Thursday, April 29, 2010

Circle of Friends - Our Day in Hell - Part 3

The tests the doctors performed on India didn’t take long but it did take some time to get the results back. Within an hour the doctor came out of India’s room with blood on his blouse. I didn’t know if India was alive or dead and the doctor showed no emotion as he walked down the hallway to us. He came up to Veruca and me, let out a sigh and said that the procedure was a success and India was stable. The doctor told us that the operation hadn’t gone the way he’d planned and India had crashed right in the middle of the procedure. This was the cause of the mayhem we saw and why it took so long. The doctor said that he’d taken the other IVs out and things should be smoother now.

Without any real discussion or planning, Veruca and I began to create the best environment possible for our little girl in this cold sterile place. We brought in a CD player and dozens of CD’s. We put some very cute little dolls wherever we could find room and put a hanging butterfly over India’s head. Either Veruca or I were by India’s side twenty-four hours a day.  We were always playing music, talking, or reading her books. I now understand that Veruca and I did all this because it was the only way that we could cope with our impossible situation.  We had to know that we were doing whatever we could to bring some normalcy to India’s and our lives while in this critical care unit. 

Family and friends, including Bama, took turns sitting by India reading books out loud, talking, singing or even playing games; anything so India could hear familiar voices and sounds.  Eventually, my little brother Tom took on the night duty. He was a lifesaver for me during this experience. A plus for him was that one of the night shift nurses was cute and I believe wanted to play doctor with him; badly. 

During our stay in the PICU, we saw a lot of very sick children. None stayed even close to the length of time India did. I noticed there was not a single family who so much as stayed the night as their child was in intensive care. I was really confused by this. The nurses told me that we were the anomaly, most families don’t stick by their Child’s side the way we were doing. 

Of all the children that were in the PICU while we were there, there’s one I’ll never forget. He was a young black boy, about 12 years old. He was a foster child that had been locked in a closet for months. When they brought him in, he looked like a concentration camp victim. He was awake, looking around and communicating. His only family was the foster parents, who were now in jail. He had no friends, he was all alone. This poor little boy was in the PICU, all by himself, living in a world that is beyond my comprehension. The only people who came to see this kid were two incredible Mormons. They’d never met the boy, had no connection with him.  They only knew of him from the front-page-news of his ordeal. They brought him food, sat by his side, and of all the things that brought me to tears, they placed a little stuffed bear on his bed next to him as if he were a baby.

Despite the hospital and Mormon couple’s efforts, the boy died. I believe he passed away in part from what they call “failure to thrive.” I’ve always hoped that the kindness of that couple truly made his last days better. It was hard for me to tell, the poor boy had been so abused.  I’ve always also wondered if Karma took care of the foster parents.

As time went on the nurses became worried about Veruca and I. We were hardly sleeping, and eating was almost impossible. I believe Veruca agreed to take a sedative at one point, but I was too afraid to. I couldn’t imagine being put in a deep sleep just to wake up and find India’s room empty and clean; her little body gone. To help us the nurses kept the room that adjoined India’s open for Veruca and I. There was a sliding door that we could keep open. This helped; Veruca and I would take turns napping with the door open. 

A few days after India’s tests were performed, the doctors asked to meet with us. It was late in the day and India hadn’t been doing so well. We’d still not slept much, we’d hardly eaten, and our spirits were crushed. The worst part was that we’d not been allowed to hold our daughter since we arrived at the PICU; it was against regulations. Every bone in our bodies screamed to hold and comfort India, and not being able to do so was torture.

When the doctors arrived, we all sat down next to India and they started explaining the test results to us. They said that India’s seizures had never stopped, even though outwardly they’d seemed to. This was the worst case scenario imaginable. They then went into some very confusing and intense conversation about India and what was going to happen. It really wasn’t a conversation—Veruca and I just sat there listening. These doctors were talking to us as if we were doctors instead of tired, emotional, young parents. We didn’t understand a word.

After the doctors left, the nurse who’d been present asked us if we understood what had been said. We’d become very close to this nurse, his name was Tony. Tony sat us down again and told us that the doctors said that India wasn’t going to make it. He said that they would come back tomorrow and ask us to make the decision of keeping her on life support or not. He said that it was our decision and not to rush into anything. Tony explained that the doctors felt that India at this point, was already a vegetable.

Through my reliving this story for you, the reader, I’ve often tried to express the smell, taste, look and feel of the emotions we were going through. The sensation at this moment I’m not going to even attempt to explain, it would be futile. Veruca and I just sat there, too tired to cry, to stunned to talk, and physically unable to do anything else. Tony the nurse told us that he’d be back at 11:00 pm at shift change and he’d want to talk to us again; it was important. He left us alone; we didn’t move a muscle.

The only thing I could think of to do was borrow my father-in-law’s truck and drive with Veruca to my dad’s grave. My father and his wife had been killed when I was a teen in a balloon accident. He hadn’t been a very good father for the exception of the last year of his life.  Veruca and I drove to his grave, sat down and told him that he owed me one. I said to my father’s tombstone that if there was anything he could do for India, he needed to do it right now. Then we drove straight back to the hospital.

Word of what the doctors had told us spread quickly. Somebody mentioned that we should baptize India before she passed. We weren’t religious but we wholeheartedly agreed that India deserved this so we decided to have a ceremony in celebration of her life. An old friend of ours by the name of Aaron Hendon agreed to perform the ceremony. Aaron was a transplant to Albuquerque from the east coast. Aaron was a Jewish bagel maker and owned a wildly successful bakery and restaurant. He’d become an ordained minister from one of those ads in the back of Rolling Stone Magazine. This made Aaron perfect for the ceremony and I’ll always be grateful to him for his kindness and efforts.

When it was time, Aaron had all of us, perhaps twelve family and friends, stand in a circle around India’s bed. Everybody held hands while he said a few beautiful words. Aaron then asked each person to talk about India. It was such a touching ceremony and a very emotional scene. Every single person had beautiful things to say about India. There was a ton of love and support in the room and for the first time in weeks, laughter. In the middle of it all was my baby, lying there peacefully. 

After our ceremony was done and everybody had gone home, Tony the nurse arrived. He had told us earlier in the day that he wanted to meet with us at shift change and it was important.  Tony walked in the room and asked Veruca to sit in a chair next to India. He walked back to the hallway, looked both ways, and then shut the door. He turned around and told us a story. He said that at his last hospital, they had a policy just like this one now: a child on life support could not be held by the parents. He then said to us that his biggest regret in his entire career was when he had a family in a similar situation as ours. He followed hospital procedure and didn’t let the parents hold their child before she died. He explained that he’d never make that mistake again, even if it meant his job.

We knew what Tony was about to do. Veruca and I began crying, it was a truly bittersweet moment. We were so happy that we were about to hold our daughter after all this time. But this was going to be the last time we’d ever hold our child while she was alive. One of the most emotional moments in my life was when Tony ever-so-gently picked up India, with all her monitor lines and life support tubes intact, and placed her into Veruca’s lap. I stood there crying. But my tears were happy tears. Veruca was glowing again the way she did the very first time she held India. Veruca’s eyes were sparkling and her cheeks were red. Tears were falling down her face but they t looked like my own, happy tears. Veruca began talking to India in such a sweet voice that only mothers can do. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen.

Tony then told me it was my turn. I sat in the chair and Tony placed India in my lap. It was a beautiful moment but it became very painful to let her go. I did not want my moment with India to end. I could feel the warmth of her skin and appreciated every breath she took. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as present in a moment in my life as I was then. I believe many people spend their entire lives meditating to reach the point I was at. I reluctantly let Tony take India back to her bed.  I can’t even begin to attempt to explain what it’s like to know that you’re holding your child for the last time.

That night, I fell asleep sitting next to India with my head on her bed, holding her hand. I had fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep. When I awoke, it was early morning and we were all alone.  I sat there for a moment and soaked in all that had happened the day before. The heart monitor and ventilator were making their usual noises and I could hear the nurses outside in the hallway. I stood up and began to rub India’s little head, wondering if this was going to be her last day with us. I leaned over, kissed her cheek and told her I loved her with all my heart. I didn’t know if she could hear me or feel my presence. The doctor had used the word vegetable so maybe her brain was already gone.

Before India’s hospitalization, I’d often talk to her in a very silly, high-pitched voice. I’d use this voice when I’d talk to my kitties but when India first heard me doing this she’d smiled the biggest smile ever. So I used this voice often when we’d play; she loved it. I started to talk to India in the silly voice now. I knew I was trying to reach into the past, before India’s seizures destroyed her little body. I wanted again to be the proud and happy father with the healthy glowing baby. I began to cry as I stood over her ravaged body. All I could squeak out in my silly voice was “I love you baby girl, please come back.” I’d finally realized what the doctors had said the day before and it was having its full impact on me now. My lips were on India’s forehead as I cried and repeating “I love you baby girl, please come back.” 

After a few minutes, I lifted my head just above India’s. Her little face was horribly swollen. The tip of her tongue was shriveled, dark brown, and cracked from lack of moisture. Her eyelids had a crust on them and her skin was slightly grey. But she was my child, I saw a beautiful little girl with bright eyes who made the sweetest little noises; she was perfect. 

By now Tony had come in to check on India. As I began to move out of his way, I leaned over, kissed her cheek, and told India one last time in the silly voice that I loved her. As I stood up, I didn’t believe what I thought I saw out of the corner of my eye. I turned back once more and said again that I loved her in my silly voice. It happened again; I wasn’t seeing things. India, with her cheeks trembling, managed to give me a tiny smile. I was dumbfounded, literally dumbfounded. I looked up at Tony for confirmation of what I’d just seen. He stood there motionless, staring at India, equally as stunned. Tony cracked a smile and said “I’ll be damned.”  He asked me to make my voice again. Once more, my little girl’s cheeks trembled as she pulled back a smile. I began sobbing; the happiest tears of my life were flowing down my cheeks onto India’s face as I kissed her again and again. Her smiles didn’t stop and haven’t to this day.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"PICU" - Our Day In Hell - Part 2

The nurses and doctor who’d just left the room came tearing back in, eyes wide open. This scared the shit out of me because I could see that they didn’t expect this.  And to make matters worse, they clearly didn’t know why she was having another fit and not breathing.  India’s little body was already saturated with high doses of anti seizure medicines, this shouldn’t be happening! India lay there, body stiffening, barely breathing, as the doctor frantically worked to get her breathing again and stop the seizures.  There was not a goddamn thing Veruca or I could do but stand there and helplessly watch.

I was across the room from my wife. I took my gaze from India and looked over at Veruca. She was standing there, tears flowing down her cheeks, a pitiful look on her face; she was broken. As I watched her, it hit me just how devastating this was for Veruca. She’d glowed through her pregnancy, Veruca wanted to be a mother, she loved India the minute she knew she was pregnant with her. Now Veruca’s life was being ripped apart in front of her eyes; her daughter was dying.   

By this point, India had somewhere like twelve intravenous lines piercing her delicate skin. They were in her head, arms and legs.  She was on a ventilator, she couldn’t breathe on her own, and it was a horrible scene. She had swollen up so badly that neither Veruca nor I would have recognized her. Her eyelids would occasionally lift only to reveal eyes staring off into nothingness or worse, rhythmically twitching. I remember that each time her eyes opened, I’d lean over my baby, hoping that there would be something there other than the all-too-familiar blank stare. Each time she didn’t respond to me, it became more and more devastating to my spirits. The despair was beginning to get the best of me. 

For the next few days, my little girl would continually crash and I’d hear that horrifying tone screaming from the monitors, followed by the sounds of the medical team.  Every single time the nurses or a family member would talk me into taking a nap or a walk down the hallway, I’d be jolted from my brief respite by the sounds of my daughter failing. I became afraid to sleep or even walk out of the room. My fear of going to sleep or leaving India alone took me years to get over and I still don’t think I’m completely recovered. I’ve been told that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from this experience. I’m not much a fan of this kind of diagnosis but I do believe the doctors got this one right with me. 

Specialists were called in to try to figure out what was going on with India. I sat there and watched as they talked, tested and talked more in a medical language I did not understand. They finally decided that they needed to put India on more aggressive anti-seizure drugs. The physicians explained to us that they had to get her seizures under control before they turned our little girl into a vegetable or worse, killed her. 

I’d say I was devastated during this time but this word doesn’t clearly describe how I felt.  I’m not a smart or articulate enough man to be able to properly describe the feeling that was taking place within me. I’d not slept in days, hadn’t eaten a thing, and had watched my little girl rapidly fall apart, to the point where these doctors were now using the words “vegetable” and “dead” openly. 

The thought of having a child that was a vegetable stunned me. How would I cope with this? What would happen to my life? And what if she died? I’d connected to this little life in a way that I’d never imagined. It was a deep love that I’d never known before. I didn’t want to lose her. I didn’t want a child in an institution, I couldn’t do that to my child. This meant she’d be bedridden in my home for the rest of my life. I was too young to experience this.  How was I going to afford this? I’d already had my issues with God but now they just became worse. As far as I was concerned, God could go fuck himself. No deity would do this to a baby!

At the same time, we were very fortunate we had so many family and friends at the hospital to support us. They were shocked when they saw how badly Veruca and I looked. I can remember the look on each one of their faces; they’re burned into my mind. I can’t even begin to describe the looks on their faces when they saw India. Every single person had an intense emotional reaction, absolutely every one of our visitors. Some couldn’t look at India and had to turn away. As a society, we’ve become callous about sad, violent, bloody, and aggressive scenes. What we’ve not become callous about or accustomed to is the sight of an infant in such bad condition. It brings down the biggest and strongest of us in a heartbeat.

My grandmother, who raised me, came as soon as she found out what had happened. I was closer to her than any other human on this planet. I named her “Bama” when I was a child, it was a nickname that stuck and it became who she was known as. When my Bama walked through the door of India’s room and I saw her face, I broke down and started sobbing. I was holding onto her like I did when I was a little boy, trembling, unable to control my emotions. I wanted Bama to make everything ok; I wanted her to take me away from this. Bama did the best she could; she held me, talked to me, and loved me. Her presence made all the difference in the world. The presence of so many amazing people during this time allowed us to make it through this surreal experience.

After a few days, the doctors told us that they needed to do two things with India in the coming hours. The first was a battery of new tests to try to figure what was going on with her brain. They needed to determine if she was having seizures that weren’t currently being detected. The second was to put an intravenous line into my daughter’s femoral artery. India’s body already had a dozen intravenous lines but they were mostly ineffective; her veins were too small and they needed to tap an artery.

When it was time for India to have the intravenous line put in her femoral artery, we were told we had to leave the room. They told us this was a minor surgical procedure and we couldn’t be present. Veruca and I sat down with our family in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit waiting area down the hallway. It was very uncomfortable. We personally had over a dozen people in the room and there was also a large Navajo family there, waiting for a relative to recover from a surgery. The room was packed and nobody was really talking to each other. To make matters worse, an uncle of mine who has no boundaries was openly making bad Navajo jokes and talking loudly using a Navajo accent; it was a tense scene and I hated it. 

As became the norm, just as Veruca and I settled into the waiting room, India’s little body began to fail. We could not go anywhere near India’s room so we had to stand out in the hallway about 20 yards down and watch the scene from afar. 

Doctors and nurses were rushing in and out of India’s room. Two nurses came flying around the corner with a crash cart. Then a nurse came out with blood all over her hands, pants and blouse. I became sick to my stomach and began to sweat profusely. It took all my strength to hold back from puking, how could there be so much blood coming from India’s tiny body? I fell back against the hallway wall and slid onto the floor; covering my eyes from what I was seeing. All I could do was sit there, helpless, sick, and drenched with sweat, not knowing why this was happening. I was wide-awake in a living nightmare that would never stop.

Looking back, I’m glad that I had no idea that things were going to get much, much worse. I don’t think I could have handled it if I’d known.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Our Day In Hell Part 1

India was born 1998 in New Mexico. She was born a healthy little girl, all her fingers and toes. India had lots of hair and beautiful eyes. She took almost 24 hours to come into this world and when she did, she was greeted with lots of love.

I never expected to have children so this was a very remarkable day for me. I was married and had a child; I was a new person. 

The day we took her home was beautiful, warm, with no clouds in the sky. We were nervous and overly cautious as we put our precious baby girl into the car, double-checked everything, and then checked again. I noticed some nurses watching us with big smiles on their faces. I’m sure that this scene was played out daily as new parents prepared for the first journey home with their new addition.

Home was different with India there; it was brighter. We had a steady stream of visitors who wanted to meet this new little person. This was a nice time that brought people together, not to mention the truckloads of good food that were delivered to us.

After a few days, I went back to work.  I was ready and very eager.  I worked for a commercial real estate firm; I was newly in the business and doing my best to absorb everything.  

During the 3rd week India was home, my wife came to me with concerns about our daughter’s temperature.  She told me it was just a little high but she wanted to check with the doctor to be safe.  I wasn’t worried at all, India’s temperature was only a couple degrees above normal, and she was happy, alert, and active.  I also wasn’t very concerned because my wife was a hypochondriac as well as   an obsessive diagnoser of medical conditions.  I’d gotten used to her doing this all the time so I’d learned to ignore and even laugh at it.

When Veruca got off the phone with the doctor, she said that he’d instructed to take India to the hospital emergency room.  Not because it was an emergency but because it was a weekend—no doctors’ offices were open and the emergency room was the only place we could go.  I knew that the doctor also was telling us to bring India to the hospital instead of telling us to bring her to see him Monday morning because of liability issues.  If he told us to wait until Monday and something did go wrong, he was afraid he’d be sued.  

I questioned the logic of taking India to a hospital emergency room for such a minor reason but my wife insisted.  We loaded up the car and headed to the hospital, the same hospital where India had just been born.  Little did we know that we were about to endure the most gut- wrenchingly painful time of our life.  Nothing would ever be the same after this day.

When we got to the hospital a doctor started examining my baby girl.  She did what seemed to be normal and routine checks.  The mood was light and I was sure we’d be sent home shortly–until the doctor said she was going to perform a spinal tap on India to test the fluids for any sort of infection.  I remember asking why we needed to do such an invasive procedure; my little girl only had a very mild fever.  The doctor told me it wasn’t invasive and would only take a minute or two, it was standard procedure, and we’d be on our way before we knew it.

The doctor and a nurse prepped my baby for the spinal tap.  It was a very intense sight, my tiny girl, only three weeks old, sitting on a table, slightly hunched over with blue surgical cloth on her back for the exception of the area the needle was to be inserted into her spine.  Happily making beautiful baby sounds, she had no idea what was about to happen.  I was already having a rough time, just knowing that my little girl was about to be in very serious pain.  I was also terribly torn between the instinct to respect a doctor who was supposedly a professional and my instinct that this procedure was completely unnecessary. 

The procedure was heartbreaking.  India immediately winced in pain and began to whimper.  Her whimper rolled into sobbing, then screaming.  She’d never made that noise before and every atom in my body was hurting with her.  But it didn’t stop.  This procedure that was supposed to take just a minute kept dragging on and on.  I could see and hear the nurse starting to look concerned.  The doctor said, “No, I’ve never done this on an infant before.”  I was stunned and I could see and feel the nurse tense up.  India was trembling, screaming, bleeding gruesomely as the doctor started on her fourth attempt to puncture my daughters’ spine.  I told the doctor and nurse to stop but the nurse spun around and told me to leave the room. 

My mother-in-law took me outside into the hallway with my wife.  I was frantic and had no idea what to do.  It was a horrifically helpless feeling that I’d not wish on anybody.  A few minutes later, the nurse and doctor came out and said they were done.  The doctor didn’t look me in the eye and she couldn’t get away from us fast enough.  The nurse had India in an infant cradle. her small, pale face was swollen. 

After the doctor and nurses cleaned up the blood and the tools used for the procedure, they sat us down to tell us that they felt it was in our daughter’s best interest to stay in the hospital for the night so that they could monitor her.  By now I was furious with myself.  I hadn’t had the guts to tell Veruca “no” when she wanted to go to the hospital for such a minor thing.   I hadn’t had the balls to tell Veruca to put her mania for diagnosis in check and I’d hadn’t had the sense to tell the doctor “no” to the procedure.  I’d never been in this position before and I didn’t know better.  I’ll forever blame myself for my failures and the consequences thereof to my baby girl. It was this terribly blotched and unnecessary procedure that crippled my child.
They put us in a standard hospital room.  They said that they’d come in every couple of hours to check on India.  I was emotionally and physically exhausted,, and I fell asleep immediately on a small cot .  It like only minutes later that Veruca woke me up.  She thought India was having a seizure.  I was sick of Veruca and the position she’d put us in.  I told her not to worry and that I’m sure India was fine.  Just a minute later, Veruca said in a higher pitched voice, “It’s happening again!”  I jumped up and saw  that my baby’s arm was erratically and she wouldn’t wake up.

We buzzed for the nurses over and over.  They kept saying they’d be right in but no one came.  I finally ran down the hall and yelled at the nurses—who were sitting at their station talking—to get their fucking asses into my room. They sprinted down the hall to find Veruca crying and India having a major seizure with her vitals crashing.  

All hell broke loose. A code was called and a team rushed in with a crash cart.  India was spiraling down.  The nurses grabbed a gurney, put India on it, told us to follow them, and ran full stride towards the elevator. A doctor joined our group and started checking India’s vitals. In the elevator it was chaos.  The ride up to the pediatric intensive care unit was terrifying.  Everyone was so frantic doing this and that but no one noticed when India stopped breathing.  I said, “She’s not breathing.” Nobody listened to me.  I said a second time, louder, “My baby’s not breathing!”  The doctor looked, saw that India wasn’t breathing, and started shouting orders to everybody.  The nurse was trying to administer the anti seizure medicine so the doctor turned to me and told me to start pumping air into her lungs with a hand held CPR device. I was in shock. 

I was looking down at my little girl, who just a few hours before was smiling at me and making the most beautiful noises.  Now, she wasn’t breathing and I could hear the nurse say that she could barely get a pulse.  I was in an elevator helping to keep her alive and it couldn’t have felt more like a terrible dream.

When the elevator doors opened to the pediatric intensive care unit, we were met by a pack of nurses.  I found myself following them as they pushed my baby into a room and begin frantically working on her.  I don’t remember how long they worked to revive India but it was quite a while.  When India was stabilized and the doctors and nurses left, I sat down next to my daughter.  I held her little hand; I gently touched her cheeks and then tried to make sense of everything that had happened.  I cried a deeply, until I couldn't cry anymore.

As the sun was rising, India’s vitals were good and none of the rhythmic seizing movement in her arms was happening. I can clearly remember taking a deep breath and feeling like the nightmare was over; it was a new day.  I felt so fortunate to have my baby with me; she was alive.  The nurse came in to explain what had happened and what they were going to do.   I barely understood most of what she was saying—I was traumatized, exhausted, and had never heard most of the medical terminology she was using. 

The nurse left and I sat down and absorbed what I’d just heard.  I did understand the nurse to have said that India’s seizures were under control and everything should be fine now.  My head was in my hands and I felt like my body was going to fail me from exhaustion.  I looked up to see how Veruca was doing but what I saw paralyzed me.  India had one arm perfectly straight and off to the side, the other was curled up, her head was turned to the side, and her eyes were open and staring off into space.  The rhythmic movement was back and much worse than before. Once again she was seizing terribly.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dooky Duty!

My grandfather always had Labrador Retrievers.  Some thought that he appreciated them more than his family and if he could get away with it, he’d make love to them.  They were always large, good tempered and their favorite pastime was bird hunting.

For the amount of love my grandfather had for these animals, he fed them surprisingly bad food.  It was always the absolute cheapest bulk crap he could find.  He’d sometimes mix in some table scraps to change up the flavor but for the most part, the poor old things were doomed to a lifetime of substandard sustenance.

There was an interesting side effect to the food these dogs ate; tumultuous colons.  These Labrador Retrievers were unbelievable gas factories, they farted unlike any dog I’ve ever seen or smelled to this day.  They would fart so loud and hard that you could literally see their anus lips slapping together and if you know a big lab, you know how big those poopers are.   The smell was shocking and not like normal dog gas, this was rotting corpse meets Tijuana hooker breath.  I’m convinced that whatever was mixed into their food had something that would expand in their bellies to give them the sense of being full.  It would also cause the poor animals to crap all the time.  I’m sure that you’ve already come to the obvious conclusion that their turds were massive.

When I was 8 years old, my grandfather decided it was time for me to have an allowance.  He let me know that I’d have to work a few hours for it each week, doing jobs around the house to earn my weekly money.  He decided that the main job for my pocket money would be to mow the grass and pick up the dog shit in the backyard.  It had never been actually picked up before, it was gross and my grandmother had had enough of it.

So my chores began, I had no problem doing them and to be honest, I was pretty damn excited.  I’d mowed the lawn before and enjoyed it.  I figured I could kill 2 birds with one stone and just mow the piles of dog poop along with the grass.  My first day of chores was interesting.  I started mowing the overgrown back yard grass that was riddled with fecal stalagmites.   It was pretty fun to run over the big piles of doo.  You see, my grandfather was too cheap to buy a mower with a catcher so the grass, twigs and shit would just fly out of the side of the mower.  The larger and fresher the turd, the cooler the sound it would make.  The only downside was that when I hit a large pile, it would vaporize it and the moist cloud would usually hit me in the face; I could taste it.  I was proud of my streamlining the process by mowing the crap but my grandparents thought differently.

I was told the following week to pick up the turds before I mowed the grass.  This was a serious bummer because it was now going to take much longer to earn my allowance.  Being the creative young man that I was, I came up with a solution; doo-doo catapult!  I figured that if I could come up with a device that would allow me to fling the turds out of sight, it would be a win-win for everybody!  Now to just figure out what the hell to make the catapult out of.  As I stood in the kitchen cooking my eggs trying to construct the tool I needed in my head, I looked down at my hand and realized that I was holding the perfect tool; grandmothers spatula! 

Things were great for the next 3 months of summer.  The grass was cut, clean and smelled nice.  My grandparents were happy because their backyard looked wonderful and I was getting a nice little allowance.  As an unexpected bonus, I was thoroughly enjoying my work.  I found that it was really fun to fling the heavy piles of wet smelly dog poop high up into the air, over the neighbor’s yard and onto their roof.  The higher I’d fling them, the greater the splat they’d make upon impact.  I was a hell of a shot too, I never once hit a wall, window or yard; pure roof baby!  Our neighbors were almost never home when I was blitzkrieging their roof with poo.  It was a good thing because they’d definitely would have heard the loud thumps.  I also made sure that my grandparents weren’t home when I did my chores; I didn’t want my “special tool” to be found out and taken away.  Plus I knew that my grandmother wouldn’t be very happy if she knew that the spatula that she used almost every day to flip eggs was also being used to scoop and fling turds.

Now our next door neighbors, the ones whose roof I was stockpiling doo-doo on, were serious assholes.  They were wiry folks who were always frowning, scolding their children and complaining about everybody else’s yards and children.  They kept everything absolutely perfect on and around their house and expected, even sometimes demanded that everybody else do the same.  There had been more than one unpleasant run-in between neighbors and this family; they were miserable people.

Towards the end of summer, I had been putting off my dog-poo duties for a couple weeks.  You see, summer was coming to an end and as much fun as professional dog poop flinging is, it’s not more fun than swimming and running amok with other kids around the neighborhood.  This is especially true when you know that summer is ending and school is just about to begin.  My grandparents had been patient with me knowing my final days of summer predicament but just couldn’t stand my putting of the pooper picker upper duties any longer.  I was given until the end of the day to take care of my backyard responsibilities.  After much whining, arguing and failed attempts to persuade my grandparents to let me do it later, I gave up and headed outside to do my duty and pick up the poodie.

I didn’t really care that day if my grandparents caught me using the cooking spatula as my personal poop mortar.  It never even crossed my mind that they’d give a damn about my using the unpleasant neighbor’s roof as a destination for our dogs’ excrement.  Frankly, I didn’t give a shit about anything at that moment, I had to do something that I didn’t want to that was taking away from playing; I was pissed.  I marched through the kitchen, snapped up my grandmothers’ spatula and stormed out the back door. 

I was determined to take care of the dog shit and lawn in record time so I could get back to my friends who were at that very moment waiting in the front yard for me.  I started running from dog shit to dog shit, scooping and flinging towards the neighbors roof.  I was scooping and flinging turds as fast as my grandmother scooped and flipped pancakes that very morning with the same spatula!  As you can probably guess, I wasn’t worried about accuracy at this point, it was the furthest thing from my mind.  I was concentrating on quantity and speed.  I’m sure you’ve also probably guessed that when the neighbors got home and found dog shit in their perfectly manicured lawn and wall of their house, that I got in huge trouble.  You would be wrong in this assumption.  Not that I didn’t get in trouble but how I was discovered.

I have to back up about 20 minutes earlier to clearly paint the picture of what happened and the incredibly serious trouble I caused.  I had ridden up to my house with a pack of kids on our bikes; not realizing my grandparents were waiting to ambush me and make me work.  As me and the large gang of boys arrived at the house, I noticed cars absolutely everywhere and figured somebody was having a party.  What I didn’t realize was that it was the mean neighbors who were having a massive party for their co-workers who were all bankers.

Now please remember, I was mad, deep in thought about how I’d never make my children clean poop when I grew up and furiously running from pile to pile, flinging with all my might, over my shoulder, towards the neighbors house; I was oblivious to the outside world.

About the time I’d chucked the 15th or 20th turd, I can remember seeing my grandfather come running out the back door waving his arms in the air, face bright red and screaming something at me.  I then remember my realizing that there was a lot more screaming and yelling, other than my grandfathers.  There I stood, spatula in hand, massive fresh dog shit on spatula, grandfather racing towards me and the full realization of what it’d just done.

I immediately felt like I was going to soil my pants, my chest grew tight and I began to tremble.  It only got worse when I could see the guests, bankers in suits, their wives in nice summer dresses, still running for cover.  My grandfather stood there yelling “Jesus fucking Christ, what the hell were you thinking!”  My grandmother walking up to me but only looking at the spatula and said in a feeble voice “how long have you been using my spatula?”

Almost at the same time, both my grandfather and I turned to look at the neighbor’s house.  It was a mess, there was shit everywhere; and it got worse.  The K9 shrapnel had not been kind to the partygoers.  I’d succeeded to hitting a number of people, including innocent women and children, with poop.  The food for the party had not been spared either; it was tainted with stinky doo-doo morsels.  The party was officially over.

I don’t know what my grandfather told the people next door that evening but he was in a heated negotiation for a very long time.  As they stood in their back yard, neighbors’ arms flailing, fingers pointing in every which way, retelling the horror of the carpet bombing they’d just experienced and presumably pointing in the direction of each turd and turd nugget strewn throughout their property; I began to feel sick.  I was sure that I was going to be hauled off to jail or grounded for life.  Just as I thought I was going to throw up, there was a lull in the discussions between my grandfather and neighbors.  My grandfather turned to me but to my surprise, his face was not red with anger but was a stern look indeed.  As I looked into his eyes in anticipation, he gave me the slightest of smiles and winked.  He then turned back to the wiry neighbor and recommenced the heated dialogue.

I was not punished harshly, almost not at all.  I was however given a very long and stern talk to by my grandmother about using her kitchen cookware as turd picker uppers.  But even towards the end of that conversation, both of us giggled each time she used the poop word.  My grandparents weren’t angry, especially because my grandfather thought the neighbors were assholes and got what they deserved.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Insane Family - The Swedish Delight

Before I was born, my family lived on 13th Street in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  This is a great neighborhood; dozens of families with lots of children.  One of our families’ closest friends, the Striblings, lived directly across the street.  Both families had a herd of children and all these children had a serious propensity towards shenanigans’. 

Mr. Stribling was an incredible man.  I remember him well and always enjoyed my time with him.  Mr. Stribling was a gentle, well mannered, kind man. He had an incredible reputation and was well loved throughout the community. 

One day my mother decided to play a prank on Mr. Stribling.  She was 9 years old at the time.  She waited until my grandparents were out of the house to begin the preparation of what would forever be known as the “Swedish Delight”. 

My grandfather always had the family, all 6 of them, scrape their plates into a large metal bowl after every meal.  At some point, this smorgasbord of food would become a treat for my grandfathers’ beloved Labrador Retrievers but never before the bowl was full which took several days.  My mother took the contents of the bowl, which were already ripe and began her preparations.  She worked the awful pile of leftovers until they were soggy enough to place into an old food mold of my grandmothers.  When my mother’s delicacy was finished forming in the antique mold, she carefully popped it out onto a gold leaf china serving dish. 

Now you need to know that about that time, my mother’s grandmother Dora Wilson, had been traveling throughout Europe.  This included a visit to Sweden which Mr. Stribling knew about.  He also knew that Dora Wilson had just returned home from her travels.

Mom waited for Mr. Stribling to get home from work.  Shortly after he arrived home, she ran across the street to give him the carefully prepared European cuisine.  Mr. Stribling was sitting in his living room relaxing when my mother walked in.  She went straight up to him, handed over the gift and said “my grandmother asked me to give this to you; it’s from her travels in Europe”.   Mr. Stribling asked, “What is it?”  My mother quickly replied “it’s called ‘Swedish Delight’”.  Mr. Stribling graciously thanked my mom and told her to thank Dora for thinking of him.  My mother .promised to convey his message and left.

When my mother left the room, she didn’t leave the house, instead she sprinted around the corner into Mr. and Mrs. Striblings bedroom, slowly opened the door, which led into the living room where Mr. Stribling was sitting, lay on the floor and proceeded to watch the grand feast take place.

Mr. Stribling picked up the fork that my mother delivered with the meal and began to eat the greasy, days’ old pile of horribleness.  After a few bites, Mrs. Stribling walked into the room.  She is equally as wonderful a person as Mr. Stribling but that day, much wiser and alert.  When she saw what he was eating, she loudly exclaimed “Tom Stribling, what are you eating!”  Mr. Stribling replied, “Why I’m eating this Swedish Delight that Dora Wilson brought to me from Europe”.  Mrs. Stribling then shouted “Tom, those are dog scraps from the Wilson’s kitchen!  Mr. Stribling froze in mid bite and slowly looked up at Mrs. Stribling who was standing over him; he had been had and he knew it

My mother lay in the doorway, with her hands cupped over her mouth, trembling with laughter.  She almost gave herself away but luckily was able to suppress her laughter and slip out the back door.

This was only the beginning of my mother’s alternative culinary career; there was much more to come.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tres Mojados a Wagon Burner and a Gringo - The St. Mary's Days

Tres Mojados, a Wagon Burner and a Gringo

I began to attend St. Mary’s school in 1974.  It was an “old school” Catholic institution.  St. Mary’s is located in downtown Albuquerque; within walking distance of my home.  It was a typical Catholic institution that you’d see in the 70’s.  We all were required to wear the cheap blue, short sleeved uniform.  There were angry old nuns milling about, wearing their required nun-gear.  There was the occasional priest who’d usually have grey hair and weathered face but generally much easier on the eyes than his female counterparts.  The classrooms all were complete with wooden desks; each seemed to have nasty words carved in inconspicuous places and the usual blob of Bazooka Joe bubble gum stuck under the seat.  There was the generic clock on the wall behind the teacher that almost seemed to be placed there to torture the children and of course the cross on the wall with poor old Jesus nailed to the wood.

The culture at this school could be very brutal.  In later life, I’ve often wondered if the nuns had such a nasty disposition as a result of a lifetime of no intercourse, not even the occasional oral pleasure amongst each other.  I also wondered if the priests seemed more relaxed and happy because they had the altar boys to play with.  If a student did something wrong at St. Mary’s, the consequences could be rough.  I’d often find myself being pulled about the room by my side burn while the nun lectured me.  There were also whacks on the knuckles with a ruler and the occasional spankings.   Of course, we were all damned to hell and if we didn’t follow the nun’s wishes, God would punish us horribly.  As a child, I always thought of God as the nun’s personal enforcer.  It’s a thought that’s stuck with me to this day, only it’s much more refined, broad and researched.  

Of all religions, the Christian should of course inspire the most tolerance, but until now Christians have been the most intolerant of all men” – Voltaire. “I was raised Catholic until I was old enough to say no” – John Cusack

To complete the picture of the above paragraphs, I need to tell a short story about one school morning.  I must have been no more than eight or nine years old.  I’d gotten ready for school, despite trying everything I could to stay home; the sick routine, too tired and need a break, I think it’s a no school day, I love you so much grandma – just want to spend the day with you, etc.  Just before it was time to walk to school, I felt that there was just no way that I could go.  I didn’t understand what was going on at the time inside my mind and body but now know it was depression and anxiety.  I decided that I was going to jump off the roof so that I could break a bone and not have to go to school.  This wasn’t a fantasy or an “I’m going to show you”.  This was a very real decision by a very confused and scared child.  Looking back, I’d rather jump off a roof and damage my body than leave the safety of my grandparents’ home and go to school for the day; something was very wrong.  Just as I started to climb up the roof to jump, my beautiful grandmother came out, looked at me inquisitively and said that it was time to go.  It took me over 30 years to understand this day.  
Looking back at myself, I feel pretty damn sorry for that kid.

One of my very original memories of St. Mary’s was the day I met John Alonzo.  I was sitting in one of the first classes, the first day of school.  I could feel somebody staring at me from behind.  When I turned around, there was a Native American kid with intense green eyes, Laguna Indian to be exact.  He was staring at me with a wonderfully mischievous look, more accurately, a “shit eating grin”.  We were thick as thieves from that day on.  Shortly after that, three Mexican kids by the names of Donny and Ronny Gutierrez (brothers) and Adam Chavez joined the gang.  We did almost everything together for many years to come and it was fun.
There was a very cute girl at our school by the name of Lesley Gallegos; we all had a crush on her.  Lesley had great hair and a great smile and I had an especially great crush on her.  I decided that I wanted to marry her and of course, my friends egged me on.  I went to the local TG&Y at the corner of Central Avenue and Rio Grande Boulevard with my grandmother to buy Lesley a necklace for our pending engagement.  I didn’t know to marry you were supposed to have a ring and my grandmother didn’t coach me, she just went along as I’m sure the scene was pretty damn cute.  Then the next day, with my four friends watching and giving me little pushes, I did the deed.  I asked the glorious Lesley Gallegos to marry me!  The magnificent Lesley Gallegos gave me a smile to die for, gently took the necklace and looked at it with adoration.  Slowly she took her gaze from the necklace and deeply looked into my eyes with such love and kindness that I felt an army of butterflies in my body.  Lesley then said to me through her beautiful red lips in her young angelic voice… “No”.  Lesley got up with the necklace in hand and ran off with her friends.  She left me sitting in the playground not knowing what just happened, nor what to do.

Now to make matters worse, Lesley had a friend who followed her around quite a bit.  This friend, I’m sure, grew up to be a hairy, Harley riding, butch man hating bull dyke professional wrestler.  After Lesley walked away with my .99 cent TG&Y imitation gold necklace, I got up to walk over to my friends who were already giggling at the scene.  The next thing I know, the hairy, Harley riding, butch man hating bull dyke professional wrestler girl walked up to me and said “she doesn’t like you”!  She then proceeded to kick me in the testicles so hard that to this day I still believe that she split my left ball in two.

On the spot, I projectile vomited all over the hairy, Harley riding, butch man hating bull dyke professional wrestler’s pants.  She ran away screaming and I was down for the count, gazing up at the St. Mary’s steeple with the world spinning around me.  I could hear my friends mercilessly howling with laughter in the background.  When I was able to get up, it seemed that the entire school was standing in a circle around me gawking at the boy who just had his gonads assaulted.  And yes, my friends were not only still howling with laughter but the jackasses were now reenacting the scene for everybody’s pleasure.

I never, ever, ever asked Lesley Gallegos to marry me again.  Didn’t even ask her out when we were attending high school together.  To this day, every time I see Lesley Gallegos, my left “balls” throb as if I were an old man whose joints were hurting from an oncoming storm. 

One our favorite pastimes was to seriously fuck with people.  The five of us had a way to taking it to new levels.  At St. Mary’s, we had some pretty horrible food.  I think that’s why they gave us all the milk we could drink.  The milk came in small red containers and was placed at the end of the food line.  John came up with the brilliant idea of sneaking a bunch of the milk containers out of the cafeteria.  Then, we’d take the containers home and put them somewhere, well hidden, in our yards.  We’d leave them there for at least a week, then sneak them back to school.  At lunch, we’d put the rotten milk containers back in the cooler but would be sure to place them in the very back so nobody would drink them that day and they’d be nice and cold the next.  On that day after when the lumpy milk was cold and in front of the cooler, we’d rarely be able to eat.  The five of us would be sitting in the expensive seats so that we had a clear view of the entire cafeteria.  Whenever some poor innocent kid would take a huge gulp of thick rotten milk, we’d tremble with laughter.  There was always snot blowing from our nostrils and tears flowing down our cheeks.  I can remember Adam falling out of his seat laughing when one of the kids began to vomit all over his tray.  I don’t know how but we never got caught doing this.  I’m sure the milk company, whom by the way my great grandfather was one of the founders of, got an earful from those nasty uptight – under sexed nuns!!!

I’m just now realizing that some of the most brilliant ideas that got us in terrible trouble came from John.  Early on at St. Mary’s, he somehow talked two of our female classmates into getting into one of the huge tractor tires in the playground.  He then convinced them to lift their skirts, drop their panties and show us their lovelies.  I think it was the first time in my life that I’d felt that special tingly feeling down below as my little friend popped to attention.  I’d entered the world of vaginas!   Anyway, as I sat there in awe at the wonderful sights in front of me, I was shocked into reality as a stream of hot liquid hit me in the side of the head.  There was goddamn John, with his pecker out and in hand, hosing all of us down with urine!  The little bastard became so aroused that he peed on us!  I’m sure that being so young and seeing those little girls’ hoo-has, he became instantly aroused but had no idea what to do.  So my damn friend just started peeing on everybody in his excitement.

Well, it was tough as hell to get out of that tire.  The girls and I were pushing, shoving and scratching our way out of there while John giggled as he squirted the last shots of pee on us.  Unfortunately for all of us, one of those nasty old nuns saw the ruckus as we scrambled out of the tractor tire.  When she came running over, she could see that we (me and the two girls) were all wet, and then she smelled the urine. I think that was my first time ever in detention.  It was a bad detention.  I had to sit after school as my grandfather waited outside in the car, watching the pruned face of an old nun as she glared at me and the three others.  To make matters worse, as I sat in the hard wooden seat, reeking of John’s urine, I was still feeling the butterflies in my stomach from what I’d seen in that tractor tire.

Almost every day, I’d walk home with Donny, Ronny, Adam and John.  Those four lived to the north of St. Mary’s in a barrio called “Wells Park”.  Wells Park was and still is a gang territory and predominantly Hispanic neighborhood.  I lived to the west in the Albuquerque Country Club neighborhood which had no gangs, other than frequent groups of golfers roaming the streets. I’d walk home with my friends because I enjoyed them.  I enjoyed the culture and the freedom.  And of course we had a lot of fun.  Usually being the only white kid in the group, I often found myself in some precarious situations but I’ll save that for a later chapter.  We’d always walk by my grandfather’s office which was located half way to John’s house.  It became a wonderful ritual to knock on his window.   No matter what he was doing, he’d come to the window and wave to us.  We’d then be off some sort of adventure. 

Before our teens, our adventures were usually pretty innocent.  We’d listen to lots of Monty Python and Cheech & Chong on vinyl and do our best to memorize the skits. We became masters at the art of firecracker making and marksmen with our slingshots. John came up with the idea of making a gross mixture of eggs, flour, dog-food and jelly.  We’d then mix it and roll it into a wet paper towel and form it into a ball. We’d go out after dark and throw the goo balls at passing cars and hope they’d chase us.  If we were lucky, we’d hear a loud thud/splat, then tires screeching and lots of cursing.  Now and then, after we’d throw our ordinance, we’d realize that our target was a cop car or worse, a lowrider!  This generated the most terror and fun imaginable as the police officer or Chicano chased us through the neighborhood.  It was our neighborhood; we knew it well and never got caught.

One afternoon, we came up with the idea of bottling farts.  One of us would hold a jar and its cap while another would drop his drawers and fart in the bottle.  It was very important to quickly cap the bottle after the last bit of fart was squeezed out.  Now and then, somebody would push a bit too hard and some unwanted results would shoot out.  Of course we’d laugh like Hyenas.  We’d then hit the neighborhood to find some unsuspecting victim to sniff our home made cologne. 

We loved to have sleepovers.  Back then, there was no internet, cable TV, XM stereo or cell phones.  After midnight all the TV channels would go off the air.  We had to be creative to entertain ourselves.  One night the entertainment scheduled was competition fart lighting.  We were all pretty good at it if I do say so myself!  Deep into the competition, there were 5 boys in their fruit of the loom underwear, taking turns dropping on their backs, lifting their knees to their shoulders, placing a match to the general area of the butthole and letting it rip.  The key was to only let a small amount of fart out at a time.  This way you’d produce a large and long lasting flame.  Well, John won the competition hands down.  He shot a massive flame out of his ass, it was impressive, and we all cheered and whistled.  Then the mayhem began.  During Johns’ gold medal performance, he actually lit his underwear on fire.  We all started laughing hysterically.  Unfortunately for John, he thought we were laughing at the fart he’d just let when we were laughing at the flame that had already spread from his anus to his upper testicles.  Johns’ anal region was already hot from the fart he’d lit so he didn’t immediately notice the heat from the underwear fire.  The fire had created a hole in his underwear as it spread and just about the time one of his balls fell out of the opening, John realized what was happening.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life at the scene of John flopping around the floor like a fish out of water while smoke and sparks came from his behind.  It’s a sight that I’ll never forget.