Really, I’m Fine

A few weeks ago my son hurt himself (pretty seriously) being curious in the garage. I’m not new to the ER scene. I don’t want to say my kids are hurt a lot–but, I’m probably qualified to be an EMT on experience alone.

So, I overheard my daughter say, “what did you do?” and when he mumbled, “cut myself” I yelled, “get in here…” You see, this boy has a crazy high pain tolerance and brushes off everything. As I saw the gauze on his hand growing darker and darker from his bloody wound I grew alarmed and he kept saying, “I’m fine. It’s fine.” Long story short–he had to have surgery to repair the damage to his hand.

I met my sister-in-law weeks before I married my ex. She was only 14 at the time and we kept in touch. The first time she said, “don’t tell anyone” I knew we were friends. The first time she said, “don’t tell my parents” I knew we were sisters. I watched her grow up, marry, and have children. We texted and emailed each other daily. She asked my advice on kids, we exchanged ER stories, we talked about stupid husbands, and annoying mothers in law (yes, mine was her mother). We told each other everything–always knowing our deepest secrets were safe from judgement or being repeated.

Three years ago, I flew alone to rush and sit at her bedside, now 33 years old, suffering kidney, liver, and lung system failure from an aggressive (and rare) form of lymphoma.

When I walked into her hospital room I was unprepared for what I saw. I confess that I began to shake, tears flowed fast and were beyond my control, and I turned and looked at my mother in law and whispered, “I don’t know what to do.” My unbelievably stoic mother-in-law took me back out of the room and brought me to the floor’s private family area so I could regain my composure.

Another family in the room saw my pain and asked me how I was doing. I said, “I’m fine. I’m okay.” and I wiped away my tears and looked at the floor. They then assured me she was in the best hands. They explained that their relative was going to survive cancer–all because of this wonderful hospital. I looked up at them, feigned a smile and thanked them, while inside I was thinking, “Stop talking. She will not survive this. She’s dying right now.”

My mother-in-law came to check on me and I resolved I could handle it this time. I told her, “it’s okay. I’m fine now.” We went back to her room. It’s not like the movies. Her beautiful blonde hair was gone. A once statuesque woman I had often envied for her natural beauty and physical power was now in a hospital bed looking like a rag doll that had been dropped to the floor. She was unable to open her eyes or speak. Her breathing sounded like a person gasping for air quickly before being forced back under water. Her swollen body was a color I will not describe and haunts me to this day. I looked at the former athlete, a pole vault Olympic qualifier, who wouldn’t take Tylenol because she didn’t want drugs in her system full of tubes pumping drug after drug in attempt to save her life. When the doctor told her parents there was nothing else to be done she grunted, as if in anger, and kicked her feet. She did not want to die. She did not want to leave her children. She did not survive the night.

For weeks after she died, I would look at my cell first thing in the morning expecting a text from her and suddenly remember there would be no more texting between us. It was a long time before I stopped thinking, “I’ve got to tell her about this…” and then–realizing.

It’s been a three years since she died. I still feel deep sadness when her birthday comes, or new years eve (the anniversary of her death), I reach for my mother-in-law and we help each other through. Even though I am divorced, that is a (horrific) bond that cannot be broken.

Last weekend was full of kid activities and my ex and I were together a lot–it was exactly like when we were married. I did everything and he would make an entrance to show everyone what a wonderful dad he was–while behind the scenes I had single-handedly solved dozens of issues. I spent most of this time we were together annoyed–very much like our marriage.

He’s been gone nearly a year. We’re officially, legally, divorced now. I’m free–right? Except, I’m not. We have children and he has a right to see them whenever he wants. I can’t leave this island. I don’t want to come between him and his kids and the potential of his having a relationship with them. So I’m a prisoner until the youngest goes to college (she’s 10. And don’t you fucking dare tell me those years will fly by–I don’t WANT them to fly by. I want to live NOW). And as we stood together, leaning against the paddock fence watching our daughter compete, I wondered if I should have bothered getting a divorce. I traded one misery for another. I went from one prison to another. I miss my life. I miss working on projects, that interested me, from my home office. I miss running to the bus-stop and hearing all the stories of who said what to whom on the ride home (oh my god, Antonio is a real pain in the ass). I miss gardening whenever I felt like it. I miss my dogs. I miss my house. I miss my friends.

I know some people care and want to know how I’m doing. They offer help (that I’ll never ask for or accept). Others are just asking for voyeuristic opportunity. So let me be honest and explain to you, once and for all, how I’m doing. I’m profoundly sad and lonely. I was lonely before, but, my kids were here and distracted me. Now there are days where he takes the kids. It’s a new phenomenon for me and when my kids are gone I feel paralyzed. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know what I want to do. So I pour myself a drink (heavy on the vodka) lay on my bed and scan Netflix looking for something to help me waste time til they return.

The other day as I sat in the OR waiting room alone, I smiled to myself and imagined what my sister-in-law would be saying to me about my son (her nephew), and what had happened this time. I thought about the time we bought water canons, filled them with ice-cold water, and ambushed the kids outside. I can still hear her laugh in my mind. Her laugh was big and freely spent.

For the record, I thought you should know, in case you’re wondering. I know it’s going to get better. I know it will all work out for the best. I know I’m better off now. Really, I do. So don’t ask and don’t worry. It’s really okay. I’m fine.

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