October 5, 2011
For the past few weeks (well, decades, really), I’ve been staring down at my forearms, counting scars, ruminating on the damage, and because so much of that occurred in pre-ECT years, am able to remember (unfortunately? Perhaps here, memory loss might be appreciated), in vivid, tortured detail, the impulsive and predetermined scenes, all the various implements—those shiny, new straight-edges, the rusty ones filched from tool boxes, plastic Daisy razors snapped open, glass broken against concrete, dirty shards of glass pocketed from gutters, kitchen scissors, sewing scissors, nail scissors, serrated knives, chef’s knives, and at my most stupidly desperate: there I was in the ICU coming back to consciousness after a desperately, deliberate manic suicidal overdose on Lithium and Ambien, given a can of Diet Coke—flip-top intact-by the attending nurse, and in an unattended few minutes, manage to cut up my arms with aforementioned flip top.
So, by now, with every shower, ever application of honeyed body cream, every decision to wear short sleeves or a bathing suit, I must face what I have done and what I have too often, in my impulsive, dark moments, continued to do.In these past weeks, I decided it was time to do something different, time to inscribe hope. Is it possible to reinvent the wheel? What could I do that would change the way I see what is already there? What could I do that might give me pause in the next impulsive flash? What could I do that would remind me of what I have to keep me tied to this world of love and joy and redemption, namely Christopher, Sophia and Alexander?
A tattoo. On my right wrist, superimposed on the tangle of scars, on the usual, go-to- cutting hand. I have one tattoo already, on my lower right hip-ish area. A blue jay on a cherry blossom branch—vocal bird unafraid to speak its mind; the flower of hope. This new, permanent symbol? It would have to be Greek themed, since so much of our lives are tied to this county—engagement, pregnancy, infancies, depressions, recoveries, our four-square made one.
Two swallows swooping at each other, an ancient archaeological painting from a site in Santorini. Swallows: the birds of Spring, of new life, of hope. Surrounding the birds, the names of my family written in Greek: The intended result? I look at my arm and will see the meaning and purpose of my life. A hopeful deterrent.
Yesterday afternoon, I took my pictures to the local tattoo parlor, and the artist, Mad Mike, told me he could sketch it out and have it ready to go by today. Excellent. A perfect surprise for my family!
The rest of the day seemed to skyrocket. And I do mean that in the giddy, manic, uh-oh kind of way. A beginning mania that’s been creeping up on me the past week. 7am to Midnight, nonstop. Every hour packed and planned, no sitting, no stopping, go go, go. My energy up, up, up but so is my irritability. The excited goodness!! Yesterday beginning to take a downturn with the kids’ swim practice. Alexander finishes his practice 30 minutes before Sophia, swimming his little, determined heart out, climbing out of the pool, shivering and blue. We go to the locker room for a warm shower and change of clothes, and when I rummage through the swim bag, realize to my immediate, agonizing self-recrimination, that I have forgotten his underwear and warm sweatpants, which means all I have is his wet, cold swim trunks. And why don’t I have a change of clothes? Because I was rushing, rushing, rushing too fast, and left them right on the kitchen counter. I try as best as I can to dry his trunks under the hand driers, but they are still damp, and he is still shivering as we sit in the bleachers for another 30 minutes waiting for Sophia to finish her practice.
But all is not lost. I return home and head to my AA meeting, where the theme of discussion is hope. Fitting considering my tattoo decision, considering my success with Carolyn’s visit the previous weekend. As I recount that story to the group, talk about how I have, for the first time, come to believe that my recovery is actually possible, that I finally have genuine hope for myself because of the support I receive from my family, from my AA family, from my family up in my Partial Hospitalization group, I am additionally bowled over at the end of the meeting when these two men, utterly different—one, my mentor Grandpa, the other, this big, burly Southern black man—each tell me that they love me, are inspired by me. Me? I give other people hope? Really? As Sophia would say, crazy amazing!
I return home, gushing about the meeting to Christopher, brimming with joy and hope, almost moved to tears by my happiness and secret anticipation over the next day’s tattoo.
Until I hear Alexander hollering from upstairs about his booboo on his leg—another potential staff infection. For some god-awful reason, he is prone to them. I go upstairs, apply hot compress to the pus-filled boil, then try to squeeze it to relieve the devil inside. What this means, as I know from experience: Alexander starts screaming, crying, tears streaming down his face, begging me to “Stop, stop, please Momma stop, please, you’re hurting me, Momma, please, Momma please!” Sobbing uncontrollably. I try to steel myself against the awful pain, his and mine.
Christopher comes running up the stairs, sees me hunched over the poor boy, finally bandaging him up, leans over and whispers to me, “Kerry, don’t you remember the doctor said not to squeeze them?”
I shook my head. “No,” I said, with added, emphatic, unnecessary spite.
“You don’t remember? When we came back from Greece in July and we brought him to the doctor after he had one and we squeezed it and the doctor said we could actually spread the infection through his system that way?”
I shook my head again. No memory at all. Another ECT wipeout.
“Well, you’d better give him some Ibuprofen.”
I stomped off to the bathroom, loaded up the plunger, came back into the bedroom and got ready to plunge the grape medicine into Alexander’s mouth, opened expectantly like a little wounded bird. He was still sobbing, still moaning, still shaking, still saying, “Momma, Momma, you hurt me, you hurt me.”
Christopher suddenly stopped me. “Are you sure that’s the right dosage? Did you check the dose?”
I glared at him, my manic, guilt-ridden hackles immediately standing straight up. “What? You think I can’t read now? You think I’m incompetent now? Now I’m some terrible mother, too?” Saying all this nasty, lashing out shit, directing at him, easy target, because really, I was thinking all this, already at me.
He responded, in kind, with anger, bemusement, in self-defense. Then said, “It’s almost 10:00. We should eat.”
I should say that he had spent a lot of time, after a long day of teaching, making a very delicious dinner: a gratin of potatoes, kale, spinach, and 3 kinds of yummy, exotic, Frenchy-cheeses.
My response? Juvenile, eating disorder, FU bitch: “I’m not eating after this.”
I stomped downstairs, to the couch, glared at the floor, the coffee table, then my forearms, seized suddenly by the most intense desire to grab the nearest, most convenient sharpest object at hand—could I push past Christopher into the kitchen?—the chef’s knife in the sink, and cut deeply into my arms, over and over, intending stitches at the very least.
Because all I could think is this: You are a shitty, awful, terrible, no-good mother. You have caused your son unnecessary, horrible pain. It is not just that you are forgetting words, forgetting names, forgetting how to drive around your small town, but you are forgetting essential medical information necessary to your children’s health and well-being. You deserve pain. You deserve to pay. You deserve to remember this night and the only way to remember is to make sure this night leaves its mark on you. Scars.
But I did not give into this impulse. Instead, I was seized by my body convulsing in sobs, wracking, heaving sobs. Once again, Christopher came running, sat beside me, his hand on my back, his voice soothing, forgiving, loving me still, offering healing and hope.
After I caught my breath, hugged Christopher, wiped the unattractive blobs of make-up and snot from my face, I went upstairs and smothered Alexander in hugs and kisses and apologies, asking for forgiveness. Already, he had settled down, already he was giving me wet smooches and insisting on my Momma-magnificence, and already Sophia was acting as Greatest Big Sister, offering him free Pokémon cards from her treasured stash to help him feel better. My heart swelled watching them in powwow on the bed.
Today: In the tattoo chair, forearm swabbed with alcohol, Mad Mike buzzing at my wrist with his needle. At one point, he stops, and says, “You’re awfully quiet. Usually, my clients tend to make a little more noise and move around a little more. They find things a bit more painful.”
I shrugged. “Well, I do a lot of yoga.”
He laughed. “But you seem so serene. But I guess I can see you are maybe used to pain in this area?”
“That’s what the tattoo is for. Hope. My family. I look down and see beauty and a reason to live.”
“I’m glad I can help create that for you. Not my usual Pimp Daddy or Celtic Knot.”
Nervous, nervous, nervous. Reminder: a surprise for my family. But Christopher loves it, and he thinks I got all the names translated correctly into Greek. As I showed it to him, I started crying—over the tattoo’s beauty (it IS unequivocally beautiful), but also because the timing was perfect, considering last night’s almost-crisis. And Sophia and Alexander?
Well, Alexander announced with his authority, “Now you have 3 birds! One on your bum and two your arm!”
Sophia’s eyes widened, then she smiled. “It’s so cool, Momma. How old do you have to be before you can get a tattoo?”
“18,” I said.
“Oh,” she said. “I want to get one of Thunderdust (her beloved, stuffed, blue dragon). You know what else that’s cool about it? It’s beautiful but it also helps cover up all those scars! I love it!”
Hope. I have it. And now I have it on me.