Life In 140 Characters Or Less

“They’re all the same. Just hurry up and pick one.” #SuperLottoPlus #NotGonnaWinAnyway

                                                          -Me, to the person in front of the Chevron Mini Mart line who’s staring at lottery tickets the way I stare at a bakery case.

Seventeen Years Ago, Plus or Minus a Day

door-349807_1280February 17, 1998. A Tuesday night. Or did it happen just after midnight, making it February 18? I don’t know. The medical records document every IV started, every vial of blood collected, every consent signed.

But they don’t document when I lost my daughter.

The process began Tuesday night. I know this because at 10 o’clock my daughter’s eyes fluttered open—an encouraging sign from her ICU bed as she awaited transfer to a trauma center for the euphemistic explanation of “a higher level of care.” But when my husband whispered, “Erin, you okay?” into her ear, she shook her head, and closed her eyes.

Is that when I lost her?

What went wrong? I asked the doctor on February 17. Nothing went wrong, he said. She’s too unstable. I didn’t do the lumbar puncture. One of her pupils has blown.

My daughter was careening towards brain death but nothing went wrong? Semantics, I suppose. Because when a 14-year-old girl walks into a hospital with a hacking cough and a nagging headache then leaves ventilated on a gurney in the back of an ambulance on the way to a trauma center, something most decidedly went wrong.

Maybe I lost her sometime during her medically-induced three-month-long coma. Eventually she opened her eyes, but in my mind that doesn’t count. By June she tracked objects, and by September she smiled. But those don’t count either.

Nothing counts, because nothing brings us back to February 16, 1998.

Hollywood, I’ve decided, is to blame, because I believed with all my heart—thanks to their wrapping-problems-up-in-an-hour world—that this could be fixed. That even when the situation crawled from days to months, one glorious morning Erin would sit up, rub her eyes, and ask what happened. We would be thrilled, but not surprised.

Along the way, though, something went wrong, and Erin didn’t follow the script.

In word math, “hospital” plus “loss” equals “death.” In Erin’s case there was not a physical death but a death of plans: plans of signed yearbooks and karaoke, of babysitting money and boyfriends. And that’s where her plans stop—or, rather, that’s where I stop them. Which means her plans never included driver’s ed or prom, children or a mortgage. They simply could not.

Here’s another word math equation: “trauma center” plus “medical experts” equals “cured.” In reality that equation needs one of those little equal-sign-with-the-line-through-it symbols, because there aren’t always cures. Or answers, or prognoses.

Most days I face forward, and see the people Erin helps: the students being taught by a teacher she inspired not to quit after his daughter was murdered by a former pupil—that teacher later nominated for Disney Teacher of the Year. Or the disabled people in Third World countries finally seated in wheelchairs of their own, no longer dragging themselves across dirt roads or relying on family members to carry them piggyback, thanks to Erin’s fundraising efforts for Free Wheelchair Mission.

Other days—days decreasing with the passage of time—I think back to that night seventeen years ago today when the doctor said that nothing went wrong. And I think how mistaken he was.

Because something indeed went very, very wrong.

What Happened the Morning I Didn’t Check My Email

I’ve been waiting for two emails most of my adult life. Okay, maybe not. Maybe for four months and ten days, respectively—but it feels like most of my adult life.

Since checking my phone every two seconds wasn’t making them appear any faster, I took a stand this morning: it was time for that inbox to release its chokehold on me, to take its scrawny fingers off of my scrawny neck. At least until after lunch.

But could I do it? Go a whole morning without checking email? Because that also meant not looking at Facebook or Pinterest or the weather just in case—whoops!—I hit the mail icon by mistake. Plus, I knew seeing the inbox’s number creeping up would make the challenge unbearable.

I called his name so you could see how handsome he is, but he didn't hear me. Sad.

I called his name so you could see how handsome he is, but he didn’t hear me. Sad.

So instead of scrolling through friends’ cat videos on FB while I ate my oatmeal, I watched Wayne, our Welsh Corgi who turned 13 in January, through the kitchen window. Wayne waits for the pool filter to come on every morning at 8:30 but he seems to have gone from hard of hearing to deaf within the span of a week, so now he looks for the bubbles to percolate instead of listening for the hum of the motor. He walks slowly, and his hind legs have a weird scissoring motion. The poor boy has arthritis, I’m sure.

After breakfast I went for a run, and noticed tiny lily-of-the-valley blossoms I hadn’t seen since last spring. The sun felt warm on my shoulders, and I marveled at our 83-degree mid-February weather.

Back home—after stopping at Chevron for a 32-ounce Diet Coke—the scent of the Molton Brown Gingerlily bodywash my daughter bought for my birthday filled the shower, and I stood under the water far longer than was beneficial for either my dry skin or the drought.

Lunchtime. In a supreme demonstration of self control, I didn’t even wolf.

Finally I swiped my phone, certain my virtuousness was about to pay off.

Nope. Nothing. Oh, lots from Banana Republic, Gap, Amazon, Pottery Barn, Petco, et al, but not the ones I’ve been waiting for.

Still, I felt victorious. I’d been mindful in my morning—present for those lily-of-the-valleys instead of cutting my run short to check my phone; watching my own dog instead of someone else’s pets. I’d conquered the inbox.

And hey—so what if I ate lunch at 9:45?

The Rules

In honor of Valentine’s Day and dad’s of daughters, please enjoy!

A Simple, Village Undertaker

The Rules For Dating My Daughters...Thanks to Carla.

If you have a short attention span, simply read the last six words of rule six, which sums up all the rules very nicely.

On more than one occasion, I have used those six words shortly after being introduced to a young man, prowling around my home. Simple, yet especially effective when combined with the amendment to rule nine. You mess with have to deal with me.  You do not want to exercise that option. You mess with them…you have to deal with me. You do not want to exercise that option.

Rule One: If you pull into my driveway and honk, you’d better be delivering a package, because you’re sure as hell not picking anything up.

Rule Two: You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer at anything below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of…

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Happy Hallmark Day

Driving through a parking lot this morning I had to stop several times for people rushing in front of my car. Wild-eyed men-type people.

Then it hit me: tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. They were going to See’s.

Once I was out of elementary school and no longer decorating shoeboxes for my Valentine “mail,” the day lost its charm. I get the sentiment—it’s the hype I hate. It feels manufactured, like See’s and Hallmark are in cahoots. Oh—and Target.

I was in Target on December 27 and they had Valentine merchandise displayed. Hand to God.

We last went out for Valentine’s Day about 20 years ago. My husband made reservations at a small upscale Italian restaurant I loved. We arrived and were told they were running late, that we’d be seated—hopefully—within an hour.

How is that even possible with a reservation?

So we went across the street to In-and-Out. We sat there, all dressed up, eating our cheeseburgers and fries. Best dinner ever.

Here’s how I’ll spend tomorrow: I’ll go for a short run pending knee cooperation, then I’m scheduled for a rowing class later in the morning. I’ll take a shower, then bake peanut butter cookies with Dove chocolate hearts pushed into the tops just because I’m not a total Debbie Downer. If it’s not too late, I’ll do some weeding because it’s supposed to be about 85 degrees. Dinner’s still a question mark. Ordinarily we’d go out on Saturday anyway, but everything’s going to be packed so maybe we’ll just see what time Gonzaga plays and order pizza.

Sounds like a perfect day.

It should have been a sign--I never did like these candies.

It should have been a sign–I never did like these candies.


Courtesy CC/Flickr

Courtesy CC/Flickr

There was a girl I knew once. She was fourteen years old last time we saw each other. Her quick smile revealed lavender and pink rubber bands on her braces, I remember, and you got the impression she was like every other bubbly blonde on every other high school campus.

But this bubbly blonde was different.

This bubbly blonde had a 4.5 International Baccalaureate GPA and dreams of joining the space program, a fact illustrated by the dog-eared NASA application packet on her bedroom desk.

I knew her well. I knew the raised scar on her wrist was from a curling iron burn, and that she used too much hairspray on her bangs. I knew she was a rotten basketball player, and that she loved Mississippi mud cake. I knew her well, though perhaps not as well as I thought.

The last time I saw her was seventeen years ago, in a hospital. She was a patient there, I her visitor. You needed that scarred wrist to identify her; a ventilator hid the lavender and pink rubber bands, and her bangs fell flat. State-of-the-art medical equipment crammed her private ICU room, and she appeared small and inconsequential in comparison. Doctors shook their heads—either in disbelief or nonbelief, I’m not sure which—when they heard about her intellect, her plans.

Months later she emerged from a medically-induced coma, and people waited—waited for her to talk, or at least acknowledge a visitor’s presence. She did neither.

Over time she learned to use hand controls on her power wheelchair and an iPad for communication, because the devastating illness that stole almost a year of her life also stole her ability to walk and talk.

What, her friends and family wondered, will become of her?

Over still more time she returned to high school and graduated with her original class, near the top of her class. Later she was honored as Free Wheelchair Mission’s Ambassador of the Year after delivering sermons on their behalf, lifting hundreds of individuals off the ground “through the gift of mobility,” as Free Wheelchair’s tagline says.

How, you may wonder, does a nonverbal person deliver a sermon, anyway? The simple answer is, by typing with one finger and having the message read aloud. The complex answer is, with a lot of grit and grace.

Because drooling is a problem for someone with little motor control. So is being front and center when, I imagine, you’d rather sit in the back of the room. I said I didn’t know her as well as I thought, because the girl I knew would never have opened herself to public scrutiny, to curious looks, to outright stares.

The bubbly blonde is gone. Maybe she didn’t disappear in that hospital; I don’t know—maybe she just grew up. It happens. Her evaporated NASA dreams, I’m sure, disappoint her. But her earthly contributions now, today, impact more lives than if she’d traveled in space.

So why does a fourteen-year-old girl—a girl I haven’t seen in seventeen years—continue to haunt me? Because that girl was my daughter.

But so is the young woman that girl has become.

15 Things I Learned From Indoor Cycling

As I posted last Wednesday, the cycling studio I briefly attended closed its doors 10 days ago. While the owner told me tearfully she had yet to turn a profit and that her dream was over, my mind raced to a bigger issue: what was I going to do now? Join a big-box gym? Shout “time’s up!” to my not-cleared-to-run-from-surgery knee and hit the pavement?

But the dust settled. I’ve moved on.

And as I reflect on my time on a bike, I realize I’ve learned a few things along the virtual road. They are, in no particular order:

  1. Pants are preferable to shorts unless you’re sure of the prior rider’s hygiene.
  2. Apparently I have no obliques because despite the instructor’s shouting encouragement to engage my core and LEAN, I move a pitiful few inches.
  3. It’s not a seat—it’s a saddle.
  4. Whatever it is, it has no padding. And a gel cover makes no difference.
  5. Go conservative when you’re told to “gear up.” You’ll thank yourself when the instructor shouts encourages you to keep adding gear later in the ride.
  6. Sit where you can see the clock.
  7. Don’t mind the defibrillator on the wall—it’s probably just some requirement.
  8. If the class is over and the instructor asks who wants to go another 15 minutes, don’t be proud—chances are no one knows how to use the defibrillator.
  9. There is no coasting in a cycling class.
  10. There are no stop signs or signals, either.
  11. Plan on going directly home. You won’t even look good enough for Home Depot when you’re done.
  12. If the instructor shouts encourages you to “grab a drink,” do it. Pretty soon the only thing you’ll hear is your heart pounding in your ears.
  13. Bring a towel. Not a washcloth—a towel. The thirstier, the better.
  14. “Almost there” means 5 different things to 5 different instructors.
  15. If the instructor stops to help someone to the ground before that someone faints and hits their head on the concrete floor (true story), watch the clock yourself or that 1-minute sprint you were promised could easily go long. (See # 6.)