About four weeks ago Scout decided to scare the piss out of me and her dad. Said fright was caused by her standing in front of us having a conversation one minute, then falling out and convulsing the next. When roused and sufficiently coherent, she described an electrical storm in her frontal lobe. Tests thus far are inconclusive. Which, you know, I prefer to view as HALLELUJAH NO BRAIN TUMOR.
….but the image of an electrical storm right behind her pretty little brow has haunted me.
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About a week after that, I got a call from Sam informing me that he was coming home for four days over Easter so that he could marry this Very Cute Person,
who we will henceforth call ‘Randi’ in all our future talkstory adventures, Muffinasses. Don’t bother asking if I like her, silly; just look at her Loverboy teeshirt and her pleasant countenance! Those things should give you all the four-one-one that you need. Okay, okay….I will tell you this little bit of confessional information: One time, when Sam and Randi were both fifteen or thereabouts, I told Maxim in the quiet privacy of our bedroom, “Now that kid? I would love to have as a daughter-in-law.” She is that flavor of awesome, see? That sort of awesome that had the two of us making plans for coffee and conversation even when she and my son were no longer a couple at one (or two? ahem) point(s).
So initially the wedding plans went like this: While Sam was last home on leave, the couple made the announcement that they would marry next July. Hasty, yes? Yes, hasty. But look! Over a year to plan a wedding! Just enough time to do all this. We wish Randi would finish school! But we love her! You guys are so young and maybe wait a little longer! But who am I to speak against passion?? I would never be found guilty of such! Let’s have a wedding, shall we?
Then they said “Hey! We want to do this in December.” Okay, ah, start the New Year together in 2012! We get it! Makes some sense! Whoa, deadline, but not an unobtainable goal if we get started right now!
Then this July and my head exploded because “SAMUEL YOUR SISTER WILL BE OUT OF THE COUNTRY AND HOW DARE YOU PROPOSE A WEDDING WITHOUT HER, SHE WOULD NEVER DO THAT TO YOU AND THAT LEAVES US NO TIME TO HELP YOU PLAN, NOT TO MENTION GIVE YOU ANY SORT OF FINANCIAL HELP YOU MIGHT NEED AND WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK, SAM?? I HAVE A LOT TO BE CONCERNED WITH JUST NOW, PLEASE STOP WITH THIS WEDDING IN JULY NONSENSE RIGHT THIS MINUTE.”
“Mom?” Sometimes the connection is tinny when he calls, far-away sounding. This was one of those times. “Mother, I’ve got a four-day pass over Easter weekend. I’m going to fly in Friday morning and that afternoon Randi’s dad (ed. note: Randi’s dad is a Babdiss preacherman, but we do not hold that against her in any way) is going to marry us in her parents’ back yard.” He wore a black shirt and ivory Vans and she wore an ivory dress and black Converse and now I’m a mother-in-law, so weird.
At least I am consistent, as always, in maintaining a whirlwind life.
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So. The week before Scout fell out and two weeks before Sam made the tinny phone call, the very week that Mathias announced that he was joining Civil Air Patrol, Maxim and I had a discussion that really entailed not much discussion at all and we decided to leave our church. Rat-tat-tat. We met with our Pastor and told him on the tenth of April, my mother’s birthday.
Individually, Maxim and I had both been feeling the nudge to ask the other what they thought about our relationship to our church and whether we were to continue it. When I finally brought my thoughts up to him and told him the timeline on them, he nodded sagely and cited the exact same thoughts along the exact same period of time. We were essentially completing one another’s sentences as we spoke, and ended the discussion with the promise to pray over the issue for two weeks and then go over our impressions together.
Then the not-discussion, then the leaving, then the strange feeling of being untethered from a church body but being very anchored spiritually. We –Maxim and I, and even Scout– have even gone so far as to acknowledge that it may be in the cards for us to remain unchurched altogether. None of us is opposed to this. Jesus did a lot of damage with two feet and an unafraid voice; He never kept to four walls, at least not for very long. We’re supposed to emulate that man, if we really believe what we say we do.
We will miss our church family bitterly. We will still see them socially, sure, but not several times a week. Hell, let’s be honest: We will probably not even get to see them several times a month. Life is a storm of unpredictability and a ruiner of plans. That’s part of what makes it so incredible, you know?
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On Monday, April the eighteenth around two-thirty or so, I started to feel it. I guess it was something akin to a fissure in my brain opening, something that had been a sort of hairline crack becoming a gaping maw. I white-knuckled my way through the afternoon and then went home to gobble some Lexapro, thinking that my PMDD was rearing its head and hadn’t given me as much lead time as usual. I quickly got worse, my insides a low-roiling boil, threatening to bubble over; it made me physically sick. I could feel the lactic acid building and then depositing in my shoulders, my traps, in the backs of my thighs. It was a continual release of adrenaline and I was extremely nauseous by hour four of the whole thing. The whole of the afternoon a voice in my head gibbered about just wanting my bed, ohhhh if I can make it to the end of the workday I can have my bed, but that evening I fumbled onto the couch and couldn’t move from there, where I fell into a fitful sleep by seven 0′clock.
I woke and dragged myself to the bedroom, still feeling sick and indeterminably broken, at around ten-thirty. The next morning I was due to drive Scout to her neurologist an hour away, and I thought that the Lexapro would grab hold while I slept (like it always did! magic! jazz hands, bitches! airhorns and goofy relieved grintastic visages and confetti or something equally as rad!), making me feel whole and right again upon waking.
I woke up lethargic and very, VERY resistant to the idea of leaving our home. In fact, I was somewhat terrified to even get out of bed. The low-boil feeling was still there and now I had a sense of defeat layered on top of it. I wanted to die, but it occurred to me that if I shot myself in the head my daughter would a) be angry that I ‘forgot’ to check her out of school b) be the one to find me c) be doubly fucked up as a result of having been angry at me just before finding my messy-headed self scattered willy-nilly across the bed. I tried to eat some breakfast. I threw it up. I showered and put on eyeliner, then comfortable clothes, then sunglasses that would obscure most of my face. It was a sheer act of my Legendary Stupidly Defiant Will that put me behind the steering wheel and on the road.
I am going to make a mistake. I am going to make a mistake and wreck us. My inner voice meant this in a more literal sense, but in writing that now I realize that there is more meaning to it. Anxiety’s theme song is I Am Going To Make A Mistake. It has a really catchy hook and gets stuck in a loop on your insides if all the conditions are right and you give it half a footing, did you know?
“I’m not feeling well,” I told Scout, “do you think you could manage driving if it turns out that I can’t?” She said she could, and I told her that I’d navigate the more difficult part of the drive and put her on the straightaway twenty minutes or so down the road. When that twenty minutes had passed, I’d started feeling better, so I passed on Scout driving for me and continued on. Ten minutes past that I was pulling into the empty lot next to an abandoned auto shop, so suddenly overcome that it was all I could do to exit the car and go around to the passenger side.
I reclined the seat, Scout slid in the new Damnwells and within a few minutes we were flying down Highway Tw0-Seventy-Eight; I was curled up on my side with my face six inches from my knees, staring at them intently, afraid that my brain was doing something I and it could never recover from, when ‘Sophia‘ came on
with a wink everything’s falling apart
and we’re lost in Lebanon
and then somehow I found my eyes fixed on the beyond out there past the vinyl and the doorhandle and the window, it rushed by oh it fell away and was replaced so fluidly and I hope I can hold onto myself well enough to finish this day, finish this day, finish. Finish it, this day.
but Cain had to finish the job
for the God of Jealousy
No fever dream had ever been so brutal.
By four o’ clock that afternoon I became something resembling myself, but still only a poorly-remembered version of that, a slightly-staticky approximation. “It’s stress,” said Maxim the next day, and then the day after that I caught myself kneading the shit out of my left forearm with my right hand, to the point of extreme pain that I hadn’t even noticed in my absent-mindedness. It was then that I took into account that my nails were more gnawed than they ever had been –they were bleeding and painful at times– and I’d had this crazy rash on my chest that had appeared suddenly about two weeks prior. “I told you, stress,” Maxim affirmed once I recounted my realizations to him. I pondered the crevasse that had opened up in my brain, how extremely near to the base of it that the crack had run.
I circled the internal wagons. It took a week to really shake that feeling that I was just a fuzzy copy of my actual self, that I was play-acting at being something I was really not. I faked it till I maked it and I managed not to disappear. Feel free to mutter it under your breath, but don’t you ever tell me that miracles are the stuff of myth.
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Wednesday, Twenty-Seven April:
The internet went out early in the day. Power was intermittent throughout the morning, but mostly there. The mountain began to be battered. We came back from lunch, we left early for the day. Maxim happened to be off, so did Scout. My family was all snug in our home when I got there. I found out later that where others were hit once and hard, we were hit over and over hard. It was that evening before I found out that Tuscaloosa had lost one-seventh of itself and Cullman had fared poorly and the state park had played host to three twisters on the ground at once (a paramedic friend showed me a close shot he’d taken with his phone, holyHOLYfuck). A friend, upon finding out that we had no idea what was going on elsewhere, began to text snippets of information and news to me.
I called Randi, who was shaken but perfectly fine. A student at the University of Alabama, she had, she confessed, been terrified when the tornado set down a block from her apartment. She was coming home to the mountain as soon as she could. Her phone was messed up and she couldn’t make any calls or send any texts, but she could receive them. Sam, having just gone back to Texas less than twenty-four hours before, was on the other line, exceedingly not-okay with having left his bride.
Maxim showed me the snippet of radar he’d managed to pull up on his phone. “Unh, ah, there is this black area here right by us. I’ve never seen BLACK on any radar, have you?” No, no I had not, and it looked ugly, like a blotchy tumor on a rainbow landscape and wow, this is one of the rare times in life that merits one long, low whistle of disbelief punctuated with raised eyebrows. Things ramped up for us again. We stayed together, first in Mathias’ room reading and making LEGO magicks, then in the living room. When Maxim thought everything had passed, he went in search of ice and to check on his mother. He took Mathias with him.
He later professed the stupidity of leaving, because one of the events that occurred while he was out involved a massive oak falling across a pitch-black road a few feet ahead of him while he considered the merits of dropping a load in his pants. Another wave of storm had whipped itself at us and he’d been caught out in it. He crept back to his mom’s to wait it out. Back at home, Scout and I started hearing things hit the back side of the house.
“It’s still now,” I texted Maxim afterwards, “Come home, and hurry, but be safe.” My phone began dying. Maxim came home. “There is a tree in Dana’s house. It sliced clean through.” We didn’t get out to inspect, because I did not trust the dark and the clever way it might obscure dangling tree limbs with the potential to fall and crush or its ability to hide downed, soaked power lines an errant foot might find before a watchful eye could.
We made pallets for the children on our bedroom floor, set a lantern in the bathroom in case anyone had to get up later. It was dark, so dark, and I blessed this darkness, because it is a hardcore insomniac’s unspoken dream to have no glowing, buzzing streetlights slicing in from half a block away. There were no electronics humming, no tiny red lights becoming larger than life. “I AM GOING TO SLEEP LIKE A CHAMP TONIGHT!” I announced to no one in particular. We had laid our heads on our pillows and spoken a few words when one of us –I don’t even remember who, honestly– said, “Oh man, we got so lucky this time.” This was immediately punctuated with the explosive sound of a hundreds-of-years old tree a few yards away in the quick throes of giving over and going a fuck-all, messy horizontal.
I not only slept like a champ that night, I slept like a GOING-FOR-BROKE, FUNDAMENTALLY-DRIVEN, PIMP-ASS MOTHERHUMPIN’ CHAMP. But only for five and a half hours. I kept flopping around the bed after that, and then finally I got up and pulled on yoga pants and the notorious Pink Floyd shirt (that has made a-one-0r-a-two appearances within the voyeurnally tomes of yours truly) you might chance to remember. There were flip-flops involved, too. I slipped on a hoodie, leashed up Banjo and set out. Only one other house on the whole block was occupied. Three of them had trees driven well into their innards. Others had broad, well-rooted oaks tipped over and leaving gigantic divots in the ground. Some of them had equally large trees snapped like toothpicks halfway up their trunks.
The three blocks surrounding our home were –and still are– a great mess. There are a bait of awful tales that I could run out in front of you, but I’ve already taxed your graces enough for tonight and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest for me to actively try and horrify you. Let’s just say that I am very well aware that the most tragic thing that happened to me, basically, was having to endure an icy shower and hanging clothes on the line. Which, if you’ve been watching any of the news footage (which I have not even had time to go through in any real way) is the cosmic equivalent of stubbing my toe in the presence of legless people.
Translation: Don’t you !dare!! complain, dummy.
And so, I am not. In fact, I am going to post up, in the next little real soon day or two, things that have been so right about this place and its people since all the weathercarnage. I’ll include some ways you can help from where you are, too. Tonight my back is growing stiff and my eyelids are crackling.
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This week Scouty turns eighteen. Twenty days after that, she will graduate high school.
Then it will be June and she will be exploring another country.
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This summer we will be taking Mathias to our nation’s capital because he is old enough to absorb some of what this country is, what this country remembers, what it knows and also what it would like to forget. He’s inquisitive and perceptive, a fact magnet and discussion-haver.
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Next weekend my son is coming home to get his bride and take her back to the desert with him. They are so young and passionate, and life is too fragile for them to be apart one second longer than they have to be. The world won’t be any less brutish, but they will each have the comfort of a bedmate’s tangled limbs and steady breathing to reassure them as they slumber. Important, too, is someone to laugh with when everything is all ludicrous as fuck and humor is the only thing left.
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It almost never fails: The day after a brutal, tornado-laden storm is picture-perfect, bright and mild and colorfully soft. This always blows my mind. Still, I am thankful for it, for the respite and I am moved to make this urgent wish:
Sonno beato, world, and all the children in it; sleep beautifully for a time.
I’m here. I’m still here. Everyone I know is accounted for. Everything is possible and I brought my spoon because I’ve always been one to dig in and that’s one trait I will fight to drag up to the grave’s lip before I have to be put in there.