Sunday, December 30, 2012

Just the Beginning

For several months I've been telling myself that I need to get a plant for my office.  When I scored a Chia Shrek head through the office white elephant gift exchange I decided he was just what my office needed.  And I decided Friday was the day to start growing him.

On Friday morning, six months plus one day after filing our petition for summary dissolution, I walked into my old stomping grounds at 1215 Truxtun Avenue to request our judgment.

"How long will it take to turn that around?"  I asked the clerk.

"Could take up to three to four weeks."

Three to four weeks until judgment day.  In three to four weeks the self-addressed envelope I submitted with the paperwork will show up in my mailbox, giving its content away before I even open it.  Tears pricked my eyes as I stood before the clerk, allowing the seriousness of the moment to seep into my brain.  I wonder if I will be divorced before or after January 16th, our three year anniversary.

I chewed this all over in my office as my eyes settled on the Chia Shrek box.  Adrienne, one of the secretaries, passed by while I was turning the box over in my hands.

"Do you think today is a good day to start Chia Shrek?"

"I think it's a fantastic day."  With our clerical staff short-handed at the moment, I'm sure Adrienne would rather I do anything but generate more rush jobs for her to complete.

One rush job and an hour later, Chia Shrek was ready to start growing.

I've joined the ranks of the regular working people of America who wait all week for Friday at 5:00. I've come to value the hard-earned Friday night out, and the chance to drink with my friends rather than serve the drinks.  But this Friday, celebratory cocktails didn't feel right.  I didn't feel like I'd earned anything.  I'd never felt like a bigger failure in my life.  For the last six months I've been adjusting to my new single life.  I've accepted that I'm going to be divorced, but I don't think I'll ever accept it as anything but a big failure.  I failed my husband - I should have done a lot of things differently.  I failed my children - I owed them my best effort.  I failed my dogs - Caring for them alone is hard, and they don't get the attention or the exercise they need because I'm just not up to it.  I failed my God - And I'm angry at Him because I feel like He's failed and abandoned me too.  I sent myself to bed early.  No cheese puffs.  No beer.

By Saturday morning I allowed myself to feel better.  In my heart I know I did the best I could at the time, even for all I did wrong.  I know that I want love in my life, a partner to hold my hand and walk my dogs with, too much to stop hoping.  A new year is just around the corner, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it holds for me what I've been searching for.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Guess Who's Two

A tiny digital marquee bearing one highly anticipated word, "pregant," appeared in a matter of moments, before I could even finish brushing my teeth.  Just like that my whole world changed. 

I wonder if it's like that for all women.  I wonder if all women feel like I felt, like the earth had just shifted and suddenly instead of orbiting the sun it spins around that new life growing inside of me. 

It's hard to believe that it's been two years and nine months since that moment.  Baby Cude would be two years old today if he or she were born on their due date.  We'd be learning songs together, sharing story time, chasing Gideon through the backyard, walking through the neighborhood with our Radio Flyer and I'd be in an neverending battle with Grandpa and Grandma down the street about spoiling their first grandchild.

I talk about Gabriel with relative ease but I struggle to talk or even write much about the miscarriage.  It is a tremendously painfu subject and something that confounds me and hurts me, I think, even more than my experience with Gabriel. 

Last year for this entry I shared what I'd written in the journal that I still keep for Baby Cude.  I started the journal the morning of my pregnancy test, and when the feeling of missing him or her gets to be too much still, I write it in there.  This year, I've elected to keep those words between me and my first child private.

I think about Baby Cude every day.  I love to remember the morning I learned Baby Cude was on his way, the earth quaking, the dream I had for him, the love I immediately felt.  Losing Baby Cude stripped a certain innocence from me, but also prepared me for the challenge that came with carrying Gabriel to term.  After losing Baby Cude, there was nothing I wouldn't do to insure that Gabriel wa born alive, that I would see him face to face and have the chance to hold him like I never got to do with Baby Cude.  As he left this world among the many things I said to him, I asked him to tell his big brother or sister how much I loved him or her, and to remember that I would be along to hold them again someday. 

I like to think God took my babies from me because He knows how much I love babies.  Two babies wait for me in Heaven and there are days when that's what sustains me. 

There's not a doubt in my mind that caring for a two-year old little boy is challenging, frustrating, and exhausting.  It's impossible to describe how much I wish I could be so challenged, frustrated, and exhausted right now. 

A Google search indicates only about 4 to 5% of babies are born on their due date.  Of course, even fewer babies are born with anencephaly and so it's not so hard to believe we could beat these odds too. 

In my mind, today will always be my first baby's birthday.  And to my deeply loved, long-awaited, greatly missed Baby Cude, I wish the happiest of days. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

It Takes a Village

We've been hearing about it for four days, but it still it seems to terrible to be true:  28 people in Newtown,  Connecticut, 20 of them just little children ages 5 through 7, are dead after one man's depraved rampage which ended only when he took his own life.  This nation, for all the deadly massacres we've experienced in recent years, can never grow accustomed to this sort of news.  This nation couldn't help but be shocked and shaken by the slaughter of children who hadn't even reached the age of reason. 

As a parent myself, I join in the particular disbelief of other parents who are struggling to imagine what the families of all those killed must be going through now, having thought when they last saw their loved one that Friday was just a day like any other.  As a mother who was blessed to spend my child's last moments on earth with him, holding him and comforting him in his hour of death, my heart aches for those parents who now know their child's last moments were filled with terror and fear.  I can only pray for their comfort and healing and thank God for my own blessings. 

President Obama, to the dismay of NFL fans consumed by the regular season crunchtime, interrupted a competitive, highly-anticipated Sunday evening game to address the nation.  He read the names of each victim.  He reminded us that each child is precious, and that every American adult has a duty to all of our children to protect them as best we can. 

With all of my heart, I believe President Obama's words and I believe in his sincerity.  It warms my heart to know that a man with such tremendous responsibility would take the time to acknowledge the grief and the devastation that the people in Newtown are experiencing.  I was tremendously moved to hear our President speak not as a politician, but as a father. 

I also believe with all of my heart the words of Monsignor Frost's homily on Sunday afternoon.  He reminded us that in a culture where mothers can turn against their own children in their womb, we cannot be surprised that we have groomed a man with so little regard for the innocent human lives taken on Friday December 14, 2012.  Said Mother Theresa, "The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.  It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society.  It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, an inconvenience.  It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters."  Both Monsignor Frost and President Obama are right:  We owe our children better than what we are doing for them.  We owe them our best efforts at building a better world.  And it is a responsibility all adults share because as our President noted, "We are all parents." 

I know I risk being accused of "politicizing" this event by daring to see the connection between what happened last Friday, and abortion.  Make no mistake that I am rattled by those events not just as a mother who is still grieving the loss of her own departed child, but as someone who is still wrestling with the loss of my dear Sean at his own hand nearly eight years ago.  I cannot think about the Newtown shooting with anything but a heavy heart.  Nothing about what happened last week is rational or sensible or simple.

I have been blessed to have witnessed this blog develop into a tremendous platform.  My heart finds some reprieve in knowing that my son's life, and our family's story, has inspired so many.  I am grateful for the opportunity to implore readers to heed our President's words and make the protection of all children, born and unborn, a priority:  "This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged." 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cooking Lessons

It all started the summer before sophomore year, in summer school biology.  We got to choose whether we would disect kittens, or pig fetuses.  Pig FETUSES?  Baby pigs that never got to see the light of day?  It was an impossible choice, and so I elected to sit out of the assignment entirely.  Still, we were required to be present in the classroom when everyone else was hacking up their mammal, and the sight of one of my classmates draping pig intenstines around her neck like jewelry is forever imprinted in my mind.  Since then, I've developed a distaste for eating pork in particular.

But, I married a chef.  A chef whose favorite animal to eat and cook with was the pig.  Just about every part of a pig is edible.  "Everything but the oink," Willie says.  No matter how much I disliked seeing carcus in my kitchen, it came with the marriage territory and most frequently, it was a pig.  Ben always said that cooking pork was a special skill.  He said it was one of the most versatile sources of meat, but also the easiest to mess up and overcook.

So, when I volunteered to host a holiday dinner party at my house this December it seemed only right that I should be in charge of the main dish, a roasted stuff pork loin.  In the wake of my newfound cooking independence, this dish and this party would be my crowning achievement. 

In the process of marriage and cooking, I learned a few lessons:

1.  Explore your local produce section. 

Don't be afraid of vegetables.  If you poke around a little you'll find there's much more to experience than you ever realized.  I elected to roast my little piggy on a bed of root vegetables including onions, carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas.  Not so very long ago I didn't even know what a parsnip was.  I don't feel so bad now, knowing that the grocery clerk didn't either.  Most of us don't know what's out there.  Most of us would just eat carrots.  But I have learned the joys of seeking adventure. 

That's a life rule, not to be limited to the grocery store.  As I find myself traveling in this new job I'm discovering more and more how afraid I am to lose my way, and how much I rely on my directions to keep me on the beaten path.  I'm terrified of getting lost.  But if you don't get lost once in a while, I suppose you won't find anything that doesn't find its way to you.  Taking risks, taking the road less traveled, if you will, can lead to unexpected delight. 

Upon a diagnosis like the one we received for Gabriel, over 90% of parents let their fear of the unknown guide them.  They let their fear of not being able to love their child despite his foreign  appearance convince them to do the irreversible.  If I could speak to a parent standing where I stood nearly two years ago, I would tell them, "This journey is worth the risk. "

Take a chance. 

2.  Don't be afraid of butter, salt, or most of what people tell you that you can't handle.

The thing is, you're probably going to end up trying it anyway.  No one knows what's good for you like you do.  You know what's right.  So trust what you know.

For many years I was taught to stifle my feelings.  Play hard to get.  Honesty = desparation = losing.  But I can say with all honesty now that the old cliche is true:  It's better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.  I can say that I've taken chances and sometimes they've been unrequited, but it can't really be said that I've let an opportunity for something I really wanted pass me by.  When I want something - salt, butter, someone, my son - I go for it.  I'm not afraid to say anymore that I want love, and that I will go in search of it no matter what threatens me.

3.  Don't buy rosemary in the store.

If you just take a minute to look around, rosemary is probably right there in front of you, in that little planter in the parking lot.  I snagged some from the Foods Co parking lot yesterday, having noted that it was nearly $2 for a bunch of it in the store.  If you take it from the planter, it's fresher, more potent, and it'll grow back in a blink. 

When you take the time to look around, you'll probably notice that much of what you're searching for is right in front of you. 

4.  Food is meant to be shared with friends and family.

It's hard to make friends as an adult.  When we're kids, we're forced into these situations where we meet new people and for the sake of survival, must make friends.  As adults, we're so busy with our own lives and less and less compelled to be friends with the people we interact with, that making friends becomes much harder, but also much more rewarding.  We choose our friends as adults, and that makes our friendships that much more meaningful. 

Elise, Lindsey and Blake are the best things to come out of my divorce.  Until my holiday dinner party, I hadn't had so many people in my house since Gabriel's funeral.  But because my new friends, all of whom I knew before my divorce but all of whom also have become my shoulders to lean on, my true friends, since my split, my house was filled once again with life and laughter. 

My continuing friendship with Ben, who lives across the country, who I havent seen in nearly six months, with whom I share no living children and who I have few reasons to speak to now, is also voluntary.  I choose to keep talking to him, because I choose to recognize that for all that went wrong, Ben has contributed largely to the person I am today.  He made me a mother.  He made me a wife.  He made me a divorcee.  And he made me the kind of girl who shops for parsnips.  He broke what was left of my heart after Gabriel died but he confirmed for me what my broken heart already knew - Vegetables, and life, are worth taking chances on.  They may hurt going down, but they are worth the risk. 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

"Come Hold My Son"

"When are you going to get your ass to Confession?" my mom asked in a way that only mothers can, over taco salads on our lunch hour one afternoon.

"When I'm sorry." 

Pride and anger, those dangerous, deadly sins, keep me from appearing before Christ's earthly agent and asking for forgiveness.  The anger and pride stem from a deep pain that has begun to rival my deep faith.  So with sad eyes I watch as our congretation files past me to receive Communion, wondering if the small neighborly gathering wonders about my story and why I've benched myself from the mst direct route to Salvation. 

I kneel while the people pass me by, sometimes with my head bowed in a combination of reverence and shame, sometimes with prying eyes that speculate about those in line to receive, frequently with my hymnal open but only interested in the hymn about half the time.  Last week in an interesting and welcome reprieve from our usual cantor, I watched as a man set up his mic stand and acoustic guitar.  I listened as he told Mary's story, and in his story telling I found my own story:

A cold night in Bethlehem
No fire to warm her hands
She gives birth to the Word Made Flesh
The Bread of Life she lays in a manger
She won't understand
Why they come to adore him
But she says "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son." 

At the temple she holds him.
His eyes have seen his salvation
Two turtle doves behold him
And she pesents him to the world
She won't understand
Why a sword will pierce her hear
But she'll say "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son.

Come hold Jesus
Come hold Jesus"

In the streets of Jerusalem
She cries out loud "Where is my boy?"
He's gone to serve His Father now
His Father's house is where He dwells
She won't understand His Father's standing next to Him
But she'll say, "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son."

In the streets of Cavlvary,
"Woman behold your son."
She watches him nailed to a tree
The child she bore grasps for air
A loud cry and her heart is pierced
The child she held has gone from here
They lay Him in His mother's arms
They lay Him in her arms
She won't understand why her son had to die
But she'll say "Come hold my son.  Come hold my son."

Even I am struck that I view Mary's story, and now my own, as beginning and ending with the birth and death of our children.  Did we not exist before, and did we not continue to live even after them?  But I think Mary would agree when I say that for each of us, for all of our accomplishments, the greatest thing we ever did was serve as mother to our children.  I recall when Gabriel was born not understanding, being awestruck, by the friends and family and hospital staff that filed into our room to see my strange, strong, curious little boy.  I remember presenting his pictures to the world on the internet and not understanding how Gabriel's story had grownn and inspired and touched so many so quickly.  I recall the way he hardly opened his eyes, but when he did it always seemed that he was looking at someone I couldn't see -Was God standing right there with us?  I recall watching the child I bore gasp for air.  I remember what it meant to me to witness so many people come hold my son and still, I don't understand why my son had to die.

In the last week since first hearing The Thirsting's "Come Hold My Son," I've thought a lot about the prophecy for Mary recorded in Luke, that a sword would pierce her hear.  I've thought about the admonition I received from Laura that like Our Lady my heart would be pierced too.  No phrase could better describe the stabbing, constant grief of a mother who loses her child.

But I am no Mary.  Where Mary was chosen because she was pure, I think I knew that what would happen with Gabriel was in large part my penance for all that I had done wrong leading up to that point in my life.  I welcomed what would happen, the suffering, because I thought it was my chance to be a part of something great, despite all that I had done wrong. I welcomed the suffering because I thought that when it was all over, God and I could start over again with a clean slate, that maybe He would even give me a leg up. 

In recent months I have found it much easier to view God as a "He," rather than the androgenous "God."  Interpret away.

I gave my child back to God like I thought He wanted me to.  When he was born I made baptizing him my priority. I said, "Here God, he's Yours" and I trusted Him.  I cared for my lent child on borrowed time as best I could certain, CERTAIN that God wouldn't let me down, remembering how the mother of God had been assumed from her pain into Heaven. Remembering how even the Son of God couldn't deny His mother's wish.  And here I wait, aching, my mother's heart broken.

Mary is sometimes considered the new Eve, Jesus the new Adam.  They form the covenant of our salvation.  And it only makes sense.  There is no love like that between a mother and her son, a mother and her child.  It is a love that is deep and pure. It is the kind of love that can save the world.  For Mary, for a mother who has lost her child, I am sorry and I am full of regret.  For her I am sorry for any of my actions that don't honor her child's death.  For Mary and for my mom I hope one day soon I'll be the kind of daughter that I know I should be. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012


When I learned that Gideon's parents had another litter of puppies and asked Ben if I could have one for Christmas, I didn't expect that he would concede.  After all, I had been asking to have another baby since June 21, 2011, the day after Gabriel died.  When I saw the puppies and set my heart on the one that was most affectionate towards me, the one with the darkest fur and the fewest markings, I assumed I wouldn't see her again because she would probably be going to a new home soon.  So, when on Christmas Eve last year Ben said to me, "We can go any time today to pick up your new puppy," I was shocked.  Noelle Marie joined our family that afternoon.

I later learned that Noelle had been given to me with a purpose:  To distract me from wanting another baby.  She was given to me in part to silence me.  She is my little hush puppy.

For a while, she served her intended purpose.  She was difficult to potty train, she was a bossy little dictator and a bit of a bully.  She wouldn't use her own bed and would either force Gideon from his, or would push her way onto it next to him.  She was unruly, independent, and refused to take the most basic commands that Gideon had responded to almost from the time we brought him home.  She's still unruly, independent, disobedient. . . And loving, sweet, and affectionate.

But she is not a child.

This month as I prepare to celebrate one year with my hush puppy, I also mourn the loss of my first child, Baby Cude, who was due to be born on December 19, 2010 before spontaneous and unexplained miscarriage ended my baby's life.


We're not supposed to talk about these things.

If talking about Gabriel makes people visibly uncomfortable, talking about Baby Cude and the miscarriage is even harder to do - Not because it's awkward, but because people seem to respond as though, especially after having lost my born son, that the miscarriage just isn't that big of a deal.  It's nature, right?  It's just one of those things that happens.  And it does just happen.  But it happened to my child.  Baby Cude was real, and alive, and we had dreams for him or her, and I longed for him or her, and I miss that child.

A day doesn't go by that I don't miss both of my children.When someone asks if I have children I routinely answer "I have a little boy, Gabriel," but the sentence doesn't escape my lips without me also thinking of the baby that I miscarried, who I know so little about.  Gabriel was supposed to be our rainbow, our sign after the storm of the miscarriage that God hadn't abandoned us and that God would never send such a storm again.  And in God's defense, I guess He hasn't; this storm, this grief I am experiencing now is like nothing I have ever known.

As mother after mother  in the anencephaly community announces the birth or impending birth of her rainbow baby or babies, I can't help but feel abandoned.  I can't help but feel angry.  I can't help but to recall that when Gabriel's diagnosis was confirmed I did not ask God to keep him, I did not get angry and demand that Gabriel should be mine after losing Baby Cude.  Instead, I tried to carry Gabriel with as much grace as I could muster, trusting that God would hold me close even after He took my son Home and that He would shortly grant me what I longed for most.  "They" say God never turns His back on us, but I can't help but wonder with human vanity if maybe I am the one person in the history of the world that God has left hanging out to dry.  I feel empty.  And when I try to heed the advice of my fellow Faithful and trust that God is there I feel even more hollow because I just don't believe that He's listening to me anymore.  I just don't believe He cares.  I think I'm on my own.

My hush puppy has grown into a beautiful adolescent dog.  Noelle and Gideon keep me busy and frustrated.  They help to fill some of the silence in my lonely home.  But they haven't been enough to silence the burning desire in my heart to fill my home with children of my own again someday.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Empty Spaces

Audacity:  "When my children were born, I said to God 'If you're going to take my children from me, take them from me now, before I have a chance to know them and love them and miss them." 

I had to do a double take, and take into account that Caroline had been doubling up on the booze all afternoon.  The human ability to say stupid things when they have been drinking is astounding, offensive, and never ending.

It's hard to explain what it's like to miss someone who was only here for 40 weeks and ten days.  But just like with anyone else, what you notice most is the empty space. 

Missing Gabriel means filling in spaces with "What ifs?"  It means tears roll silently down my face while watching "Where the Wild Things Are" as I miss my little wild thing and wonder where he is and what he's doing.  It means I go to church, to a restaurant, to work, and wonder what my life would be like if he were here too. 

This Thanksgiving the unavoidable smell of turkey crashed into my nostrils, my senses,  every time it was near me with a welcomed wave of nauseousness.  The smell of turkey was the one smell that got to me during pregnancy and to smell it now, to smell the memory it holds, was bittersweetly longed for.  There are moments when I look at the shell of the life I live now, hollow where my family should be, and wonder if it was real.  How can I even be sure it was?  What happens when the tremors in my tummy stop and the scent of Gabriel's blankets gets sniffed away and ten days feel like just a moment in a lifetime of moments that have long since slipped through my fingers and I am still alone with memories and ghosts?

That fear is unshakeable.  That fear dictates what I do and is the root of the biggest mistakes that I make, but it is the most vital part of me as it leads my heart around, grasping and fumbling for something to fill the empty spaces.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Oh Blah Dee-ing, Oh Blah Da-ing

"I can do whatever I want," I boldly proclaimed to Iliana and David, the two colleagues from the firm, also new hires, that I had been cooped up with for three days of training.  "I'm single, and I've got no kids to tend to."

"You just said you had a baby," Iliana responded, barely looking up from her dinner plate.

Rewind. . .

  "When I was pregnant. . ."

. . . I guess I did. . .

"I did have a baby.  Gabriel.  He passed away when he was ten days old."  And I launched seamlessly into my standard speech. "We were very lucky to have ten days.  He wasn't expected to live that long.  Do you want to see his pictures?" 

Iliana regarded me with sympathetic eyes but they both viewed his pictures anyway.

"You and your husband split up after your son died?"  David asked.


David waived his hand at the shot of Jameson that the server had just placed before me at our table.  "Is this you 'coping'? Because, that's okay."

I grinned.  "This is me taking advantage that you offered to drive."

Not everything I do is to cope.  I blog to cope, or eat cheese puffs to cope, or mother the dogs to cope.  But most of what I do is just adjusting.  I thought my life was going to be A, and now it's B.  I'm just trying to adjust to life as B. 

The photos were not me coping.  The photos were me reclaiming myself.

A year ago near my 30th birthday I announced that I was thinking of having photos taken. 

"I'll take them," offered my brother, the aspiring photographer. 

"You don't want to take these."

"Why?  Will they be of the dogs?"

"No.  Boudoir photos.  Of me."

"That's disgusting.  UUUUGGGHHH!  That's gross.  If you want, you can call my friend Ande.  She does those."  And with one last shudder, "Gross." 

I was proud of where I was at 30, though.  I had lost all of my baby weight (which I later went about putting right back on), and insistent that I needed to do this right then, before I had more babies.  The stars never aligned, there were no more babies, and it was a year before Ande announced again that she'd be scheduling photo shoots at a local boutique hotel.  This time, I was quick to sign myself up.

"Aren't those usually for a husband or boyfriend?  What are you going to do with them?"  someone asked. 

The notion that these photos should be for Ben or anyone else hadn't really occurred to me.  I was simply wanting to gather evidence, preserve the record so that someday, if I had to, I could prove that I used to be 31 years old, that I used to be whatever else I'm not when I'm 100 years old.  I just want something good for the obit.

Standing in one of the stylish, one-of-a-kind rooms in the recently renovated Padre, barely covered and quite aware of every one of my phsyical flaws, I listened to Ande talk casually while she adjusted her lights. 

"Someone commented on your blog that you should write a book.  You should."

"You read my blog?"

"Yes.  I used to feel like I shouldn't.  I didn't realize you were so open with it.  Your blog is good.  I read a lot of blogs, but yours rates high."  With that, I relaxed, suddenly comfortabe and confident that I do something well, and there should be no reason why I couldn't just do this too. 

"I bet you never knew you had this sex kitten somewhere inside of you," Ande commented as I began to melt into the atmosphere she had created. 

But I did know I have it in me.  I'm quite aware that part of me exists, and what she is capable of.  She is determined and knows what she wants.  She scares me, though, because she's a loose cnnon.  She wants acceptance, and love, and to be valued and appreciated, and she will readily abandon reason to find it. 

She is afraid - Of being rejected, of being abandoned. . . of violence, still.

After all of this time, eleven years after the assault, I find myself thinking of it more than usual, and thinking about the impassioned, needy girl that would spend her time with people like that in the first place.  At this point, it's unusual to think about it much at all, until very recently.  I guess that's because I know I won't ever let it happen again.

To say 'Let it happen again' implies I had some sort of control over it, that I 'let' it happen in the first place.  I know I didn't, I know it's not my fault, but I guess telling myself it won't happen again gives me confidence and security.  I'm just not that same girl I was then.  That girl was weak.  I hardly know her anymore, and I resent her for trying to sneak back into my life.

I'm reluctant to admit tha tmaybe being married, having this man, this protector in my life, gave me a sense of security.  Could I be that old-fashioned, that needy?  I didn't feel unsafe when I lived alone, but I felt safter when Marcus moved in.  But still not as safe as I felt when I belonged to someone, when I was someone's wife.  I don't feel unsafe when I close the bar.  But I felt safer when someone was waiting for me to come home.

Those thoughts all come on the heels of my parish priests's recommendation that I wait a year before applying for an annulment.  The thought of being married in God's eyes for one more year, for all the security it once gave me, shakes me to my core.

I loved belonging to someone.  I loved being someone's wife, being someone's mother, and having them belong to me.  I say "my husband" or "my son" as much as I say "Ben" or "Gabriel." For all that I didn't like feeling like someone's possession, branded by a ring, I loved the sense of unity of belonging to each other. 

And I can think of no reason why I should belong to my ex-husband, who was so unwilling to belong to me, for one more year.  I see no reason why I should not be free to seek out someone who wants to make me his, someone who wants every part of me, even when life is hard, even when I'm afraid.  Even when I'm weak. I don't see why I should be held to a partner who didn't hold me.

"You need to heal!"  I can almost hear the reader's response as they shake their monitor.  Maybe they even think that things like Jamesn and boudoir photos and a new car and a shredded t-shirt are "coping" mechanisms.  It's a fine line.  When you're getting divorced, people will reason that everything you do is because you're getting divorced.  When your kid dies, people will reason that you're getting divorced because your kid died - like we would ever tell a couple that they're getting divorced because their kid lived.  Sometimes, you're getting divorced just because you're getting divorced.  And you do what you do, whatever you do, because you just can't stand still.

I tried standing stil.  I tried holding on and holding back.  It didn't work.  Everything seems to work out a lot better when I just move. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Mountain View

I just kept driving.  On a whim, I took the road home from church straight to the gas station for a fill-up, then down Alfred Harrell Highway past Ethel's. . . the soccer park. . . C.A.L.M. . . . until I connected with the 178 and I made a left and the next thing I knew I was driving through Kern Canyon headed towards Lake Isabella.

Anyone that's driving this canyon or one similar knows that once you get going, it's tough to stop.  The canyon is a treacherous road, with craggly, deathly-sharp rocks to the south and the ill-reputed Kern River to the north.  The road is narrow, a two-lane road, and it's imperative to stay between it's tightly drawn yellow lines because veering outside them leads every year to certain death.  I'm a nervous Kern Canyon driver, but I'm an even more nervous passenger having to relinquish control of my fate to another driver.  As a driver approaches the canyon signs indicate that slow drivers should use the designated turn-outs to permit the faster, more experienced drivers to pass, but anyone who drives like me -two hands on the wheel and at their own pace no matter who's around - knows that even the turn-outs are scary.  The thing about driving the canyon is that you never know what's aroud the bend.  And that's scary.

I don't want to have to anticipate what's next. I have no idea what's next.  They say that the more you drive the canyon, the more your mind and your arms and the rest of your body get used to its bends and curves.  I find that hard to believe, though.  The canyon's casualties indicate that experienced drivers are no more immune to the hazards of the ride than those who are at it for the first time.  No one's really safe. 

I trucked along in my new-used, mid-sized car with it's average engine, testing its features by clicking my way through the radio stations on my steering wheel before settling on the country station.  It's important when making these sort of reflective, soul-searching drives to listen to country music.  Country music will inspire you to search your soul. 

I've always liked driving.  I don't so much like being alone as I like being left alone.  Anytime I've had a passenger on a long drive I have looked forward to their falling asleep, permitting me to be be alone with my thoughts and some music. 

When Frank demonstrated my car's features I recall asking, "Don't cars have CD players anymore?" 

"Yes.  It's right there."  He pointed to a slit in the dashboard.  "Most people use their Ipods now." 

I don't have an Ipod, mostly because I'm not sure what I would do with it.  I like CDs.  It's true that most albums aren't worth listening to from beginning to end, but once in a while you find one that is - Jewel's "Pieces of You," Joss Stone's "Soul Sessions," Johnny Cash's "When the Man Comes Around," and so on - and I think it's valuable to remember a time when people cranked out consistently good material.

Driving brings tears.  It's true that someone can talk to me about Gabriel, about being raped, about losing Sean, and I will stand stone-faced and seemingly cold and unfeeling not because I don't feel but because I want to demonstrate that we can feel and still survive.  In a car though, on the road, the tears roll freely down my face, along my cheeks and onto my neck, wiped with my sleeves, uninhibited.  Some people imagine Heaven to be a place where there are no tears but I believe that Heaven must be the kind of place where the tears flow with abandon.

Lake Isabella is a nasty little town, full of high meth use and low expectations. I drove for just a minute down its main street before turning around and going right back home. I didn't want anything from the town, i just wanted its drive with its truly stunning views, the majesty of which, in my biased and untraveled opinion, are prime examples of California, the country's most beautiful and diverse state. As I made my way back home it felt right to stop at the cemetary to see Gabriel's space.  I hadn't been since my birthday.  Truth is, I don't go often.   We chose to place his ashes at Greenlawn knowing it was in walking distance from the yellow house, but I still don't go.  I have this fear of becoming obssessed with his resting place.  Today I saw a family with their little, cottn-ball sized puppy skipping across headstones.  I wondered how it would go over if I brought Noelle one day.  I suspect, not well.  She's a turd. 

I wonder if people see his plaque and empty vase and wonder if that poor little baby who lived only ten days has been forgotten.  That's my biggest fear when I pass by the cemetary without stopping.  I want people to look at his nameplate and see the carefully chosen words, "Hero of God." I want them to know that he lived for ten days that changed the world.  He may have only lived ten days, but he still lived. I love him.  I miss him.  His name is Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude.  He only lived for ten days, but he still lived.  And I. . . I am his mother.  And I will miss him for the rest of his life.  And I miss him. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Upside Down and Against the Odds

This week's issue of the The Kernal, East Bakersfield High School's newspaper, featured a set of articles titled "Pregnant and Parenting Teens."  The two featured artilcles were captioned "Couple looks forward to birth of son," and "Young moms face challenges." 

Teenage pregnancy is so common in my hometown that I guess I'm rarely struck that it doesn't happen as frequently in other parts of the country.  When my law school classmate asked incredulously, "You had daycare for the students' babies on your high school campus?" my equally incredulous response was, "You didn't?"  Looking at this week's issue of The Kernal, I see that little has changed at East High in the 13 years since my graduation. 

East High, populated predominately by Hispanic students in a county with the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, seems to be a place where stereotypes flourish.  The notion that Hispanics are a bunch of fertile and hormonally-driven breeders just fulfilling their destiny with each teen pregnancy is fostered by the subjects of the first article, which tells the story of a couple whose glowing smiles in their Homecoming dance photos indicate these two really don't know what kind of struggle they are about to face. 

First, I want to take moment to commend teenage parents who carry their children to term.  These days, every unborn human life is reduced by the law to a choice.  Every unborn human life is seen by our culture as expendable, and I applaud young parents and their families who support them for being examples of love and life in this world where we permit the lawful killing of our own children.  None of these teen moms and dads have to be moms and dads; they are given "options" do the wrong thing, and they choose to do the right thing.  I particularly admire the young anencephaly moms and dads who continued their pregnancies despite their exceedingly challenging circumstances.

But we can't ignore the obvious.  Most teen moms will not graduate from high school.  Most teen moms won't go to college or have the types of careers that are likely to put them in a position to provide better for their children than their own parents were able to provide for them - a generally agreed upon requirement for achieving the American dream.  And these facts are the facts not for lack of support, but because being a parent is fucking hard, and it's even harder when you're doing it alone, when you are doing it without a job, with little education, and with little life experience.  I know a lot of people who were teen parents and they all love their children, and none of them could imagine life without those children; but I also don't know a single teen parent who doesn't wish they'd done things differently for the sake of their children.  My hat is off to the men and women I know who not only made it work, but surpassed all expectations. 

I know it's not hip to say this, but teenagers don't have sex because everything in their life is great.  We'd like to chock it up to hormones and impulse, treating teenagers like the only distinction between them and wild animals is their opposable thumbs, but I think our teenagers deserve more credit, and deserve a closer look at what's driving them. 

As adults we realize the emotional complexities of sex, sexual relationships, and what drives us to engage in them.  We know that we find in sex and in our partners something more than just the act.  We find an escape, or release, or acceptance, or affection, or love, or whatever we may be looking for.  We know that we aren't just "doing it" because we simply can't help ourselves; in fact, we've learned that we can control ourselves.  So, why is it so hard to believe that teenagers can do the same thing?  Why is it even harder to believe that as much as their hormones are racing, their emotions are also governing their actions, further blurring the lines between sex and love? 

I'll be the first to admit that I have an evolving view of sex that wasn't always as healthy as it is now - if it even is healthy now.  I managed to escape high school as a virgin (it CAN be done!) primarily because I was too afraid of hell to be anything but.  Since then sex has been forcefully taken from me, freely given for fear of again having it used as a weapon against me, and the act that resulted in the creation of my chidlren which forever changed for the better my views of my body, sex, and love.  Years of experience and reflection have led me to these conclusions - things I simply didn't have when I was 17. 

The local propensity towards teen and early pregnancy continues to influence me in an indirect way.  I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't want to be a mother; I also can't really remember a time when I didn't feel pressure to become a mother.  Everyone around me was doing it.  College, law school, a professional career sometimes feel like a waste of my "prime" child bearing years - in my community and in my family, about age 16 to age 30.  Common sense tells me this is absurd.  But the intense shame I feel at having miscarried my first child evokes an emotional response that tells me otherwise, as does the shame I feel that my parents each had to be the last of their siblings to become grandparents.  Add to that the shame I feel for not being able to provide them with living grandchildren by this point in my life and I realize that I've put an irrational and tremendous burden on myself, when I know that in reality I've given them reasons to be proud too.

Maybe it's because in my family teenage pregnancy hasn't really been treated like a phenomenon.  We celebrated teenage pregnancies with baby showers and rippled phone calls announcing births, treating each new life like a miracle.

Because each new life IS a miracle. 

The Bakersfield Pregnancy Center is a local crisis pregnancy center that provides support for women facing unexpected pregnancies by giving them assistance in carrying that pregnancy to term.  They do not provide references for abortions.  They do provide assistance in applying for MediCal; information on adoption; counseling and support throughout the pregnancy; and when the center has the resources, necesseties for raising a child such as clothing, carseats, cribs, diapers, and more. Currently the Bakersfield Pregnancy Center has more clients than donation.  Hint, hint.

Crisis pregnancy centers are at the heart of the pro-life movement, for those who think all we do is sit around and condemn women.  The goal is to give love, encouragement and support to the girls and women who aren't so very fortunate to find it in their homes.  The goal is to not just speak, but to demonstrate that every human life is precious, and valuable, and wanted in this world.  Our hope is that as we change hearts and minds, we save lives and change lives. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

City Lights Laid Out Before Me

"It just doesn't look like a lawyer's car," Willie said of my ten year old Mitsubishi. 

"That's a silly reason to get a new car.  It still works," I would always answer. 

"You're a lawyer, sometimes you can do silly things even though they're silly."  I was determined, though, that I wouldn't change my way of life just because I could. 

That car and I drove the grapevine probably a hundred times over our three years of law school.  We drove to Shooters in Huntington Beach at 6 AM twice a week to open the bar and left were one of the last pairs to leave the library after closing it at night over those three years.  We took the bar exam together.

On a bright, beautiful Sunday afternoon, an orderly at Memorial Hospital wheeled me to the curb where the car, fitted with a loaner carseat, waited to take Gabriel and me home.  The orderly kindly turned his eyes and pretended that he didn't notice that Gabriel was never secured in his seat but instead stayed in my arms - I sometimes wonder still if he was instructed to do that. 

Days before Ben was scheduled to move out of our house I got a call from our car insurance agent. "I'm calling for Charles, he asked for a quote on the new truck."

"What new truck?"

"Um. . . I might have the wrong number."

"You're looking for Charles Cude?  Charles Benjamin Cude?"

"I think I have the wrong number."

Ben never spent another night in the house. 

I resented his new truck the moment he pulled up in it.  We'd planned to buy a family car.  We'd planned to stay married.  He'd alleged that the separation was only supposed to be temporary, a cooling off period so we could realize how in love we were and I'd looked forward to his pitiful return on his knees, when I would finally hold the strings and I would finally be in control.  Looking at that truck it couldn't be more obvious that it was over.  It couldn't have been more obvious that he never looked back.

So with my faithful, loyal car I struggled through the summer, doing my best to not let on how tight things had become.  I felt like the protagonist in that Tracy Chapman song "Fast Car." I've always thought the car probably wasn't actually very fast, that the speaker just wanted it to be fast, she wanted to escape. The car didn't have to be fast.  The car was what she made of it.

When I secured the job at Mullen and Filippi I could breathe again, but I was insistent that I wouldn't make any big changes right away.  I crafted a plan to get a new car next April.  I set about stopping strangers in parking lots, asking them what they thought of their vehicle.  I rebuffed my friends' comments that began when I started at the firm. 

"I think I need a tetanus shot," said Blake as he dragged his hand across the rusty spot on the top of my car. "Your car's a bucket."


"It IS a bucket."

"I don't care."  I was committed to stand by my convictions.  My car reminded me of me, a little weathered, but running just fine.  Besides, things, like cars, don't matter so very much to me.  And they mattered to Ben, and maybe that was part of the problem.  The thing I really wanted, I couldn't buy. 

Two weeks ago while riding with Noelle in a backseat that is now fit only for dogs, the window rolled down so she could flap her ears and tongue in the wind, the motor on the back window stopped working.  After fruitless attempts to get the window back up on my own, I enlisted one of the regulars from the bar to help, but we couldn't seem to find the right time to meet up.  Meanwhile, a stream of bird droppings dripped along the side of the car, which couldn't be hosed down or washed without getting into the interior.  Every morning I would cross my fingers as I turned the key, hoping the engine wasn't next to fail.  But the kicker was knowing that everyone on the road to work could hear that I was listening to Belinda Carlisle in the morning.  My delicate pride was suffering. 

"Just go buy a car," said Ken, my colleague at work. 

"Maybe at the end of the month."  Ken rolled his eyes.  When I appeared in his doorway on Friday morning and told him I was thinking of car shopping over the weekend, he responded "Do it."

Car shopping, often cited as a stressful, pressured experience, was one of the most relaxing, empowering experiences of my new single life.  At 6:30 on Friday evening I walked into a quiet Ford dealership showroom practically undetected but for a receptionist, who summoned a salesman to assist me.  Frank was kind and unassuming. 

"Can I help you?"

"I don't know.  You either can, or you can't.  I want an Escape.  Preferably the older, boxy model.  I need space for my dogs.  And I'm not paying more than this much a month.  And that's the only way I'm buying today.  But if you can do that, I'll buy." 

After verifying that I was open to a pre-owned vehicle Frank showed me what was on the lot. 

"35,000 is a lot of miles to put on a car in two years," I said of the car that seemed like the best fit.

"Well, these new cars can go for miles and miles.  Does it really worry you that much?"  I nodded.  He glanced at my car.  "Yeah.  You seem like you keep your cars for a while.  Well, we have another one, it's a year older but it only has 30,000 miles.  It's on the other lot.  It's black."

"But it's on the other lot?"

"They can have it here for you in 15 minutes."

By 9:00 that night I was being handed the key to my new, certified, pre-owned car. 

Ever the planner, there's plenty of cargo space in the rear for the dogs, to preserve the backseat for a couple of carseats someday.  It feels like a family car.  I'll admit, right now it's a little lonely.  There are a few accomodations to be made before the dogs can ride.  Of course, there's no need for a carseat.  Right now it's just me, nothing in the rearview mirror behind me, but everything laid out ahead of me.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick or Truth?


We never thought it would happen that way.  Odds were, Gabriel was going to be gone by Father's Day, June 19, 2011, 9 days after he was born.  But there he was. 

By that time the Cude household was strained.  We were both tired.  We were both on edge, having had several close calls where we thought we were losing Gabriel. 

"I need to get away for just an hour," I told Ben, who had been in and out at work and running errands for the last week.  I'd managed to get out of the house a couple of times but had otherwise hardly put Gabriel down.  It was the longest ten days of our lives.

"Maybe I should just leave," Ben retorted. 

"No, I mean it.  I need a break.  I'm losing my mind."  But he stormed off that Father's Day, leaving me alone with Gabriel.  Like mothers do, I just did.  I just took care of him, like I had been.  My mom came over and we gave Gabriel his first and only bath that night.  I'd been too afraid of shocking his body, already super sensitive because of the defect to temperature changes, to do more than wipe him with a warm cloth once in a while, but that evening we spread out a towel on the kitchen counter and soaped Gabriel up with Johnson & Johnson baby soap that Kat had given us.  He fussed and squawked in protest, and generally acted like a baby that night.  Smelling of baby lotion, his skin glowing healthily, Gabriel ate better than he had the last couple of days. 

When Ben returned several hours later I set Gabriel on the couch to talk to Ben.  There, in front of our terminally ill child we had one of the worst arguments of our marriage before Ben disappeared to the bedroom for what had become our nightly routine, where he would sleep for a few hours at night before he would relieve me to sleep for a few hours in the morning.

That night as I held Gabriel tightly, I silently prayed to God that if He were going to take my son from me anyway, that He take him soon, before my marriage had been damaged beyond repair.  I didn't think I could stand to lose both Gabriel and Ben. 

The next morning Gabriel started to seize and for nearly five hours I watched him struggle to breathe.  He cried out loud, making the most noise I'd ever heard from him.  I pled with God to take my baby boy from his suffering. 

The feeling, even the memory, of asking God to take your child's life is indescribable. Some people might say its an act of selfless love, loving someone enough to know that their time here is over.  But it doesn't feel like love.  It doesn't feel selfless.  It feels like desperatation.  It feels like helplessness.  It feels like shame that the thing my son needed, a skull cap, sat securely on my own head but it was useless to him and useless to me while I watched his face turn blue as he gasped for breath. It feels like someone is holding your pumping heart in front of your face and squeezing it, stilling its life-giving beat as you stare on with your hands tied.  It feels like you're watching your son die.  And you're not sure how you're going to keep living. 

I'm not ashamed to say that I would trade Ben for Gabriel in a heartbeat today.  Trying to reason with the unreasonable, associating my prayer on Father's Day with Gabriel's death the next day,  only leads to something more unreasonable.  If I was bargaining with God, why did I offer my son instead of Ben?  I guess because I thought someday Gabriel would leave me - to go to kindegarten, to go to college, to get married himsef - anyway, and I needed to preserve my relationship with my chosen life partner. 

I remember leaving Victoria on her first day of day care, aching, knowing after we'd spent the last three months together that I was trusting her to the care of a stranger.  Knowing I wouldn't see her until that evening.  The ache is dull in the wake of the cutting pain of releasing my son, giving him the freedom to go, knowing I wouldn't see him for the rest of my life.  

I burn with fury now when I think of Ben and that night.  I could explode when I think of him driving away in that U-Haul one year later, bound for divorce and South Carolina. How dare he?  How dare he walk away?  How dare he leave when we had both already lost more than any person should ever have to lose?  Did we not owe each other our lives after we watched our son lose his? How dare he allow our marriage to become what I prayed it wouldn't, damaged beyond repair?  And how can I ever forgive him? 

Tonight I'm hiding in a bar, dodging the children who are undoubtedly knocking on my door for a trick or a treat.  I can't face them.  I wish they would't look at me.  I wish that little boy last week, who smiled and giggled and forced me to meet his gaze and smile back to his mother's amusement, had just walked on by.  I wish I had never seen the little boy in the elevator today, who grinned at me as he reached for his mother's hand.  I used to wish to be that person that children were just drawn to, and now I wish I could escape them.  What's left of my heart can barely take it.

Tomorrow I will go to Mass for the Feast of All Saints Day, the annual and universal celebration of my son's soul.  But today as people walk aroundin costumes and masks I think I've got the best disguise of all as I parade around as a woman who isn't missing a piece of herself.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Releasing the Wheel

Today's fortune cookie read "Your place in life is in the driver's seat." God knows that's where I prefer to be, in control of what happens next.

 So while it stings when Ben asks "Do you think if I came back, we could make things work?" it gives me a great sense of control, and accordingly a sense of strength, to say resolutely, "No." As our marriage dissolved I felt a deep sense of helplessness and loss of control. Nothing I did made a difference. Apologies, tears, missed marital counseling appointments, self-help books and prayers all went unresponded to. So now hurt and pride and wounded trust and a commanding need to control the circumstances in my life combine to deny Ben what he denied me: A chance to make our marriage work. I simply won't look back now.

 As we were struggling to save our marriage I was often advised to pray to my angels in Heaven, Baby Cude and Gabriel. That's supposed to be one of the perks of having deceased children, right? I tried a couple of times but it didn't feel right. I am their mother and no matter how unconventional the relationship is I can't bring myself to burden them with my worries. What was I supposed to say? "Hey kids, why don't you patch up Mom and Dad's marriage?" That wouldn't be appropriate if they were here, why should things be any different because they're not? My burdens are not their burdens; they shouldn't have to be their burdens. I know that someday I'll have to face them and I dread explaining to them that their daddy and I didn't make it, but until then I hope they never see me cry, I hope they never see their daddy cry, I hope they never saw us fighting and that they never heard the awful things we said to eachother. I hope they can't see me now, trying to figure out how to open the front porch light fixture to change the bulb, cursing their father under my breath for leaving me to do thse things on my own.

 Sometimes I think I feel them with me. Once in a while I get overwhelmed but I climb into the driver's seat, determined to keep driving, and I hear Kenny Loggins telling me I hold the world in a paper cup and life's just begun and I'm the lucky one and most importantly, everything's gonna be alright. Everytime "Danny's Song" comes on the radio I think Gabriel must be trying to talk to me and I am soothed. But it's not my child's job to soothe me. I couldn't fix him; how can I ask him to fix me now?

Carrying Gabriel to term would have been much more difficult if not for the online anencephaly support groups. Losing him would have been even harder if I didn't have the opportunity to counsel women who were also experiencing the same thing. But now as I read their pregnancy and birth announcements sharing the news of their rainbow babies the pain is almost unbearable. I read the words "My angel is looking out for his mommy and sending us a rainbow." Where, then, is my Gabriel and where is my rainbow? I wonder if he's mad at me for not trying to work things out with Ben. I know it's not fair of me to ask him. I won't ask him.

"Don't miss this opportunity to learn about yourself from this process," said a friend of my divorce. Most of what I'm probably supposed to learn, I don't want to. I know I pushed, and pushed, and pushed for a family. I pushed until I found myself alone. And I can't build one on my own, I can't pluck a family off of a shelf in a store; family is not a commodity to be possessed. Among the many lessons I am trying to take away from this experience is to once in a while throw my hands in the air and let someone else drive.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Yellow House

The first time I walked through the yellow house I knew it was home.  We already lived a block and a half away from my parents, on the corner of the same street, and I didn't know how Ben would feel about living in a house even closer.  The yellow house was just three doors down.  But with my hands protectively over my belly I imagined bringing what was then just a three or four week old fetus home to the yellow house someday.There was so much to look forward to then, like the big mulberry tree from which Gabriel's tire swing would hang. The convenience of having my parents three doors down when Ben was working such long hours was also part of the appeal. We would be the first renters that the cheerful yellow house had ever known but we moved in knowing the owner would be willing to sell and we would be willing to buy if everything worked out as well as we expected it would.  

When I was discharged from the hospital to bring Gabriel home under hospice care I thought what all the doctors and nurses thought:  That I was bringing my baby boy home to die.  But he didn't.  He lived for more than one week after our discharge.  After Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly I braced myself for the very real probability that I would never get to bring him home.  By God's grace, though, many of my prayers were answered, including my wish to bring Gabriel home.  For several days the yellow house was full of the family that I had always wanted. 

I wonder if the house would feel so empty today if I had never known what it was like to live there with my family.  It's not the home I thought it would be.  Gabriel died in our living room.  I haven't had a large group of people over since Gabe's funeral.  Ben moved out.  Getting a second large dog has necessitated both of them spending most of the day outide.  I share the yellow house with a roommate who is polite and clean and pays his share of the rent on time every month, but who I hardly know.

Recently I woke up during the night to hear my roommate's son, Jordan, crying.  I haven't completely lost my mind, it's not like I imagined that it was Gabriel or my own child that I heard.  Instead, in my middle-of-the-night stupor the knowledge was still at the forefront of my mind that someone else's child's cries, not Gabriel's, were echoing in my halls. 

Lately I've noticed that my response to things just isn't normal.  I'm angrier, or more sad, or more elated by ordinary things than I should be.  And hungrier.  When I'm not being governed by those emotions, my craving for physical affection is dominating my thoughts.  I feel like I'm just a walking body of impulses holed up in a lonely yellow house. 

"What are you doing?" the woman washing her hands at the sink next to me asked this afternoon as I stood nose-to-nose with my reflection under the flourescent lights of the second floor bathroom.

"I just discovered I've got wrinkle lines under my eyes."

"You look too young to have wrinkles."  I resisted my impulse and willed my eyes not to roll. "Well, get a good wrinkle cream.  And some sunglasses, so you'll stop squinting at the sun."  

I was grateful for her response.  People like to say things like "All those lines just tell your story.  They make you who you are, you earned them."  That's a load of crap.  I'll take smooth skin and a living child any day, no matter how much I publicly try to shrug off how affected I am.  So while big part of me wanted to detour past my office, down the stairwell for a cheeseburger and beer and some sloppy making out with a stranger, her complacency in response to my great revelation calmed me.

I hope she's there when I find my first gray hair.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Feeling Through the Unknown

I indulged in one of my guilty pleasures tonight:  I walked the aisles of the baby section at Target.  I felt like a voyuer, watching as people shopped and feeling as though I was peeking into their private, joyous family lives. 

When I walk the baby aisle, I don't always stop and touch things.  That's crazy.  I certainly don't always buy something, but every once in a while something calls to me and I find myself sneaking it into my basket, then looking around to see if anyone else noticed.  Today, that thing was a bib with a little turtle on it that said "Worth the wait."  Because the promise is that when that day comes for me when I have use for such a thing again, she will have been worth the wait. 

At the checkout stand the clerk scanned the bib and asked, "Do you need a gift receipt?" 

I paused to stare at her.  "No." I answered curtly.  I felt as though she'd analyzed the rest of my purchase and determined that dog treats, tampons, a bottle of wine and a baby bib comprise the shopping list of a lonely, single woman with a baby shower to go to this weekend.  I snatched my bags and huffed to my car, frustrated that she'd recognized something was amiss. 

Once upon a time, I thought I was quite fearless.  At the first faint lines of the first positive pregnancy test back in April of my first year of marriage, I wanted to tell everyone.  Ben insisted we wait a couple of days but I couldn't understand why.  I wasn't afraid.  Even after we miscarried that baby and the doctor advised us to wait three months before trying again, I scoffed at her concerns even while obeying her orders. 

The second time around I was anxious to share our news again, but we held off until we were in the clear, past the point when I'd miscarried the first baby.  Then the doctor gave us Gabriel's diagnosis, a condition I had never heard of described by the frightful words "incompatible with life." While I was afraid of what was going to happen and even afraid how I would feel seeing my child with this strange defect,  I wouldn't let my fear guide my decisions. I had this chance to do something big; I had this chance to give him everything, to give him life when most women would not.  I carried Gabriel up until his due date, struggled through labor as long as I could without an epidural, prepared to meet my son and take his pictures and baptize him because my biggest fear was squandering this opportunity to carry and give birth to my son. 

"Are you going to try again?" people would ask, and I would say "Of course.  I'll never stop trying."  Even as my heart heals from the loss of my son and mends after the death of my marriage, I know that I don't regret opening myself up to the chance to be in love with both Gabriel and Ben.  I look forward to feeling that way again.  The risk scares me, but not enough to keep me from trying again.

Why, then, am I so gripped with fear by the current circumstances in my life?  Why am I so afraid of being alone?  Why does the clock in my head tick so loudly?  Sitting among a group of men at the bar yesterday I took a self-deprecating jab at my family status and three men promptly responded "You're young" and continued to assure me that I would be fine.  And I assured them that I knew I would be, even though I don't really know any such thing.

I tell myself that I am just a product of my circumstances, someone who knows that life is short and  that we're not guaranteed another moment.  But that's not really what concerns me or what frightens me.  What scares me is how little control I have over that part of my life.  It's not something that can be "fixed," not a problem I can solve, not a situation I can make happen.  It's entirely possible that I'll be a single, childless mother for the rest of my life.  I just don't know.  More importantly, I just can't fix it.  I'm just sort of feeling blindly through all of this, anxious and almost desparate to get out of this, and I guess that's what really scares me.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

As Seasons Change

The first yellow leaves have fallen from the mulberry tree and unripe green fruit has started to fill in the orange tree.  Stems from the winterblooming flowers have pushed their way through the summer-baked ground.  In the morning when my mind comes to consciousness I recall having woken up at some point in the night to pull the covers over me, and realizing that I'm alone in my bed.  The sun rises a little later, the dogs sleep a little longer, and the evidence is clear in Bakersfield, the land of just two seasons:  Winter is on its way. 

I chose winter for our wedding because I think it's such a romantic time of year.  I wanted to celebrate every anniversary by a fire next to my husband more and more in love with each passing year.  I'm not the least bit surprised that the loneliness is more intense as the season changes, but there's something almost romantic about the loneliness too.  There is nothing like a break-up to remind you you're alive, with a heart that beats and can be hurt.  And there's nothing like a cold night to bring out the ache. 

With winter, though, comes life's comforts.  A warm blanket, a bright fire in the fireplace, Coffeemate's seasonal Pumpkin Spice creamer, thick socks and beef stew.  I'll spend most of the winter bulked up in sweatshirts and clothes that don't fit or flatter but at least once during the season I'll get to break out my cherished over-the-knee faux suede boots and bask in the attention that they command.  We'll hang our stockings in the bar and Donny will bring in a box of peanut butter Dewar's chews and coffee will brew every day and I'll reminisce over the many holiday seasons I've spent there and how there's nothing quite like Christmas time in a neighborhood bar. 

Winter's romance isn't limited to having someone there to share it with.  I've spent plenty of winter's alone.  Last winter Ben and I were essentially alone in our marriage, having drifted so far apart I think part of us both knew it was beyond salvaging.  The winter ideal, I think, is also built in its promise.  The cold won't last forever.  Our hearts will eventually stop hurting.  Somehow, when the nights are the longest and the coldest it's okay to have dreams and desires and it's safe to believe that the sun will shine again

Friday, October 5, 2012

Diary of an Ex-Wife

Every time I see him, Chuck asks me the same thing while I make his drink:  "Have you become a raging, firebreathing bitch yet?"

"Not quite yet, Chuckles," I answer.

"Well let me know when you do.  When you do, you can represent me against that raging bitch ex-wife of mine."

For years I've listened with sympathy to men experiencing divorce, commiserating with them and marveling about how their ex-wives could go from being the woman they once loved to such bitter, wrathful creatures.  Now here I am, an ex-wife.  And now, I get it.

Break-ups make us do crazy things.  Think, Alanis Morrissette and the "You Oughta Know" Guy; Carrie and Berger and the Post-It note; Left-Eye and the burning house.  Men, especially ex-husbands, make us do crazy things.  A bad marriage can push a person to the edge, but a divorce can send them over.

A friend - an intelligent, beautiful, spirited friend - talked with me today about her divorce.  As we talked, this bright, confident woman started to crumble right in front of me.  Her posture became hunched and her face red and her eyes fought back tears as she talked to me about what an manipulative man her ex-husband is, and how intimidating it is to battle him in court.  I admonished her to take charge of her life, and to stop allowing herself to be his victim, and reminded her that he only gets under her skin because she allows him to.  She was allowing herself to become irrational over this man.

Even as my mouth spoke the words I was struck by my own hypocrisy as my mind drew back to the text message exchange I had with Ben over our cell phone bill.  We've stayed on the same calling plan but talked recently about separating that too.  Although it's clear our marriage is over and he lives on the other side of the country, something about splitting off from our shared calling plan feels like a final nail in the proverbial coffin. And so the following exchange took place:

Me:  I know this is a pain, but I'd like to stay on the calling plan until my name changes.

Ben:  You mean in December?

Me:  Yes.  When our divorce is final.

Ben:  Can't you just get your own calling plan and change your name with the phone service later?

Me:  You have no idea what a hassle it is to change your name!  I only did it because I thought I'd be married forever, not two and a half fucking years!

That was that.  Two days have gone by, and neither of us has mentioned the phone plan again.  Probably because we haven't spoken to each other in two days.  Probably because I still see red when I think about it.

Why should it be that something so petty should get me so wired?  I don't want to stay married to him.  I still wish him happiness.  But sometimes the anger just takes over.  Yes, it makes me irrational.

For every man  who has wondered out loud to me how the woman he once loved became so bitter and angry, there was an ex-wife.  And she was somewhere wondering what happened to their love, what happened to his commitment.  Maybe, like me, she thought about the hours of labor she went through to deliver his son.  Maybe the occasional piece of mail still gets delivered to her mailbox and her anger ignites and burns her again.  Maybe she thinks about all of his socks that she turned right-side-out or the pants pockets she emptied for him before she washed them because he never did.  Maybe she was complaining about how he never paid his child support on time, even while he was tipping me every round and always had money for one more.  Maybe once in a while she finds a t-shirt that he's left behind and she shreds it and it makes her feel a little bit better, and crazy all at once.  Maybe, like Chuck's wife, we can all breathe fire.

In an episode of the Golden Girls, Dorothy is unwittingly conversing with her ex-husband's soon-to-be-bride.  When the woman says, "He's got this ex-wife," Dorothy interrupts and says "Hold it!  I happen to be an ex-wife."  It's like a club.  A club that, like the "Mommies of Departed Children" club, I never wanted to belong to.  And still, when I meet a fellow ex-wife now, I find myself relating to her and understanding every crazy thing she says.  Because we're not really crazy.  We're just getting divorced.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Fairytale, Revised

I've heard every girl dreams of her proposal and her wedding day, but I didn't.  I dreamed of being married and I dreamed of having kids but how I got there wasn't much of a concern.  So, when over dinner one December evening Ben started talking and reaching into his pocket for what turned out to be an engagement ring I was flooded with mixed emotions.

Looking back, I guess I knew it was too soon for us.  But what can I say?  There he was, clearly in love with me, asking me to marry him.  I knew I loved him too.  While it all seemed to happen so quickly, in the grand scheme of things I had wanted to be married for so long that I didn't really have to think about my answer.  Instantly I was looking ahead to what it would mean to finally be someone's wife, and to soon be a mother.

I feel like something has been stolen from me.  Not just my dreams for marriage and motherhood.  I'll always be someone's ex-wife now.  Like a used car, previously "owned."

My trust has been taken too.  I trusted Ben completely, with my heart, with my future.  I trusted him to be there.  After a string of painful experiences I trusted him to never hurt me.  I trusted him to never leave.

But he did.

I struggle to imagine a day when I can ever trust like that again.

"If I ever get married again, it will be on a Tuesday," I told Shane.

"That's selfish.  What if the guy you marry wants a wedding?  What if he doesn't want to get married on a Tuesday?"

"If he doesn't want to get married on a Tuesday, he's not the man for me to marry."

I had a beautiful wedding, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, in a church full of people.  We danced through tears of joy, our own tears and our guests'. We seemed like such an odd pairing but I don't think anyone thought we wouldn't make it.

Now here we are, two and half years later, and halfway through our six month "waiting period" before we get divorced.  Then, I can petition the Church for an annulment.  I'll ask them to declare that my marriage was invalid, that a real marriage never existed.  It's what lawyers call a "legal fiction;" an assumption that something occurred or did not occur, when in fact, it didn't or did.  When it's all over we'll just pretend like the last three years didn't happen. Without my little bit of human evidence here, Gabriel, I suppose it will be that much easier to do.

It's hard to ignore the shame and the guilt I carry with me.  I feel like the last three years are a stain on me.  Like people must look at me and think, "There's that girl, the one who can't have "normal" babies and can't keep her husband."  And I know it's all in my head.  That's just it.  That's what's in my head. 

I know that I don't have to be alone right now.  A girl never really has to be alone. It's crossed my mind that a warm body just to fill the space might not be so bad.  But then one day he'll just be one more stain too.  I don't need a white knight and I don't need a quick fix. I've experienced both, and neither of them lasted. Neither was what they promised to be. 

Being guarded is a switch for me.  My inclination is to allow myself to trust and to care freely and swiftly, no matter how many times I've been wounded.  I guess the trick now is to understand that trust is something that has to be built and affection something that has to be earned.  Though I can't imagine ever trusting in a man again, I have to at least trust that someday I will. I have to believe that someday a man will come around and he'll appreciate me not in spite of my experiences, but because of them. Where right now I see myself as scarred, he'll see me as strong.  For all the times I felt I was expendable and my devotion pathetic, he'll see me as valuable and worthy of his trust and maybe then I can start to trust too.