Wednesday, April 23, 2014

What Might Have Been

"So, you know anyone who wants to play softball?" Karaoke Chris asked one Thursday night as I washed bar glasses.  I'd been called in to cover the shift, and was happy to see Chris, who could rarely make it down on a Tuesday when I usually work.

"Maybe Timothy, but he is already on a co-ed team, and plays pool several nights a week, so I'm not sure."

"We're losing a few players this season." He listed his roster of drop-outs, most of them unrecongizable to me, until he said, "And I guess Bar Crush is moving back East so he's out." I paused and looked at Chris.  My mind re-wound. . .

It was the summer that my divorce was being processed.  Bar Crush and I were caught in this weird sort of limbo when I asked if he would mind if I came to one of the softball games.  The team, established before Bar Crush had ever joined, was sponsored at one point by the Wright Place, and many of the members were regular patrons.  

"That would be okay."  

"Okay.  So, I'll be there this week."


"Okay.  Bye."

"Bye.  Q, say 'bye.'"

"Bye!" And we hung up, the last word from his daughter causing my heart to melt and my lovestruck soul to fall a little deeper.    

Noelle and I went to the game.  She was a hit with the kids at the park, and I hardly spoke to Bar Crush as I was busy looking after Noelle.  When the game was over we headed to the car, and I could feel him on my heels.  He stopped me as I left the lot and poked his head through the window I had opened for Noelle.  

"You going to the bar?"

"Yes, I'm meeting friends after I take her home."  I thumbed at Noelle, whose tongue was hanging out in her silly way, and he patted her affectionately on her head.  

"I'll see you there."

"Okay.  Yeah.  I'll see you there."

I arrived first and sat with y friends.  I waved at the team and spoke with the briefly, but had no interest in sitting with a group of men so returned to my seat at the bar.  When I left that evening, I could again sense Bar Crush behind me.  

"It was nice.  Having you at the game was nice.  Seeing you out there was nice."  I nodded, and we departed.  At home I dialed his number, then instantly prepared to hang up and excuse myself later by calling it a pocket dial, when he answered.  We chatted for a bit.  

"The kids really liked you.  They were all over you at the game."

"They liked Noelle.  Kids love her."  After some small talk the conversation turned.  "I'm just trying to figure out what you want."

"I'm trying to figure it out too."

"I know you're not dating.  But someday you will.  I assume you'll want to date a few people, see what's out there."

"That's not my intention, to date a bunch of women.  I'm just. . . I'm just trying to figure it out."  

"I'm just waiting.  I'm waiting for you to figure it out.  I hope you figure out that it's me that you want."

A noisy "splat" interrupted my memory.  I absentmindedly looked about for the source of the noise, located it, and bent to retrieve the piece of my heart that had fallen to the floor, attempting to stay composed as I did.

"Oh.  Yeah.  You guys had a thing," Chris recalled.

"It was just a crush."  Rocco stirred inside of me, and I felt guilty for letting my mind wander so far back in time.  But even in my guilt I couldn't help but feel wounded that Bar Crush would leave town, I would never see him again.  I would be left with the impression that while to me, he was my bridge over troubled water, gently, cautiously, carefully tread upon with the hope of bringing him with me to the other side, I was just his stepping stone, left behind when he figured out what he was looking for. The fact that I had been hurt before made me temporarily relateable, but ultimately too much to handle.  I was just a rebound, and so I was resolute that he was just Bar Crush.

After all, I am no stranger to just being walked away from.  Sean put a bullet in his brain, leaving me to wonder for the rest of my life if he thought of me in those last moments.  My own husband moved across the country while I stayed behind to finalize our divorce.  I could spend a lifetime wondering what might have been.

What if I had fought harder?  What if I had reported them to the police?  What if I had felt my feelings in those first couple of years, instead of drinking them away?

What if I had taken that last phone call?  What if I had recognized the cries for help?  What if I had gone to check on him sooner?

What if I had taken more folic acid?  What if I had done what most women do when confronted with a diagnosis of anencephaly, and terminated the pregnancy even if by early delivery?

What if I had never walked into Charly's to submit my application?  Sean never would have walked into my life, and I never would have sustained the heartbreak of his death. But he never would have touched my life, either.  If I had never been raped, I never would have related to Sean the way that I did, he wouldn't have been able to draw me from my darkness, even while he was being pulled irretrievably into his own.

If I had never taken the job at Charly's, I never would have met Cheri, Karla, Donny, Elise, Lisa, Jessica, Blake, Lindsey, Rick, Lynn. . . even Marcos. . . the string of people who have made my life better by entering it.

If I hadn't gone on that first date with Ben, I wouldn't be his ex-wife today, but we wouldn't have had our son, and I can't even think about a life that had never been blessed by Gabriel.

What if I had never joined  Or responded to that e-mail?  Or agreed to step outside of my comfort zone and go bowling with Marcos, who somehow found his way back into my lfe after our first encounter in that little bar years ago?

What if I the lesson I had taken from Bar Crush was to be more like him, emotionally unavailable, and prone to setting broken people aside when I was done with them?  What if I had learned to be more guarded?  Play hard-to-get?

When Marcos and I started dating he wanted to talk, he wanted to know about me.  And there was so much to know.  And he wasn't afraid of any of it.  If I had never met people who couldn't handle my raw emotions and collective traumatic experiences, I might not know how to value the person who loves me not in spite of them, but for the strength that they have created within me.

What if we had moved a little slower?  What if I hadn't gotten pregnant so soon?  Then we wouldn't be expecting our baby in three weeks, and that's a life I don't want to imagine either.

As I locked the doors to the bar last night for my last closing shift before maternity leave, I got the distinct feeling, as I did three years ago, that the next time I lock that door my whole world would have been changed. With a bittersweet, cautious, but abiding faith I find myself thinking about what might have been, allowing it to impress upon me how thankful I am for all that I have now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Perfect Storm

Gabriel was going to be my rainbow baby.

After I miscarried in May 2010, the positive pregnancy test indicating that Gabriel was on his way brought the color back to my world. I learned quickly that the rain hadn't necessarily disappeared when, on Baby Cude's due date and at four months pregnant with Gabriel, I woke up and immediately started crying at the memory of how that day was "supposed" to be. Gabriel had brought me hopes and dreams and a bit of sunshine again, but he hadn't "fixed" everything. It wasn't his job to fix everything. He was just a little, tiny baby, and that was his only duty. My duty as his mother was to love him and grow him, and in being able to do that for him alone, my world was brightened.

Then, like a clap of thunder, some doctor came storming into my world with her textbook explanation for the very complicated path that I was about to travel: My son, my rainbow, had a condition that was incompatible with life. A fatal condition. He would not live. He would die, shortly after his highly anticipated birth. And there wasn't a thing I did wrong to make him that way, but there also wasn't a single thing I could to to fix him, either.

What she didn't tell me was that I would somehow have to find a way to live. I would have to find a way to go on in a world where my children didn't. I would have to make my heart beat, I would have to will myself to function every day, and that every day would be matter of learning to go on without not one, but now two children.

She didn't tell me that my marriage couldn't sustain two losses in less than two years. She didn't tell me that this experience would push my husband over an insurmountable edge, and that he would never be the same and that he would never be able to be the husband and father that I needed him to be to continue in that marriage myself. She didn't tell me that what started out as a sincere, beautiful, mutual love would melt away, unable to endure this weather.

She could only predict a few things: That if my son were carried to term he stood a 25% of fetal demise before he was born; if born alive there was a 50% chance that he would die in one day or less; there was only a 25% chance that he would live longer than one day. She could only tell me in her clinical speech that I could expect a strom.

I was afraid of the cold and the ache, but I chose to stand in the rain. I braced myself for the storm and faced it knowing that although I wouldn't get to have a first day of kindergarten, or a high school graduation, or a lawyer or an MLB pitcher, or grandchildren from Gabriel, or his hand to hold on my deathbed, I would get to have experiences that I never got to have with Baby Cude. I would get to hold Gabriel. I would get to tell him, face-to-face, that I love him. I would get to hold him in his hour of need, and I would get to comfort him until his spirit left this earth.

I was promised that this storm would be lonely and sometimes unbearably painful, and still worth every moment. What a perfect storm I found myself wrapped in.

No one told me I would get to be that mother who got to keep her baby for ten days. No one told me I would get to bring him home from the hospital. No one told me he would feed, and poop, and smile. No one predicted his blond hair, his beautiful fingers, his perfect face. No one could make me believe that even after watching my son die a slow and struggle-filled death, I could feel such peace at the release of his soul. No one told me how my little boy would live 10 days and change the world.

Even as the storm raged on, even as I tried to adjust to life without my child and even as my ex-husband obliterated my hope that the marriage would ever produce another child, I was thankful for the rain. I was thankful for my perfect storm.

I took shelter among family and a group of friends that helped me want to carry on. One day an e-mail arrived in my inbox, like a ray of sunlight through the clouds. That e-mail turned into a first date, and a second, and then eventually a positive pregnancy test. My world began to fill in with color again.

As California faces a devastating drought, I cannot forget what it was like to live so long in the eye of a storm. When the physical world around me is dry and longing for water, longing for nourishment, can only be thankful for what I have weathered. Some people go their whole lives, and never get the opportunity to love like I have loved. Some people never have to get caught in the rain, but then, they never get to experience the rainbow.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Baby Glimpses

The signs for the boutique ultrasound facilities, Baby Sighting and Baby Glimpses and the like, pepper the town with the increased availability of the technology that allows parents to see their unborn child in advanced 3d and 4d ultrasounds. When a doctor will make expectant parents wait for a diagnostic exam, these facilities offer them the opportunity to find out RIGHT NOW if their child is a boy or a girl, if it has mom's nose, or dad's hands.

As my due date approaches I can see the appeal to knowing whether one is expecting a baby boy or a baby girl. The clothes and the bedding and even the strollers and the carseats are gender specific these days and while I am satisfied with our grey carseat, I suppose if Rocco is a girl having something a little more feminine might be nice. I've washed more green and yellow clothes than I've ever seen, and sometimes I would like to know if I should also wash the baby boy onsies I have collected over the years.

The glimpses I've had of my baby have been far more precious than what I would learn from one of those ultrasound boutiques. The first time I saw my baby's round, bright white skull I knew what I most needed to know - That I was not facing a recurrence of anencephaly with this pregnancy. When a specialist confirmed the absence of anencephaly by ultrasound I again asked to see that perfectly rounded head, knowing I would never again take for granted its presence in an ultrasound image. There was no part of my baby that I wanted to see more.

When I feel my baby's movements, when I see its tiny body parts protruding from within my belly, I catch a glimpse of his or her strength, his or her "aliveness," and it is all that I need to see. I know that this child is strong, strong like his or her big brother, but not limited by the absence of that piece of skull that I might not ever have appreciated until it was missing from Gabriel's head. In the series of ultrasounds I had for Gabriel I was able to see his long legs, his big feet, his broad ribcage - But I couldn't will the presence of the piece that would have changed the course of events of our lives, not with all the ultrasounds in all of the facilities available. And in the light of what I could never find for Gabriel, I know that boy or girl, brown eyes or green, favoring mom or dad, this baby has what I've come to want most for my child - A chance for an 11th day.

I find myself dreaming of a daughter, a little girl to dress prettily in fluffy clothes with fluffy bows, and share tea parties with, and have girls' days out with, and share girly secrets with. I dream of another son who will chase the dogs with endless energy and share my love for baseball.

I dream of my child's loud, audible cries. I dream of those first cries at birth. I long to be woken from my sleep by the cries of a hungry baby, rather than being snapped awake by the fear that my child has passed while my eyes were closed.

I am asked frequently how I will plan for my baby if I don't know its gender. How can I possibly be prepared? When Gabriel was born, I was unprepared to bring him home from the hospital. Our neighbor lent us her carseat, which Gabriel never rode in because I held him all the way home. We picked up diapers and formula as we needed them. He slept in my arms or on the couch beside me. Friends brought us medical supplies and even donated breast milk. Our home was stocked with love for this little boy who I did not expect to live for ten days and I found that somehow we still had everything we needed. I had everything he needed, because I had him, and he drove me to do whatever was needed to care for him. As long as we had each other, we had everything.

Slowly but surely the "necessities" are being checked off the list for Rocco's arrival. I'm privileged to be able to provide more material things for my child than many families get to do. I'm thankful to have Marcos, also prepared to care for our baby. Family and friends have been ready and willing to laud this baby with gifts, excited for this new life particularly because Gabriel's was so very brief. And it's lovely. The bedding and linens and decor and clothes and pretty little baby things are beautiful and I love to touch them and admire them and arrange them for Rocco and create the nursery that I've wanted for so long. Still, they are just things.

Even the gender reveal ultrasounds can't tell me what I need to know. I look forward to that moment in the delivery room where the doctor will say, "It's a boy!" Or, "It's a girl!" But the sound I long to hear most is this baby's first cries of life. I long to kiss the top of his or her head, and touch it gently and confirm once again its presence. I long for what I have so far only glimpsed: A life beyond ten days.