Sunday, February 3
I decided to help JB have a lousy fiftieth birthday today.
“You're 50,” I emailed. “Who we are is the sum of all decisions we've made thus far. I'm grateful I have a clearer picture of you.
“Please let me know what homework Tom has done. Please don't use your fire hazard space heater in Tom's room. Please take your initialed doormat off the front porch when you bring Tom home.
I pressed send. I started worrying JB might kill himself.
“Good morning Brenda,” JB replied, not sounding like he wanted to kill himself.
“You are right. We are the sum of our decisions and I have made a string of incredibly bad ones. Many unforgivable. And we are all paying for them. I know you think I'm remorseless, but that reality eats at me every single day.
“I am so sorry to have disappointed so many people, you first and foremost, but also your mother, the kids, our late parents who thankfully aren't here to see this mess, and many others. It's all hitting me pretty hard today, which should have been a celebration of my life so far, and it feels more like a wake.
“Still, I'm grateful that you wished me a happy birthday and thank you for taking Tom shopping for my gift. It looks like a book I will enjoy.
“Regarding Tom's homework, he did his math homework. We also spent about an hour on science yesterday. I quizzed him on the worksheets and had him draw the rock cycle and do a chart comparing the types of rocks. I will spend a little more time going through the study guide with him this morning. He seems to know the material, but not cold, so he needs to study it more.
“I will drop him off at 1.”
The doorbell rang at one. I greeted Tom. JB hunched over and picked up his doormat. He straightened and looked at me hopefully.
“Happy birthday,” I shot over my shoulder and shut the door.
Tom and I left for Snowbirds. I called Jane, my cousin in Iowa, as we drove to Wisconsin. Her twenty-three-year-old daughter, Shawn, just had a baby boy. Jane was a grandma.
“Did I tell you Shawn was diagnosed with hypercortisolism?” Jane asked.
“No. Last time we talked you said Shawn ditched law school, was off the rails, and you thought she was bi-polar.”
“Turned out to be hypercortisolism. She gained a lot of weight, bruised easily, was tired all the time. I couldn’t access her medical records or talk to her doctors because she was over eighteen. She got physical and said the most awful things. She grabbed me by the neck and hair. She hit my husband. Charles wouldn’t hit her back, so she kept trying to goad him into doing it. We had to kick her out of the house. She got pregnant and had a miscarriage at seven months. The doctors ran tests on the baby and said it was loaded with cortisol. That’s how Shawn was finally diagnosed. Women with hypercortisolism can’t carry a baby to term because their bodies are loaded with cortisol. My poor baby was in fight or flight mode for years. She felt awful, crazy. There was an area on Shawn’s brain where a pituitary growth had formed. The doctors think that when Shawn got pregnant, the baby started drawing nutrients and cortisol and starved the tumor. Shawn’s in remission now.
“Brenda, that little baby saved my baby. I know my daughter. I know she got pregnant with my grandson because it was now or never. She’s back in school and getting A’s, but she’s exhausted.”
“Oh Jane, how are you?”
“Well, a couple of months ago I was in the hospital and could have died.”
I started laughing. “I’m really sorry. It’s just, how much more can you take?”
“I know,” Jane laughed. “I was bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider. I had a lot of pain. Brenda, I got necrosis. My flesh was dying. They had to cut it out. I’m okay, but we’ve had our share.”
“Jane, I believe you’ve had it worse than me.”
“Want to sing Janis Joplin like the old days? ‘Down On Me?’”
We started laughing hard.