Living On The Edge

My dad used to say “If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”  He meant that it was important to be up-to-date on news, technology and innovation, but that’s not the “living on the edge” that I’m talking about.  I’m talking about literally standing at the edge of a cliff in a windstorm with waves crashing beneath my feet a thousand miles below me.

Being a single mom is hard, especially in my head.  I commute a total of 16 miles a day, it can take anywhere from 40-90 minutes a day.  Those two sentences seem unrelated, unless you’re me in the car white-knuckling for 40-90 minutes a day afraid that at any moment a car is going to swerve out of nowhere and kill me, leaving my kids without a mom.

Sounds crazy, but it happens all the time. Especially for people who work so much they can never sleep. Another thing that happens all the time is people getting paralyzed or injured in accidents and being unable to afford their own rent or bills. Another thing that happens way more often is uneventful commutes where nobody gets hurt at all, until it’s time to pay for parking.

I manage a boutique grocery market / general store and one of my wine vendors told me a story that’s haunted me for over a year now. His sister in law was lazing around the house with her two daughters on a Saturday afternoon and got a headache.  She told her girls that she was going to take a nap and walked down the hall.  Before she reached her bedroom, she collapsed dead on the floor with an aneurysm.  Her coffee was still steaming on the table.  She probably had plans for lunch the next day and dinner in the works and laundry in the dryer.  She didn’t plan to die but she did. Aneurysms happen. But usually, they don’t.

At the conference I went to last week, one of the speakers was a star athlete and successful student who went blind over the course of 2 weeks.  Another was a blind piano player. Blindness happens.  Detached retinas happen.  My 15 yr old has glaucoma and that can cause a detached retina.  Blindness happens. I’ve read enough about the dangers of glaucoma and the detaching of retinas to know that I don’t want that happening in my family. No one does.  Luckily it’s rare.

So far we have been REALLY lucky, all my girls are healthy and aside from a duck-duck-goose-related broken foot bone, random little infections that were easily cured with antibiotics and occasional bumps and bruises, we haven’t had any major health-related tragedies in our family (except for my gluten issue which is only tragic when there are croissants in the room. Or warm sourdough bread. Or s’mores.  Small tragedies; they don’t even count, really).

We haven’t had any overnight hospital stays and even when I was sick with a major kidney infection, I was lucky enough to recover quickly and learn that an IV actually feels really good. We had a minor oral surgery, due to a wayward extra tooth that was growing up toward the sinus cavity, but that was quick and uneventful. I have a couple friends who have spent more time in the hospital than out of it over the past few years because of kids with chronic illnesses.  I’m telling you, I am the luckiest girl.  So far.

So far.

Other than self-employment, I went over ten years without a “real job.”  About 18 months ago I was able to find a really amazing company, convince them to hire me in spite of my lack of experience or education and now I’m running it. RUNNING IT.  I have an amazing staff, I get to help local food producers sell the products they’ve devoted their lives to creating and I get to geek out on spreadsheets and financial reports. What could be more fun? How can one person be so lucky?

Yes, I had a shitty marriage that ended horribly but I got out.  So many women never get out.  They either slowly die inside until there’s nothing left of them, or the violence escalates and they get murdered.

Or worse, they watch their daughters grow up to create similar relationships and watch their grandkids suffer at the hands of a monster. I got out, I am free and get to wake up every day to peace and happiness.  My bedroom never smells like farts, I never get yelled at for invented offenses, I’m not subject to preposterous accusations of infidelity (especially that one that came when my youngest was 3 days old). I’m not on food stamps, and those food stamps are not being used to feed his friends. I’m not afraid of his bad mood resulting in more violence, no one has ever tried to kill me in this house and none of my girls has to worry about getting yelled at, cursed at or hit by a big scary man.  No one has punched a hole in any of my walls. I made it. I’m free. And not a day goes by that I don’t feel very very very lucky to have that freedom.  I don’t understand how women end up repeating the mistake of marrying narcissistic and controlling men because it feels SO GOOD to NOT have one in my life.

I can think of a million more ways that I am lucky and every day I am struck with the feeling that I’m lucky to have the supportive people I have in my life, I’m lucky that my kids are healthy and I’m lucky that we have a home and I have a car and we have our health. We live in my favorite city in the world (not that I have any personal knowledge of the world).

But luck runs out, right?  Will it be a car accident that kills or disables me or us? Will it be a sudden illness, something chronic or incurable? Will it be some kind of natural disaster or a house fire or a crime against us? Will it be homelessness after the lease on my house is up? Will a sinkhole swallow my yard? Will something awful happen to one of my kids?

Every time I find myself feeling tough and durable after everything I’ve been through, it ends abruptly when I wonder exactly how tough I am. How bad will life be before I decide I’m not lucky anymore?

I came home from work today and my 10 yr old’s eye was red and swollen.  I think I mentioned that my 15 yr old has glaucoma (So weird, right?).  She said she tried allergy medicine but it didn’t work.  The surrounding skin was red and puffy and the eyeball itself was so swollen that the iris appeared concave.

Her glasses were fogging up because the eye was giving off heat. Her vision was affected.  I was able (lucky)  to get her a Dr appointment right away, and we left the house 10 minutes later.  In the car, as she was rocking out to the radio I thought about the man who had suddenly gone blind.  I imagined how we’d spend the next 2 weeks if we learned that her retinas were detaching.

Since she was 4 she has wanted to ride in a submarine.  Actually, when she turned 4, she cried because no one got her a submarine for her birthday.  A while back we toured a submarine in Portland, and that was fun. But she wants to explore the sea.  I decided that if she was going blind I’d move a mountain if I needed to to get her into a submarine, or take her diving.  Can kids do a deep sea dive? Can someone with detaching retinas do a deep sea dive?  I have a membership to the aquarium, maybe they’d be a resource.  What else does she want to see? With only two weeks, how could we do it all?  I’d have to take off work.  I wouldn’t want her spending the rest of her life not remembering what I looked like because I wasn’t home enough during her last two weeks of not-being-blind.

I wondered what it would be like to have a child that was blind.  As she ages, would she want to know if her hair was turning grey? If her face was beginning to wrinkle?  Are Braille books expensive? Would her sense of smell or hearing improve? Would she want help making sure her clothes matched?  Would she still want her hair dyed purple if she couldn’t see it? Would lack of vision piss her off and make her cranky and would I be strong enough to comfort her without bursting into tears?

Probably, if it were really happening.  I’m pretty good with handling emergencies. But today, driving down the freeway on the way to the Dr’s office, I wasn’t strong enough.  I sobbed about all of the possibilities.  I lived through all of the emotions I imagined I’d have if this was, in fact, the tragedy that broke my lucky streak.

When we arrived, we were seated quickly.  The Dr clearly suspected pink eye or allergies and looked at me a little sideways when I said that no one else in the house was having these symptoms.  Crying eyes look a lot like pink eye, even ten minutes later. Even if you deliberately breathe away the tears and blink away the feelings as you’re exiting the freeway.

I’m sure her eyes will be fine. Since the oral allergy medicine wasn’t working, he gave us eye drops and a prescription for antibiotic eye drops in case the allergy drops didn’t help.  He smiled in a not-overly-condescending-way when I confessed that I’d been reading about detached retinas. We were home within the hour, with no debilitating car accidents on the way home. We ate dinner in spite of the fact that we don’t have a ton of groceries. And tomorrow morning we will wake up just as lucky as we are today. I hope. This is living on the edge.

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