I have heard the mermaids singing each to each

Wednesday, June 5th

July 4th, 2001, when Ian and had been dating about nine months, we invited a bunch of friends to the barn/house I had rented in Stephentown, NY. We were preparing to shoot our independent film, the ill fated but almost-glorious PINK HOUSE. We were nervous and distracted, but happy to be surrounded by friends. It was a sticky New York summer’s day with thick air you feel on your skin. Ian and Kelly were playing guitar. In the middle of, weirdly, an Indigo Girls medley, Ian abruptly stood up, complaining of pain in his back. He lay down while I tried to WASP the whole thing away… nerves, exhaustion or gas. After an unrelenting hour, he begged me to take him to the hospital.

Stephentown is a long way from anywhere. Or, more to the point, anywhere with a hospital. This was a pre-GPS world, and you just had to KNOW where a hospital was. I could get us to Pittsfield and then I kinda, sorta thought I might have seen a hospital. Once. But, basically, I was relying on my bat sensors.

When we were cresting the small mountain pass between New York and Massachusetts, I looked over to Ian, squirming and seething with pain. Normally, my guy has the strapping ruddy complexion of Welsh sailor. But in that moment, I could see EVERY freckle in his face and I knew we were in serious trouble.

Swimming up from the bottom of his misery, he asked me how much longer. With all my sober love, I said, “It’s going to be a while, honey. At least fifteen minutes. Hang in there. I will get you there as soon as I can.” While secretly, I was hoping beyond hope that I could intuit my way to the ER.

Turns out, he had a kidney stone and they were able vanquish the pain handily. He professed his love to me in an opiate haze as we heard fireworks in the distance.

About a week later, Ian said, “Remember when you told me we were 15 minutes away from the hospital.” “Of course,” I answered, proud of my loving calm in that stressful moment. “That sucked.”

Apparently, one of the first things you’re taught as a lifeguard is to tell the drowning guy that he’s almost to shore… you’re really close, it’s right over there, just another minute.

You definitely don’t say, “Yeah. Wow. It’s going to a be long time before you’re anywhere near help.”

But, today, that’s exactly what I did.

Ian is consistently and visibly sicker than he has been. He’s the sickest person I’ve been around who’s not old and known to be dying

There were no quips today from my smart ass. Barely words. He didn’t eat. And owing to some serious intestinal issues kicked up from the antibiotics and pain meds, he couldn’t bare to see Lucy, which is usually the great pleasure of his day.

We’re still waiting on cultures and blood tests to see if we can narrow down the cause of this atypical pneumonia. The doctors of St. John’s are clustered in the corners, brainstorming, while every antibiotic invented is dripping into his veins.


I had a long, private talk with one of the doctors in order to help me set some expectations for all of us, especially Lucy. Ian has him worried and he warned me to expect things to get worse before they get better. When I asked him what that would look like, he equivocated. There are some things better left unimagined. So I changed tack. If this is our nadir, what does recovery look like?

I needed to make plans for splitting in two – a mom and a wife -and for how much help we might need when Ian gets home. I was thinking ahead. Planning – the privilege of the healthy.

When Ian asked me about the conversation with the doctor, I stupidly told him the truth.

Halting. Good days and bad. Another week in the hospital. A couple more weeks at home.

He’ll miss Lucy’s ballet recital and chorus performance. Her end of school poetry reading and the last day of school.

I saw the light drain from his eyes as I basically announced to him, “Yeah buddy, the shore is miles from here and you’re still going out to sea.”

So, that wasn’t my best move, but here’s what I know: even when I’m afraid, even when I have to explain to Lucy that she can’t see her dad today, or promise his mom that I will call if it gets worse, or hold his hand when he drifts through swells of pain, I know that he will make it to shore. And, more than that, all of you will be there to greet him.


25 thoughts on “I have heard the mermaids singing each to each

  1. Kara

    We’ll be waiting on shore. We also have a rowboat.
    Tessa, I can’t imagine there’s a way to do all of this “right.” You’re doing it the bestest way you know how, and that’s more than most could muster. We’re here, loving all of you :) xoxo

  2. jiff

    I’m with Salem and Annie. Wishing I could come over and cook and stock your freezer or babysit or just entertain. Sending love and big hugs.

  3. LFMD

    I logged onto the blog first thing this morning, hoping to read some good news about Ian. I am heartsick to hear that our Ian is having such a hard time. I will double up on my prayers and good wishes for you and your family.

  4. Dave

    Cate and I thinking about you, Ian, and Lucy. Tell Ian that some Duke person gave him this thing and see if he doesn’t fight even harder!

  5. Cheryl

    Thinking of you all during this very tough, surreal time. I hope Ian is back to his old self soon. Please take care. There’s a lot of love behind you all!

  6. Kaarin Tisue

    Tessa, I’m a former colleague of Ian’s at the Daily Tar Heel and am so sorry you are going through this. I’ll be following this blog closely to hear the latest. Please tell Ian to get better because we have a hotly fought Words With Friends game to finish.

  7. Martha

    Wow. I’ve been following xtcian a long while now and you both don’t know me from Eve but I’m holding the Blake-Williams family in the light and I’m sending healing thoughts your way.

  8. Heather

    There is a higher purpose in all of this. That is the one thing I know to be true. The only answer is surrender, trust and love.

  9. Hilary

    Hi Tessa,
    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been moved by the deep deep love that you and Ian share. Your recent blog posts are certainly no exception. What a gift that you have each other. I wish I could be there to hold your hand or make you a cup of tea, or to arrange a play date with Stella and Lucy. I’m sending you strength–and please tell me if there’s anything I can do from NYC–

  10. cluverc

    Sending healing thoughts from Cambridge, MA. Beautiful articulation of a difficult time – but the human body and mind is resilient beyond belief and given time, shore will come – healing terra firma at last.

  11. Deirdre Hardiman

    Tessa, thanks for sharing. Praying for a quick positive turn. I thought I would share a few thoughts that helped me cope when my husband had 2 extended emergency hospital stays in the last few years. First of all, I thought I could take it all on like a super woman….maintain kids routines, work commitments , medical advocate at the hospital, companion for hubby, pay bills, buy groceries, do laundry…you get the picture. It’s not only physically taxing but the emotional toll of the worry is utterly exhausting. Adrenaline helps the first few days but quickly wears off. Listen to your body . Pace yoursrlf. Practice yoga, deep breathing or other meditative practice . Lean on your friends and accept offers for help because even picking up shampoo at the store was more than I wanted to handle. The goal is to have the energy to tackle what tomorrow brings. Lastly, I found my kids needed a way to express their feelings about Dad’s sickness. I drew with them and wrote a letter to Dad . I hope some of this helps. Deirdre ( long lost UNC friend of Ian’s )

  12. Randy

    Ian is tougher than nails, but prayers are up after reading this and seeing the Facebook posts. Having suffered illness with loved ones and children, I understand and hope for a quick recovery. Wish there was more I could do than that. Get well Ian and heal that immune system. There are too many more trips to Chapel Hill in your future and a wife and beautiful daughter who need you around.

  13. Neva

    Thoughts and prayers with all of you.
    Get sleep Tessa and remember to take care of yourself too. Can’t wait to hear Ian’s thoughts on all this when he’s back to his old self. I see loads of fodder for blog discussion here.
    Take it one day at a time. He is young and health and will get better. I just know it.
    Love to you all!

  14. Michele

    all the best wishes … i have only just seen the news and am so sorry that my return to a favoured blog is to see and hear this sad news .. please give Ian lots of kisses and kind thoughts from an absent now returned fan x


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