"I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life;
to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived." ~Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

UK Day 6- Train to Aberdeen

After the difficult night we'd experienced in Manchester, all we wanted to do was sleep in on the morning of March 26th.  It was a Wednesday and alas- we had a train to catch.  Coupled with our completely empty stomachs that were surely digesting themselves by this point, none of us slept past 6:30.  The cab picked us up promptly at 8:00 and we headed through the city to the train station.

Lauren wasn't doing well at all.  She'd been fighting a respiratory virus in London and was on the mend, but having walked so much the day before and having eaten nothing, she was weakened.  This is our child who always has to have a decent amount of sugar in her blood because she's a tiny little thing and has the metabolism of a hummingbird.  When she doesn't eat, it takes her body several hours to recover even after she's fueled up.  She was horribly nauseous when we got to the train station, but we assured her that she'd feel better once she ate something.  Hmm.  It didn't work out like that, but I'll come back to this in a minute.

We walked into the train station and it was like a bunch of kids on Christmas morning.  FOOD.  There were so many places that were open and they all accepted credit cards, which was fantastic because we had zero cash- thus our predicament that lead to our empty bellies the day before.  Close to the platform was a Burger King serving breakfast.  Cody headed there, while I went next door to Boots Pharmacy to replenish some of our toiletries.  While in there, I loaded my basket to the brim with ready made sandwiches, crisps, candy, bottles of juice, and anything else that was edible.  I walked out of the pharmacy with two big bags just as Cody came out of Burger King with two BIGGER bags.  

We looked at each other and laughed and it was like that moment at the end of Gone With the Wind when Scarlet O'Hara raises her fist to the sky and proclaims, "As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again!"

We met back up with the kids who were sitting nearby, and all but Lauren started inhaling the food.  They couldn't get it in them fast enough, but not Lauren.  She sat there with a pale face and a lethargic body and could barely keep her head up.  We kept telling her to at least drink some juice, but she was too sick to her stomach and was shaking.  We tried and we tried to get her to put something in her mouth, but she wouldn't.  And then just like that, she turned green and vomited right there in the train station.  Luckily she had the good mind to grab one of the now empty Burger King bags in which to do her business, so the mess was contained.

Before we boarded the train, Cody made one more stop to get everyone hot cocoa and tea for me.  It took a long time for Lauren to perk up, and she slept for the first part of the trip.  We knew this was going to be a long day of travel as we we said goodbye to England and made our way up to the coast to Aberdeen, Scotland.  One day, the kids will look back with regret on all the time spent wasted on the trains as they looked at their stupid tablets rather than out the window at some of the most magnificent landscapes the world has to offer.  I'm at a loss for words as I sit here and try to describe the beauty, which is odd because I like words.  The train made a stop in York, but we didn't have to change trains.  People got off and people got on, and then we wouldn't stop again until after we crossed the Scotland border.

Scotland is a sacred place for Cody and me.  I'm a McCorkle as is my father, and my mother is a Gilbreth.  Both dense with Scottish blood, and then there's Cody.  His father is an Andrew and his mother a Crookston, which are just as Scottish.  Genealogy is a major passion for both our families, and our lineage is traced back several hundreds of years, to the Middle Ages on Cody's side.  It's quite fascinating, and all we wanted to do was step into the place that birthed so many of our ancestors.  There's something humbling and connecting and grounding, knowing where you came from and what those people did and who they were. 

I recall the exact moment we crossed the border and I was overcome with mixed feelings.  I loved England because so many of my favorite stories and scientists and writers came from there and some of my family, too.  I'd dreamed about visiting for so long and I knew it would be years before I'd get the chance to go back.  But I knew that Scotland would be special, and there was certainly a tangible feel when we crossed into it.  It was like a vortex opened up and the air was cleaner and the ocean bluer and the grass greener.  One of the first villages we came upon was Barrick on Tweed (pictured above) and it was straight out of a postcard.  The seven hour train ride went by far too quickly, as I could have looked out the window for days and never grown tired of the splendor of the place.

We spent a good portion of the trip in the company of two families who were traveling together.  It was two couples and six children between them.  The wives were sisters, both English, but one of them married an American and had been in The States for several years.  Their three children were American, but the other sister and her family were all English.  Being in such close quarters for so long, it was easy to put pieces of the story together.  The English-American sister had a funny hybrid accent, while the English sister had a very thick Northern accent.  It made me wonder how often they got to see each other, and whether or not the cousins had ever met before.  They got off in Edinburgh, which was two or three hours south of our destination.

I had to snap a picture of these nasty things.  Everything over the seems to be alcohol themed!  These tasted terrible.

We finally got to Aberdeen about 5:00 in the evening and like every time before, finding a taxi that could house all of us was difficult.  But standing on the curb for so long as we waited, gave us a chance to look around see just how incredible the city was.  Unfortunately, most of what I got was video of the place, but Aberdeen is nicknamed "The Granite City" for a reason.  It's built around a granite quarry, which is where a lot of the economy stems from (that, and oil).  The buildings are exquisitely rich granite and everything is immaculately sculpted. We finally decided to get TWO taxis rather than waiting for a van, and we surely paid a lot to get to our hotel for the night.  Cody rode in one cab with the boys while I rode with the girls, and our cabbie was a charming older man from a village near Edinburgh who hadn't met many Americans, and was just as enamored with us as we were with him. It was a half-hour drive through the city (little did we know how far away from the train station our hotel truly was) and the man gave us all kinds of interesting information about the place as we drove around.  Aberdeen is a gem, sitting high up north right on the edge of the sea and I hope to one day go back. 

We made it to our lodgings a little before 7:00 but being so tired from the night before and the long train ride, we all stayed put for the night and ordered pizza and were introduced to cheesy British TV.  Even though it had only been a travel day, it ended up being one of my favorite days of the trip.  We were finally in Scotland.  We were finally home.

Our Sweet Sixteen

I remember the evening at Cody's apartment before we got married, when we sat down and mapped out our life.  We were engaged and naive and thought we had a clue.  He had just finished grad school, and I would finish my degree before we had kids, and even then we were going to wait a few years.  We'd travel to Europe.  We'd go backpacking in Spain.  We'd save for a house and buy one in the suburbs that had a big yard (kind of an oxy moron there).  We'd have four kids spaced 2.5-3 years apart and we'd have a dog and everything would be peachy keen.

Well, nothing has gone according to plan.  Nothing. Life has been anything but easy and predictable in our sixteen years of marriage and everything has been uphill.  Before July 2014, we were in a terrible place and came close to calling it quits because we were no longer compatible.  I'd changed.  I'd changed a lot, and he wasn't happy.  I wasn't happy.  In fact, we were both a couple of miserable roommates with five kids, a mortgage, and a slew of responsibilities and heartache and disappointments and we weren't going to do it much longer.  I think we were both waiting for the perfect time to split, but there never was the perfect time.  

And then what happened?  Our child died in an accident.

These last four years have been the most taxing years that I can imagine going through in life.  Even though we stayed together in the wake of his death, we've come very close to the brink of divorce several times since then.  There's a reason why so many couples get divorced after the death of their child.  Honest to God, it's the most stressful thing on a marriage.  THE MOST STRESSFUL THING. Everything about our lives changed that day and we've walked around in broken pieces and really, it's probably me who's pushed him away the most.  It's no secret that I loathe myself for what happened; that I had this one job, this ONE job, and that was to keep my children alive.  And did I do my job?  No.  Regardless of what anyone tells me, my job was to keep my kids safe and one of them died on my watch.

And that, my friends, is the worst kind of guilt and shame a parent can carry. 

And so, because deep down I hate myself so much, I don't want anyone else to love me.  I don't deserve love.  I don't deserve forgiveness.  I don't deserve to be happy.  I don't deserve to be given a second and third and fourth and fifth and sixtieth chance by my husband.  The demons that live inside me won't let me rest and won't let me feel relief. They scream really loud that I AM NOT WORTHY.  Sometimes I can inhibit their screechy little voices, but often times, they're too damn loud and it's all I hear.

But this guy right here.  This guy who sat across the table from me that night when we thought we had a clue about life, when we thought we had control, and when we thought we could make plans. That same guy has stuck with me, and I don't know why.  Maybe it's because he likes my boobs.  Maybe because it's too expensive to get divorced.  Or maybe it's because he simply loves me, even when I'm exceptionally unlovable.

He's the one who remembered it was our anniversary last week.  He's the one who came to me while I was busy working on our problematic house remodel and I was covered in calk and my hair was a mess and I wasn't wearing makeup and I stunk to high Heaven.  He's the one who reminded me that Wednesday was our anniversary and he asked what we should do, and I was under deadlines with school and had a hoard of theatre costumes to make and somehow, I needed to get the bathroom floor finished so we could install the toilet.   I asked for a rain check, and he agreed it was probably best to wait because we couldn't fit anything else into our crazy schedule.

But the next day, I told him to hell with it.  Let's go out, even if it's just to get ice cream.  And on the morning of August 1st, he'd already left for work but I woke up to balloons and roses that were sitting on a kitchen chair because there was no other place for them in our construction zone.  I hadn't even considered that it was our sixteenth, but he'd gone to the store early that morning and got the kids donuts for breakfast and me roses and balloons and a card with a note that made me start sobbing right there on the floor that was barely visible because of the tools sitting around. 

We chose simple.  We got the kids fed and then headed to this quaint little Italian bistro that we discovered a few weeks earlier.  I ordered tea and was delightfully surprised when it was served in a little pot, just like in the UK.  I was giddy and we sat and talked and laughed and I cried a bit.  And then we went over to Lagoon because we have passes and didn't have to pay anything, and all we did was walk around the Pioneer Village because it's my favorite place to go when we visit the park.  We got ice cream and held hands and sat on a bench and talked for an hour until the mosquitoes almost sucked us to death.  

We haven't talked like that in a long time.  We haven't talked about the BIG things in a long time.  The HEAVY things.  The God things and life and death things and I sat and looked at him and was reminded of that night at his apartment when I thought I loved him, but how I didn't really have a clue.  He's older and I'm older and we've aged about a century in these sixteen years, but my God, how I love him.  And how there's no one else in all of creation who will ever love my children the way he loves my children, and how we share a history that is priceless and hallowed.  

We rode only one ride, and it was the tram that takes you across the park.  It was finally time to head home to our minions, but we had a couple of errands to run on the way home.  When we pulled into the driveway, it was really late and all the lights were off.  I thought one of two things had happened- either the kids had been kidnapped, or they'd miraculously put themselves to bed.  When we walked in the house, it was silent and dark, but then they came around the corner and yelled "Happy anniversary!!!"

My eyes instantly filled with tears.  They'd made us a beautifully ugly cake complete with old candles they found in the pantry.  They got the flowers Dad had given me, and Devin was holding a picture of Garrett.  As they stood at the top of the stairs in our house that's hardly recognizable because of the construction and associated mess, my heart was pounding and the tears were flowing and I was instantly filled with so much happiness and it was odd, because our life is anything but easy right now.  But these people, the seven of us, are a team.  I stood there and was struck with the knowledge that we have been given this catastrophic trial to experience, but that we can get through it together and that even when it's harder than harder than hard, we have to keep going.  Garrett was there on the sidelines and that night, I heard him.  I heard him cheering so loud for us.  We haven't left him behind but rather, he's ahead of us and he's carrying us and it's up to us to let him. 

For just a moment, the Heavens opened and there was a quiet clam, as if a soft rain was falling on the burning places inside my soul.

So, happy sweet sixteen to us.  Life is hard and messy and ugly a lot of the time, but sometimes, your broken children make you a broken cake and it does much to soothe the broken pieces in your heart.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Me & Angus McGee

Angus' birthday is always a bittersweet event for me.  He was born only three weeks after Garrett died, and we got him when he was two months old to the day.  So each year when he ages, it's a reminder of exactly how long it's been since we lost our son (not that I'm not keeping a mental tally anyway.  Not that everything related to time is not processed in terms of when Garrett died.)

This year was his big number FOUR.  I don't have words to explain my love for this dog who is so much more than that.  He's filled a void in me, and not Garrett's void, but he's filled a void of his own; a place in my heart I didn't realize needed filling until he came into my life.  I grew up with dogs and so did Cody, but having so many little kids, adding a dog to the mix always seemed like one more thing that had to be cleaned, had to be fed, had to poop, and had to go to the doctor.  So we always said we'd get a dog when the kids were older.  Well, life changed that for us, and Angus joined our family a lot sooner than we planned.

In the beginning, I greatly resented him.  I was in the middle of potty training Garrett when he died, and here I had this new "toddler" that I was potty training at present and all I wanted was to have my little boy back!!  I'd trade that stupid puppy in for even one more second of time with my son.  Every time he peed on the rug, I wanted desperately for it to be Garrett peeing.  Every time he came to me for a snuggle, I wanted it to be Garrett.  He was such a blatant reminder that I no longer had a toddler.  But over time, Angus became...Angus.  He was just himself and when I finally allowed him in, he began to comfort me in a way that only a dog can.  And eventually, I was reminded of the absolute JOY that a dog can bring into a life.

I've always thought Angus was more human than canine, but that's not really giving him enough credit, because humans are not nearly as in tune as he.  He has this uncanny ability to know which one of us needs him, and he has a fantastic way of succoring each of us when we need it most.  If Ethan's been having a rough week, Angus only wants to sleep on HIS bed.  If I've been struggling more than usual, it's my feet that become his home at night.  No dog has ever been as loyal and affectionate and unconditionally loving as this dog of ours, and I try my best not to think about the day when he too will cross over that Rainbow Bridge.  So for now, we celebrate him every chance we get.

Last Sunday on his birthday, we took him on a hike through an incredible off leash place we discovered recently.  Angus had a fabulous time sniffing a thousand other dog genitals, which I'm certain was all he could have hoped for on his special day.  Later, Hailey and Lauren made him a special doggie treat that he devoured in about ten seconds. Angus McGee, we love you and are so indebted to you for all the love you give us each day!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Those Two Damn Days

Insert great big sarcasm here.  

We're very fortunate to have not just one, but TWO days to commemorate Garrett's death.  He drowned on the 12th, and died on the 13th.  Why rip the band-aid off at once, when you can prolong the agony over more than one day?  Ha.  And it's not just those two damn days, but the days and even weeks leading up to it.  Crazy enough, it's the not the day of his death that's the hardest for me.  The 11th and 12th are absolute hell, because it's all the wonderful events that I remember.  It's all of the good times that we had together, right before...BAM.  Everything went straight down the crapper after that.  One minute, he was healthy and happy and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  And the next?  He was floating face down in the swimming pool.

I barely sleep the night of the 11th.  My brain doesn't let me sleep, but rather it wants me to relive every second of the horror.  I woke up on Thursday the 12th and had so much adrenaline and anger coursing through me, and the only way to counteract it was to exercise hard.  I hit the gym and cycled and ran harder and faster than I had in a long time.  Then I lifted heavier than I ever have, all in hopes that it would take my mind off the pain in my heart.  Yeah, that never works.

But then on the way home, I had the grandiose idea that it would be different that day.  It's funny what a huge dose of epinephrine does to one's brain.  For me, it gave me a little bit of optimism and made me want to be grateful for my life, rather than to wallow and be miserable.  So Devin and I went to the store and got all the makings to make a ton or orange and blue cupcakes.  We came home, and it's like I was high on cocaine.  I baked and baked and baked for hours.  I couldn't stop.  I started thinking about all the good people in my life, and how fortunate I am to have them.  I had the idea that I would spend the next twenty-four hours delivering orange and blue cupcakes to everyone who has helped me along this journey, and everyone who meant something to Garrett.  The list was crazy long, but then again I had a crazy amount of cupcakes.

I contacted my good friend Mike (yeah, for those of you who think it's weird, I'll weird you out again by reminding you that he was my OB for years and delivered my babies.)  He was pulling an all-nighter up at L&D so the kids and I took two plates of cupcakes, donned our orange and blue clothes, decided it was a good idea to spend the actual night of the 12th back in a hospital.  Was it a good idea?  My nightmares that night told me it wasn't a good idea, but before that, I got to have a couple of much needed visiting hours with one of my favorite people in the world.  Mike is one of my life Buddhas, and I'll always need him.  He has a way of calming my soul like a cool drink of water on a sweltering day.  Even if he did miss Garrett's delivery because [I'm pretty sure] he was out getting high with his friends at some ski cabin that night, I still love him to pieces.

*Okay, I don't think he was out getting high.  But he really did decide to head for the hills, and I still haven't forgiven him!

I suppose gratitude is a good alternative to bitterness, but it's short-lived.  I was doing okay, until everyone went to bed and the house went silent.  One of the things Mike and I talked about was my insatiable need to finish that letter to the PICU doctor who took care of Garrett when he was dying.  After a year of conflict within myself, wondering if it was appropriate to write him such a letter, Mike convinced me to do it.  So that night, I sat down to write the damn thing, and I fell apart at the seams in the worst way.  I couldn't breathe.  I wrote, and I wet my keyboard with tears.  Devin came out of his room and climbed up on the couch with me and he rubbed my back and tried to calm me down as I tried to regain homeostasis.  It's not right that an eight-year-old boy such as himself should have to calm his weeping mother in such a way, but I was grateful for that broken-hearted boy.  Unfortunately, he made the mistake of reading what I'd written, and then he fell to pieces as well.

"Mom, I just wish I had a time machine.  I'd go back and I'd change everything.  I'd save him.  I just wish I could have saved him!"

He sat there and sobbed with me.  People are quick to underestimate the grief and trauma that a four-year-old child can experience, absorb, and live with for the rest of his life.  How can a child so young understand and still remember the nightmare almost twice his life later?  I don't know, but he surely does, and it's a horrible pain to witness. 

I take a bare-faced picture each year before bed on the 12th.  It's been an interesting progression.

After taking a huge sleeping pill, I finally fell into a very restless and nightmare laden sleep.  It's difficult to get my mind to shut off on that night, because my internal clock remembers the events minute by minute.  I remember every time the doctor came in.  I remember the beeps.  I remember his skin growing colder.  I remember the meeting with the organ transplant coordinator.  And above all else, I remember the second Cody walked into the PICU room after the taxi dropped him off, and for the rest of my life, I'll never forget the sound that erupted from him.  All of it happened in the middle of the night while everyone on this side of the globe was sleeping.  The sun would rise again, but nothing would be the same for any of us.

Friday morning came, and with it was the need to run.  But before that, I decided to take a plate of cupcakes to one of Garrett's best friends, Graham.  Those friends were less than two weeks apart; Graham being born only thirteen days before.  I vividly recall Audrey bringing her new baby over to meet my new baby when we came home from the hospital.  We sat there and talked about sore nipples and poop blow outs and exhaustion.  But more so, we talked about how those boys would grow up to the best of friends, and they were.  For a whole three years, they were best friends.  In fact, on the way to Texas, we passed a van that was identical to the Beebes' van. Garrett looked out the window and pointed and excitedly declared, "Look!  It's Graham's car!  Graham is going to Texas, too!"

Sometimes, I just have to hug the boy because it lets me know what Garrett would feel like if he was still alive.  I'm sure the day will come when Graham no longer wants me to hug him like that because it'll be too weird.  You know, when he's six foot three and has armpit hair.  But for now, I'm grateful for the comfort he gives me when I need it most.

Some of my favorite kids in the world.  That stinker with the cupcake is Grahamalamadingdong.

Because it's too stinking hot outside, I hit the treadmill at the gym and sprinted four painful miles.  One mile for each year he's been gone, and I ran so fast and so furiously that in the last half mile, I thought my hips were coming detached from the rest of me.  My lungs ached, my sides ached, and my bowels were not happy.  Sometimes I think that if I run hard enough and fast enough, I can somehow outrun this pain.  Somehow, I can escape it if I just go fast enough.  But I never can.  

I never did deliver the rest of the cupcakes.  Truth be told, I didn't have it in me to be grateful for another minute, so I let my kids eat as many as they wanted.  In the evening, Megan came to pick me up because I knew the only thing I wanted to do was sit in Dave's tattoo chair and talk to him while he etched into my skin something beautiful to commemorate another year of painful growth and loss.  Everyone needs a Dave in their life, and I'm thankful for him.  I wasn't sure if he'd know who I was, seeing as how a whole year had passed since he did my "Garrett" tattoo.  On the way to the parlor, the grief was crashing down on me, pressing me further into the ground like a boulder.  I about lost my mind in the car (sorry, Megan) but I pulled myself together enough to walk inside.  And when I did, it was such a sweet release.  Dave came out and gave me a huge hug and he not only knew who I was, but he remembered everything about the three hours we spent together last July.  He remembered details about my life and my story, and it was a fantastic catharsis to have my girl Megan there while Dave tortured my poor arm.

Dave.  Is.  Huge.  I'm 5'8", so you do the math!  Big giant teddy bear of a guy.

I'm in the middle of journaling about Scotland, but for now, I'll say that it provided me with such a sense of home and familiarity and I knew I had to incorporate it into a tattoo somehow.  I know a lot of people have big opinions about inking one's skin, but I don't care.  It helps me cope, and I figure there are far worse things a person can do than mark herself.  The majority of my heritage is from Scotland, and I experienced a sense of strength and camaraderie while there that I've never known before.  And in it, I thought of the hardships my ancestors faced for centuries, and I felt a connection.  And so, after much agonizing over the exact phrase and design, I decided to have "bana-ghaisgeach" permanently imprinted on my skin.  There isn't a perfect English translation, but it is the equivalent of "female warrior" in Scot Gaelic.  Because after all, I am fighting a war every day of my life.

It's difficult to pronounce because of the thick Gaelic accent that must be used, but if you say bahna gosh gee awk really fast and put your tongue all the way at the back of your throat, you'll come close to saying it correctly.

This is what it looks like today after removing the plastic, cleansing, and moisturizing it.
Holy mother of God, did this one hurt.  Dave said anything around the bicep is bad because there's no fat there and the muscle is very dense and full of nerves and vessels.  Yup, this one hurt a lot, but it wasn't too bad.  The worst part is how much it bled after, which surprised me.  Normally I clot very fast, but this one bled off and on for several hours.  The colors inside the mother/child symbol are the colors of my children's birthstones.  Red, blue, purple, pink, and clear diamond (for Garrett in April).  I could not be more pleased with how it turned out!  

After the tattoo, Megan and I went a few blocks down the road to my favorite Irish-American pub.  The Piper Down, and they make the most fantastic shepherd's pie and they hate all things English there, which makes for a great time!  Since it was Friday, they had live music and it was a good ending to an otherwise terrible two days.  The good news is that I don't have to do it again for another year.  The bad news is that I have to do it every year for the rest of my life.

Left the sweet waitress a hefty tip!
I don't know where I'd be without wonderful friends who continue to lift and support us.  Neighbors do little things to show they care, like putting in blue and orange exterior lights, or wrapping orange and blue ribbons on their trees.  Or how cookies mysteriously end up on our porch, or someone brings in dinner because they know I just can't.  It's the smaller things, too, that mean a great deal.  It's the texts and the phone calls and the social media pictures and messages.  I remember walking through the desolate halls of the PICU after going to the restroom, really and truly believing I would die.  My heart would give out, and I'd die.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't face what my life would look like after that day.  I couldn't do any of it, and I remember a moment when I prayed to God for strength, saying I needed help.  I needed angels to lift me up and make me live, because I couldn't otherwise.  

And you know what?  I've received help all along the way.  Angels don't have wings.  They have minivans and casseroles and funny distractions when I need it most.  My heart is so full, and these tears are tears of grief but also tears of gratitude.  I'm sorry I never got cupcakes out, but each of you know who you are and that I cannot repay the kindness you continue to show me and my family.  I love you!!