June 18, 2008

June 18, 2010

(I’m recording  my memories of the events of this week two years ago as therapy for myself. These thoughts and memories keep bubbling up. They distract and sometime trouble me. Maybe by taking the time to tell the story carefully and  honestly, I can feel the memories more acutely and begin moving them out of me and myself back into the flow of life.)

After a few hours of fitful sleep, I awoke to a gut-wrenching sense of dread and determination. We know the experience of waking from a dream with powerful feelings. Feelings that stick with us for hours as we slowly re-enter “reality”. That Wednesday morning the nightmare feelings were present. But there would be no re-entry to a familiar reality to help to dissipate the anxiety of the night before.

Though experienced with international travel, I was unable to focus on what lay ahead and what I might need. I checked and double checked passport, flight information, credit cards, weather in Lima, notes from phone calls the night before. I tried to not think about Mariah.

Finally at the door with bags in hand, Diana and I held each other tightly and kissed teary goodbyes. Then I stepped through the door and into a world that looked familiar but felt entirely alien, and headed for the Newtonville train station.

I tried to observe the details of the neighborhood as I walked, but I was elsewhere. Shock provided a haze that both shielded me from crippling horror and isolated me from the familiar. Shock that would be ignited again and again for at least the next two years of my life.

At the office, I hurried to tell my bosses about Mariah’s scary but mild stroke. And to reassure them that after checking on her in Peru I would join them at General Assembly in Florida. I tried to project confidence, but my shaking hands betrayed me. My friend Javier gave me the name and phone number of his friend in Lima, Gladys, with clear instructions to call her for anything.

Shoe leather to the Government Center T stop, blue line to the airport stop, shuttle bus to the terminal, plane to Newark, plane to Lima. Twelve uncomfortable, lonely, anxious hours. I tried to not think about Mariah.

At 10:00 in the evening, the terminal in Lima wasn’t crowded. A good thing as I don’t speak or read Spanish, and being exhausted from worry and travel, I needed to go slowly to get oriented.

I tried to call Diana on my cell but hadn’t thought to enable international service before leaving Boston, and instead got a recording in Spanish. After clearing customs, I exchanged the few dollars I had for Peruvian nuevo sol at a kiosk, worried it might not be enough to pay for the ride.

In spite of it being a large airport, it wasn’t hard to find the driver holding a sign with my name. Grateful, I handed my bag over and climbed aboard. Driving through the darkened streets of the city, I felt myself getting closer to Mariah. “I’m coming, Sweetie,” I muttered under my breath. Out the windows, another foreign capital flowed by, both strange and familiar.

We arrived at a modern little hotel in a residential district. The tour rep had assured me it was close to the hospital and in a reasonably safe neighborhood. The fare and tip took nearly all my cash, but I had made it. I checked in, went to my room, and after deciphering the international calling instructions, finally reached Diana.

Her voice gave me the first moment of calm since leaving home. But she had bad news. She asked whether I wanted to hear, whether I thought I could handle it. I told her I needed to know everything. During the day, the tour group rep had called and told her that Mariah was in very serious condition in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit and was breathing with the aid of a ventilator.

Slam! I burst into tears. The hope I had allowed myself because the stroke was very mild evaporated in an instant. Shocked, I fell onto the bed. The truth was that Mariah was in mortal danger a few miles away. I feared that she would not live through the night. I wanted to go to her right then. But it was midnight, I had no money, didn’t know Spanish, didn’t know where the hospital was, and I was exhausted and sick with terror.

I called the number for the tour group rep and got the father of the young man we had been working with. He exlpained that his son had to leave town on business, and that he, the owner of the agency, would take care of me during my stay. He explained that we would not be admitted to the ICU at that hour, and he promised to pick me up early in the morning to take me to her.

Unconvinced but defeated, I agreed and thanked him. I called Diana back to update her and we shared a cry before I tried to get some sleep.

Mariah was in huge trouble, and I was inches away but unable to reach her. Thus the model of much of my life for the next two years was in  place. Hope nurtured but shattered by an endless series of shocking blows, and the nightmare of helplessly watching my girl suffer on the other side of an impenetrable barrier.

– Mark

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One Response to “June 18, 2008”

  1. Janet H. said

    Mark, I’ve been thinking about you and Mariah a lot lately. Your entries about the first few days after the stroke are incredibly moving. I’m glad you’ve written down these important memories.

    I learned from a similar experience that grieving becomes like keeping vigil, a final way of remaining in company with the departed. It’s so hard to leave and turn back to all the other demands of one’s ongoing, crowded life. Writing down memories is a good way to capture them before they fade while also allowing other cares, other loves to lead you back into company with the living. You can return to the memories whenever you need to. And perhaps others can gain insight from them as well.

    The months you devoted to Mariah’s recovery will always be the most intense, most significant period in your life. It’s probably too much to expect ever to make sense of everything that happened, but honoring these experiences and emotions is profoundly meaningful work.

    Mariah’s earthly life may be over, but the love you shared lives on, and the impact of her life will continue to emerge in new and surprising ways.

    I hope that, in time, you and your family will add new memories — stories shared by people touched by Mariah’s life, new family members who wear her smile, and people inspired by your refusal to give up hope. I’m one, and I’m sure there are many others.

    Good wishes to you and your family!

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