11.13.23 New Moon
Searching through an old drive, I found this piece I thought I'd lost. I wrote it in May 2015 when, despite the privilege of extraordinary medical care, my odds of being alive today were low. It's a personal story of a hard moment, one story in a world of much harder stories. Reading this after seven years, I recognize my unnamed grief for what I and my daughter had already lost, and my struggle for agency in the face of bleak uncertainty. I witness trauma that still haunts us. In the profound grief, uncertainty, and trauma of today, what stories can we all share to remind us of how we, our communities, and those who came before us fought to live with love and purpose?
I received a call at a little before midnight.
I was asleep. My 14-year old daughter had just crawled into my bed after studying late for a math test.
I was angry when my cell phone rang, right near my daughter’s head. I hit my phone to stop the ring. It rang again. I hit it once more. Then it rang with another number. Finally, I answered and whispered harshly into the phone, “Who is this? Stop calling. It’s the middle of the night!”
On the other end of the line I heard the steady voice of my doctor, calling me at midnight.
I rolled out of bed as quietly as I could, making my way to the kitchen where I crouched on the floor, hoping my daughter wouldn’t hear.
“Yes?” I said, knowing the call had something to do with the weird cluster of fevers that had struck me over the past month.
“We got the results of the blood tests you did this morning,” my doctor said. “The results show you have leukemia. Acute leukemia. You will need to come to the hospital tomorrow morning to be admitted for chemotherapy.”
Hearing this news — as far removed from my healthy lifestyle as I could imagine — my thoughts went only to logistics, to my daughter’s test the next day, to the lunch I needed, wanted, to pack her in the morning.
“Oh,” I said to my doctor. “Okay.”
“I know you understand this,” my doctor added, as kindly as she could. “But I need to say clearly that this is a life threatening situation. It is urgent that we get you into treatment immediately.”
I hung up the phone, ready to dial the friends I’d need for backup support the next day, opening the fridge to remember what there was to make lunch with, hoping I could get my daughter to school for a few hours so I could breathe and think before telling her.
I knew that I would need to narrate this surreal story to give it some meaning.
I knew that we were heading into a terrifying future which I knew nothing about.
At 9 am the next morning we drove to the hospital. My friend – awoken at 1 am the night before — took us there. In the back seat my daughter sat hand in hand with one of her best friends. My parents met us in the hospital.
Responsibility is the closest word I can find to describe how I felt that morning. As I entered the hospital I sensed a deep set of intentions guiding me. These weren’t intentions I wrote down that morning. They were intentions that had grown in me over my eight years of practice in tai chi and forward stance, in the greater spiritual strength those practices helped me to grow. On that awful day in March, these intentions helped me to express gratitude, to stay open, to find moments of laughter.
People say I was brave and strong. For me it felt like my intentions and practices were simply carrying me.
Still, I ached to be the mommy I knew myself to be: I wanted to sit with my daughter and hold her and protect her through all that was happening.
But I couldn’t.
From the moment we arrived I was pulled away for tests, for a bone marrow biopsy, for intense conversations with the doctors who dropped into my life that morning to save it.
Instead of the parenting role I’d always held, I needed instantly to trust the friend my daughter had picked to be with her, to share mothering with the friend I’d brought with me.
On that day I had to let go, to accept a redefinition of the most important role of my life, that of being a parent. My daughter would leave the hospital that day to sleep at her best friend's house, not returning to our home for six months.
I spent all of April in the hospital. At that time my goal was remission. We didn’t know yet that leukemia had destroyed my #7 chromosome. That remission would be only fleeting without a bone marrow transplant to transform my DNA. That the worst was yet to come.
My daughter and I had precious little time together that month. When we did, she would climb onto my hospital bed and cuddle beside me. We touched but barely spoke. Then, after a time, she would begin to cry.
Unlike me, her outside life and responsibilities continued: she had to go to school, had to take tests and do homework, had to endure the well-meaning but uncomfortable focus of students she barely knew. While the extraordinary hospital staff comforted and supported me in every moment (and joined me in rituals and from-my-bed dance parties), she was required to show up in the world every day, alone, without her mommy.
When my daughter began to cry she would say, over and over, “I can’t do this.”
I can’t do this.
I can’t do this.
I listened, for weeks, as she cried.
I waited, patiently, knowing that she needed time to grieve, to be angry, to resist.
And I knew that at some point I would need to help her move along.
One day as she held me and repeated her cries of “I can’t do this”, I knew it was time.
From the core of my being, I dreaded that moment.
Still, I straightened my shoulders and gathered my strength.
With firmness and conviction I interrupted her.
“Mija,” I said.
“Right now both of us are going to find strength we never thought we had.
We’re going to do things we never thought we could do.”
My words were not especially gentle. They were not a question. They were not an invitation.
They were simply a statement of fact.
Saying these words, to my baby, my precious daughter, was excruciating.
Yet, to my surprise, as these words emerged from my mouth, they became liberating.
These words became liberating because I knew the strength my daughter would find would serve her for the rest of her life. Because I knew that the impossible for us would become possible, regardless of whether I lived or died. Because I knew that we had stepped into a story of the future: a story of power and purpose.
I still felt tremendous pain, but along with the pain came new energy.
This is my story, a story I would never have chosen, but one that I hope can offer some truth.
I believe this is the moment of our Midnight Call, for all of us, for all our children, for all our communities, for our nation, for our planet.
In this moment, I would like to offer five wishes:
In this moment I wish you awareness of the Midnight Call, in all its pain and liberation.
In this moment I wish you the satisfaction of an assertive stance and the ease with which practiced intentions will carry you.
In this moment I wish you openness to re-envisioning the roles you have imagined and defined for yourself.
In this moment I wish you the deep and soul filling love of co-creating community.
Above all, in this moment I wish you the liberation of living your future now, in the story you create with those around you.
-- Julie Quiroz, May, 2015