Tuesday, June 10, 2014

HiStory

“Johnny was smart, you know,”
Grandma said
a thousand times
as she looked into me
with her worn, knowing blue eyes.
“I know Grandma,” I always answered,
but I couldn’t really remember him anymore.
I was only three-and-a-half
when he died.
He wasn’t yet two.
Enough for a memory,
but not enough.

I remember bright, orange hair,
blue eyes, big smile with drool,
and, “Oof black!”
his declaration
as he pounded his thumbs
on the high chair tray.

I remember
watching him while Mommy
hangs wash on the line,
and running to her calling,
“Mommy, Mommy,
 Johnny’s turning blue again!”
Then Mommy drops the clean, wet clothes
on the grass and runs to call the hospital.
We rush to the car, and drive fast.
They have the oxygen tent ready
when we get there.
 We run past the ladies with the forms.
It is a small hospital.
They know us.

I don’t think this memory is mine,
but the memory I created
to go with the story
told to me so often.

I remember
sitting and drawing
while Mommy goes with Johnny
as they try to fill his blood
with oxygen.
After the first time
I don’t cry anymore
when she leaves me alone.
This must be my memory, because
no one else is there to tell it to me.

And I remember
going to school,
when kids ask if I have
any brothers or sisters,
or if I am an only child.
And I remember
never knowing how to answer.


Over at dVerse Grace asked us to share a part of our family history.  I ended up writing about my brother, Johnny, who was born with Down Syndrome, and died 22 months later from several congenital heart defects that often accompany it.  I thought my mom said he had three separate ones, but I can only remember Atrioventricular Septal Defect (AVSD) and Tetralogy of Fallot.  Both my parents have died, so I really have on one left to ask.


36 comments:

  1. oh mary... that must have been so difficult for you as a kid - not really understanding what is happening and his death finally. my youngest one was sick as well when she was very small - not that heavy but it was enough to uproot our family life and make the two older kids feel rejected at times because of the doctor visits and all that goes with a sickness

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    1. You know, because I was so young I didn't know any other way. This was our "normal." I'm glad your youngest turned out alright, Claudia. Thanks for reading.

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  2. Oh what a sad memory.. I like how you have created your own story from your own and the stories told to you... Sometimes that's how your earliest memories are.. And how difficult it must have been to tell about death to your school mates.

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    1. Yes, "I have one brother who died," is a real converstaion stopper! And, I wonder if many memories work like that. I notice with my kids how having a video of them when very young either helps stimulate or create memory for htem. Thanks Bjorn.

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  3. This is a very sad and subtle poem, Mary. I am sure it is something that weighed on your mind as you grew up. I can totally relate to the last stanza. My own brother died ten years ago and when someone asks me now many siblings I have I am never sure what to answer.

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    1. I'm sorry for your loss Gabriella, that is so difficult. I think this was, prehaps in the back of my mind, but as I've said, there are lots of things I simply don't remember. I do know now, as an adult I am envious when I see friends with their siblings.

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  4. Oh how very sad, it must be difficult for a child so young to understand such things. It would have been terribly hard to answer the questions of other children. A moving poem you have written.

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    1. Thank you Cat. You're right, it's so complex, I think my understanding was very limited and simplistic.

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  5. Your poem gave me goosebumps, Mary. I was right there with you in this, feeling just how difficult it must have been. Hard for a 3 1/2 year old. I like the way other people's retellings became your own 'memories.' I like the way you shared so openly, with heart.

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    1. Thank you Mary. I did hesitate sharing this one of a bit. And of course, the other side of that experience was that my parents thought I hung the moon. :o)

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  6. whew...never knowing how to answer...def got the chills...i had seizures growing up and i remember wondering if i might just die in my sleep as a small child...you give an interesting perspective on the other side of that....

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    1. Oh, Brian, that's scary and sad. Your experience, or maybe just your nature, seems to have got you to squeeze all the living possible into your time. I'm glad the ending worked, I considered leavving that the last stanza out.

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  7. What a very sad story Mary but very touching ~ I am trying to imagine how hard it must have been for the family and for you to know of his challenges and death at an early age ~ Sometimes our sad memories dull perhaps of so much grief ~ Thanks for sharing this personal story ~

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    1. Thank you for the prompt Grace. I hadn't thought about this for awhile, and apparently it was time I did. Fortunately, there are medical advances since then, that can save children with these sorts of heart defects.

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  8. Heartbreaking, but beautifully and thoughtfully presented. I like how you alternate between the childlike voice of memories and the adult reflections on those memories.

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    1. Thank you Jennifer. And I did go back and forth changing voices/ tenses quite a few times before I settled on this.

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  9. the poem is deeply touching Mary...how hard it must have been for the parents to lose a child...we
    are really so helpless...a beautiful poem...

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    1. Thank you Sumana. I never touched on their reactions, but yes, it was hearbreaking for them.

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  10. Never knowing what to say sure had to be tough. When sick it is hard indeed on all.

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  11. Heartfelt.....I think at that age, as difficult as it is to understand, there is a built in buffer that keeps us from getting out of control. That is about the earliest of my memories..age 3..for earlier ones I think I got them from old photos or my folks telling me something...I can't be sure...you wrote from a mature perspective which shows how one adapts after tragedy.

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    1. Thank you Kathy. Memory is an interesting thing. And as you said, one adapts, and sometimes adapts their memories and history too, I think.

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  12. I think that as youngsters we build a combination of memory and myth from what adults tell us, or recall for us. I think that's how we first build a map of the world and ourselves. So sorry that your's had such loss.

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    1. Thank you BW. I agree; even those of us who aren't writers are still story tellers.

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  13. We sometimes forget the siblings of children who are sick or who die in our concern for the child and his or her parents. You tell the poignant story of the impact on sibs. I read a powerful book from this perspective as well: This Much I Know is True by Wally Lamb whose brother had schizophrenia. I love your final stanza- it touched my heart.

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    1. Thank you so much Mary. I haven't read the book you mention, though others by Lamb, but I remember getting that sibling perspective from The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, where a child is not ill, but snatched from the family.

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  14. Oh Mary, I know you as a strong and remarkable person, but my heart breaks for the child you were, and the loss of your dear brother at such a young age. Thank you for sharing this piece of yourself. Hugs to you, my dear friend.

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    1. Thank you so much Ginny. I don't remember the sorrow of Johnny's death so much as missing him, or any siblings, while growing up. I vowed that I would do everything I could to have either no children or more than one - and I managed that. :o) I appreciate your hugs and friendship as well as your creativity, Ginny. xo

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  15. My dear Mary, so sorry for your loss and so sorry for your heartbreak. xo

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  16. What a beautiful but sad retrospective. Wow. This is incredible and I find it very emotional. Great writing Mary.

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  17. Beautifully written. My condolences for your loss, but this is a lovely, if sad, remembrance.

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  18. PS: I came to your blog via "Optimistic Existentialist".

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