When the doctor in the emergency room told me that my husband was dead, my instant, ridiculous and totally irrational, thought was, “I want to start this day over. I’ll fix it. Just let me start this day over and I’ll change the outcome.”
I don’t know to whom I was pleading my case for a “do-over.” In times of extreme stress such as this, we find ourselves talking to the great unknown, begging for assistance in navigating the situation. Even atheists do it; I used to. I remember this one time when I was visiting my Grandma H during a really bad thunderstorm. I’m deathly afraid of thunderstorms. If I’m caught outside in one, my knees literally shake to the point of almost buckling beneath me while I’m trying to get to shelter. To make matters worse, on this particular day at Grandma H’s tornado warnings were blaring all over the little town in which she lived.
Grandma H was no help in calming my fears. She insisted we go to Grandpa’s bedroom, where he was laid up during the ending stages of his MS, because she wanted to be with him “if they died.” Back then, Grandma had taken to the possibility of death even though it would turn out to be a good fifteen years off and she mentioned it often with lines such as “I’ve had a good life. I can die today.”
So she was standing next to Grandpa’s bed, calmly repeating this sort of mantra, while the wind whipped at the windows. She ordered me to get into the closet in Grandpa’s room because I was “still young and had life to live.”
Let me just say, I was scared shitless. My mom was utterly fearless about thunderstorms. If she were swimming in our pool and saw lightening, she would calmly count out the seconds between its sighting and the thunder, and then determine that it was okay to finish her swim because the storm was still far off. (By the way, I’ve since learned from a forest ranger that if you can see lightening, it’s too close and it can strike you.) At home during thunderstorms, my mom was a calming force that settled me down. Grandma H’s alarmist attitude, too much like my own, was very unsettling.
We had the radio on. The weather alerts kept coming on, declaring tornado sightings in her little town. I sat in the closet, literally fearing for my life. It’s my worst nightmare to experience a tornado first hand or to be struck by lightening. If I ever lived through my house being hit by a tornado–or even a neighbor’s house–I’d probably be scarred for life, I’m that scared.
Anyway, so, there I was, an atheist, hiding in the closet in my Grandpa’s bedroom with my Grandma calling forth the rapture. I was in high school and I’d heard the saying, There’s no atheists in fox holes. I didn’t think of it at that moment, but whenever I’ve thought of this day in the years afterwards, this saying always comes to mind. Because I found myself part praying and part berating myself for praying. I didn’t say the word “God;” I simply pleaded silently to live through this tornado incident. Please don’t make me go through this, I begged. Please don’t make a tornado hit this house!
Of course, I made it through that day completely unscathed. To this day, I’ve been lucky enough to have never actually lived through a near-miss tornado hit. I’ve not even seen one, even from a distance. I’ve had some scary close encounters with lightening–my metal hiking poles buzzing from a charge above treeline in the mountains, lightening blasts exploding around me while descending a mountain, tornadoes whirling around the hill on which I was camping for an astronomy event (though I still never actually saw one). I’ve had close calls. But, thankfully, no hits. Still, I’ve got this overwhelming fear that some day I’m going to be struck by lightening. I sure as hell hope not!
The second time in my life that I found myself doing what would be considered a prayer was that moment the doctor told me of my husband’s death. Again, I was a fervent atheist. Yet, there I was, pleading with some unnamed keeper of the hands of time for a chance to rewind the day and start over. Maybe it’s just a statement about the kind of person I am–that when I’m doing something and I feel I’ve messed it up, I just scrap what I have and start over. When I’m having trouble writing something I actually want to publish–my real writing, not what I tumble off of my head for this blog–I will open about two or three windows of my choice word processing program because I’ll start a page of work over again if I feel that it rambled into the wrong direction. Then I’ll go back and forth between the two and compare them until I figure which one is “right.” Sometimes I take bits and pieces from the two attempts and merge them. If I don’t like the way a single paragraph is going, I’ll make spaces on the page and start the paragraph over in a different way.
I think of it like one of those “chose your own adventure” books that were popular when I was a kid. I’m sure everyone who read them did as I did–read the book over and over, trying every possible path until you reached the one with the “good ending.” I remember this one book about an alien abduction that I could never find the path to the “good ending.” The good ending was there, I’d found it paging through the book, but I could never figure out what paths I needed to take to get to it. Maybe it was just there to throw me off. It was like life; there was indeed a good ending out there, but not everyone had access to the paths that would lead to it.
When faced with the outcome of April 14th, I irrationally demanded a “do-over.” Surely there was something I could have done that morning to change the outcome. If I’d known CPR. If we had just gotten up for the morning and had breakfast instead of enjoying each other’s company as young married couples do. If I had not fumbled for my clothes before calling 911. I had lots of “ifs” I felt, for years, that I could have done differently to change the outcome. I’ll never know if any of those would have worked. In fact, to bring me the peace of mind I need to continue, I always console myself with the reality that CPR would probably not have saved him, nor a call to 911 one minute earlier. By the time I fully realized something was wrong with him, he’d already turned blue. No air. I’ve learned, also, that very few people are actually revived from CPR or defibrillators. Unfortunately, life rescue is not like the movies.
I had a dream in the weeks after Mike’s death in which I was able to go back in time about a month with my memories of this outcome fully intact. I spent the dream trying to get Mike to see a cardiologist. He was really confused by this task and was fighting me about it. One of my high school friends, her father a cardiac nurse, was in the dream, too. She kept talking about Mike’s funeral in front of Mike, and reminding me that you can’t change the future, that it would cause a time paradox. (Obviously, I watch too much science-fiction.)
I woke up from that dream exhausted. I wanted the reality of it so badly. The biggest “if only” of all: If only we wouldn’t have taken the emergency doctor’s word for it that what Mike had experienced a few years before was really an anxiety attack, not a heart attack. In 1999, before we were married, while out of town on business, Mike experienced what he thought was a heart attack. He was driven to the hospital. Tests were run–EKG and blood work–but none of them revealed anything abnormal. The doctor told him he was having an anxiety attack. No one would have thought about cardiomyopathy, which could not be detected by the conventional heart attack tests.
Cardiomyopathy is a thickening of the heart muscle, usually something a person has from birth and passed down through genetics. Mike was adopted by his father when he was almost too young to remember. He had no contact with his biological father. In fact, up until 2000, no one in his family would admit that he was adopted. It’s such a shame. In the months after Mike had confirmed–he always suspected he was not the biological son of his father–he was adopted, he told me time and time again, “I just want to know who my father is for medical reasons. He means nothing to me. I wish my dad [meaning his adopted father] would realize that.”
To this day, I don’t even know who Mike’s biological father is, or if he is even still alive. If only the timing of Mike’s history had been revealed a few years earlier. If only he’d pushed for the truth sooner. Maybe some fact would have unlocked the door to knowledge that could have saved his life. From Mike’s birth, the timer on a bomb was ticking, just waiting for the right set of circumstances to cause it to explode. When I think back on my life with Mike these days, I can hear the spastic tick-tick-tick-tick of time as the seconds of his life are counted out. So utterly unfair. I’m now one year older than he got to live. I’m not ready to die. Not by a long shot.
I guess I’m stuck on “do-overs” this morning because I feel the pressure of a clock ticking off seconds in my own ears. Maybe it’s because of my age; though young, I know too well that my youth secures me nothing. And, as exhibited in my last blog entry, I’m feeling weighed down by my own bad decisions. Well, maybe not bad, but disparate choices I’ve made that continue to lead me down paths that turn out to be dead-ends. I feel restless, like I should be doing something more. I feel like I should make more informed decisions instead of blindly fumbling down these paths I randomly select because I’m momentarily inspired. Yeah, a life inspired can be exciting, but I’ve been doing it for too many years and it hasn’t led to the overall fulfillment I desire.
Hindsight, as they say, is twenty-twenty. I know that. That’s why a “do-over” is so desirable. If I could do it again, I’d start at college. I’d not bother with those wasted years towards an elementary education degree and just start right in with English, my true passion. I’d minor in German. I’m still not sure what exactly I’d do with that. I’d relive my years with Mike with more zest and appreciation. I’d certainly make him see a cardiologist. We’d move to Colorado and I’d stay there, no matter what happened to him.
I suppose, though, I’d still screw everything up. There’s no saying that I would know what I know now, if I could go back. Look at me, making guesses on something that’s an impossibility anyway. There’s no saying, though, that I’d be any less confused about myself if I could set things “right” or differently.
I just long, desperately, to find something to do with myself that gives me fulfillment. I’ve done ten years or so of dreading my arrival at work every morning. Every once in awhile, I’d like to wake up, excited like I am on the weekends. Some people have jobs they enjoy; it can’t be an impossibility. Why am I always so dissatisfied with everything? Am I, like my dad tells me, just never satisfied with what I have? (He, by the way, admits that he is also like this, so when he points it out, he’s telling me that I’m like him. Gotta love them genetics.)
I’d like to think I am capable of satisfaction. I enjoy writing. Keeping up this blog is highly satisfying to me (and definitely more satisfying than the writing I do for my job). If I could make an actual career of writing fiction, I might be happy. If I could have a career that helps other people, that would be great too, not to mention more realistic than my so-called fiction career. (I’m not sure I could handle rejection–look how defensive I got about the comments of Mr. Anonymous in my last blog entry.)
My years with Mike were pretty satisfying. I liked my job then. Liked it enough, anyway. Maybe the job frustration was satiated by the fact that I had someone who loved me to come home to. I’m a sap. But we did enjoy each other’s company. And somehow, through him, I thought anything was possible. Sometimes it seems that just dealing with the world alone is much harder than when you have a companion to battle it with. Of course, right now I’d probably be pregnant or something. So maybe it wouldn’t have been as fun. Still, with him, motherhood didn’t seem like a curse, even though I’ve never really wanted to have kids. Who knows how my life would have turned out had he lived. I’ll never know. Maybe it’s ridiculous to even contemplate. The mind wanders, the soul thirsts, and the heart burns. Some days more than others. I just wish I could find and maintain a state of comfort with my life.