It’s not Halloween that scares me; it’s October itself. Finally last year, the sense of dread arriving annually on October 1 had downgraded to mild apprehension. It had been seven years since Mom collapsed with a bleed in her brain, seven Octobers since she bled again 13 days later and took us on the journey of our lives.
The week it began, we happened to have the first extreme weather we’d experienced since moving to Long Beach in 2001. The morning after blood flooded her brain and we were nearly drowned in fear, we woke to a basement full of water. Or approximately two feet, which could at one time be described as “full of water” but would now be called “not bad at all.” My mom’s journey began with the wettest October ever recorded in Central Park, and ended with the first snowflakes of the Blizzard of 2006—the most snow ever recorded in Central Park!
In between was extreme, too. For weeks that October, hoses snaked from basements on every block in Long Beach. TVs, computers, bookshelves, and sofas lined the curbs. Rolled up carpets blocked sidewalks. Pumps droned through the night. The mood matched ours: dank, dark, and unfamiliar. Mom’s head filled with gray too, fluid backing up and not draining properly, much like our basement. We would start losing her again until another surgery and a new shunt (so like a sump pump) would kick in and clarity seemed within reach. Some hope, some sun. In the end, only enough for us to light Mom’s way (and ours) through the muddy channel of suffering to her death.
Every year since, as October through February cycled through, mud seemed to collect and cake on my spokes, slowing and saddening me. But last year on this day—October 5—I realized that for the first time in years, I hadn’t expected the mud. I was just excited for what had long before been my favorite month. I would bake apple crisps, buy pear soap, burn pumpkin spice candles. Take weekend rides to woodsy places. Watch spectacular sunsets on the beach. Plan an autumn party with spiced cider and cinnamon cocktails. Breathe deeply.
I was so grateful that the passing of time had eased my wary transition into fall. This corner of the year might not feel so threatening anymore, so dark with death and destruction.
I dared to hope. But halfway through, a little boy who had battled brain cancer for two of his five years passed away. Ty was a personal hero of mine, the inspiration for my own physical comeback and the angel-faced embodiment of the human spirit. He was a Long Beach boy, and all of us who knew him invoked his spirit to get us through what was to come before the end of that same month: Sandy, crushing our homes, taking our treasures, and trashing our city. Throwing us into a dark winter of fear and loss that stayed with us all through the following summer to now.
But as we were plodding through, Ty’s parents started the Muddy Puddles Project to encourage children and the child in us all to embrace the mud. Ty never got to jump in puddles. He was forced to use all his precious smiles to break through pain and paralyzation—none would ever be put to good use for his giddy pleasure, at kicking water on his little brother, landing on his butt in a bounce house, or diving face first into a kindergarten cupcake.
Today is Ty’s birthday, and for you, sweet, brave boy who smiled through it all, I vow to leave my dark year in yesterday. I will welcome October, November, December, January, and February. As these months cycle through, I will pedal harder until the mud flies off and I can cruise, maybe not cleanly through, but joyfully through. I will live. My life is no longer on hold. Hear me now: MY LIFE IS NO LONGER ON HOLD.
Thank you, extreme weather, for blessing us with mud. Thank you, Ty, for blessing us with living. Today I step out of Sandy Survivor and into Student of Ty. One leg at a time, I will pull out of this muck and once out, I vow to jump in muddy puddles. This is a leap I make today, in your honor, Ty Louis Campbell. Happy birthday, angel.
Please find, to the right, the link to the Ty Louis Campbell Foundation/Muddy Puddles Project. Read Ty’s mom’s earth-moving blog and donate to their cause. Thank you. Happy birthday, Ty.