Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Charity, honor, basketball.

I'm of two minds about competitiveness. I understand I live in a country enamored of it. I grew up in an atmosphere of rivalry in everything I did, from academics to sports, to learning to poop in the pot. My mother can't be considered to be conscious of her constant exortations to us to look to each other for someone to beat. She thought she was inspiring us, teaching us to use each other as role models, but really she taught us to hate each other's achievements and to feel ashamed of our own. I was "the smart one" -- but the kicker was, my mom would remonstrate me about my achievements, because they made my sister and brother feel stupid and inadequate. My evil smartness was justification in her mind, for any of the cruel tricks my sister pulled, or the physical pain my brother caused. Her sympathies were squarely with them. She was replaying, with us kids, the same dynamic she had suffered under as the "stupid one" in her own childhood, but how could I know that? All I knew was I couldn't do anything right. By the time I graduated college I pretty much realized the least stressful (immoral, unfair, cruel) thing for me to do was to move really far away and do nothing at all, as much as possible.

I saw my dad sicken and die under the pressure to achieve. Lots of people my age saw their parents agonize their way through life, never feeling they had done enough. There was a term for it, the rat race. Workaholism. Now and then some pop psych guru would encourage folks to slow down, smell the roses, meditate, give up some material goods and some late night work for the sake of that quality time. But mostly, you were rewarded for killing yourself to win. People cherished schools that encouraged competition among students. TV shows that taught us that good battled constantly against evil and won through good character and values. History books that painted the country as good, right and always the winner.

One of the most popular parenting classes I taught involved helping parents to unravel sibling rivalry problems. But you could tell by the way parents approached the information, that they really didn't understand that it was they, not their "bad child" who was causing the rivalry in the first place. All they wanted was to find out how to "fix" the kid, usually the oldest. They had a hard time looking at how they were encouraging internecine warfare every waking moment of their children's lives.

You can still see vestiges of my competitiveness here, and in say, an occasional game of Scrabble. I try to blunt it, joke it off, but it's there, like an old addiction, a scar on my personality. Ugh. I hate to look at that side of myself, but that doesn't make it go away.

You must wonder where I'm going with this. Today I read a story about a coach for a Texas girls' basketball team, who refused to apologize for letting his team win their game 100-0. My first reaction was, go coach! Girls should be allowed to play their hardest, too!

The team belongs to a christian girls' school. In my mind, I could hear the stuffy old school board telling each other that the girls would stop menstruating if they kept winning, that it might even lead to dancing. And they were quoted: It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened. This clearly does not reflect a Christlike and honorable approach to competition, from a statement signed by the school's headmaster and their board chair. Holy crap!

The coach sounded so valiant: "In response to the statement posted on The Covenant School Web site, I do not agree with the apology or the notion that the Covenant School girls basketball team should feel embarrassed or ashamed. We played the game as it was meant to be played. My values and my beliefs would not allow me to run up the score on any opponent, and it will not allow me to apologize for a wide-margin victory when my girls played with honor and integrity." And the parents clearly didn't agree with the school, cheering wildly from half time, when the score was 59-0, to the last 3 pointer.

Yeah, I was all for it. Then I read the rest of the story. The team they won against, the Dallas Acadamy, only has 8 girls on the whole team, 20 in the entire school; and specializes in teaching girls with learning disabilities. The kind of kids who couldn't even get admitted to Covenant, much less get onto their basketball team.

And now I'm ashamed.

It appears that the parents and schoolmates of the Dallas Academy are cheering on their team for their persistence and courage in the face of impossible odds. Call it the Thermopylae frame.

Today is the last day,

two years ago, that I saw Jesse alive and conscious. I was coming down with a cold, and he already had some kind of stomach infection, so I had to leave him at the hospital for the weekend. He really didn't want me there when I was sick; and we'd gotten him his own private room at last. He seemed happy about that. Friends were coming, he would see his high school buddy Alex on Monday. I talked to him on the phone a few times over the weekend, and he kept telling me not to worry. To call the school so he could take his classes from the hospital. Then came Monday morning, the phone call from the nurse, telling me to get there immediately. I can still feel the tone of her voice, the shifting emotions as she realized I didn't know what she meant. As she realized she had to tell me somehow, that it wasn't just some passing event. This was it. He would never see me again, or speak to me or any of us. These memories are still rough to the touch, and I know one day my fingers will slip over them like glass beads on a string, worn smooth by the telling of these prayers to the unforgotten.

I'm glad it was a crappy day out. I'm glad my boots filled with slushy water and my pants were soaked when I got to work. I'm glad it's going to stay like this, get worse, be colder, and dark soon. This is how the weather should be today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Things I realize

I realize Jesse would hate me spending this much time thinking about him. I realize that at some point, I have to move on.

I realize that if he had lived through that last bout, there is no guarantee (even less likelihood, statistically than after the first bout) that he would have lived another five years.

I realize he said he didn't want to live like that. I also realize he was afraid to die. Neither of these realizations helps me move forward.

I realize that some part of me believes it is somehow good for Jesse that I think of him so often, miss him, mourn him. I don't understand why this is so. Maybe it's just a holdover from the time when he and I were apart, and he was alive. As if some day he will ask me, did you miss me? And I will want to say, yes, every day of my life when you were gone. I'm pretty sure that's crazy.

I know how I would feel about my mother expressing the same kinds of feelings to me that I feel toward Jesse. As a barometer, though, I'm not sure that's helpful. I'm here, he's not; my history with my mother is different than Jesse's with me; Jesse may still have had anger toward me about our difficult times, but I like to imagine I'm easier to deal with emotionally than my mother. I think of the lifelong wall I erected between myself and my mother. I worry that I somehow created one in Jesse that we could never have overcome. Why does this still matter to me?

I realize that I must, somehow, believe he still exists, and not just in our memory.

What is the function of that belief, I know I'm not the only one who feels it. Is it just a residue of the overdeveloped human emotional memory? We can't stop loving, even when the loved one is gone, because love fulfills such an important evolutionary role for our species. For the social mammals.

I realize I spend a lot of time going over my relationship with him, how badly it was broken, and how, and what it means to have your father destroy your feelings and trust in your mother at such an early age. It is impossible to talk about what happened between Jesse and me, without coming back to that simple, horrible truth. The wound that could never heal, and never will.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Where my kid at

Jesse's younger brother left the house last weekend, saying "Bye mom, I'm gonna go take my pants off in the subway." I'm a lucky mom.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


The Buddhists say that desire is the cause of all suffering, that letting go of desire is a key to moving along toward nirvana. I don't doubt that it's my desire to have Jesse back that causes me the most pain. During my walk to work I think often of Adele Hugo, roaming the streets of Halifax looking for her British Lieutenant (I wonder if Truffaut thought of John Fowles when he was working on L'Histoire). There's a scene in L'Histoire where, after years of distracted searching, she actually passes her lost love on the street without recognizing him. He calls her name, but she doesn't hear him. She's not really looking for him, (if she ever really was), not anymore. She's looking for that missing piece of herself that she wrenched out for him when she met him. Women like Adele, and Sara Woodruff dot history and literature. Women are raised to be dependent on fathers, husbands, children. Lost without them. Abandonment. Tearing at the self to make room for that ascendant other.

I suppose I'm not looking for Jesse. Although I'm sure I've made more than one tall blond young guy uncomfortable with a double-take he no doubt mistakes for some other kind of interest. I wonder how often in my younger days I mistook that look, myself. Out of vanity, ignorance and vanity. And maybe it's vanity that propels me (it's certainly in vain).

I'm not looking for Jesse, even when I see him everywhere. I'm looking for the rest of myself. The part I wrenched out of myself the day I knew I was pregnant with him.

Friday, January 9, 2009


Nowadays, the Ren Cen is GM's headquarters. But from what I can tell of their Web site, the pool is still there, on the food court level. So is the Burger King I was standing in front of. I don't know why that feels like some kind of vindication. One of the things that disturbed me about my experience was that I could see. I mean, not just anything, but specific things, in a coherent whole. The entirety of the environment my body was in, in relation to the reality I had just left by passing out. I have pretty coherent narrative dreams in full color (I can even taste things I eat in dreams), but they are not mistakable for reality. I say this to emphasize that my experience involved sight perception in the kind of repeatable detail that even I don't get in my dreams.

How is that possible, if you don't have eyes? How do you perceive anything when you aren't a physical being? I've poked around over the years to figure out what it meant, and came up with several stories, confirmed by medical folks, of people like Al Sullivan. OOBE. It looks silly. I know Michael Schermer thinks I hallucinated it: he groups it with aliens and angels (I find this insulting, but I understand why he sees it this way). But his logic is a bit off: sure, you can create this sensation in the brain with Persinger's helmet, but then, you can hallucinate music, does that mean music doesn't exist? All it proves is that the brain can mimic the experience, not that the experience doesn't also exist.

I don't think this means that the soul is real, or that we can exist outside our bodies for long, or that this is what happens when we die. I'm neutral on that aspect: skeptical, maybe. (Not even spooked that as I typed that last sentence, my browser crashed. Good thing Blogger autosaves). I'm not convinced of any of it, in fact. All I know is what happened to me, and to Al Sullivan.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Things I'm afraid to write about

So here's the thing: I've been going over my out of body experience in my mind to the point where I think I've worn it away. I was awake. I was looking down at my unconscious self. I could see the woman standing next to me, and that I was now kneeling. I could see the tops of our heads. Then I felt, far away, that there was pain in my knees and I realized suddenly that I was not in my body, that that was me down there, and that I needed to get back in there. Up to that point I was, I guess, confused as to what was happening.

I had been walking, blinded by a lack of oxygen to my brain, toward a pool of water on the ground floor of the Detroit Renaissance Center. I guess I thought there were chairs somewhere, that I was heading for one before I completely lost consciousness. It wasn't until I was out of my body that I saw the planters and the water, and no chairs, and realized I could have ended up in the pool.

Then I hear the lady saying "are you alright?" again, from far away. That's when I will myself back. And come to. She helps me to my feet and I tell her that I'm diabetic (I'm not) and I was in insulin shock (that was true, more or less, but I didn't really know it at the time). At that point my friends saw me and came over and brought me to a table, got me a soda, and some food. I was maybe 19.

I don't usually tell people about this. It sounds weird and I don't want to be in the position of either defending it or wondering if they think I'm nuts or lying. I know what I saw. I also know it's possible that my brain was that creative about what the tops of our heads looked like. Possibly even the pool. Maybe I saw it before I passed out and didn't register it.

But last night I saw a show on Nat Geo channel on the topic, and their last case made me feel a little safer about my own experience. Al Sullivan watched his own surgery, and saw the doctor doing things that no one could have guessed he did. Then they had the doctor speak and confirm the information, and then they had the doctor's colleague confirm it. You can watch Al's story on Nat Geo on January 10th, at 7 pm Eastern. And we can discuss this further.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


It's still here. The pain blocker started wearing off around 4 yesterday. It bought me about five hours. Today I talked the office manager in the suite next door into letting me hide out in a dark empty office (they had layoffs, we have blistering white fluorescents so intense you can see your soul through your clothes). All I had to do was ask her to shoot me (she said she left her gun on the dresser, if I'd like to go pick it up at her house).

Note: Head On for migraines works for about an hour or so. Not sure what good that does you. Don't want to end up like her.

I have to go get my Katie Couric next week. The GI office gave me a packet of paper listing all the warnings, and the stuff I have to do before I show up face down: no NSAIDs after the 8th. No food after 230 the 13th. No liquids after midnight. Prescription laxatives every half hour (Holy, well, you know). I wonder if they understand that this will trigger another migraine (provided I've recovered from this one by then). And that I can't use an entire class of pain relievers because the GI is averse to turning my colon into a fountain of gory viscera. Remind me to call my doc and ask if Head On is an NSAID.

Monday, January 5, 2009


The migraine started last Tuesday night. I spent New Year's eve throwing up and wishing I were unconscious. I still have it. I went to the doctor and got a pain blocker, so at least now I can function. How much of this is bottled up misery over Jesse. How much about the newly stressful job? An early sign of menopause? I can't say. I sat with my new doctor and we made a list of everything I've tried to deal with migraines over the years: depakote, propanalol, amitryptaline, celebrex, gabapentin, topamax, prozac, all the triptans, relafen, butalbital, naproxen, vicodin, and more I can't remember. Now, the only two that seemed to work, have let me down: vicodin, and a triptan. Turns out, says my doctor, that they work against each other.

Because she's my new doctor, I had to tell her about Jesse. He's a condition, now. Grief. A factor. The pain blocker seems to work well enough to get me to work. I stare at the prescriptions on my desk and wonder how I'm going to make it through the next month and a half. February 8th, a Sunday, marks two years.