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Crossroads, Chapter 2

On July 2, 2017, I made the decision to stop drinking. I wanted to share the story of how I came to this decision. In order to do that, I needed to go back to the beginning. If you missed those posts, you can catch up here:

Chapter 1        

 

Chapter 2

My brother began chemo and radiation treatments shortly after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

He would go into remission only to relapse a short time later. This happened more than once.

Eventually he  reached the point where the chemo wasn’t working at all, and there was one final option left.

A bone marrow transplant.

It was a Hail Mary.

If it worked, it would save his life.

If it didn’t, he would die.

At the time, I was a sophomore in high school. The bone marrow transplant would be done  across the country in Seattle, Washington.

We lived in a really wealthy town in Fairfield County, Connecticut.  The two acres my parents built our house on was a gift from my great grandparents. My great grandfather had a farm back in the day, and the property he gave my mom and dad was part of what  had once been the apple orchard.

So for $30,000, my dad built our house from a kit with the help of my uncles in 1974. It was a small, three bedroom, 1  1/2 bath house.

My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and my dad was a mechanic.

It was next to impossible to afford to live in the town I grew up in on my father’s salary.

But my parents were frugal and good with their money, and with the generous  gift from my great grandparents, they managed to make it work.

But they did not have the money to go to Seattle for my brother’s bone marrow transplant.

He’d need to be there for about four months. My mom, understandably, did not want to go across the country alone with my brother.  But there was no way my dad could afford to stop working for four months.

Nowadays, a GoFundMe campaign would have been started. But back in 1984, there was no GoFundMe.

There wasn’t even an internet yet.

That didn’t stop my parents’ friends and family. They rallied together and organized a fundraiser for my brother. It would be a night of fun. Dinner. Raffles. Auctions.  They were gonna do everything they could to raise enough money for both of my parents to be able to make the trip to Seattle together.

It was kind of a big deal for my family. I was fifteen at the time. My younger brother was thirteen. I remember being so excited.

Until my parents told me they weren’t letting us go to the fundraiser.

My younger brother and I would stay home and babysit my baby brother.

Thirty-five years later, I am not knocking my parents. I know they had their reasons for not allowing me to go. And who knows what the fuck I would do if I were in their shoes. I can’t even imagine.

But I was crushed. I was sad.

And I was really fucking mad.

All of my relatives would be there. My cousin, who was one of my best friends and only two years older than I am would be there with her boyfriend.

I did not understand why I couldn’t be there. Why I couldn’t be a part of it. Why I wasn’t included.

My great grandmother lived right through the woods behind our house on part of what used to be the farm she and my great grandfather had. It was probably 100 yards from our back door to her front door.

A few months earlier, she had gone into a nursing home. Her house was up for sale, but nobody had made any offers yet.

And so, on the night of the fundraiser, as soon as my parents left the house, I did what any level-headed kid would do.

I had a party at my great grandmother’s house.

 

I’m not sure how I managed to make it happen, but my friends bought food and beer and we got drunk at great grandms’s. We smoked on the front porch and riddled her yard with cigarette butts.  

I left my thirteen-year-old brother at home with my baby brother with instructions to come up to Nanny’s house if anything should happen.

At one point my baby brother woke up. His name was Christopher.

My younger brother, Eric, got a hold of me.

I ran home through the woods.

I got Christopher out of his crib, sat in the rocking chair with him, and rocked him until he fell back asleep.

I don’t remember most of the things that happened during this time in my life, but I remember those thirty minutes as clear as day.

Once I got Christopher back into bed, I hurried back to Nanny’s house. The rest of the night is fuzzy except for a couple moments.

I remember dancing to Rick James’s Superfreak on the flagstone floor in the breezeway.

And I remember ending up in the driveway in the back of a Jeep making out with Sam, the same guy who had given me my first completely unromantic kiss in the leaves behind a stone wall a few weeks earlier.

And while we were out there, out of nowhere, two people in fancy clothes banged on the window and scared the crap out of us.

Holy shit. My parents!

Sam and I bolted straight up and then he hesitantly opened the door of the Jeep.

It was late and dark out so we couldn’t really see much.

But boy were we relieved when we realized it was my cousin and her boyfriend standing there. They had left the fundraiser a little early.

And they were pretty impressed with my ballsiness. (Is that a word?)

I won’t lie.

Being the bad girl, the rebel, the hey-mom-and-dad-I’ll-teach-you-to-leave-me-stuck-at-home-kid was a major rush.

My dumbfounded but impressed cousin and her boyfriend helped me to get the party cleaned up as my parents were going to be home before too long.

We got everybody out and got the place cleaned up, and I was in my bed before my parents got home.

They never knew anything.

At least I thought they didn’t.

It would be a couple weeks later when I would retroactively get busted for having a rager at my great grandmother’s house.

But it didn’t really matter.

I had discovered alcohol, for the first time ever I officially had a boyfriend and I was no longer a good girl.

All this helped me forget what was going on with my brother, and it helped me give a big finger to my parents.

And I didn’t have plans to stop doing any of it any time soon.

 

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It’s Time To Mourn

Sometimes you need a few whacks in the head before something really starts to sink in.

You know how  Facebook’s “on this day” reminds you of all the  things you commented on and shared every year before on that date?

Two years ago exactly, I wrote a post about how I was struggling —

“…My head is pounding. Constantly.

Like it feels like my brain is too big to fit in my skull.

And I’m extremely emotional.

It takes nothing more than a slight breeze for me to burst into tears.

For the past three days I have been intermittently crying.

And not just crying.

Sobbing…”

Three years ago around this time of year, I wrote a similar post. Again.

Every year it seems, the same thing happens.

So it might have taken me four years to pick up on it.

But thank you, Universe.

Now I get it. I see the light.

Today is my youngest brother’s birthday.

He would be thirty-four today.

But he died just two weeks after his third birthday.

Here I am, thirty-one years later, struggling, and finally putting two and two together.

Duh.

Every fucking year it’s the same thing.

Hello, McFly!

But it’s been thirty-one years! I have should have a grip on this by now! It should not still be laying me out like this.

Right?

Wrong.

Looking back, it’s pretty clear.

This current bout of depression… I should have anticipated it. I can see that now.

Sure, there are other factors contributing.

I once had a therapist suggest I have seasonal affective disorder. He may have been right.

The less time in the sun and the shorter and colder days don’t help.

Depression and other mental illnesses run in my family.

That’s part of it, too.

I’ve always been sensitive and emotional. Ever since I was a kid.

But the root of the problem, I think, is that when my brother died, so did a piece of me.

And I’ve never dealt with it. I never really mourned. I never felt.

I’ve been sitting here doing a lot of thinking the last couple days.

Not just thinking.

Feeling.

I’ve been trying to allow myself to feel. To feel the bad stuff without trying to numb it.

When my brother died I was in high school. I was sixteen, and my body and brain went into survival mode.

I felt nothing. I showed almost no emotion. And I don’t remember a lot of those first few years after his death.

Then in my twenties, things really started bubbling to the surface.

It was brutal.

And rather than feel it, I did everything in my power to shove that shit back down.

I used men and sex and drugs and alcohol, sometimes separately and sometimes siimultaneously to stop the feelings from coming.

Then I became a mom.

And then things got even harder.

The death of any loved one is shattering.

But one of your own children?

How would I survive if one of them were to get sick?

It was simple.

I wouldn’t. It would simply be unbearable.

Living with the irrational fear that something could randomly, at any time, steal a literal piece of you when you are least expecting it is no fun. It’s debilitating.

This is part of my problem.

And then recently Number 7 failed her hearing tests at school. And then she failed them at the pediatrician.

We discovered she had an ear infection that could have slightly affected the results, but the uninfected ear still failed the test, too. So she was put on antibiotics to clear it up, and when she finished those, I needed to take her to a specialist.

It was looking like she would need tubes put in her ears to correct the problem.

Nothing major, and a quick fix.

But that was how it started with my brother.

One morning he went to the hospital to have tubes put his ears, and later that day he came home without tubes, and with a diagnosis of leukemia.

Whoah.

And a year and a half after that he was gone.

Needless to say, I still haven’t made that appointment for Number 7 with the specialist.

I know it’s irrational. I  know the chances of her coming home with a cancer diagnosis and eighteen months to live are basically nonexistent.

The memories were stirred up, the bees are going crazy around the hive, and my brain has been gradually descending into panic/denial/survival mode.

Thirty-one years later, the memories are still brutal.

And then, the other thing I’m realizing is I have guilt.

I have tremendous guilt.

Not that I could have done something.

But that I got to keep going.

And he didn’t.

Why me? Why didn’t I get sick? Why am I the one who got to be healthy?

And am I doing enough?

Should I be doing more?

Am I making him proud? Am I honoring his memory?

Shouldn’t I have my shit together more since he never really even had the opportunity to get his together at all?

I know. My rational brain is saying to me What the fuck, Woman! Take it easy on yourself!

But my irrational brain speaks much more loudly than the rational one.

Much. More. Loudly.

That’s where my issues lie, I think. I have not located the volume controls. I need to turn that irrational knob way down.

I don’t really know what the solution is except I think I need to, as they say, feel all the feels.

I don’t like to feel all the feels. I only like to feel the good ones.

It’s why I make jokes. It’s why I’m sometimes over the top. It’s why I’m loud.

Because that’s the only way I know how to drown out that irrational voice.

So I guess it’s time to find a way to turn down the volume on that irrational voice rather than cranking up the volume on the other one.

Because having two different stations blaring at full volume is just pure chaos.

How do I turn down the irrational volume and allow myself to work through the pain?

I have no fucking idea.

But it’s not by numbing myself.

And it’s not by overscheduling myself and taking on way too many things in an effort to fill my brain with so much stuff that the sadness can’t find a way in.

It’s going to take some time to figure this out and get through it. And I know there isn’t a quick fix.

It’s going to be hard. And sad. And really really uncomfortable.

But you know how I feel about moving out of my comfort zone.

It’s the only way to grow.

And it’s time.

I owe that to my brother, I owe it to my family, and I owe it to myself.

 

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This is a good story.

I have a story to tell you.

It’s kind of two parts that eventually come together.

Here is the first part…

I have recently reconnected with an old friend from high school.

We weren’t particularly close friends back then. He’s two years younger than me, and actually better friends with my brother who was in his class.

But I went to a small high school that had about 600 kids total in it, so everyone knew just about everyone.

Like with most people from high school, I had no contact with him once I graduated until we became Facebook friends a couple years ago.

He’s married now, and he has three boys, and he lives down south.

But just as he was in high school, at least from what I see on his Facebook posts, he’s still a funny, down to earth, regular dude who also happens to have a very positive outlook on life.

Oh. And he loves bacon.

And just like the rest of us, he’s navigating the ups and downs of marriage and parenthood. Similar to me, he’s also gone through a bit of a transformation and has made exercise a part of his routine, and he has inspired many people with his outlook on life.

So once in a blue moon he’ll comment on a blog post I write.

In fact, he was the inspiration for the your husband wants respect post I wrote after he left a comment on my marriage is f*cking hard post.

Anyway, his name is Renick.  And a couple days ago Renick messaged me because he’s been throwing around the idea of starting his own blog.

Because, like I said, he’s got a good sense of humor and he’s not afraid to be vulnerable and he inspires people with his outlook on life and he’s a genuinely kind and likeable guy.

So I shared some of my thoughts with him.

Then I asked him if he’d like to have some help getting started with his blog by being a regular contributor here at Not Your Average Mom. Writing a weekly post from the male perspective.

He accepted the offer immediately.

‘m excited to announce that I will have a new contributor here!

I really think you are going to like him.

After Renick jumped on the bandwagon, we talked about some other stuff, and I told him once his website was set up, I’d share it with everyone.

And I also told him I had a story about him that I’d like to share, and that once his site was ready to go, I’d share it with him. And everyone.

I told him I didn’t think he was aware of this story at all.

He probably has no recollection of it, because like I said, we weren’t BFFs or anything in high school.

Which brings me to the second part of the story.

When I was in eighth grade, my mom had a “surprise” baby.

I was thirteen years old, and my younger brother. the one who graduated with Renick, was eleven.

My brother and I were both excited to have a baby brother.

He was born on December 2, 1982.

In the spring of 1984, when my baby brother was about 18 months old, he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Over the course of the next year, he underwent pretty intensive treatment. He got very sick at one point and had to have ileostomy surgery. That’s when they cut a hole in your abdomen and the lower part of your small intestine is brought through that opening, and you have a bag on the outside of your body that collects your poop.

So he had multiple rounds of chemo and also radiation and surgery and then he thankfully went into remission.

But he relapsed shortly after that, and the only remaining option at that point was a bone marrow transplant.

And so shortly before the summer of 1985 when my brother was two-and-a-half, my parents took him out to Seattle for a bone marrow transplant, and my other brother and I stayed back in CT. He was going to be out there for about four months.

During that time, we lived at a friend’s house for a month or so, and then when we started to drive her mom insane, we stayed at our house with my grandparents and then when they started to drive my brother and I insane, my dad came back to stay with us until the school year was over.

When school was done my dad, my brother and I all flew out to Seattle until my  baby brother was given the green light to come home.

He stayed in remission until October of that year when he relapsed again. And at that point, there was nothing that could be done except to wait.

On December 2, 1985 my baby brother turned 3.

And then two weeks later, on December 16, my baby brother died at home in my parents’ bed.

It was a really fucked up time for me.

For all of us.

It was so traumatic that my memories of that eighteen month period from the time my little brother was diagnosed to the time he died are very limited.

I’ve blocked a lot of what happened during that time period out.

And I’m left with very vivid memories of specific snapshots in time.

I remember the sound my dad made the moment my brother died. I will never ever forget it.

I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom with my younger brother, and him looking at me at the moment we heard my father and him saying to me,

“He’s dead.”

I remember watching the mortician’s car pulling out of our driveway with my dead brother inside his car.

I remember not crying at the funeral and feeling terrible because of it.

And then, the next vivid memory I have was returning to school.

I don’t remember what day it was exactly, but I know it was before Christmas.

I remember because my parents had told us we could stay out of school until after vacation, but I remember just wanting to get back to something normal.

Even if it was only for a couple days.

And I remember entering the building and walking down the hallway, and the first person I saw was Renick.

Everyone knew what had happened.

When Renick saw me, he just stopped in the middle of the hallway.

And then he opened his arms.

I walked straight toward him, leaned into him, and he gave me a huge hug.

I stayed there until I was ready for him to let go.

He released me, and I walked one way and he walked the other way.

He didn’t say anything, and neither did I.

It was a pretty special moment for me. Literally unforgettable.

And it’s the first comforting memory I have from that period in my life.

Every single time I see anything from Renick on Facebook, that’s exactly what I think of.

Every time.

That hug in the high school hallway.

So there you go, Renick.

There’s the story I wanted to share with you.

Maybe I should have shared this with you earlier.

Years ago.

But I don’t think so.

I’ve got some weird Universe-type stuff going on with me these days, and I believe this was the time it was meant to be shared.

And even though I don’t know you really well, there has always been something very kind and gentle and comforting to me about you.

So I’m honored to have you here.

I look forward to working with you.

I look forward to getting to know you much better.

And I’m looking forward to everyone else getting to know you better too.

Please check out and like Renick’s Facebook page — The Renick Morris Project — and  bookmark renickmorris.com, where he’s going to talk about bacon, football, being a Dad, marriage, being awesome, growing up, lifting weights, getting healthy, making mistakes, failing and just enjoying the time we have here.

Because I think we could all use a little Renick in our lives.

 

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Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

Yesterday Number 4 came home with the book Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.

I guess her teacher gave it to her to read.

She was super excited to read it.

I’m not sure why, really…

It’s pretty sad, but I think she felt like it was more of a grown up book than she usually reads.

It kind of is.

I used to read it to my sixth graders in Pennsylvania.

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it, but it’s based on the true story of a little girl named Sadako Sasaki who was living in Hiroshima when the atom bomb was dropped. Ten years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia. A Japanese legend says that if a sick person folds 1,000 paper cranes, the gods will make her well again. Sadako folded over 600 cranes until she was too weak to make any  more, and died shortly after that. After her death, her classmates folded the rest for her.

Number 4 finished the whole book yesterday afternoon.

I didn’t know if she had actually read it.

That is, until she came into the office and gave me the 7-year-old summary, which is pretty much retelling every single detail from beginning to end.

I was afraid she might be a little sad.

Not really.

Her overall thoughts on the book?

“Mom, Sadako died the best way there is to die…she fell asleep and she never woke up. She died peacefully in her sleep.

That’s much better than getting shot in the head.

You know…

Like Abraham Lincoln.”

Huh.

She appears to be unphased.

But if she comes home from school today with Old Yeller,

um,

I think that’s where I’m gonna have to draw the line.

 

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