The story behind my Open-Heart Surgery 8.11.99

This week is the 18th Anniversary of my Open-heart surgery. I have mentioned it here a few times off and on but I waited till this week to write the entire story. Obviously the Hippy, Debbie and I have different versions and well the beginning is from their point of view…

Time to go way back to April 8, 1978 when an 18 year old Debbie, married to 25 year old Pat (aka Hippy), gave birth to their first child, in Houston, TX. Unbeknownst to them their brand new baby was very sick. All seemed normal until my 4 week check-up. Debbie took me to my first pediatrician appointment with Dr. Truitt. Debbie had no idea what to expect but she did think it was strange that the doctor was listening so intently to my heart. Without saying a word Dr. Truitt leaves the room. A few minutes later he walks in with two other doctors who each take turns to listen to my heart. They all three step out and a while later Dr. Truitt walks back in the room with a note that lists the name Texas Children’s Hospital. Dr. Truitt tells Debbie he doesn’t know what he hears but he knows it’s not right. His colleagues all agree and they have already called the hospital and Debbie is to take me right then. Debbie is able to call the Hippy and relay all this information. Debbie has not lived in Houston even a year so the Hippy sent one of his Hot Shot drivers to pick us up from the pediatricians office and take us to the hospital. Debbie walks into the hospital with me and says a nurse immediately took me back. It was hours before the doctors spoke to her. They ran an EKG; Echocardiogram ; X-rays and bloodwork. Since it was Friday they told her the results would be back Monday and they made her an appointment to come in with me and they said to bring her husband. They had told Debbie I may be a little listless all weekend so she wasn’t really surprised when I slept a lot and didn’t really eat. Monday morning they took me to the appointment at Texas Children’s Hospital where they were told that I was in heart failure and they would need to keep me in the hospital for testing and monitoring. I was in the hospital for two weeks. During this time Debbie and the Hippy met some of the greatest heart surgeons in the US. Dr. Cooley and Dr. McNamarra. I was diagnosed with a Left Congential Heart Defect with a small Aneurysm of the membranous septum. (Left VSD with an aneurysm that was partially blocking the hole). I was placed on a digitalis (medicine) and that day Debbie was told I would never run; play; or come off my meds. My grandmother would later joke that her dog and I took the same meds but his were cheaper at the vet. I was released from the hospital in May 1978 to a very disheartened Debbie and Pat. They had no money. No insurance. No idea what to do with a baby much less a very sick baby. The Hippy also felt very trapped. He had already planned to leave Houston but realized this day he was forever stuck because of me. My heart was so enlarged, due to being overworked pumping my blood as the oxygenated blood was flowing through the hole and mixing with the deoxygenated blood, that I had to eat baby food till I was almost three. I was two when I had my first heart Catherization (the doctors needed to get measurements inside my heart of the blood flow and the size of the hole and aneurysm). Luckily Texas Children’s Hospital is a teaching hospital and they had a program that allowed for me to have free healthcare if my case was followed by the lead doctors and their students. Every summer I would have a full day appointment with Dr. McNamarra and about 10-15 students. I would have an EKG; X-ray; Echocardiogram and spend time in an examining room with Dr. McNamarra and his students. I was lucky to have Dr. McNamarra until he graduated me out of the program when I was 18. One of my greatest memories of him was his talking to the step-monster (Debbie never took me) and I was supposed to be jumping up and down. I being a kid would notice he wasn’t paying full attention and I would slow down. He would just move his hand in a motion that told me higher!  I was taken off the digitalis when I was 8. Dr. McNamarra (and students) attended my volleyball games when I was in middle school. I was so embarrassed that mid-game I would be called off the court and he would listen to my heart (as did all his students) and then he would nod his head at my coach and they would send me back in!  I had the full name of my heart Condition memorized by the time I was 5!  Anytime I was not in the care of family the Hippy would send a signed letter instructing emergency personnel of my condition and giving authority to treat me. It also had the phone number of Dr. McNamarra and later his cell number!  I had some difficulty creep up in the 7th grade so Dr. McNamarra wanted to do another Heart Catherization but by this time I was also on Debbie’s health insurance and they required that I be insured for a year as I had a pre-existing condition. So when I was 16 (9th grade) I had my second heart Catherization.  This Heart Catherization was traumatizing to me!  I was babysitting for a family in our neighborhood and the step-monster had learned that the father was studying to do Heart Catherization at you guessed it Texas Children’s Hospital and again I was in the student program. I was terrified that he would be present BUT I am glad he was. This is the first major surgery for me as a teenager. I remember being wheeled into the OR. The nurses transferred me from the gurney to the table. I clearly remember looking around at all the people necessary for surgery.I remember   them opening the curtain to the gallery so all the students can observe (think Grey’s Anatomy). I remember talking to the man I babysat for. Then the nurses completely undress me to prep me for surgery (remember I am 16!). If you are not familiar a Heart Catherization is where they inject a camera into your artery in your groin (while you are asleep) and the camera let’s the blood take it all through the heart. I remember waking up and telling my parents all about this and the Hippy signed me out of the student program. Also, the Hippy would never willingly allow me to have open-heart surgery as he didn’t want me to have a scar. Due to my parents being unwilling to sign off the hospital had a panel of 100 doctors and experts that would review the case and if they decided that surgery was necessary a judge would rule that I would have surgery. However everytime my case was presented it was pretty much 50/50 of doctors that felt it was life threatening and those that said to continue to monitor. This was the case when I was 16. The Hippy moved to Jamaica that summer so I was not seen at 17 but when I was 18 Dr. McNamarra had his nurse call Debbie and request to see me one more time. I went in by myself and met with him. We did all the usual testing EKG; Echocardiogram; X-rays and this time a stress test!  Dr. McNamarra kept detailed notes of every single visit and would mail copies to my pediatrician and to the Hippy each time. I was given my full heart record when I was 16 and the Hippy moved to Jamaica. Wouldn’t you know it I lost it. It’s no where to be found!!  When I was 21 I got very sick. I gained a lot of weight and my nails had started turning bright smurf blue. I was at work one day and looked down and saw my blue nails. My boss looked over and said “if you need to go to the doctor go!” I called Debbie and Ross (my husband who I had only been dating about a year). Neither answered so I drove myself to the ER (7.15.99). While I was in the ER being ignored by doctors and told that I was hyper ventilating, Ross was being laid off from his job of 5 years (Compaq Computers did a big layoff that day). I went home and quickly focused on Ross (the doctors had said I was fine). A few days later I talked to Debbie and told her what happened. I was still very blue and it was a very hot summer. Debbie made me a doctor appointment with her family doctor who had at least treated me for step throat before and had a copy of my heart records. I drove myself and ran into a friend of mine in the parking lot (her kids daycare was next door). Holly went to the doctor with me and I am so glad I was not alone!  The doctors (several different ones again) said that I had developed a reverse shunt and that the blood was basically pumping the wrong direction. My oxygen level had decreased to about 40%. They sent me home and said they would send my records to a cardiologist (since Dr. McNamarra had died). Holly followed me to my apartment and we hadn’t even sat down when the cardiologist office called and said to get there NOW!  I call Debbie who wanted Holly to bring me to her house and get her (her house was on the way to be fair). We walk into the cardiologist office. It is packed. People are waiting everywhere. Debbie sits me down and gives them my name. We wait only a minute and a full staff came out to the lobby and stick an oxygen measuring thing on my finger and start listening to my heart. I met the cardiologist in the middle of the waiting room and he announces to all that I am his emergency and it would be some time. The echocardiogram becomes available and he stands in the room watching the echo live (usually the doctor reviews it later). He leaves towards the end and once I am dressed I emerge. Again I am in the middle of the doctor office and he tells Debbie I need surgery immediately. I start crying (I am 21 after all and this is all of a sudden and very scary. My dad is in Jamaica and until this moment he had made all my healthcare decisions). The nurses are all on different phones trying to get me a surgeon immediately. I am very overwhelmed. Well immediately turned into two weeks. My surgery was rescheduled 4 times with 4 different surgeons at 4 different hospitals while I sat home with a very nervous Ross and a scared 4 year old Garret (step-son). Debbie was honestly amazing through all this. She called my dad in Jamaica and told him to come back and to NOT bring the step-monster and for the only time in my life he left her for me!  The delay was due to the insurance (I had my own this time as I was employed) requiring that a pediatric surgeon perform the surgery even though I was 21 and they had some difficulty getting this done. One hospital /non pediatric surgeon offered to do my surgery for free and my insurance company told Debbie If I did that they would not insure me for the rest of my life! So I waited at home for Debbie to call me. My surgeon was picked on 8.8.99 (my dad and step-monsters Anniversary and also my little sisters birthday (Debbie’s daughter)). On 8.9.99 I had my 3rd Heart Catherization and I was supposed to have surgery 8.10.99 but I got bumped again because the surgeon wanted to meet me first and the surgery was scheduled for 8.11.99. On 8.10.99 we met with the surgeon and my now husband hated him on sight. Ross wasn’t happy that my surgery was pushed for this meeting and he spent less than 3 minutes with us. We also walked St. Luke’s (connected to Texas Children’s Hospital) and met with my surgery team and had all our questions answered so it was a good visit. My surgeon was Dr. Ott. As he was running away from our meeting Ross asked him how big my scar would be (this was the Hippy’s issue). Dr. Ott with his hand on the door to exit turned back and said “4 inches”.  Surgery day arrives – 8.11.99. I wake very early and shower with the soap I had been instructed to use. Debbie actually arrived on time and took me to the hospital. I had a brief panic when I signed all the forms and almost walked away but an awesome nurse brought me meds that caused me not to care. I have no idea what really happened that day. I know the waiting room was filled with Debbie and the Hippy’s friends. Aunts and Uncles all came. Ironically one of Ross’ uncles mother had surgery at the same time and Debbie and Ross’ uncle became smoking buddies outside. The surgeon told Debbie that I had the largest hole he had ever seen; also my scar was exactly 4 inches! I remember waking in ICU that night and seeing Ross who told me that he couldn’t bring 4 year old Garret so he had left him at his moms house. I had told Ross I was in pain and he quickly got a nurse who explained that I was on a morphine pump and that I had no clue. Thursday morning I woke in ICU to an early visit from the Hippy. The nurse had just taken out my my mouth / throat tube and it was the first time I really woke as when I saw Ross the night before it was very fuzzy. Debbie says that the day of surgery she could only get my eyes to open when she said “Ross” or “Garret”. My ribs had been sawed in half and then wired shut so I really couldn’t / shouldn’t move without being very very careful. Thursday in the ICU brought me several visitors (Debbie and my last step dad Danny) and later Ross and his aunt and uncle. I was moved to a room Thursday night and I was told that I would start walking on Friday and when I walked a mile I could go home. No one stayed with me at the hospital. My dad and his friends came by and Debbie left with all of them to go eat. Ross was home with 4 year old Garret but Ross’ dad worked the 3pm to Midnight shift and came every night to see me and bring me a strawberry milk shake!  I remember hearing lots of screams that night and telling him that I thought someone died. He responded with “probably”. Friday was my first day I could get up and I walked a mile that day and was discharged the next morning 2.5 days after having open heart surgery!  I had to have help at all times as I could not sit up or lean back at all by myself as my ribs and muscles had been cut and I couldn’t risk breaking a wire and puncturing my lungs. I was instructed to cross my arms over my chests and let whomeever was helping me lean me forward or back. It was definitely a helpless feeling and a perfect trust exercise that lasted for 6 weeks. That was a long summer. Ross didn’t look for a job until I went back to work and his mother paid all our bills so he could stay home and take care of me. The Hippy went back to Jamaica right away and once my situation was no longer dire we did not see or talk to Debbie again. It was Ross and his family that nursed me back to health. Sadly the saga did not end with my surgery. Approximately 12 weeks after my surgery I started turning blue again. I went back to the cardiologist and once again I was rushed into an echocardiogram. This time the doctor comes in and looks at the screen. His response is “shit” let me say that’s not something anyone wants to hear and not someone who just recovered from having their ribs sawed in half!  The next day has me in the operating room again but this time for a TEE which is a procedure where they put you under and send a scope down your throat to see the heart. The doctor believes I popped a stitch and that it may heal on its own. Meanwhile I told him there was no way I was having surgery again. This is the day that Ross was called about the job in Austin and we decided to move. I saw a few doctors in Austin in early 2000 but nothing seemed to be of alarm to anyone. Everyone had hoped that the new hole would close if the septal wall could strengthen. In 2001 I started getting very blue and had trouble breathing and I also found myself back at a cardiologist office having the test run – EKG; Stress Test; X-rays and my 4th Heart Catherization. It was at this time the cardiologist sat Ross and I down and dropped the bomb that the only recommendation he had other than do nothing was a heart transplant. He explained that the open heart fixed the major problem but that you cannot repair a muscle that has been overworked for 21 years. The damage was done and was permanent. Ross and I talked about it for weeks. We also prayed about it and we went back and told the doctor we opted to do nothing. That is exactly where I am today at the age of 39 – 18 years later. I have a full life and I have taken up cycling and I am riding at least 70 miles each week on my mountain bike. 

Chew Chew

I came by my love of animals via the Hippy and Grandma Jane and Papa Dale!  The Hippy never once told me “no” I couldn’t have an animal – most likely because my grandparents never told him “no”. When the Hippy was a boy my grandmother got a Double-Yellow Head Parrot that she named Chew Chew (because he chewed everything up). Parrots live 70 years on average and usually only bond with one or two people in their lifetimes. Chew Chew chose my grandmother and my dad. Papa used to swear that Chew Chew would go out of his way to seek my grandfather out and bite him every single day!  Chew Chew’s cage was always in the kitchen and my grandmother never clipped his wings. When she was home his cage was always open and he was flying freely throughout the house. Over the course of his life my grandmother had several different dog packs and Chew Chew knew all their names and never mixed them up. Before I was born Chew Chew called my grandfather “Dale” but anytime I was around he would call him “Papa”.  Chew Chew would even play hide and seek with you. My grandmother has a kitchen cabinet that refused to stay open and anytime you opened it the cabinet would close (the hinges didn’t work right). Well, if Chew Chew was not sitting on top of his cage; or on top of the refrigerator dropping dog bones to the dogs; or in my grandmothers office on top of her filing cabinets all you would have to say is “Chew Chew where are you”. If you listened you could hear him respond “I’m hiding and what sounded like a giggle” (he loved getting in that cabinet and having it shut the door on him). Every single time the Hippy would visit my grandmother Chew Chew would get very excited to see him UNLESS he was holding me!  Chew Chew was incredibly jealous of me and as a small child I was terrified of him!  My grandmother has pictures of me running down the hall screaming because Chew Chew was chasing me but in reality he was slowly doing a bird walk after me!  One day the Hippy was trying to show me how nice Chew Chew was (so I wouldn’t be so scared of him) but he was holding me at the time. The Hippy walked over to Chew Chew and puckered his lips for a kiss (something the Hippy probably had done a thousand times at this point). Chew Chew runs over and bites the Hippy splitting his lip open!  This did not help me think Chew Chew was super sweet by the way!  Kids really only hear things they understand and it wasn’t till I was a teenager that I figured out what Chew Chew was saying whenever he would see the Hippy enter my grandmother’s kitchen via the garage and then walk outside. Anytime the Hippy did this exact pattern Chew Chew would say “wanna smoke a joint”!  Apparently when my dad was a teen he would lean into Chew Chew’s cage and say that everytime he would go outside to smoke a joint!  Chew Chew also caused lots of problems when I was a baby. When I was one or two my grandparents went to their house in Mexico for a month or so and naturally my dad took Chew Chew while they vacationed. One day Debbie had me down for a nap and she was cleaning the house with the windows open. Debbie didn’t trust Chew Chew as much as my grandmother did so she didn’t let him fly around the house all day long. Chew Chew being so smart quickly learned that when baby Heather cried everyone came running so Chew Chew learned to mimic my exact cry and he did this whenever he wanted something and I was around. Debbie walks into the kitchen and sees 3 little old ladies trying to look into her kitchen window and they are whispering and pointing because what they can hear a block away is a baby screaming when in reality it is a bad tempered parrot who wants his way!  Debbie told the Hippy all this when he came home that night and after he quit laughing he devised a plan. He moved Chew Chew’s cage outside that everning and I was playing in the yard on a blanket.  Eventually everyone on the block stopped over to see me and they would see Chew Chew and the Hippy would tell the story of the badly behaved bird that could mimic the babies cry!  Debbie said you could see the relief on all the neighbors faces! When I was 12 or 13 I let Chew Chew out of his cage at dinner time while my grandmother was cooking. (He had routines for different times of the day). In the evening (when my grandmother would come home from work) he would feed the dogs treats. I open the cage and Chew Chew would fly to the top of the fridge and he would lift the lid off the glass cookie jar (held dog bones). He would call each dog (by the correct name) and he would take a bite of their dog biscuit and drop it to the dog (my grandmother had tons of photos of this). On this day the cookie jar was low so he reached in and fell into the jar!  My grandmother turns off the stove, grabs the cookie jar, and we head straight to the vet. The doctor had to sedate Chew Chew and break the jar to get him free. My grandmother never replaced the jar and I swear he missed it after that!  Chew Chew was around for my entire childhood and I was supposed to inherit him (I loved him dearly). Sadly one day when I was 20 he pulled a feather in the night (normal) but this time the blood didn’t coagulate and he died. I am still very sad by this. 

Hippy Update 4.11.17

I have not had much to say lately on purpose. My 39th birthday was 4/8/17 and I simply refused to think about anything unhappy. My husband and I celebrated in Las Vegas which we really needed!  The Hippy worried me most of my birthday as he always calls and sings to me early (and never really knows where in the world I am). I had not heard from him or Debbie until late in the day and my husband did his best to keep me occupied. He took me to my favorite restaurant and then we went to visit the former MGM Lions at their habitat (this was the highlight of my birthday as I LOVE those lions and have had my picture taken with 2 of them back when they were cubs). Debbie finally texted around dinner time (PST) which would have been late for her but oh well she texted (we don’t really speak so this was a huge gesture for her). I had opted to not attend a show for my birthday as I was afraid I would miss a call from the Hippy (I have never worried about this in my life so I guess the reality that he might not be around at my 40th has started to sink in). The Hippy called me around 8:30 PST which is extremely late for him but I am sure his schedule is all wonky with not working and having daily radiation treatments. It was a short call and he mentioned how over dinner him and the step-monster discussed how I would have birthday parties each year at their house; and my Grandma Jane’s and the step-monsters parents would have a family party for me. Not sure why that was a memory for him but it was the first he had ever told me that he thought about all that. My thoughts on my 39th was how the last birthday I spent with the Hippy I was 16 and got my Mustang. The Hippy had Debbie and Danny over and several of his friends (my Uncles). Terrie and the kids came too and the Hippy flew one of my next door neighbor girls, Natalie,  (who had moved to Austin) down for the weekend.  The step-monster wrote a poem and placed the poem and my school picture in the paper and my dad had the poem read on my favorite radio station to announce my birthday. That was it. Two months later he left for Jamaica. He missed my 17th completely. He was home for my 18th (from Jamaica) and visited me at my friends house where I was living and took several of my friends to dinner. He missed 19-20 completely (Jamaica) but on my 21st he called very late in the evening (collect lol) and I spoke to him briefly. I had open heart surgery 4 months after my 21st birthday and he did come back for my surgery (another long story). He missed 22-25 (Jamaica) but has called for every single one 26-39!  I pray he makes it to my 40th!

I did not get into his health when he called me as I only had about 3 minutes on the phone with him. This Wednesday, 4/12/17 will be his 30tj radiation and last I heard he has 35 total. 

My Aunt Terrie was the only mother I have ever had..

I like to say I was raised by wolves but we all know that isn’t true (Debbie hates when I say this)!  The truth is I was raised by bikers; hippies; criminals; and lots of very good people that took me into their lives and hearts at various times throughout my life. Birth to sixteen I had my dad  but unfortunately he married my step-monster when I was three and she intentionally made my life suck. I spent almost every weekend with my paternal grandparents and lots and lots of time with surrogate family members (sometimes actual family but they played a deeper role for me). The Hippy knew I needed maternal love and never got in the way of that for me. Since the step-monster was incapable and Debbie wasn’t really capable either (drugs; non-maternal instincts; life choices; whatever) the Hippy would do all in his power to encourage those that wanted to – the main person being my “Aunt Terrie”. Terrie was Debbie’s best friend from my earliest memory. I have no idea how they met or when they met mainly because I never asked. Terrie has always been my mother figure and the main reason I have any Debbie memories at all. I was born 2 days after Terrie’s 18th birthday and she is 11 months younger than Debbie so the Debbie was too young to have me argument (you know she was too young to be a mother) never worked on me as Terrie did just fine mothering me!  Terrie forced Debbie to attend my school plays and graduations (she attended as well). Terrie even had to badger Debbie to attend my College Graduation which proves some thing’s just never change. Any time Terrie called the Hippy to see me he made it happen!  Terrie’s oldest child is three years younger than me and three years older than Niki. When I was 9 or so (Brandon was 6 and Niki was 3) Debbie and Terrie took us to the Astrodome (huge facility) for a car show. Terrie had stepped away for a few minutes and Debbie then went off with some guy or something leaving me in charge of Niki and Brandon (remember I am only 9). I am not sure why I wanted $5 so badly but it may have been to ride the carnival rides and Debbie kept saying no (Terrie tried to not overly interfere when Debbie was around). Well I get it in my head to sell my cute little sister. I really don’t remember the details but some guy walks over to Debbie and Terrie and tell them that I am offering Niki up at $5. He thinks it’s funny (and probably sad but remember, I am 9) and gives me $5 and then takes all of us to the carnival!  We even got to keep Niki (who by the way hates this story)! I was a junior bridesmaid in Terrie’s wedding and when I moved in with Debbie and Danny (my last step-dad) after my dad left for Jamaica (I was 16/17) I saw Terrie daily. I would walk / drive to Terrie’s every day after school and eat since Debbie never sent me to school with money and I didn’t work as I was Niki’s after school babysitter. Terrie’s Nanny (she had two very young kids at this point) would have lunch ready for me every day at 3:30 and I would play with the babies before I had to go home and watch Niki (she rode the bus and didn’t arrive till 5).  I lived with her for about a year when I was 18 and she has always been the second person I reach out to for any nurting (my husband is the first).  When I texted her about the news of my Hippy slowly dying her response was “whatever you need I am here”!  It’s also important to note that after the car show incident the Hippy never sent me without money again!

The Step-Monster

I hate even thinking of my Step-Monster even as I write this but I feel an explanation is necessary. I was 3 when the Hippy married Lynn in August of 1981. My dad had custody of me and she had never had kids even though this was her 4th marriage. Her and I never got along. Never. My dad and I already had a very tight bond and she has forever been jealous of that. Add in the fact that she requires me to call her “mom” which I never wanted to do and the second I turned 18 I stopped (this has caused a lot of problems in our family unit). When I was little she tried hard to brainwash me into saying she was my mother. I would get corrected if I even mentioned “my real mother”. Lynn would tell my teachers I was crazy and making it up. I was taught to call my actual mother by her name “Debbie” which I still do to this day. When I was 18 my Uncle Glen and I visited them in Jamaica (they moved when I was 16) and I called her Lynn and we ended up in a fist fight as she reached out to slap me and I stopped her!  My Uncle Glen told me recently that was his proudest moment watching me stand up to her. My refusing to call her “mom” cost me my dad at my 30th birthday party as he was forbidden to come because Debbie was there as was my husbands family. Lynn refused to bring my grandmother to our wedding reception (my dad was in Jamaica but she was in Houston visiting). Some would say I should just make my life easy and give in but I just can’t. It’s not in my DNA to do that!  Several years ago my doctor was having me compile family history of the women in my family. I called my Grandma Jane and she gave me tons for my paternal side. I hung up and was on the phone with Debbie, getting her side, when the other line clicked. I answered knowing it was Lynn and the first thing she said was “you hung up before getting my family history”. I couldn’t help myself – I literally laughed in her face and said “we aren’t related no one cares” and I hung up on her. Debbie and I had a laugh over that one!  This one issue is so deep in our hatred but we have others. I was not allowed (per Lynn) to talk to my dad when he got home until she had the first 30 minutes with him (this was the response to me running outside to greet him when I saw his car)!  I was told that I could not have a tv in my room because she didn’t. The Hippy laughingly responded to that with “of course you didn’t because they didn’t exist”. He only calls me when she is not around. I am used to this. He is used to this. It sucks but he made his bed a long time ago and with his health declining I am just not going to stress him out and cause him any grief. I had him first. She will have him last!  He was still mine longer!  

The curse of the DMV…

I am not sure how most kids get their first cars but I knew that I was getting a Mustang convertible as early 2 years before my 16th birthday so we never had a car discussion. My dad had a friend, Valerie, that had a 1984 red mustang convertible with a white top. She had told my dad once (several years before my 16th birthday) that her plan was to keep the car 10 years (1994 when I turned 16). It was like a sign to the Hippy. He told Valerie that day that he would buy the car for me and he did. He brought home my car two weeks before my 16th birthday!  The Hippy and my Uncle Glen spent an entire Saturday washing and waxing the car (and fixing various little items as it was 10 years old). I tried to watch them but it made me so tired I went and took a nap (I was still depressed from my friend dying the week before and didn’t have much interest in anything). I wish I had a picture of this car. It was so cute. My school colors were red and white and my mustang was red with a white top. The Hippy washed my car every single day when he got home from work!  It’s fair to say he loved this car too!  April 8, 1994 I turned 16 and the Hippy took me to get my drivers license after school!  The Hippy is HUGE on birthdays. In fact he would celebrate my birthday for 2 weeks (the week preceding my birthday was the last of’…you know the last Monday I was x and the week following my birthday was the first Monday I was x etc). He always wanted me to skip school on my birthday but I never did. Like I said I went to school because I wanted to but I never had to go. Note: as an adult I have taken off work every single birthday that I can (which is most of them).  On my 16th birthday the Hippy decided to renew his license with me as his birthday is May 1 and his was expiring then. This decision while very cool at the time was probably a HUGE mistake for him. In August of 1994 I sadly get into an accident that totals the Mustang. The next week, as the Hippy is going to look at a new car for me, he gets into an accident and totals his truck!  (Note that at this point in 1994 the Hippy is only home every 6 weeks for about 2 weeks as he has already moved to Jamaica). In November, that same year, I got a ticket for speeding near my school (not in a school zone). I am terrified to tell the Hippy and Step-Monster!  My dad was always strict about my whereabouts and this only increased when I received my license. I had a perimeter I was supposed to adhere to as well as the rule of not driving with the top down, in the Mustang, after dark and I had a car curfew. I could stay out later but I couldn’t be driving!  My step-dad’s brother was an officer assigned to the area around my school and the Hippy even had him watching for me (he pulled me over a few times as well). The day I received a ticket I was REALLY hoping it was my Uncle Jared but it wasn’t. I was freaking out and rehearsed with my friend all the way home. I have always believed that honesty is the best policy so even though I hate the step-monster I immediately told her about my ticket. She grounded me on the spot!  Not long after telling the step-monster I see the Hippy pull into the driveway. I run out the door and I am standing next to his car by the time he parks it. He knows something is up but he waits for me to speak. The second he opens the door I tell him that I received a speeding ticket after school. He doesn’t say anything but hands me a green piece of folded up paper. I had no idea why he was handing me a piece of folded up paper when I just told him this HUGE violation of our driving agreement!  I must have asked him why because the only thing he says is “open it”. I do and I start to read that the Hippy got a speeding ticket the SAME DAY! See my ticket was blue and I had no idea they come in different colors!  The Hippy gets out of his car and hugs me while he laughs that we have been struck by the DMV curse again!  We walk into the house together and at the sight of us laughing and hugging the step-monster loses her mind!  She is screaming. She is throwing things. She is having a full on temper tantrum. The Hippy tells her to settle down and says they need to talk (he received his ticket early that day and even though he spoke to her several times he to was too scared to tell her!)!  I am sent to my room but as loudly as she was yelling there really was no point.  While all this yelling is going on my best friend arrives with Casa Ole take-out to cheer me up. The Hippy has always had a soft spot for her and never cared if she came over (plus I only lived at home on the 2 week stretches he was home and when he was in Jamaica I stayed at her house anyways). Tara tells me that the only part she heard (of their discussion) was the Hippy constantly saying that he couldn’t punish me when he did the exact same thing (he is very big on fairness). Well they finally agree on a suitable punishment and call us into the living room (ok they called me but no one was surprised when Tara went too). The Hippy does all the talking and is very careful with his words (or at least I interrupted it that way but like I have said the Hippy and I are in total synch). The Hippy begins with his punishment which was that he would have to pay for my ticket and any fees to take defensive driving (ok this is dumb as he wouldn’t allow me to work during the school year so of course he is paying)!  He then states my punishment but what he says is “Heather your punishment is you cannot drive your car for two weeks”. It takes me less than a second to see through that (remember the Hippy lives by the mantra that rules are made to be broken). My keys are on the table where I was told to leave them when I confessed to my ticket. I reach over and take my keys and hand them to Tara. Tara reaches into her pocket and hands me her keys!  Problem solved. Heather would not be driving the Blazer for two weeks…he never said that Tara couldn’t and besides he would be gone in a week anyways but we still knew we had to deal with the step-monster so I held my breath!  The Hippy sees this and lets out the loudest laugh!  He claps his hands and declares “problem solved”. I am surprised the step-monster didn’t have a coronary at that exact moment!  Two weeks later I was driving my Blazer and Tara had her car back and all was right in the world of Heather again!  I bet the step-monster is still pissed about this!

Dumbo not just a Disney character…

When I was 3 the Hippy started teaching me about gun safety and self-defense. We would practice evacuation drills as well as hiding if someone broke in the house. We did this several times a week. In fairness Debbie’s step-dad/adopted father had threatened to kidnap me in a very graphic letter to Debbie. My grandfather was not a good man as he had molested Debbie for years thus causing her to run away from CA at the age of 15 and she met my dad in Reno, NV shortly after that!  The Hippy had guns all over the house and he named them after Disney characters and taught me the locations of each. Part of our practice drills was him saying a name and me running to get it or in some cases it was alerting me to go hide in the pre-determined location. My closet had a panel in it that he cut out and cleaned up for me to hide behind. Dumbo was the name of the handgun that the step-monster carried in her purse and I knew to never ever put my hand in her purse no matter what (unless I was to get Dumbo for my dad). When I was in the 4th grade I was playing in the front room of our house (it really connected to the main living room and breakfast room) and my dad and step-monster where in the living room not even 30 feet away (the living room faced the back yard). It was dark outside but still early in the evening. My dad noticed a very bright spotlight shining directly in our backyard. He hollers at me to come to his side. He opens the door and sees it’s a police helicopter. He yells for my step-mother to get his gun. The Hippy and I walk to the front room and see about 4 police cars outside our house and we can see officers running towards our gate. The step-monster does as she is told and blacks out the house so the Hippy can see what’s going on outside. I am told to go stand by the step-monster,at the back wall of the living room, and my dad is standing at the glass doors (doors open) holding his gun. We see everything as the helicopter is practically on our roof and the entire yard is lit up. My playhouse was in the far left corner of the yard and then we had several large bushes/tree things/shrubs that spaced out the length of the back fence. One officer approaches the shrub next to the playhouse (he was alone at the time as the Calvary was searching the front of the house/ street). All of a sudden a man jumps up from the shrub and grabs the officers nightsick and starts to beat the officer.  The Hippy is jumping in and out of our glass doors (open) saying “should I shoot him” (bad guy beating officer) over and over. All of a sudden the officer and the bad guy fall through our fence into the neighbors yard. Now the Calvary arrives (all with their guns drawn) and the Hippy points to the neighbors yard and yells “they went that way”. The officers kick another hole into our fence (instead of walking 30 feet to the current hole) and we hear gunshots. One officer comes to sit with us and take our statements. We learned that the bad guy was apprehended and he had robbed a jewelry store at Sharpstown mall (three blocks away). My bedroom was in the back of the house and I slept with all the lights on in my room for months after this!

The Hippy knew when it was time to phone a friend

When I was in the first grade our next door neighbor, Rick, married Christi and he adopted her 4 daughters (Pati 4 years older than me; Belinda 2 years older than me; Natalie is my age; and Margie 2 years younger than me).  Natalie and I became immediate friends (literally when they exited the car in the first five minutes) as did Christi and the step-monster (this still shocks me as Christi is so nice). Not long after the girls moved next door the step-monster accepted a job as a Bookkeeper for Tanglewood Homes Assocation. The only-drawback to her new job was that it required her to work late every Monday night (past my bedtime). The week leading up to the very first Monday night the Hippy was feeling confident. He picked me up from school; I started my homework as soon as we arrived home (my routine as neither the Hippy or step-monster cared about school); I had a snack and waited for the girls to get home (next door) so we could play before dinner time and bath and bed. Well everything was running swimmingly until the Hippy got me out of the bathtub. Here is little Heather soaking wet from head to toe and the Hippy freaks out as he has no idea how to do my hair so it looked nice the next day for school. He decides it’s time to phone next door and beg Christi for help. He calls Christi and of course she tells him to send me over as her girls are in the process of their bedtime routine. He dresses me (my hair is soaking wet) and carries me next door and passes me off to Christi. Christi dries and styles my hair; I have dessert with the girls (they only had one bathroom so their nighttime routine involved dessert while the girls rotated through their baths) and then we all settle into Pati/Belinda’s room while Christi reads us stories and we calm down for bedtime. Once all her girls are in bed she calls the Hippy to come get me and tells him he just needs to have me brush my teeth and put me in bed!  Sometime during the week Christi talks to the step-monster and all decide that going forward I would spend Monday evenings with the girls and Christi would take care of bath and bedtime routines. She even bought me a toothbrush for their house and she would call the Hippy each Monday after I feel asleep in Natalie’s room and he would come get me and carry me to my bed!  This went on for years (even after I as old enough to do my own hair it was just our new routine)!  

See you in 20 minutes…

My Hippy would always tell me that he would see me in 20 minutes even if he was an hour across town.  I have absolutely no idea why but my Aunt Rhonda also would say the same thing to my step-sister/cousin Rachel so maybe it was a Shepherd thing!  When I was 7 or 8, Debbie and Niki shared a very small apartment in Northwest Houston.  I lived with my dad and step-monster in Southwest Houston which was about an hour from Debbie and Niki.  One weekend my Hippy had dropped me off at Debbie’s so I could spend time with her and Niki.  Niki had a small room off of the living room with a Jack and Jill style bathroom with Debbie.  If Debbie had a boyfriend I would sleep either on the couch or on Niki’s floor but on this occasion I was able to share a bed with Debbie.  Sometime in the late evening I woke up (no idea what woke me either) and I couldn’t find Debbie anywhere.  I walked the entire apartment and like I said it was small so I should have found her.  I was scared so I called my dad (luckily I knew my home phone number).  My dad answered the phone and I told him I couldn’t find Debbie (this just seemed crazy to him so he told me to put the phone down and go look around and report back).  I did as I was told and unknown to me he was quickly getting dressed.  I came back to the phone (1985 or so we did not have a cordless phone) and told him Niki was asleep in her crib but Debbie was not home.  He told me to hang up and wait for him on the couch and to ONLY answer when he knocked and gave me the password.  He hung up after saying “I will be there in 20 minutes” (now we all know that was a lie as he was an hour away) but regardless I did what I was told. Some time later I heard the knock on the door and he said the password.  I remember opening the door and either I was loud or he was loud but at this moment Niki woke up crying.  Thank goodness she waited for him to arrive too as I could not have helped her since she was in her crib and I could’t get her out at that age.  My dad locks the door and goes to pick-up Niki.  He asks me to show him where Debbie kept the bottles and he tended to Niki.  He settled Niki back in her crib and he sent me to Debbie’s room to go back to sleep.  Years later he told me that after he made sure both Niki and I were asleep he turned off all the lights and waited for Debbie to arrive.  Debbie was working at a strip-club and didn’t want my dad to know so she simply didn’t tell him when he called that morning to say he was going to bring me by.  Once daylight came my dad woke me up and told me to say goodbye to Debbie and Niki and we left.  I did not spend the night with Debbie again for about 4 years.  In fact, it was Debbie’s next husband (aka my last step-dad) Danny that insisted on reaching out to my dad to mend fences so I could see Debbie and Niki.  I remember the three of them coming to our house and Danny talking to my dad (he and Debbie had only been dating a short while).  My dad allowed me to leave with Danny and he made it VERY clear that I was left in Danny’s care and not Debbie’s.  My Hippy and Papa Dale even went to Danny’s bachelor party and I was a bridesmaid in their wedding.  Danny and Debbie divorced about 9 years later and to this day Danny and I are close!  My dad has always had fond things to say about Danny as well!

March 15, 1981

My Hippy gained custody of me on March 15, 1981 when I was just 3 years old. This was unheard of in the 80’s as he was only 28 years old and was unmarried. However the Hippy tends to do things unconventionally when he wants something. He has always cared for my mother, Debbie, but once I was born they realized they couldn’t make it work. I am not sure if it was the fact that they left CO / Reno communes and moved back to the real world in Houston; or if it was having a baby with a heart problem; or if it was my Grandma Jane that caused the split but regardless they divorced when I was 2 and at 3 my Hippy “forced” Debbie to give me up. Now Debbie is not a victim in this at all as she does not have a maternal bone in her body and she is very selfish. My husband has always liked the fact that Debbie at least owns up to being a crappy mother – to this day we go years without speaking and I will say this breaks the Hippy’s heart as he did all he could to keep us close. In March 1981, the Hippy was 28; Debbie was 21 and I was 2.5 almost 3 years old. The Hippy was living with my grandparents (Grandma Jane and Papa Dale) and Debbie and I lived with Ralph Shepherds’ (aka Uncle Ralph) ex-wife and daughter (the Shepherds are pseudo-siblings to my Hippy since he was a kid and Ralph is Glen’s younger brother). My Hippy stopped paying child support; stopped paying the daycare and after a few months reported Debbie’s car to the repo company as she couldn’t make the payments (crappy I know). He then sat back and waited for Debbie to call and she did. They agreed for me to live with my dad for at least 6 months while Debbie got on her feet again. Well, August 8, 1981 the Hippy decided to further ruin my life and he married the step-monster who was 11 years his senior; from a very wealthy family with roots in Houston society; and she had no kids. They get married and sue for permanent custody of me. Debbie didn’t stand a chance and the Hippy won. Surprisingly their is no animosity between Debbie and the Hippy. Debbie was not great at exercising her weekend visitation as she is a crappy mother but that never stopped the Hippy from trying to get her and I together as often as he could. I would spend my summers riding in the truck with my dad as he owned a Courier Service and later a Pest Control Company and at least once a week we would stop by and see Debbie (I learned years later that my Hippy was delivering supplies to Debbie and would go year-round even when I was not with him). Debbie has done her fair share of crap to my Hippy as well (maybe it was paybacks but who knows). She has been engaged to my Uncle Glen (Shepherd). She married my Uncle Ralph (Shepherd) thus making my cousin Rachel my Step-sister/cousin. She once married a guy to help him get his green card (the Hippy found out and threatened to turn her in so she divorced the guy before they got too far into the process). She married a biker from the club that starts with a B and rhymes with Doritos, he goes by Feats but his name is Steve. They were married for less than 30 days but lived together longer. It is with Steve that Debbie had my little sister Niki and when Niki was only 6 months old it was my Hippy and both Shepherd boys (Glen and Ralph) that came to rescue Debbie and Niki from a VERY angry Feats. I was 6.5 years old when Debbie married Feats and she had Niki. I didn’t have a room or a bed (at their house)so when I would spend the night I had to sleep on the floor next to Niki’s crib. One night I thought I heard Niki struggling to breathe so I went to wake-up Debbie. I walked in Debbie’s room and quietly called her name (I never called her “mom”). Feats didn’t appreciate being woken up and threw a boot at my head. I went back to bed (it is a miracle that Niki and I survived our childhood). On the day that Debbie had officially had enough of Feats’ crap my job was to entertain Niki (I was 7 and she was 6 months) so basically I just pushed her in the swing for hours while Debbie loaded her car with all their belongings. Feats shows up and punches Debbie (breaking her jaw) and puts gasoline all over the car and trunk. My Hippy and uncles arrive and put an end to the non-sense. Debbie and Niki moved in with my Uncle Ralph’s ex-wife and daughter (again). The Hippy loved my sister Niki (and my step-sister/cousin Rachel) and he wanted us to be close. He was never one to believe in labels as the Shepherds are just as much siblings to him as his own blood siblings. All the Hippy would ever say to me about Debbie was “please do not end up like your mother”. He said the same thing to me when I was 5 as he did when I was 16. It was not till I was an adult that I really understood what he meant.