B. F. News Ad Nauseum

Part 10 of the unvarnished upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to find previous posts…

Brian was the best lifelong best friend a guy could ever ask for. A dear, steadfast friend through thick and thin: starting with middle school and high school pranks, baseball, football, laughter, girlfriends, shenanigans that resulted in court appearances, practical jokes, laughter, college, Emergency Room crisis, hospital dorm room, life after broken neck, Dr. appointments, more practical jokes, weddings, births, divorces, better weddings, road trips, loss and many more days of adventure and laughter after that.

Brian was with Dave on his worst days, and Dave was with Brian on his worst. They were brothers by choice, self-designated, and Brian has always been a perfect addition to our family. Brian too has a tender heart…come on, he is a guy whose best friend was a paralyzed guy. I witnessed that heart on those worst days too. That heart had ached plenty and is the real reason I was strategically lining up the calls from bad to worse to THE fucking worst being that call to him.

I took one more very long look inside the house. My mom was STILL talking to the officer, adrenaline continued to hold her hostage, and the words describing the events of the morning were flying from her lips at a million miles an hour. He was still nodding and taking notes. My sister was somewhere in the house, I somehow knew that she was on the phone. I had to make the call as my mom had asked me to.

They, Brian and his wife Sharon had been on vacation on Lake Powell the week prior. We knew they were returning home that day. They were likely to be somewhere on the road in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

I was sick of or from delivering this B.F. news to the point of being nauseous, so much so that I can’t even spell it out here I am still that sick of it. I did pick something up in that steep learning curve of delivering B. F. news that morning. I thought more about how it would hit Brian and decided to call Sharon’s phone and ask her to have Brian pull over before telling her. That would be the safest thing to do, but it would probably scare the shit out of them regardless. She could then tell him. I didn’t want the news of Dave ‘leaving the building’ between coffee and toast to kill them with too. It only took me two calls to get my B. F news delivery shit together.

I called, and while the cell network was silently trying to locate him and connect my call, I thought Oh shit-shit-shit-shit-shit, please don’t answer, please don’t answer, please, for the love of God, do NOT answer! I reached the voicemail box on the first ring. I was so thankful. There probably wasn’t a cell signal wherever they were. I chickened out and hung up, though. I couldn’t leave a message. I didn’t really want to say these exact words, any words to begin with and I really didn’t want them recorded anywhere on any device and listened to later, or ever, really. Whew…that was close. Yet here am I writing these words, memorializing them anyway. The irony of writing this book. Thanks, Dave.

I then had a brilliant plan. I decided to send a text just asking Sharon to have Brian pull over and call my mom when he had a chance. I simply could NOT talk to him. I just couldn’t. When they were in range, they would get the text. They would call my mom’s home phone. She was going to have to talk to him. She was Brian’s honorary mom anyway. Best to hear it from her. She was small but had the strongest spine of any of us it turns out.

Besides avoiding saying the words again, I also didn’t want to have to convey the details which I didn’t want to know in the first place, those details that Brian would definitely want. He would need to talk to my mom for these details anyway, I would have to hand the phone over to my mom. I envisioned how all this would play out. I had to skip being the middle-man, and just pass this one on. I simply could not talk to him, a part of me was dying from saying or knowing these words, this reality, that part of my brain that controls words was experiencing B.F. news rigor mortis and locking up fast. It lasted longer than one to four days, though. I didn’t talk about this to anyone until I started writing. I suppose I was talking to myself at that point.

My mom finally finished, let the officer out the side door, and she joined me on the patio. We sat in the declining shade, gazing inward without blinking, dry-eyed in stunned silence. Linda was still in the house on her cellphone. I was thankful she was inside. I could not take listening to her tell her C.P.R. encounter again either.

Within 20 minutes the house phone rang. It was on the table next to my mom. She was closest. I made zero attempts to move or to answer it. I knew it was Brian. I was thankful she picked it up and went directly into the house with it before answering.

Besides being incapable of hearing any of the B. F news all over again. I did not want to hear his reaction to the B. F. news through her or her reaction to him reacting. I could not hear any part of this conversation. I was retreating into selfish self-preservation living rigor mortis mode. I already experienced enough that morning that will be stuck in my permanent memory along with all sorts of other random unnecessary crap that I have no control over which I have shared thus far…clearly it stuck…infinty.

My mom returned to the patio after the call and proceeded to tell me about her half of the conversation. I didn’t ask, but she spoke as if I did. She had to talk and I let her tell me. As expected, he asked her questions about every detail of what happened. I knew he would ask for all these details. He wanted to know who rolled on the call, as in who the crew members were and if my mom knew anyone who responded. He wanted to know what if any life-saving methods were used. If they used leads on Dave to listen to his heart to make sure it really was in fact, not beating, maybe even just a little. As a professional lifesaver, having responded to so many emergency calls seeing humans swaying between life and death he wanted to be assured that everything possible had been done to save his friend. I immediately thought “Sometimes the magic works.”

When Brian and I talked about his side of this experience, years later, the time passing didn’t help. I felt one hundred percent retroactively bad just as I had when I avoided telling my friends about my dad no longer living on this particular plane of existence.

He didn’t read the protective measure text I had sent. He didn’t pull over. He just saw the missed call and called, blind. When my mom said those words, however, she delivered it, he reacted by momentarily freezing-up, in the process locking up his brakes on the freeway. His heart obviously stopped too. He managed to maneuver his ‘duly’ truck and trailer to a skidded stop on the side of the Interstate somewhere out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The exact thing I wanted to avoid, not avoided. There was no best way to rip this duct tape strength Band-Aid off. Our hearts were ripped open, regardless. It was all bad news on this bad fucking day of days.

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Bad Fucking News Continued…

Part 9 of the upcoming book Viking Funeral. Scroll down to find the previous posts.

Real dread began to fill my throat as I thought of my next two calls. I did not want to make the call to Brian, Dave’s best friend from infinity ago. I strategically made the first call to Anne, hoping my mom would be finished with the officer and be able to take over making the calls herself. Well, you read that chapter already, you know it was brief. It’s not like I could have dragged that conversation on with a follow-up question like “So enough about me, what’s happening with YOUUUU?” Damn it.

I leaned in the back door to see how close to finished my mom, and the officer might be. It didn’t seem close. He was examining the labels of Dave’s prescription medicine bottles with squinted eyes. My mom still animatedly talking while he nodded, read the labels, and scratched notes on a small pad of paper. He appeared nowhere close to being done. I reluctantly decided to make the second bad fucking news call to Barbara.

Barbara was our former neighbor and longtime dear friend to Dave. I jokingly called her “Hot Barbara” because she was, Dave agreed. She still is. She is the most lovely and cheerfully animated person I have ever met. Always quick to laugh with and at the world as well as herself in the most endearing way. I dialed her number. I don’t call her that often, I may have never called her before. Actually, I definitely have never called her before that day.

I love the energy conveyed in her voice and her verve in general. I caught her off guard as I knew I would. She was just walking out of church toward her car, where she sat while the conversation continued. Her initial reaction to hearing from me was excitement. This is her nature, genuinely glad to hear from her connections in life no matter how random. I had to figure out how to bridge the conversation from glad to hear from me to where I knew it was heading…south…rapidly.

Barb, I am afraid I have some bad news. And then I proceeded to rip her heart out with the worst words forced from my mouth, knowing before, during and after that this was going to hurt and that there was no other way to deliver this bad fucking news than to say it. I again summarized my mom’s words from earlier.

Through the phone, I felt everything that she is, the composition of her, that magical liveliness inside of her, her words, her heart and all the complicated electrical and chemical processes therein, stopped in that silent moment that hung in the ether between us via cell phone technology. I know now what I heard in that next desperate gasp of breath that comes from that same stunned heart finding a rhythm, any rhythm as it resumes beating and we take a breath. It was a piece of her heart, leaving her forever.

With that breath, she cried out in an entirely bereft tone, Oh My God, I’ve just lost my soul mate! I understood everything she could not say in between the two sentences she managed to get out, I have to go! There was not one helpful thing I could add to this bad fucking news at all. Sometimes the only thing you can say is, I am so sorry, Barb. We hung up.

I worried about her driving home safely. She would undoubtedly be in the midst of bitter cold shock, like that of a cold winter without a jacket somewhere that it gets really fucking cold, but way worse than that. I felt horrible for accidentally ruining her day, well, I knew it was going to be much longer than a day, years probably. I hated being the source of this bitingly cold news in the middle of summer in Southern California in Barb’s car. I took a deep breath to try to leave all those cold thoughts of what I had just done and witnessed.

Barb later told me her side of getting this bad fucking news. She sped home, completely devastated as I had theorized. She ran into her home, shouting for her darling husband, Bill!!!! Alarmed, upon hearing the tone of despair in her voice, he knew something was very wrong, and came running to find her, to help her. She collapsed into his arms as he reached her, “My David died!” They slid to the floor of their entryway steps and remained there were she wept inconsolably with Bill incorporated into her grief, holding her, moved to tears himself, knowing how heart-broken she was losing her dear friend.

In the expected manner of the way news, especially really bad fucking news spreads like wildfire and is reacted to as such, she needed to talk to people, people who knew Dave, who would know her pain. She sent a text to her two sisters and her daughter. They all grew up on our street and knew Dave through being our neighbor for decades and through Barb’s friendship with him. Her sister Teri responded in wildfire fashion, within seconds, by calling. Barb moved outside to catch her breath, take the call. She sat down, overlooking the beauty of their yard and wild oak forested area where she and Bill live in Yucaipa, California. While talking, in her horrid moment of grief, she noticed, what a strikingly beautiful day it was. It WAS an extraordinarily beautiful day that briefly, captivated her, diverted her thoughts on that morning of bad fucking news.

She returned her attention back to her phone call conveying everything she knew, which was very little other than the fact that he was gone and what she was feeling with Teri as they cried together. Their call was interrupted by Barbara hearing the very loud buzz of a swarm of bees somewhere nearby. She cautiously stopped speaking to look around for the swarm, her attention divided between looking for them and explaining to Teri that she was looking for them. She spotted a shadow of bees coming across her yard toward her, but there were no bees that she could see in the sky, there were only loud buzzing and a distinct shadow.

She narrated everything all the while to Teri on the other side of the phone call. I see the shadow and hear the buzz, but I don’t see any bees. It doesn’t make sense. It’s coming right toward me, it’s above my head! It is circling me, oh it just flew away! She described everything a second time to Teri as she tried to make sense of what she just saw as she came to realize that there were absolutely no bees but a shadow of what she could only describe as a buzzing energy that circled her head and flew away. She felt at that moment that the energy she heard and felt and saw had to be David! There was no other explanation in her mind for what she experienced. She felt it completely, and it gave her a great sense of relief.

Again, I do not pretend to understand all forms of energy in the universe, and this too falls into that category of things, weird things that I cannot explain referenced earlier. I enjoyed living through that moment with Barb as she described her observations of that incredibly beautiful day and her encounter with my brother in some alternate form that morning. I found it very interesting, and I, too, felt some sort of relief from it. Comparatively, I was secretly thankful Dave chose not to visit me in the form of ghost bees since I am allergic. I likely would have panicked and run away. More on Barb later.

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Part 2 Too Soon?

Post 7.

If you are new to this blog, scroll down to post 1 to start at the beginning. XO M

Unvarnished excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…

***

Too soon?

As polite as the crew was, they were just strangers on our patio to me. While I appreciated everything about them, their response, what they do, I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to be here, be awake or be alive at that moment. I wished I could go back to sleep and wake up having forgotten all of this intense dream.

I turned away from the crew and headed up the wheelchair ramp into the back door. My eyes had to adjust from the pleasant subdued morning light on the patio as I walked into the back hall of the house, then into Dave’s painfully bright room. The shades were all the way open on his large bedroom windows. The sun was pouring in most rudely imposing unwanted light. His former body lay flat in what I joked was his turbo electric home hospital bed. He looked…relaxed.

He lived with uncontrolled muscle spasms as a result of the paralyzing college football accident that broke his neck almost four decades ago. His damaged central nervous system behaved like a loose live wire. He jerked in response to being touched. His nerve signal messages were scrambled, misinterpreted and responded to protectively, innately as if he were being burned. This type of reaction was almost constant and permanent. One muscular response usually triggered another and often a full body muscle flexion reaction. Not always, but more often than not.

These muscle spasms required that he be stabilized in either of the two places he lived between, his turbo bed or his turbo electric wheelchair. He had to be tied into his electric bed. He had to be positioned a certain way, with a combination of slings and pillows to keep the level of spasms as low as possible. When he was in his wheelchair, he had to wear braces on his arms and legs. The braces helped him have fewer spasms. He had to sit with his legs straight out in front of him, having his legs bent like most of us sit would cause him to pass out from circulatory overload. If his legs weren’t straight, his spasms would cause him to slide right out of the wheelchair. In general, he appeared very stiff.

I had not seen him so relaxed, ever, well, ever since his accident, ever. He had no straps, no slings, no pillows, no braces on, the bed was flat, he was flat. I put my hand on his bare leg. He was still warm with the fiery energy of the life that just left. He didn’t flinch or move AT ALL. I knew he shouldn’t. Former reality had not completely recalculated the reality of the right now, and I anticipated the typical response, a reaction, that which depicts life. I thought with an irreverent tone to myself, Well… obviously, you cannot get more relaxed than dead. I couldn’t feel bad for thinking this because he would have laughed hard at that.

Then I panicked and wondered, “Oh God, does he know what I am thinking right now?” He loved funny stuff. Even slightly inappropriate, no, especially inappropriate “too soon?” funny stuff. I looked around for him in my thoughts for the shared acknowledgment of a VERY well placed, too soon? joke, but he was not there. I didn’t see or feel him. Damn it. He really loved good gallows humor that way. Like I said, we can’t control what pops in our heads. I kept my thoughts to myself.

Shock takes a while to percolate through the layers of the mass and obscure that comprises the human psyche, mind, and physical body. My mom and oldest sister Linda were wound up by their own coursing surges of adrenaline. This was not unexpected based on their experiences of the last hour. Everyone hugged. They recounted what happened, speaking a mile-a-minute. Still looking for him in my thoughts, I half-listened while standing next to him with my hand on his leg that still felt so alive other than the not moving because he was dead aspect. Really? Nothing dude? I know you hear this.

My mom didn’t blink as she recounted the details of her experience earlier that morning. Her eyes were fixed looking down and to her left. I watched her looking into that part of her brain where this memory will be stored forever. I could see everything she described playing on one screen in my mind on my left. All my other stupid, random and weird thoughts of the morning were impossibly layered on another screen on my right.

She had awakened him to let him know it was morning, that she would be back in to wash his face after having her coffee. He said “Ok.” This was their routine every morning; She initially woke him, then left his room to have her coffee and toast. The time in between would give him a chance to get himself waked-up before she returned. She would then proceed to get him ready to face the day; wash his face, brush his teeth, give him a sponge bath. All the braces mentioned above and a body brace would be put on, they would get him dressed, with the help of a friend and neighbor Denise. Her son Poncho would help put him into his electric wheelchair and ultimately Dave would head out the back door almost immediately when the weather was nice.

This was my parents’ routine every morning since Dave returned home from spending 18 months away, between the hospital and a rehabilitation center for paralyzed individuals roughly 38 years ago. He preferred to be up in his wheelchair as much as possible. Some days he did not get out of bed. It is hard on a paralyzed body to be in the same position for long periods of time. It is also hard work for the people moving him.

He weighed in at over 220 plus pounds dead weight before he was dead. The dead weight of a paralyzed individual is shockingly heavier than one thinks. This process and all of Dave’s care was very well coordinated, it had to be. My parents were very organized about everything but especially Dave’s care. After my dad passed away at 72 a few years prior, a series of people helped my mom. Denise and Poncho were the last people to help with Dave’s regular personal care. More on Denise and Poncho later.

Denise arrived about the time my mom had finished her coffee, as per usual. They entered the room to begin their routine as outlined above when they found Dave still asleep.

WAIT!

NOT asleep!

NOT conscious!

NOT breathing!

NOT ALIVE!

WHAT!!!!?

NOOOOOOOO!!!!!

LINDAAAAAA!!!!!

It had only been 10 minutes, 15 max since my mom had awakened him. My mom shouted for my sister Linda to come help. Shortly after my dad passed away, Linda came to live with my mom and Dave. Linda took over the recounting from here, she came in and immediately began C.P.R. She crossed her hands one over the other mocking the C.P.R. position as she described performing the chest compressions. She briefly motioned with one hand to the other side of the bed, explaining that Denise had been standing there, crying, while she continued pantomiming the chest compressions. She saw Dave, after just a few compressions standing beside his body. He told her “Let me go.” My mom, who saw nothing, was beside her saying, “Let him go.” Linda stopped the compression motion, her shoulders, arms lowered, as she described knowing he was gone.

Dave had been paralyzed when he was 18 and had lived as a healthy quadriplegic for almost 38 years with the dedicated care of our parents. That is a very long time to survive as a quadriplegic. He may be the longest surviving quadriplegic in the state of California. Many chronic illnesses usually plague those living in a paralyzed body; pneumonia, bed sores, strokes, renal infections, blood clots, blood pressure issues. Dave was lucky, he had always been so very healthy. It is possible that his muscle spasms that were a total pain in the ass also kept his blood flowing and muscles working rather than atrophying like most paralyzed individuals.

He hadn’t been sick. He along with Elvis, just “left the building.” Damn it, he would have really loved that joke too. After Linda’s account, my mom realized that he hadn’t asked her the time and must have died mid-sentence. “He always asks me ‘What time is it?’ when I wake him as I head to the kitchen for my coffee, and today he didn’t ask. He just said ‘OK.’ I thought that was strange as I opened the door to go out, but then I didn’t think anything more of it. And I just headed to the kitchen for my coffee.”

A Police officer entered the back hall into the house interrupting our conversation. As part of his official death report, he had already spoken with the fire personnel, he now had to observe their home, the scene surrounding Dave’s departure, and speak to my mom to understand what had taken place. All of which is standard procedure to determine there had been no foul play since Dave had not been in the presence of a doctor when he died.

I didn’t hear a word of how he began his interview with my mom. I did not want to listen to the story again. I headed out of Dave’s bright room back to the shimmering shade of the elm trees and relief of the patio. My mom asked me to call the people who needed to be called before she turned her attention to the officer.

I doubt they shared the part about Linda administering CPR until she saw Dave standing next to his body with the officer but thought it would make for a very interesting statement if she had. “Decedent’s sister administered life support until she saw decedent standing next to his dead body.” Dave would have laughed at that too. Not everyone is open to that sort of experience.

Later Linda talked about having a déjà vu experience from a dream she had about a year prior. She and Dave were on opposite sides of a pool. We do not have a pool by the way. He drove himself in the pool in his wheelchair and sank to do the bottom. Linda dove in to help him. When she was face to face with him, he shook his head and said underwater, “Let me go.” The feeling of the dream and the morning, his readiness were the same. I don’t know what to say about any of this because I am no expert on the afterlife, paranormal or whatever. I don’t think anyone really can. I will have to let you know when I get there myself and get back with you. Interesting, yes. I will leave it at that.

***

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Part 1

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Post 6.

If you are new to this blog, scroll down to post 1 to start at the beginning. XO M

Unvarnished excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…

***

“How weird is death?”
“I know, right?”

Their house, my parent’s house where Dave lived (and died) is about 15 miles from our house in Redlands. There was no traffic on this beautiful summer Sunday morning. What was I hurrying for anyway? There wasn’t anything I could do for Dave at this point, for anyone really.

As I drove on the crosstown freeway, I could not help but notice what a gorgeous day it was. A really gorgeous day. I thought of the movie Little, Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman. Jack Crabb’s (Hoffman) adoptive grandfather was an Indian Chief. Among his Native American spiritual beliefs was the ability to recognize that death was near. He announced to Jack with enthusiasm, “Today is a good day to die.”

The chief had been blinded in recent years by American Soldiers in their campaign to irradicate Native Americans. He was aged and saddened by the state of mistreatment by the US government of his people, and in general, had grown tired of living. He asked Jack to lead him up to a rock mesa above their tribe’s campsite.

Once there, he thanked the Gods for his many gifts in life, respectfully expressed his frustrations at the way his people were being wiped out. He asked for blessings for his grandson and felt ready to lay down on his buffalo hide to prepare for death to take him.

Moments later a rainstorm began causing him to ask “Am I still in this world?” Jack assured him that he was. The old chief got up from his supposed death bed with the resigned response, “Heh, I was afraid of that. (pause) Well, sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it does not.” Dave loved this movie. If you haven’t seen it, he would have, and I definitely recommend watching it, highly recommend!

I thought it was a beautiful day to die. I thought it was funny that this thought came to me. Such strange thoughts pop into our heads at times like this. Regardless of all that, you know, if you could choose, this was a lovely day to have chosen to die. So, in this case, the magic worked.

I found myself driving distractedly looking at the strikingly beautiful blue sky that was dotted with scattered white puffly clouds instead of the road. The sky is not normally such a deep blue in the summer in Southern California. It usually is more of a washed out shade of light blue. On this day it was almost cobalt blue. It probably has to do with the orientation of the sun at that time of year, and the optical illusion of the physics of light scattering. Or something like that was my guess but was just a working theory. I have to remember to Google this sometime.

I felt separate from my body with these thoughts of the sky for a moment and felt among the very clouds I was one split second ago admiring from the freeway below. As soon as I questioned what in the hell is happening? I slipped back into my first-person perspective as I navigated the big sweeping curve on the 210 freeway through Highland toward San Bernardino.

I tried to force myself to pay attention to the road, but thoughts of what the hell just happened, nice clouds, this seems dangerous, death and how we absorb this type of news was swirling in my head. Everything was uncharacteristically thieving my attention away from the road.

There is no mistaking death. No one misstates something that significant. Back to the history of MY forever, I have never heard of anyone officially reporting the death of someone by mistake and then having to stand at a podium at a news conference with a bank of microphones in front of them to retract their official statement, which I then ridiculously envisioned. “Earlier, we incorrectly reported the decedent… was… dead. We legitimately thought he was in fact… dead, but for the record, he is totally not dead, he is… definitely alive. Thank you.”

Again I returned to Earth, to driving. I was resigned to the certainty that he was gone, I knew there was no mistake. My previous feelings of elation for HIM grew subdued by contemplating everything that would now take some getting used to without him. Burritos, movies, music, my mom, this is the short, short list.

Relentlessly weird thoughts just popped in my head without end in sight, it felt. Death is as final and non-negotiable as it gets in this life. Everything and I mean everything else is so insignificant by comparison. Wait, is this life we are living even real? Is there such a thing as death? Why am I having all these weird thoughts? Am I dreaming? I must be dreaming because this is some weird shit to be thinking about. I again returned back to the road. Floating up there among those clouds must be some sort of protective mechanism for when the shit hits the fan.

These thoughts were swimming against the undercurrent, nope, rip tide of random other thoughts just roiling around my head. Wave after ridiculous wave of weird thoughts, heading every direction at once, irritating me, that on this day, at this moment, this is the bizarre shit that pops into my head? Now? Really?

Rationally I understand that we can’t control the thoughts that enter our heads. We can control what we do with those thoughts, but I was amid a barrage of synapse impulses that felt like a paintball fight in there. I was simply not prepared to wrangle any of it. I don’t think I was fully awake yet, I couldn’t have been. It takes hours for all executive function to fully come online in our brain. I was less than 20 minutes into my waking state at that point.

I could also blame it on shock. I didn’t want to admit to any of those thoughts. I don’t know now, and definitely didn’t know then what sort of thoughts I should have been having at the time but I did not want these thoughts, none of them. I tried to think of what I thought I should be thinking and nothing came to mind. Nothing. I again felt separate from my body. Time slowed to a crawl on my drive as I wrapped my waking conception around these how weird is death questions. And answered myself out loud, “I know, right?” Yes, I talk to myself, out loud. ALL—THE— TIME.

I finally exited the freeway an entire lifetime of twelve minutes later and made my way by rote memorization to the well-known house on Arrowhead Avenue. Well-known not just because of my driving muscle memory from arriving ‘home’ literally thousands of times before. Well-known because it seemed everyone knew Dave lived there. Well-known because it is a lovely and historical representation of 1920s era Southern California Spanish Mission style architecture. Well-known as the backdrop in my R.E.M. dream cycles forever. Well-known in that many people besides our family have lived life with us in that lovely residence that I simply never tire of looking at.

About half a block from their corner, there was no missing the two Firetrucks, ambulance and police cruiser facing different directions, double-parked on the side street. The back doors of the ambulance were still open. All the emergency lights on all the vehicles were off. I instantly was taken four decades into the past to a time when my dad came around this same corner from the opposite direction to find his home, our home, surrounded by a similar fleet of emergency response vehicles.

I was seven. My dad had gone out to pick up my sister Anne from the skating rink after 11 p.m on a Friday or Saturday night. While he was gone, less than 15 minutes round trip, a drunk driver had hit our neighbor’s brand-new, days brand new, with the M.S.R.P. sticker still in the window, BMW head-on while driving northbound on the wrong side of Arrowhead Avenue.

My mom and I instinctively ran to the front of the house to see what had happened. The front entry hall of our house was oddly lit up. We could see what appeared to be a car headlight through one of the windows on the side of the door mere feet from our front steps. None of what we were seeing made any sense, yet.

The car had jumped the foot tall curb between a fire hydrant and one of our Crepe Myrtle trees and mowed over the beautiful old, Doric column street lamp in between. It was the kind of light with a single Victorian style glass fixture on top. Our small world was strangely dark beyond that single headlight shining directly at us from that weird angle through the unsettled dust and momentary silence.

We could not believe what hell had been wrought from the horrific sounds of the collision that had terminated in our tiny front yard. We cautiously stepped out on the porch to see more of what in the hell? I climbed on the wall of our wraparound porch to see what my mom could see. It was from there that we could make out the entirety of what had been a shitty old Ford Maverick directly in front of us on our lawn.

The car was tilted toward the driver’s side. The left front tire was folded underneath. The lamp post was under the car on the passenger’s side. Between the missing wheel and the lamp post the car was almost completely resting on its side, the driver’s side. The windshield had a circular spiderweb-like fracture dented out where the passenger’s head had obviously just been.

There were two hairy guys who looked like Cheech and Chong, in the Maverick. One fell from the high side of the car onto our lawn. The driver rolled out of the car on the low side and onto the walkway in front of our door. They were fine, totally TRASHED, but fine.

We were myopically transfixed with the wreckage feet away from the walls of our home when we noticed the other car out in the street which was clearly related to this mess that landed in the lap of our front yard. The other car strangely seemed…is that car empty? I wondered. There was no visible driver as far as I or we could tell. My mom said what we both concluded Isn’t that Jerry’s car?

The formerly cute little red brand-new Beemer that belonged to our neighbor Jerry was out there in the middle of the street completely thrashed. It was oriented diagonally after making three full counterclockwise spins, dented to shit, the windows, all shattered. There was a trail of car parts, insane circular skid marks, antifreeze, motor oil, broken glass a hundred feet long and 30 feet wide, starting from where it was hit two houses down to where it ended up almost directly in front of our house. The car was ‘bleeding out’ it’s fluids slowly in the street as we watched.

Two ambulances, a fire truck, police cars, tow trucks, emergency personnel all converged on the corner quickly as one would hope. My dad described being overcome with dread the moment he turned north on Arrowhead on his way back at what lay three short blocks ahead of him.

He couldn’t miss the blaze of red emergency lights swirling, throwing wildly bouncing and reflecting red bolts of light off the facade of the cathedral directly across from our house. We had a large elm tree that obscured the view from the south at that time so he couldn’t tell if the house had exploded, were on fire or what in the hell!!? The red-light glowing bubble of frenetic negative energy hanging over everything in the hazy night air just exuded, something very bad.

My mom worried out loud to the neighbors who had instantly gathered “What is my husband going to think as he comes up Arrowhead returning home?” This was way, way, way, way, way before cell phones so she couldn’t call to prepare him. I shifted from this fresh hell on earth in front of us to worry about his pending worry.

I’ll never forget the wide-eyed look on his face as he made the left turn of our corner and could finally see what had been hidden by the trees, between all the emergency vehicles. A tow truck was backing onto our yard over the parkway, it’s weight further damaging our grass.

After parking the car, my dad and sister Anne joined us on the porch. He checked my mom and me over quickly to assuage his fears and was then among the emergency personnel in the yard. Turns out you have very little say when your property is inadvertently involved in an incident such as this.

The lamp post had to be addressed first. The tow trucks were staged on each side of our southwest corner. The car was lifted with winches from one tow truck in front while the other dragged the lamp post out from under the car from the side. It was pulled all the way across the sidewalk, side parkway and placed in the street where it remained for days.

There was an enormous at least four-foot-deep by a four-foot-wide hole in the grass of our front parkway where the lamp post had stood on a concrete pad. Because of this, the piece of shit Maverick had to be dragged off a different way than it arrived. The missing front wheel dug deep into the soft grass like a plow. There was no delicate way to carry out this excavation. Our front parkway, side parkway, front lawn, nothing was unscathed. A construction barrier with a flashing light was placed around the hole. Our poor little yard looked like a warzone after the wreckage had been cleared away.

That incident happened just a few months before Dave was hurt. The look of worry on my dad’s face was heartbreaking to see. I just hated seeing him so fearful, even for a split second. Anne made the same observation of the fear that was sparked in her from seeing our dad so frightened as she sat next to him in the car while approaching the oscillating red lights of unknown cataclysm. Children shouldn’t see their parents like this.

I realized in the present day that I witnessed a prodrome back then. What I saw, what I knew in retrospect now, what he, what both my parents must have felt when a few months later they got that call from the hospital that Dave had been gravely hurt.

I was glad he hadn’t lived to witness this present day of emergency vehicles surrounding their house. I couldn’t take seeing him have that look on his face one more time. Once is too many, twice is too much for one lifetime. I couldn’t help but wonder what my face looked like, as I remembered that scary night on Arrowhead, from this side, the end of the story of a lifetime of worry.

It doesn’t seem possible, but our brains can overlay deeply buried contextual background with live foreground observations simultaneously. These impossibly conflated layers engaged the front of my mind as I looked right through them to the world of open ambulance doors in front of me.

This entire repackaged confab in my head took way more time to write and to read than it did when it hit me and played out. It was like when you wake in the morning, fall back to sleep, dream an entire night’s worth of dreams that incorporate the snooze button sound into the storyline. When you wake again only a minute has passed. How does that happen? Is it time travel or time standing still?

I shook off this last REALLY intense vinette and parked across the street. The big gate to the back yard facing me was open. I headed that way because I no longer kept a key to my mom’s house on my keyring. The wheelchair ramp for Dave to enter the house was in the back of the house which is how an ambulance gurney would have to enter and exit. Dave’s room was at the back of the house. All data and evidence pointed to the back door being open at the back of the house with all of the people at the back of the house. Why am I repeating the back of the house? I felt like some sort of android.

I walked into the shady yard. I felt the pleasant damp morning smell of the lush garden, the dirt, grass, and freshness of all the greenery that would dissipate soon with the heat. The fire and paramedic crew were loosely huddled together on the patio with their heads hanging down. Their quiet reverence was tangibly hanging over the yard along with the canopy of willowy branches of the elm trees that were creating beautiful mottled shade on the ground. I knew they were long past being done with this call and probably should have been gone a half an hour ago. I approached and thanked them for staying. I was touched by their respect for that moment.

They all knew Dave. The fire station was two blocks away. Dave’s best friend from forever, Brian, began his career with the city fire department at that station and was posted there for years. Dave used to hang out at the station in the evenings, watching sports on T.V., basketball or volleyball games in the department parking lot, making friends with the guys along the way.

I met my son’s father through Dave through Brian. He was among the fire personnel stationed around the corner. He ended up stopping by to hang out with Dave initially, shoot the shit, watch games, eat tacos, develop a failed romance with me over those years.

In a city with more than a couple hundred thousand people, the analytical part of my brain knew it was not possible that everyone knew Dave, but at that moment, there was no more analysis, all those weird thoughts and paintballs in my head left me with only the visceral with these people on our patio.

***

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Back to Me, You can’t know what you don’t know…

Post 5.

If you are new to this blog, scroll down to post 1 to start at the beginning. XO M

Unvarnished excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…

***

I threw the covers back on our bed and got out. I grabbed a random pair of jeans from my closet, stepped into them, forcibly, awkwardly hopped, pulled them up and on as I made my way to the end of the hallway at the top of the back stairs. I leaned over the railing to tell my darling husband this very unexpected news. I knew he would be down there watching the Sunday morning cartoons a.k.a. political (bad) news shows in our family room at the bottom of the stairs. As much as I didn’t want them to, the words fell out of my mouth. “Babe! My mom just called, Dave died this morning!”

My husband adored my brother, well everyone did so we will start with that. He hopped out of his chair and into view at the bottom of the stairs. He was looking up at me waiting for more information.

My teenage son Steven’s, (Sven from here on out because I am too lazy to type a couple extra letters or pronounce a whole extra syllable, even in my head) bedroom door was directly behind me. My words woke him. No pun intended, but that kid sleeps like the dead, I did not expect to see or break this news to him until many, many hours later. He heard me through the door which he quickly threw open, startling me. He poked his head around its edge. He was wrapped in his bedding, shirtless with a mess of waist length curly brown hair and a look of sad shock on his bed-wrinkle-imprinted face. His eyes conveyed everything wordlessly, shock and sadness.

Shifting my gaze between Sven in his doorway up here beside me and my darling husband at the bottom of the stairs, witnessing these words strike them, feeling them take in this news face-to-face was harder than listening to my mom’s voice on the phone. I had been buffered by the blind distance of a phone call and my focus on Dave being cut loose from that shitty body. At this moment I was not buffered by any protective barrier, real or imagined. I stood a bit frozen in discomfort trying to figure out who to go to first. I had been miles down the road in my thoughts already, feeling elated for Dave. I had not anticipated being reeled another direction by feeling their thoughts or what I thought they might be thinking play out in my head. I was prepared for none of this. I didn’t know what to expect. My calm was gone, my mind was racing every direction and nowhere helpful or productive, fast.

My darling husband felt connected to Dave as he did his own younger brother who lived in failing health until a few years prior, he too surprisingly departed one morning without much warning other than general poor health. I knew instantly that this psychological nuclear bombshell I just dropped compiled with the worry he was already carrying for his ailing mom, that all of this was just more shrapnel slashing through many already tender and bleeding places in his heart.

Sven had just lost another uncle, his dad’s brother, the weekend before on the fourth of July as a result of cancer (more seeing of dead people). He was a kind, fairly young man whom Sven was frequently compared to in his dad’s family because they looked alike and had very similarly sweet, humorous personalities.

Sven and I lived with my parents and Dave at their home the first five years of Sven’s life. Besides being a lovely human, brother, son, cousin, friend, Uncle Dave was an amazing and loving uncle to Sven, seven other cousins and ‘bonus’ nieces and nephews in the children of family friends. He looked out for them, taught them how to look out for themselves in crossing the street and other life circumstances. He shared cookies with them, he coached them through baking cookies, took them on rides on his electric wheelchair, made them better people for growing up with the aware heart that comes from having and helping care for a family member with a severe disability. Most importantly, he introduced them to Pink Floyd and other critically important classic rock music he loved that was not part of the genre of music they would have typically heard in their age ranges.

I thought maybe one or both of them might join me to go to my mom’s house to be with her. This is the instinctive thing to do, go be with the people left behind. We all process grief very differently. I know and accept this complicated aspect of life that you simply can’t know until you find yourself in the middle of it.

As I looked from my son’s face on my right to my husband’s face looking up at me from downstairs on my left, I realized neither of these sweet, tender-hearted people could do this with me right now, and neither was volunteering to do so either. I could not address or stop their silent emotional bloodshed right this minute. They had their own processes and would need a moment or more moments at a minimum.

I was living in the exact opposite of whatever the worst opposite of ‘my favorite’ could possibly be described as, in fact, they were my very least favorite moments living on this planet ever, from waking up to all of 10 minutes in, this day is the worst day ever, so far. I hated being connected to delivering these words. Nope, worse, loathed, I LOATHED this moment.

It was clearly obvious that I would be making the trip to my mom’s house alone that morning. I headed back down the hall to our bedroom. I said I would be there. Damn it, why did I say that? I didn’t see any way out of it, so it was settled. Fuck this fucking day and damn it to hell.

Most humans have a need to know everything in a situation like this as part of the general perspective of understanding, maybe coping? I can’t say for sure. Everyone and I mean everyone asks, “What happened?” My husband broke the silence with this expected question. I told my two people all I knew, “He apparently woke up dead. That is all I know–I don’t really know.”

I have a clear sense of memory which leaves me with just about any recollection as if it just happened yesterday, forever. It’s similar to photographic but hard to explain. For this reason, I do not like, want, or need to know the minute details of bad news, because it never leaves me. I didn’t ask my mom what happened. “I’ll be right over,” I cut her off, didn’t really give her any room to tell me. When people feel the need to vomit out every gory detail of the And THEN….AND THEN…infinity, as they process earth-shattering experiences, I evade listening altogether by selectively ignoring, usually by finding a reason to leave the vicinity.

I made it through most of my education through grad school by half-listening in class. Stuff just stayed with me. People, for the most part, don’t understand how that works. I don’t either. They also cannot fathom how unpleasant information could get trapped in there too. Or repeated complaining. I have to remove myself from either of these, bad news and repeat complaining. My self-preservation behavior is often completely misinterpreted as uncaring or disinterested. I stopped trying to explain how my memory works long ago nor can I expend energy worrying about what anyone thinks they know or understand about me. Regardless of all the above, I was pretty sure I was going to have to hear everything no matter what today. This was too close to me to completely avoid and walking away from my mom was not a choice I had the luxury of making either.

I had witnessed Dave’s challenging path for what felt like forever. He was hurt when he was 18, and I was seven. I was now in my forties. That was 84% of my life, almost MY forever. MY Forever until now that Dave had been paralyzed. I grew up under the same roof with him until I moved out in my early-20s, then back and forth a couple times through my mid-30s, restructuring a new life plan each time. The only people who spent more up-close time living life with him as he struggled with grace, dignity, and humor with that paralyzed body of his were our parents and maybe his best friend, Brian.

As I brushed my teeth, I felt myself becoming more and more relieved and dare I say ecstatic that his life-sentence being shackled to that stupid wheelchair, bed or his body was finally completed, time officially served. I finished getting ready, basically, just the brushing of teeth. I felt bad that I was incapable of consoling my two favorite people properly other than a hug before I rushed out the door by myself less than 15 minutes after my mom had called.

***

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Friday, July 8, 2011 (Two days earlier) I knew it, “I see Dead People.”

double-doors

Post 4.

If you are new to this blog, scroll down to post 1 to start at the beginning. XO M

Unvarnished excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…

We have a large extended family. Our mom was the youngest of nine children. There are five children in our nuclear family. My parents have eight grandchildren. They are reproducing their own broods now. We originally had 15 first cousins between southern and northern California. When the time and space allow, we enjoy seeing each other.

I had planned a family brunch for that particular Sunday. Some local (Southern California) cousins and my local siblings (including Dave) had been invited to come to our house for brunch to visit with another cousin, Mary, from Northern California. As it turns out, Mary broke her foot a few days before and could not travel that particular weekend.

Subject: hello…

Fri 7/8/2011, 10:19 AM

Hi, Mardi:

Looks like I won’t be able to make it:(. I had an unfortunate step onto the curb yesterday and have a broken foot. I go back today to see what to do about it….it is quite painful. So, don’t think it would be too easy to trek on the plane and hither and yon, so I am so sorry to have to decline your lovely invitation.

I know John is looking forward to seeing you on Sunday….what is your address and phone number again to pass on to him? Thought I saved it, but can’t find it…

Have a wonderful visit…so sorry not to make it down….will work on another time….hello to all in your family for me…

Mary

Instead of hosting brunch for the rest of us, because we all have to eat anyway, I felt the need to cancel. I called everyone and did just that. My darling husband, Rick’s mother, had been ill. She had been rushed to the hospital several times in recent months. Each trip turned into a stay for a week or more. She had a weak heart and fluid was building in her lungs. She was 80-something (she wouldn’t want me to reveal her actual age which no one knew until her death- but that is another story altogether), frail and I felt her departure from this earth was near. So near, that I thought we might get the call any minute with the news that she was gone.

It would be awkward to get that call in the middle of brunch or right before people arrived. I don’t like making people feel awkward and speaking of grave situations or death, in general, makes most people pretty uncomfortable. They don’t know what to say. They question if they should say anything? Will it make things worse if they do? It just made sense to cancel and hold our breath through the weekend without having to put on the happy face of the host of a family party.

I called everyone the Friday before to let them know that Mary was not coming, that it was “probably better that we cancel because my darling husband’s mom is gravely ill.” Everyone understood without question. I did not speak directly to Dave who lived with and was cared for by my mom. I called and canceled with my mom, who would obviously pass on the news to Dave because that is just how I expect messages like that to be filtered down.

Dave called me back later that day and left a voicemail message. He told me how sorry he was to learn this news of Rick’s mom. He was very kind to call, and his words for my husband were very heartfelt. Dave was very fond of my darling husband, and he was very thoughtful in that way anyway, supporting people with kind words, at the right time.

I noticed that it was a little bit difficult to understand his message, understand him, as his words seemed, it is hard to describe, muffled, garbled, slurred. It’s hard to define exactly other than his voice seemed far away.

Maybe it was the connection, we do have crummy cell reception at our house to this day. Maybe it was the recording of the message itself. Maybe he was tired. He seemed a little tired the last time I saw him. Or maybe it was a new medication. Some of the medications he took for severe muscle spasms unintentionally knocked him out. I decided he was just tired or medicated or medicated and tired. I spent no more than a moment trying to analyze. I passed the message on to my husband as requested. I deleted the message and felt touched that he had called, not worried. It may be important to state that in general I am analytical but not a big worrier. Statistically, I find comfort in the fact that bad things don’t happen that often. I try not to let my thoughts go to the darkest place possible, all things being considered.

I don’t think I am any more sensitive to the happenings of the universe than the next guy but my sixth-sense “I see dead people” radar, feeling that grave news was indeed upon us was picking up vibes all right, but apparently, I was slightly off.

Dave was not on any radar as he was never ill, NEVER. He had, however, been having unusual experiences in the last weeks of his life. Here come some of the weird things I alluded to previously. He was noticing light and colors were becoming more beautifully intense when he was outside. The colors of the leaves were a brighter shade of verdant green, the sky an electric blue more green and deeper blue than he had ever seen. He was also seeing people he did not think he should be seeing, namely, dead people.

He thought he was losing his mind. He told me so much in a conversation not long before his death. Being paralyzed he was very concerned that he was losing the only thing he felt he had left, his mind. He asked me directly, “You know you gotta take me out? You can’t let me be a vegetable!” I assured him in the most unexcited tone possible “Nothing is wrong with you and NO I am not going to break the law or murder you in the face until you are dead. You KNOW I would get caught. It’s who I am. You’re fine.” Come to find out he was hedging his bets and had asked my mom to do the same, her response? Exactly as mine. “Oh, You’re FINE!” Fruit apparently really doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Truth is, I fully support the right to choose life or death. California is a right-to-die state so that really would not have been a problem. I would have done whatever was needed to help him leave if, in fact, something happened to his mental faculties and he became a vegetable. Good news though, none of us had to make such a difficult decision.

I shared these details of Dave’s unexplained experiences the weeks before his departure with a dear family friend who also happens to be the most spiritual being I know. I wasn’t looking for insight. He asked me what happened, I told him. My friend concluded in a reassuring tone without skipping a beat that, “Oh yep, his door was just opening very slowly.” To which I responded “Oh.” Pregnant pause “That makes sense.” Trying to sound like I understood. I didn’t know what else to say, as I had never heard a human departure from the planet being phrased quite that way.

Well, the door was ajar to elsewhere for someone, I clearly felt the draft from the opening. I just had the wrong person, my mother-in-law at the threshold that weekend. Dave apparently had other places to be. My mother-in-law passed away two days later. Maybe because it was a commercial-sized double-door opening that I felt the draft so strongly, I don’t know, but it was visceral to me, to say the least.

There were four deaths in our lives within ten days that July. Another family member my cousin John, also unexpectedly died in September and the husband of a dear friend later that fall, which was just plain exhausting. It felt like I was at a funeral every few weeks for the rest of the year.

I missed lunch with a friend because I was attending another funeral. I was hysterical about forgetting my friend, standing her up. I envisioned her sitting at the table in the restaurant all alone. Pretty sure she is still mad at me. I’m still sorry Penny Mc.

I was disoriented for months. I blame it on dehydration from so many tears shed. I cringed every time the phone rang for fear of raining more dead people for about a year after what my husband and I referred to initially as “the summer of death” which morphed into “the season of death” as more people dove into the dead pool.

This is not a collection of ghost stories, by the way. I do not claim any ability to explain things other-worldly. I am not really sure how I feel about them myself. They are simply part of the permanent record that I observed and am reporting.

***

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Sunday, July 10, 2011, Bad Fucking News

Title Page

Post 3.

If you are new to this blog, scroll down to post 1 to start at the beginning. XO M

Unvarnished excerpt from the upcoming book Viking Funeral…

I was awakened early on a Sunday morning by a call with bad fucking news. I had lived through this bad news in a dream years before, as odd as that sounds. I know. It doesn’t get any weirder than that. Well, wait, depending on your threshold of what you define as weird, there may be a few more things that meet or exceed weirder in the upcoming pages. I wish I had that creative a talent for storytelling to have made that part up, but I don’t. My talent is simply in my ability to observe, remember and document.

Where I physically was on the planet within this live déjà vu moment was different from my dream, nightmare to be honest, but the broken tone, the pitch, the timbre of my mom’s voice, the syntax of the words and the way the news tore through me were exactly the same. Nothing like some bad fucking news to bitch-slap you awake on an otherwise pleasant summer Sunday morning lie-in.

It is a bit unnerving what we perceive in a familiar voice, something as simple as a change in the way someone draws a breath in before saying something. With one word, my mom, saying my name “Mardi?” conveyed in that split second that I knew bad news was to follow. My mom half-choked out the words mixed with unsuccessfully held-back tears, “David…died this morning.” By this morning, she really meant minutes prior to picking up the phone to call me. A shiver that only comes from either a déjà vu experience or really bad fucking news, combined with an instant jolt of adrenaline that rushed through my body putting me into a state of freezing cold, shock. I didn’t ask what happened. I loathe unpleasant details. I apologized to my mom, “I am so sorry, Mom. I will be right over.” I hung up.

I returned to the still warm place in my bed where I had been enjoying the last delicious moments of sleep. I closed and opened my eyes waking myself up in an effort to determine if I was having a hypothetical nightmare or if this was really happening. I regarded the ceiling in our bedroom, I thought it excruciatingly bright white with more sunlight than anyone should have to be forced to face on a morning with bad fucking news like this. ‘Why on Earth did I get these stupid sheer curtains?’ Even if I were a morning person, it was way too bright today.

An unexpected calm began to wash over me as I warmed up in bed and deliberated these embarrassingly ridiculous, unimportant complaints. I breathed in several slow deep breaths as I was involuntarily forced to process the reality that my darling Viking Fucking Warrior of a brother had, in fact, left the building. But, and this is a big but, he also had finally been released from that stupid jacked-up paralyzed body he had been stuck with since his freshman year of college almost 40 years prior.

The comparison of these two opposite realities created an unrelenting loop in my thoughts, in my reality that could not be resolved at that moment. It felt like a newly found scratch on a favorite record that skips repeatedly, causing you to cringe until you directly tend to it. I was on one level entirely eviscerated by this new certainty that definitely sucked for me, but LUCKY HIM!!!