Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This Weak and Idle Theme

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

I sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

10 Days and 10 Innings

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

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

I remember the conversation with my mother in law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Grind

Maybe, if I lay very still. . .

But it's too late.  Eden has already heard Marcos downstairs, and she's taken this as her signal that it's time to start the day.  I know she's on her way, so I roll over and glance at the clock on my phone - 5:45 - before she appears at my bedside. I turn to look at her and see my pile of hair and remember that last night was hair washing night, which means this morning is hair straightening morning.  I've got to stop planning my Monday mornings this way.

"Good morning baby bear."

"Momma.  Let's go downstairs."  She replaces her soggy lovey with the bear head back in her mouth and stands there, clutching her blanket.  Neither are supposed to leave her room, but since she realized she can get herself out of bed and down the hall in the morning, all bets are off.

"Why don't you lay in momma's bed for a minute with Mr. Bear."

"No.  I want to go downstairs."  I stagger towards the bathroom, toying with the possibility of just tying my hair into a sloppy ponytail.  After all, it's Monday, there's a lot going on in the office today, but none of it involves my appearance in a court proceeding.  Maybe I can even skip make-up today.  But when I turn on the light and I'm greeted by the frizzy tangle of hair I realize not straightening it today is not an option.  No one else will care, really, but every time I walk into the bathroom and see my reflection, that feeling of defeat and self-loathing will overcome me again.  I've finally reached a point where people seem to ask if I am pregnant again only once a week, compared to daily.  I'm starting to look like a person again, instead of a zombie.  No sense in ruining that streak.

I manage to straighten one of the five sections of hair that I've methodically developed over the years before Eden's chatter wakes up Delilah, and we can hear her on the monitor.

"Delilah's awake!  Let's go check on her!"

"No, Eden, let's give her a minute. . ." but she's already dashed off down the hall and over the monitor I can hear Delilah's door creak open and Eden say to her, "It's okay Delilah."  I sigh at my reflection and turn off the straightening iron before collecting Delilah from her bed and heading downstairs.

When we get to the kitchen I see that Marcos has already started warming Delilah's bottle.  I change her diaper and set her on the floor to play with Eden while I start Eden's breakfast.  With Marcos' assistance I manage to get Eden set up at the table to eat her oatmeal while I settle down with Delilah for a bottle.  Marcos kisses our goodbyes, and he's out the door and for a few minutes I enjoy Eden's happy response to the cubes of cheese I've put on her breakfast plate this morning, and Delilah's head on my chest as she drinks her bottle.  I know that she is on the cusp of ditching at least one of her four daily bottles, and I am worried it will be one of only two that I get to offer her on a daily basis.  Soon, Eden is telling me that she's finished and she wants to get out of her chair.  I ask her to wait while I finish feeding Delilah, but she won't and before I can stop her she's rattling the chair to free herself and in the instant before she's slid from the chair to the ground I imagine her tumbling backwards and striking her head against the wall just right, like some Million Dollar Baby moment, paralyzing her for life.  But she lands safely and scampers off to play.  Delilah has finished her bottle, and is struggling to get from my arms to the floor.  Our brief harmony is over, and so I say to Eden, "Come on, Eden Bear.  Let's go upstairs and get ready for our day."

"No Momma.  I'm just going to stay down here.  I'm going to watch Dora the Explorer."

"No, no Dora this morning.  You know we don't watch cartoons in the morning, we watch the news.  Come upstairs."

"No Momma."  Delilah is hanging from my arms, laughing at our interaction.  I run her upstairs to my room and set her down, careful to lock the baby gate behind me as I head back down for Eden.  I find Eden in the baby bouncer, her new favorite place to be.  She's so tall that really, once she's in the harness, there's not much for her to do but kneel.  I pull her from the chair and set her down, asking her to come upstairs, but instead she runs into the living room and throws herself onto the floor.  "I'm just going to lay on Ice Bat."

"Eden, it's time to go upstairs."

"No Momma."

"Eden, come upstairs.  Delilah is having a pizza party.  We're going to have a pizza party without you."  This catches her attention, and she runs towards the stairs and climbs anxiously, joining Delilah on my bedroom floor to play with her plastic plates, spoons, and pizza.

I had promised myself when we moved that my room would be my retreat.  I wouldn't allow toys to overtake it, but there, on my neatly made bed I dropped three stuffed animals for the girls to play with while I got dressed.  On my floor, just vacuumed last night, plastic utensils and a toy laptop and a set of animal flashcards and some board books are already strewn, just in the time it took me to go down the hall to get the girls' clothes for the day.  I alternate between straightening the rest of my hair, changing diapers, dressing the girls, dressing myself, and trying to cover the monstrous, stress-induced zit that has erupted between my unkempt eyebrows, all while singing along to the Sesame Street radio station on Pandora and shouting at Eden over and over and over again not to jump on the bed, ironically, while "5 Little Monkeys" plays over the radio.

We make it back downstairs by 7:20.  Eden has refused to wear shorts.  Eden has refused to wear shoes.  But Eden allowed me to brush her hair this morning and I consider this a small victory, earning her the right to go pantsless today.

"Momma, I want Nature Cat."  I look at the clock.  7:22.  I cave.

"One episode of Nature Cat, okay Baby Bear."

I'm now that mom.  No, not the mom that lets her kid watch TV in the morning.  I'm sure there's lots of moms, great moms, that do that.

I'm the mom that can't spend two hours with her children without having to run to the television for help.  I'm the mom who dreads the sound of her children rousing early, before she is ready.  The mom that counts down the minutes before it is time to leave for work, for an escape, only to spend the next 9 hours counting down the minutes until she gets to see her girls again, and then in turn to spend the evening counting down the minutes before it is time to start bedtime routine.  My dogs, my beloved dogs, stare at us longingly from the windows - Sometimes I go days without even touching them so entrenched am I in just getting through the day with my children.

I am the mom who finds on the weekends, her children are strangers to her.  I don't know what to do with them when we are together for a whole day.  Who are they?  What should we play?  What do we talk about?  Is it naptime yet?  How do other women do this, day after day, with a smile on their face?  I feel like such an asshole.  I look to the front door wistfully, wondering if we all wouldn't be better served if I just walked out and never came back.

With a guilty conscience, I snap myself back into the moment and finish packing lunches for the day, and loading my car with the diaper bag, my purse, my own lunch, and a pack of Delilah's diapers that my dad will need for her care this week.  Eden refuses one of my requests and as a consequence, I turn off Nature Cat before the episode is complete.  I take Delilah to the car and plead with Eden to follow me.  She won't, but instead climbs back into the bouncer, so I run back inside, lift her out, and carry her to the car, no pants, no shoes, but grateful for the attached garage so that I don't have to feel so very bad about having left Delilah for a few seconds.  Life was easier when she was in the carrier and I could just drag them both out together, but, ob la di ob la da, right?

"Momma, I want Delilah's Song," Eden requests from the back seat.

"Not today,"  I respond and begin clicking through the radio stations as we drive.  I'm searching for some song to make my morning.  I know that with today's technology I can just click over to my USB drive and play something from there, or stream a song that I know and love.  But I want to the song to be brought to me, some sign from the universe that everything will be okay.  I drop the girls off at Papa's house where the patience for them is greater, the hands on deck more plentiful, and besides, Delilah is almost ready for a nap, giving a slight reprieve to their caretaker.  I get back in my car, still searching the radio, through the local stations, through Sirius radio, looking for something to soften the blow of the morning.  Hundreds of radio stations are available to me at my fingertips, but nothing suffices.  I land on an old default karaoke song, Patty Loveless' "Blame It On Your Heart," but today I just don't feel like shouting about someone's lying, cheating, cold deadbeating, two-timing, double-dealing, mean, mistreating, loving heart.  I settle instead for the "Loco-Motion," the Grand Funk Railroad version, though I would have preferred Little Eva or Kylie Minogue.

These are the first moments to myself that I have had since I woke up, yet I've felt so alone the whole time.  I'm lonely - In the evenings as I march through the monotony of the work week, on the weekends as I try to find ways to interact with my girls while we are all cooped up inside to avoid the 100+ degree heat and smokey air hovering from a local wildfire.  I know that life changes when you have kids, and I know that I longed for these girls, ached for them.  Imagine my surprise when they didn't provide all of the answers, but instead caused me to have to look even deeper into my soul on a quest for - What?  I don't know anymore.  I'm drowning. I feel the waves threatening me, so real that while stopped at a red light I tilt my head up towards the imaginary surface so that I can breathe.  Green light.  Go.

I am at my office early.  I was the first to arrive on this dreadful day - The day our new case management system is launched firm-wide, causing guaranteed disarray in each of our 15 offices throughout the state.  Clients will call, annoyed at our inability to smoothly access and work this system, still demanding that we meet their needs in this world of glorified customer service called worker's compensation defense.  My billing, finally falling into place after four years of acclimating to an environment wherein I must account for every minute of the work day, is bound to suffer in this change - even the best attorneys will suffer this.  I know that I should get a head start on the day and aim to get my hours in, but instead I open my web browser, turn to this page, and write.  And write, and write, and write.  And write, and write, and write some more.

And then, it's back to the grind.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Alex Rodriguez: This is the Way the World Ends - Not With a Bang But a Whimper


    Here we go round the prickly pear
    Prickly pear prickly pear
    Here we go round the prickly pear
    At five o'clock in the morning.

    Between the idea
    And the reality
    Between the motion
    And the act
    Falls the Shadow
                                   For Thine is the Kingdom
    Between the conception
    And the creation
    Between the emotion
    And the response
    Falls the Shadow
                                   Life is very long
    Between the desire
    And the spasm
    Between the potency
    And the existence
    Between the essence
    And the descent
    Falls the Shadow
                                   For Thine is the Kingdom
    For Thine is
    Life is
    For Thine is the
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    This is the way the world ends
    Not with a bang but a whimper.

-Excerpt from "The Hollow Men"
T.S. Elliott

Tonight, this mid-August night with 48 games left to go in the 162 game season and with what I anticipate will be little fanfare, Alex Rodriguez will play in his last game with the New York Yankees, for a team experiencing a lackluster season and currently riding in 4th place in the AL East.  Unlike when Derek Jeter retired one year ago, there will be no parade of celebrities from all avenues of entertainment tipping their hats in respect.  After 22 years with the MLB, Alex Rodriguez retire with 696 career home runs to his name, making him 4th in the history of Major League Baseball.  With so much focus on his batting, the public might easily forget that he was once a stellar short stop, taking what in baseball would constitute a demotion when he was traded to play third base to Derek Jeter's short stop upon his transfer to the Yankees.  But tonight, Alex Rodriguez will be riding the bench, waiting for his chance to bat - Request for him to play third base in this inconsequential game against the Tampa Bay Rays has been denied. 

Once upon a time, though, Alex Rodriguez held all of the potential in the world.  He was the child of Dominican immigrants who moved to the Dominican Republic for a brief period when Alex was a child, before returning to the United States where he grew up in Florida.  Though he was recruited by colleges to play both baseball and football in 1993, he elected to sign with the Seattle Mariners when he was a first-round amateur draft pick.  By 1995, he was finishing the season in the major leagues. 

A few years later during my senior year of high school I caught my first glimpse of the young, green eyed ball-player, and it was love.  I had to know who he was and when I found out, I had start watching the game that I had abandoned when I was 14 years old and lost two teeth after being struck in the face by a softball.   I began following the MLB, a passion shared with my brother Timothy, and although for different reasons, together we became Mariners fans.  They were primed for glory at that point, boasting a roster including Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, and Edgar Martinez.  Of course, baseball fans know how that ended as the team started piecing off in the coming years, resulting in the 2001 Mariners still holding the record as the team with the most regular season wins, only to lose their shot at the World Series in the first round of the playoffs.   

It was following the 2000 season and going into the 2001 season that Alex Rodriguez became a free agent and was signed by the Texas Rangers with what was, at the time, the largest contact in sports history.  By that time, I had fallen in love again, this time with the Seattle Mariners, and I elected to give them my loyalties and say good-bye to Alex.

But like all great loves, I frequently wondered how he was doing.  He wasn't hard to keep track of - After three years with the Rangers he was traded to the New York Yankees, where he has remained, and remained in the spotlight for a number of unsavory reason, most memorable to me: A speculated affair with Madonna while both he and she were married.  What the world will most remember, of course, is the scandal created by suspicions followed by hard evidence of the use of performance enhancing drugs.  The shadow of this controversy, which began to take root in 2007, never really left his side.  Nearly ten years later, his use, the suspicions, and his bold-faced, vociferous denial of the accusations are how he will likely be remembered.  

Sometimes, things just don't work out the way we think they will.  Just as Alex Rodriguez likely thought he would be playing in tonight's game to the adoring cheers of his fans, I thought I would be watching this game with my five-year old son by my side.  Somehow, nothing calls my attention to Gabriel's absence like a baseball game - I guess because up until January 31, 2011 I was planning his own career in the Major Leagues, before I switched to planning his funeral.  Perhaps because, although I believe I am slowly but surely instilling in my daughters a love for this subtle yet spectacular game, I know that they will not get to play in the MLB.  Perhaps the dream - statistically unlikely to come true in the first place - will be renewed if and when I have another son, or maybe it died with Gabriel.  But when I hear the crack of the bat or the smack of a third strike rocketed into a mitt, I also hear the silence of a little boy who is not cheering beside me. 

Tonight, I will watch the man who was once my favorite player, donning a uniform that now brings so many mixed emotions for me, as he says goodbye to a game that we both love.  Derek Jeter was quoted just today as saying "I've spent 22 years playing against, playing with and watching Alex from afar, and there are two things that stand out to me the most:  The conversations we had when we were young - hoping for the opportunity to play at the Major League level and then somehow finding a way to stick around - and the championship we won together in 2009.  That was a season everyone on that team can cherish.What people don't realize is how much time, effort and work that Alex put in on a daily basis.  He lives and breathes baseball.  I know it will be difficult for him to not be on the field, but I am sure he will continue to give back to the game."  

He lives and breathes baseball, even with the darkest of clouds hanging over his head.  Tonight I will watch this game with my girls and I expect I will feel what I always feel:  Not only the ache of missing the little boy that I always dreamed of, but what has also become a familiar feeling, as though my chest has been cracked open and I am watching my heart sing and dance in the two little girls that I'd also always dreamed of, even if they aren't exactly what I expected.  At bedtime, apropos for this special night, we'll read one of my favorite bedtime stories to share with Eden and Delilah, "Good Night Yankees."  

"Good night to each player, you played a great game.  We're rooting for you to make the hall of fame.  Good night to all the young Yankees fans, too.  All falling asleep, dreaming of their Major League debut."  

Goodnight, Alex Rodriguez. Thank you for the memories.   

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Willie White

I didn't process what had happened for a few seconds.  I had turned away for just a few seconds, and when I looked back, Willie was looking at me, his long, slender fingers still wrapped around the dice cup, with six aces sitting in front of him.  He was smiling like it was just another day.

"One flop?  You did that in one flop?"  It was a stupid question.  Of course he did; I had only turned away for a matter of seconds, only heard the dice cup slam on the bartop once.  True to his word, he split his winnings with me right down the middle.  If there was one thing to be said about Willie White, it is that he had integrity.

But there's much more to say about Willie.  Since I returned from law school to work at The Wright Place, Willie is the closest thing to a grandfather that I've had.  Our closeness was a quiet one - He was a private man with a backwards way of showing his affection.

"You know that song 'Hard Hearted Hannah'?"


"You know that line about Hannah pouring water on a drowning man?"


"They wrote that song about you, didn't they?"

"I'm guessing this is your last beer, Willie.  Am I right?  Because you're at about 85.5 right now."

Willie teased all of the bartenders, used the same lines on all of us, I'm sure.

"How you doin' today sweetheart?" he'd ask.

"I'm good."

"I didn't ask how you look, I asked how you're doing."

But I don't think there was any question that our relationship was special.  During my first week of my first maternity leave when I was out for Gabriel, he tried to start in on Natalie one night while she was covering my shift.

"Look Willie, I'm not going to be your Andrea while she's out."

After three maternity leaves at The Wright Place, I'm pretty sure he missed me for every single one of them.

"Are you and Andrea mad at each other?" someone asked Willie one night.

"No.  Why?"

"Well, you guys are being nice to each other."  Our banter was well known, but most people didn't know the personal moments between us.

"That must have been really special," he told me one night as I shared what it was like to bring Gabriel home on hospice care, when we thought he would die before we ever left the hospital.  Willie had cared for his late wife in her dying days, before she passed from cancer years before.  We also had an unspoken bond - That of parents that have lost children.  Though Willie was in his 70s when his adult daughter passed away, and at 29 years old I had buried my 10 day old son, Willie and I both walked around every day with a part of hearts, a part of our core, missing.  But we both loved life.

On the one hand, when Willie was diagnosed with cancer himself a couple of months ago, I was stunned - Willie had retired when he was 50, but never did slow down.  He was up early every morning and walked three miles every day.  He met with friends for coffee at McDonalds and somehow found a way to fill the days with activity.  He saw a doctor on a regular basis, and he ate well, and weighed the same thing he'd weighed his entire adult life.  But, he was in his 70s and more importantly, I've learned that sickness and death are a part of life, and no one is immune to either.

In the days after he was first admitted to the hospital, his death was reported to be imminent, and I thought I would never get to see him again.  When he survived the weekend, I went to the hospital to see him on a Monday morning before work.  This 6'5" tower of a man filled the hospital bed with his length, but his already-lean frame had become thin, and frail.  He invited me to sit in a chair next to his bed and when I did, he reached across his blankets and took my hand.  His long fingers looked even longer, barely more than bones.  We talked casually about who had visited and which members of his family were in town, and then a nurse came in to take him for an x-ray.

"He'll be right back, if you want to wait."

"I-I-I don't know if I can. . ." I hated to leave for the pile of meaningless work on my desk, but duty called.

"She has to get to work.  She's a lawyer." I could hear the pride in his weak voice.  I knew it could be the last time I would ever get to see him.

"I'll come back soon, Willie.  You take care of yourself, okay?"

"Okay, see you soon."

"Willie.  I love you."

"I love you too, sweetheart."

I darted back to the elevator, trying to outrun my tears.

I did get to see Willie one more time.  But although he survived another 6 weeks or so after that, I kept finding excuses not to go.  I knew I would regret not visiting again, but increasingly I heard that he was struggling with lucidity and I wasn't sure I could handle if he didn't recognize me.  Another friend went to see him and told me how bad it was.  "The only time he smiled was when I mentioned you."

Without question, our relationship was special, because Willie was special.  I suspect just about anyone that knew Willie well enjoyed a special relationship of their own with him.

I don't usually find myself at a loss for words, but just as I didn't know how to say goodbye to Willie, I don't know how to end this blog entry dedicated to his memory.  I will miss Willie terribly.  I look forward to seeing him again someday, to hearing him say one more time, "Cut me some slack, Jack!."

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Just A Bridge Away

In our backyard in Bakersfield the morning sun was already baking our lawn, but in Oregon the sky was overcast and the air was wet but cool when we pulled into a parking lot at Sirrosis Park in The Dalles.  I was drawn right away to the playground, a sophisticated complex of tunnels and bridges and stairways. As we unloaded the girls from their car seats Marcos' mom approached us and we all walked to the playground together, the sight only getting better the closer we got.  Eden sprinted ahead to begin climbing to the tops of the various slides while Marcos' mom took a seat on a bench.

"Would you mind holding Delilah?  So I can go play with Eden?"  "Grandma Nichols" happily obliged, reaching for the sweet smiling baby that charmed her Oregon family, and I dashed off to one of the structure's towers.  Eden was already engrossed in the slide and laughing with every attempt while her daddy waited for her at the bottom, so I worked my way through the maze.  I unsuccessfully tried the suspended balance beam, scaled two side by side tires, tried my hand at a set of monkey bars and parallel bars, and attempted  a stack of tires meant to serve as a ladder.

At some point I overhead my mother-in-law say to Marcos, "She said she was going to play with Eden, but it looks like she's the one doing all the playing!"  It was true.  Though I intermittently watched Eden as she played with her cousins or even by herself, or took a few moments to observe Delilah in the swings, I was lost in my own adventure.  Here and there I caught shadows of the 5 year old little boy that should have been with us, doing all of the things Eden just isn't old enough or coordinated enough or tall enough to do yet, sneaking up on his sister one minute, then holding her feet to assist her on the monkey bars the next.  Gabriel's memory, or more accurately, his hypothetical, is always there, a part of every experience.  That's my normal.

Around us the trees stretched high and park-goers weaved between them with their dogs, but not a trace of litter could be found to indicate that anyone had ever been to the park before we got there.  Other families arrived, their children racing up and down and across the child-sized fort.  Eden would stop to laugh or smile or shout orders at them, then pick right back up with whatever activity she happened to be performing.

While in Oregon we toured The Bonneville and Dalles dams, went on a cruise on the river, saw Multnomah falls, watched the trains dart by on their extensive railroads, and waded in the Columbia River - Just a few of the sights that Oregon has to offer.  But of all that we squeezed into that trip, in my memory our visit at Sirrosis Park will remain the most vivid.  There, I felt like we had a moment of Heaven, everyone there, happy, playing as they like, but together.  My heart felt full. I couldn't see my son, but at times, I even had to search for Eden and Delilah.  No matter where I turned, no matter where I went, there I felt like every one of them - Gabriel, Eden, Delilah, Marcos and even Baby Cude - were just a bridge away.  There I felt surrounded by everything I could ever want.  I felt whole.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Am I Blue?

The blueberry bush sits dry and likely, dead, but still a part of my home amid the greenery in my front yard.  It seems like watering it when needed is such a simple task that there is no real good reason why it shouldn't get done.  But there are no simple tasks these days, and many things don't get done.  Every once in a while I am horrified to discover a dirty diaper under a pile of laundry, unsure as to how long the diaper has been hidden there.  I feel like I must be the biggest slob in the world, which doesn't make sense, because I also feel that I am constantly on the go.

Nothing gets the attention it should these days.  Not my kids, not my husband, not my dogs, not my house - certainly not my work.  Direct file referrals are pouring in for me these days, and I'm on the brink of two appellate decisions that I am fairly confident will be favorable.  Maybe they will be.  Maybe they won't be.  But either way, I am moving files - exactly what clients want.

Actually, clients want a lot of things.  They want to be your priority.  They want everything done right now.  Everything is a rush.  Everything should have been done already.  Nothing can wait until tomorrow.  Everything is extreme.  EVERYTHING.

There was a time in my life when I was motivated by this kind of pressure.  How many A papers have I written in the 12 hours preceding their deadline?  The appeals mentioned above were written and submitted within a crunched statutory time limit.  I can pat myself on the back, for I have shown a tremendous capacity to take pressure, grief, anger, and pain and turn it into steam to propel me through life.

But I feel like I've run out of steam.  I don't know why.  I guess we all have our breaking point and I suppose my breaking point is a lot farther and a lot less destructive than others' might be, but it's still devastating.

It is then that the weight of the loss of my son crushes me.  I live with his absence daily, the ache is constant and painful.  Now, as I tread water to stay afloat I feel the hole inside of my heart being crushed by the heaviness of having lost my son.  Five years ago today I held my son in my arms through his seizures and labored breathing until his heart beat one last time, and he died.  I felt his tiny body stiffen with death in my arms, and I kissed him one last time before giving him over to a very kind and solemn undertaker so that he could burn my little boy to ashes.  I took those ashes and placed them in a little, tomb-like cavity and marked his place in this world with a little plaque, and a few times a year I visit that final resting space but every single day I long to feel him again.

Am I blue?  How can I know anymore?  How can I distinguish between the depression that I have experienced all of my life, and the grief of the traumatic experiences that I've been through, and the postpartum depression compounded by back-to-back pregnancies, and the stress of every day life?  When are my responses selfish, and when are they self-loathing, and when are they natural, and when are they wallowing?  I don't know anymore.

Above all I am thankful that Gabriel was trusted to me to love and care for.  I know that this was no accident, I know that I was blessed - Blessed with the gift of a child, blessed to be charged with the care of a terminally ill unborn baby, blessed that I got to spend ten days with him when most people walking in my shoes will never get that opportunity.  I am blue, but I am blessed.  I don't have time to water plants, but even in life's rush I carry Gabriel with me every day.  His life and his loss are a part of me. Even as the branches of the blueberry brush dry and harden and threaten to break every day, I keep and guard them.  Life isn't easy, hearts don't break evenly, and all I can do is hold on for the ride.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Days that Change the World

Two accomplishments that I get to take credit for, though I can really only thank God for, are the opportunities to be a mother to Gabriel, Eden, and Delilah, and a big sister to Monica, Timothy, and Victoria.

I remember so clearly Victoria's first day of daycare. It coincided with my first day of my senior year of high school, and I cried when having to leave her with her new sitter, after having spent the entire summer looking after her myself.  Victoria was the first person to teach me, truly, about selfless love.  I only ever wanted to give her the world.

So, it's no surprise that this, the morning of her high school graduation, I have been teary and nostalgic for the days when she was just a little girl.  I have been recalling her first day of kindergarten, the day she transferred to Colonel Nichols halfway through her first grade year, her First Communion, and her graduation from junior high, which hardly feels like a year ago.  I remember her in my own milestone moments - The day I found Sean dead, when I came home still in shock and still regretful that I had missed Victoria's classroom Valentine's Day party, that little 7 year old girl wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and said, "I miss Sean."  I remember the day my cat Lily had kittens, on Victoria's third birthday, and upon seeing the first kitten for the first time Victoria saying "Lily has a mouse!"  I remember standing by her side as she held Delilah, her first goddaughter, to be baptized.  I remember her standing by my side on my wedding day.  I remember standing behind her, beaming with pride, as she delivered her closing arguments during this year's mock trial competition, for which I had the privilege of coaching her.  This day came all too quickly, but the years leading up to this day have been packed with memories.  What a gift, to have been this girl's big sister.

I suppose Victoria's graduation, as all graduations are for me now, is especially touching when I consider that in the blink of an eye, my girls will be graduating too.  And the sweet becomes bitter when I think about my only son, who will never graduate from high school - Something I knew several weeks before he was born.  Before he was born, the doctors told me Gabriel wouldn't live long, and though I hoped with trepidation, I never dreamed that my little boy would be the one to defy the odds and live ten days.  Those ten days have changed the world.

With a bittersweet, teary but happy joyful longing, I invite you to celebrate Gabriel's 5th Birthday by participating in this year's 10 Days to Change the World:

Day 1:  Friday, June 10 - For the first time since his birth, Gabriel's birthday will fall on a Friday, which was also the day he was born.  At 3:19 p.m. my sweet boy showed his face to this world.  I invite you to take a moment at 3:19 on June 10, 2016, to remember his birthday.  Share pictures of your clock and where you are on Facebook.

Day 2:  Saturday June 11 - The annual cupcake day.  When Gabriel made it to 24 hours, our family celebrated with cupcakes - While Gabriel and I slept.  This year, enjoy a cupcake to celebrate with us the day that Gabriel became one of the only 25% of anencephalic babies to live past 24 hours.

Day 3 - Sunday June 12 - Wristband Day!  This year I have awareness wristbands, the proceeds for which will be used to fund the next Magic Mullet Run fundraiser for Duke University's anencephaly study.  Contact me ASAP to get your wristbands for $3 each.  Children's size available.

Day 4 - Monday June 13 - Finally getting comfortable enough with my delicate little bundle, we took Gabriel's footprint on this day.  This year, find a way to leave your footprint in your community, your tattoo on your town.  

Day 5 - Tuesday June 14 - This year would be Gabriel's 5th birthday, and he would be starting kindergarten.  Last year we celebrated what would have been his pre-school years by asking people to donate to their local pre-schools or Head Start programs.  This year, I invite you to do the same.  As most schools will be out for summer break, consider presenting a teacher you know with a gift card for supplies for her classroom in the fall.

Day 6 - Wednesday June 15 - On this day we FINALLY introduced Gideon to Gabriel.  Give your own furbaby a hug on this day, and do something special for him/her/them.

Day 7 - Thursday June 16 - Bowling night!  My friends and I bowl on Thursday nights, and we have a great time.  Life is short, and busy, and bowling nights are our weekly opportunity to gather and nourish the friendships that have carried us each through some challenging times.  Take this day to spend some time with your friends, do something fun - Try bowling!

Day 8 - Friday June 17 - This year Marcos and I will be heading to the beach for this weekend.  Friday we'll be riding to Oxnard so I can appear at a hearing in the morning, then we'll be heading up the coast where later in the evening, we will meet some of our friends for a beach weekend.  Before they arrive, Marcos and I will have a chance to spend some time together, have lunch, walk on the beach.  Take this day to spend some one-on-one time with someone you love.

Day 9 - Saturday June 18 - Community clean up!  We will be on the coast, and looking for a local park or beach to clean.  I invite you to find a place in your community in need of a bit of clean up, and volunteer your time to help.

Day 10 - Sunday June 19 - Father's Day.  A bittersweet day the year that Gabriel was born - He was still with us, against all odds, but we did not know how much time we might still have.  And we didn't know that our time would be up the following day.  Honor your father today.  And honor your children.  Not a single day is promised to us, and every day is a gift.

Angelversary - Monday June 20 - As has become custom, I will be releasing balloons on this day.  Time and location to be announced if you wish to participate with me - If not, please try to release a balloon or lantern in memory of Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude, whose brief life of 10 days is still changing the world.

I look forward, as I do every year, to sharing these days with my family and friends.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Who Needs Tomorrow?

The opening chords wring my heart every time, haunting me with a combination of regret and relief.  Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight" never ceases to stop me in my tracks.  In the first few years after Sean's death, I could barely listen to the song without crying.  The words fill me at once with sorrow for the brevity of our time together and more importantly the untimeliness of his death, and satisfaction that my memories of our last few days together remain so very vivid.  A part of me knew it was all coming to an end - I just didn't know it would end as it did.

Many nights, after all the patrons had left and I had locked the doors, I would play the song on the jukebox at Charly's, now the Wright Place, and saturate myself in the lyrics and the memories.  I always feel Sean's presence most strongly through music, and in that music, when I am alone in the bar.

I didn't know that the last time I closed The Wright Place would be the last time I closed The Wright Place.  If I had known, I would have played that song one last time.

My one night shift a week had become an increasing strain on our marriage.  We are living deep in the trenches of early parenthood.  Our girls, just 17 months apart, are only 2 years old and 7 months old.  We couldn't ask for better children - They are healthy, bright, as well-behaved as we could reasonably ask.  But they are a lot of work.  And we've decided that for now, that is work we must do together, night after night, to strengthen our family.  There are still so many turns that life could take, roads that life may lead us down, and life promises us nothing except that it will keep on going, ready or not.

Still, it was with an aching heart that I resigned my Tuesday night shift at The Wright Place.  The shift has been mine for almost 7 years now, since I returned from law school.  Tuesday nights were waiting for me after three maternity leaves.  I've collected the March Madness brackets by the close of the bar on Tuesday night before the tournament begins for four years.  I trained Leanne on a Tuesday night.  I've been doing the liquor inventory on Tuesday nights for years.  One Tuesday night, several years ago, I broke the weeknight sales record.  The bartender rotation has gone round and round but for the last nearly 7 years, Tuesday nights have been generally consistent.  For nearly 7 years, they have been mine.

Some things never change, until they do.  The decision was sudden and shocking to my bosses; it shocked the shit out of me.  And it is not without sadness that I've not reported to The Wright Place for the last three weeks.  I didn't even get to say good-bye.

Bob Seger begs, "Why don't you stay?"  After all, who needs tomorrow?  Tomorrow is not a guarantee, and I know that well.  I never got to say good-bye to Sean either.  I needed tomorrow, but that tomorrow never came. But as clearly as I heard the words "Let's make it last; let's find a way," I could also hear "I long for love, like everyone else does. I know I'll keep searching even after today."  My burning desire for love couldn't be extinguished even by the sobering sight of Sean's lifeless body.

The world kept on spinning, as the world does, and the sun continued to rise, as the sun will, and at the end of the day somewhere things are ending, and somewhere else they are just beginning.  And we just have to keep moving.

Maybe I'll be back someday. Maybe I'll continue to host my annual Anti-Valentine's Day Party, an event that started in dark remembrance of the day Sean died, but which has evolved into one of the most successful events of the year.  I don't know what tomorrow brings, and I don't even know that I'll have a tomorrow.  I know that I have today, right now, this moment.  I'm doing all that I know how to do to live today, right now, in this moment.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Two Pink Streaks

Some mornings I'm still not convinced my reflection is really me.

I guess the postpartum acne started about two months after Delilah was born.  In the beginning I didn't think much of the few blemishes, but as the few began to multiply, I became horrified.  This wasn't part of our deal.  I had never had acne problems, not even in high school.  I always figured it was part of an unspoken agreement with God.  I had big hair that I didn't know how to control and I wore an A-cup through most of high school, but in exchange I got clear skin and long, beautiful legs.  Seemed like a fair trade, and while probably not how I would have prioritized assets (given the choice, I would have opted for boobs), not a bad shake.

Even after Gabriel was born, I held up fairly well.  My son wasn't here to hold, but my body didn't bear the tell tale signs of childbirth.  No c-section scar, no stretch marks, no acne, minimal weight gain that I shed with ease.  But for the scars on my heart, I could continue on as normal, which was a relief when I found myself single and on the man-hunt again.

Marcos has pointed out that he barely knows me not pregnant.  Indeed, we've been together less than three years, and I've spent 18 months of those three years pregnant.  I know that he doesn't mind the belly that will never go away without surgery, the acne, the 20 extra pounds I'm still carrying from Eden.  He doesn't seem to care that even while my face has erupted like a teenager's, creases are forming at the corners of my eyes and around my mouth.  My hands, constantly at work, look dry and old and are chronically swollen from rheumatoid arthritis, but fortunately are not yet deformed.

When I look back at my reflection, those are the things that I see.  I am not, nor do I think I ever will be, that woman who embraces her imperfections.  I don't affectionately refer to my stretch marks as those of a mommy tiger who has earned her stripes.  The wrinkles are not laugh lines.  They are all just indications to me that I finally look as old as I feel.

My vanity stretched to its maximum, my confidence hanging by a thread, I set out to have a crown replaced.  The crown is part of a dental implant that I got when I was 14 years old.  While the implant is now the standard in tooth replacement, twenty years ago when I was struck in the mouth with a softball, implants were still a fairly new and sexy treatment.  I underwent 14 hours of oral surgery by the then-premiere oral surgeon in Bakersfield, and had my crown done by a prosthodontist of the same caliber.  Neither of these very skilled, very expensive practitioners had the foresight to realize that at age 14, my gums and teeth and bones were still growing and eventually, that crown would recede back into my gums while my other teeth grew longer than and asymmetrical to the crown.  The process was slow and incremental.  Little by little, I noticed that in photos, all I could see was the short crown.

I expressed my petty concern with my dentist, who was able to write up a request for authorization to replace the crown so that half of the cost would be covered by insurance.  After coughing up my co-pay, the dentist and I embarked on what ended up being a 5 visit process.  Today, when he cemented the new crown into place, I felt my confidence immediately restored, even if just a bit.

As "they" say, youth is wasted on the young.  I wish now that I had appreciated things about my body in my twenties - The flat belly, yes, but also the ability to stand on my feet for 8 hours, to have joints that - while not pain free - didn't hurt so much.  I wish that I had recognized that I used to be able to walk into a room and turn heads, not because I was so pretty, but because there is simply something light and easy and beautiful about a woman in her twenties, even a woman who carries the weight of dead boyfriends and dead babies.  I was so busy then, bearing the burden of grief, that I didn't enjoy the freedom of being twenty-something.  And now here I am, mourning my twenties rather than enjoying the ease of being thirty-something.

Woven discreetly into my mass of big, thick hair which I've learned to - if not control, at least manage, are two hot pink streaks of color, extensions that were placed when I had my hair trimmed last week for the first time in a year.  With less than an inch cut, and two extra pieces of hair added, I felt lighter than I had in some time.  I knew that the following week, I would get my crown replaced, and that the acne was clearing day by day.  I'll never be that girl in her twenties again - That girl fell in love with self-destructive men who would rather shoot themselves or move to South Carolina than stay with her, and that girl wasn't equipped to hold down a professional career AND mother two little girls responsibly.  That girl exploited herself to prove that she, and she alone, was in charge of her own body.  She didn't know how to be loved by someone that is kind, and good, and emotionally healthy.  She harbored guilt, way too much guilt, for one man's decision to pick up a gun and kill himself.  That girl made stupid financial decisions.  That girl was a selfish daughter and sister.  I don't want to be that girl again.

I don't want the darkness that came with being young and light and pretty in that way that all twenty-somethings are pretty.  I want love, security, a stable life for my husband and daughters and me.  Sometimes, I want to feel a little rebellious.  Sometimes I want to get pink in my hair, or turn a stranger's head when I've walked into a room.  But what I want most, I've already got.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

He Collected Me

The series finale of American Idol remains unviewed on my Hulu watch list.  For over a decade I watched the series and made a point of watching each season finale as it was broadcast.  Certainly, the show changed television, music, the way we consume music, the way stars are born.  But through the course of the years the show lost its magic.  Between changes in format, changes in judging panels, and changes in the method of voting, the final season of American Idol simply didn't have the sparkle of the first.

Unquestionably, the most poignant moment of the season was when the very first American Idol, Kelly Clarkson, appeared as a guest judge and in a very pregnant and very emotional display, sang the song "Piece by Piece."  The song is a tender tribute to her stepfather, the man who took on the role of father for her when her biological dad abandoned her family.

I have no daddy issues.  My father was present, quite present, for my entire life.  He worked nights, and slept during the day while we were at school.  He packed our lunches, took us to the bus stop, went to softball practices, came to award ceremonies, and did everything that could be expected of a father and more.  Now, he watches my daughters five days a week and I know it was the right decision to have him provide care because every day, when he first sees them, he smiles with genuine joy that they are his for the next 9 hours.  He has set a high bar.

So, when I heard Kelly sing "Piece by Piece," I did not think of my own father.  I thought of the man who is father to my girls, and stepfather to my son.

I thought of my days as a single mom, caring for my son's memory and wondering if I would ever find a relationship that could bear the burden of my unusual but very deep relationship with my son.  I wondered if I would ever have a family that would openly include Gabriel.  He was my world, and I wasn't sure if anyone would ever want to live in our world.

Every day, in my home, Gabriel's name is mentioned.  On the wall of our stair case, his picture hangs with his sisters', and framed photos of him also have a place in our living room, family room, my bedroom, and Eden's bedroom.  On holidays, or sometimes just because I feel like it, Marcos treks with me and our daughters to the cemetery where my son's ashes rest.  Gabriel is my son; he is my girls' big brother; and Marcos is his stepfather.

Marcos didn't have to be the man that he is.  He didn't have to welcome both me and my son into his life.  Because of him, my son's memory can live.  Because of him, my girls know their big brother.  Because of him, my girls will know that they have a family history of neural tube defect and take the necessary precautions when they have their own children, because that part of our lives is not hidden.  Because of him, our girls will pray for their brother's intercession throughout their lives.  Because of him, I do not have to tuck my grief away and instead, I can heal.

He took the bits of a broken home, an unconventional mother and son, and he shaped us into a new family.  He refilled my heart with his love, and from that love our daughters were born, so that my heart was not only full but overflowing.  He has made it possible for me to hear someone call me "Mommy" every day - A sound I thought I might not ever hear.  Piece by piece he has taken an unstable, grieving woman, and made her as whole as she has ever felt.  A man can be kind.  A father can be great.  And he is.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Were He Not Romeo Called

In a box somewhere in my garage a baby name book gathers dust, and stuffed within its pages is a sheet of paper I can't bear to part with. Written lovingly on the lines of the paper are the names I first began to consider six years ago, when I was pregnant for the first time. Among them is the name that has always been, Eden; names that are long ruled out, such as Miranda, Violet, or Carolina (for the state where Ben's mom resides); the name we thought we were going to use for Gabriel, before his diagnosis, Jameson; the family-inspired name I finally, internally, agreed to relinquish to my brother, Leo; and the name that never fit with the last name Cude, but which made perfect sense with the last name Lopez - Joaquin.

And so, the story goes.  I lost that first baby.  Gabriel, once Jameson Michael Cude, was diagnosed with the fatal defect that would claim his life, and he became Gabriel, our Hero of God.  Nearly three years passed and my prayers were answered in the form of a baby girl we named Eden, our paradise, followed 17 months later by Delilah.  But before she was Eden, in the privacy of our home, she was EJoaq.  We had narrowed our selection down to Eden for a girl, and Joaquin for a boy, but of course we wouldn't know until the day she was born which name we would be using.  I kept our names private, rarely sharing our choices lest someone else be inspired.  Both were unique enough to make up for the very common last name, but not so unique that they were strange.When we learned we had another baby on the way, we had only to choose a girl's name - Joaquin was already set.  And again, would not be used.

Names are important to me, and I have put significant thought into the names of each of my children.  Joaquin, the Spanish version of the Hebrew Joachim, means "One who is established by God."  Saint Joachim was Mary's father, Christ's grandfather.  It was to be paired with the middle name Joseph, representing the two greatest male influences in the young Christ's life.  There were other connections too - My girls were born at San Joaquin Community Hospital, we live in the San Joaquin Valley, and the San Joaquin Valley is a type of Eden, the place where a great deal of the nation's produce is grown.  I anticipated obvious queries - "After Joaquin Phoenix?" - and weighed the particular negative connections - I was well into pregnancy when Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison.  Still, this name that I had stored away since the first signs of new life within me was what I wanted for my next son.

I've gotten much better at receiving news of impending birth since the girls came along, and I've even become a better sport when learning a boy is one the way.  When family remembers recently announced they were expecting a baby boy, I rolled with the news with surprising ease.  Maybe, just maybe, I was moving on.  Less than 24 hours went by before I learned that while I have come a long way, I still have a long way to go, when the family announced that this new baby boy is Joaquin.

After a double take, the tears welled uncontrollably, spilling onto my clothes as I drove to meet my mom for lunch.  I couldn't stop them even enough to hide my mother, and when she asked what was wrong, more fell as I sobbed to her about my silly problem.  The tears don't come easily these days, not since the Prozac, but there I was, crying like an idiot - over what?

I guess that's what's been most difficult.  The typical response seems to be, "You don't have a right to that name."  I know that.  "You can choose a different name."  I know that too.  "You can still use the name Joaquin."  Yes. I know. I know, I know, I know.  I know this is irrational, and selfish, and petty.  But it's honest, and the typical responses just seem to be a bit insensitive.  Or maybe I'm just too sensitive.

What were the chances that a name chosen for its relative uniqueness, still ranked in the 200s in terms of popularity for boy's names in the United States, would be chosen by someone in our own family?  And how can I use that name now, too, knowing that it would no longer be unique in our family?  How do I go to a baby shower, to birthday parties - especially if I never have another boy, but even if I do - and bring another Joaquin a baseball, glove, and bat?  What if there are no more boys in store for me? After two losses, I've had to come to terms with the fact that life doesn't go as we want or plan.  I am satisfied with my life as it stands - I have to be, and I have every reason to be, because it's an amazing life. .

What's in a name?  The question is famous, and rhetorical, meant only to demonstrate that our names are not our essence.  If a little boy is in the cards for us some day, he will be so much more than a name.  Still, a part of me will always grieve the little boy that might have been, the little boy who was, and now, the little boy Joaquin who will never be mine.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

One Who Weakens

Things really didn't start out this way.  When I was pregnant with Delilah, I felt the least connected to her of any of my pregnancies.  With Gabriel the bond was instant.  I can't even recall a point in the pregnancy that I didn't feel that bond.  With Eden the connection was guarded, but still strong.  By the time Delilah came around, I was just so busy, and the pregnancy was the most physically demanding, that I struggled to feel bonded.

I had a strong suspicion that Delilah was a girl, or perhaps I was just afraid to believe that I would have another son, but in the last two months of the pregnancy I really started to convince myself that she was a boy.  I recited her boy name in my head and started dreaming of the things my little boy would do.  So when she was born and Marcos said to me "It's a little girl!" my world shifted a bit.

Or shifted a lot.  I felt pangs of regret for the distance I put between myself and newborn Eden.  I was so scared to love her, and so scared to believe she was here to stay, that I often didn't take the time that I should have to hold her and interact with her.  Add to that my sincere disdain for the breastfeeding experience and genuine postpartum depression, and I frequently felt like she was a job rather than a gift.  My mindset has since changed drastically, but I'm still so sorry for my behavior in her first few months of life.

Bound and determined not to repeat those mistakes with Delilah, and to keep her from getting lost in the shuffle of toddler life, I found myself holding Delilah as much as I could.  I seized every reasonable opportunity to let her sleep on my chest, snuggle in my arms, sit in my lap.  It started so deliberately, but over the last almost six months I've found that I need her.

Throughout the day I find my mind wandering to think about her.  I catch myself staring at her pictures on my desktop.  When I see her I feel compelled to hold her, to kiss her, to just be close to her.  I've become rather obsessed.

Oddly, it's been Marcos who has noticed some of the quirky things about her.  She started to favor one side of her head and developed a bit of an asymmetrical head, for which she's had a couple sessions of physical therapy.  I never would have noticed, and when Marcos discovered the issue I insisted he be the one to take her to the doctor, because I wouldn't have the doctor thinking that I was the paranoid parent.  Marcos also noticed the crease in her earlobe, just a slight, inconsequential defect that I had overlooked.

When I look at Delilah, I am drawn by the intensity of her gaze.  Her eyes captivate me, bore into me and leave me weak and raw and exposed.  She owns me with her stare.  When we first lock eyes in the morning, I know that she was rightly named Delilah, one who weakens.  The day that I lifted her from her crib and held her close to me, and she placed her tiny hands on my cheeks and began to chew on my chin, I nearly melted into a puddle of mom-goo.

In her newborn stage I frequently saw Gabriel in her face, but as she grows, she looks more and more like her sister, but with Delilah's signature eyebrows.  Watching her develop is wonderful.  She has incredible dexterity, great strength, an infectious laugh, and a very apparent desire to do new things. Though she's participated in family story time since she was born, we've recently started offering her own story before bed, and she reaches for the pages of the books with curious wonder. She doesn't care to sit still, and I treasure the moments when she'll simply sit in my lap or hold still in my arms.  She'll be off and running in no time.

We are all informed by our experiences, and while my nature is to love very boldly, experience has taught me to harness my feelings and be careful with my heart. Still, all of the experience and all of the hurt couldn't protect me and couldn't stop me.  I couldn't help myself from placing my heart in the tiny hands of my beautiful, brilliant, shining star, Delilah Danielle.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Coming Out with Anencephaly: Five Years Later

I stare at the pill, as I do every morning, considering whether I will take it today.  I've done this every day for about two months.  Some days, I conveniently forget, though I've looked at the bottle and thought about popping that pill.  One day without isn't enough to undo its effects, but I guess skipping it every once in a while gives me a sense of control over myself.

The first change that I noticed was my laugh.  It's always been big and loud, but lately it doesn't take much to get me to do it.  I started laughing frequently, and frequently longer and harder than the situation warrants.  Once I start, I sometimes have trouble stopping.  Eden, ever the clown, loves when I laugh.  She sees my laughter as a reward for whatever she might have done to get me to laugh, and she repeats her antics, hoping that I will keep laughing for her.

Next I noticed an ability to concentrate on my work with a focus that I haven't had since before Eden was born.  Until I started taking Prozac two months ago, my mind wandered in and out of the task placed before me.  I had to stay late just to squeeze in minimal billing because completing simple projects was taking twice as long as it should.  But once I'd been taking the medication long enough to see results, I was plowing through the stacks of files on my desk.

Sounds great.  Right?  Why is taking this medication every day even a matter of choice, when everything seems to fucking dandy since I've been on it?

D-Day, the five year anniversary of the day Gabriel was diagnosed with anencephaly, came and went, and I stared at an empty computer screen unable to find the words to describe what I was feeling.  Valentine's Day, the anniversary of Sean's suicide, passed as well, with the same result.  The feelings were there, but I couldn't access them, I couldn't pull them from me to empty onto a page.  They were there, but just a dull and nagging throbbing inside of me.  Trapped.

Here we are, on the eve of the day I went public with Gabriel's diagnosis, Timehop dilligently reminding me of the days before I knew of my son's terminal condition, and the days when I lived with the secret of his fate.  Here I am, the emotions simmering inside of me, but like a watched pot, refusing to boil over to release me from the pain that anchors me.  Here I am, "coming out" again, this time with the fact that I take an antidepressant.  I couldn't cry right now, I couldn't force tears if I tried.  But I can laugh my ass off.

Funny thing - I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with needing medication to stabilize mood.  I mean, mental health is something we're supposed to confront, and treat, after all.  It's all the rage right now to support people in their mental illness.  There's nothing wrong with needing a little help.  Except when it comes to myself.  I guess I've become attached to my depression.  I've started antidepressants before, but have always quit just as they begin to take effect.  I enjoy my grief.  It's what I know.  I've earned it - I deserve it.  I don't understand why my heart beats every day when my son's does not.  I don't understand why Sean thought putting a bullet in his brain was better than living on earth.  I don't understand why a young mother with two children in middle school died in a fiery car wreck.  I don't understand why Amy didn't just fucking listen to everyone that loves her.  I don't even understand why Gideon has hip dysplasia, and I certainly don't understand why people go on shooting rampages, or commit suicide bombings, or rape women and children.  I don't understand why I'm still alive, and often, I don't understand how to live. So the least I can do is be miserable.

But I keep taking that pill.  Even when I've skipped a day, the next day I'm right back on track.  As I look at that pill every morning, I can hear Eden telling me that her banana eggs are delicious. I can hear Delilah on the monitor, cooing, or maybe even starting to whimper for someone to retrieve her from her crib.  These girls are here, now.  And they deserve a mother who is checked in, and who laughs with them, and who doesn't seem to sink into despair for no apparent reason.  I will probably always struggle, with all of the above.  I think, given what I've been through, I've coped remarkably well but I am still traumatized.  I'll be in recovery from that trauma for the rest of my life.  But the sun and the stars shine brightly for me in those two little girls, my precious Eden Eliana, my sweet Delilah Danielle.  They deserve the world.  All I can offer, is me.

To (re)read our "coming out" letter: http://gabrielsmessagelives.blogspot.com/2012/03/coming-out-with-anencephaly-one-year.html