My Son’s Open-Heart Surgical Scar Reminds Me Of…

Would you say that you are one of the many people today that lean heavily on the statement… “everything happens for a reason”, especially after an emotional event? Attaching a meaning to a traumatic moment seems to help many cope with the shock that trickles in quickly thereafter. Although I could empathize with this very “protective” behavior, I do not believe the mainstream superstition behind this claim. But I will admit that I have an ability to work out a lesson nonetheless; a “what’s the moral to this story” from almost anything that has occurred in my life. We can all thank our favorite childhood fables like The Boy that Cried Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood for instilling that useful habit. After each relationship, I’ve learned how to make better partner options. After each uncomfortable call with a debt collector, I’ve learned better budgeting skills. After each medical scare I’ve learned how to take better care of myself. Even after burning toast a few times, I get to “know the settings” of each new toaster allowing me to achieve a perfectly golden brown slice. Aside from the toast, these experiences have provided very valuable lessons that have changed my life … although my oldest toast-lovin’ son will beg to differ on the latter. He says I make the best buttered toast. Now there’s an accolade you don’t often come across.

I’m very comforted by the fact that I personally bear the control to draw out the lesson (or lessons) from all that happens, and NOT that every event was set, destined or allowed to happen to provide me with a lesson or test.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine IF for just one second I was wrong.

My youngest son who is to turn 4 in a few months comes to mind. Some know my experience with him, but I’ll fill you in. When I was about 6 months pregnant, my munchkin was diagnosed with TGA (Transposition of the Great Arteries). In a nutshell, a fluke in his arteries. They were flipped from their normal position. Simply put… he could survive “normally” inside of me since I was breathing for him, but he would not survive in the real world without having to undergo open heart surgery for an arterial switch immediately after being born.  We had already gone through 2 rounds of IVF to create him, now we had to keep him alive.

When I look back at the moment I shared the medical news with others, an outpouring of emotional suggestions came with it. Pray to god was the most popular. Pray to Jehovah for strength and comfort. Some even went as far to assure me that “everything will be alright”. There were other reminders sent my way… “Jehovah doesn’t abandon those that serve him” and “God does not test us beyond what we can handle”.

We set out for the best surgeon for this procedure. We carried on until the memorable day that my son came in to this world. I couldn’t even touch his newborn skin since they had to rush him away to get him hooked up to a breathing tube and stabilize him. I saw him for only 2 seconds then I was left in that room, alone, to contemplate all that had happened to lead up to this moment and to meditate on all that we would about to experience.

Fast forward … my son survived it, and so did we. So, does that mean that everyone was right? Everything WAS going to be alright? God did not abandon us? He gave us the strength needed?

What lessons did I make sure to pull from this experience?

  1. If what others or what the bible teaches is correct, I would have to rest on the fact that God had tested us. He tested us with the life of an unborn child. An innocent baby. A human life. Sure, it wasn’t beyond what I could handle, but it does not minimize the lack of moral standing of testing someone with the life of another.
  2. I gained strength in the love I had for my son. I gained strength as all parents do when it means having to protect their young. We had insisted on creating him, no way we were giving up now.
  3. Prayer did not help save my son. A cardiologist that detected the condition early on did. A team of doctors that came together. A surgeon did. His skill and experience in this procedure gave my son a chance of survival. And a blood transfusion is what sealed that deal. Even though the surgery itself was a success, a child that small and new could not generate enough blood on his own to bring up his levels. And according to the religious organization I once belonged to, that action in itself is going against god, so obviously, god did not save my son, nor was god with us.
  4. That morality and a sense to do good and what’s right comes from within and from logical thought. Not through the hundreds of different teachings and beliefs in the world.

Seeing my son’s scar is a constant reminder to live, to explore, to learn and to grow. And saving my son’s life was the moral thing to do, the right thing to do, the human and loving thing to do. And how dare anyone try to tell me or guilt me in to thinking otherwise.

— The Pretty Platform



The Happy Pill

He chooses a pill to fill him with the joy
that was lost so long ago.
When she left. She left him sad.
She left because he was already sad.
Well, she didn’t necessarily leave.
More like escaped.
And now he too needs to escape the memory of her.
He falsely remembers being happy.
Happy with her.
If he remembered the truth,
the truth that he was never really happy,
he just may end it all.
He chooses a pill to stay happy.
To remember she too was happy.

To survive.

— The Pretty Platform

The Not So Good Ol’ Days

My eighteen year old son called asking if I’d allow him to go out to eat with his friends tonight. He reassured me that all chores were completed. It was 6:00 pm, I’m on the bus on my way home from work, halfway through a 1.5 hour commute and still needed to pick up his two younger brothers from daycare. The idea that it would be one less mouth to feed was a glorious gift in itself, so without hesitation I supplied him with a quick “Yes! Go have fun”. No need to ask me twice. I reach my stop, scoop up the little ones, grabbed some pizza and finally made my way home. I slowly drive up the gravel driveway. As my son knows to do before he leaves the house, he kept the front porch light on as well as a dim light in the living room. Same routine. Nothing out of the ordinary. The kids climb out and run up to the front door anxiously waiting for me to catch up. I click on the alarm and make my way around the car. As my eyes set on the house I instantly caught the shadowed image of someone gliding by the dining room window and then lost sight of the person. My heart made a divers leap straight down in to the very pit of my stomach. Light-headed at the idea that there was a stranger in my home, I think I forgot how to breath for a just brief moment and the thick darkness of the night closed in on me. I frantically waved the boys away from the porch and back toward me. I do consider myself an intelligent woman, I promise you I am. But in this very moment I became that senseless character in every horror flick that moves TOWARD the sound of danger to investigate instead of away; far, far away. I reach for the door handle since it must be unlocked. Its locked. What am I thinking? I put my ear to the door hoping to hear some sort of commotion inside. Silence. Did they hear the car alarm go off? Did they sneak out the back door? I quietly insert the key; apprehensively open the door at a snails crawl. I’m an idiot, I know. It seems as if this entire time I had forgotten about the two rugrats behind me that deserved my protection. Where’s my head? As I step in to the room with my keys intertwined between my fingers in weapon mode ready for something (I’m originally from the Bronx), I’m instantly confronted by this “gliding image”. I let out a scream flamed  with fear and then relief puts it out quickly after that. My head finally connects with the moment. “What the hell are you still doing here? Why are you weirdly hanging out near the foyer? You scared me! I thought someone had broken in!” all in one breath. My son apologizes with compassion in his eyes for scaring his ‘old lady’ and explains he was just waiting for his ride since they were behind in schedule. He adds a small chuckle in hopes to lighten the moment. My hand is on my chest feeling the rise and fall of the emotions still struggling inside of me. Still shaken about the incident, I hug him with un-quantifiable relief. He returned the gesture then off he went as his chariot had arrived.

The little ones aren’t still outside with no help from their “super-mum”. As nature would dictate they followed me in, without realizing the potentially dangerous prowler that lurked inside. They weren’t alert to the obvious signs of my body language nor did they question why I had waved them away from the porch in the first place. Why would they consider that their very own home could warrant recoil? Why would they fear their haven? They have never had to fall back on a past experience that would have made them all the wiser in this type of situation. My children have been protected; sheltered from the life and environment I grew up around. They live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, with good schools and have never been personally affected by the actions of scary human beings. My husband and I do what we can to help this continue as such and as long as it’s in our reach to control. 
But what happened tonight has me skipping running down memory lane. No yellow brick road that leads me to a powerful wizard that would grant my inner wishes of peace and safety. No fairy godmother, no guardian angel. Just a tough, dysfunctional and concrete environment I would never want to revisit.  
I recently overheard a song on the radio by Twenty One Pilots called Stressed Out. Aside from the catchy tune, I found it to have a deep emotional message worth discussing. The chorus goes as follows:
“Wish we could turn back time to the good old days when our Momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out”. The song continues to speak of a happier time when they’d play pretend and build rocket ships and dreaming of outer space. A time of when nothing really mattered. That given the choice between student loans and tree house homes, they’d take the latter.

My psyche has chosen to loop these verses in the past few days, challenging me to come clean if I’ve ever felt the very sentiment that is so simply delivered in this song. A related sentiment to the one that many adults chant to their own children; “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be a kid again”, “You don’t know how good it is to be a kid” or referring back to the ‘good old days’ as they gingerly reminisce the days of their youth’. As I sit here deep in self-interrogatory thought, trying to channel THAT nostalgic feeling, it seems to be completely vaulted in some dark abyss never to surface. I question though if it ever existed. When I press myself to recollect, there are no doubt some pleasant keepsake moments to look back on. From my 4th birthday party to the times I’d stay up late watching the Twilight Zone with my mother. From watching Saturday morning cartoons to cooling off in the hydrant on a steamy summer day.

Despite these flickers of lovely memories, my childhood cannot be described as a carefree one. Don’t get me wrong, arguably it could have been that much worse. My heart is heavy with the understanding that so many children have and continue to suffer at the hands of some very scary adults and I cannot begin to ever know what it’s like to walk in their shoes. But when I reflect back to the “little girl” version of myself; I feel sad for her. She was exposed to more than what I would have liked her to have seen or heard at such an early age and with such constancy. The memories that flood the recesses of my brain, to mention but a few are more along the lines of drug dealers cajoling on the corners; the occasional gun shot echoing outside my window; coming home to an apartment that others felt at liberty to trespass and help themselves to our possessions; getting groped by a passerby on my way home from school; one friend that lost a game of Russian roulette; another friend was taught a fatal lesson when bound to a chair and pushed off the rooftop; a single mom that cried and prayed incessantly because she never knew where the next meal or pair of shoes for a growing kid were going to come from; a home invasion while we slept then woken up in a terrified state when confronted face to face with the intruders, of which I never truly recovered from the duration of my dwelling there. Interlace that with all the personal “secret” dysfunctional issues that occurred within the household circle itself.

As a child, I may have daydreamed, but it was dreaming of a time when I could control my own destiny. As a child I didn’t get to choose. I had no personal power against my surroundings or even my own life. My life belonged to the adults around me. I obeyed and quietly worried about not having money, food, rent, at too early of an age. Too young to contribute to changing my current fate. I dreamed forward, I wished in to the future, I hoped for the years to pass quickly so I could earn my way through life. I needed to get through school, I needed to choose a career, I needed to work. Work would be my magic carpet out of these scary streets. Along with this carpet came student loans, bills and rent continued, but I welcome it. Although I didn’t build a rocket ship to fly in to outer space, I most certainly built a new life far, far away from the one I grew up surrounded by. A life that has propelled me away from the time when no song from my Momma could put me at ease. And THAT is better than the old days.


— The Pretty Platform


A Time Machine For a Cup of Coffee

“Try some coffee” she ordered.

I was ten. I was from a Puerto Rican household. Kids were allowed to drink coffee. With cheese. Yes, with cheese, IN the coffee. It was a thing. I tried the coffee. Didn’t like it. I can still remember the bitter taste. She had hers in a dainty Victorian cup and matching saucer. China white outlined with vintage pink roses. I yearned to sip anything from that cup. It was reserved just for coffee. I ate the cheese.

“Have some coffee” she said.

“You know I don’t like it” I retaliated. I was 15. I wouldn’t even try it again. I prepared myself some hot chocolate instead. I filled my mug and spooned out the mini marshmallows. I dumped them in to the sink. Her Bustelo canister and my ready mix individual packets were aside one another on the shelf. Both aromas competed with one another in that kitchen. The smell of the coffee triumphed.

“Would you like a taza de café? ” she teasingly asked.

“Oh Mom, always the hopeful soul” I retorted with a sigh. I was 23. I was out of the house. I was visiting. I was an adult. Older folks never listen. They never understand. Does she ask me to just annoy me? We sit across from one another at the table and catch up. We chat, we gossip, we laugh. She sips from that vintage cup with the pink roses. I can’t believe she still has it. I think it has a small chip on the handle.

“Join me for some coffee” she pleaded.

“I really don’t know how you like that stuff” I maintained. I was 30. I held firm. I was proud. I go through her fridge looking for a suitable substitute. I need to drink something. I couldn’t join her empty handed. She explained the beauty in a cup. In the taste. In the smell. I agreed with her on the smell. She educates me. She takes it black. No tainting. I tell her I can’t relate. I scrunch my nose in apparent disapproval.

“Please get me some coffee” she sighed.

“Black and two tablespoons of sugar, right?” I asked. I’m was 35. She responded in the positive. That Victorian cup is no longer around. That makes me sad. Mom is older, weaker. I pour the coffee in to her new pink mug. It says Delores in cursive on the front. A sturdy mug for her fragile hands. She sips it carefully. Smiles at the smell. She leans back comfortably, satisfied after taking a taste. I noticed she didn’t offer me any coffee. I sort out her medication.

“Would you like some coffee with desert?” the waitress asked.

“No thank you” I sadly replied. I could hear my Moms voice. I was 38. My husband kindly holds my hand. He squeezes it with compassion. He knows. I miss my Mom. It was a difficult two years. She’s everywhere. Everything reminds me of her. There are so many regrets no matter how much you’re there. I start pulling every detail apart. I wish I could go back in time. I need a time machine. I want to smell her freshly brewed coffee. I want the vintage cup with pink roses.

“Would you like anything else with your coffee?” asked the girl behind the counter.

“No, just the coffee please” I respond. I waited on that line for so long. I was 41. The wait is worth it. Yes, I drink coffee now. I yearn a coffee every morning. I take mine just as I was taught. Black, no tainting. I stir in 3 tablespoons of sugar. I like it a little sweeter than she did, but still allowing some of the bitterness to come through. I smile after taking a slow careful sip. The smell always reminds me of her. She’d be delighted to know.

“Do you want the coffee maker in green or red?” asked my husband.

“Green, although red would remind me of mom” I stated. He knows red was her favorite color. I finally chose the green. I was 42. My first coffee maker at home. It sits proudly on my counter. A single serve maker. I’m the only one that drinks coffee. Irony at its best. I’m not a fan of Bustelo. My choice is Colombian, dark roast. That first brew fills my kitchen. It feels like a hug from my Mom. I’m comforted even before tasting it.

No more coffee questions.

I’m now 43. This daily routine is a huge part of me. It completes my day even before it starts. I wish I could go back. I understand now. I feel it. The smell, the taste, the process actually brings people together. A club of sorts. A comradeship. I want that time machine. I want to take her up on her offer. I want us to both sip from our Victorian cups together. I want to taste HER coffee. I want to say that my mom made the best coffee. I bet she did.

— Elke

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