Sunday, March 18, 2007

The First Lisa

This is a picture of my sister Lisa.  She was 6 years older than I .. she and my other sister Debi were 2 years apart.  They were, obviously, closer to each other than to me, but I was a real live baby doll for them to play with.  As I grew older, I grew into more of a pest, getting into their stuff and generally being annoying.  I remember knocking on the locked door as they shared teenage secrets with each other.  After Debi went off to college, we moved to Brussels, Belgium, which is where my most vivid memories of Lisa lie.

Every morning, as she got ready for school, she played music on her record player.  Fleetwood Mac's "Rumors" ... Elton John's "Madman Across the Water" and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  These are the songs that, every time I hear them, remind me of my sister.  She was a cheerleader, and quite popular with boys and girls alike.  She had the uncanny knack of being self assured and friendly with everyone, and everyone was drawn to her sparkly personality.  She was short ... and had curly hair when curly hair wasn't cool.  She used to roll her hair on giant orange juice cans and wrap it around her head to sleep, to straighten it.  All the cool girls rode mopeds to school, and my mom and dad bought her one.  Off she would go with her helmet on, but as soon as she was out of sight of the house, off came the helmet.  It messed up her hair!  The high school trips were to Switzerland and Germany.  A trip to Spain with friends.  What a life! 

She had a beautiful singing voice.  She was in the school play, Carousel, playing Carrie.  She and her friends would gather in our living room and they would sing, while some of the boys played 12 string guitars.  Occasionally my dad would set up microphones to capture the moments on tape.  She was looking at colleges that had good music programs, East Carolina, North Texas.

About six months after we moved back to Louisiana, in 1972, during her senior year, Lisa and her boyfriend, David, went out to dinner.  It was the night of her 18th birthday.  We're not sure of the real story, but rumor has it they drove from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to visit a bar that had refused to serve her because she wasn't yet 18.  On the way home, David driving the car, he made a u-turn, and they were broadsided by a pick-up truck loaded with several men heading to an early morning job.  It was 3:18 in the morning.  She died instantly.

To say that our family was devastated is an understatement.  I have found peace with her death, although her absence is a constant ache in my heart.   When I got married ... when my children were born ... she wasn't there.  What would she have said?  She would have gotten a laugh out of that.  If only ...

Why do these things happen?  There are those who say that this kind of thing is punishment for a sin.  I belive that God grieves right along with us.  He created a world with certain physical laws that are unbreakable.  Accidents happen, people die.  Young people with promise and talent die.  But punishment?  I can't believe that.  And I'm not so sure that these things happen for a "reason".  That God makes them happen for some higher purpose.  That's just not the God that I know and love.  I think things happen as a result of loss, but I think that chicken definitely comes after the egg. 

What has it done for me?  It has made me more empathetic towards others.  Every time I hear of a teenager dying, it makes me grieve for the dark path that the family will be on for several years.  For me, it was about five years before I felt less pain.  Our family never again was "normal" but we went on.  We survived. 

The last time I was at my parents' house in Baton Rouge, I found several reel-to-reel tapes of those jam sessions at our house in Brussels.  I was able to have them converted to digital CD's by a company here in Charlotte.  As I drove home from picking up the CD's, I put one into the CD player in my car, and once again, my sister Lisa's voice was real, alive.  She sang songs from Carousel, from "Spoon River Anthology".  All the years melted away ... she was back.  My reaction was not sadness ... it was just a familiar "hello again" from my sister from so long ago. 

And I honor her every time I speak my daughter's name.

Happy Birthday Lisa!

Lisa is now officially nine years old.  I wasn't there when she was born, but I can put together a picture in my mind, of a young mother frightened out of her mind, giving birth in secret, in a strange city miles from home, to guard that secret.  I wonder if she was beautiful, like Lisa is.  If she had creamy pale skin and ebony colored hair, like Lisa.  I wonder if her heart had been broken by a lover.  Was it a Romeo & Juliet type story, or just a puppy love romance gone wrong.  I wonder if she was young, a teenager?  Does she also look at the date and think about the child she never knew?  Has she since grown up and gotten married?  Had more children?  Will I ever know the truth? 

Who held Lisa as a baby, gave her bottles, then fed her mush, like we saw so many of the other babies in the orphanage?  Did she cry a lot?  Did she stop crying, giving up when the caregivers were too busy with 10 other babies to tend to her right away?  Did she have a special caregiver that she bonded with as she grew?  When did she first go outside?  See a bird, hear a dog bark?  When did she take her first steps?

All these things I mourn in my heart.  I mourn for all the answers that I do not have for Lisa.  Things that she will wonder about as she grows older.  I grew up with the stories of my babyhood that my parents and my sister passed along to me.  Lisa will have none of that.  I grieve that Lisa will always have that hole in her self, a hole that I'm not able to fill for her.  I will simply try and do the best I can to raise her to be self-assured and happy, and able to fulfill all her dreams for the future.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

So How Was the GRE?

Oh yes, well, since you asked!  It was great.  I found the place with no problem, and it was somewhat like getting into a Federal penitentiary.  No belongings could be brought inside.  They issue you a locker, and practically do a cavity search for any cheat sheets.  All you can take in the room is your drivers' license and the key to your locker.  No jackets or anything.  Each person is video taped the whole time they are taking the test (don't pick your nose!) These people are serious!

The test itself wasn't too bad.  I feel that I did pretty well on the writing sections, and while the math was a little cryptic (isn't it all?) the vocab and analogy parts weren't too bad.  I scored right smack dab in the middle of average.  Not stellar by any means.  I suppose I could have really pulled out all the stops and studied non-stop, but what would that have shown?  That I can learn a test.  At any rate, the head of the MLIS department at UNCG said it was fine; no need to take it again. 

Oh, and I learned a new vocabulary word!  "Cozen" ... look it up.  And it doesn't mean the child of your uncle.

Happy Birthday Christian!

Christian turned ten on Monday (two digits!  One decade!)  He celebrated with a bowling party, followed by a sleepover with five of his buds.  They were all such well-behaved kids, and I told them that.  Nice to know that, away from home, perhaps my kids will say "Yes Ma'am" to someone, even if I have to pull teeth to get them to do it at home.  We celebrated as a family Monday night at Kabuto, with the "authentic" Japanese <Czech> chef juggling his cleavers and throwing shrimp into his hat.  Guess it's hard to find good Japanese help around here.  Even the sushi chef was Korean. 

Christian almost wasn't.  After I had Quentin I suffered a miscarriage, and as a result of the bloodwork associated with that, found out that I have something called a "Little c antibody", which acts much like the Rh factor.  The antibody attacks the fetus' red blood cells, which are then broken down into bilibrubin and excreted into the amniotic fluid.  This can cause fetal death.  It didn't affect Colin or Quentin, I suppose in much the same way that the Rh factor doesn't affect the first pregnancy.  At any rate, presented with such a grim outcome, we thought we were done.  That is when we looked at adoption for the first time. 

However ... I had an appointment with a perinatologist in Memphis, who seemed very cavalier about this horrible sounding condition.  "No problem" he said, "I treat patients with Little c all the time!  Go forth and get pregnant!"  Okay ... well ... so ... we did!

Beginning at about 22 weeks of pregnancy, Dr. Perinatologist (can't remember his name!) did the first amniocentesis.  For those not in the know about such things, this is a procedure where they stick a two foot long needle into your stomach, and into the uterus, and extract a vial of amniotic fluid.  And if you think it sounds painful, It Is.  Then they send the fluid via FedEx to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota to have the bilirubin levels checked out.  If they are too high, they will need to perform a blood transfuion for the fetus, through the umbilical cord, again, using the famous two foot long needle.  Sound like fun?  Lucky for me, my levels were still pretty low after that first procedure.

Two weeks later, we had another one.  Again, levels are rising, but still low enough to carry on.  Two weeks after that, another one.  They slather this brown stuff called betadine all over your (very large) belly and it is like Elmers' Glue and smells like dirty feet.  Lovely, eh?  I think I had five in all, and by 38 weeks, the levels were pretty high and by that time it was okay to induce labor.

Christian was born not breathing, with almost a negative Apgar.  They had to bag him for a very long time.  No one would look at us.  He had a true knot in his umbilical cord.  He had a systemic infection.  He had a spinal tap to rule out meningitis.  He had no glucose in his system.  He had heart arrhythmia.  He was a mess.  He was in the NICU for a week, albeit the largest baby in there.  Most of the other babies were premature, and he was huge by comparison.  A home health nurse came to our house for a week after he came home, to give him shots of antibiotics.  But in spite of all that, he was a happy, content and perfect baby.

Is there any wonder that I call him my miracle child?   Happy Birthday baby!