It has been a week since we sat in the waiting room as the surgeon repaired Mike’s blood flow. Modern medicine astounds us. Life confounds us. These first, tentative steps to a healed life have both terrified and gratified. All the Joliats have juggled optimism and fear. We all personalize the experience, because we all may have the same genetic defect. It makes the journey a degree more frightening, and it makes Mike’s recovery that much more inspirational. To all who have sent kind thoughts and good wishes, your thoughtfulness means the world to me. It has helped me to resist being Janny Maudlin,which is my alter ego when I am sad or stressed.
Mike was the best “doll” my mom could provide for Jenny and I back in the 50’s. Sure, we had our Tiny Tears, but a squealing boy was much more fun to play with. We did everything for him: fetched his toys, brought Mom his diapers, emptied the bathinette of water, and interpreted his grunts and gestures with precision. He never needed to speak: we perceived his needs and fulfilled them. Mom had 3 kids under 4 and she was thrilled. We had our mischief moments along the way, since as soon as Mike was walking, Mom was ready to deliver #4. I remember a brief romance with matches. Once Mike and I decided that “house” would be more fun if it included road trips. We took our seats in the car and slipped the gear shift. Soon we were backing into the street, over the opposite curb, and into a neighbor’s tree. We were 4 and 2 respectively, but we were each taken to the screened in porch and taught a big lesson with corporal punishment.. Mike was in diapers, so his lesson was a little less memorable. It wasn’t fair, because he was driving. I guess life still isn’t quite fair.
Because Jenny and I fulfilled even Mike’s unspoken wishes, he wasn’t much of a talker. He played elaborate role playing games- he was the milkman for our imaginary neighborhood, delivering bottles with a competent nod. He just never spoke. When he was deposited at kindergarten, Mrs. Lane noted that he was completely non-verbal. In those days, that was no big deal, just a notation on the teacher’s “to-do” list. Amazingly, he was unlocked in no time. To this day, though, Mike is more of a watcher than a talker.
I drove to law school at night for a year with Milkman, and my Janter was met with silence. He is thinking at warp speed, but the thought bubbles are enough for him. I am sure that I was not therapeutic to him this week, but I needed to be hovering, just like in the baby days. The verbal restraint that characterizes him is a challenge in the healing process: he does not like to complain, and he is too tired to explain. The experience of having the heart slowed, chilled,bypassed and mended is too much to process in a linear way. He is sad, scared, determined, brave, grateful, mad and tired. He appreciates us, is tired of us, is expressive and then withdrawn. The pain medicine creates disturbing dreams, like black beetles crawling out of his scars. Every nerve ending is raw, looking for its sheath to protect it. And there is pain-everywhere. We nag him to eat, walk, shower, and do breathing exercises. He has taken the path of least resistance and attempts to comply. Today we watched Everyone Loves Raymond together and a throwaway joke made us both laugh. For him it was a painful foray into joy. He had to clutch his Heart pillow to secure his ribs. It was 3 minutes before his breathing was regulated and the pressure subsided, but it was a moment where we sensed that there were good days after the healing. We will laugh, and we will appreciate the happiness more.
Leaving was hard. He is my younger brother and my instinct is to hover. I had to have a good cry in the hotel parking lot before heading to Chicago. I drove past my childhood home, grateful for the past that forged us and the ties that bind us. We are changed since Dad died, but we have reforged the circle. There is enough steel to hold each other up. I am home, Mike is on his way, and the Joliats are a fine tuned organism. Onward and forward. To life!