How in the bloody hell do you do it?
Get through days where all you hear about are the media enhanced war stories, suicides, child abuse and neglect atrocities, gun violence on our neighborhood streets, ISIS, Syria beheadings, earthquakes, fires, melting ice caps, Ebola, political deadlock, the 99%…
Oh. That. Well, I just have to look at my children. I look into my young son’s deep brown eyes that wrinkle up when he laughs. He has a wide smile with two front teeth that have grown in ever so slightly crooked. He has a couple of freckles on his cheeks and nose and the most deep down genuine laughter, from his belly up. He makes me want to smile. I see hope through his eight year old eyes.
My light brown curly haired daughter with the gorgeous fair skin sparkles. She does! I don’t know how she does it, but I look at her and feel special somehow. Though a young teenager, she speaks to me in a low, sultry kind of voice that soothes me. She wants all to be well so badly that I do too.
My senior in high school has shown me that hard work and focus can take us anywhere. She enchants everyone she meets with her wit and disciplined work ethic; while at the same time she knows she is imperfect and laughs and cries and cares deeply about our world. She is fully alive and involved, encouraging me to want to promote a better world for her to thrive in.
My eldest daughter is refined and classy, but with tattoos strategically placed on her lithe body that carry words that have deep sentimental meaning depicting her journey thus far. She was my turtle. It took her a while to warm up to this world of hers. Now she practically owns it. She reminds me that life events or expectations don’t necessary all come together the instant or even the way we think they should, but they do come together, probably even better, with patience and optimism.
That’s how I get through, I would say.
How did you come to be able to do that? It sounds strange and wonderful and thought-filled, and yet, and I mean no disrespect, almost too candy-coated somehow. Are you living in the same world I as am?
I chuckled. You’re right. That perhaps did sound a bit like a cream-filled donut might if a pastry could talk. A bit naïve perhaps. Let me tell you how I got to this point. It’s a rather lengthy story so please, empty your bladder and come have a seat if you really want to hear.
My husband and I lived in the DC Metropolitan area for over twenty years. That was where we met, married and had our four children. That was where I went to graduate school and grew up well beyond academia. Less than a year after we’d married I found out I was pregnant. It was a rather reckless time for us both as we were young and financially stable in a city that was incredibly stimulating…the people – all intelligent and beautiful, the magnificent landscape, the bright lights…truly a magical time for a young couple in love and in control of what appeared to be an amazing future together. The pregnancy was not expected and I had to change my lifestyle considerably, including a nasty eating disorder that was taking control at the time as well as my joyride with alcohol. I willingly let go of the narcissism. I felt a strong desire to be a better individual on behalf of our unborn child. I was now responsible for a life. It was a daunting task, but I never shied away from a challenge.
I immediately began to take prenatal vitamins prescribed by my doctor and made myself eat properly. I exercised with limits and actually cared about something worthier than myself for once. Someone needed me to be strong and able. I would be. I will be. At twelve and a half weeks I had an appointment to meet my baby via sonogram. I could hardly wait! I was witnessing a miracle. Two days later I was flat on my back in the midst of a very painful and frightening miscarriage. It was the worst physical pain I’d ever experienced. It was the most horrific emotional pain that I’d ever allowed myself to feel without self-medicating. We were devastated. In that short time between peeing on a stick and hemorrhaging uncontrollably in my bed, I’d felt a whole range of emotion. I had built a beautiful fulfilling life in my mind. One that included diapers and cuddling and name selection and an unconditional love for someone I’d helped create. I realized that people don’t really get the devastation of miscarriages. No one got to see anyone dying inside you. No one heard your baby’s cries or felt your baby kick or saw even a picture of your baby. So it didn’t happen. Yet it did. And I knew it did. And I’d changed my life to accommodate this little life. And now a vacuum had to come and suck out a dead life that got no bigger than a pea. And I mourned for the loss of my little angel. And nobody else really got it.
Fast forward eight years later. My husband and I own a decent home in a quiet tree lined street and have just had our third daughter. Our eldest is seven and our middle is four. It is an amazingly clear blue sky in our DC suburb. My husband is off at work in DC, close to the White House, I liked to brag, while my younger two were at home with me that day. My middle daughter was having an asthma attack episode and I was on my way to the doctor when the first plane flew into the Twin Towers in NYC. I am at the doctors office where they are showing it on a television in the office adjacent to the waiting room. People are stunned at the horror. A fluke of course. Minutes later the second goes down. This is no coincidence. We are under attack. The media was a series of organized chaos unfolding before our very eyes. Humvees deployed to our capitol city to protect the President, who was kept hidden. There was talk of another plane headed toward the Capitol Building or White House. Oh dear God…my husband is there! Where is my husband? My daughter! I’ve got to get my daughter out of school! What if they attack our schools? At that moment that’s all I wanted to do. Talk to my husband and go get my little family together. Nothing else mattered. Then the news of the Pentagon plane happened. This just couldn’t be happening. This was surreal. We were from then on a nation in mourning. The losses were indescribable.
Just a week later our city was rocked by five more deaths and seventeen others affected in an anthrax scare that began in a mailroom in DC and seemed to be focused mainly on media personalities. Our first foray into bioterrorism on U.S. soil that I was aware of at that time. Prior to pinpointing media as intended targets, all of us living in the DC Metropolitan area were frightened to pick up our mail. Anthrax spores…great. We were instructed to be prepared for bioterrorism. Protection would be needed in the form of facial masks and plastic covering for windows and door leaks. Fantastic. My luck I’ll be shopping at Nordstrom’s Rack when the news hits…I chuckled nervously at the thought. I know I missed the attack, honey, but I was in the check-out line at Nordy’s. Don’t you want to see what I got for you? You’ll have to take that nasty gas mask off though or it won’t fit over your head.
Essentially we were instructed to duct tape plastic everywhere in the event of another catastrophic event. Needless to say, I prepared box upon box of supplies for my family to survive for a minimum of three days under a house arrest of sorts…that’s if the biological terror agents didn’t seep into our leaky old home prior to us collecting sufficient amounts of plastic and duct tape. Unfortunately for us, Home Depot and Lowe’s were ill equipped to handle the large influx of plastic and duct tape demand in a metropolitan area of millions. I settled for asking my parents to get me tons of it in their hometown in Ohio and get it to me stat. It was to be my Christmas gift that year, though I was really hoping to get a family package deal on gas masks.
Just over one year later our immediate area was subject to what became known as the “Beltway Sniper” attacks. Once again the media flew into a frenzy and we residents flew into hypervigilance mode. For three weeks in October 2002, Virginia, DC and Maryland saw a spree killing unlike anything the area had ever seen. Brazen morning, afternoon or nighttime murders where victims were randomly selected and intermittently timed. One of the final shots rang out at a large public school as a child was entering the building. This in particular sent chills down the spine of each and every parent within a one hundred mile radius of the previous shooting. Prior to that only adults had been targeted. All told, ten people died and three people were critically injured prior to the perpetrator’s vehicle being found and the two shooters, one a man and father figure to the other, a boy just shy of eighteen, were apprehended.
Prior to that it was pandemonium on the streets in and around DC. Since several victims had been shot as they were filling their gas tanks up at random stations, many of us plotted where we might go and whether or not it was prudent to take the kids along, you know, in case we got our heads blown off or something. It was so frightening that even prideful people like myself ended up ducking behind our minivans just in case the sniper was watching us from some high perch just waiting for that next hit. We’d glance at each other and kind of shrug, like well whatever… as a perk, some gas stations put tarp around the gas pumping area so people would feel safer purchasing gas there.
When I picked up my daughter from her school, which sat conveniently on a major road with quick access to the interstate that the sniper had utilized numerous times, they had a tarp draped over the exit doorway so parents could drive cars up to it and one family at a time could retrieve their kids and go. On several of those days, SWAT Teams with men in jumpsuits and guns were lined up around our school looking out for the kids as they left the school building or in the morning at drop off. On the morning that a school boy was targeted as he was walking to the entrance door of his school building an administrator at my daughter’s school was heard over the loud speaker exclaiming, “Holy shit! He shot a kid!” Given that my kids attended a Catholic elementary school, or any school for that matter, I’m assuming that was said in horror and disbelief rather than meant as an actual announcement. The intercom system was most likely NOT supposed to be activated. Since it did happen however, we got a letter home with our children stating humble apologies and that it might now be a good time to chat with our children about the happenings in neighborhoods surrounding our school; however, please don’t “overshare”…only what they need to know. Or already know, thanks to this administrator’s loose tongue…
The tragedy in our area just seemed endless. We didn’t get over one before another hit. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and moved right up the coast to where we lived. It tore down trees all around our home and left us without power for a week. Since we lived in an older neighborhood with very mature trees surrounding the property we had to bring the kids to various strategic spots to sleep in the hopes that the room we picked wouldn’t be the one the trees toppled over. The massive and deadly storm sounded like a freight train for about six hours before there was absolute silence. In that time I heard trees uprooted and falling, debris flying and I imagined total devastation. Why not? We’d been through it all it seemed.
So, in answer to your question, yes, I am living in the same world you are. I realize that danger and sadness and injustice are all around us. Devastation comes in so many forms it can be blinding. It can be stifling and fear inducing…or freeing almost.
Oh, come on! Freeing? Whatever you’re drinking, I want some!
It’s freeing to me, I guess because I’ve looked fear in the eye. I know I can either live or I can roll up in a ball and die. I figure I’ll die at some point anyway. Now I’m going to live. And dammit, I’m going to live outloud. When my light goes out, and it will, I want to be known as the one who left this earth with a smile on my face and the knowledge that I was the best me I could be despite what life threw my way. No regrets. Nothing fancy or even remotely close to perfect. But those kids…those amazing kids of mine will shine on, God-willing, to brighten the world just a bit more. And right here and right now, that gives me tremendous joy.
How do you keep yourself sane in a world that appears anything but…? How can you be the change you want to see in the world? Where do you find solace in the madness? ♥