Neon Lights

Sometimes in life, the most minuscule things have power over you. Whether it be places, people or situations that take ahold of you, stripping away every last bit of strength you have.

These are our accounts of how we took our power back. One big city, 2 different stories.

As we got closer I could see the glow from the neon lights of the city. Familiar places flashed before my eyes as I recalled times we spent out eating or dancing, even the club was nearby, the one we met in almost 15 years ago. My old apartment and the military base where you lived were in the distance, both of which have always held such bittersweet memories because of their connection to the birth of our daughter and of course, the bitter because of your absence.

After persevering through a high-risk pregnancy and birthing her sans you, I used to buckle her into her seat and visit some of these places just to feel closer to you. I can’t really explain why, but I needed you here and you weren’t. So instead of feeling the emptiness, I went to the restaurants we frequented because once upon you were there with me. I remember one time sitting in a booth that we sat in months prior, our baby sleeping soundly in my arms.

 I kept looking at the door, wanting, expecting, hoping you to walk in at any moment.

You never did.

As time passed, the memories stayed with me. Eventually, I moved away but every now and then I would find myself amid our old stomping grounds, reminiscing about the times we had. Wondering why you never came back. What was so important that took you away from your first child?  I never really knew the whole truth.

The familiar glow of the neon lights would come into view, I would curse the existence of every place I passed because that meant that you were real. It also meant that you were somewhere out there. It meant that you didn’t want to be with me, with us. The pit in my stomach would ache with pain, resentment, and sadness that I wasn’t enough to keep you. The neon lights weren’t enough to keep you either.

I never understood the saying “Time heals all wounds”. Does it really? Can the mere existence of time passing, really mend the bloody, painful, infected wounds that are caused by others?I’m not sure I have all the answers but for me, time never healed anything. It either just numbs it, like a shot of Novocain, which doesn’t really heal anything, or it festers, growing to be some huge, gaping hole.

Tonight, we made our annual trip to see the beautiful Christmas light display. I knew we would be making the hour and a half drive and at the end of that drive, the glow of the neon lights of the city would illuminate the sky. Preparing myself for the flood of emotions that always hit when we rounded that corner of the freeway, I made a tentative plan. Distraction. Look at my phone (I wasn’t driving), sing a song, maybe crawl on the floor of the car, anything to not see the damn lights.

I held my breath as we exited the freeway into the familiar streets of Tacoma.

Nothing.

That place we met one Saturday night in May of 2002 was alive with music and people tonight. I felt nothing.

The Applebee’s where we had our first real date wasn’t as busy as it used to be. I felt nothing.

That one Mexican restaurant where I taught you how to salsa dance. I felt nothing.

As we continued driving, the nothing I was feeling gradually turned to gratitude. Gratitude for the exponential growth that I have experienced in every aspect of my life since that period of time. For every place that I passed this evening, I was grateful that I was there with you because without that, I might not just have one of the greatest gifts of all.

My daughter.

 And then it occurred to me…

If it weren’t for everything that happened the way it did, I wouldn’t have had the sincere pleasure of raising that once a baby girl, into a wonderful, caring young lady that has big plans for her future. Just 3 years short of being an adult, she is on her way to change the world in her own unique way. Being a single mom was never my plan, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way now that it is all said and done. She’s my best friend, my enabler (when we are out shopping), my comedic relief when life gets hard but most of all she is my biggest fan and I am without a doubt, hers.

 It was at that moment I felt an immense appreciation for the mere darkness because, without it, I wouldn’t be able to see the glow of the neon lights.

~ Christin


……

Another day. The routine remained the same. I packed up the boys and a few items to keep them entertained. At twelve and four years old, I had to wonder how much they really understood. Joe would be home any second. As soon as he came through the door, we would all leave. All four of us would pile up in the car and make the familiar drive from Federal Way to Tacoma. Often, there was no talking. Each one of us alone in our thoughts.

We drove pass Taco Bell, Fred Meyer, then took a right and hit the back roads. The Marina, the smoke shop. I was sick and tired of seeing the same places, every day. Nothing ever changed. As we entered the city of Tacoma, the neon lights that used to be a welcoming sign was anything but. Downtown Tacoma. A place that I previously enjoyed driving to, was now all too consuming. I no longer cared about the Mom and Pop shops that I had one day hoped to visit. My interest in the famous landmark, Stadium Highschool, was no longer an interest to me. I could not think ahead to the day when my children would be in high school. At this point, I had no idea if I would even be bringing one of my children home.

Gracie. My newborn daughter. Gracie was born through emergency c-section in Federal Way. She was immediately transported to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma, Washington. We knew from my first ultrasound appointment that we would be looking at a new normal. Everything we had become familiar with was changing. Still, I was not prepared.

Joe, the boys and me would spend hours with her in the NICU. We would each hold her, making sure the wires to the machines that she was connected to would not get tangled up. Every day, we would do this. Every night we would have dinner in the hospital cafeteria. The boys loved it. I rarely ate. Because Gracie was an “extended stay” patient, we were gifted with gas cards and vouchers to use in the cafeteria whenever we wanted.

I would always leave the hospital in tears. I cannot explain to you the pain that comes with leaving your baby at the hospital. Not knowing if there was an end in sight, not knowing if she would make it through the night. Having to gently say goodbye to a one-week-old baby, well, that is soul-crushing.

Joe, the boys and I would make it home just in time for much-needed sleep. Joe would take a shower as I would tuck the boys into bed. Trying with all my might to answer their questions. “When can we bring our sister home?”

I do not know.

The next day, same routine. Nothing ever changed. This went on for weeks. Until, early one morning.

I had gotten into the habit of keeping the phone by me at night when I would sleep. Sleep never came easily. Yet, when it did, I never wanted to wake up. I knew there would be more pain, more of the unknown, and it was only a matter of time before I broke. The phone rang at 4am. I answered it on the second ring. Joe was already up, trying to make sense of what was happening. It was the doctor. He told us to get to the hospital. There were some complications overnight and Gracie was now on a ventilator.

Joe called his parents to come watch the boys, and again, we made the all too familiar drive to Tacoma. We passed Taco Bell and Fred Meyer. The darkened Marina. We passed it all. As soon I saw the neon lights from the city of Tacoma I kept telling Joe to “drive faster, we are almost there!”

We made it in record time. As soon as we showed our ID at the NICU station, we were ushered to Gracie’s room. She had a private room, a room that I would later find out was only for the most severe babies. The doctors and nurses were surrounding the incubator that had my four-pound baby girl. Gracie was stabilized. There was now a whole new set of wires and machines that she was hooked up.

Over time, Gracie became stronger. She was able to leave her private room and go hang out with all the other NICU babies. Eventually, she made it up to the second floor. The second floor is where we want these babies to be. It means they are continuing to grow, they are getting stronger and in a short time, they will be home with their families.

The day we took Gracie home from the hospital is one I will never forget. Joe, the boys and I stayed the night at the hospital, with Gracie in our room. This was mandatory. The doctors had to make sure that god forbid if something went wrong, then Gracie was close enough to have the medical intervention she would need.

The following day, the day we were to take Gracie home,  was an all-day process. The doctors had to put Gracie in her car seat, once again hooking her up to machines, making sure her breathing would not be compromised. This test was hours long. I prayed that she would remain asleep. Of course, she didn’t. If we took her off the machine, we would have to start the test again. There we sat. An extremely fussy, strong-willed feisty baby girl who did not want to be hooked up to all these wires. We had to. This was one of many tests to make sure she could come home.

Six O’clock pm on April 15 we left the hospital with our new daughter and sister. This time, the drive home was pure excitement. We could not wait to be in our home and find our new normal. As we left the city of Tacoma, I could not help but notice the neon lights. Call me crazy, it is almost as if those neon lights were wishing us “good luck” on our new adventure.

The years went on. It was never easy with Gracie. She would not have it any other way. Gracie came into her own. Strong-willed and quirky. To know her is to love her. She made it to fourth grade and something once again was just not right. After many referrals, Joe and I found ourselves making the all too familiar drive to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma. The Taco Bell and Fred Meyer were still standing. The Marina had acquired a few more boats, but those damn neon lights, they had not changed. There they were, just as they had always been. Both a sad and happy reminder of the past.

Autism. Our new normal.

Once a month Joe and I with Gracie and her new sister would now make the drive to Tacoma’s Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. The boys were now old enough to be left home. Vinnie often would have football, and AJ had long moved on to his own routine, his own schedule, his own friends. This time, when we would drive past the Taco Bell, Fred Meyer, the back roads of Tacoma and the damn neon lights, I would feel frustrated. “Will this drive ever get any easier?”

Of course, you know it was not really about the drive. It was about the what the drive represented. The uncertainty. Our new worry we now had for Gracie. What does this new diagnosis mean? The drive, the Taco Bell, the Marina, and those neon lights, that was my escape, my excuse to take my frustration out on the scenery. “Jen Logic.”

Three years passed. Lots had changed but the drive was not one of them. I became complacent. At this point over the last nine years, we had been to hell and back. The Taco Bell we would pass, yeah order me a meximelt. Fred Meyer, that would become our pharmacy for her new medication. The back roads, I could now drive them with my eyes closed. The neon lights, I still had mixed emotions about those bastards. They made me think of harder times, the neon lights made me question what the future would hold. Neon lights are funny that way. They can represent either a new beginning or an ending, something to celebrate, something to mourn. Or..maybe all of the above.

Two years pass. Gracie is now in sixth grade. In February of this year, the seizures began. When we least expected it, out of nowhere we once again in the middle of the night, after Gracie would not wake up, made the same drive to Tacoma. MRI’s EEG’s told us we were now dealing with epilepsy.

After a long hospital stay, everyone was now just….well, gone. Again, we had to deal with the drive.

Once we made it home, and everyone was settled. I took my place at the computer. I was ready willing and able to learn everything I could about epilepsy. I went to good ole “Google” looking up everything I could about epilepsy. I was reading article after article when it hit me. The neon lights. We saw them. Sofia even commented on how pretty they looked. I remember telling her that the neon lights were even prettier during Christmas time. I had always associated that drive, the Taco Bell and Fredy Meyer, the back roads, the school, and lastly the neon lights, always associated with sadness, confusion, questions.

I checked in one everyone. Gracie was sound asleep. She would be for hours to come. Sofia was keeping guard over her sister. Joe was on the phone with his family, giving them the latest update, and the boys were playing an x-box game together.

Grabbing my jacket and phone I went out on to our balcony and made the all too familiar phone call.

“Hey, you busy?”

“We just got back from Tacoma, this time was different.”

With a smile on my face, in between yawns of sleep deprivation, I knew what Christin meant.

“The lights huh, it was different this time.”

“It was. It was…..it was closure.”

I took a sip of my drink.

“Well, you know what comes next? We write about it.

~Jennifer

neonlights

 

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2 thoughts on “Neon Lights

  1. Wow, very moving post. I agree – I don’t know that the phrase “Time heals all wounds” holds much truth in it. I have actually written about that in a few of my blog posts. But your attitude and realization that everything that has happened brought you your daughter is inspiring. Wish you all the best – speak766

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