Saturday, February 28, 2004

Memories of our garden helped my wife through childbirth - originally published May 9, 2001 in the St. Catharines Standard

When Drew, our eldest son was born, Sheri and I lived in a little house on Queenston Street. The backyard was closed in on two sides with concrete walls and the yard itself was paved with patio stones. That summer, we turned that yard into the most beautiful cottage garden. During her labour with Drew, she had remained calm by visualizing our backyard, our little secret garden. All of this was going through my head as Sheri grasped down hard on my knuckles as she screamed in pain. We were having a baby. We had planned to have the birth at home, but something went wrong.
Sandy Knight, our midwife arrived at our home shortly after eleven the night of April 25, 2001. Ann Lovold, the other midwife, was to come over later to help with the birth. Sandy gave Sheri a quick check up and then sent her into the bath to relax. She was checking the baby’s heartbeat with an ultrasound monitor at regular intervals. You could hear the heartbeat thump, miss a beat, thump, thump. “It’s probably nothing to worry about,” she said. At 1:15am she broke the news to us. That thump, miss a beat, thump, thump, was arrhythmia in the baby’s heartbeat. There was a ninety-nine percent chance the baby would be fine but she suggested we go to the hospital just to be sure. That way, if there were any problems, we would have a pediatrician at our disposal. Sheri, who had been resting in the bath, and whose contractions were less than 3 minutes apart and getting more painful each contraction, was upset by this turn. She didn’t want to go to hospital, but the memory of her first daughter, who had died from a rare form of cancer, motivated her. “I don’t want to have any more dead babies. Let’s go.” 1:30 am we climbed into the car. Sandy followed behind us. She also arranged to have Ann meet us at the hospital. At 1:45 am we arrived in the Emergency carport at St. Catharines General Hospital. I jumped out to help Sheri, only to discover that she refused to get out of the car. Luckily Sandy arrived shortly with a wheelchair and just the right words to coax Sheri into the hospital. Sheri and Sandy rushed up to maternity while I signed Sheri in at admitting.
While I was admitting her, Sheri began pleading with Sandy and Ann, the other midwife who met us at the hospital, for drugs and lots of them. I found the room just in time to substitute for the drugs. If she had to feel pain, she’d be damned if she didn’t break my knuckles in the process.
All of our discussions about breathing and relaxation had gone out the car window on the way to the hospital. She said later that the pain was like all of reality smashed into little pieces and fell into a black void. Nothing would make sense to her again until she was holding our new baby Joey just minutes from now.
I looked to my right. The baby was crowning and the midwives were working together to ease the baby out. They asked me to use my right hand to hold Sheri’s leg up. I looked back at Sheri. This woman I loved, my wife, was in utter agony. If only I could say something to make it easier. I whispered in her ear. “Go to the garden honey…go to the garden.” “I can’t,” she said, “they tore it up when we moved. It’s gone.” “You have to remember the garden, baby. They can’t take away your memories.” “It hurts.” “I know it hurts, but you have to remember.” I was crying now too. I had no idea what to do. But then she told me. “Yes, fine, the garden,” she said, “Now please shut up. I’m trying to push.”
Joseph Michael John Fogel was born into the world At 2:15 the morning of April 26, 2001. He’s a quiet baby, with no signs of the heart arrhythmia that prompted our trip to the hospital. He’s got a full head of hair and except for the midnight feedings, he sleeps through the night. He hardly ever cries. Drew calls him “My baby” and when we go out, Drew is quick to introduce the baby as “My brother Joey”.
As for Sheri, she’s ecstatic to have another baby. And she never wants to hear about that garden again.

She looked at me: I could see every shade of brown in her eyes - originally published March 10, 2001 in the St. Catharines Standard

Until I met the woman who would become my wife, I did not believe in the notion of love at first sight. The idea that you could just see a passing stranger on the street, or as it was in our case, in a café and decide right then that this was the person you were destined to spend the rest of your life with was not only foreign to me, it seemed completely absurd. But that's exactly what happened.
When I met Sheri-Lynn five years ago, I was living on welfare and calling myself a poet. The day was October 1st, 1996. Around five o'clock that afternoon, I went to Shipman's Café to write in my journal. The usual gang was there including some other fellow poets from the Writing On The Wall poetry group. I sat by myself at my usual table by the window. My book was open, but I checked my journal just now, and I didn't actually write anything that day. The girl who'd just walked in and sat down at the poets' table distracted me. When I went up to the counter to refill my coffee, Bill, one of the poets, flagged me over. So I pulled up a chair next to this wonderful girl.
Bill was sitting at a table with Jody and Sheri. Bill and Sheri were joking around. I found out later, that they'd gone out once or twice, but there friendship had always been platonic. This was now an in-joke of there's.
"Will you go out with me?" asked Bill jokingly.
"I don't think so Bill," replied Sheri.
"Would you go out with me?" I asked, trying to add to the joke.
She turned to look at me. It was only a momentary glance. I could see every shade of brown in her eyes. Still looking at me she said, "Yes. What's your name again?"
Here was this cute brunette whom I'd never met before looking through me like we'd known each other for a thousand years.
I hesitate a moment longer, then say, "Well, I guess we're going out then."
And she says after another pause, "Ya, I guess we are."
I scribble my phone number on a pack of cigarettes and she does the same. Jody glances up from his coffee to shake his head. "Did what I thought happened just happen?"
To which Bill replied, "Yup, I think they're going out."
Then Sheri invites me to come out with them to the Mind Bomb. At Mind Bomb Bill, Jody and I have beer (It's loonie beer night) and Sheri has a glass of wine. And so the four of us sat drinking our beer and talking. Around 11 or so Sheri says she's got to get home.
"Anyone want to walk me home?"
"Umm, I will." I say.
"You don't realize how far away she lives do you?" say Bill sardonically.
"I'll be all right," I say to Bill and then we all say our good-byes.
Sheri lives in Merriton, and we're walking. It's a forty minute walk and we pass the time talking about music and poetry and what we're going to do when we get off of welfare. When we get to her house, she invites me in for tea.
"You walked all the way down here with me," she says, "at least stay for some tea."
We talked late into the night. We felt immediately comfortable with each other. Talking with Sheri that night wasn't like getting to know a new acquaintance, it was like getting re-acquainted with an old friend you haven't seen for a few years. It was like a chance meeting at a grocery store, or a long distance phone call from a college friend who has long since moved away. For hours we talked until, finally out of sheer exhaustion, we had to get some sleep.
"You can stay over if you want," she says. I grab my coat and cuddle up on the couch beneath it. When Sheri walks out of the bathroom, where she has been changing into pajamas, she laughs.
"Come on silly," she says, "You look ridiculous hanging off my couch like that. You can sleep next to me, just no funny business, okay?"
"Okay," I reply.
"And lose the coat. I'll get you a blanket."
We awoke the next morning facing each other but still beneath our own separate blankets.
She smiled at me and said, "I think I'll keep you."
And she did.

And that's how I met the woman who later became my wife.
Since I met her, my life has had purpose. We have a two-year-old son Drew, and another son due in April. I work full-time and Sheri just recently went on pregnancy leave. I don't know what life has in store for us. But It's not so scary knowing that she's by my side.

For Amy - originally published June 30th, 2001 in The St. Catharines Standard
[co-written with my wife Sheri]

We sat on a park bench that day, quietly eating our lunch of hamburger value combos. Drew, unaware of the somberness of the occasion, ran from tree to tree, hamburger in one hand, a clutch of fries in the other. To him it was just another day in the park. But it wasn’t just another day, it was Amy’s birthday. And this beautiful setting wasn’t a park; it was Mount Osborne Cemetery.
For as long as I have known Sheri, we have made this pilgrimage every May, to celebrate the birth date of a child whom I’ve never met. A child I love and know through the memories my wife holds and cherishes within her heart.
Before Sheri and I met, she was engaged to another Matthew. When Amy was born, they thought they had the perfect baby. After a while they started to notice that Amy wasn’t eating well at all. She cried every time she ate. After seeing her weekly for months the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her and wrote it off as gas.
Then, on Christmas Eve of that year, with the baby having a fever of 104 and obvious trouble breathing, they went to the hospital. She was rushed to Hamilton’s Children’s hospital at MacMaster University, where after a few days and lots of medical tests, the doctors discovered the presence of a rhabdoid tumor in her liver and, unfortunately, it had already spread to her lungs. This rare form of cancer usually strikes in young children. The survival rate is almost nonexistent. The doctors warned that Amy would most likely die because at a mere 12 pounds she was way too small for chemotherapy and two years away from being able to have radiation therapy. After the operation, she spent 28 days in ICU. The doctors warned that this day was the day she would most likely die at least six times, but miraculously, she got well enough to be transferred to the Children’s Ward. She received two rounds of chemotherapy but unfortunately they were ineffective. She never left the hospital. On February 23, 1996 Amanda Marie Roach passed away. She was nine months old less three days.
When Sheri and I met in that coffee shop, Amy had been dead less than eight months. My mother had died less than three years before, and as I’ve stated before, I was very effective at using that time to do absolutely nothing. Well, nothing I’m proud of anyway. My mother died of a massive heart attack brought on by clogged arteries and years of hypertension. Her death was sudden, and I never had the chance to say good-bye. I miss her terribly. And sometimes I’m angry with her for not looking after herself better. But mostly, I just miss her. Patricia Evelyn Perras-Jamieson died in the early hours of February 12, 1994. She was only 43.
All this stuff was going through my head that day as I watched Sheri kneeling at her daughter’s grave. I sat on the park bench, baby Joey cooing as I held him in my arms. Drew kneeled on the ground in front of the bench, a look of concentration on his face, as he pushed his fire truck back and forth on the wooden bench slat.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve been sad long enough. As time passes we are healing and gradually letting go of the past. Even though we think about our lost loved ones every day, they are not at the front of our thoughts all of the time anymore. I never thought the day would come that I would feel happy again, that I would go a day without feeling that really empty void in my life. Grief and sorrow have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. And I’m sick of it. I don’t want to be sad anymore. I don’t want to be miserable or depressed. I want to enjoy my life, my kids, and my wife.
Sheri stepped away from the grave and looked over at the three of us sitting, waiting for her. “I’m through with being sad. I know that there will always be someone missing from each of our lives, but I think that I’m ready to say that it’s ok. Come on boys,” she said, “Let’s go!”

Finding Elise

Six months ago a good friend of my wife and I called up. “My boyfriend left”, she said, “I really love this guy. I don’t know how I’m going to get over this.” My first reaction was to reassure her that in a few days everything would feel better, to go shopping, have a warm bath and a glass of wine. I assumed that she would get over it in a few days, would forget about him and everything would be normal soon.
I didn’t realize just how wrong I was. A few days later we had plans with her to go to a meeting at the coop we live in. We were supposed to pick her up at seven. She had told my wife to come in and make sure she was awake because she was going to go to sleep and wasn’t sure she’d be up. When we got there there was no answer at the door. We tried the door and it was locked, but luckily we had a spare key. I went in to wake her up and found her on the couch. “You weren’t supposed to find me yet Matt, go away.” I noticed a few pieces of paper and picked them up. They were suicide notes. One addressed to me, one to her children. Then I noticed the empty pill bottles. I made a quick call for an ambulance.
The ambulance came and took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with depression. We spent a lot of time wondering why she would let a breakup get her down like this. Wondering what was so bad in her life. She seems to have everything; a nice house and great kids. But like many things in life, it isn’t as simple as that. She was seriously ill. My friend has clinical depression.
Depression is a disease. A horrible disease that leaves you feeling so low that it doesn’t matter how good your life looks, you feel horrible. Everything is bad to you and you feel like it will never get better. You can’t just snap out of it and start trying to look at things through rose-colored glasses. You just can’t quit feeling sorry for yourself. It is an illness. A life shattering illness that affects you, your family, and everyone who knows you. It has nothing to do with anything you did wrong or didn’t do right. It has to do with a chemical imbalance in your brain.
Over the next few months we answered a lot of phone calls with her crying on the other end of the line, made late night visits to try and bring her spirits up, watched her spiral down and down and down, further than we ever imagined at the start. She lost job after job. Missed seeing her kids because she was in hospital. Dated a few real losers that only made things worse. Really ran up her credit cards by using shopping as a coping mechanism. Worried her neighbors, and terrified her family.
The doctors prescribed her medication. But after several different varieties and strange reactions from the medication, she realized that she was still unhappy. There are a variety of medications out there that are used for depression and it took a few attempts to find the right ones for her. But that still didn’t fix everything. What the makers of depression drugs don’t tell you is that when you’re on these drugs you level out. In other words, you’re not sad anymore, but you’re never happy either. You’re just there. Kind of floating around in your own personal purgatory. It doesn’t really make things good, just not as bad.
On top of drugs, it’s important to learn new coping techniques. You can’t just go on the medication and expect everything will just be rosy. Your problems will still be there. If your previous way of dealing with them was to drink two bottles of baby duck and go to bed, well that won’t work anymore because you’re not supposed to drink on the medication.
Counseling is very important too. As far as I can tell it’s not so much for dealing with things you haven’t resolved but just having someone to help you deal with things and learn new coping strategies.
I went to see her the other day. “I’m doing better now,” she said. “But it’s not easy. There isn’t a day I wake up that I don’t feel sad. But it’s getting better.” She pauses for a moment and looks down at her glass of iced tea. “I’m getting better.”
- originally published August 29, 2001, St. Catharines Standard

In no particular order, I am going to publish some stories about my life that I originally had published in the St. Catharines Standard.

Well, a new job a fresh start and soon a new beginning. Starting at the beginning was the hardest thing they ever taught you to unlearn...

A quick "about me" ....

I live in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada with my wife Sheri and my two sons Drew and Joey. I work for the SITEL corporation as a tech support agent for one of the big 3 PC manufacturers. I run Mandrake Linux on my home computer and I don't intend to ever buy another piece of Microsoft software again... Bill Gates has enough money. I have played guitar for over 14 years, and I'm quite good. My computer is obscenely obsolete. The fact that that bothers me is certainly evidence of a character flaw on my part... well, my wife thinks so ;-)