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Escaping Planet Sorrow

                    A Memoir 
 In loving memory of my family. 

 And for my pal, Jim Sorcic, who met me in a place called Grief,

and accompanied me home.


     "About four or five inches in diameter," the doctor said. “Her aortic aneurism could burst at any moment and she will die. I’m surprised she isn’t dead already.”


     Beneath the buzz of a broken fluorescent I learned that my mother needed immediate surgery to replace her aorta with one made of Gore-Tex. The odds were not good that she would survive it. If she did, she might lose a leg, some or all kidney function, and maybe even lose some other stuff too while they were at it. There were only two doctors in New York City who were capable of doing the surgery. Luckily, one of them worked in the hospital just a few blocks from my mother's apartment in Brooklyn. That doctor didn't accept any health insurance but it didn’t matter because my mother had no insurance. But after he looked at her sonogram he knew that if he sent her away she would die. The only time he could operate was at midnight when he was finished with all his other surgeries. If she lasted that long.


     With his words, that doctor single-handedly created the second Great Divide in my life: before my mother’s slow, suffocating descent into death, and after. The first Great Divide had happened when I was eight years old and my parents had gotten divorced. I didn’t really understand how these events were related until after my mother died. I had been living on Planet Sorrow for a very long time, a place where the gravity was more than a normal human being could bear, where sorrow nipped at my heels and my legs were full of sand.


     I had just moved out of Brooklyn, to Westchester County, the month before. For the next six months I fought my way through every day knowing my mom was in a hell-hole of a hospital back in Brooklyn, unable to speak to me on the phone because she had a tube in her throat. She was terrified and in pain. Every day some other horror would unfold: pneumonia, drug reactions and infections, all delaying her ability to leave the hospital. She would lie alone for hours on end because the nurses were overworked and responded to the loudest patients first. When my mother rang her buzzer for the nurse, they called over the intercom, "Can I help you?" even though they knew she had a tube in her throat and couldn't answer them. She and I were stuck in a Hitchcockian nightmare together.


     Seven years earlier, on July fourth, 1986, my older brother Michael had died suddenly of a heart attack. He was thirty-three at the time. Because he had been obese all his life and smoked cigarettes, we all used to admonish him that he would die young. And yet, when someone thirty-three drops dead, it's still sudden and unexpected: like an anvil falling on a cartoon character out of nowhere. Grieving for Michael was all done after the fact. My mother's dying took longer, which meant instead of an anvil hitting me on the head and crushing me, it was strapped to my back for two long years.


     My struggle not to collapse under this weight or retreat into sickness myself, is the essence of this memoir. Survival alone would not be enough. Simultaneously, I was starting a computer consultancy that could earn real money and help my family finally move out of a roach infested apartment on a highway in Brooklyn and start a better life in Westchester. I was still dreaming of being a professional creative writer. And, I was trying to separate from my mother after a lifetime of feeling responsible for her.


     How was I ever going to do any of that with an anvil strapped to my back?

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