Monday, June 30, 2014

Fade Away

Fourth of July is Kind Of A Big Deal in my little old hometown juuuuust outside of Buffalo NY. The “downtown” (read: village center) area gets closed, rides are set up, games are everywhere, there is some kind of cross between an antique show and a farmer’s market, tons of restaurants set up booths, and this goes on for a couple days. For a small town, the parade is kind of amazing; it lasts several hours, there are enough firetrucks to sink a battleship, very cool and antique cars, 3 high school marching bands, too many elementary school marching bands to count, three fire departments and their marching bands, at least three police departments and their marching bands, and of course, the veterans.

The veterans. Of course.

Vor and I are in the middle of watching Band of Brothers. We’ve both read the book, but it’s been awhile. I was suddenly struck by a strange, world up-ending realization: I won’t be able to see the remaining WWII veterans in the 4th of July parade much longer, if I even get to see them this year. They are slowly aging into actual history, their stories only to remembered by our collective consciousness instead of listened to by actual ears.

When that struck me, I promptly texted my dad, asking him where his uncle had served. I knew it was the Pacific, but that was about all I knew. I just needed the details, even though it was almost 11 pm. I needed those details to be written down somewhere. I needed to know.

Every year, as the veterans came through the parade, we watched their numbers dwindle. At first, they were mostly still all walking; then there were the wheelchairs; then they were passengers in convertibles. Then, they simply began disappearing. As I sat there, mulling through those particular memories, I was overcome with a crazy desire to plan to run out and hop into the car with one of the vets with a recorder, and drag out every detail. Which is crazy, and borderline disrespectful (if not over the border), but I can’t help but feel sad; sad at the loss of these people and their compatriots, and sad at the loss of their first hand experience and knowledge and wisdom. The same could be said for any person, I know; I think I just feeling it more acutely having had my brother recently return from his deployment.

I was also sitting there, watching the show, feeling somewhat shell shocked by the fact that Lis will never grow up seeing WWII vets walk by in the parade. Then I promptly wanted to smack myself on the forehead. Lis will watch her own generation of veterans walk by her.

There is one thing I can teach her, one thing that stays the same no matter which generations of veterans have come to bear silent witness at our 4th of July celebrations. I will teach her stand when they walk by her.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Two Year Post Op Check Up

Lis is fine. As her neurosurgeon said, "She's clear to do anything but pole vaulting and boxing." We have to go back in one more year to do the usual check up and get her eyes tested. Apparently, that's one of the easiest ways to make sure her skull is growing normally; if there is too much pressure in the eyes, then there's a problem and more surgery is needed.

I'm not going to think about that for at least another 11 months.

It was like I expected, and not. I felt the panic rising as we parked in the garage and drove past the parking spot we used when we came in the morning of her surgery. I saw the red wagons and ushered her past then; we walked down the hall way full of animals and kid friendly colored glass protrusions form the walls. Just when I thought the lump in my throat was going to take over, Vor took a deep breath and pulled out all outside. We walked outside to the clinic area, avoiding our old haunt. I think he must have felt the same.

I wasn't at all feeling the panic while we were sitting in the waiting area, or when we went back to get our check up done. I thought that would be the worst--sitting there with all those other children, some with the same scars, others who clearly had not had their skulls "fixed" yet--I thought that would be the hardest. It wasn't.

After we were done, we wandered down to the gift shop, also known as the safety shop, so that we could see if they had any life jackets. They sell all kinds of safety gear at cost. We were in luck; we picked one out so that we can go boating this summer.

I walked out the door of the safety shop, only to by gobsmacked by the sight of the phlebotomy lab; the place that Vor and I joking referred to as the House Of Vampires. The place where we got Lis tested for her blood type and the place that handled Vor's blood for transfusions. I turned away, and kept my jaw set.

On days where Lis goes in for a check up, she sees two doctors: her original neurosurgeon, and a follow up pediatric plastic surgeon. The usually come in one after the other, about five minutes apart. Today they overlapped and we had a doctor party in our room. Before surgery, Dr. A (the neurosurgeon) was no nonsense and all business. As soon as that surgery was over, she was friendly and enamored with Lis. I suppose that's her way of dealing. She's always glad to see us; for some reason, we must have been memorable.

Actually, I know exactly why we were memorable, but I hate to think about it. Lis's surgery was nine hours, about three longer than they anticipated, because of some incredible complications. I think we made it into a cranio/facial paper write up she did.

But here we are, almost two years post op. Things look good; we didn't freak out in the hospital; Lis can climb and play soccer to her heart's content.

All is well.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Smile, And Other Things

I went out to a birthday dinner with my friends. We sat outside, along the canal, enjoying the weather and the breeze. We ate and laughed and talked as people walked by along the canal. I noticed a man walk by us, then walk by us again. When he walked by again, I began mentally writing the details into my memory: white, about 6 foot, buzz cut, brown eyes, crooked nose, blue shirt with logo, and so on. Why? Because I am a woman. Because men hovering around me can be a potential threat.

When he walked by a fourth time, he stopped by us, on the otherwise of the patio railing. He flashed a grin at us four women, and promptly demanded, “Smile!” My three friends gave him nervous smiles, smiles that clearly read If we smile, will he go away? I hope so. I stared at him, stony faced. He turned his attention to me, and flashed an even bigger grin. “Smile! I bet you’re so pretty when you smile!”

“This is a private conversation. We are having dinner. I do not smile for men on command. Please leave.” I said it all very flatly, no trace of menace or bitchiness in my voice. His grin turned to a snarl and he turned and left. My friends stared at me. I couldn’t tell if they were aghast at my refusal, or his audacity.

Make no mistake, it is rudeness and audacity that fueled him. He thought, just because we were women out in public, that he could come up to us; interrupt our dinner; insert himself into our private conversation; demand our time for his pleasure; make demands that we do something for him; demand for us to be pretty for him. He thought that because he is a man, and we are women.

I looked at my friends and shook my head. “I don’t smile on command for anyone, especially strange men who think they have the right to demand something of me, just because I am a woman who is in public.”

“Cheers to that,” one said, and raised her wine glass. We clinked glasses, and that was that. Or that was mostly that; you better believe that I was on the lookout as I walked back to my car.

I learned an interesting thing in law school, something I routinely put into practice as a lawyer: when someone gets aggressive with you, especially if you are a woman and the other person is a man, the best move is not to back up, but to step forward into that person’s space, making him back up. I routinely see male attorneys take steps towards other attorneys, male or female. Oftentimes, the other attorney will step backward, and the dance continues, until the “aggressor” has backed the other attorneys into an uncomfortable space, whether its physical, in a corner or against a wall, or mental, that he or she has a pattern of backing up and submitting.

I never, ever take the first step forward. It’s rude. But, come hell or high water, if another attorneys starts getting verbally or physically aggressive towards me, I take that step forward, and invade their own space. It’s amazing how quickly that will de-escalate the aggression, 99% of the time. I will not let you intimidate me.

I had a trial where one of the people was a thrice convicted violent sexual predator. He was in between attorneys, and asked to speak to me, an attorney representing another party in the same case. “How can I help you?” I responded. He motioned to the door, leading to a small secluded hallway within only one exit. “Can I talk to you out there?” he asked. “No,” I responded. “We can talk here, in the courtroom.” He stared at me for a minute. “I’m not gonna hurt you, honey. I just want to talk somewhere private.” I stared back at him evenly. “We are in private in the courtroom. There is no one else here. There is no need to go into that hallway,” I told him. He got frustrated, and demanded that I talk to him in the hallway again, and said, “You asked how you could help me! You said you would help me!” I took a step towards him, and repeated, “No. If you need to talk about your case, we will do it here.” He never challenged me again, but I saw him do it over and over to every other attorney that crossed through the case.

I have a backbone, but oh God, it is a hard won backbone. I went through hell to get it, and then I tempered it in more and more. All my life, I had been taught that I asked for it, it was my fault, it was my sin, it was temptation I was offering, just because I was a little girl who could later become a woman, just because I am now a woman, just for existing. No; no more. I know now that it isn’t true, and what’s more important, I stopped believing that.

How do I give this backbone to Lis? Can I gift it to her, as an heirloom, a treasured thing passed from mother to daughter? Or do I have to let her make her own? Can I give her my own experiences to help forge her, as a way of learning how to build her own? I cannot, will not accept that the answer is that she has to experience what I did in order to be able to stand up for herself.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Lessons Learned

Whoever would have thought of McD's play place as being a place to learn some interesting lessons? NOT ME.

LESSON ONE: Age Appropriate Description of Scars And Surgery

Lis went with me to the office at 7:30 this morning. She held on until 10:45, when that feral toddler look came into her eyes, and we quickly made our exit, ending her time as the Office Baby on a high note. As a reward, I took her to McD's, where she has never ben before. I got her a happy meal; she ate the apple slices, and looked at the french fries. She held one out to me and asked, "Stick? Stick?" She thought I was trying to feed her tree bark. She did not eat the french fries or the chicken nuggets.

I turned her loose into the play place area, and she went wild. She was DELIGHTED. Two little girls, obviously sisters, who were about five and ten, began playing with her. The three of them laughed and giggled and climbed and slid, and generally had a blast.

When Lis came up to me in between frolics and gave me a hug, the girls asked me about her scar. "What's that?" asked the little one. "How'd it happen?" asked the older one.

I was momentarily stunned. For the most part, people never ask about her scar anymore, because you can't see it. Her hair is long and curly, and it covers the scar. Whenever anyone did ask me about the scar, it was always adults, and obviously, you give a different answer to adults than you would to kids.

"Um. When she was a little baby, she had a problem with her head. The doctors fixed it, and that mark is where they fixed it." The five year old nodded like of course, and ran off with Lis. The ten year old stayed for moment longer. "What was wrong?" she asked. Oh God, how do I explain this without being graphic or scary? "Well..." I paused as I tried to translate. "When she was a baby, her head wasn't growing right. So that's why the doctors had to fix it."

The girl smiled. "Doctors are great. My mom's a nurse. She helps fix people, too." I nodded. "Yes. We loved all of Lis's nurses. They helped us so much." The girl ran off to join Lis and her sister.

After a few minutes, the mother came over. "Sorry about that," she said. I shrugged. "Kids are curious. I would rather they ask and get an answer." She smiled. "I'm a nurse at Riley. I recognize the scar your daughter has, so I really appreciate you telling them, but not telling them the gory details, you know?"

Whew. Okay. I guess I took the right track on that one. We chatted for a few more minutes until...

LESSON 2: My Daughter Is Not A Pushover

A six year old boy was playing on the play place with all the other kids. Out of the blue, he walked up to Lis and shoved her to ground.

Obviously I was on my feet in record time and was going to intervene. In the time it took me to stand up and start forward, Lis stood up, walked up to him, and SHOVED him as hard as she could. He stumbled backward, a surprised look on his face, and almost fell over.

Lis walked off, and if she had known the motion, I am pretty sure she would have dusted her hands off, like mission accomplished.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Yellow Brick Road That He Followed Back Home

“Every deployment is different,” my brother said, as he laced his hands behind his head. He looks too thin, just by a shade, and still tired. “I’m glad I’m stuck here in limbo for a few days. I’m doing jack and squat.”

I laughed. “Maybe some quiet time and sleep are best right now.” He nodded at me. “Yes. The hardest reentrys have been when I fly 13 straight hours and landed on my doorstep 14 hours after leaving a war zone. It’s…too much. It’s just too much. To feel, to process, to handle, it’s too much that way.”

I looked at him quietly while he spoke. “You know, you hadn’t deployed for awhile before this. I was pretty young the last time you deployed. I don’t think I ever understood, really, before, as much as a family-civvy can understand. But now…I’ve seen friends come back, changed. They had to change to survive. And I’ve seen friends come back in boxes, dead. I think I understand more this time. I was so much more afraid this time.”

“Maybe because of the large target painted on my back that said ‘---[my brother’s rank, title, and position]---‘,” he suggested wryly.

I laughed again. “Yeah, before it was SO easy-peasy, nice and breezy, when you were just a fight pilot jock,” I teased. “Now you have to actually DO something!”

Just as I said that, the lights dimmed, there was brief static on the screen, then the image of my brother flashed up again. He looked mildly concerned, but not alarmed. He looked around, said a few things that weren’t audible to someone off screen, then turned back. “No biggie,” he said. Yeah, sure, I thought. I know what that was, because the last time that happened, your base was being bombed.

My brother spent the last year going to meeting where he would bring a gun, with the safety off, just in case someone wanted to kill him. He once told me that he wouldn’t get out alive, but he would make sure that at least someone that he was commanding got out alive to tell the tale. He had no heat on Christmas eve or Christmas day, and he was woken up on Christmas day to discover his building being bombed. “Merry fucking Christmas,” is what he told me about that incident. He was scheduled to be on a helicopter that was shot down, but had to change his plans last minute. I lost a year of my life in those few hours where we waited for news, to see if it had been him.

I sent him so much jerky that he told me to knock it off, because “I could build a bridge from the Middle East to home with the jerky you’ve sent me.” I sent him other sweets too, like Sour Patch gummies and Swedish Fish, because I knew he kept those in a jar on his desk to make everyone come to him. They did, and they flocked, and they would clean him out of the sweets.

Now, he’s waiting for his next flight out, the flight that brings him home. His wife and his kids and waiting excitedly, and making preparations for all the things they want to do, and things that have to be done. I also know that his wife is making other preparations—not the kind you excitedly announce to everyone, but instead, the kind where you figure out how to help a solider with reentry. I know he’s changed from this deployment, but how? Does he know? No, I don’t think so. I can see it, but I can’t define it. It’s not necessarily bad, but that doesn’t means its rainbows and unicorns either.

Perhaps more to the point, I don’t care. He’s almost home. He’ll be home in three days. We can make it three more days.

(Updated: I wrote this, then waited three days to post it, because...I don't know. I felt like I was asking for trouble if I said we were almost safe. As I type this, he is landing on US soil, and his family is waiting for him at the airport.)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Thirty-ish

So. I turned 30. Yep.

I tried to get worked up about it, one way or another, but it all amounted to one massive MEH. Yes, I’m getting older. I’m halfway to sixty. I’m no longer 21 or 19, or whatever. Yes, I have all this awesomeness ahead of me. I don’t want to ever be 18, 19, or 21 ever again, so I don’t feel nostalgic; and I’m not amped up and thrilled about the future, because for the foreseeable future, my life will be just like it is now, which is good, really good, but I don’t feel the need to laud it.

I do remember being a kid and thinking it was forever between birthdays, and how each birthday I would think, Yes! I am finally grown up now and I can make my own rules! And when that birthday finally did come (19 for me), I was excited. It was a good feeling. And I haven’t cared about birthdays since then. I didn’t really care about 21, since I’m not really a drinker and was never interested in alcohol. 25 was nice, since I could rent a car without an upcharge.

It’s the ancillary things that I find it hard to get my brain to comprehend; the fact that it was 14 years ago that I knew my grandmother was dying, and would be gone in just a few days. The fact it was 9 years ago that Vor gave me that lovely pearl necklace for my 21st  birthday. The fact it’s been 11 years since my grandfather died, and I watched him take his last breath. The fact it’s been two years since our first trip with Lis to Buffalo, just days after her diagnosis.

I do this thing sometimes, where my mind wanders and I find myself imagining or daydreaming or seeing in some weird out of body experience this situation where I open my eyes and someone else besides me is seeing through my eyes, with me. Usually, it’s my grandparents; so I’m imagining that my long deceased and much loved grandpa or grandma is seeing through my eyes with me, kissing Lis on the cheeks with me, meeting Vor vicariously, watching my fingers pound the keyboard at work. It’s a nice daydream.

So, I guess thirty has been weird, but not for the usual reasons (oh! I’m old! I shall never be young again! I’m going to die someday!). It’s just realizing how long past some of those most hated and most treasured memories are; it’s seeing how far I have come, yet how far still have to go.