On my son Justin’s 21st birthday

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Twenty-one years ago today, my youngest son, Justin Alexander was born. It wasn’t an easy pregnancy. Miscarriage threatened when I was about 5 months pregnant along with pneumonia, for which I was confided to hospital for several days. When I was released, my doctor ordered bed rest and prohibited me from work and stress. Thankfully, my boss at the time let me do my work from home–he sent a computer and desk for me to work on and I would visit the office once a week to check on things. Following two previous classical Caesarian sections, my doctor had no choice but to operate along the previous scar to prevent further weakening of my uterus.

When Justin was finally separated from my womb, I sensed something was wrong. I heard something about his being bluish and not wanting to breathe. As after my first two babies were born, I was deeply depressed, although I never told anyone about it and never saw a mental health professional. It was only when I was living on my own for the first time after three babies and two failed marriages that I had experienced severe post-partum depression after each pregnancy. It was no better after Justin was born. He was immediately confined to the neonatal ICU within an incubator so the only way anyone could touch him was through those holes in the sides of the plexiglass panels. I don’t even remember the nurses bringing him to my room to hold or nurse after he was born. The neonatologist also determined he had high bilirubin levels, causing his skin to yellow, so he was put under a light to counter that. I was unable to get out of bed for a couple of days and only started to walk on the second day and when I finally could go to visit him, I could only watch him lying in the incubator, a skinny dark bluish yellowish waif under 6 lbs. I was discharged after the fifth day and refused to leave home, not wanting to be jolted around by a drive to the hospital just 10 minutes away. The next time I saw him, it was Christmas–that was the first time I got to really hold him in my arms for a short while. I couldn’t tell if I was happy to hold him or depressed that he was at risk. Needless to say, I couldn’t hold him long enough because I was choking back tears the whole time and he couldn’t stay out of the incubator too long, either. That was how I spent the Christmas of 95–in the hospital, watching Justin through the glass, getting to hold him a few minutes at a time, until I was just too tired and too choked up. I couldn’t get myself to visit him again. His neonatologist was a little worried as well because he didn’t seem to want to breathe on his own and needed help. She said if he didn’t breathe on day 10, they would have to intubate him. I was terrified. I could not imagine his tiny body being invaded by a tube. I could only think of my daughter when she was an infant and had to be intubated. I was more distressed than she was, I think. Ten days after Justin was born, the specialist gave him something–sodium bicarb, I think–to see if it would help him breathe, otherwise, they would need to intubate, which could cost us about 1K a day–an amount I couldn’t fathom or imagine I would ever be able to pay. Thankfully, Justin responded and by some miracle–possibly the fear of being intubated as well–decided to breathe on his own. They removed him from the incubator after a day and, two days later, he was cleared to go home in time for New Year’s Eve. He slept through all the fireworks.

Today, he is 21 and officially a man. This Christmas, I will not be able to visit him or hold him in my arms, not even for the briefest moment because eight Christmases ago, he was wrenched away from me and there was no way I could get him back.

We have not spoken since 2009 and not because it was my choice. I tried to reach out to him several times but he has avoided me. The most painful moments now are when I see him–walking, on the bus, performing–and each time, my heart sinks to the pit of my belly reminding me how empty I feel inside for the bottomless hole left inside me. The only way I get through is by trying not to think about him, how he is, how he does in university–I hear many good things about him. I wonder what he tells his girlfriend when she asks about his mom. Does she believe him? Does she even question him? I wonder what lies his father has added to the venom he fed him since I had to return to work when Justin was six until I was dragged away from my home and him just after his 13th Christmas. I try not to spend time wondering when he will realize how manipulative his father is or how he fits the bill of psychopath perfectly. I try not to hope he will one day understand what happened and realize I could no longer live in a marriage that had died a lingering death and should have been buried 10 years before it was officially ended.

How long does post-partum depression last? Or maybe, it’s still an extension of childhood depression. All my life, I must have been reacting to the depression. Granted, it has made me more creative, so should I be thankful for it? Should I blame depression for my choices? I know I chose to have Justin–I wanted to have him so much it hurt; maybe I wanted him for all the wrong reasons, because I could not get my other babies back. But I wanted him and loved him and I know I passed on a lot to him. I have been told by people who’ve met him, spoken lengthily with him, and known him, that he is so much more like me than he is or ever will be like his father and, for that, I say a silent prayer of thanks.

Today, Justin, you are a man. I can only pray that you will be your own man. I will always be your mum and I will always love you, no matter what you think; no matter what your father has made you think. I hope you always remember things I’ve taught you: to always respect others for who they are, to always treat them right, to always do your best, to always be open to new things, to think carefully before you speak, not to say anything if you can’t be nice or polite to others, to always look for answers, to always find something to keep you busy, to appreciate people, art, books, culture, to think for yourself. I hope somewhere along the way between the last time you listened to me and now, you have learned to always respect women, treat them well, and always, always remember that all relationships have two sides and both sides must share the responsibility of keeping the relationship healthy, well-balanced, and whole.

Be well, my son. May you find happiness, peace, and success in your adult life. I love you.

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Blindness: To Laugh or Not to Laugh

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A review by Cindy Lapeña

I was able to catch a performance of Blindness: A Dark Comedy, a play by Mariève MacGregor, one of several performances in this year’s Charlottetown Fringe Festival. For those who are not familiar with the Fringe Festival, it is a frenzied weekend of one-act plays and one-person shows that have audiences running all over the downtown area with barely 20 minutes in between performances to get to the next venue. Or you can get a schedule ahead of the weekend and plan your 4 days so that you can leisurely stroll to the ones you want to see beginning at 5 p.m. and straggling home around 11 or midnight. Each show is staged at different times on each day of the festival, so it’s quite possible to catch all of them within the earlier hours of the evening. More risqué topics, however, are restricted to much later hours. All performances are free entrance with donations recommended.

Ba2015-08-06 18.07.06ck to the play. Blindness is a biographical piece based on the playwright’s actual experience of blindness from an unusual condition whereby the body produces too much blood, causing it to leak into the retina, which prevents a person from seeing. There was humour, no doubt, as the dialogue made light of a variety of situations encountered by blind people and how others can be oblivious to it or not know how to deal with it. More than just humour, though, the play was extremely enlightening in that it explained a great deal about the condition and the situation from first-hand experience. Something like Helen Keller’s autobiographical stories, but with fun. I have to admit that, while I did find the humour funny and the monologues informative, it was an awkward kind of funny–which was the general feeling I also got from the audience, who seemed unsure whether to laugh or not at times. It’s pretty much like when we make jokes about disabilities, race, and cultures. Political correctness and politeness keeps us from making jokes that might be seen as offensive especially if we aren’t the ones with the condition/race/culture. It’s okay for the Irish to make fun of the Irish, but if anyone else does it, it becomes offensive. In that vein, it might have been perfectly all right for the playwright to make light of her condition, but I thought the audience was not too sure if it was all right for them to laugh at her situation. I guess that’s where the dark comedy part comes in.

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As for the skill levels, one has to remember that the Fringe Festival is just so called because the works are by budding artists, novices, or amateurs if you will. The acting was decent, not bad for a troupe that was put together in a few short weeks. However, I could not get a feeling of passion or conviction from the troupe as a whole. I think the funniest characters were those interpreted by Andrea Filion, until she dove into a monologue. The problem with performing in an open space, is that the space drowns the characters. Even if I was sitting in the first row, I could not feel enough tension holding the ensemble together, nor was there enough projection, so that the acting was not big enough to magnetize the audience. I have to say that Ellen Carol‘s skill at hoops is impressive, considering she does it while delivering one of her monologues as the main character, Emma;  I do wonder if that is something the playwright did as well, although it might have been mentioned during the monologue. Even then, the point of using hoops was completely lost on me. Was it symbolic, perhaps, of her having to jump through symbolic hoops to get through her condition?

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The fact that the main character had three characters playing her psyche, was, I think, not exploited enough. The psyches could be a more powerful vehicle for the comedy. I believe their presence and lines should have been more closely integrated with the main character, instead of being relegated to passively watching her in the background most of the time. There was also quite a bit of monologue, which was really explaining details of procedures or the affliction, which tended to drag. It is a prolixity that could have been avoided by involving the psyche more. Don’t get me wrong, but unless a monologue is as powerful as Hamlet’s delivered as engagingly as Kenneth Branagh would, then don’t do the monologue. Those monologues could have been improved by breaking up the information into bits of dialogue involving the psyche so that they sounded less like lectures and more like a person struggling with coping with her fears and situation.

I have to say that one of the most brilliant choices was in the original music. To set everything to a jazzy beat provided by 2015-08-06 18.45.21   Justin Amador and Charlotte Large with those couple of folksy gospel song-like choruses by Tony Reddin at the beginning and end really set the tone for the comedy. If the pacing and acting had followed that jazz beat throughout, it would have been a great performance. In fact, I would have liked more music interspersed with the dialogue and a more active part of the performance, particularly since some bars were finished before they could even be appreciated. I’m just imagining involving the musicians in the dialogue by making them parts or voices of the psyche.

I would certainly like to see this play developed more and performed to wider audiences, because of its educational value. Here’s hoping that someone will pick up the sponsorship to bring this play all over PEI and elsewhere.

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*A version of this review is available on onrpei.ca

An open letter to my son Justin Amador on his 18th birthday

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If anyone who knows Justin Amador comes across this letter, I beg you to please let him read this. I have not been with him since December 27, 2008, through no fault of mine. I have been estranged from him all this time and only want him to know I wish him well. I do this with the hope that somehow it will reach him.

 

18 December 2013

Dearest Justin,

I hope this note finds you well and happy on your 18th birthday. I can only hope that this reaches you and that you read it with an open mind.

Little did I dream that I would not be sharing it, or the last 5 years with you, but do know that I have and always will love you. Leaving you was not my choice, and I’m sorry that you believe everything your father has been telling you since you were 6 years old, when I had to return to work full time because we had no other source of income. I’m just sorry that I could not stay with you all those years because I had to provide everything for a family where I was expected to do everything, from being the breadwinner to being the homemaker with no help at all. Even then, I still tried my best to spend as much time as I could with you and provide you with as many positive learning experiences as possible, all of which have helped you become successful in school here in Canada. I am hoping that, as you have grown and matured, that you are able to think and reflect on things and see them in a different light.

I can only trust that everything I have taught you as a young boy has stayed with you…and from what I hear, they have. You have a personality and identity of your own that is not the same as your father’s. I hope that you are able to find what is best in the world, in life, and learn from that. I hope you are able to choose what is best for you regardless of what others say, but also that you are smart enough to listen to all the advice you can find. I also hope that you persevere and work towards earning a University degree so that you can achieve great things. I sincerely hope that you pick up a moral and realistic work ethic because all things can be achieved through hard work, perseverance, and open-mindedness. Please be kind and honest to girls, respect them, and protect them. They are not men’s playthings and they are not sex objects. They are not there for the pleasure of men, but rather, there to be partners. They are not there to serve men, but rather to share. If you respect them, love them with all your heart, share the burden of living, and help each other in every way you can without expecting the other to do everything or always keeping tally of who does what, then you can have a happy and healthy relationship with them, especially whoever it is you choose to be with. Always remember that you are no better than anyone else. What some have, others don’t. Be fair to everyone. Be open-minded. Don’t judge. And above all, don’t condemn. I only wish that you are never put in a position where you are manipulated, then shunned, judged, condemned, and hurt where you are most vulnerable by someone you thought you could trust.

Please forgive me for having stayed away, but neither you nor your father have made anything easy for me. I cannot bear confrontation and the accumulated emotional and psychological pain have been too much for me. I also knew that you would only become more reticent if I persisted in trying to contact you until you were ready to hear me. I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive your father for all he has done and not done, but I do forgive you for choosing the way you did simply because there was no way you could have known my side of things, nor could you have known why your father behaved the way he did. If you knew exactly why I did certain things, you would understand what really happened, but there are some things about parents that children are not privy to. Perhaps, when you are in a serious relationship with a woman, you will finally understand. I pray for that time.

With much love,

mum