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Monday, April 25, 2016

On Fish Funerals.

Dear Josie,

Gilligan blew up my TimeHop today.

In my elective course we talk of brain injury pretty regularly.  First semester, nearly a month is devoted to the different regions and all they control.  Next comes action potentials and nerve damage and neuroplasticity.  Class discussions are centered around various neurological disorders and injury and recovery, and your uncle always stops by to speak. 

Last week was the third anniversary of his traumatic brain injury.  Three years have passed since he was found beneath some overpass in the rain; since I received the call that woke me in the night.  Three years since the beginning of that year, the year which shall not be named, because there is no name for that year. 

I mentioned the significance of this day to my classes.  

"Ms. LaFata!"  exclaimed a rather enthusiastic member of my second hour.  "You've been through some STUFF, though."

And she's right.  I have. 

One night in 2013, I fell asleep in a world where brothers' brains and babies' hearts were off limits.  When I awoke the next morning in a very different one, everything was fair game. 

On April 10  I would watch my brother cling to life.  With the help of loud machines and skilled surgeons' hands, he would survive the night.  The next morning he would lose a portion of his frontal lobe forever, and we would live bedside for weeks, wondering if he'd ever speak or dance or swallow again.  Two months later we found out you were coming, and eight months after that you were dead. 

There was shock and hope and love.  And love and hope and shock.  It was a whirlwind to rock all whirlwinds.  It was the most tumultuous, most draining, most altering year of my life. 

Sometimes I think about the person I was before that year.   Sometimes it feels like all of the horrific, heart stopping, vomit-inducing phone calls were condensed and then made and received in those 365 days.  Sometimes it feels like I entered that year a different person entirely, that the current "me" is the result of some hand turning on some massive spin cycle.  And 'round I went and out I came, dizzy and shaking and wet.  A mere suggestion of the threads that went in.  Darker.  Faded.  Stretched. 

Is it any wonder I clung to the Doppler all those months?  Why all of the "This time it will works" and the "What are the chances?" and the "You're so closes!" did me no good.  I had learned that one tragedy does not exclude another; the weight of the target on my back.

In the days before your little brother's induction I was a zombie.  At any moment I could be found wandering the house in the same fuzzy gray sweatpants, staring at clocks and listening to heartbeats, sometimes for hours.  My hands atop my protruding belly and my gaze averted slightly, always, to the door.  Only instead of "brains" I was mumbling something else.  It was baby.  One that cried and took breaths and clasped tiny hands around fingers.  One that you get to take home.

The night before he was born I had a panic attack, which was nothing new.  Around midnight I convinced myself that something was wrong, and I drove myself to the hospital for the eleventh time in two months.  It was 24 hours before my scheduled induction, but that wasn't soon enough.   I was sure he wouldn't make it here.  I was certain my body would kill him too.

They checked me out and sent me home, and when I entered the house at two am there was Gilligan.  The fish your older brother had won three weeks earlier, face up and very dead, in the round little bowl on my kitchen table. 

Immediately I became hysterical.  I woke your father, attempted to convince him that this was some sort of sign.  I begged  him to drive to the nearest 24 hour pet store, (does such a place exist?), to break in and steal another fish so we could pretend it hadn't happened.  So your brother wouldn't have to hear that one more damn thing had died.

I texted your aunt and your grandmother, desperate for answers.  I wanted some old wives tale, some ancient Greek myth.  Any indication that this was clearly a sign and that I should head to the nearest maternity ward for constant 24 hour monitoring until the baby arrived.  I was going on four days of no sleep and nine months of no sanity.  I was so convinced and I was so, so very scared. 

Instead of the confirmation I so desperately sought, your grandmother responded quite simply:   "Nora, sometimes fish die." 

I think that's the hardest part now.  Living in the after of 2013.  Living in a world alongside the knowledge that bad doesn't exclude you from more bad.  Learning to lower the gloves when you'd prefer they remain raised.  Always anticipating the ring in the night.  Always packing. 

It's hard to live here like that.   I'm trying, but it's hard to teach the bereaved brain that sometimes, it's just a fever.  Sometimes midnight phone calls are pocket dials.  Sometimes,  fish die. 



1 comment:

  1. Oh Nora, sometimes fish die. It's so true.

    I called Justin the other day at an off time - I wanted to tell him about something and didn't want to email or text as we usually do during the day. I began by saying "everything is fine" but apparently he didn't hear that part and he was freaking out. I feel like I can't call my husband anymore because of our trauma.