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Posts Tagged ‘parents’

Ocean City Took My Breath

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on March 26, 2010

Stopped breathing.  Just like that.  The ocean had been cold.  Much colder than I’d expected from a warm Spring day. It was early in the beach season.  The winter had been harsh. Cold currents still flowed past the Jersey shore where my parents had dragged all seven kids. Normally, in Summer, they dragged us out of our comfortable beds early on a gray Baltimore morning, drove us across the Bay Bridge and down to the Ocean City on Maryland’s coast. I had no idea there was another Ocean City in New Jersey, and I have no memory of why we went there.
Me and my brother John had run into the waves, let them knock us over, felt the water churning and rolling over our heads.  We never tried to swim in the crashing surf, just dived under the waves and tried to touch bottom. Felt the undertow trying to drag us out to sea. Tried to body surf our way back to the beach. That was our relationship with the ocean. The younger kids were still too young to play in the surf like that.  They were walking along the sand, sticking their feet in the frigid water and running away from the incoming waves.
Me and John were the oldest. We did what we wanted sometimes. We were always together:  walking to school, serving mass as altar boys in the early mornings, riding our bikes miles away from home, sledding down the steep city streets in winter, building a tree house, or carrying groceries home from the store down the road.
Sometimes, when fighting the wild bucking waves and swift undercurrent, I’d do my best to stay under water as long as possible. John and I were pretty good at holding our breath.  I always hoped to see fish, crabs or starfish on the ocean bottom.  I was always digging in it, hoping to find something.
I came up after a long dive and didn’t see John anywhere.   No big deal.  He’d probably gone in.  I was freezing anyway.  Even my frenetic play hadn’t warmed me up all that much.  I headed into the warm dry sand towards my father.   I still didn’t see John anywhere. I knew Dad would know where he was.  As I got closer to him, I felt funny.  My body had instantly started to warm under the 75 degree sun, but I felt hotter than that. My breath became ragged, uncertain. I sped up, saw my dad turn his head towards me, and that was all I saw.
I awoke on my back, but my hair was full of sand.  A crowd encircled me.  “What happened?” I heard a voice ask.  I wanted to know that myself. Another disembodied voice in the crowd answered, “I think some old man drowned.”  Old man? At 15, I could hardly look old.  My dad was there too, looking down at me.  He picked me up.  A beach jeep pulled up, and hands grabbed me, loaded me into the jeep. It flew along the sand, bouncing and twisting.  Suddenly we were off the beach, on the street. An ambulance waited.  I was hustled into it.  A mask was pushed onto my face.  Oxygen poured into my nose and mouth. It felt good.  I didn’t notice anything else, but I wondered where John was.
Next thing I knew, I was lifted onto a gurney, rolled into a curtained-off room.  “I’m cold,” I remember saying.  It was warm in the room; everyone was in swimsuits around me.  The air was humid, but I shivered in all that heat.  A thick wool blanket was dropped over me.  I shook, uncontrollably.  I just couldn’t warm up. “I’m still cold,” I said.  Another heavy, dark green blanket was draped over me.  I still shivered, amazed that I could be so cold, warm as the day was, and covered in heavy blankets.  I felt like a freak.  Well, I was, I guess.  Turns out my rare allergy to cold had been my nemesis. In recent years, after playing for hours in the snow, and coming in the house to warm up, I had developed swollen hands, fingers that wouldn’t bend, red blotches on my face.  But this was summer!  Somehow, the cold ocean currents had swollen the muscles in my throat, tightening around my windpipe, cutting off my air.  As I warmed up, my breathing slowed, and I relaxed.  My parents had my clothes. I got dressed.  I remember being back in the station wagon, surrounded by all the other kids, including John, next to me as always. Freaks need their families.

Posted in family, Life, medical, My Life, Writing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

THE DAY I TURNED 50: Dad, a Cat, & Death

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on April 15, 2008

THE DAY I TURNED 50

I awoke on my birthday
The day I turned 50
Cat asleep under the bed
I saw my father
Standing in the corner
Next to the open closet
I was surprised.
He was years dead.
I called to him
Asked him how he’d been
What he’d been doing
He smiled at me
The old superior smirk
He didn’t speak
Moved away quickly
Watching me watching him
Passing by.

I woke up again
Staring at the empty corner
The open closet door.
Under the bed the cat stirred.

I dreamt one morning
I held my cat on my lap
He’s dead too
Died that same month
The month I turned 50
I felt his purring weight
Knew he was dead
Two feet under
I spoke softly to him
Glad to see him
Felt the muscles rippling
Under striped orange fur.
He spoke to me
Said he was fine
The only thing was
He wished he’d lived
In the rain forest.
I didn’t think this strange
Even though his eyes
His eyes were blind
At least he had eyes now
They’d disappeared that day
That day he slept
On the bathroom floor
Trying to get up
His eyes were gunked shut
I tried to clean those eyes
But they were gone.
He went back to sleep
I held him felt him
Stroked him missed him.

He used to be my father’s cat.

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A Comedy Duo

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 29, 2007

abbottcostello.jpg You think of comedy duos, you think of Abbott and Costello, Laurel & Hardy, laurelhardy.jpg Cheech and Chong, cheechchong.jpg or maybe Burns and Allen, burnsallen.jpg depending on your age. However, I think my parents were one of the best comedy acts I’ve ever seen. The driving trip was their specialty.

Somehow, they always thought, first off, that waking up three, four, or all seven kids hours before we usually got up was a good idea. Sure, they’d warn the older ones we would all have to get up early, and there was always a strict deadline to be on the road, like 5:00 am sharp. Of course, that never worked, but it never deterred them in the slightest. They’d drag us all out of our dreams and make sure we dressed, or were dressed. My mom went on to make the sandwiches and boiled eggs, while my dad was doing things to the car. There was barely enough light to see when we all finally stumbled out to the car, and fell back asleep, but not before we were told to pee now or forever hold our pees. That rarely worked either. Somebody always had to pee, of course, before we’d gone a mile or two. That was easy enough when we stopped for gas. I never saw us go anywhere without having to stop and put in a whole two dollars worth of gas.

family.jpg However, on the return trip, all of the younger kids were asleep, and we were not allowed to stop for any reason. Me and my brother John were usually awake or woke up on the way back, and we always had to pee. My mom was prepared for this after a few such trips. She carried a mason jar with her, and she’d pass it back to us when we had to go. canning-jar.jpg We’d fill it up, and she’d open her door just enough to pour it out onto the road. Woe onto any of us if we lost time or gas mileage because we had to stop. It’s pretty embarrassing to pee with your parents listening a foot away, but having to pass that jar of hot piss to your mom just seemed really odd. We handled it carefully too, since the thought of spilling any in the car seemed terrifying. stationwagon.jpg

Going or coming, my parents were always fun to watch. If my mother was driving, my dad was always reaching over to grab the steering wheel – to straighten out the car, he said. He was nervous watching someone else drive, and couldn’t stand to see her not drive straight down the center of the lane squarely between the lines. Eventually they would teach me to line up the edge of the hood with the highway stripes, and that would put me dead center. I don’t know why it was so vitally important. Of course, since we couldn’t stop, sometimes the driver would fall asleep, and start to drift, so I can understand how grabbing the steering wheel came about. If my father was driving, he rolled the window all the way down, even on a cold night, to help keep himself awake, and we’d freeze our nuts off in the back seat. Even with that, I remember waking up when the car went off the road onto the shoulder. That was nerve-wracking, since the shoulders often sloped down away from the highway, and the car could roll over. My parents always managed to straighten the car. I learned from that that you don’t panic, you keep going, and gradually slow, until you can pull back on the road smoothly. Worked for me one time, but I never went off the road again after that. Nowadays I stop as soon after dark as I can, eat dinner and hit the sack. steering_wheel.jpg

By far the best part of the whole routine was watching them trade drivers. Remember, they couldn’t stop the car, even to pee, so stopping to switch drivers appeared to be out of the question too. One of them would suddenly say, “Grab the wheel,” and the other would do it. Then would begin the incredible acrobatics, as one person slipped under as the other climbed over, all while one person held the wheel and the other kept a foot on the accelerator. Keeping the car straight always seemed to work OK; the hard part was transferring power to the pedal. “Get the accelerator!” “I can’t, your foot’s in the way.” “Well, I can’t let go.” “Well let go now, damn it.” And suddenly, they’d be completely on their own part of the seat, and I’d relax. It was the best show I ever watched, and it played a couple times each trip, each and every time. Loved it.

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