5.22.2019

indiscretion

I'd been up since before dawn—again—the fullish moon still pinned in the inky sky. Calvin had had a grand mal seizure earlier, prompting me to crawl into bed next to him to ensure he kept breathing in it's wake.

Later, when I arrived at the Jr. high for a meeting about Calvin's upcoming transition to high school, I was sorely feeling the lack of sleep from consecutive nights—weeks, months, years—of not having gotten enough. I pressed the school's secure-entry button, and could see through the glass doors that the folks at the front desk were busy attending to others. To my right, a man and his son exited, so I snuck in through the open door. The man called me back, insisting that I couldn't enter the school without approval. Despite being visibly irritated at his request, I understood it well and knew I'd misstepped, so I complied, exiting the school then crabbily smacking the entry button again.

"You got a problem with that?" The man said to the back of my head as I waited to be buzzed in. Exhausted and vexed, I chose to ignore him rather than get into an argument, especially in front of his kid. Besides, I did not feel compelled to answer him.

The secretary buzzed me in and I walked to the front desk to sign in as a visitor. I sensed the man had followed me back inside. (I wonder, had he waited and been buzzed back in, or had he gone in the door right behind me?) Curious.

"Ma'am, is this lady giving you trouble?" the man asked the secretary. (He could see that I was not.)

"No, not at all," she said.

"Because she gave me some attitude outside," he added.

"I did what you told me to do," I replied, spinning on red cowboy boots to face him.

"You ignored me," he said.

"I can ignore anyone I feel like ignoring," I replied.

"When a law enforcement officer speaks to you, you respond," he retorted, with more than a hint of conceit.

Only then did I notice his stiff khaki uniform, searching it for a recognizable badge or pin. Flustered, I couldn't see past the smug look on his face, which was middle-aged, slightly doughy and white, save a faint five o'clock shadow.

Seemingly peeved with my protest, he threatened to call a school resource officer—for what, I don't know. I'm not sure what he was trying to prove.

Had I more energy, I would have questioned his eagerness to hound me despite having followed his initial request. Had I more sleep, perhaps I would have questioned his bad attitude. Had I more patience and clarity, maybe I would have challenged his decision to risk escalating the situation unnecessarily. Lacking my usual moxie, I told him I had had a rough day with my disabled kid. Upon hearing this, he turned around and left.

I was fuming—heart pounding, nerves twitching, cussing under my breath at the (bleep) who'd just left. I asked the secretary about the man's assertion he was law enforcement; she said his uniform read Marine Patrol. I laughed. What is it with these men?

As the man got into his ubiquitous, ridiculously-big, black pickup, his son buckling himself into the passenger seat grinning at whatever his dad was saying, I couldn't help but mock them with sleep-deprived contempt.

In the school meeting I then attended, there were reasonable people, compassionate people, intelligent people—a stark contrast, it seemed, to the man who just hassled a woman who did exactly what he asked, a man whose pride was hurt because that woman then ignored him. I wondered if he would have treated my husband with such disrespect. I wondered what he told his son about the incident. I had no doubt he had painted himself as the BMOC. I wondered what the school's officials would think of such a situation. I remembered my own indiscretion when Calvin suffered a seizure at school one day.

I thought further about Calvin and pondered the bullying he'd likely get if he were a little more capable of mainstreaming. I wondered what provokes some law enforcement officials to agitate and escalate so unnecessarily. I wondered if he'd had a gun on him. I wondered what might've happened if I'd been a Black man, woman or kid. I remembered what my brother Steve, a Tacoma Police Department veteran, had said about some officers' sorry lack of experience and discretion when handling prickly situations. I thought about Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castille, Oscar Grant and Tamir Rice. I thought about all the autistic boys and men tazed, shot and choked because of law enforcement indiscretion.

In the end, I felt sorry for the Marine Patrol dad who came off like a rookie trying to pick a schoolyard fight. I figured he might be unhappy in his job, down on his luck, having trouble with his own family. Maybe he was sleep deprived himself. Perhaps he'd been bullied as a little kid and was eager to take it out on someone who he saw as somehow subordinate. But like doctors, these law enforcement officials are not our superiors. They are at best our equals and, in truth, are here to serve and protect, not to harass. Like the rest of us, they should know better when to submit.

5.20.2019

coming home

I was going to write about hiking from Penn Station to Rockefeller Center and into Central Park, then partway back, tugging my mini crimson roller bag over sidewalks and cobblestones. I was going to describe imbibing wine and nibbling exquisite fingerling potatoes at the Tavern on the Green patio bar with Jaimie, both of us dreaming of all that was and could be. I was going to gush over my lovely and generous hosts, Antoinette, Leo and Ivano Pulito, and the stellar meals I enjoyed at their Tribeca restaurant, Petrarca—melt-in-your-mouth eggplant Parmesan, potato gnocchi with pesto, creamy burrata, ricotta gnocchi scattered with shavings of summer truffles, Aperol and Prosecco Spritz, vino and cappuccino. If you live in Manhattan, you must dine there; tell them I sent you.

I was going to detail finally meeting a mutual friend of our young beloved who took his life last summer, mention holding her hand and weeping as we grieved and shared stories of him, our lost and sorely-missed brother. Thank you Meredith.

I was going to write about rooftop bars, boutique clothes, and enormous gourmet Italian food stores, skyscrapers, ambulances, lovely spring weather, spent petals falling like snow, and sudden downpours. I was going to tell about boxer puppies and sassy cats, cousins and sons, dear old homies from my Levi's days, and tweenage baseball games in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. I was going to rhapsodize about a sweet, thoughtful, brown-eyed eleven-year-old boy who shared his parents, pets and home with me, and who made me a perfectly strong coffee with cream, and a sublime strawberrry-banana-walnut breakfast salad with cinnamon sugar and Greek yogurt. I was going to tell of subways and schnitzel, annoyingly boisterous drunken white bros, and all the sights, sounds and aromas which make up splendid New York and its boroughs.

Instead, I feel compelled to tell you about the rare way Calvin greeted me when I came home from my long weekend away. My non-verbal, epileptic, autistic, incontinent, legally blind fifteen-year-old boy had spiraled into his agitated late-afternoon "ooh-oohs," feverishly spinning on the floor while working his arms, hands and fingers into a frenzy. I swept him up into my lap on the green couch and, to my delight and surprise, he hugged me tighter than I can remember. We remained in each other's arms for what seemed like a part of forever. Michael and Mary looked on in some amazement at his prolonged and calm embracing. I rubbed Calvin's back and told him how much I missed him. At least twice he kissed my nose—his mouth slightly open—then smiled when I tickled and smooched his neck, and told him that I loved him. Perhaps he knew—even if just viscerally—I had been gone for several days and now was home.

One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower) as seen from my host's back patio.

5.14.2019

hell is an ambulatory eeg

i really don't feel like going into it. suffice to say, this happened today and is still happening. #ineedfourmorehands #fuckthisshit #webetterlearnsomething #colossalpainintheass #impossiblekid #tomorrowcannotcomesoonenough

5.13.2019

gratitude and sorrow

At Niles' request, I had brought Calvin downstairs Saturday to greet Michael's documentary photography students who had gathered here for dinner—something Michael has been doing for eighteen years at the close of every college semester. Poor Calvin, having had a good day despite some seizure harbingers (sour breath, warm hands, rashy butt) had spiraled into his "ooh-oohing," seemingly oblivious to anything but his fingers mad-snapping mere inches from his face. The students watched our son in relative silence, seemingly not knowing how to respond to an uber-awkward child so remote and unresponsive.

Just before they arrived, I'd been upstairs changing that hour's third, foul, poopy diaper which Calvin had gotten his hands into and within minutes proceeded to spread shit onto his pants, sheet and the toys that he mouths. Multiple wipes and four applications of hand sanitizer did not remove the reek from his fingertips. Thankfully, shortly after Calvin met the students, he went to sleep without too much trouble, and I was able to join the crew.

The young men and women, students of all races and backgrounds, sat around the coffee table gabbing and eating pizza before doing a Yankee swap with their photos. I stood from the dining room, sipping wine, looking on, making jokes and commenting on their photos. I talked too briefly with Octavio, whose brother Daniel, a Fulbright scholar, had also been a student of Michael's. I spoke with Brennan about a photo book he is publishing, and we talked about his love—and my curiosity—of Russian literature. At the end of the evening one of the students—I think it was Nate—asked how Michael and I had first met. I blushed telling them that when I was unemployed, before I began my design career at Levi Strauss in San Francisco, I'd been one of his photography students in a community college adult education class when we were both thirty-four. They laughed when I told them that Michael gave me an A- in my intro class, prompting me to take a second class to get the A. It was at the very end of that second semester when he and I began hanging out.

As students of an advanced class, I'd met all of them previously when they had come over as beginning photography students. After the photo swap and some brownies and ice cream, the group lingered a while before all but five of them left. For the next couple of hours, I sat amongst the beloved stragglers—J.P., Niles, Cirque, Nate and Brennan—as we discussed religion, photography, English as a major, parents, Rumspringa, and college professors. Even at ten o'clock I was still alert, energized by the lively conversation and feeling comfortable—like I did as a child with four brothers—amongst a bunch of guys.

It was impossible for me to sit there on the floor of our living room and not wish that any of the boys—young men, really—were my son, all of them witty, talented, kind, college undergrads, the kind I once dreamt a son of mine might be.

Eventually, sleep deprivation got its grip on me and I had to say goodnight. I hugged them all, hoping I'd see them again sometime. I went to sleep feeling gratitude and sorrow—gratitude for our ability to know, laugh and engage with these bright, curious, open individuals, and sorrow because we'll never experience any of that with our own boy.

Then, at three-thirty on Mother's Day morning, my sweet, vulnerable child did what I thought he might do: he seized in his bed for ninety seconds. I dabbed lavender on his pillow, then crawled in next to him and held him like the baby he once was, and still is.

Me and Octavio

5.09.2019

love hurts

In the sunlight, Calvin's hair is the color of redwood in rain. His skin is creamy and supple. A little crescent-shaped dimple appears at the corner of his mouth when he smiles and giggles. Gracing his cheeks, neck and arms is a sparse constellation of little dark specks, a half-dozen of them tossed as if seeds in a breeze. A larger freckle, the first of them to appear when he was little, adorns his left shoulder blade.

Our son is pure and sweet and vulnerable. His body, though awkwardly gangly, remains flawless. But his brain is messed-up, missing a significant amount of its white matter, so much that at fifteen he can't tell us of his miseries which, because of epilepsy and its treatments, are plenty. These are all reasons why it pains me so much when he gets hurt.

The other day Calvin fell while in the bathtub. From downstairs I heard the colossal splash, as if someone were doing a cannonball into a pool. In the past, I'd seen him kneel at the edge of the tub and try to stand, so I knew what had likely happened, but how? The nurse on duty had left the bathroom, however briefly I don't know—something I had allowed the nurses to quickly do to put his dirty clothing in his room down the hall and to grab his towel. While she was gone, Calvin must have tried to get out of the tub and then fell in the absence of someone there to help. By the time I got to the top of the stairs where the bathroom is, he began whimpering; that moment of silence between hurt and tears is so dreadfully gut-wrenching. The nurse and I had no idea what part of his body had been injured. The circular purplish bruises on his bony upper and lower hip did not show themselves to me until the next day's bath, when Calvin removed the rubber stopper and put the whole thing into his mouth.

As I write this I am keenly aware of the frown on my face—my furrowed brow, narrowed eyes and protruding bottom lip. I'm wincing with palpable heartache at my son's fragility and pain even now, days after the accident. I want to be there always to protect him. To break his fall. To prevent him from choking. To stop his seizureish fits. And though it's not humanly possible, I'll try with supermama vigilance nonetheless.

5.08.2019

know what you don't know (SUDEP)

SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy) happens to someone every seven to nine seconds. It is the second leading cause of lost years of life behind stroke. One in twenty-six of us—our kids, our parents, our partners, our siblings, ourselves—will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in our lifetime. One third of those diagnosed will not have their seizures controlled using medication. Know what you don't know about SUDEP.

This Ted Talk, in my opinion, is poorly titled, because it is as much about artificial intelligence as it is about epilepsy and SUDEP. Please take twenty minutes to watch, and share.


             

5.04.2019

treading water

From the age of seven until twenty-two, I was a competitive swimmer. At fifteen I was the lead on my high school's 400 freestyle relay team at the 1979 Washington State swimming championships. We won the event and became All-Americans. In college, I swam a mile under twenty minutes, the 50-yard freestyle in 24 seconds and the 100-yard freestyle in 54 seconds. I placed second at NAIA regionals in the 400 individual medley having never swum it before. At least once in my life I swam nine miles in one day. On most other days I swam four or more miles, and lifted weights. I bench pressed 135 pounds. And while there were periods in my swimming career when I might have been considered decently fast, by no means was I elite, though I swam with and against a couple of Olympians.

All of my time in the pool made treading water effortless for me. I could tread holding both hands above my head for minutes at a time without tiring, and could sculpt the water with my hands well enough to keep afloat without using my legs.

Last night, after our son Calvin suffered a second grand mal seizure in just over two days, it occurred to me that living with the nightmare of epilepsy feels like treading water in quicksand. Relentless seizures make it difficult to keep my head above water—to get enough sleep, to hold anxiety at bay, to catch a breather once in a while, to keep my child safe, to avoid sinking in a sea of despair.

Before Calvin, a life immersed in competitive swimming presented some of my most difficult challenges. The pain was relentless. Dreaded and grueling workouts began at ungodly hours. Rest between sets was fleeting. The torture lasted for weeks, months, years. Competition proved to be nerve-racking. Defeats were dispiriting. Much of the time the suffering outweighed the joy. At times, triumphs were few and far between, leading me to wonder if it was worth all of the suffering. 

In a strange way, swimming has steeled me for this marathon of caring for my non-verbal, legally blind, incontinent, physically and intellectually impaired, chronically ill teenager. All those years in the pool taught me the meaning and value of commitment and hard work, made me strong, tenacious and resilient, and enabled me to discover just how capable—physically and emotionally—I am both in calm, clear waters and in raging seas.

Photo by Lisa Kolster