Monday, July 24, 2017

Through My Daughter's Eyes

By 5:30 AM last Monday morning, I had already dropped Eden and Delilah off with my parents for the day and was on my way to San Luis Obispo for an 8:30 hearing.   Such mornings are a mixed bag; I enjoy the break in work week monotony and the "alone time" that driving 6 hours in one day affords me, but I miss my hectic, nonstop, tiresome, and beloved morning with my little girls.

The whole world's changed since they were born.  I'd made the trek from Bakersfield to San Luis Obispo dozens of times before May 3, 2014, but now I see everything so differently.   Driving through the city in the early morning hours I could still hear Eden's voice, asking me about the traffic signals.

"Why did we stop?"

"You know why we stopped."

"Red light!"

As I proceeded to the freeway, I imagined her asking, "Which way are we going?"

"North.  We're going north, and then we'll go west."

Contrails of white exhaust streaked the sky, evidence of the planes passing too far away for us to see.

"Airplane!  Momma, I see an airplane!  Do you see it?"  Imagine being so full of wonder that every plane is still so exciting.

Oil derrick pumps pepper the fields of Lost Hills, a small, aptly named town lying between Bakersfield and my destination that day.

"I see oil pumps! They suck the oil out of the ground like this:  *slurp*!  And then we turn the oil into gas to be fuel for our car so we can go."  Alone in my car, I smiled with pride at my little girl's capacity to learn and retain information.

I switched the Sirius XM station to Channel 18, currently hosting a Beatles Channel for the summer.  Thanks to one of her favorite children's shows, Beat Bugs, Eden can be heard singing along with no less than 10 Beatles songs, each hits long before she was born.  "Good day Sunshine!"

Trucks and cars and motorcycles and I passed each other, and I snickered as I thought of Eden's characterization of every pickup truck as a "monster truck."  She thinks "monster trucks" are beautiful.

On the side of the road I spotted five or six cows huddled under a lone tree.  I wish Eden were really there with me to see them.

These days - travel days - are some of my longest.  With the open road laid out before me, the whole world waits for me at home.




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

When The Stars Go Blue



There are these moments that are so perfect.  The girls fit perfectly in the bend of my elbow, one perfectly seated on each leg.  Delilah turns the pages of the board book with perfect timing, while Eden "reads" along with perfect memorization.  Everything is perfect.

That's when I feel it the most.  That's when Gabriel's absence comes crashing back to me. That's when I am slapped in the face with loneliness that I shouldn't feel, surrounded by the love of my girls, and guilt for feeling lonely when each of them are the world.  I'm filled with regret for not being able to do the impossible, for not being able to heal Gabriel so that he could be here, wrecking these moments with his pleadings to not read any more 'baby' books.

Delilah turns the page.  I can't look.  I suddenly can't stand it.  It's all so beautiful, but the truth is something hideous.  The truth is there is a little boy that will always be missing from these scenes.

I can't look at the stars.  They stand between me and the little boy that I'd longed for all of my life.  Like a beautiful, tangled net, they hold him in the Heavens and all I can do is dream of who waits beyond those stars.  So I can't look at the stars.

Where do you go, when the stars go blue?  What am I supposed to do when no matter where I turn, I'm facing an empty space?

Not so long ago, under those stars at 2:25 AM, a little girl was born who looks so much like her big brother that sometimes I have to look twice.  A little girl with dark, sparkling eyes and a hint of a dimple in her left cheek and a toothy smile that will leave you victim to her charm.  A little girl who still nuzzles her head under my chin, against my neck, unknowingly filling the cracks in my broken heart.  My little star.  "Gabe," she attempts to say, as she tugs at his picture hanging next to the stairs.  I can't look at the stars, but I can't look away, either.

Nearby another not-so-little girl runs and jumps and spins and dances, curly hair flouncing, long limbs bending and flapping.  A not-so-little girl with a not-so-little personality and a not-so-little vocabulary that will lash you with its wit one minute then warm your heart with its sweetness the next.  My piece of paradise.

Outside a pot containing the famous blueberry bush still sits, waiting, hoping against the odds for another sprout of green, another sign of life in defiance of expectations.  I may never see another leaf or blossom or berry.  Maybe all you see when you look at that plant is a bunch of dead branches.  But I see what could have been.  I see what could still be.

Hope is a strange thing.  Hope can break our hearts and let us down and fail us.  Hope hurts.  Hope takes guts.  Hope requires love.  Hope keeps me hanging on, even when the stars are blue.

Gabriel, "I lit a fire with the love you left behind.  And it burned wild."  I miss you.  With every breath, with every beat of my heart, I miss you.  I always will. I'll always see the empty space.  But I'll always be thankful for 10 days that changed the world.  You changed my world.

*Credit to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' song "Stars" and Ryan Adams' song "When the Stars Go Blue" for inspiration.




Monday, May 22, 2017

Double Take



The head of the woman in line in front of me whipped back and forth between me and her twin boys, as our six eyes remained locked in a stare.  I finally broke away to see her smiling at me.

"They're killing me.  I really want another."

She laughed.  "Take them for a few hours.  You'll change your mind."

"How old are they?"

"They'll be two in August."

"They're precious."

As she unloaded her things I looked at my own Costco cart, full of things that I am able to buy because I "only" have two children, including a new outfit for both Eden and Delilah.  If we were to add another to the mix, I couldn't spontaneously make these purchases.  But as it stands, buying things for the two girls that I love so much is one of the little pleasures in my life.

I'm fortunate that putting the girls in a new dress, or a new bow in their hair, can still make me smile.  Just an hour before my Costco run, I had taken my pre-session survey to gauge my depression and anxiety levels.  Survey says I've lost interest in things that used to interest me, and I find little pleasure in life right now.

I don't really have much to complain about.  I have a beautiful family, a good job that I love, everything I need and most of what I want.  But it all feels a bit meaningless these days.
As I leave the warehouse I encounter the woman again, the twin boys still sitting side by side in the shopping cart.  She sees my longing gaze and asks, "How many do you have?"

"Three."

"And you want more?"  I smile.  She has no idea how loaded my answer really is.

Increasingly I find myself grieving the child that I miscarried.  This always comes and goes in waves, sometimes affecting me more than others.  This wave will pass, but not a day goes by that I don't think about who that child might have been today.  I know that in those two boys sitting side by side, I saw the two children that will never get to be 21 months old.  I saw the future I might never have, the children I still hope to have that may just never come.

In the car the tears stream down my face as Zac Brown sang, "My whole world, it begins and ends with you. . . "  I don't know anymore where the world begins and where it ends, I only know that I'm drowning in it, and there again, I don't know why.

At home I presented Eden with her new outfit.

"It's a beautiful dress!"  I promise her she can wear it tomorrow.  Upstairs, in addition to her closet full of clothes, there are boxes and tubs and cabinets brimming with clothes each girl has outgrown, loving folded in the hopes that I will get to use them again on a child of my own.  Other clothes remain still in their package, a fading ember of faith that one day, I'll have another little boy.  I tell myself that if that day comes I will pat myself on the back for being so prudent.  But day by day I feel a bit more like Ms. Haversham, clinging to a futile dream while the world goes on without me.

Marcos tells me the news, that a terrorist attack occurred at the Arianna Grande concert in England.  19 are dead, which seems comparatively less devastating.  He tells me that online people are commenting, "Too bad Arianna Grande wasn't one of them."  Fleetingly, I think, "Too bad I wasn't one of them."  Very young people attend her concerts, young people with a whole life ahead of them.  Young people who still love to wake up every morning.  Young people who don't have children that are destined to grow up with a chronically depressed mother who never seems satisfied.

I go through the motions of bedtime routine.  I'm in a low, right now, and I know it will pass.  We brush teeth, read stories, say prayers, tuck in stuffed animals, and the girls seem satisfied that I've given them my best, even though my best is far less than they deserve.

I trudge downstairs and between picking up toys and sippy cups and board books I fix myself a drink.  I see tiny shoes, and think about the shoes that are missing.  I sit down at the keyboard and pour out my heart, filling its place with a cocktail and look ahead to a time when the pendulum swings and the
survey says that I love life again.





Thursday, April 6, 2017

Old Reliable

It's as constant as the rising sun.

My phone blinked with the alert and though I've promised I'll be better, I peek at my phone.

"Have you forgotten to enter your period?" my calendar reminds me.  Technology is amazing, but not as amazing as my own ability, after having lived in my body for the last 35 years.  I'm not late quite yet.  Still, I ignore the tell-tale signs.  Although I'm routinely asked, few people know how badly I want another baby.

With a subtle cramping in my abdomen, I make plans to set the pregnancy test out tonight, ready to take tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is a lucky number 7.  04-07-2017.  A good day to find out you're having another baby.  

Unsuspecting but for my suspicions, I go to use the restroom, and just like that the hopes and dreams fall down all around me.  The tears fall freely.  I can't stop them.  I'm not having another baby.

I'm reminded of the admonishments.  You're not ready.  You're so busy.  You're so overwhelmed by the girls already. You;ll never be able to afford to give them all what you want to give them.  You've got your two.  You'll always have your boy.  You have plenty of time.  Lots of people have babies much older than you.  High risk? Well, lots of women are doing it.  Just be happy with what God has already given you.

I am reminded of the regrets.  You shouldn't drink so much.  You should have taken better care of yourself.  Lose some weight first.  Space them out a bit more, you overwhelmed yourself the last time.  You've rushed into this. You're too eager.  You're always so scared that things aren't going to work out.

I am reminded of the dreams.  He would be another little boy.  Or maybe a third baby girl.  I'll call him this.  She'll look like that.  He;ll ride a red tricycle.  She'll cure cancer.  He'll be President.  She'll win a Grammy Award.  He'll learn to tie his shoes.  She'll live to be 11 days old.  My dreams are at once far fetched and starry eyed, and the things most of you take for granted.

A stained strip of toilet paper circles the bowl, then disappears.  A tear falls.  An ember of hope extinguishes.

Tomorrow someone will ask.  "When is your baby due."

"I'm not pregnant," I'll say.

The next day someone else will ask, "So, are you having more?"

"I guess we'll see," I'll answer.

I guess we'll see.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

D is for Diagnosis Day

D is for dream, like the one that filled my heart the day I learned you were on your way. The little dreams - You'd have my eyes, your daddy's nose.  The big dreams - Maybe someday you would cure cancer, pitch in the Major League, even be President.  September 28, 2010, with one positive test, the world opened wide.

D is for "Danny's Song," the lyrics that piped over the pumps at the Arco station where I stopped for gas that wonderful day, the words "Think I'm gonna have a son" and "Everything is gonna be alright" filling me with their promise.

D is for Doppler, that incredible machine by which I heard your heart beat for the very first time.  The tears poured from my eyes, streaking my face.  I'd never heard the heartbeat of your brother or sister before you, gone before we ever had the chance.  November 8, 2010, when everything was gonna be alright, because you had a heartbeat, and it was strong.

D is for December, a bittersweet month.  Your brother or sister was due that month, but nature had other plans and instead, I was three months along with you.  The holidays, the anticipation of the birth of the Christ child, took on new meaning as I spent the Advent season also planning your arrival.  It was the most wonderful time I would have for years.

D is for Diagnosis Day.  The words hit me like a spray of bullets, striking me with a force I had never felt, lodging in my chest, making it hard to breathe, hard to live.  "Incompatible with life". . . "Minutes, sometimes hours.  Sometimes days.". . . "No brain.". . . When I recall that day I can still feel it - The pull, drawing me into the whirlpool, forcing me under, drowning me in the greatest pain I had ever known, washing over and drenching me so completely that it will always be a part of me.

D is for drop, as my heart did, down to the pit of my stomach where it burned.

D is for destroyed, what happened to your father and me as we watched our dreams go up in flames one fateful morning.

D is for damned, the way I felt knowing my body had twice failed my children, unable to grow you each "correctly."

D is for decision.  You were my son, my baby boy, my Gabriel, my strength.  I'd waited my whole life for you.  The law makes you nothing more than a choice, but you were everything to me, so I chose you.  I'd chose you over and over and over again.

D is for drunk, the only way your father knew how to relieve his pain.  I resented him even while I envied him.  I longed to join him in a haze, forget it all.  There was so little I could do for you then.  Sobriety was one of the few parts of this journey that were within my control.

D is for Days - Ten of them.  I'd hoped you'd be that rare exception.  As we fed you, took you home from the hospital, bathed you, changed your diaper, I wondered how I got to be this mom that got to keep her child for 10 days, all the while knowing we were living on borrowed time.  You were not mine to keep. . .

D is for dead.  Dear.  He's dead.  My son is dead.  He died in my arms.  He died.  He's dead.  The words, the truth is so hideous that sometimes I still can't believe it.  I have to see the truth written out in front of me, my way of waking myself from this walking nightmare, only to discover this is no dream.  You're gone.  The pain is invisible, but runs so deep.  How can a stranger not see it in me?  It's settled in my bones, a part of every move I make.  It's pooled at the bottom of my fractured heart, which strains with every beat.  It weighs me down, making every step, every breath, every day a struggle.

D is for differences.  Over the course of the year following your death, your father and I learneed that the differences between us were insurmountable.

D is for divorce. People ask if it was because of you.  It wasn't.  You are just a tiny little baby, and it wasn't because of you.  Without you, though, there was no reason to stay together.

D is for dare. To get out of bed every day is daring.  To take each step is a risk.  To go on living, to go on loving was brave.  I idn't understand how life could go on without you, Gabriel, but I dared to go on with it.

D is for date.  One date with your stepfather Marcos led to another, then another, and the next thing I knew. . .

D was for daughter.  There she was.  My daughter.  Your little sister.  Eden.  Paradise.  Eden with her perfectly round skull.  Eden , nearly twice your size.  Eden, who could never replace you, who isn't here to take your place or fill my aching arms.  Eden, her own little person, her own little light in this world.

D is for Delilah, the "one who weakens," that precious little girl who's just stolen my heart away once again.  In her sweet face I see a perfect blend of her big sister and her big brother.

D is for the day that I hold you in my arms again.  I dream of that day you and I are united.  I pray that it's many years from now, that I have an opportunity to raise your sisters and watch them build families of their own.  But when death comes for me I will not be afraid.  I will face it with dignity, a lesson you taught me.  I will humble myself one last time, beg forgiveness for my sins, and pray that I have done enough with this life to spend eternity with you, my son.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This Weak and Idle Theme



I am thankful for the desk separating me from the mob of anxious case managers, each motivated by their own caseload of frustrated clients, and each wanting something from me.  They are each armed with a list of cases which need to be reviewed for settlement, walked through for settlement, or are set for a hearing in the next week.  I am reminded of my Friday nights behind the bar, patrons clamoring to get their order filled.  Except, I can't solve these problems now in front of me with a long pour.

I sigh.

"One at a time. Walk-throughs first.  Who has a walk-through for this week."  They each raise their hand.

My head feels heavy, my neck inadequate to carry it, as I turn to look out of the window just as a delivery truck passes by.  At the wheel I see Sean, squinting behind his wire-rimmed glasses, wearing the gray windbreaker that. . .

This isn't right.  That grey windbreaker is stuffed in a box, where it has been preserved since he died, which is stored away in my closet.  His glasses are in the box too - Two of the handful of keepsakes I saved from his apartment.  His parents would have given me more, but they were the ones who had lost a son, so I didn't ask for much.

I observe the van pulling into a garage, where the door closes behind him.

My focus returns to the crowd of co-workers standing before me.  Of course, this isn't right either.  Although sometimes the effect is the same, I am never mobbed by the case managers who do in fact each have a slew of cases, each with work that needs to be done on them.

"We have to go," one of them says, completely out of turn.  But I know, I have to go, I have to get out of this office, I have to find that van.  So, I follow her lead and we all leave the office.

In the parking lot she herds us all into a bus.  I turn in my seat to look at the garage door rising, the delivery truck exiting, a new driver at the wheel.  Behind him I can see Sean, but Sean doesn't see me.  The delivery truck has a new banner covering the sides. The driver is observing his surroundings in a way that is at once experienced but anxious.

Sean is in trouble.  They have him and won't let him go, for some reason.  He needs help.

I don't know what to do.  The bus is moving, and I don't know where we're going.  I look at the road ahead and turn to see that the truck is also turning, as we continue straight.  I begin to run to the front of the bus when everyone else on board also begins to exit.  We step off the bus at the entrance to an underground tunnel, where we are shuttled to another stop.  Upon leaving the shuttle and the underground tunnel, I find myself in a bustling plaza.  I scour the area, the shops and kiosks all around me, the people buzzing by, seeking out the grey wind breaker, the glasses, that face that haunts me still, nearly 12 years later. . .

Delilah's chatter weaves in and out of the scene as I toddle the lines of consciousness.  I hear Marcos - "I'm going to start breakfast."  Slowly I begin to realize that Delilah's voice is coming from the monitor on my nightstand.  I am lying on my back, a particularly difficult position for me to wake from.  I am still half asleep, still searching for Sean, willing my eyes to find him or in the alternative, for my body to wake itself from this dream.  Finally, consciousness wins.  My eyes snap open.  I am awake.

I lay still for a minute.  I didn't even get to talk to him.  I didn't get to ask him not to go.  He always goes, every time, but at least I get a chance to tell him that he should stay.

It's been three nights since the dream, but I still fill the emptiness of the missed opportunity. Three words pleaded in a dream, "Please don't go," are weighted with the things that never had the chance to be heard: "I want you to stay.  If you go, so many people will miss you.  I'll miss you.  I'll spend years feeling guilty for your death.  I will be tortured by the unanswered questions, the lack of resolution between us.  Twelve years down the road, I'll still miss the best friend I had in you, the man that tore down the walls that sexual assault built around me and showed me that I am beautiful not in spite of my flaws, but because of them.  I will think of you every day.  Please.  Let's see this through.  Let's have a normal break-up and discover, a year from now, that we are better off as friends.  Don't end it like this.  Please don't go."

Sean hasn't been in my dreams for at least two years.  Before that, he showed up about once or twice a year, and before that, two or three times a year.  The format is always generally the same:  I know that his time will be short, but he doesn't.  I know that when he walks away from me, he won't be coming back.  Since he hasn't been in my dreams, I've imagined what I think the dreams in recent years would have looked like, and written them here, in my blog, following the format that has presented itself for years.  When Sean showed up in my dreams again three nights ago with these new twists, I didn't know what to think.  I only knew that I had to write it down.

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Days and 10 Innings

"When Gabriel was alive, did you ever think he might be one of those cases that lives for months, or years?"

I did.  I prayed, and wondered, and hoped, and even worried that we would be that family, and that my son would be that boy that proved all of the doctors wrong.

I remember the conversation with my mother in law.

"I wonder if his living longer than expected will make things harder?"

"Oh.  It will," she told me, as if that would be my punishment for carrying my son to term, and "forcing" her son along for the ride.

I would much rather remember the conversation with my own mother.

"Your dad keeps thinking maybe this is a sign.  Maybe he is supposed to retire right now and help you take care of this little boy."

We could dream.  And we did.  For ten days we clung to our hope, knowing how unlikely our dreams were to come true, but also knowing that days 2, 3, 4, and 10 were unlikely too.  See, by the time he was born, the medical community had written him off, and every day that he lived he made the impossible feel possible.  Even when he died, taking a piece of my broken heart with him, I was filled with gratitude for the boy who fought so hard, defying the odds and the expectations.  Maybe he wasn't going to live for months, or years, or even 11 days.  But he will always be my son.

Fast forward 5 years and several months to a Saturday night, game 161 of the regular season, and the Seattle Mariners entering the 10th inning of a game that would decide whether or not game 162 would matter, whether game 162 would be their last chance to make it to the Wild Card game for a chance to play in the World Series. They were tied in a game against the last place team in the division and one might think it would have been an easy win, but the Mariners had already won the last two games of the series and statistically, they were due for a loss.  But then again, back in July, most people probably thought that by October 1, the Mariners would have long been eliminated.

The game wasn't airing on any of the channels available to me, so I kept my phone in my hand, checking the game status every few minutes.  In the 10th inning, Oakland scored, and even with the last at-bat, the Mariners couldn't catch up.  The Mariners lost, and the play off dream was deferred for another year.

Oh, but what a season!  3 players, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager, hit over 30 home runs this season - The first time since 1997, The Griffey Jr. Year.  Seth Smith hit two grand slams.  The Mariners won 86 games this season, finishing at .531 and looking like wild card hopefuls until the second-to last game of the year.  Seeing that loss, knowing what it meant, tugged at my heart.  But the 2016 Seattle Mariners had given me hope, and sometimes hope just has to be enough.

You see, I am no fair-weather fan.  One cannot have followed a team for 15+ years, watching them make it to the playoffs only once in that period of time and to this day, never having an opportunity to watch them in the World Series, and be a fair weather fan.

One cannot plead with God to make her a mother, beg God for a baby boy, but say that she loves him only so long as he is healthy, looks just like other children, and will outlive her.  I prayed for my little boy, and rain or shine, he is mine.  He is the love of my life.  The grief of losing him poured down on me and threatens to drown me still, and still I hold on to my love for him, the hope of seeing him again someday, and the dream that I may be worthy of the promises of Heaven.

10 innings. 10 days.  They can test your limits, and they can change the world.