Did you…

Did you…

Did you think you weren’t my favorite daughter? Because you were. You were, you were. 

Please don’t ever think that. 

_____________________

“I hate you!!!! I hate you, Mom!!” Her feet are close to the edge of the broken floor tile. Her face is red rage and tears. 

“You can’t act this way, and it’s my job to make sure you know that.” I pick her up and carry her to the dining room and place her firmly on a chair. She doesn’t know that I’m getting her foot away from the tile. She doesn’t know that I’m getting her 4-year-old eyes out of the kitchen. 

“Aaaaaaaaa!!!!” She swings and kicks her legs so much that the chair bounces around.

“You. Better. Quit.” I kneel down in front of her, place a hand on either side of the chair to steady it. My face is calm. My heart is racing. She looks away first. 

“I hate you!!” She screams to the back of my head as I walk into the kitchen. I put a new, clean trash bag into the trash can and bring it back to the dining room. 

“Take off your new dress and put it in here. You will not be allowed to scream at me and hit and kick me wearing this dress I just bought you.” I hold the trash can out toward her. 

“I don’t care! I don’t want it! It’s ugly!” She takes it off and throws it in the trash. The giant jewel on the top of the dress hits me in the knuckle; I clench my jaw. 

“You won’t need this baby doll with a matching dress either.” I pick up her doll off the table and drop it into the clean trash bag. 

“I don’t care.” She opens her mouth slightly again, then closes it. Crosses her arms. 

“What’s it going take? Because I can keep going.” I can’t keep going. I can’t, but I will. 

My methods are probably all wrong. I don’t know what I’m doing. We don’t usually say it, but most moms…we think it. We don’t know what we are doing, or if it’ll work. 

I pick up her new iPod touch, drop it loudly into the trash, never looking away from her eyes. She doesn’t care. I don’t know what else to throw away. I don’t know how to break her rebellious attitude. 

Freddie bounces his way into the dining room, unwittingly. Her sweet, fluffy gray kitten. He bats at a dust particles swimming around in the light from the bay window. I scoop him up. 

Her eyes look worried.

“I guess you won’t be needing your kitten either.” I place him gingerly onto her dress in the trash can. 

“NO!! Please NOT Freddie! I’m sorry.” Her sob changes, her voice softens. “I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I don’t hate you.”

She reaches for me. I can’t pick her up fast enough. I fold my arms under her baggy Dora panties. Her tiny butt rests on my forearm. 

We bend down together and pick up Freddie. He’s not worried. He wants down so he can attack the dust again. 

I collapse onto her chair and we hold on and rock each other. Paper mache streaks of snot-glazed hair.

Shh, shh…you are my baby forever. You are my favorite. 

I hold on. I rock. I think of all the things we never did do together, all the things I should’ve done better…

____________________

If you think a person can’t have five favorite daughters, then you obviously don’t have five daughters.

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Two spoons: Congenital Hypothyroidism, video timeline

Two spoons: Congenital Hypothyroidism, video timeline

I keep an unorganized mental log. I have vivid memories, especially of the emotionally-charged moments.

I decided to share some more video clips and notes about my daughter, Rebekah Ruby Kate (currently 7 months old)

Born on February 15, 2016

Born at 39 weeks 6 days

Weighed 5lbs 10oz (my 5th daughter)

Rebekah had velamentous cord insertion (cord attached to amniotic sac instead of placenta). Because of her abnormal cord attachment, she had IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction), and she was also SGA (small for gestational age).

Tiny and perfect to me. She has had some health setbacks, but she faces them with the sweetest temperament. They don’t subtract one ounce from her perfection to me. 

Rebekah had abnormal thyroid levels (elevated TSH) at 1 week old, 4 weeks old, 13 weeks old, and 16 weeks old. But because her thyroxine was always in range, and because I had read extensively about the differences in the hormonal profiles of SGA babies…we waited. 

We chose not to start Levothyroxine until she was 16 weeks old. 

Before 25mcg Levothyroxine…

February 16 (one day old)…

March 19 (one month, 4 days, 6lbs 15oz)…

April 8 (almost 2 months, 6lbs, 6oz )…

Rebekah lost 9oz of weight between week 5 to week 8. My milk supply was low, and I had to fight hard to continue breastfeeding, something I never had to do with my other 4 daughters.

I tried fenugreek, pumping, coconut oil, lactation cookies with Brewer’s yeast, ground flax, tons of water, chia seeds, coconut water…you name it.

And when she was 10 weeks, and had gained her 9oz back on only breast milk, I finally started supplementing with goat milk. I would still pump daily as well. 

May 17 (3 months, 2 days, 8lbs 14.5oz )…

May 22 (3 months, 7 days, 9lbs 8oz)…


June 2 (3 months, 18 days, 10lbs)…

June 6 (3 months, 22 days, 10lbs 8oz)…


I did feel that she was doing well with all her milestones without starting Levothyroxine , but we agreed to start it when she was 16 weeks old.

I put all her thyroid level results on this paper, including the lab ranges which are different.



SHE STARTED 25mcg LEVOTHYROXINE ON JUNE 8, 2016 (16 weeks old)…

We crush her pill between two spoons, every morning. We mix it with about an ounce of apple juice or water. 

We read in the drug’s instructions to take it on an empty stomach. This is quite a feat with an infant. For the first 3 weeks, we would feed her at 9pm; she would wake herself around 12am to eat; then we were waking her at 3am to eat, then waking her again at 5am for her med, and then she would wake at 6am ready to eat again. 

Pretty much…we didn’t sleep. 

Then on June 30, when we met her endocrinologist for the first time, she told us she tells her parents they can just give it with a feeding. 

Well hallelujah. So then we would just let her wake us. 

Rebekah developed torticollis (her head leaning right) almost immediately after starting Levothyroxine. I looked up anything I could to find out if there was a connection.

I only found that muscle aches were sometimes a drug side effect. So we decided they weren’t connected.

June 11 (3 months, 27 days, 11lbs)…

On the med, she started to be incredibly lethargic, especially in the afternoons. There were several weeks that her overall health was much worse after starting Levothyroxine. (Though some things improved later.)

I kept a detailed log of several of her daily habits and figures. Just to see if anything changed…


On June 12, when Rebekah was about 16 weeks old, I started making a more complicated formula that I got from Dr. Axe’s website–goat kefir, coconut water, flax oil, nutritional yeast. 
June 15 (4 months, 11lbs 2.5oz)…


It seemed that her torticollis was worst when she was sleepy and/or had a full belly.

June 16 (4 months, 1 day, 11lbs 5oz)…

I stopped pumping breastmilk for her completely around July 1, 2016. My supply just dwindled and dwindled. It was a heartbreaking choice, and even today…2.5 months later, I hope to somehow go back to it. 😞

_____________________

Rebekah had what seemed like a panic attack on June 24. It was incredibly scary. She had a mild fever, shifty eyes, very quick breathing and a fast heart rate. I guess I deleted the videos from that night. I wish I could delete my memories of it.

She ended up falling asleep that night, but then her fever continued the next day. I called the on-call nurse at AR Children’s; they recommended I call poison control. The poison control guy recommended I not give her any more Levothyroxine until her thyroid levels were checked.

This was all on a Saturday, so that means I spent about an hour at a walkin (after calling to find out if they check thyroid levels, and verifying with AR Children’s that I could use them), only to have the walkin Dr check her vitals and  recommend that we go to the emergency room instead.

I spent about 5 hours in the ER with her–rectal temp 102.7, heart rate 185, 36 breaths a minute. This is my 5th child, so I realize these aren’t alarming vitals by themselves. But I was concerned about her behavior; the poison control guy wanted her checked out; the walkin Dr wanted her taken to ER, and her whole life has been so drastically different than my other girls.

They did a chest xray, a port in her foot (which ended up being unusable), drew blood, did a catheter, drew blood again. Everyone was incredibly kind, but the experience was sooo traumatic. But mostly…we waited and waited and waited.

Her thyroid levels came back in range. She was diagnosed with a UTI; they said her behavior was “normal” febrile seizures. She was prescribed Cephalexin…and we all went home exhausted.

________________________

Rebekah woke several times at night, and she would have a completely soaked diaper 3-4 times a night, so soaked that they would soak her outfit and sheets every time. 

If you’ve followed any of Rebekah’s story and you thought to yourself–that baby needs drugs! Well, I’m sure you were relieved when we started her on Levothyroxine, but if I’m completely honest, she has faced her biggest health challenges and scares right after she started and the entire time she was on 25mcg of Levothyroxine. 

I can’t say, and I’m not saying that the med CAUSED her torticollis, insomnia, panic attack, excessive urine, her UTI. But I am saying it’s been rough. Rough on her. Rough on us. 

July 3 (4 months, 18 days, 11lbs 12oz)…

Rebekah started seeing a chiropractor on June 22, and her torticollis was better almost immediately. 

July 10 (4 months, 25 days, 11lbs 12oz)…

Rebekah rolled over around 5 months, and in many ways she was adjusting her her dosage and doing okay. 

July 29 (5 months, 14 days, 12lbs 10oz)…


However, she still woke several times a night with soaking wet diapers, and she was not gaining much despite her large calorie intake. 


HALF DOSE 12.5mcg LEVOTHYROXINE (STARTED AUGUST 17)

On Wednesday August 17, I decided to start giving her only a half dose for a few days to see if it changed her naps and sleep quality overall, her excessive urine output…etc. 

I contacted the endocrinology nurses; they consulted her Endocrinologist, and she said we could leave it at a half tablet until September 12 when she had her levels checked again. And then we would go from there. 

.

August 17 (6 months, 2 days)…

Her sleep quality improved overnight; she only had to be changed once at night now (instead of 3-4 times); she has started keeping her weight on, and her energy levels improved as well. I hoped her levels would “agree” with her behaviors. 

Rebekah sat up on her own for the first time ever on August 19. She’s been more talkative and active, and also…more peaceful and restful at night and nap times. 

August 19 (6 months, 4 days) …

On September 12, Rebekah’s TSH was 4.32 (in range) and her fT4 was 1.28 (also in range). Her endocrinologist said she can stay at 12.5mcg until her level check on December 12. 

Depending on her levels in December, the endocrinologist said that we might talk about stopping the med entirely by Rebekah’s first birthday. 

God is good no matter what, and we are hopeful…

.

September 18 (7 months, 3 days)…

hamster wheel

hamster wheel

If you see a mom…

Early on a Sunday morning…

In an empty parking lot…

Leaning on a steering wheel…

Face down on her folded arms…

Shoulders shaking…

It’s nothing important.

Just don’t…

Honestly, you wouldn’t even…

It’s the hole the squirrels chewed into the soffit,

And this isn’t her first time,

And it’s all the condensation cup circles,

And don’t text,

And it’s the sliding minivan door that’s off-kilter,

And don’t attempt to understand,

And it’s the beeping smoke alarm,

And she doesn’t want to do this,

And it’s the pile of unread books,

And don’t make that face,

And it’s that mountain of Wal-mart donation bags full of clothes.

I know I am, but if I know it,

Then I’m not.

If this is my sanctuary, 

Then let it be that, please. 

I don’t have a walled garden of flowers. 

This is what I have, where I have. 

Don’t you think I know crazy when I feel it pulsing?

If you give a mouse a cookie…

I think I might have. 

You know how it will be. 

If you don’t get it,

Do you think I care?

If you don’t…

Look away. 

Stay away. 

Eleanor, hand me a flag…

Eleanor, hand me a flag…

Up early, vacuuming under couches, scrubbing the stove top, reading articles, and now headed to Little Rock for a 9am appointment with the pediatric endocrinologist. 

Many thoughts and feelings bouncing around my head and heart. God, please guide us, please let us make the best decisions for Rebekah’s well-being, help us stay humble and kind, and please let my many concerns be assuaged and my many questions be answered satisfactorily. 

I don’t know that I would agree with her political views or her personal life, and I don’t know if she would agree with mine. But I certainly agree with and value many Eleanor Roosevelt quotes…

“No writing has any real value which is not the expression of genuine thought and feeling.”

“When life is too easy for us, we must beware or we may not be ready to meet the blows which sooner or later come to everyone, rich or poor.”

“I have never felt that anything really mattered but the satisfaction of knowing that you stood for the things in which you believed and had done the very best you could.”

“At all times, day by day, we have to continue fighting for freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom from want — for these are things that must be gained in peace as well as in war.”

“We must know what we think and speak out, even at the risk of unpopularity.”

“This freedom of which men speak, for which they fight, seems to some people a perilous thing. It has to be earned at a bitter cost and then — it has to be lived with. For freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.We must all face an unpalatable fact that we have, too often, a tendency to skim over; we proceed on the assumption that all men want freedom. This is not as true as we would like it to be. Many men and women are far happier when they have relinquished their freedom, when someone else guides them, makes their decisions for them, takes the responsibility for them and their actions. They don’t want to make up their minds. They don’t want to stand on their own feet.”

“Will people ever be wise enough to refuse to follow bad leaders or to take away the freedom of other people?”

“One of the best ways of enslaving a people is to keep them from education… The second way of enslaving a people is to suppress the sources of information, not only by burning books but by controlling all the other ways in which ideas are transmitted.”

“In the long run there is no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely and then act boldly.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water.”

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

“I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.”

Two minutes with a Toddler: Chocolate Milk, Anatomy of a Tantrum (with video)

Two minutes with a Toddler: Chocolate Milk, Anatomy of a Tantrum (with video)

She’s sweet, she’s sour. This is the full tantrum (video at bottom of blog). She’s gotten faster at getting back on track. She’s even had a few that were much faster than this one. And she has DEFINITELY had longer tantrums. 

Toddler wants chocolate milk: let’s break it down. Every tantrum, every fight at our house can be divided into these same parts–unacceptable behavior, gentle chance, a firm and predictable punishment, an apology, forgiveness, makeup. 

That’s it. It can be over that easily. You know…in theory. 

Part one–Unacceptable Behavior I didn’t get it all on video. She just woke from a nap and demanded chocolate milk in the her whiniest voice ever. No. Not a chance that I will reward that. 

Part two–Gentle Chance I explain how she’s acting and give her a chance to change her mind quickly. Sometimes it’s over RIGHT then, and we skip part three. Other times, part three is the longest step…her choice. 

Part three–Clear Punishment (or Consequences) If she chooses not to change her behavior, she will be punished–go sit on the couch. She tested me because I was filming, and she will usually test me if someone else is here as her audience…or if we are in public. 

Ideally, and theoretically, she gets ONE chance to obey. And if her mouth or body language “tell me no,” then I will go pick her up and put her on the couch. That’s “yes.” 

(But to be honest, I don’t always get up when she doesn’t obey the first time…as you see in the video. But if I’m making eye contact and I’ve told her TWICE, and she disobeys a second time…I will get up. Trust me. 

I have had to place her on the couch many times. I’ve had to catch her trying to run off as many as 12…possibly 20 times in a row, and I sit her back down, and back down, and back down…until she stays. 

Part four–An Apology She knows when she can get up. All she has to do is say, “I’m sorry.” This particular time, she chose to say it quickly. Cool. Fine by me. 

I have done things like set a timer for 5 minutes and ignore her until it goes off, and then give her the opportunity to apologize or sit longer. 

Clara is 2 years and 9 months now. She doesn’t usually need a full 5 minutes to change her behavior. Sometimes she chooses to take that long, but not often anymore. 

I learned a long time ago with toddlers–give them a choice, and make sure YOU are fine with either option. Example–Get yourself dressed in the next 5 minutes…or wear your pajamas to the store. It won’t embarrass me. 

Apologize…or sit there. Either way, I’m fine. 

Part five–Forgiveness I have a long list of personal habits that I hope my daughters don’t remember or learn. If they only remember one thing about growing up with me, I hope they remember my capacity to forgive. 

For practice with my toddlers and children, this is an unskippable step. And under my rule, unforgiveness will often get a punishment. 

Definitely at least a lecture–unforgiveness is your biggest character flaw, _______ (insert name). You need to learn not to do that, especially to your sisters. 

Part five–Makeup Remember it enough to learn from it, forget it enough to move on.  Making up usually looks like a hug at my house.

Forgiveness can be that quick with adults, too, but usually isn’t. 

As adults, we often get hurt by grudges, judgment, moral superiority, scoffs, repeated mistakes, jabs, criticism, gossip. But to be hurt, we have to consent to allow any of those reactions to hurt us, which has been an incredibly liberating realization for me. We don’t have to be hurt. 

Probably why I get along better with kids, and probably always will. I prefer their simplicity. 

Church shoes 

Church shoes 

“Dad. Dad.” I bug out my eyes and lean my head to the side a few times, toward the little girl who has become my shadow at Creekmore Park. She smiles at my dad. 

“Oh did you make a new friend?” Dad doesn’t see well. Are you kidding me? 

“We go to school together.” She makes the announcement proudly. 

She has a buzz haircut. Even as a second grader, I know this means she has lice that they couldn’t get rid of. Dust defines the creases in her elbows and knees. This is not my definition of friend. 

She’s wearing an oversized Rheem tshirt. We get these free from school; Rheem, an air conditioning company in town, is our school’s partner in education. No one wears the free tshirts they give to every student. Maybe as a night shirt. 

She followed me over to my dad, and she’s just standing here, waiting for me to go back to the playground equipment. No chance, Crystalina. Yeah…that’s her name. See what I mean?

Just because we ended up in the same class in public school, you think that means we are friends if I accidentally see you in public? This is also not my definition of friend. 

She rocks back on the heels of her pale pink Easter-dress church shoes, loses her balance a little, stumbles a few steps backward; her shoes tap and scrape loudly on the sidewalk pavement. 

“Do you want to go on the swings, Emily?” She’s scratching some mosquito bites on her ankle, forcing me to examine the condition of her fingernails. 

I feel my face expressing my heart. I don’t try to stop myself. She pulls up her dingy ankle sock out of her church shoe to tuck in the bloody mosquito bites. 

“No thanks. I think we are about to go.” I’m crossing my arms and looking at my dad, still bug-eyed. I’m not being subtle, and the clues are just bouncing off his skull. 

“Nah, we don’t have to go yet. Go play with your friend, Emmy.” Dad settles onto a shaded park bench, crosses one ankle onto his opposite knee. Nicknames are for the house; we’ve been over this. I will have to get Mom to explain it again. 

Crystalina twists her long red and white gingham cotton skirt around, lining up the seams. I’m not certain, but it looks like someone made it for her from a picnic tablecloth. 

“You go ahead, Crystalina. I’ll be over there in a minute.” I know tricks. I get on the bench with my dad.

Crystalina beams. She shuffles across the pavement, slides through the dewy grass, crashes into the pebbles, slams onto a swing. 

“Dad. Let’s go. She’s not my friend. She just goes to my school, and she’s really annoying.” I have to spell it out for him. 

“What’s annoying? Is she mean?She likes you and wants to play. She seems nice to me.” Dad is thumbing through his Bible. Maybe he can’t hear well either. I get the feeling that possibly…I’m already smarter than him, at least socially, for sure. 

“Well…no, she’s not mean. But like…she’s gross. Did you see her sock with the dried blood on the inside from her mosquito bites? Her clothes are always dirty, and like…” I feel like I’m being so obvious. Why isn’t he getting this?

“None of that is her fault. You never know what someone’s home life is like. You don’t know if she has running water or electricity. You don’t know any of that. You have to look at someone’s heart.” Maybe he did see well. 

“Some people don’t have water at their house? Every house I’ve ever been to has a kitchen and a bathroom.” Yep. What house, Dad? You’re making it up. 

“Emily. You have to pay for water. It doesn’t just flow from any sink.” His voice is gentle; he briefly looks up from his Bible at me. 

“Oh.” I remember lots of moments when I learned something that I never knew before. 

Dad never makes me feel stupid  when he teaches me things. I don’t like when someone acts like I should already know something. 

I sat for a while, swinging my feet slowly, letting love melt ice. 

“People are attracted to the Christ in you. You have to look past a lot of worldly values, and always try to see people how God sees them. The world might tell you who is annoying or gross or unworthy, but don’t listen. Get really quiet and listen to what God tells you about them.” Maybe Dad could hear. 

I felt ashamed. I played with the strings of my braided friendship bracelets; I must have had about 40 of them on one wrist. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I wasn’t trying to be mean. I mean…I don’t want to be mean. 

An idea. 

I wiped away my tears very quickly. I picked my favorite green and yellow friendship bracelet, and freed it from the others, wriggled it off my wrist. 

I hopped up and ran to the swings. As she swung, Crystalina had been holding the chain of an empty swing next to her, saving it for me.  She dragged her feet through the pebbles to stop herself quickly. 

“Thanks for saving me a swing. Here.” I handed her the friendship bracelet. It was a wide one, the kind I didn’t know how to make. 

“Thank you!!! This is my first one.” Crystalina eagerly put it on her wrist. 

Listen to your dad. Just…listen. 

Hoard

Hoard

My garage. It was the grossest space in this old house, and that was a hard trophy to win. 

All cabinets were seafoam green, with work surfaces of grimy retro linoleum peeling up in every countertop corner. 

There was dust crusted onto everything, not dry and loose–crusted, 40 years thick. Not “flutter the feather duster over it  in my maid costume” dust, but “powerwash it, scrub with bristley brushes, ruin your jeans, ruin your hair; find out what you’re made of” dust. That kind. 

My dryer vented into the garage, regularly keeping the air steamy, and I imagine…remoistening new dust layers day after day after month after year after decade. Dust, moistened dust, dried dust, new layer dust, moisten, crust over…

I don’t know the exact nuances of making a 40-year thick crusting of dust. I only know the state of my garage when  I moved in. I only know how much scrubbing and scraping it took. 

The rickety garage door, also seafoam green, was not well insulated, was not properly sealed at the bottom. It was freezing in there unless the dryer was steaming it up, or the tiny hazardous gas heater was on. Flames shot out of it several inches high, more than once I saw dry leaves meet their demise to that fiery little beast. 

This is probably dangerous, I would think as I rubbed my cold, bony fingers together in front of flames. When did my knuckles get so wrinkly? I can pinch the skin of a cold knuckle and it will stay pinched…then slooowly, lazily melt back into place. 

The weather-stripping on the bottom of the garage door was flapping off and severely gapping in many spots. They say to build your house on a hill, to sit there majestic and wise. People can lean back and look up to admire it. A shining example on display, make it glass even. What’s there to hide?

My house was built at the bottom of a hill. My driveway serves as a slide for rainwater, nothing to slow its flow toward the busted weather-stripping. 

Muddy rainwater never flooded the garage the 4 years I’ve owned the house, but it would seep in and settle…dry slowly, leaving behind only the dirt residue. Charm…adds a bit of charm, an optimist might say. Dirt is character? Yes. Sometimes. 

I walk into the garage. I feel the weight of this project grip me, pull me under water. 

I need this crusty garage to be usable space. Dear God…where do I start…I look around for a welcoming place. I don’t find one. 

November is too cold. I was born in Wisconsin, lived there til I was 4. No, Arkansas November isn’t as bad as Wisconsin. Think positive, brain, and stop singing “November Rain” by Guns N Roses. 

So I pull everything out of it and onto the driveway. Every cabinet, every rusty paint can, every gritty ziploc bag filled with every jingle of unorganized nail and bolt and crazy unknown bits of metal. Keep these? I should keep all these, right…? I will need these old nails one day…

I try not to think of the old man who lived here before me. He and his wife were the only owners, from 1972 when the house was built until 2012 when I bought it. 

I know he was 86 when he passed. I found his obituary. His daughter gave me the keys to the house at the closing; the keychain has some small, clear plastic prism hanging from a short, beaded metal chain with a cylinder clasp. I don’t know what you call it. You place the last bead of the chain into the opening on the cylinder and press. I should keep this keychain in his honor. 

I shiver. November chill? Or thoughts of which room did he die in? Was it in here? A hospital? What’s with all the plant hooks on the ceilings? Why did one have a thin leather dog collar hanging on it? What is this blackish-brown smear on the textured paint of the wall right next to the basement toilet…? 

I enlist help to clean the garage–to power wash, to scrub, to paint. My nephew and my three oldest daughters spend hours on it with me. I buy wafer board and have it cut to size for new countertops. My dad screws them onto the old wobbly cabinets for me. 

And I don’t care how the paint job looks, anything will be an improvement. I do not care, just get it covered. We use the leftover paint that I already have.  

I have my girls slop espresso-bean colored paint on every cabinet and countertop. The cabinets are sitting on visqueen in my driveway. The paint glues the plastic to the bottom of the cabinets. I have to hold the visqueen down with my old cheerleading Asics and lift to peel the cabinets free. Obviously, I never got rid of these Asics from twenty years ago because obviously I am going to be working on my toe-touches and herkies some day soon. Any day now. 

My nephew and I paint all walls gray–two dark gray and one light gray. Maybe it looks artistically chosen. Ah, my accent wall…yes. And here we have one set of 2×4 shelves nailed together shoddily, we chose to paint these a bright Caribbean blue. It’s beautiful…it was meticulously planned and designed. It was…what we had. 

Nick (nephew) brought his music, and I bumped that shit. I made up my own lyrics and would not be dissuaded. I forget the band name; it was a bunch of letters, like SKBRTKB…you should get their album. I especially enjoyed their song that goes–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud! My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!” 

Now, Nick who could barely breathe during his explanation, he wanted me to believe they said–“My girl’s got a city to run!” But shhh, shh…shush, Nick. Don’t ruin my moment. I dropped it low and sang along. Me in my old Asics, dropping my ass into piles of dust around the garage–“My girl’s gonna sit in the mud!”

I still got it. Maybe I can do a toe-touch in these jeggings? Hang on. Kick this leg up, then kick that leg up. Okay, they wouldn’t bust. Hop a little…eh…it’s too slanted out here. Otherwise, I’d kill it. 

I leave all the cabinets and crap on my driveway overnight. You don’t really have to be in a hurry to move stuff until you get a notice from the city. Shockingly, no one stole any of it over the two nights it sat out there. 

It was November 2014, and I didn’t sleep a lot most nights since the end of September, when Demetrius left. Might as well get up super early and buy garage floor paint. I got a midnight blue, and some paint flecks to sprinkle on top like Christmas cookies–a variety of grays. 

Nothing like good honest work to occupy a mind in the middle of a divorce, to tire an already tired body and soul. The high-gloss topcoat is moodier than I am. It only wants certain temperatures. But…I don’t have time to wait til Spring. And I suppose this is why it dried cloudy. Good enough. Better than it was. The clouds add some depth, an unexplored galaxy of paint specks. What new adventures are in store for the garage’s next 40 years…

I order a $2700 new garage door. It is so ridiculously out of place on this house. I don’t give a crap. To my credit, I have great credit. If I say I will pay you, you will be paid. I don’t care if my choices make no sense to someone.

A jewel in a pig’s snout: my lovely new well-insulated garage door, I will pay it off before the accrued interest ever hits. There are worse choices to be made in life. I’ve made plenty of them before, and now I’ll leave those worse ones for someone else. 

I put everything back into the garage very neatly. I had a lot of extra furniture, a big tv, all our bikes, bookshelves and books and books and books, sports equipment, lawn mower and crap, paint and hardware. 

Demetrius messages me some days later that he’s going to bring over the last of my boxes. What’s even left of mine there? A truckload. What’s in the boxes, I can’t even imagine or care. He piles them into my newly cleaned, freshly painted, just organized garage. 

Holiday decorations, photo albums, candles, picture frames, the weird platters and dishes, electrical chargers and cords that go to…who knows what… 

Piles and piles of crap. And my irrational attachment to them. NO! I’m going to use that one day! Won’t I? Does this have a good sentimental value to me? 

I can’t do this yet. I can’t look through it.  I just leave it all in there. I know I will hang on to things I need to get rid of. Unopened boxes of memory in my garage, in my heart. I thought I cleaned this place…

______________________

“Emily?? What’s wrong? What is it?” Keith approaches me in my garage. It is March 2015. We just met February 16. 

“This shit is breaking me. I don’t know what to keep, what to burn, what to sell, what to do with any of it.” It is too early in our relationship for a breakdown, but I am who I am, and I feel what I feel. 

He wraps his arms around me, pinning my arms to my sides with an upward, lifting force. I sink onto him. 

“I had to do this, too. It’s hard to go through everything, but you will be glad when it’s all done.” He rubs my back. We don’t hide from each other. 

“I don’t want you to see me like this, but I can’t go through all this stuff and not cry. I know I won’t be able to.” Phony is not my forte, maybe at times in my past, it was. But not now. 

“Well…do you want to be alone while you go through it all? I can go somewhere.” He releases his hold and backs away some to see my face. 

“No. I don’t want do this alone. I need help deciding what I should keep. But I will need you to be understanding, too. I will explain exactly what’s going on in my head or heart, and I will need you to understand and not be upset.” I look at him. My eyes say–I don’t want to go through it alone. And also…I don’t want to go through it alone. 

“Okay. I can do that.” Keith takes me back into his hug. 

He is going to keep me off the show Hoarders when my kids move out. He is better at explaining what needs to go. I trust him. I don’t always listen, but he is right. 

I watch episodes of that show Hoarders, and yeah, these people are extreme cases, but their words don’t always sound crazy to me. Most people who watch are probably like–whoa, they’re insane!

But I have to admit that…their logic often makes sense to me. And when people go through so much emotional trauma in their lives, I can understand that they might revolt in these sad, severe ways. 

We watched an episode recently of this old guy living in his yard instead of his house. He had piles of clothes; he slept on a pile of blankets with a tarp covering him. He was a tough veteran, and I could see myself getting along fine with him over a cup of coffee…in some place other than his home. 

Prideful, stubborn, unconventional, thrifty, resourceful, unconcerned with pleasing society, lovers of personal freedom. I do relate to some personality traits of some of these people on SOME levels. I’m not saying these feelings are all GOOD; I’m just saying I can empathize. 

Bugs, rodents, unworking plumbing, no livable spaces, room upon room of no walking room …now I can’t get on board with any of THAT

My dad always said to us–the order of your bedroom is a reflection of the order of your mind. I think about that a lot, especially when I am holding something, looking at it, deciding if I should get rid of it. 

Keith rallies for me to let go of things. He’s right. Will I ever watch these VHS movies? I mean seriously. 

Keith arrived in my life during a transition period. I guess I could’ve pretended that I had been healed for months, but that’s not how I am. 

A wound doesn’t heal completely when you keep ripping it open together. And that’s exactly what Demetrius and I did September through January, kept it all ripped open. 

Ripped open through his cheating, through my obsessing, through the separation, through the sleepless nights, through the move, through him pushing me away, through me pushing him away, through him clinging o me…trying to keep hold of some part of me, through me clinging to him…trying to keep hold of some part of him. 

Hard to heal with that much overlap of big life events; it takes a lot of honesty. 

February wasn’t long after all of this. I had been slowly facing the truth, but that doesn’t mean Keith entered my life when I was healed. 

I wasn’t entirely healed, but I wasn’t a broken half-person, desperately looking for someone to fill a void either. I was a complete person in my relationship with God, but still a very hurt person. 

I needed a strong man, who has a kind and understanding heart. Someone I could be completely honest with. 

Someone who could help me understand what to hold onto in my life, and what to let go.