Mr. Fix It
Excerpt, diary for my kids —
27 Jul 2009
You broke another toy today (you and your brother have done this often) and asked me if I could “fix your tragedy”. I wish I could sweetie-pie, but life isn’t so accommodating. Maybe it’s better this way. It was cute though, the way you said it.
28 Feb 2014
One, two, three, four, five and a breath. And again. Don’t push too hard. Ribs break easier than you think. Where’s the Goddamned ambulance I’m thinking. Keep your cool and concentrate. One, two, three, four five and a short breath. A bag would be better, his brain needs better oxygen. My breath doesn’t cut it. I can feel his brain cells dying by the hundreds, leaking life with every passing second and I hear my daughter crying saying over and over I’m sorry and my wife is a panicky mess. Got her to call 911. She paces into the room for the millionth time while I am giving chest compressions.
“Go outside and flag the ambulance!” I yell roughly. No time for politeness. I give her something to concentrate on.
I don’t know how long I can keep this up but I will.
I am keeping my son alive.
“You are not allowed to touch his side of the bedroom. His bed, his desk, his bookshelf, his toys — none of it,” I tell her.
She looks at me and nods, knowing better than to say anything. It came out harsher than I expected but I don’t say anything to mitigate it. It will stay perfect now, his room. Better than he would have kept it. I’ve known parents who’ve lost a child and seen them do the same thing. I don’t know why I am doing it. Ironic really. They say a photo is worth a thousand words. That’s crap. Still says nothing. Words can deflect. Hide. Lie. Keeping your dead child’s room clean and organized makes no sense. It is a fake memory of your child, a snapshot of a tiny, minuscule moment of their lives. Leave a mess like he would. Pretend he went out for a minute and will pop right back in, any second now. Any second now.
My son had toys all over. Books here and there, dresser drawers half open with clothes parts hanging out like prison escapees caught halfway over the fence. When he cleaned his room, it was a simple laborious affair which entailed pushing everything on the floor en mass under his bed. With a broom. Too lazy to bend over and do it by hand, that kid. Of course the cleanliness lasted all of three minutes. The magic of physics taking place right before your eyes. Entropy of life. Brooms rearrange and nothing else. And this is how I should leave it — his room as he kept it — but no. I set everything in place. Nice, neat, and organized. Not like him at all. This is for me and no one else. I can no longer hold his small, chubby hand in mine, so this is as close as it gets. My little man.
They asked me to make more room in their bedroom. They are (or were) still at the age of believing Dad can fix anything. Or make it. Graduated from cribs to bunk beds. My daughter lorded her top bunk over her brother and cousin, letting them climb up and sit for a few moments (if, and only if) they did as she said. They say with time humans have gotten more intelligent, more sophisticated, and much more enlightened than our predecessors. Watching my kids I wonder.
Time passed and they asked me to divide their beds to either side of the room. Half a room for each — their own space. Stayed like that for two years, but growing bodies also grow the need for more space. They asked me to raise each bed and put a desk underneath after looking through a furniture catalog. I understood, having been an older brother with three younger siblings. We all want our own space. It wasn’t a complicated job. Besides, pride wouldn’t let me let them buy something. Too easy, that. It took me six weeks to finish both beds and the desks. I started installing them on my son’s side first and was attaching the ladder when he fell. They couldn’t wait and had to climb up the other side to check out the view. Less than a minute. And that was it. The world changed color.
I managed to finish his side with everything in place a few weeks afterwards. It was tough though, being in their room. Didn’t get around to finishing her side. She didn’t ask either.
Funny stuff, anger. Powerful too. I read Winston Churchill exclaimed he got more out of alcohol than it ever got out of him. I feel the same with anger. Unfortunately both require universal balance – a pound of flesh you might say. Or liver. Or relationships. Like The Fed it will doggedly get what you owe it, one way or another. I poured my anger, my energy into that list of honey do’s and got more done in four months than I had gotten done in the last four years. I finished his side of the bedroom and set it up, his books, his toys and made his bed. But not my daughter’s. I couldn’t. It hurt to think about doing it. I worked on that too. Built a fortified wall upon another wall and bricked it up. Locked my anger and her away. I hadn’t talked to her for several weeks when I told her not to touch anything. She looked happy I even said that to her. No such thing as bad publicity they say. Negative acknowledgement is still acknowledgement I suppose. I don’t hate her though, my only daughter. Probably seems that way. Difficult to work your head around your first born killing your second born regardless of the circumstances.
I watch her at night, you know. Upstairs after work and after I have had a few drinks. Softens the edges a bit. I watch her sleep. It’s the only way I can look at her, the day is too . . . too brilliant, too shiny. Makes the eyes tear up. The dark hides well those cracks in the shadows, makes them less noticeable and easier on the eyes. My first-born, she came around when I was thirty-three. Good age to have kids I think. You enjoy them more. The majority of your spastic youth is spent and deflated and allows you to concentrate on them rather than yourself. My son came two years and three weeks later. Punctual. Showed up not wasting any time and made his trip in less than an hour. His sister, on the other hand, wasn’t in any kind of hurry. She took almost a full day at seventeen hours. Weird how we demonstrate to the world part of our character with the process of labor. All of us arrive naked and wet and exposed to bright light. We know nothing, but we still do it our own way.
Although my son was in a hurry to get here, as soon as he arrived he slowed it down. Never threw crazy tantrums like his sister. Pretty easy going and easy to get along with. Course it drove his mother mad with his school work, but he was a good kid. Left this world in a hurry two. Here one minute and gone some twenty endless minutes later. Ten years, eight months, four days and about six hours. That’s how long we had him. 557 weeks. 3904 days. 93,672.3 hours. 5.620,340 minutes. Time defined. Precise. Seems long, to see it written down. Passed by in an instant. Referred to now and forever in the past tense. Stuck in a language time warp.
Even though my daughter took her time to get here, when she arrived she wanted everything five minutes ago. No time to lose. Always knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to boss people to get it. Made for plenty of sibling rivalry. Human nature I guess. I remember my dad telling me and my siblings we would have fought over a shit sandwich. His actual words. Thought it was funny back then but I understand it now. But we were lucky and my son was not. The accident should have been a simple normal everyday fight with his sister. But, a slap and a push with a misplaced hand lead down a completely different path.
That leap, from a word in anger to a severed spinal column, is beyond me. Happened in less time than you can catch your breath, right from the top of his new bed. Happened in slow motion so I could savor every second, relive it again and again and again. Couldn’t reach him quick enough. Got his pant leg as he hit the floor and heard his neck snap. An ugly sound. Wish I would never hear it again but I do, almost every night. Over and over and over . . . I don’t sleep much so I watch her instead. Well, I used to anyway. Can’t do it anymore.
I have never reacted to emergency situations badly. Ever. Also been called an emotionless bastard, so take it with a grain of salt. Everyone has the capacity to keep a cool head, just block the extraneous and take it step by step. Set emotions aside. They just get in the way of clear thinking. Guess I have always figured life is life and life happens regardless of whether you are happy or mad or freaky-deaky or anything else about it. Think I would have been a good EMT or could have worked in an emergency room. Like to think I could have anyway.
My son fell and I thought clear and did what I had to do. He was already on his back so I didn’t move him. Put a book and a backpack to either side of his head to mobilize it. I heard him grunt and saw his eyes blink once or twice but he couldn’t respond to my questions. I knew it was bad when I grabbed his hand and felt nothing. No squeeze, no reaction, muscles flaccid. One of his eyes started dilating. Not good I told myself. He wasn’t breathing either. Wasn’t able to. Need to start CPR I thought. I told my wife as soon as she came in the room to call 911. I had to tell her twice because she was frozen in place when she came in and saw her son with his neck looking funny and lumped. Shock will do that to you. I looked right at her and made sure I had her attention — told her to “Make The Phone Call."
She called and I started CPR.
I did what you are supposed to. Training helps. Had some in the military. The military knows how to train. Training, training, and more training. Don’t think, do. Repetitive training does exactly that, wires your neurons to do without extra thinking. Creates reflexes which take over like an automatic pilot. No whys and no how comes. Concentrate on the here and concentrate on the now.
I breathed for my son, tried to will him my life but CPR isn’t forever. I couldn’t give him enough oxygen for the amount of time I had to do it. Cosmic randomness, universal irony or just bad luck sent the ambulance to the wrong place due to a fault in the GPS. No others available so they had to reroute. They arrived forty minutes after the accident. Could have taken him myself in less time. Seemed like forty hours. I don’t remember them coming in and taking over. I remember talking to my son several times. Down by his ear telling him breathlessly Stay with me pal, stay with me. Don’t you go anywhere. I thought I saw recognition in his eye but probably not. Just misfiring synapses. The EMTs had to push me away and they said I promptly fainted. Don’t remember that. CPR is physically demanding but I didn’t notice. My brain was on automatic pilot, guiding me through the darkness into which I was thrust headlong.
A week later I came out of it, listening to the sound of a flat-line when we disconnected his life support. It sounds just like what it does on TV, you know. Doesn’t seem fair somehow, something so grave and so important and so . . . life changing, should be as easy as pushing a button, but that was exactly what we did; turned him off. He arrived at the hospital already brain dead. That’s what they told me. Nothing I could have done. I signed the forms to donate his organs and eyes, somehow convincing his mother it was the right thing to do. Other kids should have a chance at a normal life, I must have thought. I don’t remember now what I said to convince her. It was all indistinct sounds reverberating in and from my head at the time. Like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Blah-blah-blah-wah-wah-wah. And it was done. That was that.
So I watch her sleep. Or used to. Ever tarred a roof or worked asphalt? Hard to clean that crap off you without getting it everywhere else. WD 40 is about the only thing that’ll work. This is what I need. WD 40 for my insides. I remember a college chemistry paper I did on it and the company sent me a list of things people used it for. Fish bait, hemorrhoids and all kinds of stupid stuff. Nothing existential though. I would have remembered that.
I have a black, oily, sticky mass of madness stuck inside me. Coating my guts and my lungs. I can feel it as I exhale. It sweats out my pores. My little girl she isn’t the same person either. Guilt does funny things to a body. Always a petite little thing she has shrunk further. Growing backwards it seems.
The last time I watched her sleep threw me for a loop. I haven’t been able to do it since. I was sitting there, watching her for about twenty minutes when she sat up. No warning or shifting or anything. It was sudden and she made no noise when she did it. Just sat up. I was surprised but not caught completely off guard — she has sleep-walked in the past. She sat that way for a minute, her small head tilting a little this way then that, eyes closed. She stopped and her head slowly straightened, like she heard something only she could hear. She opened her eyes and looked through me to some far off distant point and smiled. It was a little unnerving but I could tell she wasn’t here with me.
I was starting to think she was going to sleep walk when quietly she said “I saw Leo Daddy.”
That . . . she caught me off guard. I blinked wondering if I maybe I was the one sleeping. Was I dreaming? I shook my head and was about to pinch myself when quietly she said “He was in a field, playing with an airplane glider. He was having fun. Someone I know was with him, but I don’t remember their name . . . he walked over to me and said he was glad to see me.” Her eyes didn’t blink once.
I could feel my heart beating in my ears. Any remnants of alcohol instantly vanished from my bloodstream. Like a caffeine injection straight to the heart. Some itty bitty part of my brain thought adrenaline. My mouth was very dry but it still opened before my brain knew what was happening.
“Did he say anything?” I croaked out in a nervous whisper.
She paused for a second and said “I told him I was sorry I pushed him and he said it was okay, he knew I didn’t mean to hurt him.”I couldn’t imagine him being mad at his sister for more than a minute for anything. He was quick to anger and quicker to forgive and forget.
She said “I asked him if he was okay. He said yes. He said he was worried about Daddy.”
My brain wanted me to ask what for but my throat locked up. I couldn’t say a word. I didn’t need to.
“He said he felt bad for Daddy because he was so angry. He wants us to be happy. He said he misses us but he is happy. He wants us to be too.”
She lay back down as quietly as she had sat up. I didn’t remember seeing her do it. It was like nothing and something had just happened at the same time. I couldn’t move for a couple of minutes, my joints felt frozen. When I was able to get up, my legs were very heavy and I was so tired, tired like I get at the end of a bout of insomnia. I remember thinking I wished I could see him in my dreams like that. How I wish. All I get is a replay of the accident. Over and over and over again.
My daughter didn’t remember anything the next morning. I asked her mother to ask her if she had any dreams that night. I couldn’t.
A powerful force of nature, a child. Most days I have my doubts about there being a God. If there is and if He loves us, though, I wonder if this gift of child rearing — the bringing up of what you give birth to — allows us just the smallest of tastes of His love for us. Some love if you ask me. Taking back what was given. Like Sampson’s strength rested in his locks a parent’s strength rests in their offspring. Forged in DNA. A look into their eyes and you are Super Dad or Super Mom, ten times more than what you are or ever could be all on your own. Do we do the same for Him I wonder? Is this why He selfishly takes back, picking those prettiest of flowers for His bouquet? I tried to be that superhero for my son. Will I fail my daughter? I want to be better than who I am. I don’t want this anger so graciously handed to me and shoved down my throat, poisoning my insides. It is hard to see from the outside but it is always there, gnawing and chewing and devouring away. What happens when there’s nothing left to chew? Will my inner pillars topple down?
Excerpt, diary for my daughter —
12 Oct 14
I asked you if you were doing anything after school this afternoon. Once the surprise of the question had passed, you shook her head no. I asked you if we could talk when you got home from school today and you nodded without saying a word. I imagine it was a long day for you, wondering about our talk. It was a long day for me too, trying to think of what I was going to say to you. After what seemed forever you got home from school and we went straight to your room, sitting in two chairs facing each other. I swallowed hard and hoped I could say what I needed to say. You looked at me like, well, like most teenagers look at their parents I imagine. A mix of dread and anxiousness with boredom and anticipation all swirled together. I didn’t know where to begin or how to start without yelling and blaming and losing my head. So, I took a breath and calmed myself. Keep it simple, I thought. Here and now. I looked at you and just said “I’m sorry.” And I was. I was sorry for being mad at you. Sorry for not being a better father. Sorry for not telling you it wasn’t your fault. Just sorry for everything. And something blossomed in you, my little girl, at that moment. No one else would have seen it but I did, just as plain as day. Like a single powerful strand of light desperate to break free. Out and away from a black hole. A glimmer of hope.
You hugged me tightly and I hugged back, feeling your strong little arms around me and your face against my neck. I felt tears on my shoulder as you sobbed you were sorry, you never meant to hurt your brother. “I know sweetie pie, I know you didn’t.” I stroked your hair and held you tight. “It was just an accident,” I said. “ I shouldn’t have been mad at you for it. It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault.”
We sat and just hugged for a long time. It felt good. It really did. The anger is still there, just below the skin. It sits and it waits. But I can keep it hidden, tucked away for my daughter. She gives me strength. Just need to concentrate.
I hope he is happy, my son, where ever he is. Maybe one of these nights I’ll get to see him, playing in my dreams.