Just A Fool To Believe I Have Anything You Need

 

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Every single night of my life I remember April 1, 1989.  April Fools Day; the day I should have exited the earth; yet defied all the laws of gravity and medicine.

I was cold.  Not unusual for me then and not unusual for me now.  This was a different kind of cold though; it was a wet cold, with some warmth on one side of my body.  Everybody kept asking me my name, and that was annoying me.  They kept asking me stupid questions, like who the president was and what year it was.  They kept telling me to “stay with them” as I drifted in and out of consciousness.  I was so cold, and it was wet on the ground where I lay; and I could hear cars flying by, somewhere near me.  The only part of my body that was not shivering was my left side, I had a strange feeling of warmth and stabbing pain on that side of my body.  They had my head, well my whole body really, strapped to a back board and they kept waking me up; and asking the same questions over and over and over.  I was annoyed; how many times did I have to tell them my name and why did it matter anyway?  And why was I so cold and why couldn’t I move?

Suddenly, I became aware that I was in the back of an ambulance and the sirens I heard scared me; what happened?  As I drifted in and out of consciousness I am sure I asked the same question over and over; probably as many times as they asked me if I knew my name.  There was a quiet rush to get me into the trauma room and after a series of X-rays on my neck they unstrapped me from the back board.  They explained to me that I had lost a lot of blood and that they had to get that under control.  I was 17, barely.  On the way to the Operating Room they stopped in front of the nurses station and handed me a phone.  It was Gayle Dunning.  Even though I was under the care of the children’s home, everybody, rightly so, thought it was right and appropriate for them to call the my foster parents and tell them what happened.  I remember Gayle’s comforting voice telling me that I was going to be ok and that they were staying in touch with doctors and the home.  The nurse took the phone from me and told me we needed to go to the operating room so that they could stop the bleeding.

Stop what bleeding?  What happened?  Suddenly, I was drifting off to sleep again; only to wake up to more nurses asking me that same question.  I asked them what happened, and they told me I was involved in a car accident; one where I had been ejected from the vehicle 150 feet and landed on a guard rail.  There was no question in my mind what side I landed on; my left side hurt as it felt like somebody had pierced me with a sword.  I also could not move my left leg as the impact of the landing broke my hip.  As the surgical drugs wore off, I began to remember more, and suddenly panicked and began asking about everybody else in the van, where they all ok?

As I fired off questions to the nurses machines began to sound alarms as my heart rate jumped and my blood pressure plummeted.  Suddenly, there was more darkness, more sleep, more confusion; and lots of doctors and nurses standing over me when I became conscious again.  They explained to me that everybody else was fine; most walked away without a scratch, including the driver who had fallen asleep at the wheel.  One had a knee injury and another a concussion, but I, by far, was the most injured.  We were in Woodbridge, VA; just 25 miles south of our final destination of Washington DC; our senior trip.  They told me that I would be in the hospital there for several days.  I could not walk, I could not move my left side and there were tubes everywhere on that side of my body.  It hurt to breathe; and Gayle wasn’t there; Mom McGowan was rushing there from North Carolina; and I cried, not because I was in pain, but because I wanted a mom.  It was scary; it was lonely; and I was very aware of how lucky I was to be alive.

I asked if I could speak to my mom.  Breaking all Florida laws, they called her and let me speak to her.  Since abandoning me at 15, the state had a mandated no contact order until my 18th birthday.  Apparently, the hospital didn’t care; because as Gayle frequently called me and Mom McGowan rushed to me, the hospital staff realized I was not going to be ok until somebody could calm me down.  Calling my mom was their last ditch effort to make that happen.  I had not spoken to her since she left me.  Her voice was shaky as was mine.  I was heavily medicated for pain; and I only had some lucid moments; but the one I had with her that day on the phone is one that I will remember forever.

At the time of the accident, I had been at the children’s home for almost 2 years.  It had become home to me; and I was well on my way to becoming a productive member of society.  Kids at the home were there for various reasons.  Some were there for behavioral issues, others, like me, simply did not have anybody to take care of them.  The Dunning’s did what they could, but it was never meant to be a permanent solution.  They knew it and so did I.  While I did not have the behavioral issues some of the kids had at the home, I had needs that could only be met in an atmosphere where significant amounts of time could be invested in me.  The Dunning’s had 3 children of their own and were in leadership of a thriving church.  They knew they couldn’t possibly provide what I needed; and I will always be grateful to them for placing me in the home.  The home (specifically Mom McGowan) did have the time and resources to pour into me; which was just love and constantly building me up–teaching me who I was–a precious daughter of the most high God.  They helped me work through the 14 years of abuse and neglect that occurred before I entered the home.  Mom McGowan quickly become a maternal figure in my life; and she saw something in me and whatever that was she fostered.  As it would turn out, I was one of the last group of kids that Mom and Dad McGowan had direct contact with as they retired not long after I graduated from high school.  So for that whole day in the hospital while she and Dad rushed to VA from North Carolina, I constantly asked to speak to Gayle and Mom McGowan.  I still don’t know why I asked to speak to my biological mom; but I did and that conversation was a game changer.

The accident happened not long after spring tour.  Touring the country singing in churches was an experience to be had for sure.  It was difficult to not be in a constant state of revival with God; kind of like that feeling that you have when you come home from youth camp.  We often got off tour fired up for things of God, and many of us giving things over to Him that we could never understand; thereby refusing to become bitter; but better because of the things that had happened to us.  That particular tour was a time when some weirdo was predicting that the rapture would happen that year.  Only some of you will understand this; but in those hell, fire and brimstone preaching days, we all got “saved” 2,321 times.  After I understood what it actually meant to be “saved”, I began to have a heavy heart for my mom.  I did not want her to spend eternity apart from me, and I wanted her to know the peace of knowing Jesus.  All throughout that tour, every time we would sing one particular song (“Whatever It Takes”) I would pray and tell God that whatever it took to please help my mom get saved.

I didn’t know how or if He would answer that prayer, but on April 1, 1989, I believe He took me up on that prayer.  As I held the phone to my ear my hand was shaking as much as my voice.  I told her what I prayed; and what she said next is what gets me through tough days even now.  “Would you put somebody on the phone that can help me know what I need to do to be saved?”.  I remember literally dropping the phone.  By that time, Mom McGowan made it to the hospital and she picked up the phone and led my mom to the Lord.  A day I will never forget.  There were not enough drugs in the western hemisphere to make me forget that day.

These days, I have to lay on my right side as my left still hurts when I lay on it.  There are scars from the guard rail that remind me of that April Fools Day.  It was that day that I learned that I was a fool to believe that God needed me to do anything; but yet He chose to answer my prayer and bring my mom to Him.  I would love to say that life with her was perfect and redemptive after that day; it wasn’t.  We had to go back to our no contact order; and my next communication with her would be months before we had to take her off of life support.

When her last day on this planet came, I remembered that April Fools Day where satan lost and Jesus won.  I can’t wait to spend eternity with her; where nothing that happened on this earth will matter.  A broken hip, some gashes, cuts and bruises was a small price to pay to be able to spend eternity, in perfection, with my mom; the one I always just wanted to love me.  That day, she learned of Perfect Love; and I am so grateful.

Dropping The Rock

 

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We sat out on the rocks and had a picnic over-looking the ocean.  I was still mesmerized by mountains and ocean; it was summer and I was wearing a sweatshirt.  I had been invited into a sacred place into his heart and mind.  I knew when he took me to Maine to see where he grew up, we were serious.  He loved taking me to all of his childhood memory spots, and, I loved every bit of it.  A passion for anything near the water was something that we shared.  That day, we were at Sommes Sound, and I carved our initials in a tree there.  As it would be, we would spend almost every summer of our marriage up there.  We left Florida after July 4th and returned home after Labor Day– for football season, obviously.

There were never altercations there.  It was 90 days of pure bliss.  We slept with windows open and drank coffee on the porch in the mornings where the temperature would often dip into the 40’s.  We had some deep conversations on that porch on the corner of Summit Street in Northeast Harbor, Maine.  He would laugh at me because I was constantly cold wearing a spreadsheet the entire summer while he lived in shorts and a tee shirt.  After morning coffee,  I would work until noon while he packed us some version of a New England lunch.  Usually, a lobster or crab roll with all the fillings.  We would causally make our way down to the harbor and take our dingy out to the boat in the middle of the harbor.  Sometimes we would just sit on the boat as the beauty of that harbor is hard to ignore.  Other times we would navigate the lobster traps (and by “we” I mean “he”) and take the boat into the sound.  I learned to set our fishing polls and was on watch as we fished for Mackerel.  After many, many times of being rescued by him I stopped freaking out about taking the fish off the line.  Sometimes we would take the boat to Able’s Lobster Pound where we sat outside and watched them pluck our food from the ocean and cook it.  Other evenings, we would take our golden retriever, Trevor, down to the docks to play and swim.  He loved to catch rocks in his mouth and often looked like a sailfish jumping in midair to catch a rock; weirdo dog.

At sunset I almost always found myself at the Sound, sometimes by myself and sometimes with him where we cooked out and relaxed.  He would tell me stories of his childhood and it was hard not to be happy because he clearly missed those days.  He was at home there.  And, he was the very best version of himself there; the version that attracted me to him in the first place.

Every year, I would pick up a rock and put it in my suitcase.  After 10 years, I amassed more than 10 of them.  The rocks usually lined my desk-as they served as reminders of good times.  Many times after an altercation at home, I would lock myself in my office; often on the floor sobbing with my head between my knees.  The line of rocks would always be in my line of sight and I would stare at them through my salty tear filled eyes.  They represented hope that he could be that person at home too.

One of the first conversations I had with Crissy was about this beautiful state over a thousand miles to our north.  It was Christmas time and when she told me that she was going to Maine, we immediately had something to chat about–well, that and football.  As time passed and the Loughridge family became mine, I had many opportunities to go up there with them, but always in the winter time and 3 hours south my peaceful memories of him.  Until last week.

I wasn’t sure how it would affect me, if at all.  I halfway planned a trip to our peaceful spots, but did not make it up there; and that was probably a good thing.  When we arrived into Portland (after a 26 hour train ride) the cool night air smacked me in the face.  I did not feel the sting I was prepared to feel.  I had already donned a sweatshirt on the train; and I was tired–but I wondered what the 4:30am sunrise would bring; as that was definitely one of my LEAST favorite memories of Maine.  The first night I slept better than I had in years, it could have had something to do with the open window in my room and the cold New England weather; but more probable it was recovery sleep from the 26 hour train ride.  The first morning was a lazy morning, and I really didn’t make it to any part of the coast line until a few days into the trip.

We had plans to go to a New England clam bake out of Booth Bay Harbor.  When we pulled into the parking lot, I looked out into the harbor and there was no sting.  Only peace.  Granted, this was not the same harbor as any of the harbors on Mount Desert Island where our house was; but it definitely was familiar enough to remind me of peaceful, loved filled times with him.  We boarded the boat to go out to Cabbage Island for the clambake.  And I was fine.  Memories did come rushing back; but it didn’t hurt.  At all.  We arrived on Cabbage Island and grabbed our table–overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with a view of the crew cooking our food, straight from the ocean and not unlike that lobster pound we so often visited.  Still, no pain, no sting, nothing.  When our food arrived, I schooled the others on the proper way to eat (or not) New England clams.  He loved those clams and I always gave mine to him.  I tried one and remembered why I gave them to him.  It was beginning to hurt a little.  We finished our food and I went my separate way for a bit.

I found a small part of the island where I could be alone because as every minute passed by I was building up tears to match the number of the seconds of those minutes.  I needed to find a spot; one where I could just let it go.  It wasn’t sunny outside, but I left my sunglasses on as I only found one spot where that wasn’t crowded, but there were still people.  I starred out at the ocean and memories flooded my head and I just let the tears come and just like those days locked in my office, I starred at the ground filled with New England rocks.  The rocks that represented peace.  I used my foot to move them around and the tear drops finally began falling on my jacket.  I bent down and picked up a rock.  The rocks always had to be flat; and as soon as I found one I remembered he taught me how to skip those rocks across the water.  I was never very good at it.  I decided I would try it.  I wound up my arm as though I was pitching the perfect strike and sidearmed the flat rock and it smoothly skipped across the water like I had never been able to do before.  It was as if my brain was remembering the lessons of rock skipping with him standing behind me correcting my form.  I think part of his physical closeness to me had more to do with his fear I was going to fall into the water more than helping me skip the rock across the water!  I still can’t fault him for that as this day I almost fell on those rocks; which would have surprised not a single soul!

When my phone buzzed that the boat was loading and that I needed to head back I wiped the tears from my face and bent down and grabbed another rock to take home.  We boarded the boat and all stood on the bow of the boat taking in some of the beautiful coast line we didn’t get to see on the way out to the island.  I was still fighting back tears but my sunglasses hid them and nobody was really talking to me; so it was a good time for me to reflect on this important step in my healing.  I was pleased that being there affected me like it did.  I know that sounds weird, but it meant that I could process that pain in a healthy way.  I held the rock in my hand as I starred out at the beautiful houses on that coastline.  Under my breath I articulated to God, my feelings of my hope– hope that he is at peace now.  Just days before my trip I knew that he was put into his final resting place in the place he loved so much; the place where he was the best version of himself; the place where we had peace.  I clinched that rock, the one I planned to take home, as I let my arm dangle over the rail of the bow of the boat.  Crissy stood to my right and Glenn, Shannon and the boys to my left.  Crissy stood silent as she was processing some of her own stuff (I had that too) and Glenn and Shannon chatted away.  We could hear the boys chatting it up with other kids on the boat.  All of that was in the background though, as I stood there thinking about dropping that rock into the water, thereby letting go, again.

I had a firm grip on it.  I wanted to take it home.  I really wanted to take it home.  It would remind me of why I loved him; why I married him; why I stayed.  Yet, I knew that this could serve as my goodbye.  My final goodbye, almost like if I were standing at his grave.  So, slowly my fist loosened and finger by finger I let go of the rock and dropped it into the Atlantic Ocean.  And I can’t be sure that my words weren’t spoken aloud as I watched it drop into the water.  “Goodbye, I hope you have found eternal peace, the kind of peace that is magnified by a factor of 10 that we had in this beautiful state where you were born.  I hope you have found it.  And thank you for introducing me to this beautiful place.  Goodbye, and it is my sincere prayer that you are resting in peace”.

I had to look over towards Crissy she was the only one that I didn’t mind if she saw the tears.  I don’t know if she did or not; but that rock drop represented something huge for me.  My unclenched hand was still hanging over the boat; and I had no desire to jump overboard to get the rock; very similar to real life–there is no desire to go back and grab anything.  Doing that is as ludicrous as jumping over that boat to get that single rock.  Like the rock, all of it is all buried under beautiful cleansing water and tears.  I walked off the boat, thankful that I could reprise those memories and remember him in his home state in the most positive way possible.

The drive home was quiet at first and conversation turned to some present day challenges. And for the first time, maybe ever, my hand was open, not clinched to what was; it was open to be filled with NOW, and I am so grateful.  I didn’t bring home a rock but I did come home with a little piece of a healed heart.  One day I will make it to that tree with our initials in it; and when I do, I will, with perfect form, skip a rock across the water in memory of him; the version of him that I loved.

My heart has room for new adventures as I have symbolically dropped the rock into a vast ocean never to be found again.  The wounds are only scars now, healed only by time, tears and God.  As far as that state where we always found peace, I will enjoy it for years and years to come.  I will never be there and not remember him; but I will always remember the rock drop on that boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean–and I will always find peace there.