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Defense Mechanisms

22 Mar

There is this show that plays over and over again on Discovery Health called Trauma: Life in the ER. The show features doctors and nurses from some of the biggest trauma centers around the country as they treat severely injured patients. The show does not shy away from anything – burn victims, bullet wounds, people dying on the table, organ transplants … car accident victims whose bodies have been broken and battered and bruised and brought to the brink of death. They show it all and block out nothing.

I can’t get enough of the show. I watch it whenever I can. I don’t know why.

Some days I think I watch to convince myself that if it did happen again to someone I love that there is a chance they might be saved. That what no one could do for my brother might be done for someone else. That someday someone I love is going to have an accident or get sick. And it is possible that they will be okay.

Some days I think I watch because I want to know what happened to him. And I want to imagine that he was rolled into a hospital on a stretcher instead of loaded into the back of a coroner’s van in a body bag. Maybe he would have been in pain and bleeding and badly injured, but he would have been alive.

But most days I think I watch to stare my biggest fear – losing someone else I love to a tragic accident – in the face. To dare the world to do it to me again. I think my mind believes that if I can be prepared – that if I can look at broken bones and blood and brain matter that it won’t be so overwhelming if it happens again.

And this is what it all comes down to. Me trying to be prepared for it to happen again. The root of all my anxiety and fear comes from the unpredictability and the inherently uncontrollable nature of life – that no amount of love or hope can keep those we love safe.

Even now, six years later, my mind spends hours trying to barricade me from the pain.

So I don’t allow myself to remember much about my brother. I don’t talk about his death. I spend hours in my own mind, planning exactly what I will do and say if I should receive a call that something happened to Hubs or my other brother or my parents or someone else I love. I research the diseases that my children have ever shown even the mildest symptom of. I stare at my children every night before I go to sleep. I can’t go to sleep myself until I’m sure they are breathing and safe.

I know none of this helps, or even makes sense. It probably makes it worse. There is nothing I can do now that will prepare me if someone else I love dies suddenly. Nothing will make it easier. But when I received that phone call at 3:19 am on March 24th, any sense of safety and peace I had was shattered. I haven’t been able to put it back together again and my mind tries desperately to hang on to something, anything, that gives me back some of the control I lost that day. But I know I’ll ever get that safety and peace back.

Today marks six years since I’ve spoken to my brother. Saturday marks six years since he died. These six years have been exhausting. I’ll never live a day in which I don’t panic about something – a day in which I don’t have that ice-in-my-veins terror take over if I have multiple missed phone calls or if I hear about an accident in the vicinity of where someone I love travels or if my phone rings after 10 pm.

I am tired of hurting and tired of worrying. And it’s only been six years.

Only six years. Today it feels like forever. As though I’ve lived ten lifetimes without him. But when I think about all the years I have left ahead of me that don’t include him, I realize I have a long, lonely way to go.

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My thoughts on the gay marriage “issue.”

10 Feb

I’ve seen two very incredible things on the internet lately that have me thinking a lot about this. Check out this and this.

I remember as a teenager feeling so liberated when I finally realized that I have my own experiences and those experiences shape my thoughts and feelings – that I didn’t have to blindly accept what I had been told. I was raised Catholic, in a very traditional, by-the-Bible family. While my parents weren’t outwardly critical of gay marriage, it definitely wasn’t a secret that it wasn’t something they condoned. Of course, part of my experience was being raised in a church that embraced everything the Bible says about being gay.  And it took me a long time to realize that that feeling I got when confronted with the issue – that kind of yucky feeling, if I’m being honest – was residual of all the prejudice and innuendo I picked up from other people. It wasn’t how I felt, not at all. Just because I had a knee-jerk reaction to something didn’t mean that it was actually how I felt or what I believed. I realized that I didn’t give a rat’s behind who loves who – that as long as people are good to each other and respectful and contributing members of society, then good for them. They’re ahead of a lot of people in this world.

I’ve had to go to battle for my opinion, mostly when people use Bible as a crutch for their prejudice. It infuriates me when people who claim to be “walking with Christ” or “living through him” can be so hateful to a whole sector of our community of human beings – people who are kind, and good, and hardworking and just happen to love a member of the same sex.

With that being said, I do understand it – the Bible is, after all, a holy document, one that I respect and pray about and such and I understand people’s desire to live by the Bible’s word. In most situations, it’s a great guide.  However, it is also an archaic document, passed along for thousands of years, edited by man. It has been changed, manipulated, and shortened, often to fit the needs of a king or some other leader. Not to mention all of the commands in the New Testament that, somewhere along the way, people just stopped observing. Not even your most religious person follows it to a T. So if we pick and choose other things, why are some people so hell bent on sticking it to members of the gay community with Corinthians and Leviticus as their only weapons?

I’m pretty sure God’s message was of love and understanding. That there is a whole lot more information in the Bible about love and acceptance than there is about being gay. The Bible was inspired by God and Jesus’ message, but ultimately was left in the hands of human beings – competent human beings, but human beings who are just as much susceptible to mistakes and misunderstanding as anyone else. If I had to be my life on it, I think God would want us to just love Him and each other. To accept ourselves, to make others happy, and to enjoy the many, many blessings He has given us.

Poverty is an issue. War is an issue. Crime is an issue. Gay marriage is not an issue. It is not an “issue” that we should use to elect our government officials. It is not an “issue” that should spark violence. Unless someone is harming someone else, it is not our “issue” to decide who someone can or cannot love. It is not an issue at all.

**********

Nolan has asked me a lot of hard questions – about death, about life, about the world around us. He hasn’t yet asked me what gay means. He’s certainly heard the word and we’ve watched shows that featured gay men and women, but he hasn’t asked yet. I hope he never does. I hope it is just something that he accepts as part of our world, no different than the fact that some people have two kids and some people have four. Or some of us are blonde and some of us are brunette. Nothing so out of the ordinary that he feels it merits an explanation. But if he does ask, this is how I plan to respond:

“Mommy and daddy are a boy and a girl. We met, fell in love, and decided to spend the rest of our lives together. Sometimes two boys or two girls meet, fall in love, and decide to spend the rest of their lives together.”

That’s all. Short. Simple. Because that is all it is – two people, falling in love, and deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. Period.

I did it, Part Deux

14 Dec

When I first wrote a post titled “I did it” it was because I had quit my full-time, life-sucking, making-me-miserable job to work part time, to spend more time with my kids and focus on starting a freelance writing and editing career. While I never said this out loud, I gave myself a goal of freelancing full time by the end of 2011.

As of two weeks ago, I was convinced I would never make it. I was frustrated by the constant rejection from the jobs I applied for, I was frustrated by the seeming lack of jobs out there, and I was all-around miserable. I hated my part time job more than I had hated my full time job. I was held back by a lack of time – I needed time to apply for jobs, to grow my business, to market myself, but working outside of my house 25 hours a week and having a family just didn’t leave me the time I needed. But we also couldn’t afford for me to just quit. I felt the same as I’d felt for so long – stuck.

And then two Fridays ago, I was pushed over the edge by my boss. He was a cocky you-know-what and it hit me, just hit me that I had spent years (YEARS!!) working jobs I hated, working for total jerks, jobs which didn’t bring me any kind of fulfillment, personally or financially. I was waiting around for something to fall into my lap – to be one of those people for whom things just happened.

But that was silly and childish. It wasn’t going to happen unless I made it happen. So when I was at work, with my hands shaking in anger because I couldn’t believe I was an adult and being treated like a misbehaving teenager, I made the decision that I was getting out. I wasn’t sure how, but I had to. I didn’t want to be 40 or 50 or 60 years old and look back at my life and have a pile of regrets. I didn’t want to live with the realization that I had spent my kids’ childhoods away from them 40+ hours a week doing something I loathed. It would have been different if my job provided me with something that made me a better person – but it didn’t and it was no longer worth the sacrifice.

So Hubs and I spent the weekend talking and discussing, adding and subtracting, then talking some more. And Tuesday, I quit. I told them I would finish out the week. This Monday marked my first day working from home and it has been fabulous.

To save money on daycare and make ends meet, I’m keeping the kids home with me in the afternoons and working in the mornings and during nap time. It’s not ideal, and it’s definitely not full time yet, but I know I can do it and in the end my plan is to have enough work to put them back in daycare in the afternoons, but on an abbreviated schedule.

I’m going to create the life I want – the freedom to work when I want, how much I want, and be an involved, happy, and fulfilled mom. I’m terrified. I might totally bomb and be desperately looking for a normal, horrible job again in a couple of months. But I hope not. I really, really hope not. Because now that I’ve gotten a taste of what it feels like to work at home, on my couch, in sweatpants, I have to tell you – I might never go back.

Crash

6 Dec

This is going to be heavy – sorry in advance. But this post is inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge and this is what came out of it.

Today we’re trying a little something different. Are you ready? Your word is below. Take the next ten minutes to write about the first single memory that word calls up. Focus on the emotions and the experience, spend ten minutes really exploring that memory. Then wrap it up, publish, and come back to link up.

RemembeRED, Write on Edge, Memoir writing prompt

The notes of my cell phone ring out and jolt me awake.

“Hello?” I answer groggily, wondering who the hell is calling me at 3:21 am on a Thursday night – or Friday morning, I suppose.

“Kristina?”

“Yes?”

“This is Officer Rick Batelle from the St. Louis County Police Department. I’m sorry to have to tell you this over the phone, but no one is home at your parent’s house and I’m over at the neighbors. We got your number from you brother Kyle. I’m so sorry, but your brother Nathan was killed in a car accident tonight.”

Crash.

**********

Forty minutes later I exit the highway, headed to my parents’ house. I’m only about 1.5 miles away, but the road is blocked by a police car, with its silent flashing lights spinning color across the darkness. I cry out – an unintelligible sound that I didn’t consciously make.

The road is blocked because my brother is down that road – only a half a mile from home – but he’ll never make it. I have to go around. I have to go around the barricade that is there because my brother is dead.

Crash.

**********

Twenty minutes later I am in the kitchen of my parents’ neighbors’ house. I hear my husband’s truck pull up outside. I run out the front door. He is stepping out of his truck, and his whole body is sagging. Streaks of tears run down his face and I run. I run. He lifts me in a hug, each of us clinging desperately to the other.

Crash.

**********

Two hours later I’m still in my parents’ neighbors’ kitchen, surrounded by my husband, my aunt and my uncle, and Ron and Cindy – the neighbors who have watched me and my brothers grow up. We’re waiting for my parents, who are away on vacation and unreachable by phone, to find out that their son is gone.

My phone rings. It’s my dad.

“Daddy???” I haven’t called him that in a long time.

“Kristina???” His voice is wrenching, choking on his grief and shock. We seem to have a need to just hear each other’s voice, our names, to assure each other that we’re there.

Crash.

**********

Six hours later I want to see where it happened. We drive the half a mile to the crash site, where a cross has already been erected. Where debris still litters the ground. I see the pole that couldn’t withstand the impact of the speeding car. It is lying on the ground. Covered in something scarlet.

My knees buckle and I am caught by my cousin.

Crash.

**********

Ten minutes, one hour, two hours, five hours, twelve hours. As more neighbors, my cousins, friends, more family, and finally, my parents arrive at my parents’ house, it is a new rip in the wound, fresh pain to bear witness to.

Crash.

Crash.

Crash.

Crash.

Crash.

It doesn’t divide, it multiplies

29 Nov

When I got pregnant with my daughter, I knew, obviously, that I would love this new baby. I couldn’t wait to cuddle a newborn, to hear her soft coos and feel the tight grip of her little fingers around mine. I knew I would fall in love.

But I was concerned, as harsh as it sounds, that I wouldn’t love her in the same way as my son. Your first child introduces you to a limitless, all-consuming love, the likes of which you can never fully appreciate until you hold your first baby in your arms. I was (and still am, really) completely enchanted by my son (except for when he’s being snotty, then it’s not so much enchantment but an annoyance that he’s still cute even in the midst of a wild tantrum). I worried that with a second baby, it would be a little “old hat” – that the wonder and amazement would be tempered by the fact that I’d done it before. It seemed like there couldn’t possibly be enough room in my heart to feel the same way about another baby like I did my son.

I didn’t need to worry. My daughter enchanted me just as much as her brother. Her coos and cries and cuddles were all new to me – they were all hers.

So when held my both of my babies in my arms for the first time, even though I needed a shower and was recovering from surgery and my son was sitting on my IV line and it was tugging at the vein in my hand, I was completely and totally overwhelmed by how complete I felt.  I never knew she’d been missing, but there she was.

And no room had to be made. My daughter just moved right in and my heart exploded.

This post was inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge:

This week, I’m asking you to take us into the moment your favorite photograph of yourself was taken, to show us who you were then and what the photograph means–in 300 words.

 

30 Day of Thankfulness

23 Nov

A lot of people are participating in the 30 days of thankfulness thingie, in which you post one thing every day that you’re thankful for. But since I decided to try NaBloPoMo, I decided that it would be cheating to do both. So I’m going to do all thirty here, in honor of Thanksgiving and the fact that tomorrow I will be obscenely stuffing my face.

So here are thirty things I’m thankful for, in no particular order.

1) My kids.

2) My husband.

3) My parents.

4) My brother.

5) My neice and nephews, my cousins, my aunts and uncles.

6) My cousin who is also my BFF and sister I never had. And her husband and their son.

7) My friends – all of them. Old and new, those I talk to a lot and those I don’t talk to near enough.

8) Books

9) TV

10) Caffeine

11) My phone

12) The internet

13) Footie pjs

14) Baby kisses and hugs

15) That Nolan is old enough to try to tell jokes

16) My Kindle

17) Candles and my Scentsy burner

18) Crisp fall air

19) Pictures

20) McDonald’s (Shut up. Can’t help it.)

21) Christmas music

22) Laughing until  my stomach hurts

23) Margaritas

24) Soft blankets

25) Thunderstorms

26) Campfires

27) Target

28) Chapstick

29) Writing

30) Freedom

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful day full of food, family, friends, and love.

Quiet Place

22 Nov

Little feet are ensconced in footie pajamas and tucked into bed. My husband has been passed out on the couch for an hour, with his feet in my lap. I am awake, reading, decompressing, thankful for these minutes in which no one is asking me for something.

I gently wake my love and send him to bed. I check locks, flip switches. I kiss soft cheeks and re-arrange blankies. As I walk through the silent house, I revel in its warmth, its security, its sense of home and safety. I feel thankful that it’s mine, that we are blessed with everything we need for our family.

I lay in bed, tucked in with my husband and my Kindle. I allow myself to get lost in my book, allow my mind to stop swirling. I read to my heart’s delight, with no interruptions, no distractions.

When I finally close my eyes, I am content, fulfilled, and calm – likely for the first time all day. For all the worries I’ll face with the rising of the sun, right now it doesn’t matter. It will all be there tomorrow. But now, I am still. Quiet.

This post was inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge:

This week, as we enter one of the busiest times of year, I say we take a lesson from these second graders and write about a (real) place that makes us feel peaceful.

Where is your quiet place? What does it look like? What happens there?

Word limit is 200.

Things my husband is going to have to teach our children

20 Nov

because I am totally lacking at every single one of these skills:

1.) How to stand up for what you believe. All of the time, without fail, even when it’s not the cool thing to do, even when it’s hard to say, even when you know it would be easier to pretend to agree with everyone else. Always be unfailingly honest. It may be hard to do in the moment, but telling the truth is the easiest in the end.
2.) How to properly cut grass and use a weed-eater. As in, don’t leave 4-ft. wide chunks of grass uncut or run into the fence with the riding lawn mower.
3.) How to fish. And hunt. And start a campfire.
4.) How to play baseball, soccer, football, and every other sport that ever existed because Chip kicks ass at all of them.
5.) How to have willpower, and how, when you have to make a difficult choice, or change your behavior, you NEVER.GIVE.UP. You don’t have to live with the things about yourself that you’re not crazy about. Change it.
6.) How to drive, but most importantly, how to park.
7.) How to paint (even though I swear I’m a really good painter, but Hubs disagrees), how to hang a picture and how to change a tire.
8.) How to work hard, and don’t do anything half-ass.
9.) You can teach yourself almost anything by trial and error, even if it means multiple trips to Lowe’s, a crying wife, very creative cuss words, and lots and lots of beer.
10.) How to be proud of who you are. Even when you’re different, don’t make any apologies for it, and especially don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.

Just do it

15 Nov

“What do you want to do? You keep talking about how  much you hate your job but you’re not doing anything about it.”

I look at him in the driver’s seat, one hand on the wheel, the other leaning on the console. So relaxed as he asks me what I want to do with the rest of my life. Which, as a 28-year-old mother of two, I should probably already know.

“I don’t know. I feel trapped. We can’t afford for me to not work, and I’ve applied for so many job and no one calls me back and I just don’t know.”

“What will make you happy?”

I turn away and look out the window into the darkness. Just tell him, I think to myself. But I’m scared to say the words out loud. I don’t know if I’m good enough. He might think I’m crazy.

“What do you want to do?” he asks, a little more forcefully this time and I can hear all of his frustration as he repeats those six words- he worries about the stress I’m under, he’s tired of this job making me short-tempered at home … he just wants me to be happy.

“The only thing I might be able to get paid to do that would make me happy is write.”

I take a deep breath.

“I want to write.”

“Then do it. You have to just do it, you can’t just keep talking about it. I’ll make whatever sacrifices I have to. But you can’t keep going like this.”

And for the next fifteen minutes I try to talk him out of it, try to explain all the ways I might fail. And he doesn’t care.

“Just do it.” he says, over and over like a Nike ad.

So I did. I am. I’m struggling, begging for work, and some days I want to give up. But I’m doing it.

This post was inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge:

Pivotal conversations. We’ve had ‘em.  The moment you chink the armor, or perhaps the moment you say something that you can’t take back. Conversations you review in your mind, for better or for worse.

Recreate a pivotal conversation with us this week. Remember, this is memoir. You can only record what was actually said. Save the bon mots and imagined snappy retorts for fiction.

Seven Years

13 Nov

Seven years ago today I married the boy I’d had a crush on for at least 15 years. I never thought he’d actually be mine, but here we are seven years later and by the grace of God still together and in love. We’ve been through a hell of a lot together. So much joy and so much sorrow has been wrapped up in the last 2,555 days that I look around and wonder how we’ve managed to survive the rollercoaster we’ve been stuck on. One thing is clear, though – I’m so glad I’m stuck on it with him.

I wrote the post below (now slightly edited) two years ago, on our fifth anniversary. It still pretty much says it all.

Our wedding day was perfect (minus a centerpiece being lit on fire at the reception, but that wasn’t as dramatic as it sounds), and some of the most fun I have ever had. So much about that day sticks out in my mind that I couldn’t even pick my favorite part. Chip and I were surrounded by everyone we love and we danced and got drunk and had the time of our lives.

We didn’t have the most expensive or elaborate wedding. There were no ice sculptures or $5,000 dresses. But we were focused on each other, on starting our life together, and we knew in the long run we wouldn’t remember exactly what food we had or the color of the napkins. I remember sneaking looks at my new husband throughout the day, wondering that he was mine.

That day, in all of my 22-year-old naiveté, I thought I was signing up for a lifetime of romantic evenings cuddling around the fireplace, 2.5 kids, a white picket fence and an all-around perfect life together. I could never have guessed at what was to come. When tragedy struck our lives over and over during the 2nd and 3rd years of our marriage, I was so thankful that he was by my side to pick me up and love me through everything we were going through. He was my rock, my one beacon of sanity through all of the chaos, the one person who knew when I was about to break, who knew how to make me laugh when I couldn’t stop the tears on my own.

We have been through more in these seven years than some couples go through in fifty and this does not come without a price. Throughout a marriage you expect your spouse to change, to have times when you grow apart and then come together again. For us, we both instantly changed the day my brother died, not to mention the changes brought on by the subsequent hardships we faced after that.

Neither one of us is the same person we were on November 13, 2004. We have had to fight and struggle and try desperately to get to know each other again, to learn how to deal with each other’s imperfections, to reacquaint ourselves with the other. We have had some fights that I am embarrassed about. We have had desperate moments when I didn’t know if we were going to make it through. There have been times when I thought I made his life worse for marrying him.

But here we are. Seven years in. We are learning. We are growing. We have both (and I thank God for this every single second of every single day) made the choice to stick this out, to ask for help when we need it, to try our damndest to be better people, and be better for each other. We are not taking the easy way out and giving up. The miraculous thing is that, for all of our struggles, we are better for it. We are closer. I know without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what, he’s not leaving me. We have been through almost the worst life has to offer, and we are still here. Together. I can’t speak on his behalf, but I am more in love with him now than I ever thought I could be.

So baby, thank you. Thank you for sticking around when it would have been so much easier to walk away. Thank you for giving me two children so perfect that I couldn’t have dreamed them up. Thank you for being the kind of Daddy that lets Nolan follow you around with his tools as you bust your butt to make our house exactly what we want it to be. Thank you for being the kind of Daddy that kisses baby dolls and puts on “pretties” just because Tessa wants you to. Thank you for making me feel beautiful, for trying so hard to make me happy. Thank you for taking the time to tell me that you appreciate what I do and supporting me in all my decisions. Thank you for not being afraid to stand up to me and tell me when you think I’m wrong. Thank you for working the job that you do, risking your life every single day to provide us with the life we dreamed up together. Thank you for working so hard to overcome everything you’ve been through, to be the man that you want to be, to be an example for our children of how a man lives his life. Thank you for choosing to stick by me, and to do the work it takes for us to be together and to be happy.

It’s not been perfect, but if it had been, I’m not sure I would understand now how fucking lucky I am.

I have never once doubted that we were right for each other. You are perfect for me. Thank you for being mine.