Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Rainbow Effect

It started during my senior year of high school.  My then-best friend Heather was rumored to be dating a junior girl, one of my neighbors who lived on the next block over.  She hadn't told me, but one day I saw them holding hands walking down my street.

I didn't say anything to Heather.  She clearly hadn't wanted me to know.  Finally, while we were hanging out one afternoon, she simply said, "I know you know."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I was afraid.  You're just so. . . Catholic."  At the time Heather and I were both in the unenviable position of being teenagers, struggling to find our place in the world.  Heather was coming to terms with being a lesbian in a world that was changing but still very unwelcoming to the gay population.  And for the first time, I was unclear about how I fit into the secular world as a Catholic.  For the first time, I was aware that the world was secular, while I was Catholic.

Over the next five years the remedy was simple, as I shunned my Faith when I decided I didn't want to follow its rules.  When I reverted to Catholicism I dedicated myself to finally understanding the Church's teachings that before, I just thought of as laws to regulate our behavior.

These efforts left me - leave me - in a limbo.  My generation has witnessed greater normalization of homosexuality, but the Catholic Church has never changed positions on the matter:  The inclination to be attracted to someone of the same sex itself is not a sin, but to linger on that attraction, to give in to lust in response to that attraction. and certainly to act on that attraction is the sin.  Contrary to what has become a popular belief, the average Catholic doesn't condemn homosexuality out of hate, but out of a deep love and desire to see all on this earth united again in Heaven.  Certainly, that is my goal.  If and when I find myself in Heaven someday, I want everyone that I love to be there too.  My drive has grown even stronger since the day I sent my son that way.

The question for me then became a question of how I can lead those around me, especially when I have no idea what I'm doing myself most of the time.  When I think of the number of times I've screwed up, I'm reluctant to be bold in the teachings of my Faith.  I got divorced, I got knocked up, and I showed up to my second wedding with my six month old daughter.  I haven't been exemplary.

Interestingly, it's the divorce that led me to really understand why gay couples want to be married, why they can't be satisfied with civil unions and domestic partnerships.  Marriage is different.  It is real, and special, and changes the nature of a relationship.  If it weren't, the disintegration of my first marriage wouldn't have burned as it did/  If marriage weren't special, I wouldn't have bothered to give it a second chance.  Marcos and I lived together, had a baby together, and we could have just kept the status quo but it fell short of capturing what we have.  Whether one supports gay marriage or not, support of marriage means recognizing that marriage is not just a piece of paper.

I've also had to wonder how much I can accomplish by telling my gay friends, and I have many, that engaging in homosexuality is a sin.  Are they very likely to stop? I'm past an age and station in life when friends will lie to me to avoid the conflict between my Faith and their lifestyle. Friendships just seem to work better when nobody has to pretend like they're something they're not. When Proposition 8 came up on California ballots I put too much effort into lying, leading people to believe that my fully informed conscience would still permit me to vote "no." My Faith called me to vote "yes," ad when I returned to my faith I committed myself to letting my conscience lead me.

I don't pretend to be some free-thinking, cafeteria, pick-n-choose Catholic anymore.  Likewise, I don't pretend to be a Catholic who understands how this whole life thing, and the whole eternity thing, actually works.  It's all just sort of speculation., trial, and error.  My friends know where the Catholic Church stands on homosexuality, and they know I stand with my Church.  I make it clear that I bring my daughter to Mass every week. and that I wish for her to have a Catholic education.  I want her to know her Faith and I want to lead her to Heaven the best way I know how.

The best I've come up with so far is just to live as I know how, guided by my imperfect understanding of Church teachings, with my eyes ahead and on the prize.  I spend a great deal of time praying that when I stand before God, He will know my heart, and that I can honestly say that my heart is pure.

Heather stood by my side as my bridesmaid when I married Ben. but thereafter we drifted apart.  It had nothing to do with the fact that she's a great big lezzy, and everything to do with the fact that life just changes and leads us in different directions, and though we live in the same little. big town, the distance from one side of that town to the other makes keeping up certain friendships inconvenient.  I still love her, and I still want her to be happy.  She recently got engaged.  When she met Allison, it was pretty evident that they were both in it for the long haul.  She was happy. and that was undeniable, even if the right for her to marry Allison was denied.  It's been nearly 20 years since heather first came out as a lesbian and in that time I've watched her struggle to find her place in life.  After all this time, I think she's finally found it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shades of Blue





"Andrea Lopez."

I stood, a familiar fear coursing through my body.  Marcos rose with me and we proceeded to the door where we were stopped by the ultrasound tech.  "Just you for now.  We'll come back for him when the first half is done."

I froze and could feel Marcos' fingers gently prodding me forward.  "Please.  I have history of anencephaly.  I don't want to be alone."

She rolled her eyes with a microscopic movement, but relented.  "I'm behind anyway.  Come on in."

Four years, two last names, one yellow house and my son's lifetime had gone by since my world was rattled by the fatal diagnosis, anencephaly.  Still, the machine, the sterility of the room, the sterility of the staff brought it all back to me.  What would have been Gabriel's fourth birthday was less than a week away and somehow even in his absence, he occupied the front of my brain.  As I lay on the exam table for what is for most women a highly-anticipated moment I prepared to receive the bad news that I presumed she would be discovering, a defense-mechanism inevitably developed by members of the infant loss community.

The tech began to explain to Marcos that she would be taking many measurements and making quite a few notes during the first half of the exam.  They don't usually allow spouses or family or friends in during that time because they get nervous and start to think something is wrong when it all takes so long.  Her reasoning was lost on me - I had already received the worst news an expectant mother could get.  Besides, Marcos is unshakeable, and I was already rattled to my core.  When something went wrong, I would know right away.  She couldn't pull one over on me anyway.  I was on to her, from the first shift in her eyes.

She began to ask questions about Gabriel, though I noted that she never asked his name, likely presuming he didn't have one.  "How long did you carry your anencephalic baby?"

"40 weeks, 1 day."

"Oh."  Her face gave away her surprise.  "So you went all the way to term. How long was he with you?"

"Ten days. I guess that's pretty extraordinary."

"Oh.  Yes, that is unusual."  Somehow through the course of the forced conversation it was revealed that I brought Gabriel home from the hospital. "You brought him home?" Her incredulity shone.  Gabriel's story is remarkable, no doubt an anomaly in her anomalous experience with anencephaly.

Marcos was invited to stand next to me to view the images of our baby.  She showed us the heart, the different organs, the active hands.  "I can't tell you what you're seeing, but I can show you."  Her wand scanned over the bright, round skull.  I might never have known how perfect it is, if I had never been exposed to how perfectly its absence appears.  A few tears rolled down my face.  Until this baby is here, until I see and touch its head, I won't feel secure in its existence, but these images would carry me over the remainder of the pregnancy, at least.

The whirlwind that is the ten day long celebration of Gabriel's life followed in a flurry of cupcakes and Post-It Notes and a baseball game and Magic Mullet Run promotion. As seems to happen every year, it got both easier and more difficult than the years past.  Time allows me to feel some sense of security in the life ahead of me, but time also puts more distance between me and the physical presence of my son.  I would peak at the blueberry bush from my bedroom window, intent on spending some time with it to absorb its inspiration and prompt my annual blog about the plant.  But life seemed to keep getting in the way.  This year Eden demands my attention and was folded into the ten days of activities.  She has her own needs, and meeting them is part of what sustains me.  On the anniversary of Gabriel's passing Marcos and I took Eden to release balloons with our family and play at the park.  Things I will never get to do with Gabriel, I finally get to do with a child of my own.

In the days following, I finally took time to listen to my voicemail messages, which I tend to gather for a month before reviewing.  A call from Kaiser stopped me cold.  The genetic counselor needed me to return her call, and she would send me an e-mail with the same information.  In the e-mail she reported that a normal variant had been detected, an oxymoron when one considers normal means "regular" and "variant" means "exhibiting variety or diversity."  Doctors are so fucking stupid.

I called the genetic counseling department and was advised my particular counselor would be out for the day, but they would try to find someone to review my file and get back to me.  No one did.  I must have called eight times the following morning, this morning, but got the department's voicemail instead.  When my phone finally rang, I answered quickly.

"Is this Andrea Lopez?"

"Yes."

"This is Kristy with Kaiser.  You called."

"You called first."

"Yes.  I have your ultrasound results.  Kaiser requires us to go over even normal variants with our patients."  By that time I had Googled "normal variants" and knew that they were generally nothing of concern, but still, I needed a name for my child's particular variant.

"Okay."

"A choroid plexus cyst was detected. . ."

"Spell that."

"C-h-o-r-o-i-d new word p-l-. . ." by then the phrase had presented itself in my search bar, so I clicked the term and followed a link as she babbled.

"Why does it say here that the cyst is sometimes associated with Trisomy 18?"

"Well, I'm getting to that.  Sometimes it is.  In very few cases.  It's not a very high chance."

"There wasn't a very high likelihood of my child having anencephaly, but we were the one in one thousand."

"You refused any blood testing that would have told us sooner if Trisomy 18 were present," she said, with some bite to her tone.  I wondered if she always dealt with such delicate subjects so coarsely.  "When Trisomy 18 is present there are other indicators during the ultrasound, none of which were present in yours."  She could have led off with that. "Underdevelopment, a small baby, lack of fetal movement, especially hand movement."  My mind flicked back to the ultrasound in Urgent Care a few months ago, during which the baby had waved at us assuredly.  "Trisomy 18 is a chromosomal defect. It has no relation to anencephaly."  Again my mind wandered, this time to the genetic counselor I saw after Gabriel's diagnosis, who assured me that the anencephaly had nothing to do with the miscarriage.  The miscarriage was likely the result of a chromosomal defect.  As my brain raced I forced my eyes back to the page of information before me, soothing myself with the facts at hand.  Fetuses with Trisomy 18 almost always demonstrate abnormalities on ultrasound in addition to choroid plexus cysts.  The precise rate of risk is difficult to estimate and somewhat controversial as most doctors believe it is well under 1 percent 1 in 1,000 pregnancies result in anencephaly and a fetus with choroid plexus present but an otherwise normal ultrasound has a better than 99% chance of not having Trisomy 18.  I have every reason to believe there is no cause for alarm.

"No further treatment is indicated at this time.  In most cases the cyst resolves before delivery.  Even if it doesn't, it is benign."  I allowed reason to wash over me.  "You could have amniocentesis, but that carries risk.  I find that most women who reject early blood testing will almost certainly reject the amnio."

"It won't matter what an amnio might tell me."  It wouldn't.  I've already fallen in love with this baby, even if it is a guarded, cautious love, it is relentless and unconditional at the same time.  That is my nature, in the aftermath of the storm that was Gabriel, and really, always.  I love with a careful abandon, knowing it might hurt, but knowing I'm going to do it anyway and face the consequences if and when they arise.  I live in shades of blue, bright and bold like the sky, dark and dreary like the storm, soft and soothing like the baby blue of Gabriel's blankets and clothes, deep and true like the promise represented in my sapphire wedding ring.  But always, always blue.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Celebrating 10 Days that Changed the World With Love

It's June 1, and what would be Gabriel's 4th birthday is fast approaching.  This year is different than any other.  This year my life and my heart and my arms are so full that I long to share the joy I've found.  Again, I'll be doing 10 days of activities that honor my sweet Gabriel's life, and I invite you to participate in these personal and community events, to share the color that can come from gay skies, and the brightness that can come from even the darkest of times.

TEN DAYS OF LOVE
HONORING GABRIEL MICHAEL GERARD CUDE IN 2015
1.     Day 1, Wednesday June 10, 2015:  Happy 4th Birthday Gabriel!  In honor of Gabriel’s birthday, do something to spread awareness of anencephaly. Check out the anencephaly.info website for stories about babies born with anencephaly, or look into the lives of some of the exceptional cases of anencephaly in which the children have or are currently thriving and have/did for years, such as Pierce, Vitoria de Cristo, Nicholas, Katie, Angela, or Elijah. 

2.       Day 2, Thursday June 11, 2015:  Cupcake Day!  As has become an annual tradition with friends and family, enjoy a cupcake today as we celebrate Gabriel having beaten the odds when he lived to see 24 hours on earth.

3.       Day 3, Friday June 12, 2015:  Four Year Old Fun.  In honor of what would have been Gabriel’s 4th birthday, look into donating toys or other much needed items for a local preschool or Head Start Program.

4.       Day 4, Saturday June 13, 2015:  Blazing Trails.  Over the next few days I will be selling tickets for the Bakersfield Blaze game on Saturday June 13, 2015 at 7:45 pm against Modesto.  Tickets are $8, and 50% of the sales from tickets I sell will go to Duke University Molecular Physiology Institute.  This year, the Bakersfield Blaze are an affiliate of the Seattle Mariners.  My dreams of Gabriel pitching for the Mariners were halted when he was diagnosed with anencephaly, but through the continued efforts towards research, my dream that his life will change the future lives on.

5.       Day 5, Sunday June 14, 2015:  Folic Acid Foods.  We still don’t know what causes anencephaly, but we know that the surest way to reduce the risk of its occurrence is to take folic acid during the early stages of pregnancy, before most women even know they are pregnant.  While supplements are the best way to insure that we receive the recommended amount, there are a number of foods that can help give us a boost.  Today, enjoy a few of the most rich in folic acid, including dark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, citrus fruit, beans, peas or lentils, okra, avocado, Brussel sprouts, seeds or nuts, cauliflower, beets, corn, carrots and squash.  Take your pick!  And I guarantee, I won’t be picking beets! 

6.       Day 6, Monday June 15, 2015:  A Bag of Blessings. Join me in creating a paper bag of blessings to give to a local person in need.  It doesn’t have to be much – Maybe a tube of toothpaste, a water bottle, a granola bar, a stick of deodorant, or a pair of socks placed in a paper bag, or a few paper bags, to give to someone you might encounter who may be in need.  You can give them to your local shelter, or be prepared to hand one to that needy soul you see in the same place every day on your way to work. 

7.       Day 7 Tuesday June 16, 2015:  Sing a song.  One of my favorite memories from the 10-Day Celebration of 2013 was the group “sing-along” of “Danny’s Song on my Facebook page.  On Tuesday June 16, 2015, I’ll be posting the opening line to “Danny’s Song” once again, and I invite you to add a line and sing “along” with me. 

8.       Day 8, Wednesday June 17, 2015:  Post It.  Inspired by Cak Alvastad’s celebration for Andrew, take a Post-It note and write something inspiring, then leave that note on a mirror in a public restroom to warm a heart, or several.

9.       Day 9, Thursday June 18, 2015:  Magic Mullet Brigade Day.  Help me advertise this year’s Magic Mullet Run for Anencephaly Awareness by sharing the link to the run, taking a stack of fliers to a local business to disperse, or signing yourself up for this year’s run. 

1.   Day 10, Friday June 19, 2015:  A Boy and His Dog.  It’s no secret that I love my boy, and I love my dog.  The love I can’t share with Gabriel often gets transferred to Gideon.  On this day, do a little something special for your four-legged comrade who’s seen you through hard times. 

ANGELVERSARY!  Saturday June 20, 2015:   It’s the Feast of St. Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude.  As has become an annual custom, I will be releasing balloons in celebration of the day my sweet boy’s soul was lifted to Heaven.  Join me at University Park in East Bakersfield, or release one on your own.  After the balloon release, stick around to enjoy some park time with my little rainbow, Eden.  Timing and final location to be announced. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Leanne Longcrier: Diamond in the Rough



The news engulfed us, like the fire that consumed her car.  In the early hours of Sunday May 3, 2015, Leanne's car had crossed the median divider and gone off the road.  My first thoughts were of her burning to death as she thought of the two young children she would leave parentless.  Later, when news reports indicated that she had struck two trees before wrapping the car around a third, causing the car to burst into flames, I reasoned that she must have died on impact.

Information came to me in bits over the course of Eden's first birthday party.  First, a message from Lynn:  "Call me if you can."  A few moments later, one from Chris:  "I heard about Leanne.  Wow. :-(" The ominous tone of the messages caused a shudder down my spine, but I convinced myself that they must be benign.  "She finally did it," I thought.  "That prude finally cut loose and she must have got drunk before her shift.  Lynn needs me to come in to work, but I can't."

Then, another message, this time from Shane: "Happy birthday to Eden.  I'm sorry it's such a sad day also." Something was wrong. I urgently Lynn, who must have been fielding a number of urgent phone calls that she wishes she'd never had to take or make.  When she didn't answer, I called Shane. As the phone rang, as Shane answered, as he began to preface the news, I looked at Timothy, sitting on the couch, the only adult in the room, and I knew that he knew that whatever Shane was about to tell me was terribly, horribly bad.

"The car went off the road, and I guess she didn't make it."  The words hung in the air. I looked at the knowing look in Timothy's eyes.

"I have to go."

"Are you okay?"

"I - Yes.  I have to go."  As a matter of formality, Timothy asked "What happened?"

"Leanne's dead."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, with our party guests chattering and munching on the last bits of food, I learned that Leanne's body had been mangled and burned beyond recognition.  Her medical records would need to be obtained the following day to confirm her identity.  Later reports revealed that the police could not even confirm that there were no other occupants in the car, it had been crushed so severely.  Friends told me they had driven by the accident site that morning, unaware that it was Leanne's car that had been split like a banana by the tree, causing them to lift up a prayer that the driver had at least gone quickly.

For three days now Leanne's friends and co-workers from The Wright Place have been wrestling with the news.  The glaring, unspoken lamentation of an outsider looking in might be the tragedy of a woman who was so beautiful having been so disfigured in her death.  The lack of information as to whether alcohol was involved in the accident which occurred at approximately 1:30 AM has caused ignorant speculation as to what kind of mother this dead woman must be.

I'll tell you what kind of mother Leanne Longcrier was.  She was the kind of mother who left at just after 5 AM, five mornings a week, to report to a company where she'd worked for over ten years, because the job provided health benefits to her children.  She is the kind of mother who, two years ago, took on a job working an additional two shifts a week to give her daughter and her son, whose father had passed away when they were both quite young, a good life. If you knew Leanne for ten minutes, you knew that she had two kids, a boy and a girl. If you spoke with her even a minute longer you knew that her son Michael wanted to go into the military, but a part of her hoped he would get over it because she didn't want to lose him, and her daughter Gabi wasn't sure but she maybe wanted to be a lawyer, but in any case, both kids were going to college, because that's why she was working so hard.

Rick and Lynn had to have been slightly out of their minds when they hired her, undoubtedly.  She is the kind of woman who never made sense as a bartender.  She didn't drink, she didn't swear, and the dirty jokes told by the dirty old patrons and the dirty hardened bartenders all went over her head.  She stuck out like a sore thumb around there, just as her absence does today.

"Leanne, you need to do some things for yourself," I would often tell her.  "Your kids are growing up.  They don't need you around as much anymore.  You need to get your own life."  She'd smile and look at me with doe-eyes and it was plain on her face that she disagreed.  How I regret those words now, even while I thank God that on this occasion, she had left her children at home.

For the two years that Leanne worked at The Wright Place, she never quite fit in.  She didn't change, as so many of the bartenders that I've seen come and go over the years, and even as I have.  She was the same woman the last time she walked out of that door as she had been the day she walked in.   I think that's got to be why we all came to love her so much.  I know that's why her death has rattled our community so.  We had all known a lot of somebodies, but we had never met anyone like Leanne, a sparkling jewel among the rough.

Just days before her death, unknowing that we wouldn't see her again, someone summed up her place in the bar: "She can't poor a drink for shit, but you just don't care."  You can find booze just about anywhere.  There was only one Leanne.


A Go Fund Me Account has been established to raise funds for Leanne's burial: http://www.gofundme.com/u7qcrxk

Her children are young, ages 12 and 13, and have requested a traditional casket and burial for their mother. Any funds that can be raised for this burial will enable the family to reserve the funds from Leanne's life insurance policy to be held in trust for the children as they grow up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From the Iris



"I think it's a weed."

"I think so too," I agreed, scowling as I stared up at the near 6 foot tall stalks growing in my new-to-me garden.  "I'll never be able to get those out of here without leaving a big hole."

"I'll remove them," Marcos assured me, "but first I want to see what happens when they bloom."  There were multiple buds at the top of the stalks, ready to burst.  Sure enough, the next day the scarlet blossoms had emerged to be admired.  I sent a picture to Marcos, who did a google search for the name of the plant.  "They're called hollyhocks," he later informed me.

"And it's a weed?"

"No.  People buy them and grow them.  Those other stalks over there," he said, pointing to another bunch of five stalks at the south end of the yard, "those might even bloom in a different color.  They come in lots of colors."  A week later I was still surprised by the large pink blossoms presented by the hollyhocks.

We've been in our new house for two months now, and surprises in the garden await us at every turn.  It's a veritable paradise in continuous bloom.  The snapdragons, a favorite of mine, have withered away in the dry Bakersfield warmth of April, with a promise to return again when the weather is more favorable.  In their place some of the more drought-resistant, heat tolerant shrubs and plants have begun to flower.  Tufts of lavender grow fuller and more purple every day.  The three bougainvillea climb their trellises, their pink petals reaching for the sun, falling and carpeting the ground to make way for fresh new petals.  A cluster of fortnight lilies have made their appearance.  There are more varieties than I can identify, with new ones cropping up with routine.  Though our grass has struggled with the local watering restrictions, the flowering plants have remained resilient.



With the blooms have come the humbingbirds and the bees, peppering the space around the plants. Hummingbirds hover in the air, saturated by the possibilities. Honeybees and bumblebees dance among the blossoms. I was recently stung for the first time in my life, and Marcos was stung the very same day, leading us both to worry about Eden.  We'll have to instruct her soon that though the garden is beautiful and appealing and even tempting, it presents a certain danger when we're not careful, a lesson I suppose that will require a lifetime of reminders.

Longing for a touch of the yellow house, I bought a couple of irises.  The irises, which first bloomed for me in my third spring at the yellow house, came to symbolize for me a sense of surprise and newness as I found my post-baby loss, post-divorce self.  Their bold purple evoked a hope in me that had been smothered to but an ember among the ashes of the life I've left behind.

My thumbs are anything but green and I don't find much promise in the new irises.  The irises in the yellow house would have bloomed by this point. . . Except that they haven't.  When I make my weekday drive by the yellow house as I take Eden to daycare, I stretch my neck for signs of the irises, but even their proud stalks appear wilted this spring. Perhaps they've left with me.

Maybe my new irises will bloom, and maybe they won't.  I hold out a tentative hope, but have learned that they do best when I just stand back and let them grow as they will.  With or without the irises, all around me a lush Eden grows, bright and fresh and continuously changing, seeking a delicate balance of love and support without overbearing.  The garden is a gift I hadn't anticipated and I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibility.  I know that maintaining its beauty will require a series of trial and error, learning when to plant an a perennial and when to give up on an annual and where the sun hits and when and constant lessons in how to keep the bursts of color reappearing year after year.

Trial and error don't seem like the best ways to manage the care of the gifts that I've been charged with, but they are the tools that I have. While I don't like to be unsure, and I don't like to lack a book to consult for a guaranteed answer, I know that I love the hope that bursts from the promise of the flower's bud.  I love every stage of growing, from the first appearance of the tender green sprout to the stretching of the stalk to the forming of the bud to the unveiling of the petals. Even with its dangers and uncertainty I'm enjoying every day of my Eden with a heart that sprung anew from the iris.







Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Heartbeat Song

I watched the blank screen with still breath, waiting for the signs of life. 

"There's no sack.  There's no heartbeat."  I looked at Ben with horror, searching him for a different answer, as though he could right this hideous wrong.  "These things just happen."  I recall that the doctor had more to say, but every word was cold, her lack of compassion chilling.  

My first child was gone.  I would never hold him or her, never see his or her face, never even hear his heartbeat, silenced on this earth. 

The absence of that first child remains the greatest absence in my life.  The unanswered questions fill my days and have left me with an ever-present longing.  I suppose it was because of the miscarriage that one of the most vivid memories of my pregnancy with Gabriel continues to be November 8, 2010.  That was the day I went for my first pre-natal visit.  I was surprised that they would be able to pick up a heartbeat then, and the nurse practitioner warned me that at that early stage, I should not be disappointed if they could not.  When the Doppler quickly picked up its sound, and its sound filled the room, the tears spilled uncontrollably from my eyes.  That sound was the answer to a prayer.  That memory could never be taken from me.  Not even anencephaly could rob me of that moment.  When I think of that pregnancy, its ups, its downs, its heartache, my mind always comes back to that day when I heard my son's heart beat for the very first time.

Tears of joy have been forced from my eyes with the sound of Eden's heartbeat too, and last Monday, when I heard a heartbeat for the first time this pregnancy.  There's nothing in this world like that moment.  There is nothing like that sound.

Looking back, I suppose I overreacted when, last Tuesday while at work at the bar, I saw the blood.  My mind flashed back to that day back in May 2010, when the miscaige began.  With barely a word I gathered my purse, murmured to the day shift girl that I had to leave, and walked out of the door.  I'd never done that before and my mind felt conflicted, even as I drove across town with the aching in my abdomen, wondering if I should turn back and finish my shift.  If my fears were being realized again, there was probably nothing that a doctor could do.  But I had to know, and I had to know that night, so I kept driving and checked in at the Urgent Care center where I was immediately triaged, then informed I was likely looking at a three hour wait.

I was joined shortly by Marcos, and together we waited until we were among the last three patients to be called.  My mind knew why - All the doctor could do was check for status, but he couldn't "fix" anything.  Even while my heart pled with God, my brain began preparing for the loss and planning what unpregnant Andrea would do with her weekend, defending me from another hurt that might just shatter me.

We were called back to a room sometime around midnight, and were immediately told by the doctor that in 50% of cases where there is bleeding during the pregnancy, the result is miscarriage.  The odds did not seem to favor me, but even when they have, I have a history of ending up on the wrong side of them anyway.  I began saying my goodbyes to my unborn child.

He did a Doppler scan.  Nothing.

"We'll do an ultrasound."   Marcos and I were led to another, brightly lit room.  I was given a hot sheet by a sympathetic male nurse who said, "I know it's cold."  I thought back to the cold of the room five years ago, and the empty screen, as they seated me for the ultrasound.

The doctor began opening drawers and cabinets.  "I can't find the gel," he muttered, presumably to himself.  "Where's the gel?"  He looked out into the hallway, my anxiety growing with every second, and called, "Where's the gel?"  The male nurse returned and located it for him.  I could feel my body shaking under the hot sheet as he squeezed the warm gel across my belly and applied the ultrasound wand.

Immediately, I could recognized the shape of the tiny baby that I had seen for the first time just the day before.  "We have cardiac activity."  The doctor pointed at the screen at a pulsating blur.  At almost the same time, the tiny stump of an arm moved.  I could see the skull, bright, white, with some dark shading where the baby's soft spot will be until sometime after its born.  My body relaxed with relief, tears falling and sobs coming uncontrollably from my mouth.

The bleeding, never as severe as what I experienced during miscarriage, stopped the following day.  The abdominal cramping, never anything more than what I have experienced with every pregnancy, no longer triggers alarm.  I followed up with my nurse practitioner the following day, and she seems to think everything is fine. At 12 weeks, I have begun to feel the earliest flutterings of fetal movement.  We seem to be over last week's hurdle.  I've told my parents, close friends, a couple of co-workers, but have otherwise wanted to gloss over the moment until now, when I feel safe.

It is one of the earliest signs of life, one of the things that makes us alive.  My heart beat for 28 years but I never had a heartbeat song until the day someone else's heart beat inside of me.  This is my heartbeat song.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

These Dreams. . .

Sean pulls into the back parking lot of Charly's and I hop out of the passenger seat.  I know this can't be happening, but I let myself melt into the moment, fewer and fewer these days.  We walk through the back door, through the short hallway that leads to the bar.  Cheri is standing at the well, pressing a cigarette into an ashtray.  I am taken aback to see her here.  She is short and heavy set, but her smile, always truly dazzling despite yellowed, rotting teeth, is now bright white and symmetrical - perfect.  I think I know what is happening, but it is confirmed when, in the corner of the bar I see Nick, James, Krystal, Amy.  They've all got just one thing in common.

They're all dead.

My hand is clasped in Sean's and he pulls me along to a barstool.  "It's fine.  Just sit down."  His deep voice strikes me, and I nod obediently.  I am confused.  "You need a drink," and again, I nod, and instantly Gabriel is walking across the bar towards me, clasping a beer in both hands.  He is 19.5 inches tall, but he skillfully sets the bottle in front of me and squeezes a lime through the neck, then beams at me proudly, like he's been waiting for years to do this for me.  I finally find my voice.

"What are you doing here?"I demand, and his lower lip quivers, stabbing me with immediate regret for how I've handled this reunion that I've longed for.  "Come sit with Momma."  He slides from the bar to stand on my lap, turns himself around, and sits on me, pulling my arm securely around him.  I stroke his bandaged head and tilt his face up to kiss his forehead and my heart throbs.  I rub his slender arms and legs, my chin resting on his head, and I feel like I can stay this way forever.  This is the closest to whole that I've felt in so long.  

The door opens, and Elliott walks in.  Gabriel leaps from my lap, hoists himself onto the bar, and runs to Cheri, who hands him a drink for Elliott.  Beside me, Sean reminds me of his presence with a nudge. "I'll be right back."  He stands.

"No.  No, don't go.  Stay right here."

"I'm just going to the bathroom."

"Don't go. Please."

"I'll be right back."  He cups my face with his hand.  It all feels so familiar.  I watch him walk away, through the doorway, until he disappears behind the door.  I brace myself for the feeling of helplessness that will soon swallow me.  The sound of the gunshot does not surprise me. but I can still feel it all through me.  I sit, my voice caught in my throat, and scan the barroom for comfort.  Only then do I notice that James, Kim and Krystal are all staring in the same direction, a fresh bullet wound in each of their temples dripping down their necks. Amy is lying with her face on the bar, unconscious, and Nick is reaching for her, a syringe hanging from the crook of his elbow, a tie-off wrapped around his bicep.

I don't want to be here anymore.  I'm not done.  I miss them, I miss them all, but this is not what I thought it was.  This is no Heaven.

I begin to wonder. where are the old people?  Where are my grandparents, or Jack or Sue and the others who died of natural causes after a long full life?  That is what I want.  I don't want to be here.

Then I feel a tug at my sleeve.  I turn.  Gabriel is looking at me with the grey eyes that I have missed every day since he's been gone.  It's my job to care for him, but I'm looking to him to save me.  "Momma, it's Eden."  My mouth drops open.  Tears fill my eyes, spilling onto my cheeks, onto Gabriel's arm still clinging to my sleeve.  I can hear Eden's babbling through the static of the baby monitor.  My eyes remain locked with Gabriel's as I teeter on the edge of consciousness, knowing that I must wake up to tend to my daughter, but reluctant to leave the son I can only hold in my dreams.  He leans in to kiss my wet cheek, and I close my eyes until I can't feel him anymore.

When I wake, the hollow in my heart is visceral and real. Just as I allowed Sean to lead me through my dream, I follow Eden's cues, which prompt me to put one foot in front of the other. I navigate another day in the life of a woman torn between Heaven and here.