Friday, August 24, 2012

238 Days - Why My Life Depends On Tomorrow's Run

The morning of September 16, 2006 was a sunny one. The skies were as blue as I had ever seen them and with less than two months left, my mother-in-law and I decided it would be the perfect day to hit some stores in search of my son’s first Halloween costume. It was a Saturday, so I kissed my husband lovingly, told him to enjoy some alone time so he could listen to his new Tool album loud and without interruption, and then packed my beautiful sixteen-week-old in the car after giving him his morning bottle.  We had about a half-hour ride ahead of us before we got to Lenox Mall.
I parked in my normal spot – right outside of Banana Republic – and proceeded to remove my sleeping baby boy carefully from the car and into the coach. I breathed a deep breath as I looked at how peaceful he was and smiled at Linda – Todd’s mom – who I’m sure had the same loving thought. Here he was, her first grandchild, and my first child, and here we were doing something that would have been very special to us both; but especially to me with Halloween being my favorite holiday. It was a wonderful moment in time that was shattered not ten footsteps later.
“Barbara. What’s he doing?” Linda said, as we walked toward the mall entrance.
“Huh?” I replied, looking at her but not yet looking at my son. She was looking down with a terrified yet calm expression on her face which made me immediately look toward the coach that was cradling my sleeping angel just a second before.
Roman’s eyes were open. Well, let’s say his lids were open, but his eyes were rolled upward to where I could barely see their color – just white. His head was turned to the right and his mouth was slightly ajar. And his tiny body… his little limbs… were shaking rhythmically. They were shaking. Shaking. Shaking. Shaking. Something was happening that I wasn’t familiar with. Something was extremely wrong.
My immediate thought was that he was choking. He had just had a bottle and had a history of reflux which is why he was never pictured without a bib for the first eighteen months of his life. I unbuckled him from his carrier and proceeded to jog, then run, full speed toward the mall entrance doors, all the while feeling his rhythmic shakes under my arm, and all while chanting, “Oh no. Oh no. God no. Oh God please no” until I reached the doors that flew open in front of me and ran into whoever was coming out. “The bench. There’s a bench,” I thought and ran toward it to place my baby – my pride, my world, my life – on it so that I could take a closer look at what was happening.
Before I tell the next part of this story I’d like to make clear that this is an excruciatingly painful memory – the darkest day in my entire life. I can barely type the words you are reading right now without stopping every few to clear the tears from the keyboard as well as my face. The next part tells of how a seizure took my son away from me, almost forever, never to return.  
I stood back and looked at the baby on the bench and all I could tell was this:
He was as blue as the sky that blanketed him on his ride in my car just moments before.
He wasn’t breathing. At all. From his mouth or his nose. No air. No breaths.
He was convulsing uncontrollably. Shaking that rhythmic shake, only now harder, and much faster.
He was dying, as I watched helplessly, in front of my eyes that couldn’t see his because they were up inside his tiny ginger head.
In a fraction of a second I had seen all of the above and all I could do was scream a scream louder than any you have ever heard.
“He’s turning blue. HE’S TURNING BLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” My mother-in-law screamed behind me to whoever would listen in a crowded mall packed with Saturday shoppers. “CALL 911!!!!!! CALL 911!!!!!!! HE’S BLUE!!!! SOMEBODY… HE’S BLUE CALL 911!” she screamed at the top of her lungs as she ran in and out of the two closest shops.
I was frozen. He was still convulsing and now purple and I started to try to attempt infant CPR but I was shaking so badly that I couldn’t turn his head which was still fixed to the side. A crowd had gathered instantly – within seconds of both of our screams – and a security guard was on his walkie-talkie calling for an ambulance. And then, he started to slow. They started to slow… the shakes… the convulsions… and his eyes were beginning to close… and I thought “no God, no no… God no don’t let him die… don’t let him die and I can’t save him. GOD NO NO NO NO NOT MY BABY, GOD…. please…. God, please…” and I was wailing on my knees in front of him until I felt two hands across my shoulders move me out of the way.
A middle-aged man with slightly graying hair took Roman from my hands. His wife looked at me and said, “He’s an anesthesiologist” in answer to my questioning look. He proceeded to unclog Roman’s airways which were filled with formula, and perform CPR on him. It seemed as if hours went by. I watched this man’s hands working on my baby. I watched how calmly and carefully he turned him and handled him, focused and yet shattered that my child would never open his eyes again until… 
I saw Roman’s body move. I watched vomit spew from his mouth. And then, I heard… his cry.
So often I have referred to that moment with an analogy: the crowd erupted as if Georgia had beaten Alabama (or like the Eagles beat the Cowboys. Or like the Yankees beat the Red Sox.) It was the first time in the minutes that had passed that I looked around at anything or anyone but Roman. There were – no exaggeration – HUNDREDS of people both around us and above us looking over from the second floor of the mall, and every one of them was cheering and clapping.
“He’s okay. He’ll be fine,” said the man as he placed my screaming son in my shaking arms. “He’s okay. You’ll be okay. Take a deep breath.” And I held my baby against my heart and looked at this man – this angel – and mouthed “thank you” through my tears. He smiled and rubbed my back while his wife helped me sit down on the bench so that my legs didn’t buckle beneath me. “What’s your name?” I managed to say to him, afraid that he would go and I would never know. “Tom” he said, smiling, and within seconds, the EMT’s were at my side, blocking my view of Tom and his wife until I no longer knew if they were there or had left to continue their Saturday shopping.
We spent the next six days and three more seizures in the Epilepsy Unit of Children’s Hospital at Scottish Rite.  We witnessed a lot. We learned a lot more. We watched our son get stuck with needles in places we didn’t know existed. We watched him go under for his MRI. Have Spinal taps. Blood cultures. CT scans. Upper GI testing. All to determine what we found to be the eventual outcome: he had a seizure in the mall and choked on his own vomit which blocked his airways causing him to not be able to breathe. And he would continue to have seizures until he had his last in July of 2007 – just over five years ago – and hasn’t looked back.
Those of you who have been friends with me for years know this story. You also know that I used to document his seizures through my blog on of all places, MySpace. Well, I no longer have a MySpace account, but I found one of the blogs from it recently that I had put into an email to myself. I’d like to share it with you now:
To you, I write
I think about the future; if 20 years from now, MySpace will still be around. If my page will still exist. If I will still exist. I think about you looking at the pictures... the ones of you as a child; growing, smiling. The ones of my trips to Europe, or around the country. I think about you laughing to yourself at how self-absorbed your mother was, or how kooky or cheesy or utterly ridiculous. But I mostly think of you reading these blogs... these thoughts or emotions that were but snapshots in time that I chose for some reason or another to post on my public page. Today, I write this for no one but you. I keep a written journal. I started it on the day I knew you were conceived. The book, a beautiful embossed dark brown and black hardcover, was a gift from a co-worker who couldn't have children of her own. She said to me, "Mama got pregnant with me when she was 15, and when she was in the hospital she wrote down everything about her experience in a book."  She then pulled out a tattered spiral notebook, pages brown and torn with scribbles and blue ink. She cried as she showed me and read me a few passages. She ended with "It's my most prized possession" before handing me a tissue paper-wrapped present. Through my own tears I promised her I would use it often and do the same. And I do.
v  January 06, 2006: Today I am 16 weeks and 1 day pregnant with you. My belly is growing larger and my clothes are getting smaller. At 4:05 p.m. today I felt you move for the first time. I was sitting at my desk and felt a 'thump.'  As I looked down you kicked three more times. It felt like popcorn popping and it was wonderful...
v  February 18, 2006: Today I am 23 weeks and 2 days pregnant with son. I found out today that you are indeed a boy. You have been named Roman Patrick and I am already so in love with you...
v  May 28, 2006: Today I am no longer pregnant with you my darling because you arrived at 4:11 this morning and you are beautiful...
I continue to write in it when I can... sometimes once a week, other times once a month. Always a full page detailing how old you are when the entry was made and what is going on in our worlds. Today I wrote about your seizure; the second one in 48 hours. I wrote to you telling you how very much I want to trade places with you, and how utterly helpless I felt when I got the call from school. Today I wrote about my agony and my disgust at the doctors and myself and my faith. Today I wrote as a helpless individual who is losing faith in herself as a mother, and in the doctors who are supposed to help you. I wrote with anger and fear. I wrote and I wrote and then I stopped writing. Today I tore an entry out of your book and started a new one. I told you that you are 2 days away from being thirteen months old, and that your newest word is 'dan' (meaning 'fan'). I wrote about how much you're walking now, and about that 8th tooth that finally broke through. And I told you, as I always do, how very much I love you.
I wrote to you today, in more than one place. Chances are, you'll only see the happiness when it comes time for you to know. I'm fine with that.
Tomorrow, I am running a 5K to raise money for research and programs for people with epilepsy, but I am not just running to raise money; I am running to heal. I am running away from the memories above. Away from the pain caused from watching my only son nearly die because I couldn’t help him. I am running away from the fear that a seizure will strike him at some time in his life once again. I am running away from the disappointment I felt in myself for not doing more, and I’m running toward greater things.
Tomorrow I am running to prove that I can do it. To show my son, who is now six, and five years seizure free, that nothing will stop you from doing what you set out to do. Not asthma, which I have. Not bad knees, which I suffer from. Not being almost forty, which I am fighting here on this very blog. And definitely, not having seizures. Tomorrow I am going to show him that he is the light at the end of my journey, and I will be running in his name.
And Tom, if you’re out there, and you read this and you remember, know this: tomorrow I am also running for you, because without you, I’d never have the legs to run.
And, GO ME.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

248 Days - The First Excerpt from the Worst Erotic Novel Never Written

Fifty Forty Shades Strands of Grey Gray

Chapter One
“So, wait, why am I meeting this lady again?” I said to my roommate, Chris, as I attempted to knot the tie I borrowed from him into a double-Windsor without success.
“Dude, a hundred fucking times I’ve gone over this with you. This is the lady that works out of the San Francisco office of Brown University. She’s the one who decides whether or not you get to go there, remember? This chick is loaded and apparently a pretty big media whore. I was supposed to do an interview with her about Brown’s Undergraduate Teacher Education Program for the Guardian but the paper told me to bag the interview last minute so I could cover the new drag show on Bryant. I didn’t have the heart to tell the old bat so I thought you could go in my place as my... (snickers) assistant and try to schmooze her a little. It can’t hurt, dude. She’s supposed to be pretty hot for an old chick, too, so, who knows, maybe you can doink your way into Brown. Pun intended, of course.”
“You’re an asshole, Chris. An absolute douche. You think this woman – a Brown University spokesperson – is going to believe that I’m the assistant to a newspaper columnist who just so happens to want to get into Brown as a Biology major?”
“No. I think this woman is going to see right through that shit. But, I think this woman is single, forty, and potentially horny, and I actually kind of fucking like you, Tom Molson, so I’m giving you the chance to make enough of an impression on her with either your words or your dick that she doesn’t stamp 'DENIED' on your application in the first thirty seconds of seeing it. It that makes me a douche, then give me a pussy and let me in, ‘cause I’ve got cleansing to do.”
I wanted Chris to be wrong but I couldn’t deny the fact that he made a valid point. He was a womanizer with little to no respect for the opposite sex but fortunately for Chris that fact never worked against him. He knew how to work angles – sexually and professionally – and rarely did that not pan out for him. I trusted that he knew how much this Brown thing meant to me and that this was his way of showing me that he gave a shit about someone other than himself without ever having to say it (God forbid).
“I hate your guts, you know that, right? I mean, I hate, HATE your guts. Not fake-hate. Not faketred. Like, real hate.”
“You fucking love me, nerd. When are you going to wake up and admit it?”
“When you admit you try to catch glimpses of me when I get out of the shower. What am I supposed to ask this woman, anyway?” I said as I slipped on the only sport coat I owned that didn’t have Chris’ dog’s hair on it.
“Here is the list of questions I compiled before SFBG bagged the interview. They’re real questions so don’t screw it up because if I know the paper, they’ll be mortified by my review of the Bryant Street Drag Queens and they’ll have to run this anyway. Here’s my voice recorder. And no, you won’t get either credit or a mention.”
“I don’t give a shit. Just… give me the address, dickwad.”
“You’re meeting her at Masa’s on Bush Street
“Bush Street. Fitting.”
“And you’re paying. It’s the only way I could get the interview.”
“What?? I don’t have that kind of money!! Are you fucking nuts? I’m a 22-year-old college kid!”
“Yes. We know. And you have a small penis... I have caught glimpses of you getting out of the shower. But when you’re a doctor, and you’re making a bazillion, it won’t matter, will it? Now beat it… off you go now… off into the vagina sunset of life… atta boy… you’ll thank me in the morning…”
And off I went not knowing what to expect or how I would pay for what I got, both literally and figuratively. Off I went into the vagina sunset of life, just me, my hopes and dreams, a list of questions, a hairless sport coat, and my poorly-tied double-Windsor knot, all thanks to Chris.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

258 Days – You’re Never Too Old to Beat the Shit Out of Someone

I was bullied in the years leading up to high school, and although those moments became fewer and farther between, I had found myself as bully bait a handful of times in the years after, so when my friend Monica posted these back-to-back status updates on Facebook earlier today about some douche bag riding the bus with her who was giving her a hard time for no other reason than being, my only guess, miserable with her own existence, my blood started boiling, and the memories came flooding back.  

A bus. A fight. Some blood. A scar. The feeling it gave me. The bravery of a friend. It all comes back to me now…
GAMP students (I being one of them) living in South Philly often caught a SEPTA bus on 21st and Ritner Street that would take us down Oregon Avenue and drop us off at the closest numbered street to our home. A few would get off at Broad. Some, at 12th. Denine and Louis stepped off at 11th. Nicole at 8th. And I took it all the way down to almost the end of the route – 2nd. We had a little crew that sat together and laughed together and generally just liked one another. The atmosphere was rarely different, except on this one rainy afternoon when we found ourselves on a bus packed with students from Vare.
It was toward the end of ninth grade for me. I had finally stepped out from the shadows that overwhelmed me as a bullied teenager at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and stepped into an identity of my own. Only a handful of people knew me in this school, which meant I had the ability to start fresh, and although it didn’t happen immediately, the incident on the bus catapulted me to new heights in the popularity department as well as in the “don’t fuck with me department,” and as I think about it now, I never really looked back from that day.
The bus was packed with soaking wet riders: businessmen from center city; some elderly Italian bingo players fresh from the steps of St. Edmond’s; a variety of subway riders who would make a mass exodus as the bus rolled up to Broad; and the less-than-stellarly behaved seventh-and eighth-graders from Vare. Our seemingly small GAMP crew on this day headed toward the back of the bus as always only to find that four of the five seats were occupied by one particularly arrogant Vare girl. She sat in one seat. Her soaking wet umbrella sat in the next. Her school bag in the next. And her lunch bag in the last. I turned to give my classmates a “she’s gotta be fucking kidding me” look only to see them already eye-screaming it at me. “Hey, would you mind moving your stuff so a few of us could sit?” I asked, politely, to which I received not an inkling of acknowledgement other than louder gum cracking. “Excuse me… hello? Can you move your stuff? It’s taking up four seats.” Again, no eye contact. No response. That is, until one of her BFFs made some smart ass remark from the row in front of her, causing her to laugh obnoxiously loud until she finally looked up at me and mouthed the word “stand.”
Now I realize that my next move in this chess match could potentially be frowned upon by you pansy-esque, not raised inner city types out there. I can already hear the “well then you deserved it” or the “but you touched her stuff; what did you expect?” responses, so let me preface by saying that yes, I understand that I did touch her shit and that I did, by all accounts, make the first move, happy now? Good, so let me get on with it, ‘cause it’s about to get ghetto up in heeya…
What came over me was something similar to what I think those who commit crimes of passion must feel. You almost black out from anger so your body moves before your brain has a chance to rationalize, though I thought I was calm about it. I simply lifted her backpack up off the seat and put it on the floor next to her while I sat down. But in her mind, and in the mind of her two friends who decided to join in on the beating, that was as good as me calling her out.
I felt the punch across my head first. I was sitting now and she was standing alongside her crew as they proceeded to slap, kick and punch me with fists, hands, feet and book bags. I had both arms across my head to block the blows as much as I could but I couldn’t block the kicks to my shins, and I couldn’t get up with it being three against one. With a break in the pummeling I realized I was sitting next to a long, skinny pole (you subway riders know the exact one I’m talking about) and that was when I made my move. With my right arm I grabbed the hair on the left side of her head and with my left arm on the other side of the pole I grabbed the hair to her right, then, and trust me when I tell you that this was a very proud moment for me as a fourteen-year-old, I stood and proceeded to smash her head into the pole over and over in a motion toward me until she starting bleeding from her face. Her friends tried to pull my hands off of her hair but they couldn’t - you wouldn't have been remove them with the jaws of fucking life, I was holding on so tightly, and just as I was about to receive a blow to my face from another member of the threesome I saw an umbrella handle come crashing down on her back. My not much taller than five feet friend Denine had come to my rescue and starting beating them both with her umbrella. My girl, Denine. I’ll never, ever forget that she did that. At this point, though, all hell had broken loose. The girl on me had hold of the left cheek of my face and was digging her nail into it until she drew blood, so I reached out, grabbed the “LaTonnya” jelly jar lid sized yellow gold earring in her left ear and yanked it out, splitting her lobe. It was a bloody, brutal battle that left me to this day with a scar on my face yet had me walking away from it with a trophy – the earring – which I wore on a chain around my neck to school the next day to the wonderful sound of applause in the hallway. It also helped me start my tenth grade year with a brand new attitude, and new reputation.
Eventually the bus driver stopped the bus, saw that I had been clearly outnumbered (he recognized me as a frequent rider who didn’t cause trouble), and forced the girls to get off. But he never called the cops. Never called the paramedics. It’s just not what was done in 1988. When it rolled up to my stop he said to me on my way down the steps, “you gonna be okay, right?” and I turned to him, nodded and cried as the doors closed between us. But I wasn’t crying because of my blood or my pain. I knew that something inside me had changed finally. I knew that I had done what I needed to do in order to get through the rest of my years at school, and after school, and in life. I was crying because I was, as sick as this will sound, proud of myself. I looked down at my bloodied right hand – down at “LaTonnya” – and I was goddamned fucking proud of myself. “Nobody is going to beat me anymore, ever again.”
The next three years of high school saw me suspended for fighting three times. By my senior year they had moved me to another class and given me a single warning at the beginning of the semester – you fight even one time, you don’t walk at graduation. Gradually word got out about that warning, which meant that the pussies grew balls overnight and that temptation was lurking at every turn. But I made it. I made it the entire year without so much as a verbal lashing because I wasn’t going to risk not walking at graduation. It would have broken my mother’s heart, and I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself for that.
Now, after graduation? THAT is a different story. My lord, the fights I’ve been in. This post is already excruciatingly long so I won’t bore you with any more details, but let’s just say that I’m extremely thankful that the city of Philadelphia is made up of who it’s made up of, because if I had been myself, in my twenties (and thirties) in any other city in this country, my ass would have been in jail a long, long time ago. Yes, I said thirties, but I'll save that juicy morsel for a future post. I have 258 days left, after all… I can’t give you everything all at once. Sheesh.
The bottom line, for me, is this: I am thirty-nine years old, but don’t let my age, the pouty lips, or the skinny arms fool you. If you fuck with me, or you kick my shit, or you threaten my man, or you (God forbid) lay a hand on my kids, I will KICK… your FUCKING… ASS. I will do it with a smile on my face and when I am done, I will write about it on this very blog because like I said above… NOBODY is going to beat me anymore, ever again.