9.14.2019

unease

Again, I lie awake hours before daybreak. The dark of night seems to magnify my angst. When for various reason I can't sleep, I worry about whether Calvin will seize. Under the covers, I flinch when Nellie yelps in her sleep. I fret about the list of things I need to get done that I don't seem to have the time to do, the things that have piled up during the five-and-a-half weeks that Calvin didn't go to school—sweeping, mopping, dusting (what's that?), writing, reading, researching, filing, calling. I lie in bed, my mind racing, pondering the troubles of the world: war, famine, genocide, waste, poverty, pollution, misogyny, racism, corruption. I think of the human impact on climate and the havoc it is wreaking on our gorgeous Earth. I consider refugees desperate to find better lives for themselves, whom the people of our town and nearby ones have graciously—and some begrudgingly—received.

The other night, after I heard the rain begin to fall, I laid there on the brink of exhaustion and yet buzzing, lamenting the plastic microbeads, bags and bottles choking the ocean, the single-use plastic caps and containers washing up on beaches, the straws and swizzlers and six-pack holders, the syringes, balloons and latex gloves—you name it—that sacred sea life is ingesting and strangling on as we dream. I pondered the tons of toxic materials being released into our rivers, air and seas, and the sleazy politicians who are making that more possible. I grieve the burning of the Amazonian rain forest, the flushing out of its creatures and native peoples. I consider the rabid appetite of greed.

Yes, I lay awake in a warm bed in an ample house having filled my belly with delicious food my husband cooked, thinking about Yemenee people starving to death, and Rohinga refugees being forced back to their tormentors, and hurricane victims having just lost loved ones, homes and belongings. I consider how effing lucky I am, and wish I had the means, like a handful do, to fund everything. I lament that, in this nation of abundance, our fellow humans still live under cardboard boxes or on cold sidewalks while billionaires and certain politicians continue to enrich themselves at the expense and exploitation of everyone else.

While scrolling through my photographs yesterday, feeling weary of the world and of all-things-Calvin, I came across some I'd taken at last year's Bowdoin student art show. The small, framed piece that hung on the far wall of a room where my husband taught a class called Art and Time, was titled, Receipt for a Sunday and the Things Carried There, by a talented and ambitious student, Blanche Froelich, class of 2019. Rereading it reminded me to be grateful, humble, thoughtful, and generous to others; none of us live life without our own struggles, big and small. And the night is not the only time we feel unease.

Detail, Receipt for a Sunday and the Things Carried There, by Blanche Froelich

9.09.2019

regarding calvin

As my boy sleeps in my lap, in his bed, in our bed, on the couch, I hear the birds chirping outside. I feel the rumble of passing motorcycles and cars, see students strolling down the sidewalk. A week of school has come and gone, yet my boy remains sick at home. In my arms, we rest and pass the hours.

Yesterday, while on the couch together, Calvin looked right at me. This gift is rarely granted, and I found myself luxuriating in his pool-blue and yellow-flecked eyes. I did not take his gaze for granted; it's so rare that I see him look at me—almost never, it seems. But sometimes, when I put my face smack-dab in front of his, he does regard me. As a baby, if memory serves, he used to do it more often. I remember the day he got his glasses when he was a tiny eleven-month-old. It was like I could see the world flooding into his eyes—eyes which before had likely seen only shapes and colors.

Now, for whatever reason (autism, visual fields, seizures, drug side effects) Calvin usually disregards or looks at me peripherally. His eyes jerk and rove from his nystagmus. One eye often turns in, a phenomenon that, vexingly, his former ophthalmologist regularly denied, explaining it away as an optical illusion. No matter how confident I was of my son's eye-drifting or tugging-in (I'm the resident expert in observing Calvin closely) the doctor still rebuffed me.

Tomorrow, hopefully, Calvin will attend his first day of high school. He'll be greeted, fed, diapered, and escorted by a teacher and a staff who have rarely, if ever, worked closely with him. My anxiety is high, afraid he'll choke on food he doesn't chew well, fearful he'll fall off balance on the stairs or run into a door jam like he did this morning. Michael and I understand that Calvin, due to his poor vision (which glasses don't fully correct), his lack of coordination, and caregiver overconfidence or undervigilance, is a walking disaster, an accident waiting to happen. My hope is that the folks at school will regard him closely, will see what he sees and what he doesn't.

Calvin's first day with glasses when he was eleven months old.

9.05.2019

breathless

The sun, readying to set above smoky embers, kicks up a cool breeze. Gusts skip across the fields, flipping skirts like flags and ballooning blouses in a kaleidoscope of oranges, blues, reds and ochres. Ties fly sideways. Hats tumble off backwards. The diners, this year's college students, are dressed in their late-summer best—vibrant frocks and jumpers, slim sport jackets and slacks, suede loafers and strappy sandals. They arrive in clusters on the heels of convocation. Some run and hug each other. One squeals and jumps piggy-back onto another. Others stroll hand in hand, in pairs and trios. I feel their joy quite palpably, and it makes me smile ... and wither.

As I lead Nellie away from the flock, shielding my gaze from the sun's glare and from the unabashed gleam of hardy kids in their teens and twenties, I bow my head and cry. I weep lamenting my son Calvin's misfortune and his inability to one day experience such pomp and circumstance, such brotherhood and sisterhood, such revelry. I pity myself, too, lamenting my first few years of college which were so very different from this—the enormity of the university, the lack of good council, my disconnectedness, my disappointing swimming career, my disorientation in a sea of forty-thousand students, my lack of forming lasting deep connections.

I watch as these eighteen-hundred youths commune at rows of tables amid a sunny field, some of the best and brightest, these lithe and curvy, stout and muscly, black, brown, pale and white bodies speaking with various accents from around the nation and world. I want so much for things to be different. I want Calvin to suddenly speak and read and write and philosophize. I want him to look up into the night sky and wonder, want him to gaze across a sea, yearning for distant places to visit. I want him to hear and speak different languages, take risks, dream. Thinking of all these lost possibilities makes me breathless.

On our way home we walk against what seems like an endless stream of dapper students. Seeing them, I waffle between delight and despair. Out of the strolling throng pop two familiar faces, J.P. and Nate, two of Michael's former photography students. They each embrace me, smiling, before disappearing back into the crowd. For a moment I glow, knowing were it not for Michael's job as professor I'd never have met these worldly, kind and gifted souls. Then a young man walks past who reminds me of our friend-brother-son who took his life this time last year, and the one who lives nearby and yet has vanished, and I wonder where the others will go. And as I unleash Nellie to run the last few yards toward home—her understanding and ability seemingly far surpassing Calvin's—I remember his limitations and the ones which tether us to him so tightly, and my breath is whisked away once more.

Photo by Michael Kolster

9.02.2019

shadowcasting

On the last night of August, as we sat with new and old friends around a fire in the dark garden, Calvin was burning up in his bed. From the baby monitor in my palm, I heard him rouse. When I went to check on him, his skin felt hot. His thermometer read 102.4 degrees. I stripped him down, gave him an acetaminophen suppository, then, as I brushed my teeth, I quickly went outside to wish our guests goodnight. Soon after, in bed next to him, I felt the embers of Calvin's fever subside over the hours.

I'm grateful that August is behind us, and with it its five grand mals, ten focal seizures, one pain episode—eleven days of this misery in all. Today, I feel autumn, and I wonder what September will bring. Tomorrow, if Calvin is feeling better, he'll be off to the high school to traipse bobble-headed up and down its halls. He'll be mingling with students almost twice his weight and nearly half as much as tall, kids who are light years ahead of him developmentally, kids who can speak and read and reason and judge.

As I listen to the crickets, the early evening sun casting its long shadows on a garden which, due to my inability to control Calvin's condition, I've worked so hard to control, I am cautiously optimistic about the year to come. Calvin will have a new teacher and new ed techs at school. The administration and staff have already gotten off to an impressive start, meeting with me and Michael for over an hour, professionally and compassionately addressing each and every one of our concerns.

Meanwhile, the college students are returning. We see them in the field behind our home, hear their riotous joy through our open windows at all hours. Their presence is bittersweet. While I bask in their youthful glee, their physical and mental prowess ablaze in stark contrast to Calvin's, I am reminded that Calvin will never enjoy the autonomy of cleaving. Michael and I will never savor that chapter of parenthood. Instead, our son will forever exist in our and other caregivers' shade and shelter, much like an infant or toddler, no matter how big he'll grow.

But as I lie with him, his skinny arms around my neck pulling me in, I tell him how sweet and dear he is to me. And like a dark August behind us, I hope one day his epilepsy sunsets, casting only shadows, leaving only traces and faded memories of unpleasant events.