For my last birthday, my sister crawled through my parents’ grove and unearthed a beautiful, decayed typewriter to give to me. It’s gorgeous. I love typewriters for the same reason I love paper—they represent the possibility to manipulate language for story.
But this typewriter is pretty much just for looks: the keys are stuck, the roller won’t budge, and it’s full of corrosion and filth, leaves and twigs and dust.
October’s been a rough month for my brain. I’m still transitioning to my new medication, and as a result, I’ve had a lot of seizures in the past few weeks. Over a dozen.
I’ve fallen into a sort of pattern with these seizures, as many epileptics do, preferring the same idiosyncrasies: I march in place, twiddle my thumbs, and talk nonsense, mostly about food—carrot nubs and garlic cloves in particular. (I guess this is an improvement over a phase I went through in 2012, in which I would take off my own pants…)
In the moments before a seizure, during the wave of nausea and nerves that course through me, I always believe I can stop it, that I can maintain my composure, that I have some sort of control over this disease.
But after my marching and thumb twiddling and food talk (which I never remember afterwards), I always believe that I somehow overruled my seizure, that I kept it from happening, that I overpowered it and kept it under control. I pick up the thread of conversation where it left off. The only indication that anything went wrong is found in those who witness it: this startled, sad expression, gentle words, an offer to sit down, a hug, a glass of water to swallow down my pills.
I hate it.
Not their kindness, never that. I just hate needing it. I hate finding out that I didn’t have as much control over my own body and mind as I thought. I’ll admit, watching people reenact my drum majorette march and my thumb twiddles for me is kind of funny.
The part that’s really embarrassing is finding out what stupid things I’ve said.
During my seizures, I’ve said the following things, within absolutely no context whatsoever—these were lovingly recorded by my friends and family members who’ve witnessed my brain fails:
“You be the zombie sitting in the chair.”
“Matthew in my lap—I’m going to eat his throat out.” (I said this while repeatedly punching my fist into a plate of cake.)
“The carrot nubs will make me stop marching.” (I said this while petting the inside of my purse.)
“You go through the door first.”
“The mermaids at the end of the driveway made me do it.”
“The garlic will make me stop marching.” (I said this while pointing at some garlic cloves and laughing hysterically.)
I’ve also laughed hysterically about our dog barking and about nothing whatsoever.
I sometimes have this strange semi-awareness during my episodes, and I do recall that during the two where I was talking about food (the carrot nubs and the garlic), I was thinking that I should probably take an Ativan tablet, which can abort a seizure. I knew I needed it, and I was trying to articulate that need, but the words just came out all wrong.
I like words. A lot. I was an early reader. I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon. I taught English for seven years. So to have a disease that robs me—even momentarily—of the capacity to use language properly is devastating. I lock up, I malfunction, my keys get jumbled, the paper gets jammed. I feel like that typewriter my sister found for me—created to use words, but completely helpless to do so.
My foster son’s birth mother gave me some presents when we picked up his belongings and moved him into our house. (She was in the process of moving and everything had to go.) She gave me a gorgeous iron birdbath, a rusty old tractor tire rim (which made a perfect fire pit), and an umbrella tree.
The umbrella tree had long since outgrown its small white pot. It had slowly inched towards what little light it could reach, and in doing so, had developed a serious hunch. (It could barely stand upright.)
But the son was rather proud of it all the same. It was a little piece of his home, his past, his history, and we were taking it into our home right along with him. It was in dire need of a bigger pot and better light, so we picked out a new pot and together, the three of us (foster parents and son) gently replanted this tree.
Perhaps “gently” is the wrong word here—our intentions were gentle, true, but the actual act was not. The son held the branches while the two of us held the pot, and we grunted and tugged and yanked until it pulled free. There was no other way to do it. I was worried we’d damage it somehow in the move, and there was talk of destroying the white pot to remove it, but together, we prevailed. The son held the tree in the new pot and we poured handfuls of fresh black dirt around it, and we tried our best to correct that hunch in the process.
I’ll say this up front: I am a notorious plant killer. (I buy brand new houseplants every six months or so to keep up the illusion that I have a green thumb, but I just…lack the tender skill required to care for plants. I am getting better at it, but I’m still not that great.) So I was terrified that I was going to kill this plant, this piece of our new son’s old life, that it would shrivel and die in my clumsy care. I was terrified that the repotting had stressed it, had damaged it, and that it would be beyond all help.
But that didn’t happen.
I mean, yeah, we had it a little too close to the air conditioner vent for awhile (it didn’t like that—it lost a lot of leaves), and there were a couple times when it got way too much (or not enough) water, but after we moved it somewhere warmer and brighter and figured out what its needs were, it flourished. It stopped shedding leaves, and it started growing new ones.
The other day, my foster son—a deep thinker if ever there was one—was standing over this tree, chin in hand, contemplating. “It’s doing so well,” he said, reaching down to touch the new growth. “I think it just needed a new place to live.”
I was struck by his choice of words: a new place to live.
I don’t think he was just talking about that plant.
He’s right, you know—sometimes, it just takes a new environment to flourish. (He is living proof of this.) Sometimes it just takes eating right and sunshine and fresh air and room to stretch your legs (or roots, what have you).
And I hope that is what we have done for him.