Fortitude

Another paraphrased anecdote, this from a friend of mine. This is the story of six weeks in his life.

“First, my mother fell and broke her arm, so she couldn’t work. Then my brother went off his meds [for bipolar disorder] and freaked out. He started destroying things. He kicked in Mom’s front door, cut the cable line, cut the freon line in her refrigerator, put a giant nail in my truck tire.

“My mom moved out, went to go stay with a friend. She was scared of my brother. When he called to find out when she was coming home, she told him that. He apologized, packed a bag, and went on a 65-mile hike.

“Now, in the meantime, I was smelling something bad in my apartment (M lives in one of five row houses in McKees Rocks). Plus I was starting to have really bad back pain. I was cleaning obsessively trying to find the smell and get rid of it. This went on for nearly two weeks. Finally, I was lying on my living room floor, writhing in pain, and screaming about this smell in my apartment.

“So I went to the hospital. They diagnosed me with kidney stones, sent me home with pain killers, and I waited for them to pass. After sleeping for 24 hours, and then passing the stone, I felt a lot better.

“But the smell was still there. Now I kept asking my neighbors if everything was all right. They are two [mentally challenged]* women who live with their crazy mother. (She really was crazy — 91, with dementia.) Was their refrigerator working? Did they need help taking out the garbage? They kept saying everything was fine.”

[*My friend is probably the least politically correct person I know. He used a different word here.]

You see where this is going don’t you?

“Finally, I’m cutting So-and-So’s hair (my friend is a stylist who works out of his home), and asking her if she can smell it — because by now I’m sure it’s in my head — and she like, yeah, and then the flies started. So-and-so is a social worker, and she’s just like, ‘That’s bad, M. That’s really bad. Call the cops.'”

So he did.

The woman had been dead nearly five weeks. Three weeks later, and the house is still being cleaned out (although, thankfully, the smell is gone.) Oh, and his brother finally called.

“Frere,” he said. “I’ve got blisters the size of which you wouldn’t even believe.” My friend went to pick him up.

I have friends going through hard, hard things. Divorces, foreclosures, a mother with breast cancer (caught early), miscarriages, unemployment, children with autism. I have a friend who struggled for years with infertility, finally had a daughter, moved to BFE for her husband’s job, and is now divorced and single-momming it.

And all these friends of mine, they keep moving forward. Sometimes they let me see the struggle, they let me help if I can. I think they are so strong. I mentioned this to M, my friend from the story above.

“They are thankful,” he said simply. “They have something that keeps them grounded, something they are grateful for. Look at you and Dan.”

He was referring to our loss of Gabriel. I’ve known M longer than I’ve known my husband; he was the first person at the hospital when I discovered Gabriel was dead.

“You are the bravest woman I know,” he said.

I hear this sometimes, that Dan and I are brave, and inspirational, and strong. And it’s not that I’m not saying it’s not true — it’s just that I don’t remember feeling that way at the time, or, even, much now. At the time, I was utterly devastated. As time has passed, I just feel blessed, rather than brave.

I think about visiting my girlfriend in BFE — and laughing with her, enjoying our time together. Even though she is going through one of the hardest times I have witnessed. I was thinking, “What gets us through that, or this, or these times?”

I think M may have hit on the answer. And I’m not writing this to tell you to count your blessings. I just came through a pretty tough depression, and I could barely see my blessings let alone count them.

Just keep going, I guess I’m trying to say. I mentioned this in a comment yesterday, and I feel it’s true: Coping is overrated. Sometimes, it feels like the universe is piling on. I wasn’t coping a few weeks ago. Going on, I suppose, moving forward, but hardly coping.

Don’t cope, I guess I’m saying. But don’t quit either.