Don’t make me stop this car…

I’m not sure how I got to the side of the freeway, pacing the gravel shoulder, hands clenched in fists and enough tension in my jaws to crack a tooth. I mean I know I hit the brakes hard, pulled over and slammed my door. But how did I get to this place of such anger and anxiety with my seven year old when only two hours before we were baking chocolate chip cookies together in the kitchen?

He wore the cute handmade cowboy apron I bought for him at farmer’s market when it still reached below his knees. He was exuberant about adding the flour mixture to the butter and sugar in the electric mixer and I patiently explained why we should do that more slowly—so we didn’t have white powder covering everything on the counter.

I was trying to get cookies made to take them into the city with us to my older daughter’s fashion show that evening. I’d already taken B to the grocery store, dog park and car wash, scrubbed the bathrooms and done two loads of laundry. There are never enough hours in the weekend to get everything done and we’d be gone until 10 tonight and tomorrow was the start of another work/school week. But once the cookies were in the oven and I frantically cleaned the kitchen, then tried to do something with my hair, B was ensconced with a tub of Legos, building something new and quite content to stay put for awhile. He didn’t want to put shoes on or head to the car for a one and a half hour drive.

My body was telling me the same, but I was too busy pushing the override buttons to listen. Until it was too late. And I found myself standing on the freeway shoulder ready to do anything to make him stop screaming. I’d let my anxiety build and feed into his until there we were—him inside the car, banging against the window and trying to kick the door down, me pacing the gravel, resisting the urge to run into traffic or pull him out of the car and spank the shit out of him or just walk away until the cops found me or…or…the negative thoughts and emotions swirled in my head until I was dizzy.

My partner got out of the passenger’s side of the car. “What can I do?” I just shook my head and kept pacing. “Talk to me—I don’t know what to do here.”

“I don’t know what you can do,” I finally looked at him. “Just give me a couple minutes here. I’m trying not to kill him.”

An overstatement, yes. But the truth is when that white-hot anger boils over into my brain, it short-circuits all connection to rational thought. I hate to admit it, but I get it, I understand what those parents who go over the edge might experience. I know what standing on that precipice feels like.

I placed the car keys into his outstretched hand and we continued our journey. Some whining still emanated from the back seat, but the knife edge was gone. I stewed in self-recriminating tears for the next 20 miles until a chirpy voice called from behind me, “Let’s play eye-spy!”

Valentine’s Day 1997

We held the viewing on Valentine’s Day, a cold and rainy night. **People came dressed for dinner, a night out, champagne and chocolate. Some filed through quietly, paid their respects to my parents and slipped out the door with their umbrellas. And then in the middle of the background easy-listening Christian hymn music, a cry would go up from the front of the room, a sob that couldn’t be held back.

My brother in the casket, waxy, pale despite the make-up, his short Marine buzz cut spiky with gel. I ran my fingers over it, the black stitches holding his scalp together blending into his hair. You could see where the coroner had used the saw to remove part of the skull, to see what damage his brain had sustained. The coroner’s report read “massive head trauma.” I was surprised he looked this good.

I was angry with the people in their fine clothes, the anticipation of a romantic evening after this duty. Numb and tired from crying, from helping my mother choose a casket. Angry with the funeral home director for trying to sell her a casket she couldn’t afford. The fabric was nicer, made of steel, blah, blah, blah. And I looked at him and asked, what’s the point; it’s getting buried six feet under. You pay more money for a casket that will keep the body from decaying for a longer period of time? And you make more money as a result. That’s disgusting.

My mother pleaded with me to be nice. No, I have no more nice left in me. Bury me in the dirt and let the critters of the earth do their job on me or burn me to ashes and scatter me to the wind; don’t waste your money on this artificial finery. I just wanted to sink into sleep, a long, long nap and when I woke from this dream I could go on with my life as it was before. Not this constant, nagging ache, this realization every morning before I could even open my eyes that something was desperately wrong and out of sync, what was it? Oh yes, now I remember. I don’t want to remember, I want to go back to sleep. But that awareness pulled me into the days and weeks ahead. And still, it remains.

** Editor’s note: My mom finally read this and told me it wasn’t raining that night. The whole week from the accident to burial was beautiful, clear and crisp. I remember the clear weather on Feb. 15 at the gravesite, but for some strange reason, I remembered it as raining the night of the 14th. So, a good reminder in memoir work…sometimes it may be wise to check with others who shared an experience. They have different memories of the emotions, events, whatever, but these little details aren’t subjective. Mom says I need to send stuff to her for fact checking now!

Let go and accept

Dec. 16—Reverb 10—Friendship. How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (prompt author: Martha Mihalick)

I’ve always tried to please people, avoid rocking the boat. In the process over the years I swallowed all the anger and frustration that caused me and stuffed them into the furthest reaches of my being. There comes a point where there is no room left to stuff and the emotions spill out the edges like an oozing burrito.

Learning that I can’t make or keep everyone in my life happy is a slow process—painful even at times. But my friend T is helping me to see that living more authentically is more important than brushing aside how I really feel. And that certain people may not ever be able to see my perspective and that’s okay; I can’t expect them to. That truth is still seeping into my consciousness…that I have to let go of the expectation and the hope that at some point in the future everything that I am currently struggling with will be hunky dory and everyone will be happy. It may not.

I still find myself sweeping hurt feelings and frustrations into closets, hoping that nobody opens them. But I am also learning to let them be; to not place a “bad” or “unwanted” label on certain emotions. They simply are and that’s okay. We can’t always be in a state of euphoric happiness, always striving to only feel the “good” emotions. I can choose my reactions to those feelings, but trying not to experience them doesn’t make them evaporate.