Tag Archives: Relationships

My Sweet Lord

I am not a destiny person. Or I wasn’t until now anyway. I’m still wary of signing off on that whole concept. But I dare you not to think of God or the afterlife, when staring at a body you once knew, loved, even relied on, hooked up to a life support machine. Questions of what the soul is, where the soul is, and where that soul will end up are likely to swirl around in your consciousness for weeks, if not forever, if you are like me.

So that is where I am now. As I write this, it is seven days after Dad’s passing. I am reflecting on how in those moments of great challenge with Dad, in those hours that I laid by his bedside in the hospital, I surprised myself by curling up in the presence of Something Greater. It didn’t feel good to pray and to surrender—nothing felt good at that time—but it felt completely necessary. The experience with Dad made me question my own faith, or what little there was left of it. This is all to say, you don’t need spirituality…until you do. And you will.

I usually cringe at statements like “It was meant to happen” or “It was all part of God’s plan.” Now there is a small fissure in the wall of my beliefs, where the narrowest slip of light can come in. I didn’t become a believer overnight. Or rather over those 36 hours between Dad’s accident (a fall from a ladder) and when we took him off life support. But my defenses did soften. Where else was there to turn, but to some idea of God? To some idea of an afterlife? I couldn’t just turn on the television and forget about it all, though they did, perplexingly, have a TV in the ICU.

How could all of this, I questioned, from work to play and everything else in-between be orchestrated? It had all been said by others before but, if it were all orchestrated, why would innocent people be imprisoned and tortured, people who love with all they have become broken hearted, and children be born, and die, on the streets? Why is there no justice on this earth?

If there was such a thing as heaven, I hoped there was justice there.

According to many, the answer to why there is pain and suffering is that the soul has a need for spiritual evolution. That each has their own lessons to learn in this life, on this earth. Without conflict, our spiritual selves cannot grow or evolve. In the days after Dad’s passing, people started saying things like, “His work here was done.”

Dad used to talk a lot about religion and spirituality. And now that he’s not physically here, I feel I owe him the respect of listening, of leaning into his beliefs, of opening my heart and mind to what he’d been saying all along. His teachings have never been more relevant. In the moments by his bedside, I experienced more than one “ah ha.”

The best I can do for Dad now is to breathe more life into those wisdoms and teachings that he’d had. In his obit, which I wrote, I liken him to Christ. It’s a bold statement, I know. But some people don’t realize the well of compassion that Dad carried within him. Just one example, at the time of his death there was, and still is, a man living on Dad’s property. When we approached him and asked where they’d met, the man said he met Dad at the Mission. He’d just been released from prison, and Dad offered him a place to stay. As a child, there was always one person, usually a convicted felon, living on our land. These are people who had been shunned from society, with no place else on earth to go. And Dad was there for them, as hard as that was for me at times.

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” Proverbs 14:31

I didn’t know that scripture, I don’t know any scriptures, really, but thinking about Dad’s ways, I did a quick Google search. It turns out there are a shit ton of scriptures just like that one.

When the doctor came into the room—Dr. Christie—he asked me, with complete respect, why I had laid a hindi blanket across Dad’s body. I fingered the white cloth with the red Sanskrit lettering and depictions of Krishna and Rhada.

“Dad was a Hare Krishna…and a Christian, and a Buddhist,” I told Dr. Christie.  

He took a sidelong glance at the Bible I’d brought and placed on the table next to Dad’s breathing machine. He worshipped any God that was in front of him, I thought. But I can’t remember if I told Dr. Christie that or not.

A few days later, I was reading a book “Embraced by the Light” by Betty J. Eadie and came across this:

“I wanted to know why there were so many churches in the world. Why didn’t God give us one church, one religion? The answer came to me with the purest of understanding. Each of us is at a different level of spiritual development and understanding. Each person is prepared for a different level of spiritual knowledge. All religions on earth are necessary because there are people who need what they teach.”

It turns out that that book “Embraced by the Light” would help me access my spirituality through a side door: near death experiences or NDEs. I couldn’t come to that spiritual place head on, through the Bible or the Baghavad-Gita. I don’t jibe, and never have, with religious stories that read like fiction or with timelines that seem to counter science.

But I could get behind near death experiences themselves, I mean, Dad and I had both had one. His, we all believe, was what made him the way he was. But more on that later. I couldn’t possibly tell this entire story in one sitting. In my journal, where I have been laying down all the letters and words that have been helping me come to some place of understanding at this unimaginable crossroad in my life, my writing now shifts from addressing you, the audience, to addressing Dad himself. This change in style makes it difficult for me to continue the story and round it out in a nice, easy way, so I will share the next segment of what I have written in my journal, before closing this chapter and picking the story up in a different piece. If anything is to render me speechless, or wordless, it is Dad’s passing. So be it. The fact that I cannot finish this essay is a testament to my grief.

My next paragraph is, “I thought of how, since you were a boy, you’d had one foot in this world and one foot in another. You didn’t remember ‘what happened’ when you were in a month-long coma, or what happened to your soul in those moments that you floated lifeless on top of the water, having drowned, but it was clear that you’d met God.”

This is all to say that you don’t need spirituality…until you do. And you will. And also this: some things you just can’t write, or reason, your way out of.

Love and mysterious blessings,

Mama Bird

A Simple Potluck Dinner

Last Saturday we piled into the minivan and headed, for the first time since moving here more than five years ago, to a locally infamous community potluck at a place called Big Bear Camp. The potluck happens monthly and follows a different theme. I imagined themes like comfort food and Asian food, but wasn’t exactly sure. We’d long wanted to go to the potlucks but missed the opportunity during Autumn’s newborn phase, and then the pandemic happened, and it wasn’t until recently that the owners of Big Bear Camp, an engaging couple of retirement age, called us on the telephone. They addressed us as the “chicken people” and invited us to their monthly community potluck, which had just started up again.

We’d passed their sign before marking Big Bear Camp on the long, winding and wooded Nelson Mountain Road back when we used to drive it regularly to visit our good friends in Deadwood. The road connects our small town, Walton, with another small town, Deadwood. Deadwood was always a decidedly cooler place than Walton, but if anything were to change my mind about that, it was sure to be our experience at Big Bear Camp.

Time stands still in some places. Takilma, Oregon. Deadwood. And even, I would learn, at Big Bear Camp–located 33 miles outside of Eugene. I am certain that a million places like this exist across our country. They’re the places that don’t show up on glossy brochures. They’re places where GPS always gets it wrong. And where you are more likely to see a person walking in bare feet, with flowers in their hair, a beer in their hand, and their face toward the sun, rather than looking down at their watch, or phone; or rushing in and out of big box stores, and chasing the next “thing” at breakneck speed. These places are a step outside, even, your quintessential small towns–your Tombstone, Arizona’s; your Virginia City, Montana’s. It’s a place for locals where nothing, and I mean nothing, is being sold. Just bartered.

I immediately felt at home when we, after arriving late, were welcomed into the wide circle of what must have been over forty five people, who were introduced as our neighbors. In that moment I honestly felt more connected than I have in years.

After introductions, people made their way to the lodge for a potluck feast served on the wraparound porch outside. Lively discussions about solar energy, sustainable food production, and building homes using reclaimed local timber ensued.

“There’s more food inside,” a pretty elderly woman dressed in a blue wool coat told us. She sported coral pink lip gloss and I was immediately drawn to her, and inspired by her style. I almost regretted wearing my fresh-of-the-farm outfit: black from head-to-toe. Next time, I told myself, I’d wear some color. I wanted to talk to her, but before I could say a word she’d fluttered away.

It was eye-opening to see so many other likeminded and friendly people, right there in our backyard. I’d almost come to believe to some extent that these kind of people only existed in my phone. What a mistake that had been, and what a casualty of the isolated, pandemic-era.

After the feast, which was as lively as always for Steve and I–balancing our paper plates with metal forks and grabby, wobbly, three-year-old–the host pointed us to the “library” on the lodge’s second floor. We rounded the spiral staircase to a comfortable landing place for any parent and child. Energized as she was, I couldn’t get Autumn to focus on a single children’s book. That was until a little girl close to her age–almost three years her senior–wandered up. Autumn was content to have the little girl read to her when she offered, and the two happily played together for the rest of our visit.

For sometime, I sat in a chair in the corner of the library, just catching my metaphorical breath. Not catching my breath from socializing or parenting, things you might think of when I say that. But catching my breath from the fast paced and often artificial world outside the walls of Big Bear Camp and other places like it. Looking down from the loft library at all the people sitting face-to-face, eating pie under the glow of solar light, with not a phone or screen in sight; I felt both sad and happy. Sad because something as ordinary as sitting face-to-face, and really giving someone your attention was somehow a novelty now. And happy because I felt warm and fuzzy just witnessing and being a part of it all. This recently forgotten ritual: a simple potluck dinner.

I wanted to stay forever off grid, where the norms were flipped on their heads and where the something missing was at the heart of all the magic. When devoid of technology, we only have each other to connect with.

Of course I didn’t say any of this to anyone. And when one of the hosts appeared in the library on multiple occasions, I noticed that while he was speaking to me, he was also grabbing books. He grabbed one book off the arm of a chair. Another off a shelf. He did this very nonchalantly, as if I wouldn’t notice. Of course, I did notice. I noticed one was titled “Women of the Woods,” or something like that. I knew he was going downstairs to pass the novel off to one person or another, and naturally that made me happy. I liked to imagine how far back these traditions went, how long he and his neighbor had been trading paperback westerns. Two individuals, about my age, popped their heads into the library. Both said they’d been coming to Big Bear Camp since they were kids, that their parents read to them in the library I was sitting in. I smiled thinking of my own upbringing off grid, and how deep an impact my community had left on me, too. And how I desperately wanted that for my daughter.

This is all to say that the potluck was a reminder that there are still one million ways to live a life. And that time stands still, even today, in some places. Perhaps with this new awareness, we too can create a more intentional living space, built on a foundation of art, knowledge and community. And food. And although we did puncture a tire on the drive home, we will definitely be going back to Big Bear Camp’s next monthly potluck. And I’ll be sure to wear my colors.

Love,

Mama Bird

Something Was Missing. It Wasn’t Social Media…Was it?

A few months ago, I deactivated my social media accounts. I posted an index card on my bulletin board that read, “No Social Media. No Corporations. No Amazon. More creativity & blogging” next to a poster I clipped out of a magazine that reads “Keep Calm & Save Money” in bold red lettering.

Three clear thumb tacks lined up neatly below the messages—reinforcing one thing that was resounding through my mind and soul lately: minimalism.

Minimalism: a style or technique, that can be applied to a lifestyle, characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.

Deactivating my social media accounts was my way of extending the concept of minimalism even further. Everything felt so cluttered.

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It started out okay, as I explained in this blog post from September. Gone were the feelings of embarrassment I’d felt during those rare but inevitable moments of “oversharing.” Gone were the unnecessary hours spent scrolling, or “managing” my various accounts—I have two personal accounts, and three business ones. Gone was the feeling that I needed to “capture” everything: a good meal, Autumn collecting eggs from the chicken coop, an innocent walk to the creek.

All the time the world offered came tumbling back in, and I began to experience more productivity at work, and creatively too. Things were happening. Actually happening. I became a more productive team member at work, a more present mother, and more conscious partner to my fiancé. I even took the final steps toward completing a huge creative project.

The days turned into weeks turned into months. During this time, I posted several times on my blog—a significant increase from previous months (years, really). But I could tell that my creative social network had gotten really, really small.

There was my small handful of loyal readers who reached out to me via text or by responding directly to my posts. I am grateful for these folks with a capital G, but I began to wonder if I could get through the rest of the pandemic, and election year, with my “capsule” of friends. I was starting to feel a little lonely.

Late one night, after a productive day of freelancing from home, I found myself borderline distraught. I lay in our bed, without the glow of my cell phone, and I said dramatically into the dark room, “I just feel like something is missing.”

In the silence that followed my—for lack of a better term—wail, I thought of my vow against social media…it wasn’t that, was it?

Was it?!?

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Not jumping to conclusions, I continued to wake, live and sleep every day without the companionship of social media. A few people reached out, but where were my other 538 friends? I realized, as I’m sure we all have, the predicament these social platforms present: they are an instant doorway to our families, and some relationships that are quite important to us. So why would we want to give up that? Honestly, especially now in a pandemic, how else are we going to get to know our new cousin’s baby, Jaxon? Or even remember his name? It’s all there, on Facebook. We understand that the heart emoji doesn’t convey all we want to say, but it does convey something.

In addition to working more intentionally—both personally and professionally—I toyed with the idea of letter-writing. I wrote a letter to Elizabeth, my longtime pen pal who resides in the Yosemite Valley. She wrote me back, as did our mutual friend, David. But David’s letter was so long and rich, I wondered how my response could even compare, or come close to being as meaningful as his letter had been, as he described the terror of wildfires looming near his home on Caves Highway this summer. If social media was intimidating, trying exchanging letters with intellectuals. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this, either. Anyway, I knew I couldn’t exchange letters with as many people as I loved. (I love a lot of people!)

I don’t remember the exact day I reinstalled the apps on my phone. Only the approximate number of people who interacted with the photo I posted. Warily, I “liked” all of their responses. But where were these folks when I sat at home for four months? Autumn and I had both celebrated our birthdays—her 2nd, my 35th. Was it me who’d left them or they who’d left me? In this day and age, I’m honestly not sure.

In the meantime, I began to value my work relationships more, and my relationships with my family members who don’t use social media, my blog readers, and my neighbors began to deepen—it was as if I could suddenly see that they’d needed attention, too.

I am on social media now, and I do feel more connected to those that I’d lost touch with. I at least like knowing that such-and-such person is there if I need them, even if we’re not interacting every day.

But friendship can’t survive solely that way, and neither can a creative or professional dream. The inspiration—the ideas and conversations and plans—they need to lead somewhere. I’ve learned that “breaking the spell,” ie taking a break, is the perfect antidote for that. So just one question remains: can I take what I’ve learned and apply it? Can I use social media as a tool, to share my art and give and receive love from my friends, while still setting a healthy boundary with these websites and apps? It is hard to know for sure, but I have hope. Hope that I can either find the balance, or at least recognize when my “real” life needs more attention.

Love,

Mama Bird

Habitat Over Habit

HABITAT
I felt I needed to express “Habitat Over Habit” not just in writing, but visually too. I created this sculpture from a book that was already falling apart, “Magical Child” by Joseph Chilton Pearce, plastic, trash, wires, old digital materials, and ferns and sticks from outside our door.

Habitat Over Habit

Disease is an equalizer—it does not discriminate. Now Mother Earth has a captive audience, the world over. WOW!

Disperse           across           the           earth          and           feel          her          pulse.

Now we may finally choose Mother Earth over the economy… not just for three weeks, but entirely and for the good of humanity!

Now we may open ourselves to the actual possibility of EARTH REGENERATION. Now we may all SHIFT—all of the earth’s children, today and forever.

This global pause is an opportunity to reflect, repent, and ask forgiveness from our one true creator: Mother Earth! The form from which all life springs. Her ecosystem is so delicately dependent on a multitude of species, on clean, non-toxic reservoirs and waters, and on the trees that give all life breath! Make no mistake, Mother Earth is asking for our attention with this pandemic.

Now we may take the right type of non-action, a permission slip which has never before been granted. We have less air and ground traffic. We have disease everywhere but the Arctic. We have the collapse of distant goods. We are called to sit, face to face, with our loved ones in our homes. We are called to sit, face to face, with our habitat: a living breathing thing. Make no mistake.

How compelling that the safe place to be now is in the open-air, mountains, or sea! Make no mistake.

Now we may open ourselves fully to the concept of habitat over habit. We may REGENERATE, my people. We may SHIFT now, in this moment, today and forever.

Now we may think of the children. Now we may listen to them. Now we may protect them from things they do not even know are coming, by acting intelligently, responsibly, and humanely. By cutting our ties with non-renewable resources and maddening consumption. (See: toilet paper!)

Now is the time for scientists, not politicians, for empaths, not conquerors, for mothers, not tyrants, for native wisdom, not industry.

This is a window of opportunity that Mother Earth giving us. Brilliant, really, as if Mother Earth has a mind all her own…an intelligence beyond our knowing.

Now we may reset this maddening pace of life and habit of consumption.

What is more important than our elders, our earth, and our children? What?

Everything is connected, we can see that now. So let us connect with our micro-tribes: our neighbors, roommates, and families, and figure this thing out. Let us back up our lifestyle-changes with policy-changes, locally, state and nation-wide, and globally.

“You are but a drop of rain
clinging to the edge of the sumac leaf
by the grace of that same surface tension
that tethers you to your work and gives you traction.”
– Nina Gaby

Make no mistake, she’s warning us: lighten, lighten, lighten the impact.

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We can’t buy our way out of this one, so let’s stop trying.

Where energy goes, attention flows: shut down Costco and support local economy. It won’t collapse in times like this!

Support local farmers, if you are fortunate enough to have them in your region.

Support your local soap-maker.

Wipe your ass with cloth. It’s really very simple.

Think about things like light pollution, and how it impacts species. Think about the interconnectedness of all things. Research what type of non-action or change-of-action would be beneficial in your unique ecosystem, whether you’re an urbanite or a ruralite. There’s hope for everyone, everywhere.

Let us choose Mother Earth over Father Economy.

This is the global SHIFT we’ve long been needing to restore our habitat. It can be done. Environmentalists and scientists know the action and that must be taken. If the Coronavirus response can be coordinated between nations, couldn’t saving the earth be, too?

WOW!

Shut. It. Down.

Rebuild with wisdom from our native and aboriginal elders, who understood interdependence and acted accordingly. Rebuild with our leaders in environmental science.

Let us choose habitat over our habits, today and for good. Now we may act wisely for the greater good of humanity, in the name of Mother Earth.

How, I beg, will we answer her calling?

Dear Daughter,

Dear Daughter,

-You will always have more to offer than the shape of your body or the red of your lips. So reach deep within yourself for something substantial to contribute to the world.

-Moments are for living, not for capturing. When you realize that, you hang onto the sacred. The scared is slipping into the darkness of vanity. Don’t let it. Bow, caress, whisper your wishes into the wind. Do things just for the sake of doing them. Not for showing off. For so many centuries, this was how it was done. There is something lacking as we slip into vanity. The sacred is worth hanging onto, I promise.

-There was a time when humans cared about way more than likes and follows. I was there. I remember that time. Laughs were laughed louder then. Breakfasts were enjoyed more fully. When you looked into someone’s eyes, it really meant something. It mattered.  When you looked into the sunset, and really focused, prayers were answered. And if you got to know someone, you really got to know them, not with some device between you.  In junior high, a girlfriend of mine and I sat in a grassy median staring into each others eyes for a full five minutes. Let’s try it sometime. This is called peering in to another’s soul and there’s something to it. Discomfort is a natural part of living. Our addictions try to cover up that discomfort, that natural discord.

-I want you to practice getting up in the morning, making your breakfast, brushing your hair, reading a book, and setting your goals…all without the nagging of your phone and social media. If you watch me, I will show you. I will let my phone get buried in my purse and go dead and I will not worry. I will relish the sound of the natural world buzzing on around me. I will do this for the whole of the weekend until, for work, I must emerge and “connect” with the world again. I will do this and I will fail but I will reset and do it again. Phone dead and buried at the bottom of my purse.

-Take a trip to the sea or mountains or museum…without your device on you. Let’s do it together. Let’s stop and notice what is being offered, what is happening around us. Really noticing this time. Let’s witness some miracle and have it be our little secret.

-Skills like building things and growing things and poetry even and communicating respectfully through eye contact and spontaneous conversation…these things are being lost. I want you to preserve them. I will teach you skills that you will pass down to children, or people older than you or younger than you, it does not matter. Just share them. In real life. Learn to cook. Learn to love to cook.

-If all of your friends jump off bridge, don’t.

-Sparrow recently published a piece in The Sun Magazine stating that meditating is like playing the guitar, except without the guitar. I’d never meditated regularly until I read this, and his bit about meditating four minutes per day, instead of five. Four minutes per day isn’t too torturous in exchange for heightened long-term bliss and contentment, right?

-They call it a feed because it’s taking away our appetite for everything else.

-The people you should be working at impressing are the people around you, through kindness and respect. I vow to do this with you. We will do it together, dear daughter.

Water Signs

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Dad nearly drowned in the mouth of the river in Fort Bragg, California, but that was before I was born. He spent the rest of the summer in the hospital. That didn’t stop him from loving the ocean and water. You can’t trust it, he said. You can’t help but love it either.

Dad was in a coma for most of one month. When he came to he had to learn to talk again. He had to learn to walk again. He was just nine years old at the time. Somehow, though, Dad still knew how to swim. A photo of him and his parents posed alongside the doctor was published in the Fort Bragg newspaper. He was the boy whose life was almost taken by the river at Van Damme State Park. “Miracle Boy” the headline read.

I came thirteen years later. The daughter of Miracle Boy and Moonbeam.

When I was six years old and he was twenty-eight, Dad took us sea-kayaking off the coast of California. If I remember correctly he was trying to impress a woman who wasn’t my mother. We almost got pulled out to sea and I remember being frightened. Or maybe my memory doesn’t serve me right…maybe we did have fun. But the waves, they were so large and I was so little, how could I have? I just remember fearing for my life, I think the girlfriend did too.

I was around one years old when Moonbeam left us (I’m not looking for pity, those are just the facts). Some man I never learned the name of had lured Moonbeam away. I’ll never know the things he promised her. I’ll never know what tempted her. All I know is she took the Ford Pinto when she left. She didn’t go far—just down the road to Eureka. She wasn’t far, no, but she was gone.

Dad took to doing the dishes by hand, very slowly, with hot soapy water. But this wasn’t so strange because Dad did the dishes before she left too. I think he just liked being in the water.

As a toddler, I crawled around on the sticky linoleum floor. I remember looking up at Dad doing my mother’s job. He was in his work clothes and it was after dark. I saw a flash of myself in the kitchen sink before Moonbeam left. I could almost see her standing there washing my body—a dishwater blond with no face, just legs and shoes like the moms in those old cartoons. Comfort just for the fact that they were there. Dish-doers and diaper-changers and dinner-makers and ice-tray-fillers. An essential tool: missing.

Several years later I had my birthday party at the beach. I invited my entire sixth grade class and to my shock everybody showed up. Dad embarrassed me by bannering long streams of white toilet paper from the driftwood poles on the beach, a marker of where the party was. A store-bought stream of purple tissue paper had not been considered.

A couple of the mothers who dropped off their daughters off looked warily around for signs of my mother. But they found none. I just wanted them to go away. I did not even want them to stay because their judgement and misunderstanding was palpable. They finally left, not quite sure what to think. These are the ones who returned first for their daughters.

Dad warmed hot dogs on driftwood sticks over the campfire and we all ran around like we were still kids, which we were, but barely. My peers brought gifts, tons of gifts, each one of them. Dad bought me the expensive black and white Adidas jacket I had wanted so much. The ocean was lapping at the whole scene, father and daughter, fire and friends. The sun went down while we were still out running and playing up and down the beach. And even though I didn’t have a mother…well I thought life was just about perfect.

I had been so excited about my abundance of gifts but was so busy running and playing that I didn’t notice when tide came in and took my birthday booty— piece by piece into the setting sun. It was all gobbled up by the great inhale-exhale of the Pacific Ocean. And there would be no getting any of it back. It wasn’t far, no, but it was gone.

When Dad was a boy that same beach was at least 70 feet under water. The tsunami of 1964 picked up dive bars and fish n’ chip shacks and set them back down, upside down, right on top of Highway 101. To this day Crescent City, California is the only town in the continental United States where a tsunami has killed people. True story. Eleven people died. You can’t trust the ocean, Dad said. You can’t help but love it either.

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Water Signs is an essay from Earthside and Other Everyday Miracles which I am publishing through Groundwaters this spring. I will keep you updated on all the details here on my blog, and also over on my Instagram page! (See sidebar to follow me there.) Thank you, faithful readers!

Nourishment

I didn’t get published in The Sun Magazine’s “Reader’s Write” section as I had hoped, but I will share my reflection from the January 2020 “Nourishment” prompt below.

“The Sun is an independent, ad-free magazine that for more than forty years has used words and photographs to evoke the splendor and heartache of being human.”

NOURISHMENT:

Dad sat me down and told me two things: one, we were now vegetarians and two, we would sing the Mahamantra morning, noon, and night. That was part of being a Hare Krishna. So that’s what we did. No more Kentucky Fried Chicken. No McDonalds. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Morning, noon, and night. Every summer we took our epic road trip to the temple in the Bay Area. At the temple we were surrounded by other Hare Krishnas instead of being the only ones in town. At the temple, we rose at four a.m. to shower, which was required. At the temple, brown-skinned women with large, sagging breasts painted red Bindi dots on my forehead and brushed and braided my hair. I felt comforted by the touch of a woman, even though they didn’t speak to me. It was almost like having a mother. Almost. At the temple, I wore my pea-colored sari with little flowers on it every day. I felt so free as I danced with my father in the ballroom before the deities. At the temple, we were sometimes required to fast all day long but come night there was a massive feast with scrumptious vegetarian food—samosas, curried cauliflower, pineapple chutney—all piled high and sufficiently blessed.

Steps to Honoring Your Path

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. So hold them up to your window in the morning. Or under a desk lamp, or full moon, at night. Take a few minutes to inspect the foundation: what is it built on, these expectations?  Brick? Loam? Are they your wishes or others wishes for you? How many children are stacked upon the thing? Remember: the children go on top.

Now that you have identified its strengths and abilities, decide what tools you’ll need, and use them with intention.  Fix any weak spots. If writing is your goal, grab a pen and paper and S P E L L I T O U T. One letter at a time. Get real specific. It is a brand-new decade, we haven’t got the time to waste. Yesterday’s gone. What’s done is done. Keep your toolbelt close, you’ll be needing it.

Be rigid. All that gray-area crap is just bs. For some the opposite is true. For you it is not. You need all the stability and predictability and tough love that was withheld from you in childhood. Black. White. Life. Death. Yin. Yang. It’s been twenty years now since you’ve see your mother. Twenty years since you were 14. Since Y2K. A natural rebel, reign yourself in. For even when you wake and say light, light, light, be the light, you cannot shake the darkness at the root of you. Scorpio sun, Aries moon. Befriend routine, the sister to stability. Come to like them. Come to love them. Routine. Stability. Come to understand how much you depend on them. Day. Night. Repeat. Stop stepping into the worn, predictable trail of chaos. You are a parent now. Be sure to act like one. This is your one chance and you won’t get another.

This life is all you ever wanted—a sentiment that’s ringing truer and truer.

Husband. Marriage. Scary.

Know how you feel and know who you are by examining your truths in the light.

Husband. Marriage. Means trusting someone with my heart.

Husband. Marriage. Likely someday, certainly with him. But I want to make sure I can love and trust fully first. Humbly, I am still learning how to do all of that.

Like your child, grow everyday. Grow taller, grow better posture. Study the letters and shapes. Practice your walking: walking into situations that will encourage you to blossom. Walking out of situations that make you feel like you are wasting your precious time.

Do not let others distract you. Even those you lie next to in the night. They have your path and you have yours. Respect your differences. Laugh/brush them off. Your future depends on it. You do you. Sparkle. Shine. Let him laugh when you talk like that. Come back to him in your heart. Only a fool would not. He is your touching stone in this world. Stone. Rock.

Focus on finding your voice through your fingertips. Remember what you care about. Keep coming back to it. Remember: the children go on top. But do take advantage of naptime by writing. Spell it out.

If needed, refer to quotes from your Yogi Tea bag: Appreciate yourself and honor your soul.

If needed, shake off comments and ridicule from others: those who don’t really know you, your past, the unique combination of circumstances that make you tick. For better, for worse. Shoot. You’re here and kickin’. To you, sometimes, that feels like a miracle. If needed, tell yourself you are loved, even if you don’t always feel supported by the world outside your door. You. Are Love(d).

Make art. You always did. You always have. Except for those few times you slipped back into the gray mundane. Make art of the clothes you put on in the morning. Go ahead and wear that yellow dress. Make art of parenting. When you’re throwing the frisbee for the dog on a rainy day, draw flowers in the mud with the toe of your boot.

Do not forget the lessons of your ancestors: Be bold. Be bizarre. Begin again. Begin anew everyday if you must. Queen of the comeback, kid.

Do not forget your longtime mantra: Focus and follow-through.

And this one: Don’t start anything you can’t finish yourself.

Rigid. Bold. Brazen. Independent.

Most people say ask for help when you need it. But you know better. You know the world will poke at your weak spots so burrow down inside yourself and emerge with your wisdom and insights. Do what you know works. Stick with what you’ve learned. Imagine you are a caterpillar, now visualize the miracle of the butterfly, and emerge. Now fly.

Hold your dreams up to the light. Natural light works best. The moon will do.

Now that you’ve spelled it out, what does it say? (For example, mine reads: “I want to be a writer when I grow up. Or a dancer. It was an old thing I’d written on a scrap of paper as a kid.)

Hold space for that little dreamer. Hold the scrap of paper you scribbled on as a child in your hand. Whether metaphorically or physically. Whether your dreams have morphed into something more realistic or not.

Notice all the steps you took to get here. Literally hundreds of miles walked, circling as if you were walking a labyrinth. Notice when space was not honored for your dreams and you had to fight hard for them. Literally gallons of tears cried, remember all the swimming you did to get out of there.

Say this out loud, “This is my space. These are my dreams. Mother, wife, or not.”

Say, “Yes, my dreams. They take up space and they take up time.”

Say, “Now or never. Here to stay or gone forever.”

Hold your dreams up to the light. See how they glisten and shine.

One billion bursts of color, uniquely yours for the taking.

Dear Aunt Dorothy,

Dear Aunt Dorothy,

Remember when you lived on that street I can’t remember the name of now—the one way on the outskirts of town, after you moved back to Crescent City for the second time? You were many years sober by then so our conversations happened around mugs of coffee, your second love. 

You had kitschy coffee mugs: Garfield, mugs with quotes about motherhood, one of the lady with the crazy hair, robe, and slippers. You weren’t a grandmother yet, which boggles me now since “Grandma” became your definitive role. Back then your mother-ness extended to me, your niece. 

Remember that night? We were jabbering, catching up. I was visiting from out-of-state and we only had so much time. There were lots of laughs. Cigarettes and ashtrays. If we ever watched television it was just the home videos you’d recorded of our childhood: Your boys reciting Jeff Foxworthy. Me doing cartwheels on the concrete pad outside the trailer on Olive Street. Crystal, who was just a baby then. 

Without having planned it, WHAM, I dropped the bombshell. The bombshell that would blow up your whole world: your present, past, and future. Probably you mentioned his name. My face must have shadowed. And then your openness, your vessel for others pain and suffering, allowed to me tell you—to tell anyone—what had happened to me right there inside our family. It happened in-between recordings, on set, hidden behind the inescapable patriarchy that permeated our culture and society.  

I was seventeen and had never told anyone before. 

I saw the lightbulb go on behind your eyes. This is the moment you that stubbed out your cigarette. Wait, what? 

I saw the quick well of anger and heartbreak rise inside of you. 

Disbelief. 

Guilt. 

Wonder. 

In a dark corner of your mind, I’m sure you were reaching for a gin. 

It was late. Your house was so small. As if turning on my heel, my laughter quickly turned to painful sobs. The burning-apple-in-your-throat-kind of sobs. My racking sobs filled your entire home, probably shook the coffee mugs in your cupboard as you held space for me. 

You didn’t call it that: holding space. Poor, white people don’t have vocabulary for our experiences. But other people do. We live through the tragedies, other people label them. People with food in their bellies and books on their bed stands, free from the everyday challenges we’d faced, free to think things through, I guess. 

Did you know that by now whole fields of study have been dedicated to our resurgence? There are probably university students somewhere right now discussing the phenomenon of the crashing white, rural American class. You would have hated that sentence I know. It made you crawly when I used words like phenomenon because it put you on the spot. You were an Army girl, a farm girl, and to no fault of your own you were never a scholar. We didn’t have the language to get to the bottom of what happened to me–the scary thing that I told you–so we just cussed a lot that night. Fucking sicko. Rot in hell. 

You probably had to go to work at the casino in the morning, but you held space for me. You always did that for others. You always gave more than you had. In the end, I believe, that’s what killed you.  

Cousin John, one year younger than me, must have heard everything that through the thin bedroom wall. In fact I know he did. He told me as much years later. Said he’d pressed his ear up against the wall listening to every word I’d said, welling up with anger, maybe tears. Cousin John is one of those sensitive men—men with single mothers tend to be. Yet another gift that women like you give.

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Do you remember the day you died? What was it like? Was it sunny? Cold? Did you argue with people that day? Hold space? Both? Did you start the day out watching FOX news? Looking at old photographs in your albums? How many cups of coffee did you have? Did you eat breakfast? What did you eat? I want to know. I want to hold space for you. Come back from the dead and tell me.

Years later you admitted that my “telling you” had a hand in your decision (if you can even call it that—the swift, perplexing fall from grace) to drink again. It was a single poke that sent you closer to the edge, eventually to fall from maybe ten years sober. At least over five. (I need to get my facts straight with the family.) 

I myself never felt guilty for that. I can’t take that on. I know there were others things, too. Men, maybe, who drank. You thought you could “be around them.” You couldn’t. No one could. You thought you could walk down the wine isle at the grocery store. You couldn’t. No one could. “And what are we drinking with the steak?” A waiter asked you with a wink, mentioning a wine pairing. You couldn’t. No one could. The billboard with a cold, sweaty beer on a hot, Sacramento day. (You didn’t even look at the billboard but your brain saw it and stored the information.) You couldn’t. No one could. A career waitress at a casino, you served drinks day in and day out. You couldn’t. No one could. 

It was your genes, expressing themselves. You couldn’t. No one could. I myself was never a drinker, but I have my “things.” 

Do you remember the day you died? Was it a pleasant day? Did you catch the sunset? Call your boys? It was springtime, I know that. Cousin John called me, it was two, maybe three, a.m. 

It must have been warm in Oregon because I stepped out on the back porch to take the call, having been alerted from sleep and knowing John wasn’t calling to casually chat.

“She’s gone,” he managed to get out. 

“Hello? John? What?” 

One never says the right things in these moments.

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We spread your ashes up on the hill above the farm. Your baby sister and her husband handled all the arrangements. Rented the town hall down by the river. Sprinkled photographs of you on the tables and designated a childhood friend to make the centerpieces. They managed to serve one hundred people pulled pork, potato salad and fruit. I don’t know if it was pork. I didn’t eat. I was juggling the newborn baby and rubbing John’s back, trying to be a friend to him. Suddenly he was hard to get through to. 

You meant a lot to a lot of people, so a lot of people were there. Later, in photographs taken above the farm on the hill, someone said the plume of your ashes looked just like an angel when the boys blasted it into the air.

It was the kind of thing you anchor to in times like this.

I didn’t know what to believe. I was reeling—angry—from your fall from grace to death at 61. Alcohol poisoning, the coroners report stated. I was thinking: one little sip—one little slip—then blip, you’re done. You were getting sober again. You were always getting sober. News would travel through the family grapevine: Dort hasn’t been drinking, 3 months now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 1 ½ weeks now. Dort hasn’t been drinking, 5 months now! Honestly I stopped keeping count. There were so many starts and stops. But that, dear one, is what made you beautiful. Most alcoholics I know don’t even try. 

This was not your legacy. Don’t get me wrong. I am using your lessons to guide my voice. There is a point I we are getting at. I promise. Hang tight. 

You were always transparent about your alcoholism. You were almost curious. You talked to me about AA. How they make you have a sponsor. That they wanted you to pray. You struggled with both of those things. You weren’t vulnerable by nature. Not open with those who you weren’t close to. You just wanted it to be done and dealt with but you lived with a drinker, your second husband, and that, I believe was your biggest downfall…not leaving him to save yourself. 

Vodka in the freezer, you told me. You couldn’t. No one could.

You always gave more of yourself than was even there. Leaving ghosts of yourself behind for others to feed off of. Always wanting to give more, more, more. A pleaser, left thirsty.

I am using your lessons to guide me.

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Man. 

I was so distanced from all of this at the memorial. And now that I’ve said that about your second husband everyone’s going to hate me. At the memorial for me it was just this: one foot in front of the other. Don’t slip like she did. Your message to me seemed loud and clear: Keep your head up, don’t look down. But everyone else was crying and carrying on, while I was in some state of blissed out focus. How was I going to explain this? What was going on with me? 

Back in Oregon it took me many months to come around to how I really felt about your death. I saw posts on Facebook, “I think about her every day. I am so sad. It just makes me want to cry every time I think of her.” 

Why didn’t I want to cry? I did think of you. I looked through the scrapbook you sent me, your script written in black Sharpie: Love you always, sweetie niece, it read. 

I thought of how much you had going for you. I thought, don’t slip. I thought, dead at 61. I thought of you, as a girl, going off to Germany with the Army. Your glory days. You went from California to Connecticut to Germany. You made good friends—eased the awkwardness of socializing by drinking. Most of us do. For you it was different.

You had a boyfriend out there in Connecticut. I wonder if he was as different from you as the Connecticut boyfriend I had was from me. We looked the same: white, young, scrawny. We partied together and all of that. They thought we were “pretty.” They could never know the rural swamp from whence we came. We never knew the dollar amount of the steak on our plate. That the cost of that plate amounted to our weekly grocery allowance. 

I remembered that night you held space for me. How when you ran your hand up your forehead—holding the bangs out of your eyes briefly—I saw we had matching widow peaks and dark, thick hair. I saw we had the same oily, pocky skin. I could have been your daughter. 

I did think of you. Fact I walked out on the porch one day and said your name out loud. It was a rough day for me. I was weighing this and that. I was torn between saying “fuck it” and staying on the strait and narrow. I was grappling with my “things” like we all do. 

Exasperated, I asked you for a sign. I toy with spirituality, having given some of it up with I paired up with an atheist. 

“Just, anything,” I told you, in a way I hoped was sincere. 

I held my coffee mug in both hands. The one that reads “Mom is just Wow upside down.” I latched on to the wisdom that you taught me–dare I say telepathically–with your death: Relationships matter. Don’t do what I did. Don’t throw it away for the brief, frequent explosion of addiction and harm. Turn to the light. Every time. Walk away, completely, utterly committed, from the things that threaten you. Physically. Emotionally. Walk away completely. Don’t look back. 

I was open to receiving it. That’s what I was doing at the memorial, when I couldn’t stare down a gin and cry. Actually, I was honoring you. Head up, focused on the future.

It’s what you wanted me–what you want all of us–to do. Perhaps others have experienced this phenomenon. 

Maybe it was because I was looking for a sign so hard that it actually happened, but just then the wind picked up out on the porch. It was a warm wind on an otherwise calm day. I couldn’t fucking believe it, but I wasn’t going to look away as the breeze carried to one single tree out in the yard. Just one tree. Of all of the trees. And it was the tree that was closest to me, a five leaf maple. The wind blew my hair back just a little, and I closed my eyes, gripping my coffee mug in silence. It was late summer, early autumn, and the leaves had turned but were yet to fall from the trees. When I opened my eyes that breeze—your breeze—was whipping around that maple tree like a whirling dervish or Tasmanian devil from the old Looney Tunes cartoon. I mean it was really whipping. 

I even thought to run get my phone to capture the odd, rare event but of course I didn’t. You don’t fuck with something that sacred. You don’t exploit messages from the great beyond.  

I watched as that narrow, focused breeze stripped a previously full tree of most of its orange autumn leaves. It was a clear enough message that I thanked you, looking out to see the one bare tree among the others full of leaves. I breathed in, I breathed out. I felt validated and whole again. 

I didn’t care what anyone thought. I only cared that I was around to see my grandkids, should I have them someday. So I was willing to latch on to anything, even this crystal clear sign from the no-longer-living. I only cared that I was downloading the accurate message that you wanted me to have all along: Do not mourn me outright in the traditional way. Please just walk away completely from the things that threaten your health. Walk away and don’t look back. 

And in-between the lines: Spread the message. Relationships matter. Turn to the light, every time. And this: you are worth it. 

Remember that night? You were many years sober. You lived on the outskirts of town on a street I don’t remember the name of. It was your Demi Moore days: short, cropped dark hair. I was visiting from out-of-state. You were a fulltime mom to two teenage boys. You didn’t want them to come home to an empty house anymore, so you were there waiting with your recipe books and kitschy coffee mugs when they got out of school. Even when drinking though, you were a good mom. Excellent even. Clean sheets on the bed and all of that. You threw Thanksgiving together for the family year after year. I remember the time you had us cousins over to make gingerbread cookies during Christmastime at the house on A Street. You set up your camcorder and had the radio on. Bette Midler sang “Wind Beneath My Wings,” which may have been a new song then:

It must have been cold there in my shadow,
to never have sunlight on your face,
you were content to let me shine, that’s your way,
you always walked a step behind.
Thank you, thank you,
thank god for you the
wind beneath my wings. 

 

Love, 

Your niece,

Terah

 

Let Them See The Blood–Finding Gratitude in Grief

I want to Google “How to recover after your child almost dies in your arms,” but I don’t. Just writing about the day—the natural way I process things—would be time better spent. Pen and journal, I lay beside Autumn watching her breathe. It is five a.m. The day after the “incident.”

Becoming a parent must come part and parcel with experiencing “incidents.” That’s what they called Dad’s near-drowning as a boy. An “incident” or an “accident.” Ours wasn’t nearly as bad as Dads. But ours wasn’t nothing, either.

Now, I am not a god-fearing woman. I don’t believe that because I prayed twenty-five-some-odd times that god had a hand in saving our daughters life. That’s just not me. Too many other unhappy endings to be spared ourselves. It’s all hit and miss. Chance. Circumstance. But did praying bring me comfort? Yes, yes it did. Immensely. At times during the “incident,” it was about all I could do. And I’d needed to do something.

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It had been a truly ordinary, yet remarkable, day. Things were just flowing. Our normal Saturday routine included laundry in the morning, cleaning out the refrigerator, some other chores. Autumn was in a breezy, happy mood. Her father was at work but we were expecting him home around five. It was around four o’clock so I put Autumn in my Ergo-pack, facing outward, and we went to collect some eggs from the chicken coop.

We walked from the back porch that overlooks our small farm, through the worn path under the walnut trees, and then through the tall grass scheduled to be hayed in a few short weeks.

As soon as we approached the chickens paddock, ready to step carefully over the hot electro-netting, as we had done one-hundred times, Autumn began making strange choking noises. Because I couldn’t assist her while strapped in the Ergo, I made a quick dash back toward the house—running through the tall grass we had just come through.

It had only been a few brief seconds since we’d turned around and Autumn was still making the strange noises but I couldn’t see her face. I stopped under the walnut trees, where there was a nice flat surface and some shade. I quickly took her out of the Ergo. She appeared to be choking. I opened her mouth with my index, middle finger, and thumb–but I didn’t see anything so I began to smack her back forcefully. I was hoping to dislodge whatever it was that was blocking her passageway. Then she began vomiting. Her face was beet red. Now she was choking and vomiting at the same time. I was perplexed. Heart pounding, I ran with Autumn in my arms into the house.

Not quite sure what to do, I gave her some water to wash down whatever it was. It was too small to see. I was already thinking of the tall grass. But the water didn’t work. So I smacked her back some more. Whack. Whack. Whack. She was still choking. I wasn’t producing any results so, hands shaking and trembling, I called 911 on my cell phone.

Meanwhile, I tried to console Autumn with my words—jagged and fraught, and my touch. I sang her the ABC’s and Spring is Here Said the Bumblebee, two of her favorite songs. Our home is a forty-five minute drive from town and I wasn’t sure how long it would take for help to come. The 911 dispatcher told me not to hit Autumn’s back anymore. She had now spent a full, I would estimate, five to seven minutes choking, sometimes vomiting. But she was somehow able to get in the periodic labored breath.

Along with the 911 call came the madness of repeating my address back to the dispatcher while Autumn struggled for a breath. Then having me describe the color of her face—red, purple, blue?

Suddenly, I was colorblind. This wasn’t happening. “Red. Magenta.” I told her. “Red. Purple.”

I kept telling Autumn, “It’ll be okay babygirl,” and “Mama’s here.” Her gaze was looking straight into mine. Help, she seemed to be saying. Then I just started praying. “Be with us dear Lord.” This was old habit, from Dad and my upbringing. Dad always told me from a young age: If you’re dying, talk to god.

This was like that.

“Is she breathing?” The dispatcher asked.

“She’s vomiting blood. There’s blood. I need them here. NOW.”

“Is she breathing?”

“Not really. I mean, kind of.” Not like she should be, I could have said.

“Okay, I need you to place her on her back. I’m going to instruct you to do CPR.”

“Okay.”

“I want you to locate the space between her nipples. With four fingers, press three times.”

“Okay. Okay.”

I’d learned this in a CPR class years earlier. CPR on an infant seemed horrific and is, verifiably, risky. I did what the dispatcher asked, but Autumn seemed to be breathing, just a little, so I intuitively stopped pumping down on her chest. It just didn’t feel right. As I sat Autumn upright, she continued coughing so hard that blood and saliva were slowly pouring from her mouth. I prayed so fucking hard.

The 911 dispatcher kept trying to engage with me—but trying to focus on the phone screen was distracting. I didn’t want to hold the phone. Autumn seemed distracted by it too, so I gave her my full attention. I held her. I prayed some more. I told her “Mamas here.”

I thought I might lose my little girl in this moment. The blood. Her magenta face. I’ll be damned if it was going to happen with me on my cell phone.

I asked the dispatcher to please refrain from speaking but stay on the line. She agreed but made me vow to tell her if Autumn stopped breathing, or turned blue.

Worst. Day. Of. My. Life.

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A local, rural EMT made it to us first, within 20 minutes of the 911 call. Autumn was still running her cycle of choking, fierce coughing, saliva and blood. I didn’t know which was worse, the blood or the choking. When the EMT saw Autumn’s symptoms, she instinctively propped her over her lap and began smacking her back, just like I did. She also did a flip-flop maneuver. This caused Autumn a lot of distress, so I told her what the 911 dispatcher had told me not to do. Though I could empathize with the instinct.

With A’s condition not improving, I asked the EMT to place her on the floor again in an upright position, and I consoled her as she gasped for enough breath with which to scream and cry. Now, we were both perplexed.

I prayed some more. Out loud. Repeatedly. The EMT, a mother herself, seemed worried. Autumn had another episode—choking, coughing, saliva, blood, as we looked on.

“My partner, Steve, will be coming up the driveway in a few minutes,” I told the volunteer EMT. “If he gets here before the ambulance, I need you to quickly brief him. He has no idea what’s going on.”

“Okay,” she agreed.

“When they get here, we’re going straight to Riverbend Hospital.”

“Grab what you need,” she told me.

I didn’t want to leave Autumn for even a second, but I grabbed a change of clothes for A and I changed my shoes. The diaper bag was in the van in the driveway.

“Where are they?” The EMT questioned.

Finally the paramedics and Steve arrived at the same time. The EMT was able to brief Steve. There were about eight paramedics. They all stood around staring at Autumn and I. I briefed the paramedics.

Autumn was crying, choking, crying, choking; demonstrating the scary sequence of symptoms I had come to fear so much.

“Well?” I finally asked them. “Look if no one’s going to do anything we’re read to get in the ambulance and go!”

I didn’t pause or use commas in my speaking.

An older gentleman who appeared to be the leader of the group clearly approved of my suggestion. A choking infant was pretty difficult territory—it seemed—for the team to navigate. I felt better when, within moments, were in the back of the ambulance: me on the gurney, Autumn on my lap. Steve would be following us in the van. I’d asked him to ride with us but Steve, a little more optimistic, said we’d be needing the car seat for our drive back home.

I was only half-sure we’d make it back with her. Every few minutes Autumn was still choking, turning magenta, and vomiting blood. It had been one hour since the whole ordeal had started.

The “incident.” Our “incident.”

The paramedic hooked her up to some instruments and verified that Autumn had a semi-healthy level of oxygen. “I’m glad she’s crying,” he told me. “That’s a good sign.”

“You cry all you want, sweetheart,” I told her, rocking her gently.

Her blood pressure was stable, but it was clear something was still blocking her passageway. I told the paramedic about the chickens, about the grass.

She’d made a delightful sound when we’d seen the chickens. A sound of glee. A yippie. An inhale. Then the choking had started. Was a grass head lodged in her throat?

When not fighting for her breath, Autumn watched the trees and the hills roll beyond the large, picturesque windows of the ambulance. It was the same scenery she saw every day. With every landmark, we were getting closer to the hospital.

Badger Mountain. Noti. Fern Ridge Reservoir. Beltline.

On the Beltline, Autumn’s oxygen dropped significantly following an episode, and the paramedic called for Code Blue—otherwise known as lights and sirens.

I was so grateful because it meant we’d get to the hospital sooner. I’d already asked for lights and sirens but the paramedic didn’t think it was necessary. Maybe grateful isn’t what I’d call it after all—since it meant we were in danger—but my focus was on getting us to an expert, a doctor, asap.

I was just focused on getting Autumn to the hospital intact. I was still praying. Out loud. Often.

“Thank you. So much. John,” I told the paramedic as we deboarded the ambulance. I do not remember the walk from there to the hospital bed. I do not remember being escorted to the room where we waited for the doctor. Now I was talking in short clips. Get to the point. Save a life.
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Two doctors. Both male. Ended up liking one, not the other. Liked the second one better.

The first one I had to relay the whole story to. He smiled gently while a nurse pounded the keys of a computer. Autumn had another episode. Her blood and saliva were covering the chest of my black dress like a massive bib of slime. The nurse took notice and handed me a cloth, seemingly suggesting that I wipe the blood and saliva from my top.

I gave her the look of death. I said something along the lines of “I do not care about my top, I care about my daughter! Someone needs to do something. Jesus!” I pushed the rag away. I remembered Jackie Kennedy’s words, to the effect of: “Let them see the blood.”

The doctor retreated to his corner office to contemplate our situation and look over his notes. I could see him if I positioned myself right in our temporary pediatric room. Steve sat in a corner chair and closed his eyes.

“How can you sleep at a time like this!” I asked him.

“Hold her for a minute, please,” I demanded.

He didn’t say a word but seemed exhausted, concerned, and happy to lovingly hold his child during such a difficult time.

I stepped out into the hallway and cried.

A few nurses passed me, but they didn’t say a word. A janitor passed me, he said he hopes it all works out for my little girl.

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Doctor #1 came back into the room. We’d been there an hour or more. The doctor didn’t seem convinced that anything was trapped in Autumn’s throat; and yet he didn’t have a clue what was going on. Autumn’s episodes were becoming less, and I asked the doctor if I could nurse her.

“Sure,” he told me, then turned his back to me to talk to Steve.

“I’d appreciate it if you could both observe this,” I asked them. I knew what was about to happen.

Reclined in the hospital bed, with the doctor at my side and Steve at the foot of the bed, I brought Autumn to my breast. She seemed to be relieved to be offered to eat, as she hadn’t been able to for hours—but as just as soon as she latched on, she tried to swallow and something blocked her passageway. She started screaming again, frustrated. She started choking again, visibly in distress.

“Okay, okay.” the doctor said, relenting. “The only option is the OR.”

They were to insert a camera inside her throat, travel down through her esophagus, and into her stomach, if needed, to see what the helk was going on in there.

“We’re not leaving until we know what’s in there. And ‘til she can eat,” I professed.

Autumn had another episode and we all were there to witness it. Steve. Doctor. Me. It seemed a little tamer than the others, and afterward she fell asleep in my arms. My little being was exhausted.

Another hour went by. Autumn woke up as we were being escorted to the OR. At the entrance to the OR, we were doing the paperwork and Autumn perked up at our OR nurse. Then Doctor #2 came out, the surgeon. It didn’t take me long to brief him, as Doctor #1 had already told him the gist of things. Or maybe he was just smart and with it. I liked his speed and no bs-ness. I asked him if he thought Autumn should still go under for the procedure, since her condition had improved. He said that, like me, he was curious to get to the root of this and get us some answers.

So we said goodbye to our little sweetheart and the doctor wheeled her into the Operating Room. He said the procedure would take thirty five minutes.

There was a place for families to sit and wait. Steve and I hadn’t been without Autumn. Ever. I thought of all the sad feelings that must have been experienced in that room. Family members on the brink of death. Ones that didn’t come back. Pain, if alive.

I ran into my hairdresser (I periodically have my hair cut) and she said her daughter had fallen off a horse and broken her arm. We hugged. She was bringing her daughter McDonalds. Worst. Day. Of. Her. Life. She said.

The doctor came back in and said we could go see Autumn. He had a specimen in his hand inside a plastic container. We peered into it. It was a two inch piece of orchard grass.

I brought my hand to my heart. The doctor said Autumn was awake and doing well. We could go see her. I gripped the plastic specimen jar in my hand. It was just as I’d suspected. What I didn’t know was that the head of a blade of grass is naturally engineered to catch on things. The one inch head of grass had burrowed into her throat like a screw—at five months old Autumn’s throat was only about the width of a pencil.

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Witnessing a child choking even once is enough to make a lasting impression. Something you won’t forget. I’d witnessed my daughter choking on that one inch head of grass about fifteen or twenty times over the span of four or five hours. Mahogany face. Saliva. Blood.

It’s four in the morning now. I can’t sleep. I have that PTSDy-feeling. The one where you jump at the slightest rustle and your nerves are frayed.

We live on a farm. I know how fragile life is. Things die. Baby things even. Sometimes there is no good reason for the death. It comes as a mystery. Other times little freaky things happen. Like the time our two year old dog ran into a tree trunk, snapped her neck, and died in my arms.

I think of what a huge responsibility it is being a parent. The huge responsibility of loving something so much that you would be walking dead if they died. That you might could die yourself. That you might could not recover.

I think of all the parents who’ve really lost them. Their children. Because of the freak little accidents like this one.

It hurts. Boy does it hurt. BOY DOES IT HURT! to think like that.

And maybe I am overreacting. Maybe I am taking this too hard. Too seriously. I have something to be happy for! Autumn’s here. Saved by the grace of god. Halleluiah! It wasn’t even that close, some might say. Her father. The doctor. Both sleeping now. In peace.

Who knows. Who knows if that one inch head of grass might have been angled differently, what could have happened. Who knows if Autumn might have given up if the struggle to survive, if the breathing was just too much on her. Who knows. She certainly didn’t have it easy for all those hours she was choking, but who knows.

All I know is I am barely not walking dead. I am jumpy and teary.

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All I know is that now I tell child care providers about the “incident” on intake paperwork and ask that they please be mindful of Autumn playing with anything “smaller than a film canister.” I read that–“smaller than a film canister”–somewhere. All I know is I cringe when Steve leaves beer bottlecaps around. Or even traces of mud from his boots on the floor. All I know is that for the first several weeks after the “incident” I saw flashes of Autumn’s mahogany face and wide, saucer eyes. I couldn’t get that image of her choking out of my mind. All I know is that Autumn amazingly discovered that if she coughs, instead of cries, I come to her rescue quicker. All I know is that now I smash all her food to smithereens. The other kids her age can snack on apples and carrots. I wouldn’t dare! All I know is I want to Google “How to recover after your child almost dies in your arms,” but I know the answer to that: Stop obsessing. Be grateful. Do the yoga. Do the acupuncture. Do the thing. Put mittens on her when you go outside for chores. Also, know that you can’t control everything. Not even close. But yes, as a parent: be vigilant. Scoop the things out of her mouth. The dirt. The coffee beans. All I know is that I was almost walking dead. But I wasn’t. We weren’t. We were spared, not by god, but by circumstance, I believe. God didn’t save us, no. But did praying bring me comfort? Yes, yes it did. Immensely.

The eggs will need to be collected from the coop. I don’t care to collect them this morning, not at all. But I know eventually, we’re going to have to. There are just somethings, no matter how hard, we’re going to have to do. All I know is that I was almost walking dead. But I’m not. We’re not. We are here. Together. Closer than ever.

Some would say my grandmother never really recovered from the “incident” with Dad. He was in a coma for weeks. When he came out of it, he had to learn to speak and walk again. The eight years he’d gained we’re almost lost. For the first time in my life, I feel a kinship with my paternal grandmother. It is my guess that her suffering, her guilt, the shaking her to her very core, was never addressed, never consoled, and never expressed. A drinker, she’d died in her late fifties. The coroners report stated “Respiratory Failure,” but ask anyone in our family and hers was a drowning-related incident.

The responsibility of becoming a parent is immense, just in terms of survival. You don’t think initially that your children will gravitate toward every dangerous thing with no sense about what is hot, what is not. What is just a step versus what is a cliff. What is safe to eat and what is dangerous to ingest. That part comes as a surprise. That part creates a lot of anxiety, compounding already fragile nervous systems inside of mothers with pasts and the simple hope that their children bring with them the promise of a brighter, lovelier future.

The sky is lavender now. The song birds are really going nuts. Do they do this every morning? I clasp my hands together, as if in prayer. I look at Autumn and marvel at the rise and fall of her chest. It’s the little things, they say.

Indeed, I agree, vowing not to let a moment pass without silently whispering, thank you to the gods of transportation, medicine and circumstance.