The Difficult Road Back to Normal
I ended my last post with a recovery from two very serious illnesses, and a future infertility problem that I was unaware of at the time. I thought I was eager to join the ranks of the normal people once again. That is where I learned a lot about pity. If you have never been pitied, well, it can provide temporary comfort, but it is also dangerously crippling, sort of like oxycodin. Although weak and painfully thin at 80 lbs., I wanted to enjoy life, and so I slowly tried to get back to normal. I have no idea how my six siblings felt about my illness; at the time I don’t recall any conversations about it, and I suppose that if I were in their position, I would not know what to say or do either. I think there might have been some resentment of all the drama that I caused, or of all the gifts that I received in the hospital. Understandable. Being one of seven kids means that there is little time for any one person to hog the spotlight, and even though I did not intend to do so, I had overstayed my time there by several months, and I was not through yet.
Upon returning home there were two special baths a day to take, medicines to swallow or apply, and wounds to dress. My two incisions, one from the appendectomy surgery, and one to drain all the poison, were left open, and had to slowly heal from the inside out, just like a cut on your knee. It never occurred to me what a risk for infection that was-I was just a kid and as I said, my priorities centered on flirting with boys, laughing with friends, playing kick ball, and eating chocolate cake. But having to do these rituals, made me and my siblings aware that I was not really well yet.
I had my own bandage kit, with the new Telfa brand of tape that was not supposed to irritate your skin, and a stack of different types of gauze bandages on my dresser. I had to apply the gauze bandages, and then make a sort of tie to hold a big bulky cover bandage that was added to lesson the damage to my tender abdomen lest I should bump into something. The picture of a Biafran refugee, with her grey wool herringbone Catholic school uniform, but with a bulging stomach from all the bandages was how I rolled out to school each day. Pregnant, Biafran, Catholic school girl–(I bet you don’t see those tags much in the same post). And I guess we don’t say Biafran anymore–mostly because the nation of Biafra was absorbed into Nigeria, but at that time, everyone knew that this word was synonymous with starving people.
Pity is something one can use to manipulate, but inside it gives one a hollow, sneaky feeling. Self-pity is different–it is when you believe that you are deserving of the pity of others. You feel sorry for yourself because you feel you have been given more than is fair…more than others have given…more than you can handle. I had experienced self-pity when I was suffering in the hospital, but once I got home I no longer felt sorry for myself. I just took advantage of the pity of others, but as you will see, a conscience is a difficult thing to beat. While some deny that we have one–mine was very active, even at 13.
Pity’s Hollow Victory Over Dish Duty
It all came to a head over dish duty. My sister Chris who was a year older than me, was a bit put out that I seemed to have energy for some things, but not for doing the dishes. Hmm…she smelled a rat….and of course she was right. Although I was a dutiful house cleaner before I got sick, often commandeering the other siblings to clean the house, and even assigning chores, I saw a great opportunity to be lazy here, and I took advantage of my illness. When Chis made a plea to our mom that I was well enough to get back in the dishes rotation, I winced, and made it appear that this would be a bit tough for me. My mom, who like her mom (our dear and no nonsense Grandma Haggerty) thought that Chris might be onto something. So Mother let me know that it was time to take my turn, (which was absolutely the right call) and I proceeded to do the dishes, but not with my usual commitment to a spic and span kitchen, but rather with a slow and teary eyed effort. I was sort of hobbling, bent over, and quietly showing how sick I was as I washed the dishes of all my vibrant, healthy siblings. Think of Charles Dickens’ Oliver, only with a huge bandaged abdomen. Sniff, sniff. My sister Chris was a combination of three different people: a smart, hermit-like bookworm who stayed in her room reading for days, an angry protesting teenager who had her rock music, her arguments with our parents (“Chicago will never be in Pittsburgh again!”) and her rock star and Bobby Kennedy posters, and a soft-hearted sentimentalist who was so kind to everyone (this and the reading have stuck with her in adulthood). Chris saw my pitiful state and it got to her, bless her heart, and she admitted that she spoke too soon..maybe Liz was indeed to weak to do the dishes. (Sinister smile from me). Maybe… or maybe Liz finally found a very bad way to get something out of all this pain and suffering. So I let Chris and Mom think that I was too pitiful to work, but that was not at all the case. My conscience bothered me, but only for a short time because the pleasure that pity can bring is short-lived; I found that if doing the dishes was what it took to become normal again, then that was worth it. Apologies to my precious and kind sister Chris who was then, and still is a lot nicer person than me.
The New and Improved Liz
In order to forge ahead with being normal, I opted for self-reliance. In fact I never realized that my illness had catapulted me into new avenues of this, which like pity-would have its downside. I wanted to show everyone that I was healthy, strong, and that no one needed to feel sorry for me. It felt good to gain strength and confidence again. I caught up in school and got back to being an A-B student, and I took up my love of all things tomboy. I ran for student council and won, and became a social butterfly. I was out at a basketball game, wrestling match, dance, student council event, or McDonald’s just about every night during high school. I dated a boy who was wrong for me, like many of my high school friends. I dreamed about the future, and traveling all over the world. I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me again. Maybe that is why being in the Infertility Club stung so much. After a nice round of self-reliance, I had come to the end of what I could do for myself, and once again others felt sorry for me. Infertility was going to pull me back in to a sad, pitiful state, and therefore, I hated it.
Looking back, I can see how God used the pain of infertility in my life. Looking back twenty years that is. At the time, although I would admit this to no one, not even to myself, I just thought He was mean. Just as we are not supposed to tell people they’re fat (see earlier post), we are not supposed to say or think that God is mean. It feels so angry and bitter to think that. And it is, but it is also said out of great pain. In my many years of interacting and observing people, I find that much bad behavior or thinking has as its foundation a very primal emotion: FEAR. They say that perfect love casts out fear. It would be a few more years before I would understand what that meant, and experience that as true. Those lessons would be learned from my entrance into a personal relationship with God, my marriage to a kind and forgiving man, and the love that I received from my three wonderful children. How those three wonderful children came to be part of our family was also a rocky path; next time.