His Beard, Valentine

My husband has grown a beard for the winter. I hate it. The beard is thick and bristling: an unfortunate, malignant creature that has latched with scrubby desperation onto his lower face. It makes life difficult. I would like to kiss his lips and not his beard, and certainly not the beard residue from whatever he just had to eat. I am forced to share personal space with it: my pillow, our sink, his hugs. I hate it so much that as I write of my dislike, I look up from my laptop to stare at him in the kitchen and glare at the beard, writing and staring and glaring and writing some more.

He senses the wifely gaze, and he also looks up. He is cooking (curry chicken) and his hands pause midway through the peeling of a garlic clove. Our eyes lock. We stare each other down in the way of married people, and he breaks the silence first.

You were thinking about my beard, weren’t you.

I am caught off guard. It shows in my voice as I say: How did you know!?

The look on your face.

I can’t help it: I laugh. I am supposed to be upset, but I laugh a belly laugh. What look do I have on my face? I want to know.

Disappointment. Disgust.

He contorts his features into a shape–evidently, the shape of my face–and I laugh again and can’t stop. He smiles, because if he can get me to laugh, he has won, and sometimes it’s about winning. He is back to peeling garlic: smugly peeling garlic. I am back to typing at the kitchen table. The beard is safe, at least for now.

The sun is filtering between a latticework of naked tree limbs and refracts through the window onto the tabletop where I work; it warms my back, even though the sky outside is an ice cold winter blue.

***

It was around Valentine’s Day that he asked me to marry him. He was cute and we were young. I liked his eyes: those brown, honest, infatuated eyes gave me butterflies, butterflies that felt like delicious uncertainty with just the right amount of new and nervous, and even a little bit of afraid but in a way that was exciting. That was about eight years ago.

And eight years later all the butterflies are either dead or preserved in Facebook pictures and a single dusty wedding album. If pressed to find a metaphor, I guess I would now choose fire: a tame one, cozy in a fireplace, like the fire that is crackling in our living room right now. It is alive, comfortable, and warm. It still has occasion to spark and pop. Our children gather around it. It is protected and protective.

***

…is patient, …is kind.

I have spent many years killing a powerful maternal instinct to always be there. Almost seven years into this process and I have missed an untold number of milestones, and I am still not entirely certain the proper procedure for how to pick up the older one from kindergarten. Now when the children cry, he hears them clearest. Our youngest one’s first word was Dada, months before he would say anything else. Who has gently, firmly taught them how to behave? Who stays home when they get sick? Who tends to their bumps and bruises? Who cooks breakfast in the morning and sprints to catch the bus after class to get home and make them dinner? I’ll give you a hint: it is not their mother.

***

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

There are many times when he could have told me not to pursue my dreams. Instead it has been the opposite: he has done everything in his power to make them happen, even to the point of sacrificing his own ambitions. So I am at the point where his dreams are nearly indistinguishable from my dreams. Very little is just mine or just his, because without each other we would have nothing at all. We have built this life together, day by day. Together we plant our flag on a veritable mountain of student loans: but it is our mountain.

***

It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. … it does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

And yes, we’ve hurt each other. In horrible ways. We are both broken people with brittle edges and bleeding cracks. He knows, better than anybody, how ugly I can be. Even so I have yet to hear him raise his voice in anger or hate. We tell each other who we really are but there is no rejection. The equation is not: he/she is perfect and therefore I will stay with him/her.

***

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

He is a fact in my life and I can barely remember what I was before. He is my friend and ally. We are exploring the world together.

***

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

We’re stuck, he whispers in my ear. I wrap my arms around his neck (and encounter the beard, which, one of these nights I am going to hack off  in his sleep).

But the truth is liberating. No butterflies, this: it is heavy and burns like coals.

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Bearing Witness

This past week we had another death at the hospital. There have been quite a few this summer, which represents a bit of an anomaly for a ward that is populated by a predominance of young and healthy bodies. It has been awhile since I have written of the grief that is particular to the medical provider, and in truth I can really only speak to the unique role of the resident. Myself and my pediatric co-residents often feel a sort of protective shared responsibility for our young patients, given that we practically live at the children’s hospital, and the death of one child affects more of us than the families will likely ever know.

For awhile now I have struggled for the right way to express the sort of mourning process that I experience with each connection and then severance of connection with my patients. For lack of better words, I resort to stock phrasing– grief, sadness, loss–but I can’t help but feel as if I am stealing or appropriating these words from their real owners, from the people who are truly grieving, sad, and at loss: that is, the families. But I also know that we are being honest when we say to each other this is “sad” and “how tragic” and ask each other “are you okay?” and why when the families cry, our eyes glisten too.

The thing is, we seem to know everything about our patients except the actual patient. Our interaction is exceedingly personal, yet very distant. Close yet far. We linger in our call rooms and at our work stations, flipping through lists with names, medical record numbers, diagnoses, medications, problems, and wait for pages and phone calls. We place orders, answer questions, attend to the family and examine the child, then after a few minutes or less, quietly slip out and close the door behind us.  We order food and eat our breakfast/lunch/dinner and round with the attending. Go to a conference or two. Back to the computer. Writing notes. A parade of to do items distract the attention, and the art of medicine is reduced to a check list: room 11 is going home. Write some scripts please. Room 12 needs an order for Tylenol. Room 13 is dying and DNR/DNI. Room 14 will be getting a transfusion tonight. Premedicate with Benadryl. Room 15 is asleep and doing fine.

For me, however, familiarity or any sense of knowing someone–any ownership in the matter– is left at the door. The grief and love within the confines of that hospital room feels too thick–like blood–too sacred for a stranger’s intrusion. I sometimes wish I could tell the parent: I grieve, but it is not your grief. I love your child, but it is not your love. I understand your suffering because none of us like to see children suffer, and I understand the child’s suffering because I understand their illness, but in the end I am neither parent nor child. My own children are at home: after my shift I will drive home, find them asleep in bed, and kiss their soft little heads.

I used to think that nothing I said or did really mattered, that it was all empty and meaningless but well meaning lip service. I am still not sure that it amounts to anything more than that for the families. I have, however, found a way in which to think of my own emotional state of being, drifting constantly like this among the sick and the dying, and what it all means to me. I may not mean much at all to my patients, and it doesn’t make a difference if they never remember my face or my name or that I once took care of their loved one: I mourn simply because at that point in time, I was there. I also saw the emaciated cheeks, the swollen hands, the cloudy eyes, the ragged breathing, the graying skin. The touch of death, the smell of it, the horror of the family. The pain and the fear and the fatigue of the child. The anger, the unreasonableness, the insanity, the loss, the denial, the acceptance. Repeated many times over, in various iterations with unique storylines converging to a shared end. I accept that my tears are for their tears, that the pain that I feel is because they hurt, and that I feel for their loss insofar as I can imagine losing my own.

A witness by definition has seen but not participated. A witness also testifies. So this is what I believe: I am bearing witness to their suffering, so I will watch and I will testify. It is the best that I can do, and also exactly what I should do.

***

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

. a year in retrospect .

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Dear friends and family:

I hereby declare 2015 as the year of the resurrection of my blog. I am a great maker of New Year’s resolutions and an even better breaker of said resolutions, but even so there are some things that will never truly leave me no matter how long I neglect them. One of those things is music. The other is the written word.

I have now officially reached the halfway mark in my training as a pediatric resident. This is both exciting and deflating. I am closer to my goal than I’ve ever been. But when I look back at this blog, I realize that I also have so many stories left untold. And really when it comes down to it, life is just one, long, extended story. Why not write it down along the way?

***

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Sweet Saturday: Retrospect

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After a brief hiatus, I am back into the mode of writing. Somewhere between August and October, I lost the desire. I consider this a weakness of mine: there are so many ways to procrastinate at doing even what you love to do.

Sometimes, though, I think it is okay to roll along and live without feeling the urge to document everything. For example, I have taken so many pictures of something beautiful that I only remember the beauty of the thing through my photos and not the memories that I should have made.

This is why food is so good. It is impossible to not enjoy the flavor of your cake and eat it too.
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Thrifty Thursday: thrift store paintings and frames DIY

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Perhaps it is because we are all busy, or perhaps we put less stock in arts and crafts than we used to, but somewhere along the way, the modern American fell into the trap of thinking that artistic pieces for the home must be obtained at Target. Generic, mass produced art available by the dozen, like stock images on the Web. The pieces mean nothing and are nothing and will eventually be thrown out when their “chic” factor wears off.

Yet a lot of us would say that art is unattainable and unaffordable, because at the other end of the spectrum are high art pieces. Those $150,000 pieces painted with gold and precious metals that scream I AM ART and which no one but the rich and artistic elite will get to appreciate and interact with. Even the art that hangs on the single origin coffee shop walls: $799? $1200? If you are the average person, you might be willing to buy one of those pieces… once or twice in your lifetime. But you would rather pay rent and health insurance and pay off student loans first.

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Tasty Tuesday: relax with boba ( bubble) tea

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Life can sometimes feel like a hamster wheel…and you are the hamster. A never-ending wheel of setting goals in order to set other goals. Learn to crawl so you can learn to run so you can someday train for a 5K (not that I am). Learn to read so you can learn to write so you can write about what you read so that someday you can write an essay to get into college and after try to find a job so you can make more money in that job so you can save up that money and have a spouse and make 2.5 kids and save for their Ivy League education so that they can be your retirement plan and then…

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