One blistering hot summer day almost 4 years ago, I was heading to the beach in Malibu to meet a friend who had just moved to LA. She told me to meet her at lifeguard tower 3, being a native, I naturally should’ve known she meant lifeguard tower 3 at Point Dume (important nuance to SoCal beaches). It was August, the beach was packed, people were circling in their cars for parking spots like vultures in the middle of the desert. Somehow I ended up at Zuma Beach (next-door) looked at the line of cars and decided to just park. Now, at this time my 20 year old self was not always making the best decisions. So, I knew I had some bomb weed in my car, found my pipe and began to puff away at a fresh bowl and hotboxed the s*** out of my Toyota. I felt fine when I got out of the car, but as I started to walk and called my friend on the phone, I had the stark realization that I was alone at the wrong beach and I began to trip out. I avoided the lifeguard towers because I didn’t want them to see how stoned I was, I kept my sunglasses on so as to not make eye contact with any of the families enjoying their day off. I was in a complete and utter daze. Finally, I gave up on finding my friend and plopped down in the sand littered with colorful towels and those strange tents families insist on bringing to the beach. I was annoyed I hadn’t been able to find my friend, but realized I was just going to enjoy the day on my own nevertheless (plus, I most certainly could not drive). Still high as a kite, I plugged in my headphones and turned Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die” album on (that was fairly new at the time) and zoned out. I remember feeling almost out of body listening to her moody tails of lost love and the unquenchable sadness that makes her so appealing. I went into the ocean and it didn’t feel cold, I let the waves pass over my head and just took in the moment. Back laying on the sand it felt like a warm, glowing euphoria- no one knew where I was, I didn’t know anyone around me, I had no idea what time it was and I felt completely at peace.
Fast forward to today, I hardly every smoke anymore. My party girl ways are somewhat in the past as I’ve grown older and learned different coping mechanisms and how to channel my feelings into other outlets. It’s not that I don’t like weed, it’s just not part of who I am anymore. This week has felt like a montage from a bad soap opera or maybe just a regular episode on Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s real life. On Monday, after my mom was in the hospital for exactly two weeks, we were alerted that they had found a donor for her double lung transplant that we have been waiting for nearly seven years since she was diagnosed with the chronic disease known as Pulmonary Hypertension.
The series of events that day happened like this: My mom called me at 9am (I was just getting out of bed running late per usual) her voice was shaky with excitement as she’d clearly been crying and she said to me in a soft but steady tone she uses when breaking serious news, “Aly, they found a donor.” I immediately started crying with her, we were blubbering as she would say- it was one of the most, if not the most important phone call I had ever received. She hadn’t even told anyone yet, and she chose to share that information with me (a testament to the closeness of our relationship). The rest of that morning and afternoon was a blur. I called and texted a string of close friends and family who were overjoyed with the news (as my role in all of this has been to communicate updates). The anticipation and excitement almost seemed too good to be true. The surgery was scheduled for 9:30pm that evening and they were “okaying” the lungs around 8pm. I met my dad and sister at the hospital at around 6:30pm we sat and chatted all together for about an hour or so and things felt “normal” for the first time in a long time- whatever that means. The hours passed, 8 o’clock rolled around and we hadn’t heard anything from the doctors. We were starting to get anxious. Two anesthesiologists walked in and were surprised to find that no one had alerted us that the time of the surgery had been moved to 3:30am. I was livid, but attempted to stay cool as I know everyone was trying to do their job. The nurse on duty put me on the phone with the Transplant Coordinator who is responsible for getting the team of surgeons and the holy grail (lungs) where they need to be for the patient waiting. She explained to me that the time is never certain and the lungs were coming from out of state.. blah blah blah. I thanked her as she assured me we were set on this surgery start time at the ungodly hour. I walked back in and the anesthesiologists explained the surgery would take about 8 hours. What were we supposed to do for that long?!
Cue my longtime besties Jessica and Stephanie. They walked in the hospital room like ladies in shining armor and assured me it would all work out, bags of pillows and sweatpants in hand. It was going to be a long night. The rest is all kind of a blur. I sat with the girls downstairs in a lobby where we pulled chairs together to lay down and fall asleep with bright florescent lights blazing in our faces. I sent them home at around 2am, my sister and I moved into a waiting room on the floor my mom was on. I set an alarm for the time of the surgery but must’ve slept through it, because I heard the door creak open and saw my dad’s face as he walked in. It was the look of total fatigue and defeat. He told us that the lungs were not a match after all. We were all crushed. I tried to pull it together as we went to say goodbye to my mom and assured her it would be ok (it’s now 4:30am). I got home, pulled the sheets over my head and fell into a dark heavy- but not at all restful sleep. I knew the next day would entail me having to re-break the news that the surgery did not in fact take place. I was not ready to deepen this wound, but knew I had to do it.
I woke up a few times on Tuesday sporadically to return some calls and texts, but I had no real energy to engage in conversation or even leave my bed. I woke up at around 3pm with a throbbing headache and realized that I needed to eat, ordered some pizza, ate and then went back to sleep. It was like being in an awful nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. A couple of my friends sent me messages to try to console me and make sure I was still functioning. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure I was. The next day, Wednesday, I felt like I was swimming through molasses to try and get out of bed, but I received a text from a cousin I hand’t seen in years that she wanted to meet up and talk. So I went. I was able to really confide in her and am thankful for the relationships with women like her I have to fall back on in times when I really can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the afternoon, I gathered my strength, stood up straight and walked into the hospital to see my mom with a new found sense of resilience that I thought I had lost. We had a really positive visit and just sat and chatted about various things, I think for a moment we both forgot exactly where we were.
Today, I woke up feeling less sluggish, looked out the window and realized that the sun was already warming the sky with its brilliant presence at 8am. I decided I was going to go to the beach before visiting the hospital. With the goal of recreating a moment like that one years ago- filled with peace and escapism that my Libra soul has to have in order to keep moving forward.
I got to the beach and read Gloria Steinem (one of my deities), did a bit of writing (which I haven’t felt motivated to do as of late) and I waded into the ocean and let the small glossy waves cleanse my skin and my soul of all the hurt from this week and years past. I allowed myself to feel. I walked in the place where the waves wash up upon the sand and noticed one single white rose that had drifted onto shore right as I had gotten there. This rose was perhaps meant for a lost loved one or maybe someone else had cast their hurt into the endless ocean and needed to be cleansed as well. I don’t know what it meant, but I took it as some kind of sign. The color white is traditionally associated with cleanliness, or freshness, so maybe it’s some kind of fresh start for me.
I know that the road will continue to be rough ahead, but like my extremely wise sister Sarah said to me recently, “it can’t be winter forever.” And it won’t be, as long as there’s sun.