Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sometimes, You Win

When I was 14, two of my teeth were ripped out of my mouth when I was fielding a softball in right field, which I missed and instead struck me in the face. I had 14 hours of oral surgery; first, eight hours of emergency surgery the day after, then a few months later another six hours. Several lesser procedures were also performed, for which a local anesthetic was administered, but the most painful moment that I can recall is getting several stitches in my gums without anesthetic.

Every year after that when I visited the dentist, he would without fail say the same two things: "What a shame, you had perfect teeth before the accident. So do you still play softball?" In fact, that was the last year that I played on a real competitive team. I was a freshman in high school and my vanity was shattered by the mess the accident had made out of my mouth. Besides, I had found other things to do and I was never very good at softball. I was actually afraid of the ball -- a fear that proved justified but only because I didn't listen to the years of instruction warning me to cover my face with my glove when fielding. But I wasn't afraid to play the game. I still played now and then for fun, even joining a team with a few co-workers. The accident was devastating at the time, and even life-changing as when I stopped playing softball a world of other opportunities opened up to me. But I don't regret playing the game.

Sometimes you lose. Before I met Ben, I loved others, and had my heart broken. I took my relationships seriously and as a result sometimes suffered serious heartache. I am a person who loves deeply and without abandon and that can be a risky endeavor.

But sometimes you win. When I met Ben there was an immediate connection but I think he felt it faster than I did. We met in the bar that I worked in during law school, and it wasn't long before my co-workers started telling me about Ben's interest. I had sworn off dating men from the bar but my mom convinced me to go on a date with Ben when he asked, and now here we are. I was apprehensive and even a little afraid but once I resolved to go on that first date I opened my heart to the possibility that I could find love with that man, and I did. Ben was worth the risk.

I am afraid now, as we struggle. I am afraid because our relationship is rocky and difficult and sometimes it hurts to love Ben. But I don't believe I should quit something because it gets difficult or is sometimes painful or uncomfortable. I am more afraid of the heartache of living without the man I love, even though I know that if he breaks my heart too and walks away from me I will not give up on romantic love, than I am afraid of the difficulty of loving him. I'm not easy to love either; but I think I'm worth the risk too.

Life is never going to stop giving us lessons in heartache and pain. Just as I began to feel secure in my future, at 21 weeks pregnant with what I thought would be our rainbow baby after miscarriage, I received the most devastating blow that my heart had ever experienced, when I was told my little rainbow would die shortly after he was born. Though my faith guided me in making the decision to carry Gabriel to term, my heart always told me that loving this baby was worth the risk. I had waited so long for him, and I never regretted loving his brother or sister before him that I had never met. That miscarried mystery baby only made me more passionate in my love for Gabriel, and so Gabriel will only make me more passionate in my love for future children. Gabriel was worth the risk.

I was that mommy who, immediately after Gabriel was born, was ready to do it all -- pregnancy, labor, delivery -- over again just to get to that moment when I could first hold my child in my arms. I have said often that I would love to be pregnant ten more times, because I loved being pregnant with Gabriel so very much. If, God forbid, the Lord sent me ten more anencephalic babies, I would make the same decision in every instance that I made with Gabriel. Love is worth the risk.

But I don't believe that is God's plan for me anyway. I have an abiding faith that the Lord has healthy, perfect children waiting for me and waiting for Ben too. And even those children will come with their share of heartache. My sister Victoria has grown up before my eyes and it always makes me a little sad to see her pass so quickly through life's stages. Now, as she gives away her dolls for good and prepares to begin high school next fall, I can hardly believe she is a teenager when it doesn't seem like that long ago she was my snuggly baby sister. It's hard to start to let her go, but it's been worth the sadness to watch her become such a beautiful young woman, inside and out, and for the moments when she'll still rest her head on my shoulder.

Life is painful and risky and sad and sometimes you lose. But it's also beautiful and satisfying and worth taking chances on. Because sometimes, you win.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Letter to a Ghost

Dear Sean,

So here we are again. Another year, another Valentine's Day Eve. It's hard to remember what this day felt like seven years ago, before my last fateful encounter with you. I remember knowing I would see you the next day, and feeling nervous and excited about what it would be like to see you again after four days. I never imagined I would see what I saw.

I wonder if you knew I would be the one to find you, and how you imagined that would be for me, if you thought about it at all. Did you know I would pound and pound on your window, begging you to rise from the dead? Even I couldn't imagine how long after that Valentine's Day, seven years ago, I would still be ripped from my sleep when the image of your dead body, lying next to that gun, your legs stiff with death, would pop into my head.

Maybe I seem a little angrier than I have been with you before, but I'm not. I've never really been angry at you. Some people would say that what you did was selfish, but they don't really know how much you felt like a burden, like a sinking ship pulling everyone else down with you. I've never doubted that you thought you were doing me and your parents a favor. I wish I could have told you that you were absolutely a handful, hard to get along with sometimes, and clearly spiraling out of control. But I still didn't want you to go. I sure didn't want you to go like you did.

There's still so much that has been left unsaid between us. There are so many unanswered questions. I guess I know now that we weren't meant to be together. I was meant to be with Ben today, and we were meant to have our son -- have you had a chance to meet Gabriel? I have often wondered about your soul, where it landed, and how much Purgatory time you got. I feel sometimes that I am serving my Purgatory time right now, between you and Gabriel and everything else going on. But I like to imagine that after all these years of praying, your soul has been set free. I won't stop praying, though.

I wonder how things would have been different for you if you could have met Gabriel before that day. How would it have changed you, to watch that little boy cling to this life until his very last breath? Would it have made you fight for your life, the way he fought for his? In a way, you both have inspired me so much to live. Though he fought for his life and you ended yours by choice, I have found in both of you an opportunity to grow. When I lost each of you, it could have broken me. Instead, I made a choice of my own to keep going. Losing you when I did, the way I did, prepared me for the greatest challeng of my life: Carrying and caring for my terminally ill son. You helped make me a person who can brave what seems nearly impossible.

But I wonder if when it comes to Ben, you broke me. Because to this day regret for all the things I didn't do to save you haunts me. And when I see Ben, and the things you two have in common -- from the John Wayne movies to the drinking -- I get scared. I can't lose him too. Nothing else that's been thrown my way has broken me beyond repair, but I have a paralyzing fear that losing my husband would. That fear, that desparate love, drives me to the point of irrationality sometimes -- I couldn't keep you. I couldn't keep my son, my beautiful boy who brought out the very best in me. I HAVE to keep Ben. I have to. I will not lose him too, and I beg you, if you have any clout up there, please find some way to help us.

Even if I have never forgiven myself, I forgave you instantly for leaving me like you did. I still smile when I hear your favorite songs. I still laugh at memories of you. Sometimes I can still see you, sitting in the bar in your same old seat. But it's such a different place now -- it's strange to think of how few people remember you. There are times when I still struggle to believe seven years have gone by, but when I think about all that has happened in those seven years and what a different person I am it feels like it must have been even longer. I'm a lawyer. I'm a wife. I'm a mom. And I might not ever know what went through your mind in those last days, hours, minutes. I might never know on this earth if you thought of me as you took your last breath and pulled that trigger. But I thank you, because in my heart I know that you were just trying not to pull me down too -- I wish you knew that it didn't have to be that way. Sean, it didn't have to be that way. Thank you for letting me go. I have Ben to hold, and he is hard to handle sometimes too. But I love him, and I'll hold him as best I know how. I don't want to let him go. I don't want him to go, too.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Singing A New Song

Growing up, I loved music, and to sing. But my parents, though they don't remember this and I don't believe they meant to be cruel, pointed out to me every time I sang that I wasn't very good at it. My sister Monica was an excellent and trained singer, and I should stick to debate because that was more my thing. So I did, and here I am, a lawyer -- depending on the day of the week -- and it would seem sticking to debate, mock trial, mock congressional hearings and the like worked out for me.

Except I feel like a failure, a little more every day. I'm a lawyer who can't find a job in an office. For a while, I didn't mind not having a full-time law job. The flexibility of practicing only when I want to was enjoyable; it still is, really. Besides, I wanted to be a mom more than I wanted to be a lawyer, and I wanted to stay home with my children. One failed pregnancy, one fatal defect, zero job offers, two unruly dogs, and a crumbling marriage later, the flexibility I once enjoyed sometimes seems more of a reminder of my failings than a privilege. I can't even grow a fucking herb garden. My self-esteem is on a steady decline, as my self-pity grows, and every time I've traveled this kind of emotional path in the past it has led to disaster.

So I decided to do my best to cut it off at the past. I started taking a creative writing class to get my brain geared up for the book that I have every intention of writing. I joined the team for the Res Ipsa Loquitor, the Kern County Bar Association's monthly magazine; after our first meeting I discovered that not only had I found kindred spirits (I'm still disheartened that more people don't care about the rules governing when to use a colon), but this team could help me make the connections I need to really use my license to practice for something positive, like to coach my high school's mock trial team, or be added to the list of court appointed minor's counsel, a newly developed goal of mine.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my ventures in self-improvement. Gideon and I are enrolled in a basic obedience course. Gid is by far the largest dog there, 91 pounds of stubborn, restless, and unguided doggy energy. I knew that Gideon and I were likely to be the only pair who didn't practice throughout the week -- with three dogs to wrestle with and little help in distracting the other two, finding an opportunity to practice was challenging. Though Gideon can perform basic commands when he is focused, walking on a leash has always been a struggle for us. Naturally he fought and pulled in class while we were walking in a circle today, the other dogs obediently following their owners' lead. His six foot leash wrapped around my hand tightly, squeezing off the circulation as I fought my naughty dog to keep him from embarassing us. It got to be too much for me, and I started to cry. "Don't cry. Your emotions will travel right down that lead, he'll feel it to and you won't get him to do anything. He's just a dog." For a moment, I thought, "Exactly. He's just a dog. And I can't even do this right. I can't do anything right." But none of that was really the point in the moment. The point is, Gideon and I need help, and we'd taken an affirmative step in reaching out for that help. We were there to improve our lives. Gideon deserves an owner who knows how to handle him, so we can have fun, go on walks and other outings, and I was just going to have to suck it up. Gideon still might be the worst-behaved dog in the class, but today he got a little bit better.

In another effort to improve myself, I also took a voice lesson. One night after more than a few cocktails, I admitted to my friend Lindsey that I liked to sing but had been told I wasn't good at it. I told her that I really enjoyed singing to Gabriel, and want to sing with confidence to my children in the future. We agreed that I would take a few voice lessons with her.

On Thursday we had our first session together. Lindsey, much like my sister, is a trained vocalist, and now in possession of a degree in music. Singing in front of her, and sometimes along with her, was intimidating, but exciting. And confidence-building. And at moments, even exhilirating. And the most fun I've had in a while. And the most challenged I've felt, aside from working with Gideon, in a while.

The curve balls life has thrown at me, and my on-again/off-again marriage, have me realizing that I don't really know what direction my life is headed. But life never stops throwing curves, at any of us. And we have control over very little. Just about the only thing we DO control is ourselves. I've decided to fix what I can and trust that the rest will work itself out.