Old friends, different equilibrium

I feel it faintly at first. It’s far off in the distance, yet it gently tugs at me again and again and won’t stop. The slow persistence of the cry continues to pull at me, louder and stronger. I open my eyes and I’m in bed. The crying is somewhere close.

My heart beats into a slow consciousness. I’m alone, and in the dimness of the room, something has shifted, and I’m there. The same light blue sheets and cream waffle blanket are in a tousled mess around me. Then Weight descends and settles in its usual spot on my shoulders. Daddyken’s in hospital Weight tells me. He’s there.

I roll onto my back, and my heart gains further speed as Weight calls its friend Despair to lodge in its familiar spot in my heart. I sit up, and the cool air envelopes me. They’re back. Did they ever leave?  I feel the walls, the floor and the ceiling move in on me.

The intense rays of the afternoon sun frame the edges of the wooden window blinds. A solar eclipse just for me. I shudder as my hot feet touch the cold wooden floor. I can feel the heat of the sun as I stand next to the window and rest my burning cheek on the cold pale blue brick wall of my room.

My heart goes into a gallop, my breath speeds up.  I look at myself in the green translucent glass of the wardrobe door and see her again. There’s Fear. With Despair. And my mind is a loud jumble of pain.

The cry becomes desperate. In a trance, I walk to the familiar white door as my heart bolts over to greet Dread. Despair is growing. I feel Desperate. With these old friends, I pull open the door and the cry is loud. It’s somewhere. It’s calling for me. I drag my feet down the dark hallway and stop at the first door. I pull my breath in. She’s not there. No crib, no nappies. Single bed. Study desk. Ok breath. Please breath.

But I can’t seem to return.

At the next door, the crying envelopes me. I rush over to pick my baby up. It’s not Panda. It’s Soccer Boy. It’s not Panda. His chubby cheeks are wet with tears. He’s heavy.

I sit down and feed him. I’m alone with these old friends. I close my eyes momentarily and notice the room has a different smell. The white sleigh cot is the same. It’s in a different spot. The window is larger. The change mat is yellow with blue checks. No teddy bear print. I look at him as he suckles. This baby is wearing blue. Blue. He suckles differently. He’s bigger. Bald. It’s different.

I feel a shift as I breath in. I don’t think it’s that time. Daddyken’s not in hospital…he hasn’t just had a stroke. It’s not that time. Yes, not that time. It’s a different time. Not that time. And then finally, finally, the spell is broken as my body starts to shake as my heart swells out of my chest and I burst into a spasm of grief-laden tears, tears which fall like they did in his sister’s time, tears laced with all the Dread and Despair and Desperation of that Time. Tears which eventually drain Weight away. And with a shudder of relief, I kiss Soccer Boy’s soft warm head. And hold him tightly to me as I ride that last familiar wave of hopelessness from all those years ago.

**

A few months after Daddyken’s stroke shattered our equilibrium and I was scrambling to piece it back together with Panda in my arms, I resolved never, ever to have another child. I had no wish to return to the horror that shadowed me all that summer, autumn, winter and spring.

Of course, we eventually crawled out of that abyss, and found a different life and a different happiness on a different level of equilibrium.  And so 5 years after that time, we found the strength to have Soccer Boy.

Perhaps I was naïve, but I thought that the trauma from those earlier years was done. A memory filed away and a time already dealt with. But it was really only biding its time until the conditions were right. A baby. Another hot summer. Same house. And if I didn’t concentrate, if I lost my focus momentarily, then something would shift, and I would be back there. I would relive that horror. I would ride that wave again. And again.

**

Soccer Boy is 6 now, and looking back, it took about 10 months for me to achieve another level of equilibrium.

It took 10 months for me to be reassured that I was not back there. That I was here. That Daddyken would walk through that front door. He’d be without a sling for his arm, without a brace for his foot, without the pronounced limp in his step and without the need for assistance with his buttons. That I would pick Panda up from school. That Soccer Boy is in this new time. This new equilibrium. Because I was not back there. I’m here.

Rebuilding My Wall

I find it interesting how things work out, and the things that come back to you through seemingly random events. A few days ago I was preparing to take a picture of my new favourite soup recipe for this blog, when Daddyken (excitedly) suggested that we build a brick wall on the weekend (he’s swapped his corporate job for a gardeners’ one).

I said What a great idea! Let’s do it! – not in a sarcastic tone but an actual excited voice, and even with an actual excited attitude. And that really confused me, because as you may have noticed, there’s nowhere on my blog where I’ve mentioned anything remotely akin to reveling in the delights of building any physical…non-food stuff. So after Daddyken drove off to buy cement – probably so I couldn’t change my mind, I sat down to work through my confusion. And then I remembered that wall.

On Day 1 Daddyken came in from the back yard holding his head, sat down on the lounge and said his head hurt. I told him to have a lie down. I looked up as he stood up and I saw all 182 cm of him fall to the floor. He got up and fell again and got up and then fell again so I rushed to him and pulled him up. Saliva was running down from the left side of his mouth so I gave him a tissue and told him there was saliva down his face. He reached with his right hand to wipe it but he missed the spot and missed again and missed again and then I wiped it for him.

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On Day 14 I walked out of the hospital lift with our baby Panda to the neurological ward. A nurse was standing next to a wheel chair at the entrance to the ward, and in that chair sat a tall shrunken man. His body leant awkwardly to the left and a cushion was wedged between that left side and the arm rest. His white hospital gown hung limply and there was a trickle mark on the gown from where the saliva from the left side of his mouth had dribbled down. He shifted when he saw us and I saw the left arm fall and dangle by the side of the wheel chair. He saw my eyes move with it. His right hand reached over for the left one and pulled the arm with the clenched fingers up where it sat uncomfortably at an unnatural angle on his lap. He looked up as we approached and I looked into his frightened eyes.

Daddyken’s stroke came about because there was a blood clot in his heart. His heart pumped the clot up, pushed and pumped it again and again until it wedged itself within his brain.

Before Day 1, we were the ones who did things, fixed things and got stuff done. We knew what we were doing, where we were going and how we were going to get there. We’d built our wall and we were excited.

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But each pump sent a cannonball careering towards our wall. Each cannonball attacked with intent. Each and every one pounded against it. Relentlessly. And in the silence of a dark summer’s day within the dim cold greyness of the hospital, I stood at the edge of our wall and turned around with our newborn Panda in my arms and saw that last cannonball thunder towards us. Our wall crumbled, it gave way, and collapsed entirely.

I scrambled to rebuild my wall, because with a wall we would be what we were. I cooked faster. I cleaned more. I filled my days with rebuilding. I made sure everything was ready for anything every day. No one, not friends nor family knew how to fix my wall but me. The nappy basket would be refilled as soon as a nappy was used, the rubbish would be out the door before it had time to fill. No heavy brick would be forgotten.

In the days, weeks and months after, my wall didn’t stay up and I was bewildered. I did his buttons and zippers and I chopped up his food. I drove him to his doctor’s appointments with Panda crying in the back. In our darkness we fought. Each and every day I kept on rebuilding.

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Daddyken took a more junior position in his corporate job. He gave up the 6 months he had to go to complete his MBA. Each and every day I woke up I could see the wall made up haphazardly from the night before. It wasn’t fully up, but it vaguely resembled a wall and I would resolve to fix it properly today.

He slept every 2 to 3 hours to satisfy his hungry fatigue. We sold our investment house. His voice slurred when he was tired and sometimes I couldn’t understand what he said. As the minutes and hours of the day crawled on, I wanted to reinforce, but I found I was rebuilding.

The left arm swung like a pendulum as he limped. He couldn’t pick up, clean or care for Panda. The darkness was impassable. I would pick up the left hand and position it next to his right hand in a cradle position and gently place Panda there. I was scared that he would drop her.

As the years wore vaguely on, my need to rebuild lessened. The darkness was no longer at the forefront, but it still trailed me for a long, long time. I don’t remember the last time I went to fix my wall, I don’t know what state it was in when I last saw it and I don’t remember seeing a fully built wall.

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This weekend Panda, Soccer Boy, Daddyken and I built our wall. Afterwards, as I sat close to it playing Transformer battles with Soccer Boy (I was the baddie again), I surprised myself by shedding a few quiet tears. Oh, Mummy’s just yawned Not for me, but for the Sally who lived through the dark time she thought would never end.

The stroke that made me

I hadn’t planned to mention this so early in my blog, but when I started to think about the things I was going to post about, I realized that this event has influenced how I’ve lived my life in the past 10 years so strongly, that I decided to just let you know now.

So here goes.

Ten years ago my husband Daddyken (as the kids sometimes call him) had a stroke, and a week after that I gave birth to our first Cherub, who I’ll refer to by her nickname – Panda. Daddyken was 32 years old, fit, never smoked or took drugs. He was initially diagnosed with just a ‘migraine’ and discharged. We returned to the hospital the next day, and it took them a few days and a barrage of tests to finally confirm he’d had a stroke.

But by the time they realized, the stroke had already run the gamut of Daddyken’s body. He was paralysed on his left side and they said he would never walk again.

Needless to say, it wasn’t the magical ‘first child’ bliss we had hoped and planned for. Luckily for family and friends we were in the same hospital, just different floors. They could visit us all in the one trip!

To put it very, very mildly, the past 10 years hasn’t been an easy one. We grieved, we despaired, we cried. I felt like we crawled and fought through the rough darkness each day, just making it through. And in the morning, realizing that we would have to do battle all over again.

Daddyken is extremely stubborn and slowly learnt to walk and use his left hand again. Cognitively and physically, he still isn’t 100% and won’t ever be.

What, how and when things were done was largely dictated by Daddyken’s condition. It’s only been in the past year that the intensity of my thoughts: If he didn’t have the stroke I’d/we’d be…’ or ‘If the doctors had diagnosed him earlier he’d/we’d be…’ has subsided and no longer torment me so mercilessly as they did in the early years.

But it hasn’t been totally grey clouds and rain either. There’s been sunshine, Panda’s smiles and snuggly cuddles, warm days when the bees buzzed dreamily in our ears and fireworks that lit up even the brightest day – like when Soccer Boy joined our family 5 years later. It took me a long, long time to learn to hang in there, even in the midst of pain, because rainbows will come out when you least expect it.

That’s all I’ll say about that for now. I definitely want to tell you more about how he, I, we and they dealt with it, but it’s a pretty draining topic and a part of me still relives those traumatic years if I dwell on it for too long.

Besides, that sunshine’s been hanging around for a while now and I’d like to bask in it : )