Friday, June 30, 2017
The Plight of the Rainbow
I remember the resident's words exactly. Precisely. Every heightened syllable and elongation. The wand was on my abdomen and he hadn't said a word in over a minute. I could hear my heart on the monitor beside me, beats flying off the paper.
"She's dead, isn't she?"
These words were foreign in my mouth. Calm. They couldn't be mine.
His lip curled at the side, the way my mother's did when I was five and I asked about the people on the news, but his eyes wouldn't meet me yet.
"What I'm seeing isn't reassuring."
They define shock as the response to a sudden upsetting or surprising event, and I would classify my daughter's death as such. I remember every second that followed. The nurse's gasp, the weight of her hand on my shoulder. I remember how they turned the screen to face me, how she looked like a portrait; a shell of the person I'd seen all those times before, dancing in gray above my head. I remember the beige walls turning to bars. This box that would hold me now; a permanent separation from all I'd ever known. I remember how I couldn't taste food for days, and how time seemed to stop for months. But above all else during those first few days without her, I remember feeling nothing at all.
In the physiological sense, shock can be life threatening; but from an emotional standpoint, it can actually be helpful. There are stories of soldiers losing limbs in the midst of battle, their brains not initially allowing for the totality of the pain, so as to ensure they reach safety. Hikers who fall from trails and suffer debilitating physical injuries, can drag their limp and bleeding bodies for days in search of rescue. During a traumatic event, endorphins can actually be released, saturating the spaces between cells and essentially preventing the body from realizing, "Hey. This hurts." In short, we are hard-wired to survive, even in the most trying of times and most interestingly, the brain can override a pain you'd swear would kill you.
Recently, I've been wondering if one can exist in a perpetual state of shock forever. Numb to most all emotions, joy and anticipation and logic, save for one notable exception: fear. Last week our youngest underwent a minor surgery and when the doctor entered the waiting room and proceeded to explain that all went well, I looked to my husband for the clarification. "This means he's still breathing?" I asked.
Later, when confronted about my neuroses I told my husband the truth. It seems after being permanently separated from one of my children against my will, I live in state of absolute certainty that it will happen again. I told him that since before he was born, I've been waiting for him to leave me. That someone, somewhere is seething at the joy that floods my veins when I hold him, and that it's so scary sometimes I can barely breathe. First, he suggested we open a bottle of wine, and then he told me what he's told me more than once since that fateful February night: There are people who can help me, and I need to meet them.
I started seeing a therapist, and while I can't say that I love her yet, she offered something helpful. During our first visit she asked what I would consider my biggest hurdles, and so I told her. I told her how I have trouble picturing my children beyond their ages now. I explained how it feels like impending doom, all the time. What else is going to happen? And to whom? I told her how I can't bear the thought of ever being surprised about anything, ever again. How I want to be ahead of it, out in front and prepared. And so I read and I ask and I plan, for the most horrific of events, every day. How mostly anymore, life with them feels less like a logical sequence of events, and more like a loan.
She looked up from her paper. "That must be exhausting."
I began to cry, acknowledging that yes, it is exhausting and that yes, it is potentially ruining every relationship I share, and then I asked her how to make it stop. How do I allow life the courtesy of regaining my trust?
"You don't have to allow it," she said. "Life is trying all the time."
I snorted, mopping the wet hysterics with my fingers. "Well, it needs to try harder."
She handed me another Kleenex.
"So do you."