Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Space In Between Then and Now

The sight of the young boy sitting on the curb by the street sign right outside of my front door caught me off guard.  He turned, saw Eden, and released a warm and sincere smile.  The corners of his mouth tugged at my heart, prompting the morning's first tears.  The young boy was older than Gabriel would be, and the first of several kids that would gather outside of my front door, a designated neighborhood bus stop.  This morning is the first day of school for Bakersfield City and Kern High School Districts, and in just one more year, Gabriel would have been among those students, but as life would have it, he'll never sit outside of our front door waiting for his bus.

There was no time to dwell on the matter.  I'd hardly had a chance to stand still all morning.  My arm compulsively hit snooze on my alarm at 5:40 AM, but my mind was dragged to consciousness as I remembered that I would have to leave early to see Victoria off for the first day of her last year of high school.

I remember the first day of my own senior year so clearly.  For the first time in four summers, I hadn't taken a class to get ahead during the school year.  Instead, I'd chosen to stay home for the summer to take care of a then-3 month old Victoria.  My duties included waking every morning when she woke, tending to her while my mom got ready for work and all throughout the day, maintaining the schedule my parents had developed for her, and presenting a well-adjusted baby for the whole family to enjoy in the evenings.  When it came time to select a daycare provider in anticipation of the start of the school year, I went to every interview with my parents.  My mom suggested that Victoria start part time during the last two weeks of the summer, to get her and I used to the separation.

"No, please. I only have two more weeks with her.  Just let her stay."  My mom agreed, and so the first day of my senior year would also be Victoria's first day of "stranger" daycare.  She was being bathed at the sink when I left.  As I told her good-bye my eyes began to water.  "I can't believe you're sending her off to some stranger that she hasn't even spent any time with, and you're going to leave her there all day."  During this, her fourth go-around at raising a child, the process had become just a part of life for my mom, but I struggled to let go of that little girl, the first baby I'd bonded to so closely.

Fast forward to the days Eden and Gabriel were born.  The earth didn't move.  I didn't feel a change within me, or overcome with a love that I'd never known.  I'd first learned how deeply love can run when Victoria came around.

I burst through the living room door, Eden confused in my arms, my face already streaked with tears.

"Did I make it?"  The 5'10" teenage girl that I'd once held and cared for as a 3 month old baby stood for inspection before our mother, making wardrobe adjustments, her backpack already strapped to her.  There was laughter at my unusually open display of emotion before I found myself sandwhiched in a hug between my "baby" sister, and my own baby girl.

Even as a high school student, I knew this time flies by.  That's what led to my decision to stay home with her that summer, and the professionally challenging choice to take an extra 6 weeks off for maternity leave when Eden was born.  It's only a matter of time before Eden is stepping out of the front door to join the other students at the bus stop, and not long after that, she'll be a senior in high school.  The boys, who already smile at her almost involuntarily, charmed by the pretty baby, will be calling her for dates before very long.  One day I'll see her standing at the top of the staircase, dressed for her senior prom, just as I envisioned the day we first set foot in what would become our home.  And I know that in that time Gabriel will always be missing, from the moments that I'll never have with him to the moments with Eden that he won't be there to witness.  He won't go to the senior prom; he won't be there to hassle Eden's date as he waits for her to get ready for hers.  They'll never walk out to that bus stop together.

There's a space between each of these moments that will always bear Gabriel's absence, though the moments are so full these days with the joy that my little girl brings.  Today she's just my little girl, 15 months old, learning in leaps and bounds, unaware that the days are fleeting and that not one of them is promised to us.  And here I am, knowledgeable of how swiftly the days can turn into months that turn into years, all of which can be taken from us instantly.  I'll blink, and Victoria's graduation day will be here.  I can't slow down time, but I can enjoy the space in between.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Matter of Days and Dreams

The clothes in the baby aisles call to me in their soft blues and pinks and I ask myself if this one particular sleeper is cute enough to buy, even though I might not use it.  Even after momentary consideration this pregnancy, I've decided not to learn this baby's gender until birth.

I maintain my obvious reasons.  After hearing at 21 weeks the most devastating news a parent could hear about their child, that he would die not long after birth, things like whether the unborn baby I am carrying is a boy or a girl just don't seem to matter much.  What matters is that his or her head is whole and round, and he or she appears healthy.  That is all I can ask for after Gabriel.

Not knowing the baby's gender is also an economically efficient decision.  I lovingly stroke the set of onesies with the fireman print, telling myself if she's a girl I can just put a red bow in her hair, but ultimately leaving them on the shelf.  Cute baby clothes will still be there when Part 2 is born.  He or she doesn't need frilly pink or bold blue sleepers; Eden's yellow and green hand-me-downs will serve just fine until inevitably, a few gifts start rolling in, or we have an opportunity to do some shopping.  We have a bassinet, a car seat, a stroller, a crib, and an initial stash of diapers. . . A baby starter kit.  We have a house full of love that is prepared to welcome our new baby, even if my nesting instincts remind me daily of one more thing I'd like to have done before Part 2 arrives.

But the core reason that I've chosen not to learn this baby's gender until birth is simply for one more day to dream.  I've seen this baby in my mind, a little boy playing in the mud; a little girl learning to ride a bicycle; my son on his first day of kindergarten; my daughter and I picking out her first tube of mascara; a young man pitching in Major League Baseball; a young woman arguing before the Supreme Court.  I've seen him, I've seen her and I love this child, no matter who he or she is, but I want one more day for him or her to be anything.

From the minute my heart told me that Gabriel was the boy I had been anticipating for so long, my mind began crafting dreams for him.  He might be President, cure cancer, run a world famous restaurant, or become an Olympic Gold Medalist.  Those dreams were brought to a sudden, screaming halt by a doctor who wouldn't know me if she saw me on the street, but whose face is burned into my brain as the face of the woman who destroyed my world, and my dreams.  Gabriel would never be President, never cure cancer, and would never win an Olympic Gold Medal.  I would probably never bring him home from the hospital.  There was a significant chance he wouldn't even be born alive.

Gabriel was born alive.  The minutes and the hours ticked by, and then the days.  I did take him home from the hospital.  The dreams that I had re-shaped for him - dreams of a live birth, some hair on the parts of his head that did form, a Catholic baptism, a chance to bring him home to the yellow house - came to fruition.

I know that I got more than the mother of an anencephalic can ask for, and I am thankful.  Then ten days that Gabriel lived will carry me for the rest of my life.  I know that I've been blessed but I also know that there are children born the same day as Gabriel, and today they're four years old, and my son is dead, and that's a pain that can't always be assauged. I was given an opportunity to come to terms with the fact that my son would die moments after he was born, and he lived for much more than moments, but that doesn't fill the hole that was left when he died ten days after birth.  I have those ten days to cling to, but I'd rather be holding my son.  I want to be a mother who doesn't have to measure the time she had with her son in days.

The day that the doctor showed me Part 2's beautiful round skull, my guarded heart began to relax.  Once you're naivete has been broken by the words "incompatible with life," you know that life is the only thing that really matters.  Maybe Part 2 won't be a world-renowned scientist, or Grammy Award Winning singer, or even very good at tee-ball.  But my dreams live on another day in the tiny life, whoever he or she is and will be, that grows inside of me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

So Now What?

I paused at the residential blind intersection to allow two stray pit bulls to pass.  My eyes bounced back and forth between the two nearly identical brown and white dogs with synchronized gait, and my feverish Eden in the back seat of the car who was kicking her foot in time with the music, surprisingly content even in her illness.

When the dogs had passed we proceeded for half a block where I left Eden with her Grandpa for daycare.  I was anxious to drop her off, because I was anxious to get to my hearing, because I was anxious to be done with my courtroom obligations so that if she needed me, I would be able to leave.  She'd had a wavering fever for nearly two days and though she seemed to be improving, I wanted to be available for her.

As I climbed back into my car the phone rang over the speakers, notifying me that Marcos was calling.  We were discussing Eden's health as I turned right and headed to Panorama, one of the main streets on my way to my office.  At the stop sign, I froze.

One of the brown and white pit bulls lay dead in the busy road, right in front of my dutifully stopped car.  A small piece of tire was strewn at his head, indicating that perhaps the driver that struck him had attempted to brake and was somewhere around the bend in a location blinded from my point of view.  Over the speakers, Marcos continued his discussion regarding the plan for Eden if her fever rose again.

I stared at the dead dog, rattled by his large, still body.  My eyes searched frantically for his partner, wondering how he had survived when the two were trotting side by side when I saw them.

In a quick instant my mind reviewed the unpreserved dead bodies that I had witnessed in my life.  First Sean, six feet tall, stiff and unmoving despite my urgent pleas.  Then Gabriel, tiny and delicate, his life slipping and giving way to rigor mortis within my hands.  There are worse things than a dead dog but as he lie there in front of me this dog's death seemed like the most tragic thing in the world.

Somewhere his twin was wandering alone, or perhaps in his grief and disarray he too had been struck, or soon would be.  What would he do, all by himself?  How would he get by on his own?  How was he supposed to go on without his other half?  I imagined him huddled out of sight, whimpering, perhaps injured himself, surely heartbroken.

"I know it's upsetting but Eden's health is important."  Marcos tried to draw me back into the conversation, but I couldn't be pulled from the moment.  Eden had been sick for nearly two days and we didn't know why.  In the seat next to me a file that I had only glimpsed waited for handling at a hearing that I didn't want to attend.  My mind was fractured with my many obligations, my full-time career and the pending hearing, the other files begging for my attention, my part-time bartending gig that would occupy that evening, my meeting with the new mock trial teacher coach that had taken place the day before, the Magic Mullet Run donation requests that still needed follow-up, the baby growing inside of me, and the baby growing up before my very eyes who wasn't feeling very well.  Still, all I could think of in that moment was the dog.  Not the one who, based on the timeline of events, must have died instantly, but the one left to make his way all alone.  What was he going to do now?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Third Time's a Charm

The rumbling in my belly is familiar and welcome.  I've just finished lunch at Chef's Choice Noodle Bar.  As always, I ordered the Thai Basil and in a move a bit more extreme than usual, I nearly emptied the jar of chili paste on my table.  The little baby inside of me seems to love spicy food.

I didn't feel strange for eating alone.  Dining alone is one of life's pleasures for me, freeing me from the obligation to juggle scooping, chewing, swallowing, and conversing with a lunch date all in a time frame of less than an hour, to accommodate the drive time.  Besides, I haven't been alone since January.  Rocco Strikes Back comes with me everywhere I go.

I'm 30 weeks along, in the third trimester, for the third time.  When this pregnancy is done, I know I'll immediately miss the hiccups and kicks and strong, frequent movements of this baby.  I know that overall, pregnancy is quite kind to me, so I feel guilty for feeling so ready for it to be over. My weight gain this time has been nominal.  I've never, in four pregnancies, experienced morning sickness.  My Thai Basil garnished with mounds of chili paste went down easily and I can rest assured that I will not experience the heartburn that plagues many pregnant women.  When I stood to leave my booth I felt the strain on my tailbone from having been sitting with this concentrated mass of extra weight, but in the grand scheme of things the complaint is insignificant.  One night a week I stand up for several hours to tend bar, and one night a week I bowl three games for my league team, and every day I climb the stairs in my home over and over again.  I'm able-bodied, and life is good.

So, when the tears well up suddenly and surprisingly in my eyes I struggle to understand why.  I've gone through a pregnancy haunted by the knowledge that my son would be born with a fatal defect, and I shed fewer tears.  I carried my rainbow baby on a journey that brought about surprisingly mixed emotions as I struggled to believe that she was real, and that she would stay, and wrestled with the fact that she would be here while my son is not, a painful experience of its own.  Why, then, when my life is so stable and my future is so bright, should I cry as much as I do now?

The answer is so simple that it has become a default:  Pregnancy hormones.  Pregnant women cry because they are hormonal, so very hormonal that they can't control their responses.  It's an annoyingly referenced response, but I'm finding these days it's true.  For the first time in four pregnancies, three of which have/will make it to term, I am experiencing just that.  I cry because I just can't help it.

I must admit, it feels good to cry.  I've chosen two careers, law and bartending, which have required me to develop a thick skin.  I allowed fissures in my shell when Gabriel was diagnosed, when he was born and died, and again when Ben left.  My writing has chronicled the grief, but rarely did I let a tear fall in public.  Stifling the tears in public lead to an inability to cry alone.  Now, the well of tears that has fallen from my eyes in a seeming surplus since I've been pregnant with Rocco Strikes Back, just feels like years of dammed up pain finally being released in unexpected ways.

Marcos continues to prove time and again that he is more than I ever could have asked for and everything I could ever want.  He tolerates my tears and mood swings in good stride. In my dysfunction I don't know if I'll ever be able to demonstrate to him how very much I love him and how thankful I am that he's come along and filled my life with so much love.  For the third time, I'm bringing life into this world, but I've only got one life to live, and I love the way I'm living it.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Feeding the Bear

Four years after I watched my son die, I find myself having to do the second hardest thing a mother can do, five days a week:  I drop my daughter off with her grandpa, my father, for daycare, and I walk through the door, allowing someone else to spend more waking hours with her that day than I will, essentially placing someone else in charge of raising her.  I depart for work knowing she is happy, healthy, and will be apart from me for at least the next eight hours.

I'm fortunate that I love my job, because I don't have much choice other than to do it every day.  I live in a trench of student debt that must somehow be repaid and not working is simply not an option.  I'm further fortunate that I have family to look after Eden - If she can't be with me or her daddy all day, who better than her grandpa?

Being a working parent comes with a great deal of internal conflict.  I'm not the employee or lawyer I could be if I didn't have a child at home.  I don't come in early, I state late only a few nights a week, I rarely come in on weekends.  I'm hard-pressed to be able to take on an extra shift at the bar on the rare occasion that Lynn needs me to do so.

I'm also not the mom I could be.  I come home tired. I skipped our evening walk and rushed through bath time last night because I was just so exhausted.  Still, that seems small in comparison to the fact that I just don't get to be with her for such a significant part of the week.

Perhaps the greatest struggle I face is that I haven't completely let go of the life I had before Eden or even Marcos came along.  When Gabriel died and Ben left I learned that I had to find my happiness outside of them, and I did.  I made friends, the best friends I've ever had, and we had fun, and with them by my side I re-built my life, from finally securing a position as an associate attorney to buying a new car, stabilizing events grown from the ashy remains of instability.  It is not with a natural selflessness that I decline invitations to join my friends at dinner, a trip to the beach, or an evening of drinks at the bar.  Rather, I turn down these opportunities out of pure obligation, knowing I have a brief window during which to shape what I hope will be the long life of my daughter, and that means many days and nights, I have to be home instead of with the homies.  These are choices that I make, and perhaps I even make the "correct" choice most of the time, but they are not choices that are easily made. I can never figure out if this makes me an outlier among mothers, or just honest.

The most liberating moment I've had during motherhood is also one of the saddest.  The day I told myself, "You're not going to force yourself to breastfeed anymore" was a milestone day.  I was sad not because I wouldn't be sharing that time with Eden anymore, but rather because I didn't feel sad that I wasn't going to share that time with Eden anymore.  I hated breastfeeding.  It was never the bonding, convenient experience that I was told it would be.  I felt vulnerable, exposed, and at risk every time I did it, remnants from a sexual assault that otherwise, interferes with my life very little at this point.  I felt chained to my house, refusing to make myself vulnerable in public, surely an even riskier experience.  I felt at odds with Eden, because many of the times she wanted to feed, I didn't want to have to feed her - And by "many of the times," I mean every time.  All of this felt very inconvenient. So when I resigned myself to the fact that my daughter would be formula fed, I felt free.

Still, my decision to attempt breastfeeding in the first place was born out of a love for my daughter and a desire to make the best possible decisions for her health.  She wouldn't rely on breastmilk or formula for long, in the grand scheme of things, so I turned my attention to a mission dedicated to feeding her only whole or minimally processed foods for the first year of her life (but for the formula, of course).  She skipped grains initially, such as rice cereal or oatmeal, as Marcos and I opted to start her on solid foods with vegetable purees, which I made myself.  Through this process we also introduced starches and grains such as potatoes and barley and rice.

Purees were as easy to bring along as a jar of processed baby food would be, but when she began eating pieces of meat, vegetables and fruit our outings required more planning.  Even sending her to daycare every day with the foods I want her to eat requires work, and a dedication that I was never willing to put into breastfeeding.  But with that dedication and Marcos' support and his own hard work, we met our goal, introducing Eden to refined sugar for the first time on her birthday, with her very own birthday cake.  Watching her eat her cake, slowly and skeptically at first but with a mounting joy that resulted in a messy but happy baby, was another sad moment for me.  The love of wholesome food that I had worked to establish in her had seemed to come undone with one cake.

But my fears were proven unnecessary and irrational when the next day, she went right back to her whole food regimen with no troubles.  We've since begun to incorporate more, but still minimally, processed foods into her diet, such as dairy, bread, and pasta.  Choosing her foods isn't a complicated process. For the most part I shop for groceries on the perimeter of the store where the produce, dairy and meat counters are located.  Weaving through the aisles becomes a matter of looking at a label and putting something back on the shelf when there are too many or unrecognizable ingredients, or worse, ingredients I've learned to recognize as artificial sugars.  At the end of a grocery run, most of my cart is filled with whole, label-less foods.  The effort has paid off.  She could take or leave pasta, really, preferring spaghetti squash and eggplant pizzas.  She is her mommy's girl, and has never met a cheese that she doesn't like.  She's still never had rice cereal, a teething biscuit, a Puff, or fruit juice.

Some nights dinner is a big production, an experiment with a fancy new recipe.  Other nights it's basic chicken and vegetables, the leftovers from which she might eat for the next two days.  Some recipes are a big hit, and others are a hideous miss.  Cooking for Eden has been one of the greatest parts of motherhood for me, and the 'why' bears some explaining.

Five days a week, I have to work.  Every day, I have to eat, and so does Eden.  Like many children of my generation, I grew up in a household courted and romanced by the makers of processed foods, marketed and aimed at working parents such as mine who wanted the swiftest dinner possible to maximize the free time they would get to spend with their kids.  My mom worked all day, came home to make dinner, fed us, bathed us, checked our homework, made our halloween costumes, hemmed our pants, shuttled us to softball or swim practice, and got up to do it all again the next day.  My dad worked nights, packed our lunches in the morning, drove us to school or the bus stop, and prepared a crock pot dinner for us once or twice a week, and after minimal sleep, woke up to pick us up from school and spend the evenings with us before heading to work the graveyard shift one more time.  For my family, boxed dinners were a convenience that enabled them to do ALL of the above.

Why, then, have I chosen to spend my evenings in the kitchen, with my toddler at my feet, wanting me to hold her?  With my husband having to distract her with their shared fun and games while I cook?  Why have I chosen to go to the grocery store two to three times a week for fresh produce when I could be on the floor with Eden reading board books and playing with Ice Bat?  There is the immediate reward, the smile on her face and the contented "Mmmmm" that she produces when I've given her something she really loves.  What I hope I will also see is the long-term effect that I strive for, a love of whole foods, a satisfaction with a peach over a cookie, a craving for a roasted vegetable over a French fry - All of the things I struggle to change in myself today, but never want her to struggle over.  I hope that someday we'll work side by side in the kitchen, feeding our bodies as we must by making choices that are right for them, making up for some of the time lost when I've been cooking while she plays.  For her birthday she got a play-house kitchen, and I watch with pride as she explores it, her synapses connecting as she begins to understand that it is a little replica of our kitchen, and that she can replicate my movements therein.

Ever haunted by my past, even my meals are influenced by my days with Gabriel and Ben.  I couldn't save my son from the fatal defect that claimed his life - But how could I ever forgive myself if I didn't do all that is within my power to minimize the risk to Eden posed by her prevalent family history of diabetes?  I want her life to be long, and I want her to keep all of her extremities for its duration.  I don't want her grandchildren to watch her lose her toes, her feet, her life, the way that I watched my grandmother lose hers.  I have more information available to me today than my grandparents or even my parents ever had - Shouldn't I use it?

I know I'm not a great cook, but I'm the cook that I am in large part because I was once married to a great chef.  He taught me my way around a kitchen, but what he could never convince me to do was to take a risk.  I never wanted to cook for him unless I could be sure of the outcome.  Otherwise, I deferred to him when it came to food.  I was afraid to fail, and especially afraid to fail in front of him.  Now, I live comfortably in a relationship free from co-dependence.  I have less fear of failure, and no fear of disappointing Marcos - I'm sure that he loves me even when I fail, and I know that I don't need his love, though I am better because I have it.  I am eager to please him, but confident that he'll love me one way or the other. Countless nights,  plates of slop have been placed in front of him, supported by the best of intentions but sabotaged by lack of skill, and he dutifully eats their contents and thanks me for dinner.

People often say that I'll grow soft and less diligent with another baby in the picture, but I'm not convinced this is true.  These are lifestyle changes I'm trying to make in myself, and a lifetime of health I am trying to provide for my children.  My goals and my actions are based on convictions that I don't see changing, even though I struggle to make the changes in myself. I've found parenting to be a beastly challenge, wrought with conflict, a constant series of choices to be made and commitments that I can only meet halfway.  When it comes to feeding my Bear, though, I'm prepared to go the distance.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Sapphire Kind of Love

Marcos had no easy task when he set out to select a wedding/engagement ring.  Insistent saleswomen presented him with glittering diamond rings from their exquisite engagement ring line and ask "Wouldn't she like something like this?"

"No."  He would find something in the display case more along the lines of my taste and watch their uncertain reactions and their certain response:  "That's not an engagement ring."  I've already heard the rhetoric - Conflict-free diamonds are out there and I can easily find something that is not the product of slave labor.  But my objection to the diamond is not obvious.  My objection is to the notion that love is proven by the size and the glitter and the expense of the diamond engagement ring that becomes the symbol of a couple's love.

Marcos has found himself in the unenviable position of falling in love with a woman who is severely damaged by her past, stubborn in her ways, and has rejected tradition.  I feel sorry for his plight, but I love him with all of my heart for stepping up to the challenge.  I love him in a way that can't be bought with diamonds, or bound by convention.  I love him with a sapphire kind of love.

In the grand scheme of my own tradition, love has been dependent and desperate, pathetic and harmful.  While I have loved truly and deeply in the past, it's never been a love that was matched by the receiving party.  My tradition has been one of co-dependency and as to be expected in those kinds of relationships, they've all ended badly.

For the past two years I have been in a loving relationship, based on mutual respect and an independent desire to commit to that relationship.  Marcos and I had a baby together because we love each other, we were married because we love each other, we are having another baby because we love each other, and we'll stay together because we love each other - Not because we NEED each other, or are dependent on each other, but simply because we find life is better together.

The man I married is the most loving, sincere, kind-hearted person I've ever known.  I admire his sense of obligation to his family and appreciate it even more now that I have also become a recipient of his loyalty.  I've learned there's not a thing we could do to make him turn his back on us.  I've unfairly put him to the test over and over again, an unfortunate side effect from history of abandonment, but he never lets me down.

He is intelligent, and amazes me almost daily with his ability to think critically and independently, his ability to simply figure things out.  His brain is an endlessly functional tool which can be used in solving technical problems, discussing the likely outcome of a political event, finding symbolism in a movie or television show, or answering the many questions that arise in our parenting adventure.

Every day he makes me laugh.  And I've learned that someone who makes me laugh is invaluable to getting through this life.

He is the best father I ever could have wished for my daughter.  Nothing makes me feel his love stronger than when I see him with our Eden.  By simply being himself, he is setting an example for her as to what a man should be, what she should expect from them, and what she herself deserves.  The love and dignity with which he treats her inspires me and makes me wish the same for every little girl.

And even beyond the love he shows for Eden, he continues to amaze me with the love he is able to show for a little boy he never even met.  He's never treated me like a childless woman, but has always acknowledged that I was a mother before our relationship began, that I have a son, Gabriel, and he is a part of me.  He is a part of our family, even if not physically present.  His memory is a part of the home we're building together.  That's something I didn't think I would find, but means more to me than I could ever say.

Today, my husband's 40th birthday, I find myself reaching into my memory to recall a time when he wasn't a part of my life, and a part of me.

Sometimes it's hard to imagine that we've lived most of our adult lives without each other, we've fallen so quickly and comfortably into our life together.  I find myself wishing I could have skipped all of the bad-for-me moments and relationships and made my way straight to him.  I know, though, that I never would have appreciated the tremendous man I've married if I hadn't known tremendous heartbreak.  I would have kept seeking the glitter and sparkle of a manufactured diamond facade, perhaps never appreciating that I need a sapphire kind of love.

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.