When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

October 25, 2012

October 25, 2012

Fall 2005

October 25, 2012.  Yesterday a friend and I drove into the city to visit another friend who is dying of cancer.  Two months ago this woman was attending the county fair, sick but committed to embracing life and envisioning health restored.  But now she’s in a hospital for the terminally ill, where countless strangers – caring, compassionate people, work to manage her pain, both physical and otherwise.  She is quickly wilting, slipping away.  It’s plain to see that death is near.  As if he’s withering too, her husband no longer seems the robust physical presence that he was only a few months earlier.  She’s on an inevitable slide, but it’s a path from which he’ll soon be made to veer.  His wife is preparing for death, which means he and their grown children, despite unshakable solidarity, are destined to re-enter the world of the living.  It’s a devastating time.  But still, as my friend and I approached her room yesterday, with a mix of fear and determination, we came upon a slew of people who had come, like us, to remind this widely adored woman that she is cherished.  Like most who visit the dying, we both offered and sought reassurance.  We had to wait our turn, though, and despite the circumstances, the thought made me smile.  Even with death looming, the way this brave woman continues to live her life draws people to her like a magnet.  I can’t imagine a more life-affirming gift – the ability to give and receive, with great appreciation, the love that resides in us all.  Reflecting last night upon our visit, a visit from which I left clearly shaken – I bumped into a pole in the parking lot and then drove 20 miles in the wrong direction, I recalled something my friend once told me.  “Imagine a more hopeful outcome,” she said, eyes bright but fierce with conviction.  “Imagine what Peter can be, not what he can’t.”  Maybe she knew it, maybe she didn’t, but in those simple words, words spoken without malice or judgment, she offered me a map toward the future, a way to envision tomorrow without the incredible fear that so often – especially in those days, held me hostage.  Eight years ago, Sophie, Peter, Pat, and I became a family.  Today is our Happy Adoption Day, and we are heading, the four of us, toward an undeniably more hopeful future.  My friend helped teach me that life is about moving forward, about seeing possibilities, dismantling roadblocks, and about looking for joy.  As her journey comes to a close – and as my family’s journey in many ways has been reborn, I thank her for the lesson.  I thank her for believing in us when I had lost faith in myself.  And mostly, I thank her for the gift of her friendship, a friendship that in many ways, and for many reasons, was still in the process of blooming.  Were she able, she might pat me on the back with her can-do attitude and in honor of today’s anniversary simply say, “well done”.   She’s not in a position to do that now, but I can return the accolade.  If anyone deserves a “well done”, it’s she. 

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October 18, 2012

October 18, 2012

Fall 2005

October 18, 2012.  Peter sprained his ankle 10 days ago.  Green Chimneys has him running cross country, which is amazing – and a little unexpected, and he slipped on a rock.  He’s been inconsolable ever since.  When he was home last weekend, there was no obvious swelling or bruising, I honestly couldn’t tell there’d been any injury at all.  But Peter’s sensory system is way off.  Even the slightest assault sometimes causes exaggerated response, while at other times, serious assaults, like wasp stings, completely go unnoticed.  I have no doubt he twisted it, but I also have no doubt its something most kids would shake off.  Because its been bothering him, he wears a brace during the day and he’s not supposed to run or play sports for another week and a half.  It’s impossible to say whether these restrictions are necessary – he mostly only limps when someone reminds him of the injury, but I agree with Green Chimneys’ decision to err on the side of precaution.  Over the weekend, we took the kids to family day at the Haunted Horseman, a very popular Halloween attraction.  One Saturday each October, they transform the park from 10 to 3, making it appropriate, and enticing, for children.  There are games, face painting, pony rides, a bounce house, cotton candy, a “haunted” hayride and corn maze, and more.  The first time we brought the kids, they were 3 and 4 and my sister Patty was in town.  At the time, Peter seemed to love it.  The story of Ichabod Crane is acted out on the hayride and then the riders are dropped off at the corn maze, where they’re left to weave their way through only slightly ghoulish frights and sights.  We still joke about Sophie being afraid, when she was 3, of the person dressed as a cartoonish, kid-friendly version of Frankenstein.  When I tried explaining that there was a perfectly nice man hidden underneath, maybe even someone’s papa, she without hesitation exclaimed, “I don’t like the big papa!”  It’s been a favorite family memory ever since.  Although we couldn’t find the “Big Papa” this year, we did confront, over and over again, Peter’s ever-ballooning fears.  Amid toddlers darting around with balloons tied to their wrists, our 11-year old son had to be coaxed into participating.  He has this way of physically disappearing into himself when he’s scared or over-stimulated, which I’ve dubbed “turtling”.  He curls his back inward, dips his neck toward his chest, and strains his shoulders toward the middle.  Almost immediately upon walking through the entrance, his limp returned and he began turtling.  The costumed man greeting us – standing on stilts and brightly dressed as a pumpkin-headed scarecrow, sent him reeling.  I had no idea Peter would react so negatively to such a generally benign environment.  But we couldn’t just leave – Sophie had been looking forward to this for months and it’s only held one day during the year.  So instead, we played games like skeleton basketball and toilet paper toss, bought the kids cupcakes, and held Peter’s hand while we walked around.  After a while, he relaxed a little and I was able to talk about the need to take control of his fears and fight against letting inhospitable thoughts take over and hold him hostage.  He’s now able to listen to these discussions and tries very hard to implement any suggestions.  In the end, he made it through and I think he even had a good time.  Pat and I were proud of the effort and made sure he knew it.  We have to keep encouraging these treks into less predictable, more challenging environments, because now that he’s home every weekend, we can’t continue to keep him bubbled inside our home, which is what we were doing.  It’s not fair to Sophie and it’s not fair to us.  We don’t have and can’t afford babysitters at every turn.  Having him home every weekend is a step toward having him with us again fulltime, a kind of high-stakes litmus test for the future.  We always will need to be attuned to Peter’s needs, what he can and can’t handle, but at the same time, we can’t become slaves to them.  The challenge is finding the balance between Peter needing to live in our world and our needing to accommodate his.  Last night when I called the dorm, the young woman who answered the phone told me that he’d been crying and angry ever since school let out, and without apparent reason.  She thought maybe he was out of sorts because his ankle has sidelined him.  I didn’t want to argue with her – after all, she might be right, but Pat and I also know that our son’s moods can swing like a pendulum on a rollercoaster.  It’s one of his many challenges.  When he finally picked up the phone, I could hear him crying.  He tells me that he’s too tired to talk and is angry that I called.  This is not like our son – he depends on our nightly calls, and so its clear that he’s in a bad place.  There’s no talking to him when he’s like this, time is the only cure, and so I tell him not to worry, that I love him, and that I bet he’ll wake up in the morning feeling more like himself.  “Thank you, Mommy,” he says, and hangs up.  I’m a little surprised by the gruffness, but at the same time, I just have to smile.  Although I hate that he’s feeling so unsteady, I’m becoming increasingly confident that he’ll find his way back.  In this case, it seems that sprained ankles, lack of physical outlets, and scarecrows on stilts are just too much for one week.

September 12, 2012

September 11, 2012

Maine (Summer 2005)

September 11, 2012.  Our lives march forward, eleven years beyond that crisp, sparkling morning.  A day that for most of us will remain “that” day, that morning whose awaiting horror quickly would shroud the promise of its brilliant blue sky splendor.  In many ways this day belongs to all of us, and we to it.  I saw things that morning that I was never designed to witness.  I still change the radio station or TV channel whenever the media revisits the details.  I can think about what I saw, a few short blocks from the attacks in lower Manhattan, I can see the events in my head as precisely as I see the screen upon which I write, but then I hit a wall.  I wasn’t in the Trade Towers, I wasn’t close to anyone who died.  As merely part of the terrified, disoriented crowd scrambling to escape, I appreciate my good fortune.  But I remember noticing the glass shards swirling overhead, beautiful, like glitter in the sky, as I fought my way toward Pat’s apartment amid shouts warning of bombs in the subway, the courthouse, and countless other landmarks along my route.  I also remember watching a man and woman join hands as they chose to jump from an impossibly high floor of one of the buildings, the woman’s billowing skirts shrouding her face from death’s approach.  My mother had died in a bizarre accident only four months earlier, her injuries sustained on the day I moved from Atlanta to New York.  The events of 9/11 having mixed together like batter into this most intimate loss, my heart lurches, my eyes well, whenever my thoughts wander too far into the territory of those experiences.  And so I turn off the switch.  It’s an experience I store in a cavernous place, a precarious repository, carefully segregated from the rest of my everyday life.  Or so I think.  I realize intellectually that such an exercise is futile, that we can’t just choose to avoid examining our traumatic experiences.  In some ways I was always vulnerable – “you feel too much,” my mother would warn; even minor acts of unkindness can now invite, if I’m not careful, an over-sensitive reaction, as though my lifelong quota for temperance was fulfilled, all at once, on that horrific Tuesday morning.  That day changed me, there’s no doubt.  It shook a part of me that I thought was secure, and it reminds me of our children.  Peter’s problems may be largely organic, they’re caused by physical, measurable brain damage, yet I can’t deny that his response to the world, with all its promise and at times, predation, is colored by his pre-adoption experiences.  Abandoned by a teenage mother, left wallowing with an invalid, wheelchair bound great-grandmother, and then whisked into an orphanage where he was fed, presumably, but not spoken to, held, or ever soothed.  Sophie’s start was not much better; for all we know, it might have been worse.  My brush with profound sorrow dwarfs the trauma suffered by my children, babies whose only way of assimilating their experiences was to weave them seamlessly into the fabric that would clothe and color their every thought, feeling, decision, and reaction.  Separating that chemical fusing of abuse and neglect with infant development is more difficult than untangling a giant ball of yarn from a roomful of kittens.  It may be impossible.  It’s easy to give up on yarn – you just toss it in the garbage.  But children?  No, with children we’re tasked with trying to tease the damage away, using every possible tool in our arsenals to restore hope.  Some days are more successful than others but at least I now appreciate that we’ve found the path.  Peter’s been back-sliding at school the last few weeks, and at home too.  He’s lost many of his dorm privileges and has to go to bed early, which means our nightly bedtime calls also have been curtailed.  I don’t know whether this is deliberate consequence or just a scheduling problem but I worry that cutting off his lifeline to home is only fueling the fire.  He’ll be with us this weekend and I’ll make my own assessment then.  When he’s like this I lose patience – and sometimes hope.  It reminds me that my growing optimism that we’re equipped to have him home 24/7 again may be over-inflated.  But when he’s home this weekend, if he tantrums and slings acrimonious words, I’ll remind myself of who he is, of what he’s endured, and most importantly, from where we’ve come.  Remembering 9/11 will help.  We’ve emerged, all of us, not unscathed or innocent, but with enormous resiliency and on the part of our children, especially, with undeniable bravery.

August 18, 2012

August 18, 2012

Peter’s 11th Birthday (with new iTouch and headphones), August 4, 2012.

August 18, 2012.  I think this will be the last journal entry I write before irrevocably handing the “final” manuscript over to Red Hen Press.  It’s so hard to know what to say, or where to find conclusion.  Peter is at school and won’t be home until Friday, though he’ll be with us then until after Labor Day.  Sophie is starting a new school, a small Catholic school across the river, and I know the anticipation of new kids and routines looms heavy.  Pat and I thought seriously about rejoining the Catholic Church – after all, we’re sending our daughter to Catholic school, but in the end we decided against it.  Neither of us is ready for the suspension of certain convictions that such a move necessitates.  We both want our kids to have spirituality in their lives and the chance to have a meaningful relationship with God, but it won’t be as Catholics, at least not for now.  Pat and I met with Peter’s treatment team at Green Chimneys last week, and we’re very pleased with his progress.  “He’s definitely a kid moving toward discharge,” words from the attending psychiatrist that resonate like song in my heart.  The when and the where and the under what circumstances are yet to be determined; I continue to struggle but am working hard to resist the urge to plan for and accommodate the future beyond the next few weeks or months.  We stop by Peter’s classroom before leaving to say hello and steal a hug.  The room is naturally lit (no overhead lights), the handful of boys who occupy it quietly attending to their separate endeavors.  It’s the complete opposite of the raucous, crowded classrooms he was made to endure for so many years.  Time to process is needed even when it comes to recognizing Mom and Dad’s faces, and so we wait for him to assimilate our unexpected presence.  When he does – when that light bulb finally flicks on, his pleasure overflows immediately, filling the room with contagious energy.  He nearly bowls me over as he races to grab hold, jumping us both up and down while exclaiming, “Mommy!  Mommy!”  I never heard him call my name this happily when he was three or four or five, but hearing it now, at eleven, is more than enough.  Soon everyone is laughing and saying hello, the vibe celebratory, as when a holiday awaits.  I’ve shed so many tears over the years that moments like these – unexpected moments that cause my eyes to water with joy rather than sorrow, can never go unmarked.  On the drive home, I carefully wrap the memory like a present.  There is plenty for which to be grateful.  As I lay awake last night, somewhere between worrying about special needs trusts and our outstanding tax bill, I thought of a Tim O’Brien story that forever will stick in my mind, called The Things They Carried.  It chronicles how a soldier in the Vietnam War stripped away his memories, his hopes, his dreams, and the accompanying physical possessions he carried in his rucksack as reminders, little by little with each passing day, until he carried nothing.  At first he clung to certain keepsakes but he soon realized they added physical and emotional weight.  In the end, the soldier is left with nothing but the raw instinct to continue living, to kill or be killed.  His memories of being loved and of having loved are erased, forever, leaving the reader to ponder whether physical survival alone can ever really constitute living.  It’s a haunting story and a cautionary tale.  I’m keenly cognizant that I find myself in the opposite position these days.  I don’t want to take the analogy too far – after all, family struggle is a far cry from combat, but there was a time when I also actively engaged in the shedding of self in order to reemerge as something different, stronger, harder, more impenetrable.  But it was a mistake and I’m finished with it.  Parenting my son has made me stronger, yes, but if my heart hadn’t been open, at least cracked a little, we never would have found each other.  I never would have known that Peter’s soul is lush and rich, the opposite of what I feared in those first, unbearably difficult years.  Sophie would never have had the benefit of seeing, firsthand, that even impossible obstacles are capable of being hurdled.  And Pat and I, if we didn’t know before, now appreciate that for us, The Things They Carried – that thing or memory that keeps all of us bound to a world beyond our own existence, is each other.  Never in a million years could I have guessed that two Russian toddlers, both abandoned, neglected, and deprived, and one with significant brain injury, would ever teach me so much.

December 22, 2011

When Rain Hurts – Publication Date Sept. 2013 (Red Hen Press, LA)

November 2011 (Red Hook High football field)

Red Hen Press, a nonprofit literary press in California, is publishing When Rain Hurts, which will be released in trade paperback on September 15, 2013.

In the published book, a narrative chapter will be preceded by a journal entry and photograph.  I have many, many more journal entries than chapters so I’ve picked the ones that I think offer the most complete story.

The personal stories, support, information, and compassion you’ve shown as I struggle to become a better parent and more effective voice for FASD never ceases to amaze or humble.

If you’re new to the blog – welcome.  To read the book’s beginning chapters, please scroll to the bottom of this screen, hit “next page” on the lower left corner, and then scroll again to your screen’s bottom. That’s where you’ll find a brief Introduction & Prologue, then Chapter 1, etc.  Read “up” for each subsequent chapter.   They’re a little like diamonds in the rough – they’ve been edited and polished significantly since posting, but you’ll get the gist.  Older 2010 journal entries are filed under “Pages” on the right hand column.

Thanks – Mary

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