Keep the Moon in the Window

In the minutes and hours after my Mom was murdered, I was pumping with adrenaline and false calm. First, it was disbelief - being driven by a coworker to my parents' home in VA, saying, "this must be a mistake; I'm not ready." 

As we neared the top of the hill - my parents house just beyond its crest - we were stopped by police. I jumped out and started running. "That's my house, " I yelled. "That's my house." My brother saw me and started running toward me at full speed, nearly knocking me over with his embrace. He was sobbing. "She's dead." No one could tell me what happened. No one seemed to know anything. And then the wave of calm came. In the hours that followed, I was interviewed by police not once, but twice. Pacing around the darkened office suite at the station alone, I called friends who were watching the news to find out what they were hearing, what they knew. No one knew anything. The truth bubbling to the surface in fits and starts, my dad finally telling my brother and I definitively that she'd be shot that evening, before we left the police station. We cried together, confused and broken.

The adrenaline waned and the shock and trauma and grief washed over. I remember the cold of the bathroom floor that night, down on my knees, sobbing, my forehead touching the floor. Wishing so intensely that I could wake up from whatever was happening or that, for god's sake, my Mom would call and tell me that this was just some horrendous mistake. Or if she couldn't tell me that, could she at least call and tell me how to survive it?

After that, things started to shut down. Later, I'd understand this as part of a PTSD response, but then, I was just aware that I was going down, going under, being enveloped by an unknown darkness. I couldn't eat. My diet consisted of red Gatorade and bourbon for the better part of a week. My short term memory was gone. I couldn't follow the plot of a tv show, or read, or track a conversation that involved more than one other person. My lack of focus and attention meant I couldn't drive. Color drained from everyday experiences and I lost one of my most cherished abilities, the excited anticipation of planned and potential "good things" in a day. Everything looked changed.

A few weeks later, I shared all of this with my newly appointed therapist. I was worried about going to an annual New Year's Party. There would be so many people there. I knew I wouldn't be able to follow the conversations, to be in on the jokes. I couldn't engage and I was just so sad. I was alone and isolated by my pain. She said, "do these people love you?" Yes. "Do you love them?" Yes. "Then, just go and feel their love." 

And that's when the image of the moon in the window was born. I walked out of that appointment understanding that nearly everything had been shut down. I imagined my brain flipping off switches one at a time - - my smart little brain didn't want me to focus on my pain for too long, so I couldn't focus on anything. This was all so confusing, surreal, and wrong, so everything was off-kilter. It was, I realized, like what Tom Hanks and his crew had done in the movie, Apollo 13. To get home, they had to focus all of their energy on just survival, driving on manual, "keeping the moon in the window," in the absence of navigation systems. I had to do that, too. My analytic ability, my memory, my sense of humor, and a good chunk of my intellect was gone, for the time being. 

I had to keep walking, one step at a time, and try to keep the moon in the window - did I get up and go to work? was I breathing? how many inches in front of my nose could I see? Write the number down. See if you get an extra quarter inch tomorrow. Keep that moon in the window. Believe that it will get better. Don't have faith - that's asking too much right now - just keep moving, and keep the moon in the window.