Each month, The Band is choosing to focus our spotlight on a particular subject.
This February, we're focusing upon "hearts." Do you have a heart defect? Has a heart problem affected you? We want to hear more about your hearts and the hearts you love, The Band. Please send us any and all stories you have about hearts, heart defects, heart problems, heart disease, well, anything!
This month, we're throwing the spotlight squarely upon hearts, one of the most important parts of our bodies.
What's your story?
My baby sister was born with Transposition of the Great Vessels.
She lived 7 days.
I was 4 years old; I would turn 5 years old a month later.
My first memory:
I was walking around the back of our house to our cement patio with my grandmother. I was a kindergartener. But my mom missed it. She had missed my first day of school. She missed my blue dress, my messenger bag, and my blue Mary Janes.
My dad missed it too, but I wasn’t so concerned about that. They were there, my mom, dad, and grandpa. They were sitting in metal green patio chairs.
My mom was in the glider rocker, from the same green metal patio set, rocking, her glazed eyes staring forward. Where Amy, my 3-year old sister, was I don’t remember; probably trailing behind me, as she had a habit of doing.
And there she was - my mom. Suddenly in front of me, her eyes locked with mine. She was kneeling, her permed brown hair framing her face. Her over-sized, early 1980’s glasses making her blue eyes - were full of tears - appear even larger than they were.
And in the next moment, we were in the bathroom, my mom and I. She was sitting on the toilet, with the seat down, using it as a seat to talk to me. She was telling me something important. “Your sister isn’t coming home.” “Bridget died.”
Who is Bridget? I guessed that was the name of the child that was in my mom’s tummy. Only there wasn’t a child in her tummy anymore. The baby.
The baby that I was so excited about.
I helped wallpaper her bedroom, was it a Muppet Babies wall-paper? I remember the ladder, I remember playing in wallpaper goo, I remember hearing, “Stop that, this is for your brother or sister, don’t mess with it, Rebecca.” And now the “brother or sister” wasn’t coming home. Bridget was in heaven.
She was my guardian angel now, Mom said.
And there were presents. The living room was full of presents. Beautiful baby blankets. There was a yellow one. We could not keep that. We needed to give the presents back, I remember hearing.
I learned that my sister was born on my first day of school. She was in the hospital for seven days. Her surgeon was the same surgeon that would later operate on my own daughter, twenty-one years later. The day that my grandmother brought me home was the day of the funeral. I was sheltered. I was protected. I went on being my oblivious, carefree self, because the adults in my life wanted it so.
I want to do the same for my child, my daughter. But how do I protect her; keep her from the harsh realities of life when it is her life that has been oh-so-harsh? When she's the one that had the liver transplant at seventeen months old?
How do I protect her from that?
I was in kindergarten and kissed a pudgy little boy beside me on the playground. My little friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
I was in the fifth grade and my classmates noticed I had boobs. My friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
I was in high school and suffered through the angst of a breakup. His friends pointed and laughed. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
I had a huge fight with my parents and disappointed them. I wanted to die. I did not, because I made a choice.
The choice? Tomorrow would be a better day if I lived.
My husband of twelve years stuck a gun in his mouth and made a different choice. He left behind three daughters who under five years of age. He died because, to him, there was no other choice.
We were finally ending a long divorce - a divorce spawned from years of domestic abuse due to his mental illness. For almost 12 years - 365 days and nights of tears, I woke up and thought tomorrow would be a better day if I lived.
Often times, I felt it was his "grace" that allowed me to live. Every now and then, in the grips of pain from a fist or a kick, I wanted to die. Still, I always made a choice to live.
For weeks after he left this earth, I asked, "Why?"
I needed an explanation - a resolution - for his choice.
Most of us have had those moments in which we think we don't want to live through the day. We think for a split-second, "What would it matter if I was gone?"
We think we don't matter. We wonder if we'd be missed. I wish that, before he ended his life, I could've answered these questions for him.
Since I cannot, I will do it here:
"What would it matter if I was gone?"
Regardless of our marital state, you helped me create three daughters.
Before the first one goes to school, I will have to explain that her father is dead. Before she learns to write her name, she will understand what a grave is.
The two youngest daughters will not have a decent memory of their father to carry through their adult lives. They will look back and only know your face because there is a picture. They will only know stories - not through their own recollection - but because I will fill in the blanks.
They will never be able to take their father to a "Daddy/Daughter" dance. They will not have the man who helped give them life, give them away on their wedding day. Father's Day will always leave their hearts heavy. They will, one day, know that you didn't consider living for them, loving them, that they were not enough for you.
"Would I be missed?"
A few days after your death, I had to sit down on the bed and explain to the children that their father would never come back. Ever. The day has not come yet that they haven't cried for you in some fashion. The oldest has a picture of you in her room on her nightstand. She talks to you when she has something important to say. She tells you about her birthday, her missing tooth, her new puppy, and when Mommy has made her mad. When she is frightened, she screams for you to help her, because Daddies are big and strong.
The man who didn't feel like he had a choice went into a rage that day. He broke things, he screamed, and he broke down. He walked into the room filled with all the children's things and did not see any of them. All he saw was that he didn't have another choice, that he didn't matter, that he wouldn't be missed.
In front of a rack of his children's clothes, ranging from size 18 months to 5T, standing before a toddler bed and dozens of smiling stuffed animals on the floor, he thought that the only thing that mattered was taking himself out of everyone's life.
Ceasing to exist.
Becoming a memory and nothing more.
Later, I stood in a funeral home to pick out a casket for my husband. I wanted to die. I did not.
I made a choice to live. Sitting in the living room looking at the Christmas tree, stockings lined up bearing the children's names and a dozen smiling stuffed animals on the floor, I see the only thing that matters: making memories and so much more.
Tomorrow will be a better day because I live.
I make that choice.
Bullying is a pervasive problem that knows no social, racial, or economic boundaries and takes many forms.
It is just as likely to occur on the job as on the playground.
Today, we invite you to share your story: let's kick bullying to the curb.
Once upon a time...
That's the start of a fairy tale and this, this is not a fairy tale. This is a tale about a girl and a school and another girl. It's a tale about a girl who had horrible secrets and who simply had to deal with them the best she could. It's a tale about the bullying that made all of it so much worse.
I started school just like any other little girl, but I wasn't just any other little girl. By kindergarten I'd already been abused both physically and sexually. I'd been put into the foster care system, and I'd been adopted. I'd been expelled from preschool for fighting. My socialization did not include other children since my adopted parents were so much older than I was.
I don't remember anything really bad until after my mother died when I was 8.
I had normalish problems for a child, with the exception of nighttime enuresis (bed wetting) and some rage issues (but those were mostly at home). That was a really embarrassing problem to have when sleepovers are such big things, but I tried really hard to deal with it and keep it a secret. When my mother died, my father went from a man who enjoyed a few beers to someone who needed to get lost in them. I went from a little girl who had problems to a little girl with big problems.
When you don't have a choice to do anything but survive, you find a way.
For me it became hiding from the world. By 4th grade, I was starting to skip school and my nighttime enuresis problem was becoming more of an issue during the day. I'd get so nervous about calling attention to myself that I literally could not get up during class and ask to be excused. Of course, inevitably, I started wetting my pants during the day.
In fourth and fifth grade, the teasing got really bad. Teasing is actually such a kind word for what it really was. I was tagged with multiple nicknames all involving pee. Pissy Pants followed me until I graduated high school. It was so humiliating, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it.
In fifth grade I attempted suicide and put myself into a coma for 3 days. I simply couldn't take it all anymore. Now I look back and wonder why no one did anything. My father's family knew what was going on at home, or at least the broad strokes of it. My birth grandparents knew (it was an open adoption except for contact by my birth parents).
I was dirty most of the time, our house smelled horrible since it was never clean, and the bar owners near our home knew what my voice sounded like on the phone when I called to get Daddy to come home. I watched him get arrested for a DUI in front of our house. My teachers had to have seen how I was treated and how I kept retreating. I know they had to know I wet my pants; it wasn't like I was keeping it a secret very well. The school certainly knew I wasn't in class more than was normal for a child.
Middle school is usually the worst time for bullying, but oddly enough it contained my best consecutive years at school. I don't know if my suicide attempt gave me some kind of "hands off" status, or if I was simply able to deal with it better. By then my father had stopped drinking, and I had good friends who supported me. It was a good time, until the rape.
Then I self-destructed and it all went south.
In high school, it got worse - again. My arch nemesis had been in my class for most of my school years (our town had 2 elementary schools, 1 middle school and 1 high school - there was no escape). If someone was making fun of me, she was right there making it worse (or starting it). By high school she had honed her keen edge on me for so long that I would spend massive amounts of energy to avoid her. A teenager trying to fit in does not want to hear those grade school nicknames - especially said out loud during a break between classes while the entire school streams by heading to their lockers.
I went back to missing school, this time not to escape my home life, but to escape how school made me feel. She made fun of my old problem (which was rapidly starting to come back from nerves), how much school I missed, my weight, my hair... basically anything she felt could make me deficient in the eyes of others.
I was a smart kid - I had been in our school's advanced placement program since I was in 4th grade (the year it started for us). I should have had great grades and been one of our top graduates. By 10th grade I was missing so much school that I had two different teachers start making comments IN CLASS like, "it's so nice of you to join us today, I suppose we won't see you again until next week." Yea, that was helpful. *eyeroll*
By my senior year it had gotten so bad that the school wouldn't allow me to go to the regular high school. I either went to alternative school (where I was the only non-pregnant girl), or I quit school. I went to alternative school, and I made it through, although it was close.
When I see a school shooting on the news, I'm sad.
Of course I'm sad because of what happened, but also because I know the rage that often plays such a big role in that kind of thing. I never really fantasized about killing everyone, because even in my own sad, little way back then, I liked most of the people, and I REALLY wanted them to like me. I did fantasize, so often that I can literally see the exact sequence of things I would do to her even now, of hurting my arch nemesis who seemed to thrive on my pain. I fantasized about standing up to those teachers who made fun of me in front of the class. I fantasized about saying all the things I couldn't say to all the people who shut me out and made me pay for being different. Different in ways that I had absolutely no control over.
No child should ever have to feel the way I felt during school. I was shamed on a daily basis. I dreaded school so much that I would rather have been at home in my room hanging out by myself than go to school and be around my friends (and I had some excellent friends). I became pathologically afraid of one of the most popular girls in our school, one who led the pack that feasted on my pain. I was convinced that I was inferior to everyone.
With the advent of Facebook, I've gotten into contact with so many of the people that I went to school with. Some friends, some people that I didn't know very well, and some that even made fun of me. No one seems to remember what happened back then, and I suppose for someone who wasn't traumatized, they probably wouldn't. When I see them make posts about how bullying is bad, I remember how they stood by and watched or participated in my torment.
I should feel happy that they've changed, that they want to teach their children to be better, but a small part of me still wants to cry and ask "why me?"
My father was not a very likable man.
In his youth, he was gregarious, quick-witted, and preferred to be out and partying rather than be at home. He was a good bowler, almost made the Junior Olympics in boxing, and was handy with anything mechanical. He had four grown children, five grandchildren, and one great-grandchild when he died.
I'm not sure any one of us really liked him.
He was a lifelong alcoholic. His idea of getting to know the grandkids was to tease them mercilessly. He was a know-it-all - he knew the right answer. The rest of us were simply wrong.
In 1997 he had an artificial aortic valve replacement. He was supposed to have six years to live after that. Fourteen years later, he was still around, still annoying us all, and we only half-joked that he was going to outlive everyone in the family.
His time came quickly and unexpectedly. It must have been a heart attack or a blood clot (it will take up to fourteen weeks for the medical examiner to know for sure, but it was medical); he wrecked the car, too. We miss the car more than we miss him.
I haven't shed a tear... and I don't think I will. I was the youngest of my siblings, arriving later in his life than the others, so I think I saw the more mellow, accepting side of him and yet I still don't a feel deep ache from his passing.
I cried when we had to put my mother's cat to sleep the following Monday, but no tears for dear old dad.
My son is very observant; very involved in what goes on around him. I expected he would ask where his grandpa was. I worked on an answer he could understand. The first time he asked, it was a quick "What is Pawpaw doing?" By the time I got across the room to him, he was more interested in what he was playing with than the question, so I chose not to push it.
The next time came as we drove up to the house. My son was concerned that Grandma wasn't there because her Jeep wasn't in the driveway. I assured him that Grandma was home but that her Jeep was broken. He asked me what happened to the Jeep and I told him that Pawpaw broke it. He has asked no further questions and, being only two and a half, I'm not going to dwell on the topic of death.
The house is full of more noise and laughter now. The kids get to play inside more often and run around like kids do. I can't say that I miss him.
I regret that he will never see the youngest grandkids grow up. I regret that he didn't take the second chance when it was given to him fourteen years ago. I regret that most of us do not mourn him even a little. Mostly, I regret that the end of his life was (most likely) miserable - he could've been surrounded by family who cared, had he chosen to show that he cared.
I do not regret that he is gone.
“All right! I’m on the phone with my brother!” Those were the last words I spoke to my first husband as he tried to tell me he was taking our sixteen year old babysitter for a ride around the block on his Harley Davidson. I was too busy trying to hear over the commotion of my three and five year old boys who were playing with the Christmas toys they had opened hours earlier, while my mom and dad argued with each other over who was going to speak to my brother next.
It wasn’t very often he was able to call from overseas.
Less than an hour from speaking those harsh words to my husband, I was being escorted from the emergency room, to a side room where a police officer and chaplain told me that at the ripe old age of twenty-seven, I was a widow on Christmas night, 1996.
Many things have happened to me over the last fifteen years, since my first husband was killed in that motorcycle accident. Many good things, some bad things, and some really shitty things happened; and I wouldn’t change any of them - not even the worst of them, like the one I’m going through now - because it defines who I am and who I’m becoming.
The best thing I’ve learned from that fateful night was how strong I truly am. I was able to pick myself up, although I stumbled for a while; I went back to school, got a better degree than the one I already had, and was able to provide a great home for my boys. I taught them the importance of saying the words “I love you” and meaning it. They learned to appreciate life and to embrace it.
Then they took those gifts and gave them back to me when my migraines started to get worse. They learned a greater sense of compassion that they taught me, too. I was able to draw on all I’ve learned in the last fifteen years to give me strength when we figured out my current husband is a sex addict.
It’s been a long year (almost) since disclosure day, a long road to recovery; but if I can handle my first husband dying, I can handle anything.