Thursday, September 4, 2008

the deep end


The summer right after I turned thirteen, my two year old half-sister fell into our neighbor's pool in Michigan. We never knew exactly how long she was in the water, but it at least the length of time it took for my three year old half-brother to make his way across two one acre lots and into the house to let us know what had happened. By the time my step-mother and I raced to the pool, she was floating face down in the deep end.


Shrieking to raise the dead, my step-mother bolted back to our house to wake my dad up to help. And, as I stood by the fence surrounding the pool, I realized with a horrible lurch of my stomach that if anyone was going to pull my sister out it would have to be me. I looked back in the direction of our house and saw my step-mother on the ground screaming while my baffled dad stood over her in his underwear. I wanted someone - anyone - to come and take over, but knew that it wasn't going to happen. My step-mother was too far gone. My dad never even knew what she was screaming about until he saw me walking toward them holding my limp, wet sister.


I got her out of the water and gave her mouth to mouth until she vomited up a huge amount of pool water and started breathing on her own. Knees shaking, I handed her over to my dad and ran full-speed next door to get the nurse who lived there. As soon as she arrived, I walked straight to the bathroom and locked the door. And for the next hour, as my dad and step-mother were already moving past it, I curled up in a dry bathtub and sobbed. They even said, "We don't know why you're so upset. Everything worked out fine." Funny. I didn't feel fine at all.


And so the pattern was set.


I'm really good in a crisis. I hold it together, react with pure gut impulse, have inborn triage instincts. But when it's over, when it's "safe"...I fall apart. Not at work, where, in spite of my soft heart, I'm still a (semi) detached observer. I can count on my fingers the number of times I've "fallen apart" at work. (And there weren't many witnesses, believe me). But in my personal life it's been a pattern as long as I can remember. One of my biggest fears this past year has been that I would come unglued when it was all "over". I don't want to fall apart. I've done such a good job getting through the last eight months. I don't want to blow it now.


But as I feel myself retreating, avoiding the phone, the email, and my support group, I have the feeling of standing on the edge of a fall. Only days away from a final divorce decree, I'm struggling not to go off the deep end.


Because when you come right down to it, I'd love to lay this particular pattern to rest.

17 comments:

Devon said...

Sometimes bad things happen, it just does and there is no one to blame. It has to be O.K. to cry and grieve. If we don't we are perpetuating this myth that only perfection is respectable. What crap. We need to support eachother in all of the phases of our lives.

I think it is good for our children to see us work through difficult times and come out the other side.

I send you lots of e-hugs and hope you are feeling better soon!

Kaycie said...

I remember being exactly where you are. I remember sitting in the floor of the living room with Chinese take out and a bottle of wine in a dark house, partly because I didn't want to appear to be at home and partly because I couldn't be bothered to turn on the lights.

I watched television, refused invitations, ignored the phone, and eventually ignored the doorbell. And I cried. Alone.

It might be the most important night for me in getting over the divorce. I needed to grieve. You do, too.

I'll be thinking about you.

kitten said...

I know the pattern, but don't know the answer or have any advice. All I know to do is let you know I'm here and send you big hugs and good vibes.

ciara said...

(((r.c.)))i'm sorry you're feeling like this. it is normal to feel like you're going to totally lose it when you know the final decree is coming. most people feel one of two things, on occasion, both: relief and/or sadness.

for me the sadness came about 6 mos aft the sep when we were nearing our 7 yr anniversary date. i cried and cried for weeks. even at work, as much as i tried to hold it in, i couldn't. i had no one. no friends, my parents were no help since they were dealing w their own issues, my brother and i don't really talk. BUT, i eventually came out of it...and i wasn't as f'd up as i thought i would be. by the time we got div, about another 5 or 6 mos later, after our court hearing, i felt relieved.

i know it will be much harder for you as you were married longer, but you'll come out of it. stronger than you ever thought you could be capable of. heck, i think you're pretty strong now.

Rudee said...

Jesus. You poor thing! I know that the swimming pool incident isn't the point of your story, but obviously, you've been the fixer your whole life.

You've intimated how awful this whole time has been. I didn't have those feelings when I got divorced, just an overwhelming sense of relief. Everyone is different. I felt peace. Perhaps you will too. Sometimes, the stress of it all is spent by the time you reach the finale.

Maggie May said...

RC.... when I saw what you did for your sister, I realized then that you are a born carer.
As regards this pattern of having a reaction later........ I do understand because I am a bit like that too.
I think you can break the pattern by changing the thought that makes you worry about it. I am trying to work on myself with this too. It is the "thought" that sets off the chain.
However, allow yourself to grieve for your marriage, because that is natural.

belle said...

That was a horrific thing to go through as a child. Falling apart after a crisis can be a good thing. You will need to grieve at some point but I understand that it is scary to lose control in that way. If you can feel it coming, is it possible to time table in some space so that you can have your reaction but still maintain some semblance of control over the situation? Doesn't always work for me but sometimes it helps x

Frances said...

You need your mama. You are tired and it has been a hard year for you, honey. The divorce has been damn quick and you haven't had time to adjust to the loss of that secure place.
You may need to be the helpless one and the looked-after one for a time - maybe you'll let friends do that for you, maybe you can't let them?
As everyone else is saying, only when the actual thing comes through will you know how you'll be. Maybe glad to move on, maybe mourning the loss, maybe nothing at all.
But your whole life, and the incident with your sister are telling you that you can do it. You will cope because you want to. You will be strong because you need to be there for your boys.
Falling apart is an option, you can tough it out or not. hugs from a stranger. Willing you to feel better soon.

Lil Mouse said...

coming from someone else who stops dead and does the caregiver thing in a crisis, i get it. luckily, my hubby is the same way. dead calm and does the smart, safe thing that makes a lot of sense. but he isn't shooken/shaken up afterwards. case in point, my husband's uncle had a seizure (he'd had a bad no helmet motorcycle accident less than a year before)-- after 911 was called, we cleared the driveway of cars and path for a stretcher into the house and then comforted the children (young teens, but still)--while the real adults handled the 'medical' side of things. we did what we could do. rather than panic. thank god for people like you who take care of everyone who DOES panic.

CrazyCath said...

The thing is, you are not a headless chicken. You never have been, and never will be.

You can't change anyone else. Just you. First though, you have to ask yourself, do you want to?

laurie said...

what you're missing here is the fact that crying and letting things out is not "falling apart." it's accepting and working through your emotions.

sorry, dear. you can't skip that part.

and it would be very bad for you if you could.

Iota said...

Blimey. The swimming pool story, I mean.

I'm with Laurie. "Falling apart" is completely different to "having a rubbish period of time when it feels sh** and you want everyone to go away and leave you alone, etc etc".

All this repressed emotion stuff. You could almost be British you know. Very unhealthy. Look where it got us - bad teeth and not much else (oh, except the cute accent). Put on some weepy music, eat some dark chocolate, and have a good wallow. For starters.

aims said...

Perhaps - dear sweet lady - writing about it will be a way of laying this pattern to rest. I'm praying that it will be. To see you happy and whole would be like seeing the sun rise on a nuclear winter.

Akelamalu said...

Oh my word what a thing to happen! I remember my MIL telling me when she was about 10 she dived into a lodge to pull out a 3 year old even though it was full of frogs and she hated frogs. The girls mother never even thanked her!

As to you falling apart when it's all over I'm sure that won't happen you're stronger than you think. I'll be remembering you when I'm sending out Reiki. x

WT said...

Holy shit RC!(I had your initial there but I took it out, as I know your privacy phobia) What a riveting post.

Dumdad said...

What an amazing tale. And what presence of mind not only to save your sister but also to give mouth-to-mouth.

Sandy said...

I realize this is late - and trite. You already know this. It is easier to float in deep water than in shallow. So go off the deep end, float until you can swim again, and then get out.

And listen to old JJ while you do it - freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.