Today is the 16th anniversary of a very unfortunate event. On October 30, 2006, when our home was invaded by a random marauder, I had no place to put all my emotions. On the 10th anniversary, I posted this short story length post, @4000 words letting loose all my angst into the cosmos. I didn’t do anything last year on #15. I’m weird about certain things. Sometimes I think milestones matter 5, 10, 15, 20 … then I think everyday is a holiday or should be! Sort of like the sentiment to use the good towels. Don’t wait for tomorrow because tomorrow isn’t promised.
I tell ya what, we were shaken-up which in hindsight we learned we needed desperately. Awakened from sleep walking through life doing what we thought was expected. Not really living, simply existing. For a while afterwards, we were on our best behavior. As time went by, the memory fades & complacency snuck in. As part of my evolution to a better mental well being, I’m re-writing the story. Not changing the meaning but refining the prose.
Monday, October 30, 2006 was a day like any other. Our family was doing their thing, work for me & B, school for the kids. Around 2 pm, I came out of a unit meeting to voicemails from hell. With ever increasing urgency, the final message was “Mom just come home”. And I did, on autopilot. Willing my mind not to think. My car gliding across the city, safely but with alacrity. I rounded the corner home & crept down the S shaped gravel drive to several sheriff cars. In the distance, I see PoPo & Pony. All that mattered to me in that moment was that both of them were ok. The rest of the stuff was just stuff.
B joined us a short time later, he had no forewarning but went into protector mode immediately. Assessing the scene, we see the smashed kitchen window and back door all boarded up. Oil dripping off the porch. I’m told there is blood spatter throughout & gun shots into my bathroom cabinet & bedroom ceiling. We weren’t allowed inside & had to call crime scene cleanup, randomly finding a company from the yellow pages.
They would take away several loads of medical waste. The nonporous surfaces were cleaned with chemicals used on surgical suites. I won’t go into details of the perpetrator & his posse. He was unknown to us before & after. I won’t moan about the remodel/repair/replace except to say we were displaced for just under two months. We made sure to host Christmas Day celebration that year, my daddy’s last.
Why this terrible thing happened doesn’t matter to me anymore. That’s proof of my growth & healing. Letting go of what one can’t control. There is nothing more freeing.
Said in southern twang, alrighty, lemme let ya go is used to end awkward conversations. But alrighty, lemme let ya go also insinuates the talk is over … like for good, a brush off. And that my friends would be a priceless ending. If only I could do the same with other traumatic events in my life. If only my life wasn’t full of other traumatic events. Thank goodness for this blog, my free therapy.
WARNING: Graphic images are contained in this blog.
“Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside.”
Emerson, Lake and Palmer
Oh but HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is a story about a random act of violence perpetrated on my family during the afternoon of October 30, 2006. The story has been re-told multiple times but has never been written down before now. Just like the telephone game you may have played as kids, this story was whispered down the line. What came out at the end was completely different from the story told to the first person. The changes were not intentional, just how the human mind works.
This writing seeks to set the record straight and perhaps provide a cathartic release for those who experienced that awful day and weeks that followed. In the end, triumph over the bad, an experience though gruesome was as it should be. Thank goodness for hindsight and life lessons. So … Are you ready? You have now crossed into the twilight zone.
The day was like any other … A Monday yay! Work for me and Billy Bob. School for Pony Boy and Lulu. The day before Big B Squared had gotten a new cell phone with a new number. He didn’t have the patience to set everything up so the phone was left on the kitchen counter where to this day, he leaves his phone for charging. Pony Boy was glad for the upgrade because he inherited his dad’s old phone and number that went along with it. You’ll see why this tidbit matters later.
I took Lulu to school as usual – 2nd grader at Sinclair Elementary. Her cousins were there too. HB in 2nd grade, different home room and GB in 1st grade. They were excited that the next day would be Halloween. Pony Boy was taking classes at SAC – his first semester in college – that we forced him into. You can lead a horse to water but … that is a story for another day.
I loved my job! At the time I was a frontline employee; real-time Underwriter and we had an awesome team – people who to this day I still have in my life either in person or virtually. We had a standing unit meeting every Monday. On that fateful day, when I got back to my desk after our meeting, I saw the red light on my phone, signaling voice mail. Thinking nothing of it, I listened to the messages. Remembering them now gives me chills. With increasing volume, they went something like this …
Pony: “Hey, mom, call me” (my thought bubble, he is skipping school!)
Next message – Pony: “So mom, I guess you’re on the phone, call me when you hang up though, okay?”
Next message – Pony: “Mom not sure why you are not checking voicemail, CALL ME BACK PLEASE!”
Final message – Pony: “Mom, forget the call, come home NOW! When you hear this message, just come HOME!”
Of course, I called him immediately, I didn’t just go home. I was pissed and had an attitude. When he answers and before he can speak I ask “why aren’t you in school?” Then he proceeds to tell me the horrible story. Our house was broken into. He got the call because PoPo was trying to call dad but Pony had dad’s phone. He left class and now he cannot un-see, what he has seen. He gives me gruesome, horrible details. I tell him “it’s not even funny, what you’ve said! STOP joking!!” He says “I wish I was joking mom but I am NOT! You need to come home”
My boss was in a follow-on meeting so I told my senior and very dear friend that I had to leave right away; that’d our house was broken into.
I was fairly calm, yet still in shock as I made my way across town. Nothing could have prepared me for the feelings I got when I saw the scene playing out in my backyard and driveway. Of course, no one can reach Billy Bob, his phone was left at home and the new number had not been given out yet anyway.
The deputy tells me what happened and PoPo repeats a similar version of events as well. Weeks pass before all of it was pieced together. I won’t delay though, I’ll give you the entire sordid story now.
Sad Guy #1, out on parole, took a job driving materials from San Antonio to Austin. His employer Good Guy #1, let Sad Guy have the truck over the weekend so that he could get an early start to Austin that Monday and maybe make two or even three trips that day. Unfortunately (yes that word has to be in here somewhere), Unfortunately Sad Guy made some poor choices over the weekend and went on a bender extraordinaire. He and his buddy Sad Guy #2 and two shall we say “ladies of the evening”, holed up in a motel room, tweaking and whatever the hell else drug addicts do.
Sad Guy #1 is a no-show for work on Monday and Good Guy#1, being the good guy that he is, doesn’t call it in … you see that would have put Sad Guy back in jail for parole violation. Good Guy #1 just wanted Sad Guy to have a chance at a new life, he believed in the goodness of humanity BUT, he did want his truck back. His truck had GPS so the boss self-tracked his rig … he almost caught up to the merry band but he was always just a little too late. He had been tracking the would-be marauders for the better part of the day.
As the employer is hunting for his truck, the foursome are aimlessly driving around … high on a toxic mix. In the driver’s paranoid state, he passes our finest China Grove (CG) police … who pursues the group. The driver tries to make a run for it … but his buddy is having none of it … he jumps from the moving vehicle AND another unfortunate event – CG police stops his car and chases after the guy who ran off on foot. Broke police protocol I am told … he should have continued pursuit of the vehicle. If he had done this, there was a chance to avoid what happened next BUT that was not as it should be. At least CG police radioed for back-up and Bexar County Sheriff’s department got into the chase.
Did I mention it was a day like any other day? Well it was … and PoPo was feeding his birds as he did every day (and still does). While sitting on his back porch relaxing, he notices two women (okay crack whores, they were crack whores) walking up the path that connects our properties. He is surprised, this is a private road, no through traffic. He asks if he can help them and they tell him they are looking for New Berlin. He says “well you’re a long damn way from New Berlin … do you need a phone?” And that is when they hear it. A shot-gun blast. One of the women says, “I cannot believe he did it but he said we was going to do it. I guess he blew his brains out”. MoMo screams “What??!!? That’s my son’s house!!” PoPo tells MoMo to “CALL 911!” The women try to leave but he tells, them “NO, you’re staying with me”.
911 figured out Bexar County was already in pursuit knowing CG Police radioed them for back-up. The dispatcher told MoMo, someone was already on the way. PoPo and the women walked over to our house.
While trying to outrun CG Police, the remaining trio barreled down our road thinking they could cut through to Foster Road. When they realized a dead-end, they tried to turn around and go back out the road they had just come down but instead they spun out, lost control and hit our back porch. Sad Guy #1, jumped from the truck and said he was going to end it all. He broke through our kitchen window and climbed in our house. The women went on their walk to the in-laws where they were intercepted by PoPo. Sad Guy #1 went crazy inside the house, roaming from room to room. Blood gushing from the cuts he received while smashing in the kitchen window.
Best we can tell, he went to the family room first and then he turned back to the kitchen. Good thing too because in the corner of the family room was the arsenal (had he noticed, police/sheriffs might be dead). We’re a family that hunts (or we used to be) and the high-powered rifle in the corner … gives me shivers to think what might have happened. He went through the kitchen to an empty dining room, spraying blood everywhere as he went down the hall to Pony’s room and was digging in Pony’s closet, looking for a gun. Nothing there.
He went to Lulu’s room. If this picture of her room that follows does not chill you to the bone, you are steel. Her room had the least amount of damage. Best guess is that even in his state of mind, the purple, stuffed animals and girly décor made him realize there’d be no gun there. He closed her door (can be shown by later analysis of the blood spatter).
Sad Guy moves across the living room, ruining our couch and my grandma’s chair. In our bedroom, he found the ‘rat’ gun – used for snakes and that season we had several snakes so it was easier to keep the gun out. He shot into the ceiling for what reason we will never know. It was likely that he sees himself in our bathroom mirror and thinking it was another person, he shoots into the linen closet right next to the mirror.
The Sheriff Deputies are outside and they think he has a hostage – he was crazed, drug fueled and making all kind of noises, the varying pitch of his voice making it seem like more than one person was inside. They had to take precautions just in case. By this time PoPo and the women are there and they tell the deputies, no one was home … and no one else was in the rig … it was then that the deputies decided to use a battering ram to knock down our back doorand go in to stop him.
Sad Guy surrendered peacefully enough but they made him climb out the window he broke to get in. He voluntarily disclosed his Hepatitis C status. Extra care was taken going forward with the crime scene. The truck owner showed up. The rig was not driveable so it was towed away. Pony shows up – he got a call from PoPo thinking he was calling Billy Bob. Pony was told to just stay at school but he didn’t listen. He was not there for all of it thankfully but he did see the culprit, sitting in handcuffs on our back porch. And other awful things which remain in his memory.
By the time I showed up, the perpetrator was gone –hauled off to jail on his 3rd strike. The two women were still there giving their statements to help create the timeline. After that, they simply walked away; leaving their drug paraphernalia in the yard. I personally think they should have been arrested too but what do I know? Don’t get me started on our judicial system, the inequities in treatment are in abundance. The guy who fled on foot was never found.
Billy Bob meanwhile, is driving home like normal after a day’s work. He sees the scene from Highway 87. Our house … all the cop cars. I cannot even imagine what went through his mind … coming upon that scene. At least I had a warning.
He told me later he was almost sick but his mind would not go there. This could be fixed … to him … always … hard work fixes anything. Ever so slowly he drove up the driveway as he imagined the worst and then feeling relief to see us standing there.
Not too long after Billy Bob arrived, his buddy from high school showed up. Lifelong friend who just happened to be a deputy. He had heard the name over the radio; not his case but he came to see if he could help. And it did; his being there helped immensely. In the chaos that ensued, PoPo had called co-workers of Billy Bob’s trying to find him. Those co-workers, they came over to the house too. Friends who to this day we can count on for anything. As I think back, everyone … especially law enforcement (even CG PD) did an exemplary job that day. Though harm was done, it could’ve been worse. For being able to believe this, I have to thank you daddy!
Next we called crime scene clean-up … check the yellow pages … there is such a thing y’all. They would be there the next day. House was boarded up and we went to the in-laws … well after going to Target to get the bare essentials such as clothes to wear the next few days. Lulu was kept from it all until years later. At the time, she only knew that we had to stay at her grandparents. MoMo had picked her up from school and brought her to their house … Lulu didn’t understand why she could not go home to get her costume for Halloween.
We tried to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. Kids went back to school the next day. They stayed with Aunty B and went trick or treating as if nothing had changed. Billy Bob and I both called out of work … for however long I can’t remember … maybe just that week though we’d be displaced for months. How unfortunate … We lost almost everything!!!!
Insurance covered it all though (silver lining) … considered vandalism and malicious mischief … not likely the adjuster had dealt with something just like this before … well she said as much … didn’t even want to come to the house until 3 days later when faced with no other choice. She had to wear booties and a mask, we all did as a precaution. Though I let Billy Bob take the lead. I mostly stayed away except for the mountain of paperwork.
We had two adjusters, one for dwelling and the other for contents. The dwelling was a much smoother process despite the hesitance of the adjuster to come see everything up close and personal. Estimates, transferred payments and work commencing … right away. Anything porous (fabric sectional, Grandma’s chair, cloth recliner, carpets, pulled up and out, window treatments taken down, clothes … those sorts of things) were treated as medical waste… cut up into little pieces and put into boxes for very specific disposal before being carted away … 12 trailers full. There is a special kind of cleaner that they use on surgical floors and that was used to clean the non-porous surfaces.
The contents part was a nightmare and I believe they have changed the way they now handle these things. As if we had not already been through the wringer, we were subjected to nitpicky questions as we inventoried our belongings. I understand why POO – proof of ownership is needed and I did that quickly, not too bad really, the checklist was nice. But this was a total loss. If at all possible, the items that could be repaired were salvaged. We did not try to get more than what we lost. I get tense when I remember how the inside adjuster questioned everything. Why do you need a coffee pot? Well, let’s see, ours was ruined when a crazy meth head / crack addict broke through our kitchen window. And dishes, weren’t the dishes in cabinets and therefore spared? Well, not the ones from breakfast that we left in the sink because we were in a hurry that morning. We were not asking her to replace a service for twelve. We just wanted damn cereal bowls and spoons, two coffee cups, plates. The 10” skillet used that morning for the fried eggs.
This was a lifetime of ‘things’. I scoured the internet, checking prices and filled out spreadsheets, faxed documents that would sit and sit until I’d call and ask for a status then miraculously, the fax just came in … We didn’t even claim everything, it was too much to remember, too overwhelming. Then we’d be told, we used up our shoe allowance and you cannot interchange shoes for shirts or shirts for pants or belts for purses … WTH, they are all apparel & accessories … I thought I was going insane.
I still regret the choices of replacement furniture, paint color and flooring. We were forced to make quick decisions that were not the best ones. They were the hurry up choices so we can get you back into your house decisions and for me; I am a thinker, a plotter and this was not supposed to be happening. I needed MORE time. To this day, for this reason, I HATE to shop. Not even hate is a strong enough word. Loathe … I loathe to shop. Hate and loathe are synonyms but loathe sounds so much more … well so much more descriptive! We went minimalist after this because nothing matters, not really … so screw it! Do I like nice things? Sure, who doesn’t? But are they worth the trouble, the cost, the head ache? Not any longer, at least not to me …
Instead of using our loss of use coverage for a hotel room or motel/kitchenette, we stayed on the property in a travel trailer and showered at the in-laws. That way getting Lulu to school and everything else that needed to be done was that much easier. We were not too far from the norm. Billy Bob was also able to supervise the restoration. We were displaced until December 22, 2006. That year, we still hosted the annual Christmas Day dinner. It would be daddy’s last. We were bound and determined to show that in spite of what happened, we had survived.
I use the word survive loosely. PTSD is real. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Despite outward appearances, some ghosts linger. They whisper but never quite make it to the forefront. Oh who am I kidding?!?, some days the ghosts come out full board. People would ask if we were afraid he’d come back? Well no because Sad Guy was back in jail; the nice deputies made sure we knew how that part turned out. We’d even get an occasional, how are you holding up? phone call. Also, lightening doesn’t strike twice right?!?! What are the odds of this happening in the first place, let alone happening again? ZERO.
Some may wonder, what the hell Jill? Why are you telling us this? Part of me is not quite sure why but here are some potential motives. I write this not to excuse behavior but to explain behavior. I am fascinated by the psychology of it all. I write this not for sympathy but for empathy and understanding. We need MORE empathy and understand in this world. I write this to say thank you to everyone that helped us through this unfortunate life altering event. I can’t remember if I ever did … give a proper thank you. Time was a blur so now better late than never – THANK YOU! I write this to SHOUT from the mountain tops that there is always HOPE and MORE good than bad in life. I write this because I am a blogger now with a forum to get THIS whatever THIS is off my chest. I didn’t have this outlet 10 years ago.
I’ve been told my attitude is unbelievable. “Jill how can you be so positive?” And my answer has always been, “what else can I be?” This is not MY choice, this is my mind using self-preservation. After the initial, “we are moving and I will never live in that house again!!!!!”, I moved on toward acceptance. I hold no ill will to Sad Guy. I thank God that I do not have to live his life.
I do stop short of saying I would do it all over again. I wouldn’t. In our alternate universe, where this never happened, other bad things did not happen either and it is a “Leave It To Beaver” episode. Yet, I am thankful for the experience. Yes, you read that correctly. I am thankful! This was a life lesson my family needed to learn. We now know what we are made of; we know what we can withstand. Material things have lost their allure. For me, well my head is on straight and my priorities have been altered in the best way possible.
Thankful or not, there are times I think that all of THIS could have been avoided IF Good Guy Employer called the cops to report his rig stolen, IF Good Guy got there before what happened to us happened, or IF CG Police had not broken pursuit. Et cetera … That’s a lot of what-ifs! Ultimately, that is not how things should be, so that is not what happened. IF any of those other things had happened, maybe just maybe the outcome could have been EVEN worse. My realistic friend K G told me “just think about it this way Jill … if he had not hit your house, maybe as he was trying to out run the police, he would have crashed on the highway into a school bus full of children”Delusional thinking … I think not. This unfortunate event NEEDED to happen to us to avoid something worse happening to someone else – simple fact. When a butterfly flaps its’ wings … a tsunami blows across another continent.
Now at almost 4000 words, six plus pages long, I think I have covered it all. Happy 10th anniversary of this most unfortunate event and Happy Halloween Eve to everyone. J-Dub’s: A Series of Unfortunate Events is FIN. Not the blogging … that I will continue until … well until I am dead. My superstitious nature thinks I may ward off ALL future unfortunate events by getting this out on virtual paper but nope, I know better. I am not sure what it is like for any of you who may have made it down the rabbit hole to the end of this macabre tale but for me this is such a long overdue release. Akin to FREE therapy.
Originally I was just going to hit a few highlights (or low points) over my lifespan. I was attempting to stay in somewhat chronological order but that failed. The most recent unfortunate events … Billy Bob’s accidents have already been written about. I also realize I am leaving out some really dark stuff that is too painful and private to write about. Yep I am pretty much an open book but even I have secrets. I think I may get a cathartic relief from sharing these secrets but I also know judgment will follow and I am not quite ready for that. Maybe one day. Through therapy which I will begin again on Monday. I also know that I am saving one biggie for October 30, 2016 … a 10 year anniversary of sorts and that unfortunate event may just be my pièce de résistance and finale.
End of the series, not the blogging as that I have become addicted to … truly addicted, like an adrenaline junkie or fame whore. When I get those emails that say “so and so thinks your post is pretty awesome, you may want to check out what they are doing” well let me tell you folks, that is worth more than gold … to me anyway. I am validated, I am connected. Yet I realize this … this blogosphere is not really REAL. The people who like my stuff don’t know me. Does anyone really know anyone? Rhetorical … wait … the answer is NO. So much for rhetorical. People can shock you to your very core and that is unfortunate and that I have not even touched on here. I should … I should be brave and rip off the Band-Aid but I am not and I am okay with that.
Anyway, I mean I guess one could say this is sort of real … in the context of this is NOT fake. Authentic is the better word choice. I blog from the heart, to me I am authentic but to you my readers in the microcosm of this universe, do you think I am authentic aka keeping it real? I sure hope SO!!! As I write in my About Me section (which keeps disappearing on me, thank you free plan, one day I may upgrade): I have purposefully left off additional adjectives to describe us because life ain’t that sweet y’all. And because I am trying to keep it real. I COULD put on a show of sunshine and roses; faux perfection but I WON’T.
And in that vein, today I write my next to the last edition in J-Dub’s series of unfortunate events.
I have no idea what year it was … after 1999 and before 2003, this was a four-year span from hell. Wait, too dramatic, good things happened here too … not hell – bits of hell mixed in with silver linings. I started working nights after Lulu was born because if you remember my mom died when Lulu was only five weeks old. We did not want to use daycare – silly and a bit elitist but I am over that now. Mom and Daddy watched Pony Boy while I worked and this time around we did not have that option. I became the day time nanny and Billy Bob was the night-time nanny and we didn’t see too much of each other. My time with Pony was limited too, not as much as Billy but still …
One day in a sleep deprived state, on a day off, I started cleaning out my office … the small office off the dining room not the big office I have now which was at one time Pony’s bedroom. I was sitting on the floor of this room no bigger than a closet with papers in stacks all around. I was organizing. But I got stuck. I had my first and only ever panic attack. If you have never had one, you are fortunate. The experience is completely bizarre, out-of-body really and I could not get a grip. I remember flashes of what happened, nothing is too clear but Billy came home from work and found me. We called the employee assistance plan at work and I got scheduled to see someone right away.
The talk lady on Mid Crown was just so-so. She said I was depressed, likely repressing feelings of the loss of my mother and brother who died within a year and a half of each other; I did not properly grieve she said. Of course I have to ask … is there a proper way to grieve? No – you do what you have to do. Each person grieves in his/her own way. She said I was a perfectionist who put too much pressure on myself to achieve – well duh? Yes that is me. We did not really connect though and I only saw her about three times in total. What the talk lady did for me though was to send me to an angel Dr. B. I spent my lunch hour with Dr. B for a very long time. He prescribed me Zoloft and Xanax. Did I ever need either? Remains to be seen and I will never know. What I do know is that I am stronger now in my non-medicated state than I ever was while on drugs (legal but I was still on drugs). Oh, and I guess I still am … will always be … taking my Crestor – for high cholesterol.
To medicate or not to medicate is a very personal decision. Not my place to judge anyone else’s road. I do wish a full picture of pros and cons had been provided to me BEFORE jumping to a quick fix miracle pill. Everything happened so fast and next thing you know, I am taking Zoloft and Xanax and falling asleep at the movies. I added 45 pounds on my small 5’3″ frame.
For me, the Zoloft numbed me. I didn’t feel anything – happy or sad … flat line. After the sadness and anxiety, feeling nothing was a bit of a relief. I’d sit there and think to myself, that was very sad, I should be crying but I can’t cry … or that was irritating, I should be mad but ho-hum, oh well. Not mad. Just blah. But if you cannot feel anything, what’s the point? Now I cry easily at the drop of a hat. I get mad but not overly and I am much quicker to get over whatever makes me mad. When you’ve been kicked in the teeth you realize not to sweat the small stuff and cliché alert it is ALL small stuff. That realization makes me ecstatic. I have experienced pure joy and that is only because of the prior pain … makes me know the difference. My heart is full and life is very good in micro moments. The constant battle whirls to remain in a good head space. I talk myself out of a lot of sH*t! Daily affirmations keep me going.
How did I kick the Zoloft habit? Well quite by accident. I went away to a conference and immediately after we continued on vacation. I forget to pack my pills. When I realized, I was like screw it, I am going down Rodeo Drive. Living large in Los Angeles. For once I didn’t rush to the internet and search for abrupt stoppage of Zoloft … good thing too as it probably would have said don’t do it, you’ll stroke out. I kept my appointment with Dr. B when I got home and I confessed it had been two weeks without Zoloft. He asked about side effects/symptoms but there were none. He said “ok Jill, watch for x, y and z. No need to come back since you don’t want the prescription, continue with talk therapy and if anything happens, come back to me. I am not taking new patients but you tell the girls you are not new but returning”. I never went back. I also didn’t continue talking but with my renewed lease on life, I had other methods for coping. I am a firm believer in the power of communication – oral or written. The human connection is essential. And, as mentioned up top, I am going back to talk therapy on Monday – hoping for a better fit this time.
Anyhow, that is all really. Trying to break the stigma surrounding mental illness which is more prevalent than one even knows. My challenge to all you perfect people out there … rather than seeing someone who needs help as weak, maybe realize “the strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about”.
I will go out of chronological order again for just a bit. This blog is about cancer. I have known that ugly word my whole life. One of my earliest recollections is a green oxygen tank next to a night stand. Cancer … affecting immediate family members and friends alike. Lung cancer, brain tumor, breast cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer … The disease that does not discriminate. Family history, no family history. Unfortunately no one is immune. Like Russian roulette … fate … chance … unnerving. Not if … but when?
Today I will share a few personal stories in a series of unfortunate events. These are not even all of them. Sadly, I could write a novel on this topic. I feel that some tales are not my stories to tell, so I leave them off this list. Not because they are any less noteworthy, simply out of respect. Respect for a life lesson that even in the face of one’s mortality, your one ask is to pay it forward. Who does that?? Only the most wonderful role model in the world.
So let’s get started shall we …
In August of 2004, the summer between 1st and 2nd grade, our niece HB was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. She was age six about to turn seven that October. Kids play getting bumps and bruises but that summer, her MoMo found a knot on HB’s leg that would not go away. If not for the persistence of G’ma, mom & dad may not have taken HB to her pediatrician. I mean HB was an active little girl … always on the go. Surely that knot was nothing … Good thing G’ma kept pushing. HB had surgery to remove the tumor in her leg followed by radiation with special attention to miss the growth plates and the most aggressive chemo treatments for anyone, especially for someone so young BUT it was necessary because of the insidiousness of the cancer with a tendency to re-occur had to be attacked head on!
At this tender age of seven is when Lulu decided she wanted to become a nurse. She grew up with her cousin (just two months apart in age). As HB went through the treatments, Lulu was there … always … they still played together like nothing had changed. Some people kept their distance. Kids at school were afraid. Understandable, not knowing how to act or what to say. With the girls though, it was just different. Two peas in a pod, more like twins. Lulu often held the “throw up bucket” and she watched as HB pulled out clumps of hair, asking Lulu to “help” … and she did. Nothing was too gross. HB wanted to, needed to, share with someone and Lulu was always the willing accomplice. But this story has a silver lining, HB made it to her five-year mark and just this past August of 2016 she is 12 years cancer free.
On July 2nd of 2006, Billy Bob’s brother (D) died. Outlying cause of death non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A mass in an unfortunate spot in the neck area pressed on an artery and over time, as the mass grew, this caused the artery to weaken. In a coughing fit, the weakened artery ruptured. D bled to death in his father’s arms. This happened on a Sunday and D had been scheduled for the following Thursday to begin treatment to attempt to shrink the growth.
The following reads like a public service announcement: D had trouble finding out what was wrong … misdiagnosed with scabies and other dermatological conditions. Who knew a nagging cough that would not stop and a rash that would not heal could signal lymphoma?? … Well now you all DO! Share this tidbit. It’s more common that you think but still not widely known. Of course, don’t go all hypochondriac like me … a nagging cough and a rash might be symptoms of other conditions … entirely benign conditions but, you never know. So ask … maybe find out sooner rather than later. And also, make sure you have health insurance – D didn’t … his insurance had lapsed. One cannot help but wonder how differently things would have played out if he had insurance.
In August of 2012, HB’s mom, former spouse of D was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. So yes – two parents had cancer, their first-born did too. Three in a family of four. Genetic link … just maybe. Here are some other familial ties – D’s first cousin on mother’s side – at only 20 years old had Hodgkin’s lymphoma (different lymphoma than D but still cancer). He is 52 today and after a relapse in his 40s, he is consider in remission. Another first cousin (sister of the Hodgkin’s patient), had an aggressive form of breast cancer. Now several years later, she too is cancer free. Something my kids will always have mark on their patient histories.
The unfortunate events continue and we lost HB’s mom on March 1, 2016 after battling for three plus years. I sort of hate saying we ‘lost’ her. You see, we didn’t lose her … not really. We know where she is and what happened. She died. F*cK this sH*t! She died!!!! And she was only 51 years young. As I write this, it still does not feel real. I keep thinking, she’s just on vacation. She’ll be back. We’ll wake up and all will be right with the world. I wish we had more time, I wish things had been different.
I will always remember that last Christmas Eve … 2015 … spent together – the family tradition. Small and quaint, just eight of us. And you could tell, she was in pain but trying to keep things the same for her kids. She put on her bravest face. She gave personal gifts that she could not afford but insisted, she had come into some money and this is what she wanted to do. Tokens chosen specially for the receivers because she knew us so well. And beyond the gifts, there was the laughter – the snort through your nose kind of laughter. It was always like that when she was around. Rest in peace dear sister, may the perpetual light shine upon her.
Life is short. This you all know. Life is not fair. Truth! But I won’t belabor the point – simply for me … I will act now, be kind, and love you all. Even in the pain and suffering, life is beautiful and life goes on.
After 1999, things were rolling along, going well. We built and moved in to our new house in January of 2000. Y2K was not the Armageddon some people predicted it would be. I remember a friend of mine was stock piling canned goods and bottled water. I thought she had lost it but never told her so. Personally we didn’t do anything to prepare. Gamblers at LIFE! The kids were good, we were good. Things were actually pretty mundane until …
Fast forward to September 11, 2001 when our nation experienced a tragedy that will live in the annals of history. As I write this today, on the 15th anniversary, I feel like it is that day all over again … Lots of wordless moments. Unable to describe the true depth of my feelings. Not just my unfortunate event; but rather our unfortunate event. Unfortunate does not seem strong enough a word to describe the events of that day but disastrous is and disastrous is a synonym of unfortunate.
Personally, my family was on the periphery. We did not know anyone directly impacted. Still in the shock and grief our collective hearts were broken. In the ashes, we united. Silver linings all around. Everyday people became heroes; those are the stories on which we should focus today and always. To quote Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short & there is no time for hate”
When the question is asked, where were you? Here is what I remember. I challenge everyone to do the same today. To remember, to honor, to never forget:
Billy Bob was at work, Lulu was at Mother’s Day Out, and Pony Boy was in school. I was working nights back then but it was a regular day off.
Sister and I were planning dad’s annual birthday dinner out with cake and ice cream at the house after. We stayed on the phone (not saying much) just on the phone as we watched TV simultaneously, in two different cities.
One crash, then two, then they are saying the crash was on purpose. People jumping from buildings as a choice to burning to death. All of it was un-freaking-believable. One of those moments that we’d look back on and remember where we were and what we were doing on that infamous day. Trying to make sense of something that defied logic. Promising myself that I would do better and make every day count.
I have slipped in the last 15 years but fortunately; I can start over. I will start over. And there is no better day than today to get started. Wishing you Peace.
My brother – Jimbo Pete passed away on July 19, 1999. This is one of those stories which is not really mine to tell. Only to say, my heart hurts for the pain he went through. He was deeply loved and I wish he had known that. We were family despite defying the traditional definition. He called me Peaches just like the big brother Willie from the TV show Family called his little sister. We’d make up games to play when we were bored … which was never because we always found something to do. We rode bikes around the neighborhood. Climbed the cypress trees in our front yard and listened to his ham radio. Played all assorted board games, cards or dominos. Liked the same music. Liked to read. A real Mayberry childhood in a neighborhood full of kids. I will be forever grateful for my experiences. Silver linings and choosing to remember the good. Miss you brother. RIP
The year is 1991, we are winding down after Pony Boy’s 3rd birthday party. Just kind of chillaxing. Pony Boy is conked out – napping and Billy Bob and I were talking about having another baby. That day was so GOOD; reinforced our decision. We were ready. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.
By 1996, Jilly was SAD :(. Billy Bob and I would have the same conversation, just like a washing machine stuck on perpetual spin. I can FEEL to this day the depth of my emotion. I remember sitting with Billy Bob on the couch, the dim lighting, after Pony Boy was sound asleep, we were in our hovel on Huth Drive. Our talks went something like this:
Billy Bob: “Why aren’t Pony Boy and I enough for you? Don’tcha love us?”
Me: “How can you even ask me that!? Of course I love you”
Me continued “but something is missing, can’t you feel it? My heart breaks when I think of Pony Boy … all alone … if something happens to us”
Billy Bob: “Don’t worry about Pony Boy, he will never be alone, he has lots of friends already. He will make a family somewhere. I can’t even imagine him alone”
Me: “A friend is NOT a brother, a friend is NOT a sister. You don’t understand”
Billy Bob: “I wish I could … that I could fix this … all we can do is think this … if it happens, it was meant to be, if not you have to let go”
And I have to ask myself, why did I care so much? I had a happy healthy son. All was right with the world. But I was sad, life was not fair. It was so easy the first time. What was going on this time? Being poked and prodded; then told the tests were inconclusive.
Oh how I cared and how it bothered me when people would ask why our kids were 9 1/2 years apart? How rude! As if it even matters.Or they will assume they have different baby daddies. How rude! As if it even matters. And before Lulu came along, they said mean things like how only children are spoiled so why didn’t we “fix” that and have another child. How rude! As if it even matters. They didn’t know things were not going as planned AND they didn’t know Pony Boy! He was such a sweet kid and he shared easily. He was just a goofy, smily, funny little boy. He made friends quickly and easily everywhere we’d go. Billy Bob was right and I finally let go.
Then, a miracle. We found out I was expecting Lulu in March of 1997. This may have been my second rodeo but the pregnancy was different. I had gestational diabetes this time; self testing my blood 3 times a day. Adhered to a very strict diet which helped keep everything under control. Still as a worrier by nature, I was scared. Billy Bob, my mom and my dad did their best to help me not worry. What I didn’t know until later was that during that time my mom was privately battling health issues of her own.
I was at work like normal on 12/15/97. I left early for my doctor’s appointment. I was going weekly then. Dr. B was watching me like a hawk; she took such good care of me. During the sonogram at the final appointment, my memory is foggy but I heard something about cord in each quadrant and/or not enough fluid ??? The team recommended we induce … so that’s what happened. We had our game plan and I went straight from the doctor’s office back to work. YES! I sure did. I had to finish a few things. I was quick, in and out, let my boss know she’d see me in 12 weeks.
I beeped Billy Bob when I was done at the office (yes this was just before cell phones were popular, they had them but we didn’t have one yet, Billy Bob loved his beeper lol). He knew just to meet me; don’t call me, call his parents and then just go. The in-laws picked up Pony Boy from school and brought him to us. Pony stayed a while, so excited … mainly it was the cafeteria pudding but maybe his baby sister brought some excitement too. Eventually they went home. The only damper was that my parents were in Galveston at my Uncle’s funeral. I remember how my mom cried the happiest tears when she found out Lulu was delivered safely and that both of her girls were okay.
Mom would die 5 weeks later. Five, freaking weeks! Life is so NOT fair. Unfortunate! Though a silver lining shone through, because there is always, always, always a silver lining. My precious baby girl helped me to survive what would have otherwise killed me. I was close with my Mamaw but if possible, I was even closer to my mom. How fortunate that both my babies came along at times in my life when loved ones had passed on. You see that is fortunate. That is how things were supposed to be!
Today, 9-1-2016, mom would have turned 84 years young (as my daddy would have said). Hard to believe 18 years have passed. Hard to believe, we’ve come so far. My heart is full and that is all.
This piece could also be called the luckiest, unlucky guy I know …
Billy Bob is puritan in his work ethic. He much prefers physical activity, does not like to sit still; he is always puttering around doing something even on his time off work. Over his career, he has had the opportunity to work in the office; to estimate and close deals. He tried it; he hated it and went back into the field as fast as he could. No more two-hour lunches to hash out deals while other people REALLY worked … (no offense all you desk jockeys, me being one myself)
My personal experience is that some judge that his trade is somehow less than. Less than what ?!?! Pisses me off. Words cannot describe how practical having him around is … He is super resourceful. Yes that’s a good word to describe him – resourceful. So unfortunate to be judged! Fortunately there are those loving souls out there who do NOT judge. Good thing there is room in the world for diversity. We can’t all be MBAs. Not to diminish academia or white-collar work either; I am just pointing out that one is NOT better than the other – they are just different.
Mini-side bar aka rabbit hole … my nephew is a 17-year-old high school senior. He wants to be an auto mechanic. My mother in law is horrified (her words not mine). I am like “Are you freaking kidding me that is AWESOME!!!” That is the career his mom (before she died) told him she wished for him because he was naturally mechanically inclined. Of course why should I expect anything different, the mother in law did the same with her two boys – Billy Bob’s brother by default was better – with college degree and job in the state attorney general’s office while Billy Bob was a lowly laborer (again her words not mine). WTF, I mean really. Billy Bob is a sweetheart; super talented … not better just different. He was a part of the enormous crew that restored the TX state capitol. He was the freaking Michelangelo of plaster-work, creating beautiful ornate plaster moldings on the domed ceiling. Who can do that? Not many! A dying art unfortunately. Who will the next generation of plasterers be??? … And scene … out of the rabbit hole, hopping along …
Back to the unfortunate events … there are three and here I will divert some from chronological order … 1994 is next then adding 2013 and 2014 before going back to 1996-1998 in future editions.
Unlucky #1 – The summer when Billy Bob was working on the capital, they took time off for the 4th of July – 1994. I wanted to go to the movies but the so called summer blocker busters were not very good that year. Plus have I told you? He can’t sit still; movies are not really his thing. So instead, we were cleaning house. This was before Lulu was born and Pony Boy was done with his room so he was outside playing in his fort.
Our stove had a row of candles on the top in various states of melt. Billy Bob was cleaning out the candle holders with a steak knife … you already know what’s going to happen right?? Not his brightest moment. He broke the candle holder and the steak knife pierced the tendon in his left hand. Blood squirted everywhere. I was across the hall cleaning the bathroom and I hear “Jill, come here” He doesn’t panic, he calmly walks to the drawer pulls out some kitchen dish towels, wraps his hand and says, “get Pony Boy, we’re going to the ER”.
SE Baptist Hospital … again … a place jammed packed with all kinds of memories for us. It’s a holiday and maybe more the usual, we wait and we wait. A gunshot and motorcycle accident go back before he does … people are staring, and moving away … not sure how many towels he went through. He would require surgery. The ER doc did a temporary “stitch” to hold and then an appointment was made with Dr. G for the next day. The lucky was when his hand was pushed back, the tendon popped out making the repair easy. Like a rubber band, Dr. G said the tendon could have popped in, the other way = more extensive and invasive surgery. Billy Bob was fortunate despite having this weird apparatus with his middle finger doing a reverse flipping the bird. This would have looked like a hook em horns \m/ but the ring finger was not involved … there was also what looked like fishing line holding everything in place. He was out of work several weeks that time and he has pain until this day that he is just used to. Me, that’d be an excuse for permanent disability!!! See people, going to the movies beats cleaning house any day.
Unlucky #2 – March 2013 – Spring break and I am working in Phoenix because it is easier than trying to figure out how to get Lulu to school if I travel while school’s in session. I always picked March and October for my business travel to Phoenix … back when I used to go twice a year to see my peeps. I miss Phoenix by the way … that particular job not so much but the people … well I miss them immensely. What an awesome group of co-workers!!!
Anyway as I get ready to drive to the office my last day there, Billy Bob calls me to say, he’s had a little accident … torques his back on the job. This is where we learned the bureaucracy of insurance. Ah Calgon take me away. The paperwork: drowning and confusing. He was at first treated like a criminal, sponge of society, big phat phoney … when in actuality all he wanted to do was get back to work. Eventually the carrier ruled him out as a money seeker and did the right thing.
Unfortunately the first authorized treatment made the ailment worse leading down a road of injections and stronger medication than would have otherwise not been needed. One particular night after the medication stopped working; we ended up at the ER around 2 o’clock in the morning – Mission Trail this time (no doctors are there by the way; something had changed between 1994 to 2013) I guess this was evidence of the shortages in healthcare. Billy Bob was in triage, his weight was announced and he looks over and tells, me “life style changes start now, I will not go through this again”.
Unfortunate event, fortunate outcome – to this day in 2016, he is 35 pounds lighter than his all time heaviest. He couldn’t quite maintain the 60 pound weight loss he reached by the end of 2013. The weight has been creeping up this past year, by how much he won’t say (but … +25, I can count and not saying doesn’t make it not so) … my guess why was stress over Lulu leaving for school made ice cream a renewed fave. However, as of Monday 8/22, it is 2013 all over again. Certain sound lifestyle choices are being made. So far we have both been good. Let’s see where this leads …
Unlucky #3 – April 4, 2014. I am at lunch in the break room @ 12:30ish. My phone rings, Billy Bob’s face comes across the screen. I answer “hey” nothing. Me again “hey, can you hear me?”
Instead of what I expect, it’s Kimbo. Cousin and co-worker. “Jill … Billy Bob’s had a little fall. He was knocked out and we think he broke his nose. EMS is with him and he is talking … sort of … so they think he’ll be okay. I have his keys and wallet which I’ll keep with me. We’ve got to figure out how to get his truck from the lot before midnight so it is not impounded. They’re making me go to the office to give a statement. I’ll call you back when they decide where to take him … either University Hospital or SAMMC”
Unfortunately, the scaffold he was on collapsed and he fell about 10 feet to the floor with it. Prone, hitting like a belly flop into the water, only there was no water; he fell onto concrete sub-flooring. Immediate forehead swelling, think Frankenstein. Nose pushed under left eye. Facial bones pulverized was the word they used. Right wrist broken and various cuts and bruises. He spent about 36 hours in surgical ICU. Released quickly after the brain bleed was ruled out. He went back for various treatments until he was sprung from the pokey completely in August of 2014. This unfortunate event was why Lulu didn’t learn to drive that summer as we had originally planned. It’s why she went a little off the rails herself that September of 2014. Two unfortunate events I may or I may NOT write about in later blogs. Only to add, everything did NOT go not as planned but everything is still as it SHOULD be!
Fortunate, he was working at the St. Anthony Hotel and EMS was at he NIX so they walked over to him in less than 5 minutes. Plus he ended up at SAMMC where trauma is the name of the game. Fortunate, he did not re-injure his back. His recovery this time was aided by a 60 pound weight loss he had maintained. Unfortunate, he only has about 80% mobility in his right wrist, fortunate he has reached his maximum mobility index and he can work with that. Could have been so much worse, a slight turn one way or another and bam, wheelchair, brain injury. re-learning to walk and talk. I am not minimizing what did happen because that was BAD too … and I didn’t even unleash all the gory details … and there were facial surgeries gone bad and other assorted messes … though in the end, it is just … well as my daddy would have said … “no harm done, it could’ve been worse”
Now for the lucky parts:
#1 – he is married to ME :). Hehe, very funny … I know … I thought so too … actually that’s kind of lucky for both of us don’t you think ?!
#2 – he is stronger now; we all are … we learned what we are made of. Injury and/or illness can either push you together or tear you apart – in our case the bond was sealed forever.
And #3 – since I have known him, he wins at any raffle he enters, he has won several thousand dollars on scratch off lottery tickets. He’s just lucky that way; always has been! Maybe karma is offsetting some of the unlucky following him around … who knows?!?!? March 2013 and April 2014 became superstitious months for him … (well me). My fears dictated that if we made it through May 2015 and June 2016 then he’d be home free. Of course July 2017 will be a jittery month … you’ll see. Anyways, that is all for now except to say:
Life is too short … “theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do or die” ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
From the time I was eight years old, when my mom had cancer until 1987, things went pretty well. Being from a big family, many things happened: the good, the bad and the ugly …. some truly unfortunate events (with blessings mixed in) … BUT not to me directly. I decided in this series that I would only write about what happened to me because it is not my place to speak for someone else. I know how I’d feel if someone else tried to tell MY story.
We all have our perceptions and versions of events. Our perception is our reality and no two are alike … similar maybe … but not the same. I remember talking to my brother Jimbo Pete about things from our shared childhood where I’d say “OH YES, I remember that trip, it was so much FUN!” to which he almost always replied “Ya but …”
Same trip, same experience, completely different perception. I guess he didn’t like sand sandwiches as much as I did :). Either that or at four years old, I was too young to realize we were roughing it when we camped by the jetty in Port A.
Anyway, I’ve gone down my proverbial rabbit hole. AGAIN! Now back to topic. The next unfortunate event occurred in July to October of 1987. Here’s the back story: I was 22 years old, working and going to college. I took Saturday classes because it was just easier. This gave me time for homework, etc.. without taking away too much of Billy-Bob’s and my time together. Every Saturday for 16 weeks, when class was over, I’d stop by to see my Mamaw; to visit and eat lunch with her. These were super special times because I had her all to myself. She would tell me stories of her growing up. Life in New Berlin and Seguin. Oh how in hindsight I wished I had recorded her or at least written down because these family stories, died with her.
In November 1986, we had a bday dinner for my brother. Mamaw was driving herself over. She was late, uncharacteristically so. We called her … way before cell phones and her land line just rang and rang. We almost sent out a search party when she arrived at our door. She told us she had fallen asleep and never heard the phone ringing. She woke up, got ready and came on over. That dinner was uneventful. No more questions were asked. It was the first of many times where she “fell asleep”. When in reality, she was in pain and trying to find out what was causing said pain.
In July of 1987, Mamaw went in for exploratory surgery. I went to work as normal that day. My mom and uncles promised to call me and keep me informed. Of course, I could not concentrate at work. We were BUSY … phones ringing off the hook as was and still is typical for summers in a call center … summer surge we called it. My senior KB asked me what was wrong and that’s when I lost it, I had been holding back and the tears easily came. My grandma was sick but they didn’t know why and she was going into surgery as we speak. KB sent me home, told me she’d clear it with our boss Mister P … “me but I can’t it’s too busy” but she was steadfast “this place will roll along without you and you know where you NEED to be”
I drove to SE Baptist hospital. Found my family in the waiting room and we waited and we waited. A nurse came in and said Dr. F was closing up and would be out shortly to brief us. Then we waited … and waited … and there was nothing short about it. When Dr. F finally did come out, he explained while closing, they found something and we had a diagnosis. Liver cancer, that had spread. He calmly told us that there was nothing they could do except to make her comfortable for whatever time she had left. He stopped short of saying how long and I do not remember anyone asking, just however long it took … and they’d make her comfortable. I do remember my cousin asking “isn’t the liver an organ than can repair itself?” and Dr. F saying “that didn’t change the prognosis here”. To this day, I am struck with the memory of how compassionate Dr. F was … he was such a calming presence. No stereotypical surgeon god-complex – super-ego.
I told Billy Bob that night that I wanted to have a baby. Before my G-ma died. Our original plan was to wait at least five years … since we were so young when we married. Plus I had school to finish and a few other things we both wanted to do before we had kids but when you hear – “we cannot cure her, only make her comfortable” plans change. Emotions run wild and a cooler mind might have continued to wait but back then, I was young and impulsive instead of the calculating, analytical individual I am today.
Despite best efforts, Mamaw was in a lot of pain. The nursing home took good care of her though. We visited everyday and became friendly with other residents. They all had varying degrees of health issues and some of the more ambulatory were quite good company. I was reminded of Mimi our neighbor with a heart of gold. They looked out for each other same as Mimi did for our whole neighborhood. We didn’t have to adhere to visiting hours. We were always greeted with kindness and automatically became pseudo-family.
It was a cool day in October 1987, the day my Mamaw died. That morning Billy Bob and I had a fight. Over what I cannot remember. Just a little tiff, minor disagreement which delayed our arrival at the nursing home. More than likely I was ready and he wasn’t. “you’re such a girl hurry up” which would have made him slow down even more. Anyway, when we parked, I saw my uncle looking out the window and I instantly knew. He came out to meet us and told us Mamaw had passed. Both my uncles were with her at the end, one telling her it was ok to go, that heaven surely must be beautiful and to tell daddy (my Pappaw) and Papa (my great grandpa) hello. Billy-Bob felt guilty and kept apologizing for making us late. I let him off the hook though, because I love him and because things turned out as they were supposed to be. I was not supposed to be in her room that day. And Billy-Bob true to form, was able to move past any guilt. Me, even now, when someone says “it’s okay” I still feel tremendous guilt. Over anything. I am jealous of people who do NOT operate that way.
The silver lining and there always is one … I was pregnant. I just didn’t know it yet but as we were planning the funeral, I found out. God took care of me and gave me something to take my mind off what would have otherwise destroyed me. Temporarily destroyed me maybe. Blessings in the pain. Little T-Spoon was born in June of 1988. He is our sonshine, light of our lives. He is spunky in much the way she was and I would remark often in his earliest days that he had her spirit. He came along not according to our plan but DEFINITELY as it should be. Turns out two of my dear high school friends were expecting too – April, May and June of 1988 made for a year to remember.
And with that, I will end my novella. Thank you to anyone who made it this far. Whew! I really do feel better.
Over the course of the next few blogs, in a somewhat chronological order, I will write to expel my feelings on virtual paper. J-Dub’s: A series of unfortunate events (I borrowed loosely from Lemony Snickets – just a play in the name). In my Act 2.0, I am writing to fill my time. Empty nest is now 8 days away. When possible I will inject humor and add a positive point of view but in some cases, life is just dark. Read on with caution.
I was in second grade. It was winter and very cold. Not sure what month; assuming after the holidays though because school was back in session … maybe January or February?? I was dropped at school like normal. The day proceeded pretty much like normal. We were using flashcards and each parent had made some and sent them in. Someone mentioned the ones my mom had made smelled like smoke. That was embarrassing; my feelings were hurt but daddy’s words were always the same “no harm done, it could have been worse”. The words … hurtful then helpful … stayed with me, to this day. Some 44 years later.
We were released to recess and went outside despite the weather. Cold was not rain and this was in the 70s where exercise was part of the school day. Sometime during recess, my teacher Mrs. Betty Klar, asked me how I was doing?, if I needed anything? that she was so sorry and she hugged me wrapping me inside her big winter coat. I remember the coat in particular, bluish/purple faux fur. Very stylish! I remember how warm I felt compared to the cold playground and I remember feeling special. What I didn’t know though was why she was so sorry. That was odd.
We rode home from school with a neighbor and first thing I noticed when I got home was that my mom was not there. I learned she had been admitted to the hospital for a mastectomy. I was not told exactly that way I am sure. Exact details are foggy. There was not much technology beyond the rotary dial phone and I remember we called her in her hospital room later that evening. I remember her telling me to go to the little travel suitcase in her room. She had treats in there for us … for me my favorite Reese peanut butter cups. To this day, that candy can make all my cares go away. I still have her suitcase too and it goes on every vacation with us.
Much of the remainder is a blur … she came home with drain tubes. and if I hugged her, I thought she would break. She didn’t want me to be afraid so she talked about everything that happened after it happened. Aunt Jo told her “Teresee, I don’t know about you and Louie but we tell our kids everything. They’re going to find out anyways so best be from you and not someone speaking for you”. Mom had a second surgery a few years after, on the remaining breast. I vaguely remember her saying she’d rather die … so a lumpectomy was all she agreed to that time. Back then, the surgeries were very invasive. The swelling in her arm, where the lymph nodes were removed never went away. Cobalt treatment and radiation vs. chemo. Reconstruction was not an option. There are many improvements since the 70s and my hope is that there will be a cure one day.
Years later I found out that she had been diagnosed a full year prior to the surgery but the doctor wanted to ‘watch’ the tumor – even without a biopsy which today would make no sense. One doesn’t question authority, this was before the time of “being your own health care advocate” This was before Web MD. Instead one followed doctor’s orders and PRAYED. The biggest contributing factor was smoking (see paragraph 4 above) over age 35 while taking birth control pills. Another “best tell them or they’ll hear it from someone else” and this was my aunt telling me the night of our rehearsal dinner to take my bcp’s unless Billy Bob and I wanted 3 kids in 3 years like my cousin Barbara Ann. And stressing to me, do NOT smoke or what happened to your mom could happen to you. Me asking what are you talking about and her telling me. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned”
Mom eventually hosted survivors group sessions where others in various stages of cancer treatment would come to our house. It was summer time and I remember on those days we were banned from the living room (one of two rooms in the house with an air-conditioner) while the group talked. She didn’t host those meetings for long, just something she needed to do at the time. And while cancer eventually killed her, it was a different cancer, the breast cancer she beat.
And what does all this have to do with anything?!? Nothing really, just musings and rambling … wondering how experiences affected me turning me into who I am today.