Thursday, July 21, 2011

Oh, and I finished grad school

I've alluded a couple of times to the Week from Somewhere, but didn't say much beyond that. It was an emotional roller-coaster. In an attempt to get it all out of my head, I'm detailing that week here. Hopefully this will help me feel less melancholy about, well, the melancholy parts:

Monday (June 6): Corina the cat, after a very hot weekend when we thought she was just lethargic and thirsty from the heat, is clearly feeling unwell, so I insist that DH take her to the vet on what was supposed to be his day off. He agrees and takes her in. She has bad kidneys so we all (DH, me, and the vet) presume it's another kidney infection. Lots of samples (blood, urine) are taken, antibiotics are prescribed, and they go home. We'll get the results Wednesday. By evening Corina seems a little perked up, probably from the subcutaneous fluids she was given at the vet, and our suspicions of another of these annoying infections seem confirmed. Life with a special-needs cat, that's all. We have to give her oral antibiotics twice a day, but DH and I have a pretty good system down.

Tuesday (June 7): The Big Ultrasound. We get to the hospital in plenty of time and actually get in to the ultrasound room early. For the first 20 minutes or so of the exam, I can't see the screen at all, so I watch DH's face as he looks at the screen. This makes me fall in love with my husband all over again, as his face changes from delight, to awe, to pure interest. At one point he indicates to me that he can see the kid's beating heart. In the middle of things, the ultrasound tech shouts, "It's a boy!" and we both yell: "Really?". She turns the screen to show me the proof. DH and I had both half-thought this baby was a girl, so we're surprised, but we're excited nonetheless. Everything looks good and he's looking a little big for his gestational age, which isn't much of a surprise - DH is a tall man, and I was a large baby. We leave with a few grainy pictures to show our families. We're excited about our son. Our SON. OUR son. Woah.

Wednesday (June 8): The Very Bad Day. I wake up super early and kind of anxious. When I walk out to the living room, Corina is clearly uncomfortable, as she had been Tuesday, but maybe a little worse. Her usual sweet meow has changed to something more shrill - more of a cry - and she doesn't really eat or drink when I give her food or water. I'm worried the antibiotics aren't working as quickly as they usually do - she's never refused water before. I try to work on my thesis defense presentation, but my mind is everywhere. I take a walk at 6am and feel bad about how slow I feel. I spend some time just sitting on the floor with Corina, trying to get her to eat a little wet cat food. Finally, I leave for work.

When I'm at work, DH calls me and randomly picks a fight, which should have been a huge red flag that something else is going on, but I don't get it. Then he calls me an hour later to tell me the vet just called and the news is not just bad, it's terrible. Corina's kidneys are completely shutting down. His earlier crankiness had been because his daily companion was clearly deteriorating before his eyes. We both cry, for the first of many times that day.

What was supposed to be my lone normal day of work that week turned in to one of the saddest days of our life together. DH picks me up and I ride in the back seat with Corina - just like we did on the day we adopted her - and the three of us go to the vet. She is so weak when we get there that she can't really stand. We're there for hours, mulling over the options, but ultimately there is only one clear choice: We have to put our sweet friend to sleep. It all happened so quickly. She was only 3 years old. We decide we'll bury her in Michigan, at my in-laws' house, because that was her "vacation home". So I drive there, in a numb auto-pilot fog, as we intermittently pull ourselves together and then fall apart sobbing all over again. DH digs a grave in the waning daylight while I call my brother, one of the only people I know who will completely understand. Then, with my brother-in-law (who loved her, too) looking on, we bury her with a few of her favorite toys, right next to her beloved screened-in porch. We cry and cry and cry.

Thursday, (June 9): We wake up early in Michigan after a terrible night's sleep. I make a little coffee, and then we hit the road to get back to Chicago. Today should have been exciting for both of us: it's DH's last day teaching as a grad student, and the day of my master's thesis defense. The End of Graduate School for both of us. These things still happen, but we're both in something of a state of shock. The thesis defense actually goes quite well: I stammer through the first couple of minutes, and then my brain shifts in to academic gear and the planned 30-minute defense turns in to an interesting hour-long discussion with my advisor. I pass. Like that, I'm finished with graduate school.

Partly to celebrate and partly because neither of us can stand being in our too-empty apartment for long, we go out for sushi at a local place we've never tried before. We manage to have a nice time together, even though everything has an undertone of sadness. Corina was supposed to be part of this new life, after grad school. She was going to be the pet who taught our kid (our son!) about how to live with animals. We knew she wouldn't live as long as other cats, but I had always thought that would mean we'd have seven or eight good years with her, at least. Not just-over-two.

Despite that, the sushi is good and so is the conversation. Through the whole week, DH and I had each other, at least, and it feels good to celebrate that.

Friday (June 10): A midwife appointment. I actually lost weight over the course of the stressful week, and the midwife tells me to take care of myself - but also not to eat too much. After the way the rest of the week went, this normal (and fairly short) appointment feels nice. All looks well with the ultrasound, though there were a couple of things they couldn't see clearly so I have the option of going back again. We get to hear the kid's heartbeat again, which is always a treat.

I spend the rest of the day trying to do the work I was going to do Wednesday. Thinking takes longer than usual and I'm not very productive.

Saturday (June 11): DH's graduation day. His parents meet us at our apartment and we all walk together to campus. There are two ceremonies and a catered box lunch in between: the day of pomp and ceremony lasts from 8:30am to nearly 4:00pm. My in-laws come back to our apartment with us, afterward, and I am utterly spent. DH's mother orders me to take a nap and she doesn't have to twist my arm - I pass out for a half hour in our bedroom. DH dozes in a living room chair while his parents wash up dishes and tidy things up around our apartment, which, after the week we had, looks like it's occupied by a pack of lunatics. A couple of weeks later, I am still finding dishes in random cupboards, and it keeps reminding me of their kindness.

We all wake ourselves and head to a pizza parlor, where we are met by my parents and many of DH's extended family for a celebratory dinner. The naps did us good, and we both enjoy ourselves. I sit across the table from our adorable 18-month-old cousin who enjoys it when I make faces at him. We pass around the ultrasound pictures, and the family toasts our successes with good pizza and good beer (though I have root beer, of course).

We get home that evening in time to watch our favorite Saturday night B-movie feature, and while we're watching the TV, the baby starts kicking. I grab DH's hand and place it on my belly, and after a moment he gets a good kick. First contact! DH laughs. It's a reassuring end to a week that would have been tiring and stressful anyway, if it hadn't also held a family tragedy.

One element I left out was the one that made me feel like whoever wrote this script made it a little heavy-handed: the manila envelopes. At the ultrasound that Tuesday, the tech gave us our printed out ultrasound pictures in a small manila envelope - a 4x8 inch size or so. When we were at the vet's office on Wednesday, the vet tech handed us an envelope that was exactly the same, but it contained the bill for euthanasia and a pamphlet about how to cope with the death of a pet. DH tried to look at the contents of that envelope while we were still there, but he began crying as soon as he saw the paperwork. I put the envelope away. For the next few days when we were home, we had two unmarked manila envelopes floating around our apartment: one contained exciting information about our future, the other a depressing reminder of what we'd just lost. I finally took the sad envelope contents out and put that envelope away with our stationery. Then I labeled the happy envelope.

DH's reaction to the paperwork was similar to mine when I had to sign a statement about how we would handle Corina's remains. She was still alive, and she was inches away from me when I signed what felt, to me, like her death warrant. Like a good kid of attorneys, I read the whole paper, but when I picked up the pen to sign I was overwhelmed with grief and had to take a moment, apologizing to the vet tech who was just doing her job.

Something about the paperwork, I guess, made the hazy nightmare feel much more real.

So that was The Week. I'm thankful that DH and I were both able to successfully finish our graduate programs, and I'm very grateful that our baby looks to be developing well. But most days, I also just really miss my cat. And I don't think anything will fix that.

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