8.01.2021

marathoners

i think i overdid it. tweaked my knee running. this body—still fairly fit and strong—sometimes reminds me i'm not not as young as i used to be. or slightly overzealous? both, maybe.

and so i break out my bicycle. there's no doubt where i'll ride: along the back roads. the adventure is altogether different from trips in the car. everything is slower and more quiet. no rumbling engine. no radio. no djs jabbering. very little traffic whizzing by. no infant-toddler-teen screeching in the back seat. instead, wind sweeps back my hair. feels like i'm flying. i can hear the buzz of bees. the chirps of birds and crickets. hear water lap against the shore and run in rivulets between rocks and trees. i'm blown over by the sweet scent of fresh-cut hay and clover. of salty sea air. of smoke from a nearby burn. red winged blackbirds dive and dart. hawks swoop from tree to field. workmen smile when they recognize me. they've seen me drive by with calvin a hundred times. i see the carhart dog walker whose name i now know. i stop to talk with him again. he tells me intimate details about his difficulties. i try to think of ways i can help.

the ten-mile escape renews me. mostly, i've forgotten about my woes. but it's impossible to completely elude worries of my son and his condition. sadly, the angst is well-seated in my bones. two weeks ago we lessened his keppra. hope it might help. since then he's gone longer between seizures. not by much, though. i've put extra cannabis oil on board. maybe it's helping. i think so. we lessened the keppra again this morning. i'll let you know how it goes.

i get back into my meditative state. the rare and glorious feeling of adventure and escape. runners pass me by. warms my heart when they wave and smile. some of them run quite far. as i see the road stretch out before me, i imagine being a marathoner. i wonder what sends or takes them such distances. hardship, loss, grief, trauma, stress, joy, exhilaration, reward, endeavor, competitiveness, obsession, evasion? i know several (of these feelings and these athletes.) i'd love to know the source of their ambition. years ago, i fleetingly considered training for one. i wonder how it feels. to run three times as far as my longest day's swim or jog. to get into a zone where nothing else matters but stride and step and breath. is it a dreaded pain? a kind of high? a refuge safe from other harms? hard to know. perhaps all three.

my dear friend joanie is an olympic gold medalist and world-class marathoner. she lives on a nearby back road. she trained up until the day she delivered her firstborn. she swears my swimming workouts didn't hurt my unborn child. rather, she's convinced they helped equip him to survive. recently, she wrote me about my mothering:

none of my marathon efforts will ever match yours. unfathomable efforts by you for so long and with such love, strength and dedication.

i return to her words often. they make me blush and weep. seventeen years of spoon feeding, diaper changing, butt wiping, bathing, dressing, lifting, hand holding, coaching, teaching, watching, worrying, nursing, aiding and advocating is a slog. it's not a challenge i signed up for. nor one for which i could ever really prepare. but i've long known i have stamina—for racing the 400-yard individual medley and the mile, swimming fourteen-thousand grueling yards in four hours (and something close to that on consecutive days), biking marathon distances as a child, nine months unemployed. i just put my head down. one stroke, one step, one day at a time. breathe deeply. exhale well. pace myself. try to hit my stride. lean on my peeps. imagine a smart event in which i finish strong.

maybe i'm a marathoner after all.

7.26.2021

red wine and adrenaline

her hair fell in wet, ropy waves over her shoulders. having just emerged from the water, she looked like a mermaid in the filtered gleam of a waxing moon. earlier, before sunset, a great blue heron had flown over. she said it was a good omen. so too, i thought, was the double rainbow which had arched in the northeastern sky from amid a bank of pines. 

we picnicked atop a slope overlooking an inlet. the smell of cut grass and cows drifted across our table. we splayed out a feast between us—baguette, homemade pesto, purple heirloom tomatoes, triple cream and goat cheeses, green olives, dry salami, salt. we drank red wine from clear plastic cups. exploring the nuance of everything, we talked about the pandemic, the variants and vaccines. we spoke of our children and about the saintliness of them. we laughed and chatted for hours, catching up on eighteen months of each other's news.

as the sun began to sink into a cloudy horizon, it glinted gold and silver. well sated, we left our provisions behind and, drinks in hand, began strolling around the nearby campground. we passed a man propped against his trailer singing and strumming his guitar. kids were riding bikes, playing tag and squealing. though dusk began to fall just as our path veered into the trees, we decided to keep going. as she stepped into the shady wood, the orange sun set her aflame. she was glowing.

the path led us down to a tiny lagoon where the pink clouds reflected in its pool. we continued on, passing more tents, trailers, cottages, and one yurt skirting the inlet. by the time we hit the dirt road near the farm, the sky had darkened and the rising moon shown through the clouds. we had walked nearly two miles. back at the picnic table, we gathered our things then tiptoed down the dewy hillside to put them in the car. our last stop was the wooden bridge spanning a narrow tidal inlet. she told me of her plan to jump from the little platform built on the back of the guard rail. she'd done it countless times before. years ago, i'd seen teens launch themselves from it on hot summer days. it looked to be about ten feet above the tide. in the ensuing darkness, the sun's warmth still radiating from the wooden planks and railings, she began undressing until she was just in her skivvies. in a blink, she leapt and disappeared into a froth.

upon surfacing, she exclaimed how magnificent the water felt, adding that it was not too cold at all. i trusted her. she wanted me to jump. only problem was that i was going cowboy (aka, commando, for you east-coast types) and two folks were approaching. but it was sufficiently dark, and she offered to shield me with her towel. i climbed over the railing, peeled off my shoes and socks, t-shirt and jeans until all i had on was my chambray bra, then i stepped to the edge. she assured me the water was deep enough to leap. i had every reason in the world to believe her, and i had leapt off of cliffs and bridges and diving platforms as high as thirty feet before.

flying through the air, crashing into the water, having it envelop me like a liquid glove, felt exhilarating. it had been years since i'd been in it. salt filled my mouth and stung my eyes, reminding me of summer vacations to pacific northwest beaches as a kid, and of body surfing at beaches in san francisco, hawaii, kenya, tanzania, and swimming in the waters off of turkey and brazil. the tide was strong, but not as strong as i, so it was easy making leeway to the rocky bank, which i then scrambled up, dripping with sea water.

back on the bridge, i toweled off as both of us smiled and giggled about our adventure. we walked barefoot to the car laughing so hard we could have wet our pants—that is, if we had any on!

on the drive home, windows open to the sultry air, we splashed through puddles from an earlier rainstorm which had completely missed us. the white eyes of a baby raccoon peered into our headlights from the shoulder, and a tiny frog leaped across the road. i was smiling inside and out. it had been one of the nicest evenings in recent memory, if not my entire life—a magical one, really. for the most part, i'd forgotten about calvin and his (our) miseries. forgotten about imposed limitations. forgotten about stresses and pandemics. and as we hugged goodbye, the afterglow of red wine and adrenaline still pulsing in our veins, we promised to do it again.

7.23.2021

the kindness of strangers

It's Thursday at two a.m. I'm in bed with Calvin after his seizure. With my hand draped across his side to monitor his breathing, I reminisce about my previous day. I think about the kindness of strangers: the salty, sunburned guy in sleeveless sweatshirt and torn jeans who wanted to help me when Calvin dropped down in the middle of the grocery store; the woman in the checkout line who let me and my impatient, pre-seizure Calvin cut in front of her; the kind clerk who was uber-patient as I fumbled with my wallet and stumbling child.

In the darkness of the room, my thoughts then drift to the strangers I've met while driving around on the back roads with Calvin. Countless folks brightened my brutally-long and sometimes dark pandemic days, but none as much as the runner, the Carhart dog walker, and the black-clad couple, all of whom I used to encounter with some frequency. Since our car-ride schedule has changed, however, and since Calvin is having so many seizures which require a day or two of recovery, I rarely see these familiar faces anymore. I miss them, miss our exchange of nods and smiles and waves. Because my days are still long and my child is still sometimes near impossible, their absence is palpable. Recently, I finally pulled over, introduced myself and connected with the latter three for more than a fleeting moment in passing. I expressed my gratitude for their unwitting source of comfort amid a difficult time. The first of these roadside stops was with the black-clad couple. It yielded a kind invitation from the woman, Lynn, for me and Calvin to visit her and her husband, John, at their home on the Point. Yesterday, while Calvin was in school, I took her up on her offer, deciding to go solo to suss things out for a possible future trip with Calvin. As we got acquainted in their kitchen, John frothed up some milk for my coffee and made us breakfast. With plates of cinnamon French toast and berries propped in our laps, we sat on their deck overlooking a misty inlet. We spoke of a dear mutual friend, of the other back-roads travelers, of art and family and pharmaceuticals and politics and pandemic. Lynn then gave me a tour of their home and gardens, which she and her husband have worked on improving for decades. I found the two of them to be intelligent and artistic, with good senses of humor, and they revealed an easygoing openness and humility. The short time I spent with them in their idyllic setting felt like being on vacation. Upon my leaving, Lynn and I gave each other goodbye hugs, and made a mental plan to get together on my turf; it felt as if I'd known her for years.

Finally, dawn begins seeping in through the windows, and as it does, my day at the grocer and with John and Lynn seems like a distant memory. As the shadows recede, so too does the risk of Calvin's demise from SUDEP (Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy), so I finally sneak out of his bed and into mine. As a cool breeze drifts over my body from the open windows, I close my eyes and continue to dream and wonder about the lives of strangers, and of the pleasure of making friends with them. 

7.19.2021

mad about you

i'm mad about you. mad about those sea-blue eyes, your smile, and the little crescent dimple it makes. i'm mad about the way you look into my eyes when we're right up close. i'm mad about the way you hold my head and touch my face. i'm mad about the way you send me reeling. mad about the way you deepen all my feelings.

i'm mad about you. mad about what happened. i'm mad about the way the seizures and the drugs waste and rule you. mad about your suffering, your deficits, your mania, your biting and banging, your drool. i'm mad about the fact you can't speak. mad about the way you wail and shriek and moan. mad about where you send me when it's to a place i loathe.

i'm mad about you. mad about the way you age me. mad about the way you wake to slay me. mad about the way you box me in and limit me. mad about the way you consume me. mad about the way you can never leave me be. mad that i can't leave you, either.

years ago, in tears, i called a friend, searching for a trusted someone with whom to share my woes. at first she listened. then she made the claim—perhaps meant to ease my state—that the universe tries to find equilibrium. and though it's noble hoping, i'm fairly sure that isn't true; rather (thinking of calvin) random chaos rules. she hinted at my anger since your birth, then went on to speak of acceptance—of you. i told her i was capable of holding both emotions. later, in a message, she wrote:

my intent is unwavering, which is simply to love and support you.

i replied:  

i know. xoxo

that was the last i heard from her. funny how some people's universe works.

i accept you. yes. i'm mad about you, too. mad about the way you make me swoon. mad about your soft skin and freckles and locks of auburn hair. i'm mad about the way you make me laugh and rage and fret and weep. mad about the every way you make me think and feel and dream.

many moons ago.

7.16.2021

wicked mix

The call came in at 7:33 p.m., just as we were wrapping up dinner. Mary's voice was quavering on the other end of the line. I knew Calvin had had a seizure in her care. I felt sorry for all of us.

Michael had already paid the bill, so we and a friend were able to exit our picnic table and jet the nine miles back home. It had only been four days since Calvin's last grand mal, which was just four days after the previous one, which was only six days after having had three in thirty hours. In all, he's had nine grand mals in a month's time. That's nine too many, even among thousands of them in his seventeen years.

I'm not sure what is going on. Perhaps Calvin's epilepsy is progressing, having never been snuffed out. Maybe he has outgrown his Keppra dose or maybe it is making things worse. What if the THCA cannabis oil I've been making for nearly eight years just isn't hacking it anymore? Epilepsy is wretched. It's a moving target. Options are few and unattractive. Having mostly forsaken pharmaceuticals since so many have failed him, it seems they may be the only thing left to try—again.

One of the drugs we are considering is called Fycompa. It is one of the few antiepileptic drugs specifically listed for treating tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. Like all other anti-seizure drugs, its side effects are wicked; the list is long, and some of them can be dangerous, even lethal. Moreover, since Calvin can't speak, it's nearly impossible to tell if he suffers many of these:

headache, dizziness, drowsiness, anxiety, lethargy, irritability, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, bruising, weight gain, loss of coordination, hives, difficulty breathing, swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat, skin rash, fever, swollen glands, muscle aches, severe weakness, unusual bruising, jaundicemood or behavior changes, fear, panic attacks, trouble sleeping, agitation, hostility, aggression, restlessness, hyperactivity (mentally or physically), thoughts about suicide, severe dizziness, vertigo, lightheadedness, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination, feeling very weak or tired, accidental falls, memory problems, confusion, hallucinations. 

No one would want to put their child on these kinds of drugs, but the alternative could be just as ugly. Calvin has tried nine antiepileptic pharmaceuticals—at one point taking a high-dose, three-drug "cocktail" (I hate the use of that descriptor)—starting when he was just a toddler. None of them worked to stop his seizures, and yet he has suffered both short-term and prolonged side effects. I have little doubt the drugs—especially the benzodiazepines—ruined his developing brain, causing permanent problems beyond the neurological anomalies present even before his birth.

So, before we reconsider another pharmaceutical drug, I think I should try reducing his Keppra. That may seem counterintuitive, but most antiepileptic drugs have the potential of exacerbating seizures, and it's probably not that risky since he is having so many seizures anyway.

If I sound exhausted, even peeved, it's because I am. At the moment, I'm not up, but I'm not down, either. I'm just in a kind of daze of feeling hopeless and lost. That's what having a child with epilepsy does to a parent.

But for now, Calvin is content hanging out with his us while recovering from yesterday's seizure. Later, a friend is coming over to shoot the shit around the fire pit with us. We'll tell funny stories and jokes, and I'll laugh until I cry in a wicked mix of emotions knowing that, despite our troubles, somehow we'll get by.

7.12.2021

running for it

saturday:

it's half past ten. just trying to get some sleep. there's a dense lump of tension, like a fist, lodged in my solar plexus. it feels electric, like it's vibrating through my entire being. its source is a mix of exasperation, helplessness and dread. sadly, it's all about calvin, who is out of sorts in the wake of two epileptic fits. he keeps banging the wall behind his bed. all i want to do is make a run for it.

calvin has had eight grand mals in thirty days. that translates into about half the month spent sleeping on me and the couch. i wonder what else i can do about his epilepsy. so exhausting living with it. today i switched his cannabis oil from hybrid to indica, hoping it might offer him some respite. he's pretty spacey, but that's typical the day after a tonic-clonic. my next move is to reduce his keppra. my gut—and a calendar marked up with orange highlighter and black sharpie indicating seizures—tells me the keppra isn't helping.

this tension i feel is cumulative. seventeen-and-a-half years of it. i often wonder what havoc it might be wreaking inside me. it's why i sometimes feel the need to scream. have to let it out so it won't devour me. or seat itself as a cancer in my organs, bones or blood.

in a move to ease my angst (and get in better shape) i started running. got new shoes. ran three days last week. took a longish, back-roads bike ride. the accomplishments were nothing to speak of. pretty meager efforts, really. still, i'm hoping they will stick.

i wonder if running might serve as some escape—from a stressful life with a messed-up kid. from being pent up and stuck. from the gnawing sense of dread.

perhaps running makes me feel more alive—my limbs and lungs pumped up with blood and breath.

or could it be i'm chasing something? a different vista? an extended moment all to myself? the dream of better days to come? some serendipitous adventure? a challenge other than handling my son's severe and complex conditions?

after today's modest jog on the trails around the soggy fields, the fist inside my chest had dissolved. i plan to run again tomorrow. with a bit of luck, i'll see some sights, and chase away some troubles, angst and sorrows.

7.10.2021

every path i take

it had been just four days since calvin's last grand mal. still, i sensed it coming on. his agitation and mania. his restlessness and intensity. his peculiar noises and expressions. last night, while walking smellie along a familiar path at dusk, it arrived. it was the cusp of the new moon. i returned home to find my husband cradling a postictal calvin, who had bitten his check or tongue till it bled.

after the seizure, i spooned my sleeping child. wide awake, my hand on his chest, i reminisced on recent events: finally jogging the trails with my dog; nice, longish visits with a few, familiar, back-roads strangers i had finally and very happily met; a kind invitation from one of them to sit by the sea; chatting under stars and strings of lights on a girlfriend's back deck; sipping the delicious blackberry, mint, gin cocktail her daughter had concocted; meeting an unknown runner who stopped mid-workout just to visit with me and calvin on the sidewalk; four separate gatherings with new and old friends; my glorious bike ride to simpson's point and back again; along the way, hearing a hermit thrush's haunting song; eating lobster rolls and corn on the cob; a conversation about pity and compassion with my visiting sister-in-law.

finally, sleep arrived. like life sometimes, my dreams were vivid and difficult. at five o'clock, we awoke to a second grand mal and, when it was over, i crawled in next to calvin again. this time, shut-eye proved impossible. instead, i mused on recent expressions of compassion and love from friends and strangers:

i've had deep sympathy for you from day one; i think about you and calvin all the time; i couldn't handle your situation with the grace you show; i wish there were something i could do; i love you then now always; you break open the heart and the stories; thank you for the little window into your world; wish that the pain i genuinely feel for you could somehow make your days easier; all you want is to live in your full motherhood and not as a caregiver, too. not too much to ask, my friend. not at all. 

knowing i'd be mostly stuck indoors for the next day or two, i laid awake imagining travels, like my next back-roads adventure, a bike ride to the rise where i can see the salt marsh meeting the sea, hearing that hermit thrush croon, rolling up my jeans and wading into the bay at simpson's point, running the shaded trails on a gorgeous morning like today. most of all, receiving love and compassion from friends and strangers along every path i take.