Sunday, November 22, 2015

Silver Threads and Colored Dreams

I scroll through my phone, looking for my favorite picture of Eden, and when I find it I show it to him.

"She's beautiful."

"She really is," I have to concur.  "They both are.  They're so beautiful."  I look at Sean, who is nodding in agreement.  We're seated at the bar and around us, Friday night activity buzzes about at rapid speed, but we are standing still in the moment. My eyes wander to the shelf above the register where Gabriel's photo sits.  Sean puts his hand on mind for comfort, and the tears immediately well in my eyes.  "What is he like?"

"You.  He's like you, and Ben too, but mostly you.  He's got the best of both of you."  I smile as the tears spill.

"Does he miss me?"

"It's not like that.  He talks about you and he follows you and helps where he can.  But he doesn't understand what it means to miss someone.  I don't either, anymore.  It's different there."

I pull my eyes from Gabriel's photo to look at Sean again, knowing this moment won't last long.  He reaches for the top of my head, grabs a strand of hair, and without looking I know what he's got.  "I found it a couple of months ago.  I think there's another, I think there's two now, that I've found."

"Are you going to color it?"

"I don't know.  I'm really lazy about stuff like that.  I don't really take care of myself at all anymore."

"You earned this."  He pulls the strand, then lets it fall from his hand.  "Do what you want.  Color it, or don't.  But you've put in your time."  I stare at him, and he stares back, the unspoken words between us confirming that he is one of the reasons for the lines on my face, the grey in my hair, the sadness in my eyes that never really seems to disappear completely.  He blinks, as if to say he's sorry.

Sean starts to stand, and I start to panic.  The time always goes by so quickly.  I rush to stand, to stop him.  "I have to go to the bathroom.  I'll be right back."  His voice is unconvincing.  "Wait right here.  I'll be right back."

I want to follow, but my feet weight me down and I sink back onto the barstool and wait.  He disappears into the bathroom and I wait for the sound, but there is none.  Time ticks by, I'm not sure how much, because while everyone around me is moving quickly, I am standing still, until I will myself to walk to the door.  I lean against it, knocking softly.


Someone passes by me. "Lady, that's the men's. . ."

"Shut the fuck up," I snap, and he walks away with a drunken shrug.  "Sean?" I say, as I push the door open, knowing.  And there he is, his legs sticking out of the stall, stiff and unmoving.  Next to them is the gun.  The room is spinning around me and all I can do is fall into the whirl of it all, my black hair whipping about and woven with a strand of silver.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

And Then There Was Me

There was me, a me that didn't have to look over her shoulder, or grow tense when she found herself alone in an elevator or stairwell with a strange man.  Then two men pinned her to a couch and now there is me, a me that trusts only a paranoid instinct.

There was me, a me swept up in the co-dependent romance of loving a depressed alcoholic. Then she saw that romance pushed to its extreme end in the form of Sean's lifeless body, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot, and now there is me, a me that worries every great love will end with great loss.

There was me, a me that couldn't remember a time when she didn't want to be a mother.  Then she became a mother, with a positive pregnancy test, and her heart broke the day that the pregnancy failed and now there is me, a me that will be alarmed by every pain in every first trimester of every pregnancy she has and will experience since that day.

There was me, a me that was mended by the promise of another positive pregnancy test and a Kenny Loggins song.  Then those words "incompatible with life" tested that promise and shattered her world and now there is me, a me that won't believe doctors, ultrasounds, or prenatal testing until she sees and touches her child's fully-formed skull.

There was me, a me that was broken and weak and living with only an ember of hope in her heart.  And she felt abandoned - by an alcoholic that would rather kill himself than live here with her, by an another alcoholic who would rather uproot his whole life than stay here with her, by a God that seemed to keep sending her grief.  Her hope was fading to only an ember that threatened to extinguish, but she tended to its fading glow, fueled it, willed it to keep burning.

There was me, a me who took a step towards the unfamiliar and allowed herself to fall in love with someone who didn't need her, who wouldn't enable her, who would be her partner rather than her co-dependent.  A me who was afraid to believe, and who wouldn't believe, that he wouldn't leave her.  And along came two little girls, healthy and whole and full of promise. They couldn't heal the scars, they could only help me to see that all of this makes me, me. They are the colors of my world.

Now there is me, simply complicated by the peaks and valleys of the road I've traveled.  Some days, I think I've got me all figured out.  Other days, I have no idea who I am anymore.  This is me.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

What She Does to Me

I breathed in relief as I realized my baby had pushed its way safely into the world.  "It's a little girl," Marcos smiled, and I smiled too.  After a long, emotionally and physically draining pregnancy, Delilah Danielle Lopez would soon be placed in my arms.  I heard her healthy cries as they took her weight and measurements while I lay patiently in the hospital bed for my long-awaited chance to hold her, a peaceful bliss filling me.

There's a new layer to the rhythm of the Lopez home.  In the last ten days we've gone from a household of three with an only child, to a household of 4 with an infant.  We move to a different beat, yet somehow it feels as though it's always been this way. In just ten days we've come to accept this new way of life.  It only took ten days for our whole world to change.

Marcos asked me recently if, during Gabriel's ten days on earth, I ever imagined that he would be one of those outlying cases of babies who lived for months, even years.  Every day of his life, I imagined we could be that family.  Every day that Gabriel was here, a part of me thought about keeping him.  It only took ten days for him to change my world, to become a part of my rhythm, for me to move to a new and different beat.  When he died, so did the song that we we had been dancing to.  When he died, the life I knew and the life that I had dreamed of came to a halt.  The world that took ten days to build simply ended.

Just a few days before Delilah's birth I was walking through JC Penny to the children's department, and found myself passing the portrait studio.  A woman with four children sat in the lobby, brushing the hair of one of her daughters.  I found myself drawn to the girl, who immediately appeared to me to have a cephalic defect.  My legs absently walked me in her direction and I heard the words coming from my mouth almost without consciousness.

"Excuse me, can I ask you something?"

She looked up at me.  "Yes."

"I had a little boy with anencephaly.  I notice your daughter has a similar facial appearance.  May I ask about her condition?"

"She has microcephaly.  Anencephaly?  That's where the skull. . ." Her voice trailed.

"He was missing portions of his skull.  His brain was exposed.  He passed away.  What's her name?"


"She's beautiful.  How old is she?"

"Four."  The same age Gabriel would have been.  "She's very small." Indeed she was.  She could be no taller than Eden, and she was clearly handicapped.  I stared at her with tears in my eyes.

"She is small.  But she's very beautiful."  I looked up at the woman to find tears in her eyes too.  I knew that she was imagining a life  without Ambriel, just as I was imaging what the last four years would have been like with a severely restricted, special needs Gabriel.  Nothing about her life appeared easy or simple yet I longed to stand in her shoes because I know that nothing about my life has been easy or simple since Gabriel's been gone.

"I'm sorry about your son."  The exchange could have lasted no more than five minutes, but those five minutes were full, bursting with what might have been.

When Delilah was born a few days later, I felt an easy peace, a completeness I hadn't felt in so long.  After four pregnancies, I have two little girls to hold and raise and love here on earth.  And those two girls, my sweet Eden and my dear Delilah, can not replace the loss.  They fill my heart in their own way, they complete me on their own.  They each make me whole.  Gabriel was the love of my life and I didn't know if I would love after him, but Eden brought the color back into my world by showing me that I could, and I would.

And Delilah.  Delilah gave me balance.  She's added to my new song, our song, the song that guides my feet in this dance with my husband, Eden, and now Delilah.

Her name is Biblical, but Delilah isn't the most favored woman in the Bible.  She's often seen as the temptress, the woman responsible for Samson's downfall.  I don't see Delilah that way.  I see her as persistent and diligent, like Delilah's persistent, diligent, and predictable movement while I was carrying her.  I read one explanation for her name which referred to Delilah as "One who weakens."  It's what she does to me.  She softens me, shows me that my hardened heart can grow and make room for this tiny little girl who is so much bigger than she appears.  I find myself caring for her with a tenderness that I was reluctant to show Eden when she was a newborn.  I realize that I'm more willing now to believe that she and Eden are both here to stay.  In ten days she's changed our home, changed our life, and as her song says, "by the time that we get through the world will never ever be the same. "  In just ten days, it's what she does to me.  It's what she does to us.

Happy 11 Day, Delilah.  I can't wait to see what you do today.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

All Belly

I didn't even realize that I was staring at the two young girls in bikinis on Ventura Beach until Marcos' voice broke me from my trance.

"Stop staring at those girls, you're gonna make me jealous."

"I can't help it," I whimpered.  "I know I'll never wear another bikini again."

I guess I was spoiled.  During my pregnancy with Gabriel I only gained 13 pounds.  After he was born, and then died, the differences in my body were subtle and undetectable to anyone but me.  At the time, I figured it was the least God could do for me - My heart was irreparably broken when I lost my son, but at least the rest of my body stayed relatively in tact, giving me a fighting chance at roping another husband someday.

True to ironic form, the defining characteristic of my relationship with God, my second-worst fear, that I would never have another child after Gabriel, was put to rest on May 3, 2014, when my beautiful Eden was born a healthy 9 pounds, 11 ounces.  Through the duration of my pregnancy I received unwelcome comments about my size, questions about how many babies I was carrying and whether I was sure and inquiries about whether I was going to "pop" any day.  When Eden was born the doctor immediately asked whether I was diabetic during the pregnancy, and she was pricked to have her blood sugar levels checked three times before they would discharge us from the hospital.  She was healthy as could be.  She was perfect.

I knew that being "all belly" while carrying a nearly 10 pound baby would take it's toll on my body.  I just didn't know people would be so forthright in pointing it out.  When, at about 7 months postpartum someone told me that I was "too pretty to not do something about that baby weight," I was crushed.  I could probably lose the weight, but the shape of my body would never be the same.  That's just life for many women after having a baby.

I'd finally made a decision to buckle down.  One night, or perhaps I should say early morning, at the Grenadier, drowning in shots of tequila and a bag of Cheetos, I decided the combination self-loathing/inaction would end that night.  The next day I started a change in my food habits that would change my life.  Then three days after that, I learned I was pregnant again.

I was able to keep up with the food changes for a time but it wasn't long before my fourth pregnancy began to show itself, as fourth pregnancies tend to do.  Of course, people had already been asking me for months if I was pregnant again, so at least when I actually was, I had an excuse.

Just two days ago the nurse practitioner congratulated me on my very moderate weight gain this pregnancy - only 20 pounds overall.  "You've done a great job."

"I don't feel like I've done a great job."

"The numbers say otherwise."

I know I haven't handled the visibility of pregnancy very well.  I'm short or non-responsive to the people who dare to comment - There's a surprising number of people, a surprising number of strangers, who will dare to comment.  I avoid the mirror after a shower until I've had a chance to get dressed.  I marvel at the distinctive presentation of limbs, hands, and feet that I am able to see with this baby's activity, and know that I couldn't see with such definition if I hadn't maitained a fairly healthy body fat contact.  But I'm quickly saddened by the knowledge that when the baby is born, I'll be left with the deflated abdomen that was troubling me.

"You'll have a healthy body that was able to give life to two healthy babies," people will say.  "Your belly, your body, every mark, is something to take pride in."  But I don't, and I'm not ever going to be that mom that does.   My body still failed two babies.  If something were to happen to Eden, or Rocco, or if Marcos were to leave, I'd be left an older, more stretched out, more emotionally damaged version of the woman I was when I first set out to re-build my life in the aftermath of Gabriel's death and the divorce. I'd be completely unmarketable.  And I'm not yet certain enough to believe I won't ever have to market myself again.  

Maybe Marcos will be disgusted with me, realizing I look nothing like the woman he started dating.  Or maybe Eden will be ashamed by my appearance, asking me not to attend events with her so her friends won't see me and prospective boyfriends won't think she's going to end up like me.  Maybe - definitely - I worry too much about these things, but vanity doesn't die easily, any more than the simple remedy, "Just work out a little," provides an answer as easily as it is spoken.

A pregnant woman's body goes through very significant changes in a very short amount of time, in a presentation that is very public and apparent and seemingly interpreted as a pass for anyone to say any number of things about our bodies.  We're just supposed to roll with it, or endure accusations that we are just ungracious or hormonal, overly sensitive.

I love my children, and I love that I was blessed with the opportunity to carry them and grow them for the time that I did and have.  I wouldn't give back the experience, but it's come with its own price.

$6,000.00 for a tummy tuck and belly button reconstruction.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

Worth All The While

My escape from the office was later than I planned and I would be late to the last day of mock trial auditions.  Still, Rocco was restless and as I am Rocco's puppet these days, almost unwillingly my car turned into the Jack in the Box drive-thru to order a milkshake to Rocco through the afternoon.  Within seconds, my mind flashed back through another occasion that I found myself in the same drive-thru, ten years ago

It was a Wednesday afternoon.  The phone rang, and those days everyone just answered, even if they were driving.  I recognized the number - Frito Lay.  Sean was calling me on his lunch break, which was unusual.  I stuffed the phone to my ear, holding it in place with my shoulder while I drove my stick-shift through the drive-thru to collect my food. 

"How was your final?"  I answered that I felt good about the exam in Irish history, for which he'd helped me study.  The last few weeks between us had been very rocky, but on Super Bowl Sunday, just a few days prior, there seemed to be some sort of shift.  Sean was different, seemingly free from whatever had been troubling him. Since Sunday he had been relaxed and comfortable.  Happy.  I thought.  

For those reasons I was surprised when we argued that Wednesday night, and crushed by some of the awful things he said to me.  When his words prompted my tears I ran to the bathroom at the Grenadier, taking one last look behind me to see the back of his head. 

We had been so up and down.  HE had been so up and down.  When he didn't answer my calls the following day, I wasn't surprised, and decided that he needed a few days to himself.  Monday was Valentine's Day, and we could talk then.  I had no reason to suspect that by Thursday morning, he would have killed himself.   

Though he crosses my mind every day, there are times in my life when I think about Sean more than others.  In my mind we went through a break-up facilitated by his death, a period of mourning the relationship as I mourned his death, and arrived at a point where I miss the best friend that I had in him.  His death taught me that I want to live; his angst taught me that I want to be happy; his points of weakness taught me to try to overcome my own; his absence has taught me that he was not just a moment in time.  He was my dear friend and kindred spirit, and I love him.  With my first law school acceptance letter, at graduation, even when Ben proposed to me, I wished I could pick up the phone and call my best friend.

Perhaps the recent Facebook campaign for suicide awareness week has brought Sean once again to the front of my brain.  Or maybe it's the recent surge of suicide and other senseless deaths among those around me in the last several months. Maybe it's the ways I see that my best friend is still effected by her father's death many years ago.  Maybe it's because death, especially shocking, premature death, holds a special place in my broken heart while others are so afraid to look at death and say its name.

Sean's own death sent a ripple through my life.  Not long after Sean killed himself, another regular from the bar, Scotty, shot and killed himself too.  And a year or so after that he was followed by James.  Another two years later, Nick was dead of an overdose.  All of them were 25 or 26 years old.  When I reflect back on each of their lives I can identify a moment when I saw that desperation in them, never imagining that it could lead to the end that it did.  After the string of deaths of friends from the bar that followed Sean's, and after my bar exam study partner also killed herself, I began to think of myself as cursed.  Looking back, that seems rather vain.  I don't really blame myself anymore, but instead have learned to see that I was a friend to them, maybe even kept them around a bit longer than they might have stayed if not for me, and others who crossed their path in their last days and weeks and months.

I'm not angry at Sean, though people say I should be.  They would have me believe that he was selfish when I know he was really just very troubled, and very drunk.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of point in being angry at a dead man.  Besides, I don't really want to be angry at him.  I miss him, and I'm sorry that he felt like his friends and family will be better off without him.  I can guarantee that not one of his friends and not one member of his family has been better since he's been gone.  I'm one of several people who still misses him every day.  I wish I could tell that to him.  I wish I could say to him the words I quoted in his eulogy, "For what it's worth, it was worth all the while."

While at lunch today Marcos rattled off some surprising statistics related to suicide.  It's prevalent and pervasive, and though I choose not to be angry about it, the suicide of those around me has plagued me in all of the years that I've spent living since they chose to die.  Of course, the problem is that after it happens it's easy to look back and see the signs, but when you're in those last moments with someone you really have no idea that it's coming.  We can't live with the assumption that our friends are going to kill themselves.  However, we can be the friend that we would want if we were in need.  We can reach out when we're feeling alone and desperate ourselves.  We can live life like it's short and hard and beautiful and wonderful because it is each of these things at some point and I want every single day of it that belongs to me, and I want everyone in my life to be there for those days too.

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.