Praying for a Miracle

My phone lights up. Millions of pixels brighten in sync telling me that my dad is calling. I swipe right, of course. These moments always bring the corners of my mouth up, my dimples digging deeper into my cheeks.

            “What’s up Ole Man?”

            “Hey Ole Big!”

As I walked to my car after class on a warm October afternoon, I giddily listened to him recount a conversation he had with one of his favorite people. But the words “stage-four pancreatic cancer” and “metastasized to his liver” sent my heart to the pavement. It hit the ground like a ball of lead, gravity reminding me that it’s easier to let the corners of my mouth sag than to keep driving my dimple marks up into my cheeks. I hurt for my dad. At the time, I didn’t know R.J. that well because I had only had a few short conversations with him, but he and my dad clicked. After our first year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the tournament where professional golf collides with the business world, we all knew their friendship would last.      

*

I don’t remember much from summer school. I spent countless hours studying for “The Biology of Cancer” in the oppressive humidity of Memphis in June, just to get an A, a little boost for my GPA. What I do remember is that metastasis is not good. It starts in the DNA: one small mutation causing more. The cells won’t stop growing and dividing and growing and dividing and growing and dividing. The signals and pathways that regulate cell division fail. Something about GSK, SNAIL, and B-catenin, causes cellular interactions to break down. The bad cells reach the blood vessels and transport themselves to other organs. Metastasis.

*

My dad keeps me updated. He tells me when he hears from R.J., and how he’s doing. He sends me articles and videos about him. R.J. is an astonishing man. He is the reigning Prince of Pebble Beach: 32 years and counting.

Not long ago, I got an email from my dad with a link to an article on Golf.com. I didn’t have enough time to read the entire article walking from one class to another; in fact, it took me all day to get through it. When I finally sat at my desk after a long day of class and practice, I finished the article with warm beads of salt water rolling down my cheeks. I called my dad and we reminisced about the days we’ve gotten to spend with R.J. and how we’re so lucky to know him. The article lead up to the AT&T, where we first met R.J. A day I will never forget.

*

It’s Thursday, February 6, 2014. Mom and I arrived around one a.m., but I leapt out of bed this morning to watch the sunrise over the eighteenth green. The dew makes the green fairway sparkle as it stretches its welcoming arm down the left side of my panoramic view. Just beyond the blemish-less grass under my nose is the Pacific Ocean with its salt-water smell and mysterious rocks. The waves approach and recede with steady consistency, foaming peaks and soft crashes until the salty water is pushed too close to the reinforced wall protecting eighteen green. The white water explodes like a firecracker illuminating the green. I’ve dreamt of this day for months. Countless hours were spent watching you tube videos and googling pictures of the course. I’ve obsessed over these waves, the precipitous cliffs, each blade of grass which has grown up out of a divot dug by the best in the game, and the tree. Standing solitary, it gets to watch this scene everyday. My first day in heaven had finally arrived.

After breakfast, the driver pulls up to a massive tent and I nervously walk around the back of the car to grab the clubs. Dad runs inside for a diet coke, and I go to take a picture for my caddie nametag. Walking through the tent my eyes don’t blink, for fear of missing the glimpse of someone famous. Once I’m “official,” I haul the bag up the hill toward the practice tee, grab a bucket of Pro V1’s and find my Ole Man a spot. As he starts stretching and hitting wedges, a man walks up and says, “You must be Maddie.”

I’m confused and flustered by the number of friends my dad has already made, but I confidently answer, “Yes!”

            “I’m R.J.” His eyes were as clear blue and effervescent as the foaming crests of the waves. His smile radiated a gentle enthusiasm, a warm welcome to golfer’s paradise.

            “Hey R.J.!” my dad chimes in. My mom comes over to meet him too. I was excited and nervous to meet the long time friend of my future college golf coach and head pro at my home course.

            “How ya doing this morning Bill?”

            “Better than I deserve. This place is crazy.”

            “Yeah it sure is cool. Good luck out there today. I’ll be watching for you on the leaderboard.”

            “Haha we’ll see how it goes.”

*

A member of the class of 1978, he earned his degree in anthropology and sociology. He was a star athlete at Rhodes, but before 1984 it was called Southwestern. Leading the football team to its all-time best record of 9-1-1, he was named the Most Valuable Player in ’77. He finished that season as the top NCAA Division III receiver for a running back. He was also named an All College Athletic Conference tailback in ‘77 and ‘78, rewarded the Scholar-Athlete Award in ’77, and was selected to the All College Athletic Conference baseball team in ’77 and ’78. His success on and off the field is a testament to his competitive spirit and leadership. He reminds me of my dad.

*

My dad and I talk about golf and life almost every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Golf is our life. Golf is a microcosm of life. Golf is life. The golf community is unique and small. Once you make a connection, you have an endless string of more connections – a spider’s handiwork at your fingertips. Golfers tend to stay involved in the game. It’s an addiction.

On Friday, February 12, 2016 at the AT&T, we were warming up on the range at Spyglass Hill. Phil Mickelson was a couple spots away. I stood behind my dad, praying that he wouldn’t embarrass us (his golf game is not the same one he had in college). There’s always light conversation on the practice tee, especially when I was there. I was one of two female caddies that year, and the youngest by at least fifteen years. Sporting brightly speckled leggings with a coordinated shirt and vest, I always got compliments and comments impressed that I too was a golfer, following in my dad’s footsteps as a collegiate player to be. I’m always proud to be my dad’s golf companion. Somehow my dad struck up a conversation with Bones (Phil’s caddie), and come to find out, they played against each other in college. The golf world is small.

*

My dad always says that golf is the best sport.

“Think about it. Soccer, football, baseball, volleyball, you spend years playing and travelling, but after the last game your senior year of high school, the odds are you’ll never play again. But golf. Golf only begins when you graduate from high school. Even if you don’t play in college, you can play every day for the rest of your life. It’s a gift.”

I think he’s right. But golf isn’t just a sport you play on the weekends. It’s a life journey of learning how to “manage what you can manage and deal with the rest” because you can only control the present swing. You can’t change the bogey on the last hole and you can’t start the next hole with a birdie putt. You have to hit every shot. You have to be there. You have to know the distance, feel the grass, watch the wind, and let go. He always says the key to success in this game is to “trust it.”

That’s what life’s all about. Learning to go with the flow, accept what you can’t change, and trusting yourself. In the article, R.J. said “I want to show [my sons] that no matter how big the challenge, you meet it head on. You never stop battling. You never stop living . . . Why would anyone feel sorry for me? . . . Look at the love these boys have for me, and me for them. I've spent the last 32 years in the greatest place in the world, doing what I love. I've had a helluva life."

*

The pancreas is a glandular organ behind the stomach. It’s an endocrine gland that produces crucial hormones including insulin, and it aids in digestion and the absorption of nutrients. The enzymes it secretes help break down carbs, proteins, and lipids.

*

To put it simply, the similarities between R.J. and my dad are weird. From tough Memphis neighborhoods, they excelled in collegiate athletics, and their drive to win has elevated them to the summit of their industries. They fight relentlessly.

*

I don’t know why there is pain and suffering in the world; maybe it was original sin. I believe that God has a reason for everything, but sometimes you can’t see it in the big picture. I struggle with the reason for R.J.’s cancer, though.

*

The statistics aren’t good. Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., and it boasts the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. 91% of pancreatic cancer patients will die within five years of diagnosis – only 9% will survive more than five years. 74% of patients die within the first year of diagnosis. Surgical removal of the tumor is possible in less than 20% of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer because of late detection and metastasis.

*

Thursday March 30, 2017: R.J., Tucker, and JT walked through my front door. I’ve never seen anything like the way Tucker and JT look at their dad. Merciless, undying love. They would do anything for him. Tucker stopped working as a caddie at Pebble Beach to be his dad’s full time caretaker. He hasn’t missed a doctor’s appointment. JT and his family left their New Jersey home to spend over a month with his dad after the diagnosis.

Over dinner we talked about R.J.’s health. The chemo he’s getting now is less frequent but just as brutal. Every Monday he goes in for treatment, and comes out feeling sick. Tucker said, “I’ve learned so much about him through this. I’ve always known him, but seeing him go through this has let me really know him. I know what he’s thinking. It’s amazing.” R.J. agreed. Suffering doesn’t only impact the sufferer. Out of suffering comes understanding and real, unapologetic relationships.

That was one of the best nights of my life. It felt like we had known each other our entire lives, these are the connections golf makes.

*

Friday March 31, 2017: The weather is perfect. It’s one of those Memphis spring days when the sun is out and you don’t even notice the temperature. The cool wind licks your pale, bare arms as the sun kisses your cheeks. The dogwoods are blooming and the grass is turning green again, the signs of God’s grace and renewal.

 

This is the beginning of a miracle.

 

I reached the green in two! I smashed my drive and got really lucky on my second shot, but I have a chance at birdie on the longest par four. R.J. pulls me down like the gravity on my ball as it reaches the edge of the cup and drops, “Maddie look at those dogwoods aren’t they beautiful?”

“They really are. They’re my favorite.”

“Me too.”

As we walk up to the tee box, R.J. says, “My CBC for white blood cells came back low. Those are the cells that help you fight infection, so that means that I don’t have to get chemo on Monday because I have to have surgery Wednesday. My doctor doesn’t want the chemo to make my CBC lower. I have two splints in my liver. They go down here and in through here (pointing down his throat and into his right side).”

What do I say?  

*

Saturday April 1st: R.J. loved the dessert I made Thursday night, so I made another batch for him to take back to California. Another hug goodbye from his thin frame, and I hopped back in my car. I put my sunglasses on because it was a warm, sunny, Memphis spring day, and pulled away from the airport. Before I turned out of sight I couldn’t breathe; I couldn’t see through the tears. I didn’t want this to be the last time. I didn’t want that to be our goodbye forever. I wanted more time.

*

I'm not afraid to talk about these things.

*

I get texts every few days now.

He’s ok. In pain but good spirits.

Dad and I went for a long walk

A tough week but we r fighting it.

Hospital. Dads ok now tho. Be here a few days.

Been rough chemo weeks since Memphis. Ran tests today. Blood clots all over. And some infections. So treatable. He should be good in a few days.

Dads ok. Goin to watch the warriors soon!

Going ok out here. Dad and I are having a chill weekend together.

*

            I’ll never stop praying. 

Sunday House

It’s Sunday. I feel her weight sinking the mattress next to my curled up body, gently rubbing my arm to tell me that it’s time to wake up for church. Reluctantly, I open my eyes and take a full body yawn stretch under my pink cheetah print sheets before I get dressed. She tells me what to wear and reminds me to brush my teeth before she goes down the hall to wake up Charlie.

He and I sit at the counter slurping our Cinnamon Toast Crunch with 2% milk while Disney channel plays some rerun in the background. We are running late as usual, but make it to our regular seats in the right section to the side of the stage. I don’t remember what the sermon was about.

“Where should we go eat?” my dad asks us as we reconvene outside after our separate Sunday school classes. Our favorite lately has been Jason’s Deli. Mom can get a salad, dad a sandwich and soup, Charlie will eat anything, and I only get grilled cheese. Soft serve ice cream is free. I never really pay that much attention to the lunch conversation, something insignificant that I’ll forget later in the afternoon. But I notice when the conversation shifts to the Sunday House.

*

210 East Cherry Circle, exactly 1.2 miles from our current house, 4870 Gwynne Road. Memphis, Tennessee 38117. We go to the Sunday House every Sunday that we’re in town, always after church and before homework and golf. I’m not sure how it started, our obsession, but real estate has always been an addiction for us.

My mom was a Marine Corps brat. Every two or three years her parents and younger brother would be relocated to another city, hundreds of miles from her most recent home. She’s lived in South Carolina, Michigan, Tennessee, Virginia, California, and Japan, just to name a few.

My dad moved when he was four. From Dallas, TX to Memphis, TN, and he’s been a Memphian ever since. He lives and breathes the city, and wants Charlie and I to raise families here.

When my parents got married, my mom explained that she needed to move. She didn’t like being stationary. She wasn’t ready to accept 20 years in one house. My dad did not want to leave Memphis. His whole life was in the city: family, old friends, work, golf. They compromised, as all healthy marriages do. Every year and a half to three years they moved to a different house in the same city.

*

We park on the street. The walk up to the front door is treacherous. It rained yesterday. We step lightly on the plywood, yellow brick road into the house belonging to no one. Not yet.

We’ve been coming to look at this house for what seems like years, but I know it’s only a few months. It’s changed. When we first happened to drive by on one of our Sunday afternoon real estate drives, it was just a slab of concrete. Then they put up those ever confusing two by fours framing the outlines of where the walls are put up next, only after the plumbing and electrical are finished. I know a lot about houses for an eleven year old.

I don’t like talking to the agents though. The Sunday House just welcomes you in, you don’t need an agent to walk around and see the progress. Every time we walk through mom and dad talk about what each room would, or could house.

There’s a nice foyer when you enter the front door. From the foyer you can walk straight into the kitchen. It has a nice big island where you can put bar stools, and it has a view into the den. Outside is a large concrete area sectioned off for a porch on one side and a screened in porch on the other side for those hot summer Memphis nights when the mosquitoes seek to pierce your skin to give birth to the next yellow fever epidemic. Up the long, winding staircase are too many rooms. One’s for me, one’s for Charlie, and then there are two more purposeless rooms. Mom and dad always had different ideas for these unnecessary spaces.

When we walk into my room, we always talk about the two closets. One is slightly larger than the other. They are both walk-ins. I love these closets. Mom and dad say they’ll let me do something cool with the one I don’t use for clothes, so I ask for a swing. I think mom suggested a desk for me to do my homework. Charlie’s room doesn’t have two closets, but he doesn’t care. He’s only seven and a half and he doesn’t like house tours as much as I do.

*

It’s in my blood. Real-estate hunting. It’s been a hobby of my parents for as long as I can remember. I’ve lived in five houses, but we’ve owned at least twelve since I’ve been alive. When we visit new places, we look at the real estate online and drive around picturesque neighborhoods talking about the interiors and what our lives would look like if we moved or vacationed here. We like to dream.        

*

I ask if they’re going to buy the Sunday House. Not today, but maybe. They can’t seem to justify the space: it’s too much for the four of us. But we keep coming back. Every Sunday we look at the house. Mom and dad talk to the builder about certain customizable details like the countertops and a vent hood and tile for the bathrooms.

I imagine our life in this house: I sit at the counter telling mom about how dad and I played golf today while she cooks dinner and Charlie plays with some hot wheels and Legos on the floor. Our dogs Holly and Bruce sunbathe outside on the freshly cut grass, and dad is sending emails from the patio where he grills in his golf clothes. It’s a nice night, so we sit at the table on the screen porch and eat dinner together. I always imagine Sundays. They’re easy. After dinner, we watch a movie, probably Remember the Titans. Before I get in bed, I swing in my closet.

*

We didn’t buy the Sunday House. We bought the house directly behind it. After looking at the Sunday House for over a year, my parents were ready to move. We lived on Gwynne for five years (a family record). I remember the tour of 210 West Cherry Circle. I didn’t want to like it; there was no swing in my closet. It was an old house and didn’t feel like a clean slate. My parents fell in love. They always say it’s the perfect house for our family. Just enough room.

Our backyard backs up to the backyard of the Sunday House. I’ve never met the family that lives there; I don’t even know their names. When they first moved in, I used to look into the upstairs window from my backyard at night. I could see little kids and a TV screen showing cartoons, or maybe I just imagined Charlie and myself. I don’t want to know who they are. I like my memories of the Sunday House: a clean slate full of possibilities for our family. Sometimes when I come home sitting on the screened in porch on a warm summer night when the mosquitoes are searching for prey, I can hear the kids playing in the backyard of the Sunday House.

My Security Blanket Blinks

I slept with a baby monitor until I was 17. Its white, oval shaped body stood proudly on my bedside table with its light blinking in communication with its partner in my parents’ bedroom.

I always wondered how they slept. Were they as nervous every night as they were the night after my diagnosis? Did my mom jerk awake every time she heard me roll over in my sleep? Did they ever tip toe down the hall to peer in my room in the middle of the night?

*

My favorite song was “My Wish” and I jammed out when they played it. Rascal Flats was my first and second concert and my absolute favorite band when I was in sixth grade. Charlie and I ran down the halls of the FedEx Forum to our seats, our parents straggling behind. I was ready to become a famous country singer belting out every word of their songs.

My outfit that night was an argument with my mom. She always wanted me to wear the clothes that she ordered from the Mini Boden catalogue, full of clothes laden with bright polka dots, stripes, and floral patterns, cheesy replicas of the women’s section of the catalogue. I didn’t always buy into what my mom picked out for me. In the end, my mom won the argument, so I reluctantly donned a long sleeve brown T-shirt that read “Rock and Roll” on the front in huge sewn on letters with boot cut jeans, and my orange cowgirl boots (which I loved).

The whole concert was perfect: they played all my favorite songs, and my parents even let me stay for the encore. When we left, we immediately started driving to our lake house. Two and a half hours was never too far for a weekend getaway. Charlie and I usually argued about which movie we would watch in the backseat, but this time we slept the whole way.

My dad’s arms gently scooped my little, limp body out of the car and into the house. I deliriously changed clothes and brushed my teeth before I climbed into my parents’ tall bed. All the while, my parents were dealing with the hot water heater leak in the basement. When everything finally calmed down, Charlie and my mom went to sleep upstairs and my dad and I took my parents’ bed. Charlie was a mama’s boy, to the extreme. He would ask to sleep with my parents every night. So on nights when we were out of town or out of our normal routine, we would both get to sleep with a parent so that the bed wasn’t too full and no one was sleeping alone.

My body went numb. I didn’t notice at first; I thought it was part of a dream. Tightness took hold of my entire body: chest, throat, eyes, mouth closed. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. When the shaking began I thought it was a nightmare, but later I wished it had been a nightmare. My chest shook violently, my body stinging with the numbness of millions of needles piercing my skin. I thought it was the end. I thought my dad wouldn’t notice because he was sleeping. I tried to grunt, make any sound to wake him up, but nothing came out.

I know what happened while I was blacked out because I’ve heard the story hundreds of times. It’s one of those stories that with repetition, the images become stronger: I can see the scene as it unfolded, but I will never understand what happened that morning.

 “AMY COME QUICK!” were the words my dad shouted upstairs. They thought I was choking so my dad scooped my shaking body and performed the Heimlich to no avail. Panicking, they called 911. After they laid my limp body out on the bed, my parents and little brother watched my eyes roll to the back of my head. They thought I was gone. I wasn’t breathing, so my dad performed CPR, and they say they heard a pop: not a bone, but something in my throat, mucus, saliva, or vomit that could have killed me. Charlie was huddled in the corner crying, talking, and praying with the 911 dispatcher. It took the ambulance 30 minutes to find our house on the back roads of small town Tennessee.

I was exhausted. My mom was gently petting my leg as I awoke at the foot of my parents’ bed. All I wanted was to curl up and go back to sleep, but my mom kept talking to me, telling me to stay awake. When the ambulance finally arrived, they brought the stretcher next to the bed. I could barely stand up, and I couldn’t walk. My mom rode with me to the hospital, and I don’t remember much about the ride. I was tired.

Tests were done at the hospital, nothing too fancy though. They said it was a fluke.

I met with a neurologist in Memphis a couple weeks later. More tests were done, and again it was a confirmed fluke. They didn’t diagnose me with epilepsy because a diagnosis usually requires two seizures. Many suggestions were made, including an investment in sunglasses with an interior blue-tinted lens. Bright lights are infamous for causing seizures, but the blue tint helped protect the brain in some people. The doctor said that if I went seizure-free for six months, my chances of having another were halved. If I went seizure-free for a year, I would never have another.

*

Two years and ten days later, the doctor’s words came back to haunt my family and me. It was spring break 2010. We had returned our rental skis, cleaned up the house, and packed our bags. Charlie once again did not want to sleep alone, but tonight he wanted to sleep with dad, so my mom joined me in my bed.

My body went numb. I knew what was happening, but that didn’t lessen the excruciating pain of the shaking and numbness or my breathless panic.

When I awoke, my mom was calmly waiting for me, petting me gently. She asked me if I knew what happened. I told her I had another seizure.

“Yes.”

“So now I have epilepsy and have to take medicine?”

“Probably. We’ll see.”

Walking through the airport that day, my vision was altered. I saw the world through a darker lens. The blue tint of my ski goggles cast darker shadows than I had ever seen. My parents guided my impaired vision through the airport as I tiredly straggled behind, but we were all lost. We didn’t know where we were going or what we were doing, but we knew our lives had changed. Challenges loomed liked the dark shadows that I could only escape by closing my eyes. I hid from the light, too scared to face my new reality.

More tests and more doctors’ visits. He suggested that I sleep with a baby monitor since my seizures happened “upon awakening.” I thought this was a good idea. If you haven’t experienced or remembered the feeling of a tonic-clinic seizure, you probably don’t understand why I would welcome with open arms a device that would invade my privacy and infantilize my pre-teen and teenage years. I was scared and scarred. I needed something to protect me – to make me feel safe, and this way, I wouldn’t have to host a slumber party with my parents every night. But my parents wanted more tests and more answers.

Flying over cornfields I knew it was not going to be a fun trip. On our way to the hotel, I thought the rows of corn would never end. Then I saw the giant corn-shaped water tower, and I knew they never would. Rochester, Minnesota, the place where people call coke “pop” and have funny accents; the home of endless cornfields and the Mayo Clinic. I dreaded my 5:00 am wake up call after only being allowed to sleep for four hours, but I relished every second in the MRI. The loud bangs and taps that echoed through the tube encasing my head were oddly soothing like a rhythmic sound machine, or maybe it was just my exhaustion. From the MRI, to the EKG and EEG, and vial after vial after vial of blood samples, the day of tests lasted from 6:00am to noon.

Then we played the waiting game.  The doctor told us that my neurologist at home was the best of the best and he was right: right medication, right side effects, no other disease or condition was causing my seizures. Just epilepsy.

But my parents took the opportunity to ask more questions, only one of which I cared enough about to remember seven years later. “Since generalized epilepsy is genetic, could Charlie also develop seizures?” The doctor applauded them like second graders for asking a good question, and answered that it was a possibility; he needed to be watched, but it was pretty unlikely. After all, it was pretty unlikely that I would inherit epilepsy from my paternal great aunt. This question prompted my own internal concerns, so I waited until the end of my parents’ 20 questions game to ask the doctor if my children would have epilepsy. Again, she said it was a possibility, but unlikely.          

*

Responsibility avalanched on me. I rolled out pills day and night to please the gods, but the rolling never ended. Every day the pattern began again. I had to choose, like Sisyphus, everyday to accept my new life. With the responsibility of medication came: “Did you take your medicine?” at least four times a day. Sometimes, the answer was no, which led to my mom frantically bringing my medicine to school and lecturing me that afternoon. I always took for granted the fact that she resigned from her job to take care of Charlie and me while my dad was out of town almost every week. But I never realized that she had a life outside the carpool line.

Building a new routine around a few pills is not easy when you’re 13. Especially when those pills have immense side effects. The first doses sent me into an immediate slumber from which the spell was not broken for at least fourteen hours. The head of my middle school and my teachers were flexible with me, allowing me to finish eighth grade and move on to high school even though I would skip half the school day for the rest of the year. Some days I skipped altogether because of exhaustion or migraines (common in epileptics). After a few months, my exhaustion became a result of a lack of sleep. My medicine no longer kept me sleeping; it would keep me wired wide-awake, prompting more conversations with my doctor and the addition of a sleep aid to my daily pill routine.

*

People used to tell me that I was more mature than my age. These people don’t know what it feels like: the pain, confusion, panic, last shallow breaths before what you perceive as the end. Maybe I spoke and acted more maturely, but these people didn’t see the light blinking on my bedside table.

I love my parents, and I am very close with both of them, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t wish for more privacy and independence as any young, insecure, anxious teen. When I had my first boyfriend at 15, I begged them for permission to unplug my side of the monitor so I could talk to him on the phone. If I forgot to plug it back in, another lecture ensued.

The adjustment period was long. Pills were added and subtracted in a battle for balance. I had to get used to never being alone: in my bedroom, near any body of water, on foreign church and school trips. I have to be careful. I need sleep. I need to avoid bright, flashing lights. I need to take extra care of myself when I’m sick. I need to avoid vulnerability.

*

Earlier this year, my 18-year-old dachshund died suddenly. She was my constant companion since my second Christmas. My mom called me and explained that Holly wasn’t doing well, that she was spending the night in the hospital to be re-hydrated and nourished. The next afternoon, my phone lit up with a text from my mom that read: “We have to put Holly down. Can you meet at the vet at 4?” This was a sucker punch to the gut. I never thought this day would actually come. Holly was that dog who just kept on living, despite eating pounds of chocolate and other “human food” throughout her 18 years. We all gathered at the vet and petted the sweet body struggling to breathe. After my mom held her for a few minutes, she passed her on to me. Tears ran down my crimson, stinging face, their paths converging into one large river and dripping on her soft black fur. I rocked her as she labored to breathe, her heart beating against my stomach like a peaceful rhythm you don’t want to end. Suddenly, the breathing stopped. I no longer felt her ribs expanding and contracting against my body. I waited a moment for her to start again, but she didn’t. Terrified, I looked into my dad’s face and told him that she stopped breathing. He said that all she needed to let go was to be held and loved by me once more. My tears became a waterfall. I thought she was gone, but death takes longer than one peaceful moment. She started twitching and spasming in my arms, and I tried to hold her, but my whole body went numb. I set her on the table and wept and screamed as I stood over her seizing body. When the vet took her away to be put down, I sat on one of three chairs in our tiny, blue-walled pet hospital room. All I could feel was the way her breath stopped and the spams began. All I could see was the pain in her eyes and helpless coughs coming from her tiny mouth with her teeth showing and tongue sticking out, fighting death. My body was numb. My head was spinning, throbbing. I couldn’t see straight. I told my parents I was scared. My dad brought water while my mom told me to close my eyes and meditate. Nothing seemed to be helping, and I couldn’t breathe. An hour and a half later, I hung onto both of my parents as they walked me to my mom’s car. She slept with me that night.

I don’t remember seeing my parents cry when I had my seizures, but I don’t know what happened on the other side of the blinking monitor.

*

But now I’m okay. It’s safe to say that balance was achieved. How has this affected me you ask? While you may look at my situation and think that I was infantilized, I will say that it affected me positively. I wouldn’t trade my epilepsy. It has taught me to listen to my body and trust myself. It has taught me to respect my parents even more because they were my advocates when I couldn’t speak for myself.

Sometimes, I miss the monitor, ceaselessly blinking on my bedside table. It was a constant symbol of security and love.