Thursday, November 13, 2014

That First Night Home Alone, Part 1

  It was a Monday night. Or heck, maybe it was a Tuesday night. I really cannot remember the specific date or day. But I remember the feeling. And I will NEVER forget it. I am so glad I do not have to live this night (or the many like it that followed) anymore. So now I am willing to share it, purely in celebration that I no longer feel this way.

  It was the first night after Jason's death that I was home alone with the girls. My family and friends had been there with me every minute of every day (probably on what-is-she-gonna-do watch) for the first month or so. I spent not one single night alone, nor had even one meal alone to that point. Family and friends had flown in from all over the country and taken days and weeks off of work to see me and make sure they helped as much as possible. My uncle Matt was the last man standing after about a month of the chaos. And it was chaos. Between my crying fits, family and friends were a revolving door of in and out, too many cars in my drive way, and air mattresses in several rooms of my modest 3-bedroom, plus-a-study house.  Over this time, they had helped me take notes on all the things I now needed to do, make phone calls, get some necessary meetings taken care of, plan a funeral, force me to eat, help with the girls, insist on installing a garage door opener, flooring my attic, putting all of the garage junk in said attic, and insisting I now park in the garage.

    {Aunt Carole helping with baths}

  I hugged my uncle Matt goodbye in the garage that morning before work and headed out, knowing he would not be there when I got home. I tried to be tough all day, and dammit I was. It was easier to be at work because I could pretend life was normal. I still laughed with my coworkers that day. I didn't want people to treat me differently at work, because that would remind me that I am no longer the Claire I was just a few weeks before. I had been forever changed in the matter of a few fateful hours. But I didn't want to dwell on that. So, I carried on, much to the surprise of my coworkers, as if nothing had happened.
  After work, I picked up the girls, as I always have, got home, checked the mail, and started looking for dinner for them to eat. This was typical and nothing new. I was always home alone during this part of my day, as Jason has always gotten home from work after me. Around 6pm, bath and get-ready-for-bed time, it dawned on me for 1/100th of a second that Jason was late coming home. I almost reached for my phone to text him "Oh hey, got 2 of your kids here covered in sketti sauce. Plan to come help today or anything?"
Then a much darker realization sunk in. It took all of my fibers of strength not to curl up in a ball on my cold tile floor and cry. I had my 2 babies watching me, and I was determined to figure out a new normal routine for us all. Usually now is the time Jason would take over a kid and I would take the other. We would switch off each night. Man to man coverage. Then after they went to sleep, we would reconvene in the living room for a couple hours before our own bedtime. It worked great. In fact, I had just started thinking we had this parenting thing figured out. But now I was alone doing this. Harper was still only 8 or 9 months old and I hadn't mastered the art that is bathing them at the same time. Lila likes to "swim" alone in her bath with colored water tablets, but Harper hates colored bath water. Harper can't even sit very well in the bath tub yet. Lila wanted to run cold water, but Harper was not ok with cold water in March. By the end of that first bath alone, Harper's soapy slippery baby skin had slipped out of my hands no less than 30 times, and Lila was still confused on why she had to share her bath tub that everyone was in tears. I opened the bathroom door and saw the sun had started to set and my house fell dark. Jasper, my dog, paced back and forth outside of the bathroom door, following us from room to room, probably sensing that I was lost and frustrated... and alone. I wanted to call my friends and tell them to come help me, but I couldn't. I knew that this was my life now. I didn't have Jason and I needed to figure this out alone. This is how it will be now, at least for a while.

Now I had to figure out how to get my infant to sleep and still keep my toddler entertained. At this point, Harper was still being quietly rocked to sleep with a bottle in her room. And Lila was used to wrestling around or reading books with myself or Jason in the other room. This was possibly THE biggest adjustment and hurdle for me of them all. Our favorite, most bonding time of day was now the worst and saddest time of day. I knew I had to make changes to the routine because it was a 2-man routine. But not today. Today I tried my best to do the 2-man routine alone. I tried with moderate success to get Lila to quietly read a book next to Harper's rocking chair while I slowly rocked back and forth, watching Harper's innocent eyes droop and roll into a quiet slumber. I wished I could be her for that moment. None the wiser to the sadness and reality that was all around her. At that moment she had peace. She wasn't worried about the years ahead of her when she would not have a daddy to go to daddy-daughter dances with. She didn't think twice about donuts with dad for father's day. She wasn't thinking about who would walk her down the aisle at her own wedding one day (hopefully) at least 25 years from now. But as much as I was jealous of clueless little Harper, I wasn't her. I was her protector. And I decided then and there to keep things as normal and happy as possible for my girls. No matter the cost to myself.

After half an hour of rocking in a dimly lit room, I carefully maneuvered my way through the minefield that was putting Harper gently in her crib without waking her, I rushed Lila out of the room and we continued on to have our story time. About this time, some bad Texas weather was rolling in. I could hear the wind picking up outside, beating against my windows and roof. I could hear the rain start to fall, and soon after, warnings of severe weather interrupted my regularly scheduled programming on TV. I could feel my anxiety rising because while I usually love a good storm, this was just not the right night for it. More than anything, I was worried about losing power. For whatever reason, it seems like whenever the wind picks up, we lose power in my neighborhood. I didn't want to lose power. I kept whispering to myself "Don't lose power," because I would literally and figuratively be LOSING POWER. The movement and dull white noise from my ceiling fans and the comfort of turning on every light in my house to chase the shadows of this day away helped me to keep moving. I needed the hum of the refrigerator and the background noise of the TV to make me feel normal. Plus, the girls needed sound machines and little princess night lights in their rooms to sleep!  I kept begging God, and my electric company, please just don't let me lose power.

I put Lila to bed, crept slowly out of her room, and reached the end of the hallway, where I would normally see Jason sitting on his end of the couch. I just stood there staring a burning hole into the couch, almost paralyzed. This exact moment. This moment had been THE moment I knew was coming for weeks. The moment I would reach being ALL ALONE, while my girls slept, and knowing that is how my life would be now. As I was wallowing in my own misery, a huge flash of lighting filled my kitchen, blinding me.
And the power went out....


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