8/15/2008

"I want you to help me kill myself."

Sweaty, itchy, feeling too fat with my two month old daughter strapped to my chest, I had pushed my brother in his new wheelchair to the Starbucks about 10 blocks from my parents home.

"I already asked Mom but she said no. I'm not going to ask Dad. I don't think he would be able to."

"Well, I'm thrilled that I'm your third choice."

"I'm not kidding. I need your help."

And as I sat there with an iced chai and my new fussing baby I considered weather or not I would kill my brother.

All I could think was how the fuck did we get here?

Seven months earlier, at around 6:00 AM on Saturday, April 12, 1997, I was awakened by the phone. It was my Mom.

"Bumper has been in an accident. He's at Valley Med. They won't tell me anything."

I assured her, "They can't tell you anything. He's fine. He always is. I'll meet you there in a half hour."

Just a few months before that she had gotten a similar call that my brother Bumper had been in a snowboarding accident. He had bruised his ribs and spleen and hit his head. He'd temporarily lost his short term memory, his friend later explained to us.

The resulting phone conversations that my Mom and Dad and I had with him proved ridiculously funny. In part, I'm sure, due to our relief that nothing too serious had happened to him. But also because talking to him that day was an exercise in frustration. He could remember who we were, what our voices sounded like, but not what he had just said to us or us to him. He repeated himself again and again and we laughed and asked him questions so he would repeat himself once more. We were ridiculous. But we were laughing and really, you can get through anything if you can laugh, right?

That boarding accident proved to be relatively minor and he had recovered fully. He was a big strong strapping young man. At 21 years old and 6'4", his body was remarkable and resilient.

I felt sure everything was going to be fine this time as well.

We arrived at the hospital and asked at the admissions desk about Bumper. They made us wait. Then a nurse came for us and took us to the "Family Room," closed the door and left us alone. There I stood, four months pregnant with my first child, my mother and father looking confused and worried and overwhelmed. I tried to soothe them and comfort them. I tried to think why the nurses weren't telling us anything. I tried to hope for the best.

Then the doctor came. He spoke to my parents.

"Your son has broken his neck. He is paralyzed."

The doctor said a lot of other things. I heard none of them. I think I shook my head. I think I said "No. No. No. No." But honestly, I may have imagined that.

The following weeks were a blur of concerned friends and family, ICU, surgeries, Bumper's halo, recovery, ICU again, the rotating bed, endless batteries for the Sony disc man, my folks and I taking shifts around the clock to sit by his bed and then - when they would kick us out - to sit vigil in the waiting room with once hourly peeks in on him.

The hospital staff and management told us we should leave. Go home and let him face his recovery on his own. They told us that we weren't helping, being there all the time. That his adjustment would be easier if we didn't hover so much.

Over the weeks and months he had a number of roommates. Many of them had no family with them for days and weeks at a time. Some of them would leave the hospital and go "home" to a nursing care facility. No one who loved them would be caring for them. They were alone.

We did not budge. My folks and I stuck it out. We were there. With him every single day. If we couldn't trade places with him we were certainly going to do our best to know what brand new doorway of hell he was going to be "walking" through every day.

During his stay at that hospital I watched my brother move his arms, more and more with practice. I watched him get into the power wheelchair and roam the halls of the hospital after weeks of laying flat. I watched him do physical and occupational therapy every day and learn to tell the hospital staff about his needs. After a number of months he went home with my folks to their house. Ramps were built. A new bed was brought in. The front bathroom was remodeled to accommodate the shower wheelchair. Attendants were hired to help him with his daily needs.

While I was watching this, my little brother was living this. My parents baby boy was experiencing a life none of us had ever imagined. He was learning how to live a new way. Without the use of his hands and legs. Without the freedoms he had known his entire life. Without the ability to storm out on it all with a grand, "Fuck you!" letting the door swing behind him.

And, of course, I was pregnant. And let's be clear. I did not want to be pregnant anymore. I'm not saying that I wanted my baby to come out of me, here into the world. I did not want to be a mom. I did not want to hold my baby in my arms. This creature inside was, in my opinion, sapping energy and attention from me that I could not spare. I wanted this pregnancy to go away. I wanted it to end. I wanted God or the universe or whoever was in charge to know that I was not capable of giving any more of myself. That I was destroyed. Broken beyond repair and I had no business becoming a parent in the middle of this. But god/the universe/whoever turned a deaf ear to my desperate requests.

Because my daughter was born.

The OB nurse (phenomenal, amazing, wonderful woman) carried my minutes-old daughter over to Bumper and held her to his cheek, resting the weight if this new person on his shoulder. And things shifted.

Suddenly our tears were joy soaked. All of our sarcastic and surreal laughter that had helped us to survive the months of fear and misery gave way to laughter sprung from genuine delight. My new little person brought with her healing and peace and potential that none of us expected. She was an angel. Sent here with the daunting task of healing my whole family of our deep, open, painful recent wounds. And, apparently, she was up to the task. Who knew?

Hope springs eternal, or some shit like that.

So as I sat there at the Starbucks, with milk swollen breasts that I was resistant to whip out in public, I considered my brother's request.

If I really love him do I kill him or do I say no?

15 comments:

TZT said...

Oh my.
*Wiping away tears*
Beautiful post.

Caroline said...

Beautifully written. My hearts aches for your whole family.

candesintx said...

I can't imagine the desperation you both must be feeling.

So many things running through my mind to get him help or hook him up w/ others who are wc bound but are doing great things...

I love my brother and if he were to come to me with that... I dont know... I'd feel wounded but I couldn't do it.

I try to make his life better more than he wants it and it can be exhausting so I step back and let him find his way. I'm here for him but his choice for happiness is his own.

I pray the best for you both.

Lara said...

you are remarkable. my heart often thinks of you - all of you.

Annagrace said...

So I have never even commented here, having just recently found your blog, but I just gave you an award. I know--I can be little intense at times. But thank you for writing the way you do and being so vulnerable. And check out my blog to see your award.

Erica said...

Thank you, each one, for your compassion and kindness.

laurie said...

I have nothing of any consequence to add other than I don't know what helps us walk through these shit storms without going completely insane.

This is really beautiful, Erica, and I'm glad you're writing through this...and I'm glad you found me so I could read it.

Tammy said...

Beautiful sentiments. You guys have come a long and inspiring way.

babybloomr said...

Wow.
Unthinkable. Except that, obviously, it's not.
First thing that popped into my head was that phrase (and if this came from like, Dr. Phil or something I apologize in advance.) "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary season of despair."
Yeah, easy for me to say, I'm walking around. But your brother sounds like he has too much of a life-force in him to not find a reason to stay here.
Thinking of all of you. Especially that angel of yours.

Lorrie Veasey said...

Just recently found your blog and this post was so moving. Sending you good thoughts.

Lisa said...

Er, this is a *beautiful* piece. I vividly remember the pain you and your family went through then. (In fact, I remember trying to come up with words for you & your mom & dad at Valley Med the day after the accident. Don't think I was very successful at that.)
Bumper rocks, and we're all glad you didn't kill him.

Sugar said...

This is so touching. I keep coming back here... wow, indeed...

Lara said...

i gave you an award at my place! come see - hope you're doing well.

Dana said...

wow. words fail me now.. thats gotta be a first. **hugs**

Eileen said...

I am so very sorry for the pain that your family has had to endure. I wish there were words of comfort that would help with the healing. Your beautiful new daughter's face will help you heal.

As for your brother, it is obvious he is in so much pain (physical, emotional) and wants it to end. I have known people who had similar injuries, who wanted to die early on, but life is so much better for them now.

I hope your brother continues to get as much support as possible. If he is seeing a counselor, I hope you share this with him/her. This is not the type of secret to keep, ever.

Only you know deep inside, what you can or can't do, but I hope you don't. You should not be in that position.

Excellent writing.