, her brother had also made it to her bedside, as did her aunt. Scott and I found some comfort in knowing she wasn’t without a support system. It didn’t help me sleep, though. I couldn’t stop thinking about Casey, couldn’t stop asking why. Why her? Why now? Although Friday morning ultimately started early, and with no signs of a hangover, the night seemed to last an eternity.

No one talked much. None of us knew what to say. We resorted, then, to practical matters. As we’d taken a cab home the night before, our first item of business that morning – after one last bite at Chinook’s – was to retrieve the cars. It was the first time in six weeks that I’d driven anything. Thankfully, I did it without much pain. Afterward, Scott and Danielle took a short detour to the dental office she works at to fix a cap Scott lost at dinner the previous night. We’d hoped to leave Seattle by noon, but didn’t make it out of Magnolia until nearly 3pm. Expecting the drive to Michigan Hill would be no more than two hours, we headed south on I-5. And finally started talking about what we should do.

“A lot of women,” as I explained to Casey a few days later, “would have dropped everything and returned immediately. WE,” I said, looking into her eyes, “are NOT a lot of women.”

I come from hearty stock, only a generation removed from pioneers. I’m proud of my heritage and proud of my family. Living so far away, I generally get one visit a year with which to reconnect and recharge my “hillbilly battery.” We all look forward to it. It’s likely for that reason it never occurred to me prior to Friday that Scott and I should consider going home. Given the information we had at the time, I’d convinced myself in the short-term there was nothing we could do; she’d lost the baby. If we hopped on the next flight out, the earliest we’d see her would be Saturday morning. Yes, we could hold her hand, but the worst would be over. The healing was all up to her.

I was also convinced that, cruel as it was, the timing had to be intentional. Everything happens for a reason. Casey was alone because she was meant to be alone. If there was a lesson here for her, would she still learn it if we returned right away? Isn’t my job as a parent to guide my children to responsible adulthood? And doesn’t that include making hard decisions sometimes? I’d sacrificed a lot of things for my kids, some small and insignificant, some not so small – at least, not to me. If I thought I could help, I would have insisted we leave on the first plane out on Friday, the morning after we heard the news. But I didn’t. Right or wrong, my instinct told me to stay.

The minute we left Jim and Danielle’s, Scott got on the phone and started looking for someone in Florida to take care of the dog and the cats. The first calls struck voice mail. I sent out a few feeler texts to find back-up. An hour into the drive, we were no closer to resolving the house-sitting problem and still hadn’t reached the half-way point. A commute that normally takes less than two hours was stretching to three. Scott tried to call Casey. She didn’t answer. Neither did Mitch. Seemingly cut off from the rest of the world, Scott and I had only each other. And we were both confused. We wanted to do the right thing. But what was the right thing? Continue on through mercilessly unending traffic to Michigan Hill? Or turn around and fly home to Casey?

My heart was breaking for my daughter. I wanted to be with her, wanted to offer her comfort and do everything I could to ease her pain. But I wasn’t with her; I was in Washington. To be so close, to have endured so much to get to the west coast, only to turn back and face the prospect of waiting another year to see my dad, my sister, my brothers… What if we all didn’t make it another year? How would Casey feel about that?

Go to my family? Or go to my family? I’ve never felt so torn.

It was somewhere near Fife (about an hour or two into the drive) that Scott re-capped his early morning chat with Casey. He said she was in better spirits and the doctors were inducing that afternoon. My heart stopped. “She said induced?” I asked. “Yeah,” he answered. “But she lost the baby last night,” I countered. “That’s what I thought,” he said. I made a brief and not at all comical note to self: Do not EVER allow a man to relay information relating to childbirth. “Did she say anything else?” I asked. He ended with, “She said she wanted us to come home.” I was struck with overwhelming guilt for not being there for her.

Casey told me later that, although she had told her dad that morning she wanted us home, the intent of her call that Friday afternoon was to tell us to stay in Washington. With the worst behind her, she’d come to realize there was nothing we could do. By the time we finally spoke to her, some two or three hours into the drive, it was too late to turn around, anyway. We relayed to her our plans to spend the weekend on Michigan Hill, attend the BBQ on Saturday, and fly home on the red-eye Sunday night. She was okay with that. To our relief, she sounded better, too. She’d had visitors, and several people had been intent on cheering her up and making her smile. I felt overcome with gratitude for the friends and family who raced to her side.

Despite my continued lack of mobility, and with thanks to the weather, the Fifth Annual Hillbilly Luau was a success, and our time on Michigan Hill did us both good. With each hug and greeting – from my sister, my brothers, my dad, my nieces and nephews – I found renewed strength and grew to understand why my dueling instincts had led me there. Say what you want about rednecks; their actions might sometimes betray their levels of intelligence, but their hearts are always in the right place. And my family is my foundation. Together, we’ve lost friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even Mom. We made it through. We were going to make it through this, too.

Sunday was quiet. And ended too soon. We packed and said our goodbyes around 6pm. The drive to SeaTac airport took less than two hours. Back in Florida on Monday morning, the neighbors picked us up and brought us home. Without changing clothes, we jumped in the car and drove to Lake Worth to see Casey. She’d returned home (to her home) on Saturday. We brought her lunch.

When we finished eating, I invited Casey to join me outside for a cigarette. Specifically, I said, “Let’s get this over with.” Scott and I had been aware for years that Casey smoked. Knowing we disapproved, she’d never done it in front of us. Once outside, she admitted she felt awkward and had been dreading the moment all day. I began what ultimately became an hour-long conversation with the words, “Honey, you’re not a little girl, anymore.”

The members of Mitch’s family weren’t particularly fond of us from the get-go. We were, after all, the people who kicked out the pregnant girl. (That’s not entirely true, of course, but I understand how they’d see it that way.) When Scott and I didn’t fly home right away, they saw it as another example of our obvious parental neglect. Our son didn’t approve, either, and said so in a phone conversation we had on Tuesday while I was spending another afternoon with Casey. He couldn’t believe I was upset about leaving Washington early. “Geese, Mom,” he said, “think how Casey feels!” I hung up on him. (We’ve since made up.) People will judge. Most of the time, in my opinion, it’s because, “They don’t know the half of it,” as the lyric goes. Whatever happened, happened for a reason. We did what we thought was best, and I’m at peace with our decisions. Most importantly, Casey understands. That’s all that matters to me.

August 29th was the day we were supposed to welcome our new granddaughter, Braelynn Lee Glover. But she won’t be coming today. Or ever. The spot I hadn’t even realized I’d prepared in my heart for her is empty. For Casey and Mitch, the hole must seem a bottomless, cavernous expanse. I hope she knows how much her parents loved her and love her still, how much they sacrificed for her, and how much her family looked forward to watching her grow. She didn’t get to meet us, and we’ll never get to spoil her, but for me this day will always be hers.

Wherever you are, baby girl, Grandma sends her love. xo

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