“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.” – Iris Murdoch
My kid just went through the hardest year of his life.
He had his colon removed. He had multiple surgeries and was in and out of hospitals through the entire year. In the middle of this, he lost his father. And in the process of losing his father, he lost his home. This 22-year-old “kid” (yes, he’s still a kid) had his entire world turned upside down. And you know what I posted on Facebook through it all?
Yep. I posted the triumphs.
The photos of him walking after his first surgery. The photo of his first day home after his first 21-day hospital stay. The photo of him smiling at his new home (my house), surrounded by pets and love. And, most recently, the photo of his triumphant first day back to work. His smiling first step back into “normalcy.”
Etc. Etc. Etc.
But you know what I didn’t post photos of during all that?
I didn’t post photos of the fear. The sadness. The anger. The pain. So, so much pain. Unimaginable, gut-wrenching pain – emotional and physical.
I didn’t post photos of him waking up and seeing a piece of his intestine on the outside of his body. I didn’t post photos of the bag of waste he wore on himself for months. I didn’t post photos of him doubled over in pain when his remaining intestines would not work properly. I didn’t post photos of the ribs we could easily count and the hipbones and shoulder bones that stuck out grotesquely with no body fat to surround them.
I didn’t post the photo of him as he climbed in the bed beside his dying father with tears streaming down his face.
I didn’t post photos of the fights.
Oh my god, the fights.
I didn’t tell everyone how awful some of the times got between us.
Jeff and I have always had trouble getting along – he was always his daddy’s boy and chose to live with him from an early age. The older he gets, the more I realize why we had so much trouble bonding. We are so incredibly alike. We feel things and we feel them hard. We get angry. We get scared. We love. We hate. We feel it all. Too much, and all at once. (And, frankly, we both despise that facet of ourselves.)
There were arguments over EVERYTHING over this past year. Especially during those endless four-hour drives to his hospital. I like to take my time. I like to go in a gas station and peruse. I tend to be late for things. Jeff is always in a hurry. He likes to be insanely early for everything. He likes to get in a store and get out.
Every trip was a minefield.
But did anyone see that? Nope. Just our “on the road again” smiling faces in the car as we set out on that beautiful drive to yet another appointment. Yet another surgery. Yet another long, drawn-out hospital stay (and hotel stay for me) where we still felt like he wasn’t any better when we left.
And you know what else I didn’t post photos of?
The argument we had this week when he realized that this job wasn’t going to work and abruptly left it. When I got so unfairly angry at him over that choice that I told him he needed to find another place to live. When we fought back and forth over texts for days after he got his things and left. When he cried alone in an empty house that he had to go back to without his dad. When I cried alone in my bedroom because I missed him so much but somehow thought I was doing the right thing to make him a ‘better person.’
No. No one saw any of that.
And why not?
That’s what I’m sitting here asking myself as I write this.
Why didn’t anyone see all that?
Now, I didn’t lie. When I showed you smiling faces, we were really smiling. There were definitely happy times. There were bonding times. There were moments where, even though all of this tragedy was happening all around us, we both knew we would not have been spending this kind of time around each other had it not been happening. Somewhere deep down, even through all the turmoil, I think we both realized we were getting to know one another in ways we hadn’t taken the time to do in the past because we had never been afforded the opportunity.
So, no, I didn’t ‘mislead my public.’ I don’t think any of us ever do that on purpose.
We just conveniently leave things out.
We filter our lives so that they look the best they can.
Sometimes I sit and look at pictures that women post [yes, I’m being gender specific here because we all know it’s usually women] where they’ve filtered themselves to the point that they are practically unrecognizable. I hate to admit this, but I make fun of them. Sometimes even out loud. I make all the jokes. (“Hope they don’t go missing…no one will know what they really look like.” Etc.)
I’m kind of a jerk.
You know what else I am?
A frickin hypocrite.
Because I’ve done that with my life. I’ve done that with my kid’s life. I’ve given him this impossible standard to live up to. All this darn happiness and strength and triumph. Why do I do that? Why did I do that to him? To me? To us?
Why did I make us think we had something to prove to someone? Why did I subconsciously show him that he has to be tough all the time? That he has to be such a success?
Life is hard, y’all. It’s so incredibly hard. And sometimes we’re going to make the wrong choices. Many times, situations are not going to have a silver lining.
They just aren’t.
Some of you may not know, but I write for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Later this year, my eighth story will be printed with them. My publicist sent me an email a month or so ago about an upcoming book title regarding overcoming tough times. They wanted to know if I was interested in writing a story about any possible tough time I’ve overcome lately in my life.
Ha! Seriously? How serendipitous. This was going to be right in my wheelhouse. Let the typing commence.
When I sat down to write this, that was my intention. I was going to spin out the best overcoming tough times story they’d ever heard.
But nope. Not this time.
Somehow the truth just started flowing out of my fingers and I am powerless to stop it. It’s time to be real. It’s time to admit that life is hard. Things hurt. Things hurt so bad that you sometimes can’t breathe. You sometimes spend almost an entire day in bed because you are too sad to even try to get up.
But then the next day, you do.
You just do. Because you have no choice.
So there you go. The other side of this horrendous, pile-of-shit year that my kid just went through. That I just went through. That our family went through.
And are still going through.
This is the real us. And you know what?
That’s okay too.
It just is.