THE PEOPLE IN THE CLOSET

In my dream, my mother asks my husband James, “Would you set the table?” In my dream, he moves towards the pantry to get plates.  “Oh, don’t go in there,” she says. “We never go in there. The plates are over here.” She gestures towards the cabinets hanging above her head.

He pivots and heads towards the cabinets instead. “What’s in the closet?” he asks. She takes the muffin tin out of the oven and begins spooning cornbread mix over the hot oil that lies waiting at the bottom of each gaping hole. “Oh, that’s where we keep the people. You know, the People in the Closet.” The mix of cornmeal, egg and milk drops down the sides of the bowl. She wipes it clean with a wet cloth. “We don’t ever open that door.”

James stops mid-reach. “What do you mean the ‘People in the Closet?’”

My dream mom wraps a hot pad around the filled muffin tin, puts it back in the oven, closes the door, wipes her hands on a nearby towel and turns to look at him. She takes a deep breath and speaks slowly, so he’ll understand. “You know, the People. The People in the Closet.” Conversation over, she sets the oven timer and walks out of the room. “We’ll be eating in about 20 minutes,” she announces to the family. It is an ordinary day blessed with an ordinary family meal.

Later in my dream, James and I continue this conversation back at home. He is outraged.“What did your mother mean?” he demands. “Is your family really keeping people in the closet?” I shrug dismissively. It’s no big deal. I don’t understand why he is so upset. They are just the People in the Closet. They don’t deserve to be treated like real people.

“Don’t you ever let them out? Do you ever feed them?”  He is livid. And it doesn’t stop. Weeks pass and he is ranting and raving and carrying on and I am tired of it. “Allison, this is criminal!” he says. “It needs to stop!”

“Okay, okay,” I finally relent. “I’ll let them out, but not now. I’m too busy right now.” I realize how much time and energy they are going to need once they’re released. Between the kids and my job, I just don’t have time to deal with them right now.

But he doesn’t let up. “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?” he asks me while I am washing dishes, running the kids’ bath, folding clothes. I come in from work and instead of “Hello, how was your day?” he says, “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?” I sit down with a book and he interrupts my few rare, sacred minutes of quiet. “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?”

Finally, I’ve had enough. “You want me to let those people out of the closet?” I yell. “Fine!” I march over to the closet that is strangely now in my house and not my mother’s. I open the door and the people fall out. They lay in the middle of the floor: a starved, dirty little girl underneath an old man drooling tobacco juice. “There. They are now out of the closet! Are you happy? And now I have to go to work.” I step over them, grab my briefcase and purse and head out the door.  I step over them when I return home. I walk around them when I am talking on the phone and cooking dinner. I continue stepping over and around until James’ mantra changes.

“When are you going to deal with these people on the floor?” he starts asking.

“When I have time,” I say, avoiding the look in the little girl’s eyes. Enough already.

I wake up with the dream echoing through my head like a muffled scream. I am terrified. My fear devours me slowly, but not completely. I have not yet disappeared. I am still here to feel every agonizing moment. The terror straitjackets my heart and my blood runs cold. I am frozen. Literally, I cannot move. Not arms or my legs; not a single finger can I even twitch. Only my eyes can move. I throw my focus frantically around the room. My wild mind is searching for an escape route, a safe place to land so I can stop free falling through space and time.  James is sleeping beside me. I want to wake him up. If I can just wake him up, I’ll be safe. There is safety in numbers, isn’t there? This terror can’t stand true before a witness.

I try to move my hand to shake him awake, but it is glued to the bed. I try to call to him, but my voice is silent, my breathing quick and shallow. Something is dragging me to a place where everything is dark and cold. A closet. A demon is dragging me into the closet saying, “I’m here to take your soul.” I am desperate. Helpless. Frantically clawing inside, frozen outside, I am alone. Except for a small voice that calls to me from beyond. Barely discernible, it whispers, “It can’t control your breath. Breathe. It can’t control your thoughts. Surround yourself with light.”

In a last-ditch effort to claim sanity, I force myself to breathe. Slowly. Deeply. This is Custer’s last stand. With every ounce of energy, focus and courage I can summon, I visualize light all around me, inside and out. I breathe light into every cell. Open the closet door. Open all the closet doors. I breathe light into every crack and corner and crevice of my mind and heart and soul and house. I breathe light into the people I love and the people I don’t. If light is everywhere, there is no room for darkness. I breathe light until I am a bright, shimmering ball free to move and feel and be as I choose.

The demon flees. My breath continues, slow and deep and I begin to relax and go back to sleep. In that halfway place between the everyday and the ethereal, the fear returns. I flash awake and am paralyzed again. Again I am frantic. And again, I am reminded to breathe. I focus and regain control. I am caught up in a game against some formidable foe armed with the clammy palm of evil. My ally is a still, small voice. A tiny speck of spirit deep inside that keeps burning when everything goes black.

 

This is an excerpt from my new, recently-completed one-woman show, I Am the One Who. This biomythography portrays my healing journey from childhood trauma to empowerment.  The debut performance will be presented October 12, 7:00 pm at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto, Canada and will feature internationally renowned taiko drummer Tiffany Tamaribuchi!  (Yahoo!) Come check it out, but be aware that even though it’s grounded in a message of hope, it includes portrayals of sexual violence and childhood ritual abuse. Run time is 2 hours and includes a 15-minute intermission. A post-performance discussion will be held.

For tickets, go to universe.com/iamtheonewho

BUTTERFLY DANCE

I hit the play button on the CD player and feel a satisfying rush as drum music booms out of the speakers. I turn around to find that all the 3- and 4-year-olds in my creative movement class have stopped dead in their tracks. Their free-spirited, pre-class running has come to a complete standstill and been replaced by stunned, pained expressions.  Some of them are even covering their ears with their hands.

Ah-oh! Maybe this music wasn’t such a good idea. I find the relentless beat of intense, driving percussion soothing. Reassuring. The more intense, the better. Add a layer of sinister mixed with volume and the recipe improves. Throw in some thrashing and you have a full-course meal.

I have been spending long late-night hours thrash dancing to pounding music at local clubs after putting my own young children to bed. It’s not a social event; it’s a purge. I rarely talk to anyone and seldom do I drink alcohol. I carry in a bottle of purified water and thrash, sweat, guzzle, then thrash, sweat, guzzle some more. I go home exhausted, gratefully sleep through the night and wake up, muscles sore, wanting more. When I can’t go out, I thrash at home to my own personal collection of percussion music. But apparently, this is not the best musical choice for these young, carefree hearts. I desperately need a quick transition. I stab the stop button, grab a nearby djembe drum and strap it across my chest.

“Let’s see if we can stomp like monsters!” I say. Their faces burst into relieved smiles and they stomp around the room while I play a steady pulse, a base beat that guides their movement and steadies my heart and mind. My body-mind. It is becoming harder and harder for me to separate the two. And that, I am finding, may be a good thing, thrash dancing and all.

“1, 2, 3, 4, stop!” I play an accented beat and they all stop on cue and freeze in shapes with twisted spines and curved arms and bent legs and I revel in the simple landscaped beauty of these young bodies. “1, 2, 3, 4, skip!” My drum and I continue guiding them through a sequence of locomotor and non-locomotor movements. Uninhibited, they sneak and slither and gallop and turn and jump and reach and freeze and freeze and freeze all prompted by the louds and softs and fast and slows and starts and stops that come out of my drum until it rumbles quietly into silence. Somehow, this little drum organizes all my internal chatter into rhythmic patterns that anchor both them and me. I play. They dance. Cause and effect. Action, reaction. A simple, satisfying symbiotic relationship sprinkled with fun.

I feel blissfully connected. I am not wandering through the void. I am not distant and detached. I am not crouched and hiding. I am not thrashing into purged oblivion. I am here. I am present. I am now. I am the afternoon light that filters through the window creating shadows in the studio. I am the oiled wood floor under bare feet. I am the smooth skin of the drum under swollen fingers. I am stretching muscles and beating heart. I am breath moving around and through.

A new sensation shimmers and floats lightly like a butterfly dancing. It flutters and pauses and invites me to give it a name. I watch it closely as it flickers and whispers and beckons. It seems vaguely familiar–it looks like, sounds like, feels like…I think…I think…I think it might be hope.

I play my drum while the children twirl and run and smile.

INFINITE POSSIBILITIES

The game emerged spontaneously when my daughter, India, was about 5 years old. The two of us were enjoying a rare moment together on the upstairs deck of our rambling Victorian. That upper porch was one of our favorite places in that big, dilapidated house and the sun felt so good that spring day that I found myself basking in a rare moment of reprieve. I was drowning in financial stress, pending foreclosure and an unhappy marriage. Frozen by an uncertain future, I had grown so accustomed to everything being so hard that the warmth of the sun on my skin melted my heart. It felt so good, it was almost more than I could stand.

India had her Pocahontas toys spread out on a blanket. I laid down beside her, closed my eyes and breathed. I was mindful of the warm sun on my closed eyelids, my arms, my legs….but I wanted more. I jumped up and took off my dress in one swift motion revealing the bathing suit I happened to have on underneath. (It was not unusual in those days for me to wear a one-piece under my clothes. Somehow it helped me feel contained; somehow it helped me hold myself together.) I laid back down. Oh, so much better! I could feel the sun on all those places that had been covered.

“What are you doing?” India had stopped playing and was looking at me.

“Mommy’s just lying in the sun,” I reassured her.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because it feels good.”

“But why did you take off your clothes?”

“Because I want to feel the sun all over!”

“Oh, can I lie in the sun too?”

“Sure you can!” I sat up. “We can do whatever we want!” I scooted toys over to make a place for her to lie down next to me. By the time I looked up, she had ripped off her dress and underwear and was standing there stark naked.

“Oh, that does feel good!” she smiled and pranced. “I like doing whatever we want!” I was momentarily aghast, but that fleeting feeling was quickly replaced with joy. India started jumping up and down, chanting, “We can do whatever we want!”

I stood up and joined her as the creative movement teacher in me took over. “I can march like this!” I said. We both started marching around the porch as we chanted, “We can do whatever we want!” I quickly realized our chant needed three quarter rests at the end to make it an eight-count rhythmic phrase, so I snorted like a pig and jumped three times. India squealed with delight, then snorted and jumped with me. One, two, three!

“I can spin like this!” she said and we both started spinning. “We can do whatever we want!” Snort, snort, snort. India squealed again.

My turn. “I can slither like this!” Here we go… “We can do whatever we want!” Snort, snort, snort.  The noise must have called my husband James upstairs because suddenly he stuck his head through the door. “What is going on?” he asked. “India! Put on some clothes!” He looked at me as if to ask, “Have you gone crazy?”

“No!” India protested. “We’re playing We Can Do Whatever We Want! And I don’t want to put on clothes because the sun feels GOOD, doesn’t it Mommy?”  Seeing the look of sheer ecstasy on her face, I smiled in agreement. “That’s right!” Just for good measure I added a snort, snort, snort. India squealed again and echoed three snorts back. James rolled his eyes and left. India and I happily continued our game.

Before too long my son Jacob came out onto the porch. “What are you doing?” he asked, surveying. “Why doesn’t India have on any clothes?”

“Because we can do whatever we want!” she chanted with delight. James must have still been upstairs because I heard him say, “Leave them be Jake. It must be a girl thing.”

Yes, please, please, please just let us be…we danced and chanted and snorted and chanted and danced until we were both exhausted and fell down on the blanket laughing, completely spent. We laid together holding hands, basking in the sun and our joy, panting from all that exertion. When we could both breathe normally again India asked, “Can we really do whatever we want?”

“Absolutely,” I said without hesitation and squeezed her hand. I added no caveats for considering consequences or admonishments about safety or responsibility…I just laid there in the sun and planted seeds for infinite possibilities.

My now-grown daughter and I have revisited that day and its memorable We-Can-Do Whatever-We-Want point of view many times through the years. Whenever I stand at a pivot point, that voice of my younger self calls to me. She inspires and reassures. She reminds me that I am always free to choose whatever courageous future I have the audacity to imagine.

THANKSGIVING GOODBYES

I develop clarity and focus and set my intent. I act on that which comes to me.

My four-year-old grandson died Thanksgiving Day 2018. On Tuesday morning he went to school with a slight cough and no fever. On Tuesday afternoon the school called his parents saying he wasn’t feeling well and they needed to pick him up. Before they got him home, he quit breathing. They started chest compressions and called 911.  By the time they got him to the hospital, his heart had stopped and started three times. They transported him to a larger hospital. He arrived with a pulse, but was not breathing on his own. They put him on a ventilator and began testing for brain activity and there was none.

Tuesday morning he went to school. Tuesday evening he was brain dead. On Thursday, Thanksgiving morning, he was taken off life support. By 7:30 Thanksgiving morning, he was declared dead. The doctors tell us it was a respiratory virus that seized him fast and furious; three strains of parainfluenza narrowed his airway. He was a healthy 4-year-old…it is a harsh truth for my family and me.

We are in shock. Our numbness is penetrated by waves of grief. We have no profound insights; we simply move from one breath to the next.

His parents decided to donate his organs. On Thanksgiving Day, a number of families on organ waiting lists received the call for which they had been waiting. Who is to say our grief is bigger than their joy, relief and gratitude? Talk about an exchange of energy….Donor Alliance tells us that his heart, liver, and kidneys were successfully transplanted, saving four lives; his pancreas and cartilage went to research.

We are grateful even as we grieve. We are grateful that in the wake of this tragedy, in spite of his short time here on earth, his life has meaning…not only to us but to others as well. We are grateful for the opportunity to know him and to love him. I trust he is on his path and his story is unfolding as it should. His mother tells me that out of the blue last Friday he asked her what happens when you die and then he asked what happens when you stop breathing. She said he wasn’t angry or sad or upset or even particularly serious; he just casually asked these profound questions as he continued playing. She explained that if you stop breathing you die and no one really knows what happens when you die and then she asked why he was asking. He said “Because I think I’m going to quit breathing and die.” In typical Mom fashion she exclaimed,  “Don’t say that!” so he dropped it. And then a few days later, that’s exactly what happened. I choose to think an angel was there with him while he raced his toy cars around the room, talking to him quietly, preparing him with a gentle spoiler alert! It reminds me that the veil between the worlds is thin… the veil is very, very thin.

In the midst of all this sadness, I bless and celebrate both his sweet short life and his passage. I develop clarity and focus and set my intent: I intend to explore a new relationship with him now that he has left this 3D world. I trust an exciting journey awaits us. I choose to act on that which comes to me.

 

THE PINK APRON

The pink apron tied just like my Japanese-style taiko drumming costume. I wrapped the apron around my naked torso. “The only pink taiko coat I’ll ever wear,” I thought as I tossed my purse, water bottle and clothing into the bottom of the empty locker. My stainless steel water bottle clanked against the metal as it landed. The sound caused me to pause and take notice. I thought maybe I should hang my clothes up, but decided it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to be here long enough for my T-shirt to wrinkle. I turned, opened the curtain and walked out into the empty waiting room.

I ignored the pile of magazines and directed my attention to the TV. A woman was flipping houses, talking about how painting interior walls in neutral colors shows off beautiful woodwork and makes a house easier to sell. I thought of my own house. The blue living room, the yellow striped kitchen, the purple office, green music room, orange foyer and hallway…the bathroom that ended up Pepto Bismol pink. (Not necessarily the color I was trying for.)

“If I have breast cancer, maybe I should repaint the house in neutral colors so the kids can sell it without having to put too much work into it,” I thought to myself.  If I have cancer. That appeared to be the question of the moment. This was my second mammogram in two days. The first was a routine screening. And then they called asking me to come back. So here I was, sitting in the same chair, wearing another pink taiko apron.

A nurse with laryngitis came in with an inviting smile, gestured me into the hallway, then into the screening room and to a chair. She sat next to me and handed me a piece of paper that explained I was there for a second screening due to concerns that had surfaced after the first one. It also mentioned that my insurance might need to be notified. Insurance had paid for the first screening at 100%. I hoped it would pay for this second one as well. Especially since I might be needing cash flow to buy a whole lot of paint! I told the nurse that I had not contacted my insurance company and she whispered,  “We did that for you.” She touched my arm, smiled again and said, “It’s taken care of.”

“Okay, well, so far so good,” I thought. I appeared to be in good hands. Efficient hands. Hands that wanted to manipulate my right breast into a machine that flattened it out to “get a better look.”  I stood in front of the machine I had met for the first time a few days earlier. The nurse reached in under the pink apron for my breast and became tangled in the ties. I took the apron off and threw it across the room into a nearby chair.  The nurse smiled at my willingness to be bare breasted. If that was the biggest challenge of this whole experience, I was good to go.

The nurse placed my breast onto the flat panel of the machine, then instructed me to grab onto a bar above and look up in the opposite direction as she turned a knob that pressed the breast flat between two panels. I could feel my pectoral muscles stretch taut from the odd position. “Don’t breathe,” the nurse instructed, catching me on an exhale, leaving me wishing I had held on to that last inhale a little longer!

The nurse took the picture, removed the breast and repositioned the machine that suddenly sprouted an array of knobs and dials that I hadn’t noticed. This machine could clearly be positioned many different ways, capturing breasts in a wide variety of holds. I wondered why such engineering genius didn’t include some rounded corners that would prevent these sharp edges from digging into the tender side of my upper rib cage and armpit. Ouch! To divert my attention from the discomfort, I focused instead on timing my breath to avoid being caught on another exhale. And I also focused on the photograph of a large pink ribbon hanging on a street lamp in what appeared to be a downtown venue. Must have been part of the annual breast cancer awareness campaign. I had, of course, noticed the ribbons when they were hanging. Each year, they lined the city streets for a month or so causing everyone to notice. But standing here with my breast pressed in this machine that was taking a second screening, I was more aware of the photograph of this single hanging pink ribbon than I had been when driving by an entire street full of them.

The nurse removed my breast one last time, handed my apron to me and gestured for me to sit down in the now-empty chair. We looked at the images together, the nurse pointing at the area of concern. A white circle. A single white circle. “I’m going to call this a glob,” she whispered with a smile. “That’s not a medical term by the way, but since we don’t know what it is, we’re going to call it a glob.”

“Good enough,” I thought. “Sounds like a feeble opponent. I’m not sure I can win a bout with cancer, but I’m pretty sure I can tackle a glob!”

“I’ll show these to the radiologist and we’ll see if she wants an ultrasound,” whispered the nurse.

I nodded and looked at my watch. 2:30. When I scheduled this 2:00 appointment yesterday, I explained I had to leave at 3:00. I had actually suggested coming in next week, but the scheduling nurse had said, “No, let’s get you in tomorrow. We’ll make sure and get you out of here by 3:00.” I mentioned this now to the laryngitis nurse, explaining I had to teach a taiko drumming class at a school at 3:30. The nurse didn’t ask what taiko was. She just smiled and said, “I’m sure you’ll be fine” and touched my arm again. I wasn’t sure if she meant I would be able to leave in time or that she was betting on me being able to beat the glob. I decided to wait it out. I had 30 minutes to enjoy this familiar world where my biggest concern was whether or not I would get to taiko class on time–I wasn’t giving up a single second of it.

The nurse smiled goodbye and I was ushered into an ultrasound room by a technician who introduced another machine that wanted me to take off my pink taiko apron and lie down against a support. I raised my arm above my head and felt that now-familiar stretch as the tech spread warm gel on my breast with a probe. I turned my head back around in an awkward position so I could watch the glob on the screen. I wanted to see it in action, wanted to get to know it better. Apparently it was a chameleon because on this screen it appeared as a black circle. I wondered when it had moved in and made my breast its home. I wondered it if was planning on redecorating and if so, was it going with a creative color scheme that would express its individuality or was it choosing a practical neutral décor that would have a greater resale value? The probe continued moving, capturing the glob from many angles. The glob was quite photogenic and did not appear to have a side that was noticeably better than another. It appeared glob-like from every angle. And it appeared to not have a busy schedule. It was just hanging out at 2:45 in the afternoon, not at all concerned about getting to taiko class on time.

I noted that the technician had taken about 30 photographs. Surely this was a large enough portfolio for any glob! Glancing at my watch, I began scheming exactly how I could get off the table, wipe off the gel, retrieve my clothes and escape unnoticed. And then the technician stopped. She put the probe back into its place and handed me washcloths.

“You can clean yourself up,” she said. “I’m just going to send these images off to the radiologist and we’ll have some answers for you in just a minute.”

“Should I go get dressed?” I asked, ready to put my escape plan into action, ready to get my water bottle, purse and T-shirt…ready to gather these simple items that would indicate I was a normal person in the midst of a normal day.

“No, you just sit right there,” the technician said firmly as she wheeled her rolling chair to the computer in the corner of the room.

I looked up at the wall and saw another photograph of pink ribbons; this time, they were tired around trees. I hoped these annual campaigns had raised a lot of money for breast cancer research. Enough to identify this glob and know what it was capable of doing.  I looked at my watch again and thought about my class. I needed to leave in five minutes. I suddenly felt vulnerable and was no longer willing to sit bare breasted. I put on my pink taiko apron and wondered if it was still raining outside. I imagined a bunch of pink ribbons hanging dripping wet. I wondered if they resumed their shape once the sun dried up all the rain.

I thought about what a diagnosis of cancer would mean to my family. My 23-year-old daughter’s fiancé was getting chemo and my daughter was struggling to manage not only the stress and worry that came with his diagnosis and treatment, but also to finish grad school and her thesis. My eldest was taking a much-deserved month off before starting a new job. My newly married son had moved to Colorado to start a new business. And I had just started Skype sessions with my 4-month-old grandson in Texas.

I really wasn’t interested in introducing any of them to the glob. They had already lost their dad to a heart attack and their grandfather to mesothelioma. If I had cancer, I decided I would just keep it to myself. So much for research that suggests love and support can expedite healing. I wasn’t sure that sharing cancer news with my family would change my treatment plan or improve my prognosis or reduce my symptoms. I was, however, certain it would bring chaos into their lives…unwanted chaos they could do without. I decided I would shield them as long as possible. Maybe they wouldn’t notice my long, curly hair falling out. I could always claim a sudden desire to shave my head and celebrate my ability to finally drop some unwanted pounds. And wouldn’t a good prosthetic conceal a missing breast? Maybe they would never even have to know.

The technician wheeled her chair back across the room. “The radiologist said you appear to have some fluid-filled cysts in your breast,” she explained.

“The glob has a name!” I thought. “And apparently it doesn’t live alone, but has moved in an entire family!”

“Your breast are very dense so we just wanted to make sure we knew what we were looking at.” I sat on the ultrasound table with a blank look on my face. “What does she mean I have dense breasts?” I pondered. “Have my breasts always been dense? Do other women have dense breasts? Are mine the only ones?”

The technician stood up. “This is good news,” she smiled encouragingly, somewhat confused by my stupor. “You are free to go. Make sure you come back in a year for another screening.”  She opened the door. I glanced at my watch. It was 3:00 on the dot.

I thanked the tech and left the room. I got my things out of the locker and put on clothes. I dumped the pink taiko apron in the laundry basket, walked down the hall, smiled goodbye to the nurse with laryngitis, walked outside and took a breath. A full inhale and exhale followed by another. And another. As my breath slowly resumed an even rhythm, the sky started sprinkling.  I walked across the parking lot, not minding the rain. I called my mom as I walked to my car. “Did you know that I have dense breasts?” I asked. We laughed together as I drove to taiko class. I was relieved that, at least for now, I had enough time. And I was grateful that each year pink ribbons line the city streets. Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

 

KNOWING I AM LOVED

The situation was bigger than both of us; neither of us knew what to do. After 7 or 8 hours of my intense abdominal pain, my mother and I both felt helpless. After 9 days in the hospital with pancreatitis, I had been released so we could get to my son’s wedding in Florida. My doctors had wanted to remove my gallbladder which was the culprit of this problem, but had to wait for my lipase level to fall from its alarmingly elevated count of 10,000 to a normal range of 70-80. The treatment while waiting was nothing by mouth…. it had been over a week since I’d had food or water.

For the past 9 days I had been hooked up to an IV that kept me fed, hydrated and soothed with pain medication. By the time my lipase count fell, there was no time for surgery. My son was getting married. In Florida. Mom and I were already two days past our scheduled arrival date. She had changed our tickets and we were out of time. I needed to get on a plane. With my lipase finally stable, my doctors had released me with cautions about what to eat and drink and a warning to schedule gallbladder surgery immediately after my return home.

My mother had picked me up from the hospital and taken me to her house for final trip preparations. We had to leave for the airport the next day at 4 am to catch our early morning flight. I moved slowly and tired easily in my compromised state, but I was moving. I was glad to be out of the hospital free from my IV umbilical cord, grateful for my mother’s help, grateful to be heading south. Together.

I still hadn’t finished packing when I felt the first stab. After weeks of this intermittent pain, I feared what was coming. I threw my remaining clothes in the suitcase and zipped it up, knowing it was likely this all-too-familiar intruder would soon demand all my attention. And so it did. My world was reduced to a raging gall bladder attack that ranted with relentless vomiting. My mother watched helplessly as I crawled to and from the toilet, in and out of the tub, changed positions on the couch, paced around the room, tried to distract myself with TV, wrapped a heating pad around my aching belly and bargained with the universe for some small morsel of relief…but nothing helped.

Exhausted, I surfed from one breath to the next, hoping for the wave to crest, needing to ride it in before 4 a.m. We needed to get on that plane. That dominant, unspoken thought hung heavy between us. We weren’t just attending the wedding as guests or beloved family members; I was supposed to officiate and last I heard, there was no firm Plan B. If I was a no-show, they would be scrambling for a last-minute alternative. Plus I wanted to be part of this blessed, once-in-a-lifetime event. We needed to get on that plane.

At some point as I tossed and turned and crawled and paced and writhed, my bare feet ended up sticking over the end of the couch right in front of my mother’s nearby chair where she held vigil. “I’ll be right back,” she said and left her wake. She came back with a reflexology book and opened it to a diagram that mapped the pressure points of the foot. Her fingers circled and prodded and pressed and pushed. They fervently kneaded, stroked and rubbed a whispered plea for deliverance. It didn’t stop my agony, but it sure felt good.

In the early morning hours, when it became clear my pain wasn’t going to subside, I encouraged my mother to go to bed. I knew we faced an early morning whether I was on that plane or not. She left my side begrudgingly and I took Benadryl hoping it would knock me out. But I was still awake several hours later when I heard her alarm go off. Still writhing, still pacing, still bargaining…but my terms had changed. I was no longer hoping to get on the plane; I just wanted to get to the emergency room. After 15 hours of wracking pain, I was ready for something stronger than Benadryl. Hook me back up to that IV!

Mom emerged from her bedroom. “How are you doing?” she asked. “Did you get any sleep?” I sat up, grabbed my belly and shook my head no.

“I can’t get on that plane,” I whispered, staring at the floor, “I need to go to the emergency room and you need to go to Florida without me.” She cried no and I looked up. “Mom, he needs one of us there. You have to go without me.”

She turned away silently and went to get dressed. I pushed myself up off the couch to go gather my things. I was going to call a friend to take me to the ER and knew I would need some basics once they admitted me. I staggered into the bedroom. There was my suitcase, zipped and ready, my clothes spread on top. A surge of determination fueled by grief rippled through me stronger than the pain. I wondered if I could get myself dressed. I threw my pajamas in a heap on the floor and managed to put on clothes. I managed to brush my teeth and wheel my suitcase into the hallway. I managed to grab my purse and water bottle. Each step was an act of faith and courage.

Mom walked out of her room and looked at me questioningly. “I’m going,” I said. “I’m not missing my son’s wedding.”  We wheeled the suitcases out to the car. The early-morning night was dark and rainy and tense. I was a blubbering, writhing mess. But we were in the car, heading to the airport. I was grateful for the wheelchair assistance Mom had arranged and ignored the accusing stares of people who appeared to assume I was able-bodied and unnecessarily taking advantage of this service. (Like I’d rather be wheeled around than up and walking on my own two feet!) Fortunately, I was too exhausted to care.

Sometime during the flight, my pain finally subsided and we landed safe and sound, albeit emotional…my frayed nervous system felt like it had survived a torture rack. When my son greeted us, Mom and I both burst into tears! I slept through much of the four-day wedding adventure, but I did indeed officiate. I got myself there, got him married and got myself home and scheduled for gall bladder surgery.

And my mother shadowed my every step. When I was hurting, writhing in pain, she rubbed my feet. It sure feels good knowing I am loved.