Tag Archives: mother

emergency rooms

“Mom, I think I hurt myself,” I say, walking up the path toward her and the house. She’s talking to Dana, but she looks up immediately.

I am holding my hand over my right eye. Blood is dripping down. My brother had been chasing me around Dana’s truck, both of us laughing ourselves silly. When I leaped off the curb, I bashed into the open back window. You know those cantilevered metal-framed windows in the back of covered pickup trucks that open up and out? Super sharp corners? Bam! Into that corner, my eyebrow.

“Into the truck,” she says, “both of you. Dana, you’re driving.” She runs into the house, coming back with her purse and gauze and antiseptic.

It doesn’t hurt. Yet. Later, my mother tells me that she thought I’d poked my eye out. But she is seemingly calm right now, my physical therapist mother.

She directs Dana to Marina Mercy. “Left here,” she says, and he turns off Lincoln Boulevard into the hospital’s Emergency driveway.

Their Emergency Room is clean and quiet and pretty, with indirect lighting and upholstered chairs. No one is screaming or bleeding. Well, I’m still bleeding, but it’s slowing down.

Our health insurance is Kaiser, so they can’t help us, but the nurses change the gauze pad anyway, and tell my mother that I will be okay. She exhales.

Medical professionals respect my mother. She’s one of theirs, speaks the lingo. She is competent, capable, and calm. So I am, too.

“Hold on, Susie,” she says as we get back in Dana’s truck. My brother Jim is uncharacteristically silent throughout this adventure, his blue eyes huge and anxious. He’s six or so, I’m twelve and much taller. That seemed important in those days. Big sister Susie.

Kaiser’s only a few miles south, but a world apart in terms of compassionate care. In their Emergency Room we wait for hours to be seen. Every so often someone wails in pain. It’s crowded and stinks of fear sweat. The nurses are curt, overworked.

Fortunately the bleeding has stopped. I lean against my mom in the adjoining plastic chair bolted to the floor. The fluorescent light hurts my eyes so I close them. My head throbs.

Dana takes Jimbo outside, or to the cafeteria, I don’t know. I am receding, letting the world and noise and light get further and further away …

The nurse calls my name and we follow her to a small room. “Lie down,” she says and gestures to a small operating table covered with white paper. I grip my mother’s hand, and she nods at me to comply.

The doctor comes in. A man in a white coat, dark hair, glasses. I think he tried to get my mother to leave, but I would not let go of her. She stayed.

The worst pain was when they poured anesthetic into the wound. It burned, and I cried out. Looked at my mom. Her face was whiter than usual, but it was her face. The one I love. The one that loves me. Big mouth. Long black hair. Big brown-sometimes-green eyes. She does not let go of my hand, just looks at me. I don’t remember any words. Many times she and I didn’t need to speak: we just knew.

The doctor went away for a few minutes, “while you get numb.” He smiles at my mother on the way out.

Eighteen stitches. That’s how many it took to sew up the gash in my forehead. And I heard every single one of them. From inside my head. It didn’t hurt, but it was bizarre to hear something through my skull instead of my ears.

By the time we got out of there, it was night. “Kentucky Fried?” asks my mom. A special treat. Expensive.

“Yeah!” says Jim.

“Susie?” asks Mom.

“Yeah,” I say, and hold her hand all the way home.

Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and PT student at Walter Reed General Hospital, my mother applies ultra-sound and deep heat therapy to a patient a year and a half before I'm born.
Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and PT student at Walter Reed General Hospital, my mother applies ultra-sound and deep heat therapy to a patient a year and a half before I’m born.


Seattle, October 1995 …

“You’re pregnant,” says the nurse, relaying the results of the blood test over the phone.

I’m not surprised. I just bought a lemon at the grocery store for a scratch and sniff remedy; the citrus scent keeps me from vomiting.

Montaña de Oro, October 2016 …
A blustery day. It rained the night before, and will do so again. In California, this is cause for celebration. I feed Cisko just after a cloudy gold and pink sunrise, then go back to bed. Around 9:30 I pack my rucksack and hike down to the ocean.

Highest tide I’ve seen here. The sea rushes all the way up to snowy plover land. About six weeks ago I saw a baby snowy plover — tee-niny! About the size of a ping-pong ball, and probably the same weight. Cute, of course, as all babies are.

I walk north for a while, after stowing my purple boots high on a dune. Lotta kelp washed ashore, the waves still big from the storm. The water is way too turbulent to swim in.

As I walk farther north, I process thoughts and feelings out loud, as is my habit. Nobody’s around, and I find it helpful. Eventually, I sit on a hillock and drink rose-hibiscus tea from my beat up green thermos. Watch the curlews and whimbrels and pelicans.

“I’m not dying!” I yell to a buzzard circling high overhead. And then laugh. It’s true! Three years ago it wasn’t, but today it is. Such beautiful flyers, turkey vultures, just cruising the currents, with barely a wing flap.

When I drove into town last Friday, I passed baby black cows in a field on the south side of the road. Cute! ‘Tis the season. For some.

On the beach, I remember the abortions I subjected myself to. And then a shift occurs. Instead of the familiar rut of beliefs that usually pop up — I shouldn’t want a baby, I’d be a terrible mother, the men were unfit for fatherhood — after decades of lying to myself, I finally speak the truth on this windswept shore: I wanted a baby. I begin to weep.

You see, I had talked myself out of it. Three times. I believed, deeply, that I would be a terrible mother. I did not trust that I would not hurt my baby. I did not trust that I could be different from my parents.

I did not have a baby because I thought I would not be able to control my anger, my impatience, my mean streak. And I thought I needed to be in love with the father. And I thought I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do it alone.

But the reality? What I did not allow myself to know? I wanted a baby. The third abortion, in 1995, was wretched. My body reacted badly, and I could not stop crying. For hours. I wanted to die, and fell into a deep depression soon after.

Eventually I hike back to the apartment, and make a smoothie with strawberries, banana, soymilk, and spinach. It tastes great, despite the fact that I’ve run out of dates. Smoothies are a treat I look forward to after hikes, so this is good news.

“I don’t need dates,” I sing, and dance around the studio. “I don’t need dates.” Which is when I realize that I didn’t need a father either.

Most of my long life I’ve believed that I’ve been missing out on a “regular” dad, whatever that is. Someone who’s always around the house. Two parents, not divorced. Two happy-with-each-other parents.

But that’s not what I got. I got a three-times-a-year dad, a vacation dad. And, despite a lifetime of pining, that has been perfectly fine. Absolutely, incredibly okay. Another truth, bubbling up. Hunh.

And if I didn’t need a dad, perhaps my baby wouldn’t have missed one either. Because that’s the other way I talked myself out of having the baby. The men were not father material, by ANY stretch of the imagination. One was a violent alcoholic druggie, the other was a passive-agressive Beavis-and-Butthead-watching geek. I did not want us to be tied to either of them. I trusted them even less than I trusted myself.

But deep down inside, hidden from me by so-called “rational” thinking, I wanted a baby.

Which also explains my distraught reaction to menopause, sobbing over the clots of blood in the toilet.

Now, despite the tears, or maybe because of them, it is a relief to finally — deep e-x-h-a-l-e — know the truth.

I wanted a baby.

Blue Flower by Susie Van Tyne
Blue Flower by Susie Van Tyne

Saturday Morning Porridge

Retrieve the pot with leftover Bhutan red rice, cooked in beef broth.

  • walnuts
  • raisins
  • chopped dried apricots
  • a Ceylon cinnamon stick
  • water, soymilk

Simmer so flavors meld, 15 minutes or so.
Stir occasionally, between chores.
Turn off heat, let cool.
Wash your hands.
Eat, and be amazed.

“I’ll race you down,” said the cyclist turning into my lane at the top of the 10th Street hill.

“No, thanks,” I said, “I’ve got eggs and flowers to think of.” I was on my way home from the farmers market, pink lisianthus wrapped in newspaper hanging out of the bike basket. I adjusted my seagrass hat more firmly on my head for the downhill glide.

“For Mother?” he asked, keeping up with me.

“Not even slightly,” I said.

“What are the eggs for then?” he asked. Now he was behind me, on my left.

“Breakfast,” I replied. I’d never seen this guy before; what did he care what I did with my eggs?

He passed me at a stop sign. “Have a good rest of your day!”

“You do the same,” I said, relieved as he pedaled away, cutting off a truck making a U-turn.

Mother’s Day, Mothers’ Day. I’d forgotten, though I’d seen a chalk board sign in front of a restaurant advertising Sunday Brunch. This Sunday. Mother’s Day.

My biological mother and I are estranged. Again. I don’t know why, this time, though it may have to do — if it has to do with anything — with a fight we had 15 years ago. She reminded me of it in the middle of another, more recent, fight.

“You called me a slut!” she cried.

“That’s because you are!” I replied. Just flew out of my mouth, bypassing my brain completely.

In 2001, my essay, “Free Love Ain’t,” was published in an anthology, Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture. In it, I related the goings-on in our house during 1970’s Santa Monica. Sex, drugs, etc.

The fallout from publication was estrangement with my father, who was barely mentioned. My mother neglected to read the galleys until after the book had been on Oprah. We discussed it once: she refuted how an event had occurred. I replied that yes, I was young, and that was how I remembered it – Mick Jagger, nuns, bye bye blackbird.

“Okay,” she said, and that was it. We never talked about it again. Estrangements came and went. My niece’s mother reconciled us once and convinced me to visit. Twice. 1200 miles by car.

My mother asked me to help her move to New Orleans. I agreed, put all my clients on hold, sublet my tiny house, and prepared for a long cross-country journey.

Imagine my rage when I found out that my ex-battering-boyfriend, the one she had made a point of telling me she’d slept with first, was trucking her things to her new home in the Tremé.

That was when I called her a slut. That was the fight she was referring to, years later.

Do I regret it? the second time? I don’t know. It was a revelation. I guess her behavior — and I know she was a grieving divorcée, mourning her dead son — affected me more deeply than I thought. Affects me.

When I am not angry at her (it comes and goes), I regret hurting her.
I don’t regret learning the truth about my feelings.

Fact: my mother belongs to a krewe called The Pizza Sluts.

Saturday Afternoon Soup
2 cups black beans, soaked overnight and rinsed
7 chopped carrots
3 cubed gold potatoes
1 turmeric root, skinned, broken into 3

Put ingredients in small stock pot, cover with water.

  • healthy dash of garlic powder
  • ground pepper
  • dried, ground sage
  • heaping tablespoon of fennel seeds
  • leftover beef broth

Bring to boil, then simmer an hour or three.
Stir occasionally, while washing socks.

  • a good squirt of lemon juice
  • a big white onion, chopped

Have a good cry.
Simmer another 15 minutes or so.
Serve while onions are still crisp.