Friday, August 16, 2019

Fade Into Blue

It niggles at me a little every day, and has for the past almost two months.

I never did write my annual "Blue" entry for Gabriel's birthday or passing.  The tradition began on June 12, 2012, one year and two days after he was born, with an entry called "The Blueberry Bush Revisited," and is a reflection of another year since the birth and death of my first born child and only son.  

Eight years into this process, I seem to have simply faded into blue.  Every morning, I spend at least some time searching for motivation to get up, to breathe, to live.  Every morning, it would appear, I find it, somewhere, however nominal it might be that particular day.  One foot in front of the other, I make my way to the bathroom to get ready for the day, to raise Eden and Delilah, to maintain a career, to tend bar, even to tap dance.  My life is full of joy, but a big part of the experience of joy, for me, is sheer grief.  

Two days ago as Eden lined up with her new kindergarten classmates to walk with her teacher to her classroom for the first time, tears slid down my face.  Tears of pride in the bright, strong, healthy girl that brought the color back into my world.  Tears of mourning, over the two children before her that won't go to kindergarten, the siblings that she'll never get to meet on this earth.  Tears of desperation, over the high likelihood that she and Delilah will be my only children that I will get to see off to kindergarten, and the speed with which this all seems to be happening, my family not at all what I imagined it to be.  One foot in front of the other, she walked with a lightness that has long left me, with a carefree ease I pray she is able to keep.  

At about ten minutes to noon that day, shortly before I was to leave to pick her up after her first day, I sat alone at my kitchen table, eating what I wanted to eat and watching what I wanted to watch in a rare moment of quiet in my home.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, I began to sob.  Nothing is louder than a quiet house and the absence of voices and footsteps that you expected would fill your home.  My miscarried child and Gabriel would have been in the third grade this year.  I thought there would be at least two more children following Delilah.  The hollow sound of what might have been. 

Though the years have gone by quickly, the days are long, and busy, and rarely is there time to feel these things in a dedicated moment of grief.  Instead, it just lives in me, in the soles of my feet, in the crevices of my broken heart, in the weight on my shoulders, in eyelids that burn to cry while still holding back tears.  This is it.  The Fade Into Blue. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Grey Joy

*Heads up:  This entry will contain spoilers for the final season of Game of Thrones

Only twice in my life of television viewing can I recall drastically changing my opinion of a character from loathing to championing.

The first was Todd Manning, introduced to viewers of the long-airing soap opera "One Life to Live" when he and his frat brothers gang raped Marty Saybrook at a party.  Over the years, the sincere remorse that his character showed for what he had done to Marty, as well as the odd friendship that he developed with her, led me to let my guard down and learn to care for this character too.  I kept the events with Marty in the back of my mind for the many years that I continued to watch the show, but allowed myself to be swept up in the storylines that gave dimension to his character such that he was no longer defined, for me, by that one gravely criminal act.

The second has been Theon Greyjoy.  In the first season of Game of Thrones, he shows us no redeeming qualities.  He is a shallow, oversexed, callous teenage boy, and the complexities of being raised by one family while being the heir to the lord of the Iron Islands isn't explored.  By the second season, he's demonstrated himself to be an uninspiring leader, a traitor to the family that raised him, and willing to kill two young boys to earn his father's favor.  In the beginning of season 3, the average viewer is probably thinking that the torture Theon suffers is exactly what he deserves, but for me things started to turn when Ramsey Bolton uses two women to tempt his shell-shocked prisoner Theon, only to castrate him.

I really don't know what someone could do to make me believe that they deserved the life that unfolded for Theon after that.  Even as I would recall Theon having killed the two farm boys, lying and trying to pass them off as Bran and Ricon Stark, I found myself applying Game of Thrones realism - That the act was part of playing the Game of Thrones, which is deadly and brutal.  Torturing Theon, abusing him into submission, mutilating him, and stripping him of his identity was sadistic, and went beyond just trying to be a lord or king.  For me, it was one of the most painful storylines to watch.

It only got harder when Sansa Stark returned to Winterfell to marry Ramsey.  There's a case to be made that Theon should have acted sooner to defend Sansa from the disgusting brutality she suffered at Ramsey's hands.  But everything in Theon's presence - from his posture to his appearance to his limited dialogue - indicated that he was truly Ramsey's slave.  He even slept in the kennels, with Ramsey's hounds.  I should probably find the housing appropriate for his crimes but the thing about Game of Thrones is that your normal sense of morality is suspended and your sense of justice changes to accommodate the violent series backdrop.   No matter what he had done wrong, I couldn't accept that Theon deserved what happened to him.

As the series went on, I started to think Theon would never redeem himself in the eyes of those who knew him.  Ever.  He killed Myranda and saved Sansa from certain death if Ramsey had caught them.  He helped her flee, pushing her to keep going through the winter snow, through an icy river, until she had been safely delivered to Brienne.  From there he returned to the Iron Islands and conceded the throne to his sister Yara, and conspired with her to thwart Yuron's attempts to take the throne.  But for every two steps forward, it seemed he took two back.  When Yara's fleet was attacked, he jumped ship (like, seriously) while Yara was captured.  And when he rescued her, she thanked him by punching him in the face.   He might have deserved that.

When Theon returned to Winterfell once again to fight during the Long Night battle, I unexpectedly cried when Sansa greeted him with a hug.  The Game of Thrones world is strange and complex and in the real world Sansa might never want to see Theon again, but in the Game of Thrones world, relationships are strange, allies are few, and friends are fewer so you take them.

During the Long Night, Theon was assigned to guard Bran.  He was the first character I heard say, "Make every shot count."  It seems so small, but most of the battle was futile and Theon seemed to be the only person who was battling thoughtfully.  He seemed to understand the gravity of his role.  For me, the most powerful moment of the Long Night episode was hearing Bran say to Theon, "You're a good man.  Thank you."  I didn't think Theon would ever get to hear those words.  They seemed to set him free.  He died in a pointless attempt to kill the Night King, and I was disappointed in that.  But I was happy that he was at rest.

I think every day about the many, many, serious mistakes I've made in my life.  They are the kinds of mistakes that I can't really talk about.  Things that will likely haunt me until I die.  Things that lead me to believe that the tragedies I've suffered are just what I deserve.  My friends and family will say to me, "That's ridiculous.  That's not possible."  But I think maybe it's not impossible.

My joy is always shadowed with grey.  It's always weighted with sadness and regret.  I love my children so very much, but I also know that they have been given a mother who is burdened by her mistakes, who has been damaged by her own actions, who isn't the best mother she could have been because she's already sent herself down a broken path.  My life is full and my blessings are many; still, I know I'll live my life of grey joy and regret, hoping that at the end of it all I will hear, from the One Who Matters, "You're a good woman." And I never rest easy, believing that I will. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Moment to Moment

I recently had the most proximate experience with roadkill that I have ever had.

The dog must have been hit a car just two or three cars ahead of me.  His entrails lay in a fresh heap on the freeway and I was able to safely swerve but no one ahead of me seemed to do the same, which lead me to believe it had to have been one of them.

I'll never get used to it.  I'll never be unaffected by the sight of a dead animal on the road.

Death should affect us.  Whether it is an animal or a person, death should prompt us to appreciate life and acknowledge our mortality.  After all, death is coming for all of us.

Death worries me and fascinates me and preoccupies me and kinda scares me.  A defense mechanism developed after experiencing traumatic deaths in my life, is that I consider every day that it might be my last day.  I at once anticipate it, and fear it.  I don't want to die yet, but experience tells me that death is indiscriminate.

I feel confident that there is a life after death, but occasionally I wonder if I'm wrong about that.

More frequently, I worry that I haven't done enough to earn life after death.  And I know that, whether I have or haven't, I won't know it until I am dead.  Which really freaks me out.

In my boundless interest with death, I find Good Friday to be one of my favorite days of the liturgical year.  Christ died, even though he didn't want to, and even though he didn't have to.  He chose to die, even while asking if that really was the only way for his mission to be accomplished.  That fascinates me, too, and humbles me, and makes me so incredibly sorry for all of my wrongs. For the small ones and especially for the big ones.

A lot of people find that the devil's attempts to derail their faith increase during Lent.  I find the opposite to be true, that my faith automatically grows stronger and vascilates less in this time.  I never have more faith in Christ than when I consider His death.

When someone I know dies, I always find myself struck by the realization that I will never see them again on this earth.  It's a huge concept to wrap your mind around, and a strange one.  They were here, and now they are not.

Every Good Friday, I find struck by the idea that one moment Jesus was here, alive one moment, and then dead the next.  I allow myself to be burdened by His crucifixion, to think about it, to grieve it, to walk under the weight of that wood.  I don't deserve His sacrifice, and meditating on it seems like the least I can do.  It was an excruciating, humiliating death that his mother and closest friends had to watch.  And He chose it for me, personally.  And for you, personally.  For each of us, personally.  We each matter to him.

Death should affect us, because each of our lives have effect.  We each change the world by being in it, and the world is a different place the moment we are gone.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Just Dance

"From the top!"

Every time Mr. Marvin says it, I feel like a star, even though I am the worst dancer in my class, with the least amount of experience.  But for one summer for a few weeks at the YWCA, I had not had any tap dancing training.  When I started taking classes 5 weeks ago I figured I was too old to learn and would promptly make a fool of myself and in fact, I do, every week when we learn a new and more complicated combination.  And I love it.

I love learning.  I love growing.  For the first time in my life, I sincerely love being corrected.  I love the patience Mr. Marvin extends me.  I love the students who encourage me even when they are already so good.  Most of all, I love that for an hour every week, I am just dancing, the satisfying, rhythmic (when I can manage it) tap of my shoes distracting me from the incessant dialogue in my mind over my responsibilities, my shortcomings, my trauma, my grief.

A sign in the studio reads, "Life isn't about hiding from the storm.  It's about learning to dance in the rain."  8 years ago today I "came out" with Gabriel's terminal diagnosis.  Looking back it was perfectly timed and carried out, but back then I was really just flying by the seat of my pants. I always want everything to go according to my plan, and the situation I was facing was nothing like what I had planned.   For nearly 6 weeks I carried the painful burden of knowing my son would die, with a growing belly that was increasingly being met with smiles and words of congratulations.  And I smiled, and carried on, but inside my storm was raging.  And then I opened up to my friends, and there I was, dancing in the rain.  There were days I cried and days that I laughed, but I was living in a way that I never had, and enjoying every minute with my son.

Life since then has been a roller coaster of experiences, and emotions, and long bouts of depression, and moments of great joy.  And I'm tired.  I am tired on Tuesday nights at 7:15 when I leave for dance class.  By then, I have wrangled two kids and dropped them off at two different places, having had to remember which Dr. Suess dress up day it is, and to pack Delilah's lunch and grab her therapy binder.  I feel a sense of relief when each child gets to her respective location, and I am on my way to work, but I immediately begin missing them.  They are on my mind even as I listen to my clients, argue with opposing counsel, present my case to the judge, and think about getting dinner on the table for them in the evening. After work our home is a mad rush of dinner and dishes and laundry and baths and playing.  Marcos and I are in survival mode, just trying to keep our heads above water.  And at 7:15, I head out, and once again I begin missing my girls, wondering which stories they will choose at bedtime, and about the funny things 'Mr. Bear' will say that night.  Then I put on my tap shoes, and we do some shuffles to warm up, and I am dancing.  I am dancing because my son can't, so I will.  I am dancing because my girls are learning, and I want to teach them.  I am dancing because it feels good.  It doesn't come naturally to me.  I have to think about my steps, I am training my body to do things it hasn't had to do.  It's work, and I love it.

In June, two days before Gabriel's 8th birthday, I will perform in the same recital as my girls, on the stage in the East High auditorium where I performed in plays and concerts and received scholarships and awards when I was in high school.  I'm nervous already - More than I ever was to do any of those things.  What if I mess up?

One of the most important things I am learning in dance is that inevitably, I will mess up.  I make mistakes, my plans get off track, and things don't always go as I want them to.  I can practice, I can prepare, but life will still happen.  So what I'm learning, is to recover, and keep dancing, even in the rain.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fighting to Be Warm, Finding Shelter in the Storm

"You can just put it down."

A ten pound weight sat in my lap, and Renata was sitting across from me, just waiting.  Although we spend most of the hour just talking, this is not talk therapy.  I've exhausted its effectiveness, without relief.  So every other week I see Renata for somatic bodywork therapy.  We meet in a yoga studio and sit in two chairs, face to face, just a couple of feet apart and we talk in a way that is meant to elicit a physical response, so that I can learn to recognize my emotions, and control them.  Or some shit like that.

And on that particular day, we were talking about Sean.

We were talking about the guilt that I have carried for 14 years.  We were talking about my regret over the last words we said to each other, and my regret over not answering his phone call later that night.  We talked about my sense of duty, to remember him and to pray for him. The ten pound weight in my lap was supposed to represent it all. Renata, in her new age wisdom, was giving me the freedom to let it all go.

"If you want to.  You don't have to.  But if you keep it, it's your choice."

"I don't want to let it go."

"That's okay.  But know this:  You're choosing to carry this weight, because you are helping Sean.  You're helping to carry his burden.  You are taking this on for him out of love."

We had just finished talking about Purgatory.

"I don't know if he's safe yet.  I don't know if he's made it to Heaven yet.  And we believe - I believe that our experiences on earth and our thoughts and our prayers can help to release the souls in Purgatory.  We don't know how long we are there and it probably varies for each person, but we do know most of us are going to end up there at some point. I don't know.  And because I don't know, I can't give up."

I don't have to pray for the souls of Gabriel or my miscarried child.  Their fate was certain.  But a 26 year old man with his share of struggles and sins, who exits this earth so suddenly and shockingly - I don't know what the sentence is for that.  And I am not sure what my responsibility is, as the last person to see him alive, the last person to talk to him - Likely, the last phone call he ever made.  And the first person to find his lifeless body.  I hurt him, and he hurt me. And what we can each do for the other now to make up for it, is uncertain.

So I carry this weight to say that I am sorry - Not because I didn't save him.  I know I couldn't.  I'm sorry for the things I said, the things I did.  The way things were left between us.

Inevitably, at this time of year, Sean seems to speak to me through the radio.

"It's just a coincidence," people have said. Or, more commonly, "You just notice it more this time of year."  That's certainly not true.  EVERY time I hear "We've Got Tonight," EVERY time I hear "Against the Wind," EVERY time I hear "Fire and Rain," "One More Day," "The Dance," "Wild World," or any Bob Dylan song, I think of Sean.   It's no accident.  As the rain pelted my car windows this morning, I knew there was a reason I was hearing "Shelter From the Storm" just then.  I'm just not sure what it means.

I do know that, as has become an annual custom, tonight I will smile and have a great time.  I will sing and enjoy the annual Anti-Valentine's Day event with my friends, in the very place that I first met Sean Nathan Talbert and one of the last places I saw him alive.  And as I laugh and smile and sing, my heart will still be heavy with regret and a sorrow that is rooted in care.

As the night draws to an end, as is tradition, I will make my announcement. "I throw this party every year in memory of one person.  I know tonight we've joked a lot about love and how little use we have for it.  But on this day, I lost someone I love.  So when you love someone, say it.  You're not promised a single day, so don't let a day go by without telling someone you love them."  I will then sing, as I always do, "Long Trip Alone" by Dierks Bently, fighting the tears as I say, "So maybe you can walk with me a while.  Maybe I can rest beneath your smile.  You know we can't afford to let one moment pass us by, 'cause it's a short piece of time."

When he died, he taught me how to live.  I found a strength I didn't know I had.  If not for my experience with Sean, I don't know how I would have survived the loss of my son.  Only after he was gone did I realize how much he had helped me work through having been raped - All while he was wrestling his own demons.  I owe him.

For that, I'll carry the weight.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Dancing in the Rain

"Chapter 1:  Surviving the worst news you'll ever get."

I closed the book and set it down.


8 years ago today, my mind started writing a handbook that would have been aptly titled, "Surviving the Worst News You'll Ever Get."  8 years ago some tech, who wouldn't recognize me if I walked right up to her, told me to wait while she got the doctor, and then that doctor, who wouldn't recognize me if I walked right up to her, brought my world down with a sentence: "The condition is incompatible with life."  Anyone in the anencephaly community will tell you they can recall the date of diagnosis day just as they would recall the date of their child's birth.  It's the day we start living a new life, the life of a grieving parent.

Since then, there are days that I live, but there are days I'm only surviving and throughout every day there are moments of both.  Shortly after that news was delivered to me, after traveling a long road that still went by too quickly, my only son died in my arms.

So as I sat there, reading Overcoming Autism, my patience threshhold was low.

But I guess you will want to know why I was reading this book.

About a year ago, Marcos began to suspect that Delilah wasn't developing at an appropriate pace.  He suspected autism.  I thought he was insane.  She looked me in the eye, laughed with me, played with her sister.  She had hundreds of words to her vocabulary.  She knew her alphabet and her numbers.  I mean, she recited it all the time, along with scenes from movies and responses from Mass and it was cute the way she did the priest's part too.  And when she has to get in and out of the car three times to do it 'right,' it's quirky. Okay.  Maybe he was on to something. 

We began the long process of diagnosis that is still ongoing today.  Delilah has been provisionally diagnosed with autism, and has been receiving behavioral therapy for about 2 months.  Her team of therapists and supervisors call her delightful and intelligent, and a cutie.

I know that we are fortunate.  Delilah is verbal and social and affectionate and an excellent dancer, and I would still describe her as quirky.  She's perfect.

January is a tough month for me, and it's capped off with Diagnosis Day, and leads right into another personally difficult month.  It is also a month of odd moments of clarity.  I was devastated by Gabriel's diagnosis of anencephaly, and by the news that he would not live long after birth.  I also find it annoying that in light of all of Delilah's strengths and talents, she still has some delay and we need help getting her caught up. Having strangers in our home two to three nights a week is sometimes frustrating too.  Yet, it's all a blessing. We have incredible access to treatment, and we have a little girl who strides more than she struggles. The 'strangers' become less and less like strangers, and more a part of our lives as we raise a child with some yet-to-be-diagnosed issues.

The pregnancy with Gabriel and the pregnancy with Delilah couldn't have been more different.  But for that huge hiccup 8 years ago today, my pregnancy with Gabriel was uneventful.  When Gabriel was born he was missing his frontal and both parietal bones - things, it turns out, we need to live, but he was otherise perfect.  With Dee, on the other hand, we experienced arrythmia, and a "normal variant." When she was born she had torticollis, and a tiny fold in her ear that is still there today.  With each of those conditions, I insisted Marcos be the one take her to the doctor for what seemed to be to be his own ridiculous, nitpicky worries.  His concerns seemed silly to me and I wouldn't trouble a busy professional with them.  She was living, breathing, with a complete skull, and it seemed silly to me to complain. When she was prescribed physical therapy for the torticollis and photos of her ear were reviewed by the genetic specialist to make sure the defect was merely cosmetic, I had to eat my words and consider that maybe I shouldn't go through life brushing off concerns because they weren't as obvious as an open skull. 

At the same time, I don't want her to struggle.  At all.  With anything.  I want to take every one of her burdens from her and ease them in any way that I can.  I regret, now, dimissing the concerns.  The idea that she doesn't have a missing chunk of skull, doesn't mean she doesn't need me.  I worry constantly about how much I set her back with my skepticism, despite the fact that she has sailed through her treatment so far.

I long to have conversations with her, the way I do with Eden.  When I ask her, "How as your day?" "Who did you play with?" or "Did you sleep well?" I long for her to answer.  For now, I am satisfied that when I say, "I love you, Delilah," she answers "I love you too, Mommy."  I do love her, so, so much.

Here's what I do know, in the crystal clear moments of D Day:  If my child had to have anencephaly, I sure lucked out with one who was as strong and healthy as a baby with anencephaly could be.  He lived 10 days, and that was a gift.   If my child has to have autism - And she may, or may not - I feel tremendously blessed to have this particular (and, she IS particular) little girl.  What I know is that the worst news of my life, twice now, has still been two of the best things to ever happen to me.

The links to some of my favorite D-Day and Dee-related posts are:

Monday, January 14, 2019

Lacks Foundation

"Your Honor, would you like me to lay foundation?" Tyler asked.

"Yes," responded the judge."

His back was to me as I sat behind my student during the second round of mock trial competition, but I know him well enough by now to know the look on his face in that moment.  He slowly, thoughtfully launched into a series of three questions, then said, "Your Honor, motion to move Exhibit C into evidence."  This time, unopposed, his motion was granted, and my heart swelled with pride.  I scoured the audience to see if Tyler had a parent present to share in the joy, but found none.

When I was asked to be the attorney coach at West High in January 2013, I was told that as a Hispanic woman I would be relateable to my students, most of whom are young Latina girls.  They would see themselves in me, and believe in themselves.  I am hard on my students.  I criticize their accents, their grammar, their presentation, their articulation, their appearance, all when it's appropriate.  I dress for them - I take care when I know I will see them to look presentable.  More than presentable.  I try to look nice.  I want them to know that someday they can walk in my shoes, and that one of the benefits of the hard work is that the shoes are pretty.  I challenge them, because they are better than they often realize, but not as good as they sometimes think.  The practice of law has a way of reminding you almost every day that while you might know a lot more than the average person, there's always something more to learn, and that's why it's always just 'practice.'

But when I look around to find that most of my students do not have a parent there on competition night to support them, I realize that I might look like these kids, but their experience is far different from my own.  Many of my students, don't have a parent who works 'normal' hours and is able to come to their extracurricular events.  Many of my students have parents who don't understand English.  A surprising number of my students have parents who simply don't support their academic endeavors, either because they don't understand them or because they don't think those skills will ever pay off for them.  My role becomes more than 'coach;' I am their cheerleader, their believer, the person who sees them in a real trial someday, as a real lawyer.

Still shell-shocked from the death of my son and subsequent divorce, the students of West High gave me a reason to live again when they invited me into their lives.  They probably didn't think I would be as mean as I am - But I hope someday they'll forgive me.

I place great hope in Mayra, a sophomore when I first met her in January 2013, but now ready to graduate with her Bachelor's degree.  I've never doubted that she will go on to do great things and I follow her progress so I can enjoy her success.  Watching her grow reminds me that this is worthwhile.  Valuable time with my young children is sacrificed so that I can continue to coach and I tell myself that my children have an edge with two parents with advanced education, that many of my students do not have.  There is a machine supporting these students that they do not see, consisting of my children, my husband, my parents who help with Eden and Delilah when my husband and I aren't available, and my employers who support me and work with me in these volunteer efforts.  Our teacher coach, Carrie, and my co-attorney coach Sarah are making the same kind of sacrifice, with spouses and family and obligations that are deferred so we can help these kids succeed.  They are going to improve their lives and their families' lives, and we get to be a part of it.

I realize now that I took for granted the support of my parents and teachers and coaches along the way.  The oldest of four, I always felt that I didn't get the kind of attention and support that I wanted, especially when my baby sister came along during my junior year of high school.  Now I see that my parents moved mountains to make all of us feel equally loved, supported, and encouraged.  I see the challenge that went into raising four very different people with very different interests which pulled their time and attention into four very different directions.  I recognize, now, that they are still the people who believe in us the most and who hope the most for our success.

The phrase "It takes a village" is no cliche.  I recently expressed my interest in taking West High to the state mock trial competition, and was met with the kind of look which suggests that I might be the only person who believes we can go to state.  Every May, four months after the mock trial competition season has ended for us, as I sit discreetly in the auditorium to watch my students receive their senior awards before they move on with their lives while I plan for another year that hopefully ends at state, I wonder if it's true that I am the only one with this hope and dream.  Then common sense prevails.  Every year, there is at least one senior student who is hoping this, their last chance, will be the year.  Every year I know my fellow coaches, as tired as we are, want the same.  I know my family believes in us too.

In the bleakness of January, a month that has been so very hard on me for so many years, these dreams are my ray of light.  To the outsider, the dream may seem hopeless, may seem to lack foundation.  But with a little bit of inquiry the outsider will see that we are still on track to make our dreams come true.