Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Tantalizing Prospect

"A tantalizing new prospect will come your way," read my fortune cookie this afternoon.

I think it has already arrived.

My latest guilty pleasure is a Lifetime series called "The Conversation," a series of interviews with women celebrities, businesswomen, and political activists.  At the end of every episode, that week's interviewees are asked "What would you tell your 14 year old self?"

If I could talk to the 14 year old me, I would probably lie to her.  I would tell her that everything is going to be okay.  Because I remember when I was 14 desperately needing to know that everything would be.  My parents had just struggled through a conflict that would end most marriages, and I still wasn't completely secure that my family wasn't going to fall apart.  I was also hard at work by that point, planning my future, planning for my family.

The plan seemed to take so long to fall into place.  I had intended a direct route to law school, to graduate at 25 rather than start at 25, but through the stops and starts I was focused on that goal.  Only one thing could have stopped me:  A husband.  More than I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted a family.  If I had to choose one I would have chosen the family.  But there didn't seem to be one on the horizon and in August of 2006 I headed to Orange County to start my 1L year at Whittier Law School.

It was a difficult first year, but unlike many of my classmates I don't think I ever really questioned that I would pass.  By the second year, things quickly started to fall into place.  I moved in with a new roommate, Peter, but kept my friendship with my former roommate Diana.  The two of them were my best friends in law school.  I continued working in the law library, and picked up a couple of shifts a week at a local bar.  I was accepted onto the Trial Advocacy team and invited to participate in the upcoming competition, and as I expected trial competitions were my niche.

My list started getting checked off.

Meet husband. Check.

Get job offer from the Public Defender's Office.  Check.

Get a marriage proposal.  Check.

Graduate from Whittier.  Check.

[Get withdrawal of offer from Public Defender's Office.  Check.  A minor setback, I was sure.]

Take the bar exam.  Check.

Pass the bar exam.  Check.

Get sworn in.  Check.

Get married.  Check.

Get pregnant.  Check.

With that first positive pregnancy test I felt confident.  Ben had a good job.  I had just obtained my first client.  Then, the morning of my first hearing, another bump in the road.  I started to miscarry.

The miscarriage wasn't a part of my plan.  Losing Gabriel wasn't part of the plan either.  Watching Ben drive away, probably leaving Bakersfield for the last time, wasn't part of the plan.

The hardest part was watching Ben load the rest of his things.  This was it.  He was really leaving.  He hadn't lived there for three months, but there was a finality to his taking his toolboxes that struck me, like he was reaching into my body and squeezing my heart.

But this morning we had coffee together.  June has been such a long month for us.  The last two years have been such long years.  I marvel when I say "Just two years" in response to the question of how long I have been married, because they have been two years wrought with tension, grief, and pain that I suspect will take quite a while to put behind me.  This morning, though, in the backyard over a couple of cups of coffee, the mood was relaxed and the pain bearable.  For the last few days we have been saying the things maybe we should have been saying all along.

"You should cook more.  I taught you a lot, and you like to cook.  You should do it more often."

"I always use too much oil."


"I don't like to practice."  And I don't.  I want to speak fluent Spanish, now, I don't want to practice.  I want to play "Stairway," now, I don't want to practice.  I want a baby, now, I don't want to practice.  The irony of choosing a profession in which I am always just "practicing" is not lost on me.

"Practice making macaroni and cheese."

"You'll never think of macaroni and cheese and not think of me."

"I know."

"Or hear George Straight."

"I know."

"Or. . ."

"I know.  I'll never be the same."

"Going to dinner, that will never be the same.  You changed the way I think."  I remember one of our favorite pastimes, going to a new restaurant.  After our combined years in the service industry, the best way to enjoy a new restaurant is to pick apart the experience.  What did they do well?  What could have been better?  Would we come back?  How long will I analyze a dining experience now that Ben is gone?

Over two cups of coffee we watched Gideon and Noelle, our only surviving "children," play.

"How long will it take?"

"I don't know.  I'll try to drive ten hours a day until I get there."

"What will you do when you get there?"

"Take some time.  Look for a job."

We ventured to the front door when it was time for Ben to leave.  "I hope you have your baby.  You deserve it."  I thought of all of the times the baby had been used as a weapon in our marriage.  We're going to try.  We're not going to try.  You're too focused on a baby.  You're punishing me for Gabriel by not letting me have another baby.  You want another baby more than you want me. . . To hear those words used as a wish for my happiness instead of a tool for causing each other more pain. . . Well, I couldn't ask for more.

I'd like to write more.  I'd like to write in detail about our good-bye, but I recall the number of times Ben said "I wish you wouldn't share so much," and I feel that one of my last duties as his wife should be to keep that moment private, at least for now.  People tell me sometimes that reading my blog is like peering into my life, but I never think of it as sharing too much.  It's a release.  It's like someone is listening to me.  But sometimes, I suppose we should also take the time to listen to each other.

I was struck by the peace I felt as Ben drove away.  When Gabriel died, I was flooded at once with relief and a deep sense of pain.  Gabriel struggled so much in his final hours that I begged God to take him from his suffering.  But the pain was still deep.  It is still deep.  It was the deepest pain I will ever know, and that is empowering.  Nothing can ever hurt as badly as it hurts to lose my son.  So watching Ben fade from the street was painful, but bearable.  We could both really start to move on.  We wouldn't run into each other, or hear about each other, or tell ourselves that we could just move back in together and everything would be like it was two years ago.  There is no going back, but there hasn't been any going back for a long time.

Although the anger is fading, it's still there, and when I walked back into the house I felt angry again, at the furniture he left behind in his haste, at the pieces of him that still remain.  Pieces that will get packed up and donated to the homeless shelter, pictures that will be replaced, pieces that hadn't necessarily reminded me of him until today. What was I going to do with all of that crap?

But a tantalizing prospect approaches.  The thought of getting rid of the clutter, doing things my way, refinishing furniture, finding new throw pillows, painting the end tables, replacing the lamps all seem appealing ways to start over again.

Sometimes I want to do something dramatic.  Maybe I'll switch from Jameson to gin.  Don't sophisticated, successful people drink gin?  But I don't like gin.  Maybe I'll start smoking cigarettes, as if that's something you just start doing as a grown woman one day.  But the price just went up on cigarettes.  Maybe I'll cut off my hair.  But I love my hair.  I keep thinking maybe I will just stop listening to God, I'll just do whatever I want to do, all rules aside, all care aside, in a fit of rebellion.  But He keeps calling me back, nudging me gently or when that doesn't work, instilling me with the fear of hell, a private hell where I never see my son again, that keeps me from jumping off the deep end.

People keep telling me that everything is going to be alright.  No one can really promise me that, and at 30 years old I would be lying if I told my 14 year old self that everything will be okay.  I'm still not sure it will be although on some plain level I suppose I know it will be.  But I know that at 14 years old, I was too busy trying to MAKE things okay that I had a hard time just being 14.   Maybe if I had just stopped trying, I wouldn't have made some of the mistakes that I did.  And I don't want to feel this way in another 14 years, feeling like I was cheated out of my plan when what I have really done is cheated myself out of enjoying what's in front of me right now.

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