Thursday, September 29, 2011

Angel of Hope

Here in the St. Louis area, there is a park with a special area devoted to families who want to honor the children they've lost.  There is a beautiful statue of there called the Angel of Hope.  Every winter, they hold a candlelight vigil there in memory of the children we miss so much.

via the Share website
The tradition is that when you visit the angel, you leave a white flower in memory of your child.

The angel is surrounded by a brick patio, with paths that lead around the garden.  You can order bricks through Share and have your child's name engraved on them.

We did this last January, still in a daze of grief.  I remember stressing out because Eliza has a pretty long name (twenty letters plus two spaces!) and I didn't know how I'd get her whole name on the brick, plus her birthdate, plus some short phrase about how much we loved her.

I wanted to write "Our Baby Duck" on the brick, because before she was Eliza, she was still our Baby Duck.

I wanted to write "We love you and miss you forever."

I wanted to write, "I'm so sorry, baby, I'm so sorry."

I wanted to write, "My heart is broken and I don't know how I am supposed to keep going without you."

I wanted to write, "I wish I'd died instead of you."

I had to put something perfect.  Something that expressed everything I felt and showed the world how much we loved her.  And something that was no more than 15 characters, counting spaces.

After fretting about this for days, David finally told me to just stick with her name and date.  After all, we couldn't fit our love for her on a brick.  It was impossible.

So Eliza's little brick just has her name and birthdate.  Almost all the others have a sentimental message, but there was nothing we could have added that would have been enough.

A dear friend of mine visited the park yesterday.  She left a pink and white rose for my Eliza, and she sent me this picture:

Oh, Baby Duck. I would have done anything to keep you here with us.  I could pave the entire park world with bricks saying how much we love you and miss you.  And it still wouldn't be enough.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Might Have Been

This weekend we were back at David's grandparents, and this time his aunt was there with her two kids.  Her daughter is three and a half, and she was my best buddy.

Everywhere I went, Taylyn was close behind me.  When we went to a little fall festival downtown, Taylyn only wanted to hold my hand.

When I brushed my hair in the morning, Taylyn wanted me to brush her hair, and "bread it" (put it in French braids).

When I carried my laptop and text book to the dining room table, she wanted to help.  I said that these things were too heavy for her and she said, "I can help carry your pen!"  So she carried my pen to the table.

If I left the room when she was distracted, playing with David or with her brother, I could hear her saying, "Where's Auntie Brooke?" and looking for me the moment she realized I was gone.

She shared her princess stickers with me and let me be Belle while she was Snow White.

When I read my book (the Aeneid - for class on Monday), Taylyn read her book (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom).  When she finished Chicka Chicka Boom Boom before I finished the Aeneid (go figure), she asked me if she could turn the pages for me!

She'd snuggle up next to me on the couch and say, "Auntie Brooke, I really love you.  That's why I'm not shy this time!"

I can't pretend that it wasn't a little exhausting, or that she doesn't shriek like a freaking banshee on occasion, but I still loved playing with her and listening to the funny things she'd say.  She was infatuated with Cooper and afraid of Little Mac (as she should be) and she kept calling Mac "that ornery dog."

When David and I were getting ready to walk the dogs on Sunday morning, of course Taylyn wanted to come with us.  She ran downstairs to get her jacket and David remarked to me, "Taylyn sure does love you."  I nodded, and then I just burst into tears, standing in the kitchen holding the dog leash.

David put his arms around me while I cried, "She's so cute!  She just makes me miss our little girl so much.  I just want OUR baby girl."

(I managed to pull myself together and wipe the snot off David's shirt before Taylyn got back upstairs with her jacket and tennis shoes.)

I just don't know how this part will ever get easier--this letting go of everything that might have been, everything I hoped and wanted for Eliza.  She'll never be a chubby baby crawling across the living room, a laughing toddler on unsteady feet, a wide-eyed three-year-old with two French braids.  I have to let go of all these moments that never happened, that are never going to happen.  And every time I have to confront that reality, it breaks my heart all over again.

I spent the weekend living breath to breath, trying to enjoy playing "I spy" and "Hide the Thimble" with Taylyn, even while my heart felt so heavy and my throat was thick with the sadness of missing Eliza.  It was exhausting.  It brings me to tears again even as I type this.

Of course I miss my baby girl.  But the thing is, I also miss three-year-old Eliza.  I miss Eliza starting kindergarten.  Learning to read.  Joining Girl Scouts.  Playing soft ball (or not playing, if she took after me...).  Learning to swim.  Taking gymnastics.  Doing homework.  Playing a musical instrument.  Begging for her own cell phone.  I miss her as a baby, but I also, already, really miss her all grown up.

All these things that will never happen, all these moments we'll never have with her.  I am her mom, and I have to miss her entire life.

Oh, you guys.  I miss my baby.  And I miss everything she might have been.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Color

Last weekend David and I saw Jamey Johnson in concert.  If you're not a big country music fan (and you're not a fan of the "classic country" style, you may have never heard of Jamey Johnson.  

Many of his songs don't get all the radio play that my husband would argue they deserve (David is a huge Jamey Johnson fan, and he listens exclusively to country music).  Anyway, probably the most popular song he has is this one called, "In Color."  It's about looking at old photographs with with his grandfather, and I love this song because I feel like I could have had this same conversation with my grandfather, looking through his photo albums.  

Allow me to illustrate.  Here's Jamey Johnson's lyrics, and pictures of the amazing Gandpa Vance.

I said, Grandpa, what's this picture here
It's all black and white and it ain't real clear.
Is that you?  He said, yeah, I was eleven.
Times were tough back in thirty-five.
That's me and uncle Joe, just trying to survive
A cotton farm, in the great depression.

This picture was taken closer to 1925 than 1935, and my grandpa isn't quite eleven here (he's the little one) and his brother's name was Harold instead of Joe.  But you get the idea.  Times were tough on a farm in Iowa.  Isn't their dog cute?

And if if looks like were were scared to death,
A couple of kids just trying to save each other,
You should have seen it in color.

This one here was taken overseas
In the middle of hell in nineteen forty-three
In the winter time.  You can almost see my breath.
That's my tail gunner, ol' Johnny McGee.
He was a high school teacher from New Orleans.
And he had my back, right through the day we left.
My grandpa (back row, first on the left) and his bomb crew.  He piloted B-24 bomber planes over the Pacific.  I don't think anyone in this picture is actually named Johnny McGee, but I know they looked out for each other.

And if it looks like we were scared to death,
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other,
You should have seen it in color. 

A picture's worth a thousand words,
But you can't see what those shades of gray keep covered.
You should have seen it in color.

This one is my favorite one.
This is Grandma and me in the summer sun,
All dressed up, the day we said our vows.
You can't tell it here, but it was hot that June,
The roses were red, and her eyes were blue.
And just look at that smile.
I was so proud.
My grandma's eyes were brown.  Otherwise, I think every word is true.  This was taken the day that got married.  And look at that smile.

That's the story of my life.
Right there in black and white.

And if it looks like we were scared to death,
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other,
You should have seen it in color. 

A picture's worth a thousand words,
But you can't see what those shades of gray keep covered.
You should have seen it in color.

That song makes me happy, to remember my Grandpa Vance, and it makes me a little sad to miss him.  And so glad I have so many pictures of him, especially these black and white ones that show some of his most significant life experiences.

At the concert on Saturday, this song made me cry.  I found myself thinking of my own little collection of black and white photos, those that were taken that day in the hospital last December, as David and I held Eliza, and then held each other, and cried, and tried to begin to figure out how the hell we were supposed to keep going without our baby girl.  I think about those pictures, about the black and white record of that time, of how terrible and beautiful those moments were.

And if it looks like we were scared to death,
Like a couple of kids just trying to save each other,
You should have seen it in color.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Love is Like Life

Eliza's death changed everything.  My life.  My perspective.  My marriage.  My friendships.  Some good changes, some bad, mostly sad.  Everything is different.  I think there's nothing in my life that hasn't changed since she died.  Except how much I love her.

It blows my mind, sometimes, to think that everything in my entire life is different without her here.  Nothing is as right as it should be, nothing is as good as it could have been.  But I love her perfectly, completely, unconditionally.  Living or dead, it makes no difference.

I ordered this print the moment I saw it.

image:  tagteamtompkins etsy shop

And now it's hanging in my dining room.  I had to have it--not just because I love Emily Dickinson (although it's true that I first knew I wanted to study literature when I was eleven years old and my grandma Vance gave me a book of Emily Dickinson's poetry), and not just because Emily Dickinson happens to share her initials with my daughter (although that detail makes me smile).

But because the truth of this statement took my breath away.  It was something I'd never fully formulated before, but it was such a simple notion, and so obvious.  Love doesn't begin with being born and end with being dead.

I loved that baby before her heart started beating, when she was just a cluster of cells and two pink lines on a pregnancy test.  And I'll continue to love her even though her heart stopped beating and none of my dreams for her came true.

I'm not sure about many things anymore, but this?  This I'm absolutely certain about.

I'll love her as long as I live.  And then longer.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Very Worst Date of All Time Anywhere Ever

Yesterday's blog broke some major rules for me.  (1) Excessive pity-partying, which was completely obnoxious considering I know many people who have struggled with infertility for far more than six months; (2) Writing about TTC; (3) Whining.

Oh, who am I kidding.  I break rule number 3 ALL THE TIME.

Today, we're going in another direction:  Another stroll down memory lane, back to the days of cruising in The Buick, and then going outside of town to find an old barn and get footloose.  (Or something like that, haha).  Back to the worst date of my life.

In fact, I'd like to suggest that it just might be The Very Worst Date of All Time Anywhere Ever.  But you can be the judge.

Note:  Names have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the stupid high school kids that we all were.

I was a senior in high school.  It was Homecoming.

I had a steady boyfriend for most of high school.  For this story, we'll call him Mike.  Mike and I had a couple of dramatic break ups (including the time he dumped me for a red haired girl the summer before my senior year) so we were on a break at the time of Homecoming.

And, yes, I was pissed about the red haired girl.  So when a friend of Mike's--we'll call him TJ--asked me out at the very beginning of the school year, I thought it was kind of a jerk thing to do, to date your friend's ex-girlfriend.  And I accepted.  Because I was mad and I wanted to get back at Mike.

Dating TJ seemed like a great plan for other reasons, too.  I was feeling a lot of (mostly self-inflicted) pressure about college decisions and good grades and TJ was... not worried about that kind of thing.  Totally unconcerned, in fact.  TJ was, well, kind of stoner.  He smoked cigarettes and listened to alternative music and talked really slow.  One day, a few weeks into our relationship, we were walking down the hall together at school and he grabbed my hand.  Whoa!  PDA!  I didn't mind.  But I think it surprised people who noticed.  As he escorted me to class, holding my hand, I actually saw a teacher's jaw drop and she started whispering about us to another teacher.

We were an unexpected couple, to say the least.  To be honest, this was my favorite thing about TJ.  I mean, I thought he was cute and sort of interesting, but mostly I thought that dating him would make ME seem edgy and cool. (Obviously, I was kind of a self-absorbed jerk. Still trying to grow out of that phase.)

I have no idea what TJ thought he was getting out of it, except that he'd just come out of a serious long term relationship also, so we were both on the rebound, wanting to get back at our exes, not wanting to get serious, but definitely wanting to date someone else.  Possibly, anyone else.  I just happened to be willing and available.

Anyway, TJ was too cool for school (while I was, in the immortal words of Pink, "too school for cool"), so I was pleasantly surprised when he asked me if I wanted to go to Homecoming together.  Although we'd gone on a couple of dates.  I think we saw a movie and once we went to Dairy Queen (Although I realize it sounds like we dated in the 1950s, really we just lived in a small town and it wasn't quite like Footloose.).  We hadn't really spent that much time together.  But I liked him--or at least the idea of him--enough to overlook the fact that the couple of times we'd kissed, his lips were super chapped and he tasted like ashtray.

I'd also heard that Mike had recently split with the red haired girl.  So going to homecoming with TJ seemed like a perfect way to go on a date with someone I thought was cool AND to appear as though I couldn't care less about Mike.

So I bought a new shirt to wear to the game and to the dance that followed (all our school dances were informal except for prom and the Halloween dance--otherwise, everyone wore jeans).  It was a short-sleeved turtleneck sweater in kind of an oatmeal color (it seemed really cool at the time, I promise) and I wore it with Calvin Klein jeans and Doc Martins.  I put on mascara and I hot rolled my hair into what I imagined would be perfect, bouncy waves.

TJ picked me up and we went to the game.  It was unusually hot, so I felt a little sweaty in my TURTLENECK (but it was short-sleeved!).  By the time the band performed at halftime, my carefully hot-rolled hair had frizzed out and then wilted completely.  Still, I having a pretty good time.

The game was almost over and I was standing around talking with TJ and some of his friends (or, more accurately, I was standing there trying to look cool in my short-sleeved turtleneck with my limp, sweaty hair, while they talked about some band I'd never heard of), when, out of no where, I got STUNG on the thumb by a wasp.

And it freaking hurt.

It hurt so much I couldn't say anything.  I gasped and grabbed my thumb (smushing the wasp, who was still perched on it) and I stood there, trying to breathe, my eyes filling with tears.  Then the tears spilled over and ran down my face until one of TJ's friends said, "Uh, dude, what's wrong with her?"

I managed to indicate that I'd been stung by a wasp and I made myself stop crying.  TJ was, understandably, somewhat confused and not sure what to do.  I had this vague idea that you were supposed to put baking soda on a wasp sting.  So we decided to leave the game, go to my house to doctor my wasp wound (and reapply mascara), and then go to the dance.  On the way there, I imagined a really cute scenario in my kitchen where he would tenderly bandage my thumb and then we would kiss.  And, somehow, he wouldn't taste like ash tray.

None of that happened.  I bandaged my own thumb in the kitchen while he watched TV in the living room.  I think I also put my hair in a ponytail (because I know when to admit defeat).  Then we headed to the dance.  The baking soda concoction didn't work as I had expected, and my thumb throbbed painfully most of the night (until I self-medicated at a party later).

So, TJ and I show up a little late to the dance.  My friends are already there.  People are dancing.  TJ asks me to slow dance.  As we're swaying to "November Rain," this kid comes up to us.  We'll call him Bobby.  Bobby was in special education classes at our high school.  He was a friendly, enthusiastic guy, and he loved football so the team treated him kind of like their mascot.  It also happens that TJ's ex-girlfriend (we'll call her Melanie) was a super nice girl who went out of her way to be SUPER nice to Bobby.  I was much less outgoing, and while I'd always been polite and friendly to Bobby if I'd been around him, we hadn't interacted much.  I'm not sure he even knew my name.

At the dance, during "November Rain," Bobby walks up to TJ and me, and from the back, he must have thought I was TJ's ex-girlfriend (perhaps with a new, terrible hair style), because he started to say hi to us and then did a double take.  He looked at me, looked at TJ, looked back at me, then turned to TJ and said, "Where's Melanie?"

"Uh, we broke up," TJ said, also feeling awkward, I'm sure.  I was casually glancing around the gym as though I couldn't hear every word the conversation they were having LESS THAN AN ARM'S REACH away from me, as TJ and I were still swaying away in our school-slow-dance pose.  There was an awkward pause.  I offered Bobby a big, friendly smile.  I'm sure he knew it was fake.

Bobby blinked at TJ in disbelief.  He turned and looked at me, my fake smile plastered on my face.  He squinted.  Then he looked back at TJ and said, "Asshole."

And then he spun on his heel and stomped away.

In retrospect, that's pretty funny.  At the time, I mostly wanted to cry.  Mercifully, "November Rain" finally wrapped up and I excused myself to go to the bathroom and tell my girlfriends what Bobby had just said and get a little sympathy from them.  They might have laughed at me, too.  Because it actually was really funny.

Meanwhile, TJ and his friends made some plans to have a party at TJ's house.  His mom was working nights so we would be without adult supervision.  A party at TJ's was always fun because TJ had an older brother, Bryce, and between the two of them they had lots of friends, some of whom were able to buy beer.  So TJ invited me to come to the party after the dance, and told me to invite my friends, and I felt pretty cool.  (Normally Mike would have been included in TJ and Bryce's friends, but Mike was pretty pissed that TJ and I were dating--as I'd hoped!--so I knew he wouldn't be there.)

After the dance, we all headed to TJ's house.  There was music and beer and it was a pretty big party, so I spent most of the evening talking to my friends, not hanging out with TJ, but seeing him off and on as we all moved between the backyard and the kitchen and the living room.  He'd give me a hug or kiss my cheek.  I thought that was cute.  I might have even had a can of cold beer, you know, just to hold against my wasp sting.  After all, it was a party.  Before we knew it, it was getting close to my midnight curfew, and my friends were all getting ready to leave.

So I decided to find TJ and tell him I need to get home.  And I found him TOTALLY SCHWASTED.  I didn't think it had been more than fifteen or twenty minutes since I'd talked to him, but at this point, he was totally obliterated.  Not only could he not drive me home, he couldn't even WALK.  His brother was trying to get him into bed but he was being really belligerent and yelling my name.

So I go over there to see what the hell is going on, and TJ tries to apologize to me for being drunk.  He really wants to tell me he's sorry, but he's so messed up, he can't really form words.  I tell him that I accept his apology and Bryce tries to drag him down the hall to his bedroom, but he won't go without me, so he was fighting and kicking Bryce.  I was horrified.  Bryce was pretty drunk himself, but I think he was embarrassed by TJ, too.  So I helped him drag TJ's drunk ass down the hall, dump him in his bed, and pull off his shoes.

By this point, I'm pissed, and totally over TJ, and just wanting to go home.  But now he was lying in bed, almost to the point of crying, and begging me not to go.  So I told Bryce it was fine, I'd stay, and I sat on the edge of his bed waited for him to pass out.  It took about three minutes.  Also, I'm pretty sure he was mumbling Melanie's name.  Great.

I stood up, took a deep breath, I told myself this whole date was a stupid idea, I'd never go out with TJ again, and I'd put one of my friends on a mission to find out if the rumor about Mike breaking up with the red haired girl was true.  No!  I wouldn't.  I'd forget all about boys and just wait until I got to college and could date someone more mature.  I gathered up what was left of my dignity and walked back down the hallway, planning to catch a ride from one of my girlfriends and unload on her about how horrible my night had been.

Except my girlfriends had somehow totally missed the ruckus that was TJ's drunk ass getting dragged to bed, and in the time it took him to pass out and dream of Melanie, all my friends had already left the party, assuming that my date would be driving me home.  When I stepped into the dining room, the girls were gone and it was just Bryce and his buddies, playing cards, drinking, and smoking.

I stood in the doorway for a second, silently freaking out, and then said, "Uh, can someone give me a ride home?"

The guys all looked up in surprise that I was still there and the whole place got super quiet.  You could hear the TV in the next room.  I realized everyone there was probably drunk.  And then one of the older guys, the dude who had bought the beer, started laughing.

And that just did me in.  I started to cry and I bolted for the front door.  I threw it open and flung myself outside.

Except my so-cute-at-the-time-really-it-was-I-swear shortsleeved turtleneck sweater got caught on the handle of the door.  Along with the lace on my bra.  And since I'd used all my force to swing the door open, it RIPPED right through both of them.

So there I was, standing in TJ's front yard at midnight, in tears, with my shirt ripped open across the chest and my front-clasp bra busted wide open.  I must have looked like a victim of a violent sex crime.  There was no way I could go back inside and get one of those older guys to give me a ride home.  So, I did the only thing I could think to do.  I held my bra together with my hands and start running down the street, heading home.

TJ didn't live that far from my parents, really, so I knew it was a walkable distance.  However, I'd never had to walk it in the middle of the night with a torn shirt and no bra.  I was feeling VERY sorry for myself and very much like an ill-used and unfortunate heroine in a gothic novel as I stomped indignantly down the street.

At the end of the block, I arrived at a well-lit park.  I turned right to head for home.  Then I saw that strolling toward me on the sidewalk were three totally creepy guys who had recently gotten expelled from school and were not allowed to be at the Homecoming dance.  They were Trouble.  Way worse than a can of Natty Light at a party trouble.  Like real, scary trouble.  I sort of froze in place.  I had no idea if they would harass me or if they'd just let me pass by.  Also keep in mind:  MY SHIRT WAS RIPPED OPEN and I was pulling the material back together and holding my boobs with my hands.

I think I stood there, frozen in the yellow circle of a street light, wondering how the hell my homecoming date had come to this, and whether I should just say hi like I stroll through the park at midnight all the time, or just make a break for it and hope that these guys wouldn't chase me for sport if I ran, when a car pulled in to the parking lot and a familiar voice yelled my name.

It was another friend of Mike's (and TJ's) who had been at the party and was one of the guys playing cards--we'll call him Dusty.  Evidently he felt bad when I ran out of TJ's house, and he was sober, so he'd gotten in his Jeep and followed me.  I'd never been so glad to see him in my life.  So I quickly climbed in his car, he asked me if I was okay and what the hell happened to me.  I explained that my shirt had torn on the front door, and he drove me home while I complained about how shitty the night was and how Mike had dumped me for a red haired girl and TJ was an drunken idiot, and Bobby had said mean stuff to us at the dance, and my friends had LEFT me all alone.  Yes, there were some tears.  Dusty, bless his heart, was a good listener for the three-minute drive it took to get to my house.  Then he pulled in my driveway and I thanked him and wiped my nose on the back of my hand and got out of the car.

That's when I realized that Mike was parked in front of my house.  In some kind of bizarre, misguided, "romantic" gesture, he'd been waiting for me to get home from my date with TJ so he could tell me he HAD broken up with the red haired girl and he was sorry.  (And probably so he could tell TJ to go to hell.)

Instead of seeing TJ drop me off, Mike saw me get out of Dusty's Jeep, holding my shirt together and sniffling.  So he got out of his truck and started yelling at Dusty.  And Dusty and I were trying to explain what had happened, but the whole story was so ridiculous and Mike was furious and I started wondering if someone might punch someone else, and I remember thinking that in a movie, this kind of situation would be really exciting and romantic, but in real life it was just horrible and embarrassing.  Also keep in mind:  I was covering my own chest with my hands throughout the entire conversation / shouting match.  I was so mad at TJ, and now even more mad at Mike, and I really thought the night could not possibly get any worse.

But then my DAD came out on the front porch and said it was time for everyone to go home.  And then I died of embarrassment.

This part's a little vague, what with me having to come back from death of embarrassment, so I don't quite know how I managed to get inside without having to answer my dad's questions.  I think he stood there until Dusty and Mike drove away, probably glaring at them, so I crossed my arms over my chest and managed to scurry past him and get upstairs without getting interrogated, or him noticing that my shirt was ripped.  I threw that STUPID short-sleeved turtleneck sweater AND the broken bra into my trash can  I washed my face.  I put an ice cube on my wasp sting.  And I went to bed, confident that I'd just had the worst date of my life.

At least I was totally right about that.

TJ and I never went out again, and I avoided him at school on Monday.  Later that week, though, I bumped into him in the produce section of the grocery store where he worked.  He apologized, I said it was okay, and we never really talked much after that.  No hard feelings, though.

I called my friends on Saturday and gave them a huge guilt trip about leaving me at the party.  They genuinely felt bad about it; they hadn't realized that TJ was so hammered, or that I'd end up stuck there by myself.  I forgave them.

Mike and I did get back together eventually.  He apologized to Dusty (as did I) and he even kind of became friends with TJ again.  Our final break up (in college) was sad, but we just wanted different things from life.  We're no longer in touch these days, but I think of him fondly and I still adore his family.

I'm not sure what happened to the trio of delinquents at the park, but I don't think any of them graduated from high school so I'm not real optimistic for them.

As for me, I never had another date quite as bad as that one.  My second-to-worst date was in college, and it involved vomit (mine).  Still not as bad as Homecoming my senior year.

So... Can you top a the humiliation of a wasp sting, a blatant insult, an impossibly drunk date, a ripped shirt, a broken bra, an encounter with hoodlums in a park a night, and a driveway confrontation involving your ex-boyfriend, a guy just trying to be nice, and YOUR DAD?  If you can, I'll gladly give YOU the Very Worst Date of All Time Anywhere Ever Award.  Otherwise, I maintain that the title belongs to me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Failure. Ongoing.

I'm struggling with the sense of failure.

I know it's not true.  But I can't quite shake the feeling that I'm failing.

I've never failed at anything before.  At least, not anything important.

I mean, there was high school swim team, at which my skills were mediocre at best.  And I look terrible in a swim cap.  So I ultimately decided to resign from the team and concentrate my energies elsewhere (in this case, on starring in the spring play).  Take your failure, learn from it, focus on something else.  I never wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, so this was not a big deal.

My parents never pressured me about grades or extracurricular activities.  But they didn't have to.  I wanted to impress my teachers.  I wanted to make my parents proud of me.  I was the kind of kid who could be disciplined with nothing more than a "We're very disappointed in you" speech.

I'm most definitely NOT one of those people who's good at everything.  I'm a terrible cook, for example, and I'm very lazy about filing important documents at home (I prefer to simple pile them up on top of our file cabinet, waiting for my non-existent secretary to take care of them.  I'm not athletic or really very coordinated at all (I would rather study for a test than play softball).  But I've always been told, "You can do anything you put your mind to" and I've always believed that to be basically true.  I taught myself to sew.  I taught myself to make diaper cakes.  I taught myself how to teach ancient Greek poetry this semester.  I'm not the world's greatest seamstress or crafter or professor of ancient Greek poetry, but I managed to maintain a certain level of confidence in my ability to handle problems and tackle new things.  I know my strengths and weaknesses, but I figure that as long as I can consult the internet or phone a friend, I can manage to accomplish almost anything I decide to do.

I had this plan, see?  And it was a really good plan.  (And I know I've written about this before and maybe you're rolling your eyes and thinking OMG can't she get OVER that already?  No.  I can't.  I loved my plan.)  It was a plan that demonstrated that I was a hard worker, that I was smart, that I had my priorities clearly defined.  The plan was simple:  finish my degree and get pregnant by the time I was 30.  It made perfect sense, professionally and personally and biologically.  David and I spent our twenties dating, getting married, going to graduate school, scraping by on our meager salaries, and saving enough money to do some traveling.

I was so ready, so excited for the next chapter.  Welcome, thirties!  Baby now on board.  Time to get a real job.  Save a little more money.  Buy a hybrid car.  Invest in a jogging stroller and an organic crib mattress.  Put away our passports and spend more time visiting family.  I was SO ready to have a baby.  Mentally, emotionally, financially, physically.  I was healthy.  I was thrilled.  I was ready.

And then I failed to have a healthy baby.  For reasons no one can explain.

One of the first books I read after losing Eliza was Elizabeth McCracken's An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.  It's about her experience with the stillbirth of her son, Pudding.  A year and a month later, she gives birth to Pudding's little brother.  The book ends with her having managed to create a happy life for herself, even with the pain of losing a child.

That's it, I thought, That's the only way to survive this.  I've got to have something else to look forward to.  I've got to get pregnant again.

I was sure that my story would echo Elizabeth McCracken's.  After all, we had so many other things in common!  I was confident that before long I'd be trying to manage the complicated anxiety and hope of a new pregnancy after a loss.  At my doctor's advice, we waited three months.  And then we started trying again.

Six months later:  Fail.  Again, for reasons no one can explain.  Everything checks out completely fine for both of us.

Not that I want something to be wrong, but come on!  Give me something I can work with!  Give me something I can fix and I swear I will fix it!  What can I do more?  better?  Because I'll do it.  Really I will.  Whatever it takes.

I've heard of women being diagnosed with an "incompetent cervix."  (There's perhaps no diagnosis more cruel for those of us with perfectionist tendencies.)  Although I certainly question the competency of my body, with the frustration I feel right now, based on the apparently ideal conditions of my internal organs, I wonder if my diagnosis should be more like "Uncooperative Uterus."  Note in my medical file:  Uterus uninterested in housing fetus.  Kind of a bitch.  Prefers to do its own thing, regardless of Brain and Heart's desire to have baby.  Perhaps Uterus is involved federal government conspiracy to boost economy with tampon sales on monthly basis?  Warrants further investigation...

Note:  I don't ACTUALLY believe my doctor actually uses my medical file as a place for speculating about government conspiracy theories.  Reason #543 that I did not go to med school:  Creative journaling not allowed in patient files.

Seriously, though, I freaking hate that my body is failing me in this way, for no good reason, when it's willing to do pretty much everything I ask.  Get up early.  Stay up late.  Digest delicious cheeses.  Exercise without pain.  Sleep at night.  Fit into my old clothes.  Downward dog.  Warrior 2.  Mountain pose.  Bicep curls.  Tricep dips.  Walk three flights of stairs to my office.  If it's not unhealthy, why does it fail at This. One. Thing.?

David's coaching career is coming in handy these days, because he's now the King of the Pep Talk at our house.  However, I had to cut him off last night because I swear to God that if one person gives me the "Any given month there's only about a 20% chance you'll get pregnant" speech, I will scream and tell them to go to hell.  Even if it's my husband.  Or my doctor.  Or a very kind, very old nun.

Maybe the one bright spot in this whole freaking mess is how much I love David and how he's being so sweet and supportive and optimistic and reasonable and all of the things I need him to be.  (Seriously, he just walked in from doing yard work and kissed me and said, "You know I think you're really great, right?"  I could not make this shit up.)

The problem?  By being so great, he almost makes it even worse--this sense that I've failed him, too.  When I lost Eliza, I failed him.  And every month, I fail again.

I know he would argue with me, I know he'd insist that's not true.  But there is this super creepy, anti-feminist, wife-of-Henry-VIII voice inside my head that is in a near panic about my wifely duty to provide my husband with heirs and holy shit you guys, she is freaking me out.

And speaking of heirs, then there's my parents.  You know, just the two people I've been actively trying NOT to disappoint since I was, oh, about four years old.  The only two people who were, if possible, slightly MORE excited about this baby than we were.  I hate that I lost their grandbaby.  It's almost like a separate grief, different from my sadness about Eliza--my sadness that my mom doesn't get to do all the fun grandma stuff.

Of course it makes sense that my parents are disappointed that they lost their only grandchild.  Who wouldn't be?  I know they're not upset with me in any way whatsoever.  I know that.  It's just that sometimes that line becomes blurry and I feel like I'm the reason for their disappointment.  It was me.  I let everybody down.  I couldn't keep her safe.  I haven't gotten pregnant again.  And I don't know why.  Nobody can tell me what to do.

I wish that in order to get pregnant, you had to follow totally strict dietary guidelines.  And you had to exercise for a set amount of time every single day.  And you had to take a lot of medicines, and they had to be taken at certain times during the day, some with food, some without.  And I wish you also had to do a lot of paperwork.  Like a shitload of paperwork.  And it had to be written legibly in black or blue ink.  And you had to cite all your sources in MLA format and include a writing sample and defend your ideas to a committee of professors over the course of two hours.  THEN they would declare you Pregnant.

Because that I could do.  

I could get pregnant if that's all it took.  I could do all of those tasks without fail.  I would establish that I am qualified and committed and competent and well-prepared.  I wouldn't disappoint anybody, including myself.

Instead, it turns out that the way to have a baby is to have sex with your husband.  The absurdity!  What kind of world IS this?  Pregnancy should not just be a random side effect of having an attractive partner.  Somebody need to do something about this, because pregnancy is far too dangerous and scary and too big of a deal to be the result of simply having sex. Also, in our case:  It's not WORKING!

I never want to discuss TTC because there's always someone who will offer the ancient, well-meant, unbelievably irritating advice: "Just relax."  OMG that's so HELPFUL!  Thanks!  I wonder why I hadn't THOUGHT of that?  You know, considering I have been doing enough google research to get myself an honorary medical school degree.  Also, you know what I do when I relax?  I watch Awkward and I shop online and I eat M&Ms.  As far as I know, that kind of behavior is also known as Abstinence, and I am pretty sure immaculate conception is not a pregnancy option for me these days.

Or someone will say to me, "Have you tried...?"  Yes.  Yes, I have tried it.  If it involves taking vitamins, drinking tea, peeing on sticks, taking temperatures, eating certain foods, trying every freaking day, trying every other day, doing yoga, being intentionally optimistic, visualizing what I want my ovaries to do, taking a vacation and trying to distract myself, having a fully monitored cycle so I could pay hundreds of dollars to look at my ovaries and follicles doing exactly what they are supposed to do except for MAKE A BABY, overthinking it, not overthinking it, standing on my motherfucking head (pardon my French).  Yes, I have tried it.

And what has it gotten me?  Not pregnant.  Six months of Failure.

So now I sit here, with the one year anniversary of Eliza's death already looming over me.  The weather is getting cooler, December is quickly approaching.  And what do I have to show for it?  I've lost a year of my life.  To grief and sorrow and the greatest pain I've ever known.  Losing Eliza was the single greatest failure of my life.

And every month, I fail again.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


I went to a local support group for baby loss last night.

I'd been a couple of times before, and found it helpful to hear from people who were months (or years) out from their loss.  But going was hard.  It was emotionally exhausting, and I dreaded it, even though was generally a positive experience.  The woman who runs the group is lovely and kind, but I hadn't connected personally with anyone there (here's a fact about baby loss:  it happens to obnoxious and self-centered people, too). I'd found so much support online, through Glow, through the blog, that it just didn't feel necessary.  Plus there was the fact that I didn't WANT to be part of this fucking group.  I wanted my baby to be ALIVE.  I think that was my real hang up.  I hated the fact that I belonged at this meeting.

But Angie convinced me to go last night by bribing me with the chance to meet her for dinner ahead of time.  So I met her for the first time, we ate sandwiches and baked potatoes, and then went together to the meeting.

This was by far my best experience at the support group.  It was a big group last night, and yes, it's hard to hear the stories.  It scares me to hear about all the Other Ways there are to lose a baby (besides the Reasons Unknown that took Eliza).  It made me cry to see the tears of people who are just weeks out from their loss because I remember so vividly what it felt like to be there.  I cried when I talked about Eliza and my voice got all high pitched and shaky and squeaky.

But in the end, I was glad I went for three main reasons.  First of all, because this time I actually felt like I "clicked" with some of the people who were there.  Like even if we hadn't lost our babies, I'd still want to go to happy hour with these girls (and the husbands I met).  A few of us stuck around after the meeting formally adjourned (well, it's not formal at all, but you get what I mean) and there was (weirdly) a lot of laughing.  A lot of it was dark humor--like when we talked about the beautiful sunset prints that Carly does with a child's name in the sand, and a dad suggested that for baby boys, someone could start a service of peeing their names in the snow.  Maybe you had to be there, but we found this hysterical.  And we commiserated with some of those horror stories about how people have responded to (or ignored) our loss.  It's the same thing we can do through blogs and online threads, but to talk about it with people who get it, with people who have been there.  It helped.  It made me feel connected.  Best of all, these people (like so many of the people I've met online) are people I would want to know anyway, even if we didn't share this awful tragedy.  Had I met these people under other circumstances, I still would have thought they were hilarious and witty and kind.

Since I was there without David (he went with me the first two times), I raised a question that's been on my mind.  In those early days/weeks/months, David did so much to take care of me.  I wondered if he ever felt frustrated that, on top of his grief and loss, he had to go back to work AND make dinner AND go to the store AND keep the house picked up AND take care of the dogs AND answer the phone (I just quit answering our phone entirely).  And even after I was doing a little better and was back at work, by the time we both got home in the evening, I'd fall apart into a soggy, sobbing mess because I was exhausted from the effort of holding myself together all day long.  I know that hard to be hard for him (in fact, we've talked about it ourselves), but I wanted to know if other people found themselves in similar positions.

The dads who were there talked about how it felt good to be able to do something.  One guy explained that this huge terrible thing had happened and he couldn't fix it, but at least he could could take care of his wife, make sure that things got done, make phone calls, even go to work.  He said taking care of those logistics was therapeutic for his grief, that he kind of worked through it that way.  Another dad talked about how he cried in the hospital when they lost their son, but said that he hadn't had another meltdown for five months until just recently.  He'd been so busy managing all these other things that he hadn't had time.  He said that it was a relief to break down.  I know that David's grief seemed to kind of resurface just at the time when mine was getting a little easier to bear, so this made sense to me.  It helped me to hear that most couples go through similar phases of grief and find their way much like we did.  I wonder who all these couples are who break up after losing a child (or if infant loss is different somehow?) because all the couples I know have found that this tragedy has brought them closer.

The other reason I was glad to be there was because I realized that after 9 months, my grief is just as strong, but it's less demanding.  Kind of like drinking really strong coffee.  The taste doesn't change, but you just get used to it.  It's ever-present, but it doesn't weigh me down the same way it did.  The kind of weird thing is that it still hurts so much that sometimes I forget how much harder it was, back in January when I was first going back to work, for example.  So it felt good that I could speak to that issue when someone else brought it up, and I could tell her that there was some relief in going back to work, in having a distraction, in having ONE area of my life in which I felt mostly competent.  I could also advise her to go ahead and send an e-mail telling people what to do or how to respond when they see you.  Because they won't know, and they won't want to do the wrong thing, but they'll probably do just that, if you don't give them direction.

One girl was unable to tell her story to the group, and I could see how much she was hurting.  I remember what that felt like--when grief was so paralyzing I could barely function.  And now I'm at a point where I could say to the group that yes, there was a time when I didn't think I would EVER want to get off my couch and do anything again.  Honestly, I dropped out of life.  Some of my friends understood.  Some of them had a harder time with it.  But I did what I had to do to survive.

And now I've come back, at least a little bit.  I'm still out of FB, I still opt out of a lot of large social events, David and I still make a lot of "game time" decisions about getting together with people, and we are skipping the holidays entirely.  BUT I enjoy seeing my friends (even if they have to initiate that most of the time), and lately I feel energized instead of wiped out after I meet up with friends for dinner or coffee.  I went from watching endless reruns of The New Adventures of Old Christine to finding the energy to go shopping, repaint my living room, go back to yoga class.  In so many ways, and without diminishing the grief I feel, I think I'm finding my way back to my old self.  8 months ago, I would have truly believed that was impossible. So I like to think that maybe I said something that would have helped someone, because I can remember what I was afraid of, and what I needed to hear from others in those early days.

And the fourth reason I liked it is because someone there told me I look like Kristen Wiig which is like the BEST COMPLIMENT EVER, since the time last summer when a sixth grader told me I looked like Katy Perry: BEST COMPLIMENT EVER #2.

Now, if you would care to comment, I welcome all comments related to support groups experiences (good, bad, or just plain weird), and I would also like to know what celebrity people tell you that you resemble.  What's your best famous person look alike compliment ever?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Small Town Saturday Night

Today we're having a bit of a retrospective post, featuring Small Town Saturday Nights when I was in high school.  This particular post also features:  The Buick.

Not the actual car, but it looked a lot like this.
The Buick was not my car (although I believe that my parents did, in fact, have a Buick for a while when I was a kid.  I think that it was the Buick that my mom was driving the day our dog managed to roll up the back window on his own paw and it panicked him so much he spray-shat in the backseat and we had to get home and use all kinds of household cleaners to try to get the smell out and then we went to a gift shop on the square and bought a mulberry-scented sachet to put in the back window of the car to help cover the smell of anal gland release.  You know how scents can trigger memories?  Mulberry potpourri will always make me think of Rufus's butt-spray the back seat of our Buick.  So lovely.  He was actually a really good dog, though.).

This Buick, however, was Monica's car.  And it was quite central to our lives when Monica got her driver's license in January of our junior year.

I have a summer birthday, so all my friends turned 16 during the school year before I did.  This was fine with me because driving kind of made me nervous.  So I was perfectly content to be the passenger.  And even after I got my license, I spent most of my time being shuttled around by my friends or boyfriend.

I grew up in a small town and when I was in high school, gas still cost less than $1/gallon (because I am officially a million years old).  There wasn't a lot to do--the only shopping was at Wal-Mart and back in the day, it wasn't a Super Wal-Mart, so it closed at night.  In other words, we had to make our own fun, gas prices were not an issue, and The Buick was a party ready to happen.

I should add that my friends and I were "good kids."  We behaved ourselves, we didn't get into trouble, we made good grades, we participated in extra-curriculars.  In fact, one of the first times I took an excursion in The Buick was for a school project on Civil War cemeteries in our county.  We drove way out to BFE (to clarify, this is not a literal place, although one of my high school friends truly believed it was actually a specific area outside of town where our friend Melissa lived...  it's actually short-hand for butt-effing Egypt and just means any place that is far away and usually off on a gravel road).  There is a Civil War cemetery out in BFE.  So we hopped in The Buick, put Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album in the discman, and rocked out to "You Oughtta Know" as we cruised through the southwest Missouri countryside, searching for the graves of obscure Civil War soldiers.

But The Buick was not just for school projects!  Come Friday night, we would load up in The Buick to go cruising.  FYI: "cruising" consists of driving down the main street in our little town, pulling into the grocery store parking lot to turn around, and driving back down the strip to the other little grocery store parking lot.  It's best done with four or five people in the car, but it's not unimaginable to cruise as an individual if you're trying to meet up with people.  Repeat until (1) you run low on gas (2) you get invited to a party (3) you get someone to buy beer for your crew and then you drive outside the city limits to drink it.  (I hear this sometimes happened.)

If it was nice out, we'd roll down the windows.  If it was cold, we'd roll down the windows and blast the heater at the same time.  Because we needed to be able to shout out the windows and sing at the top of our lungs, obviously.

Of course the whole point of cruising was to see other people out and about, and stop and talk to them so we could figure out where there was a party or what was going on.  In this sense, it was important to have a recognizable car and a clear set of associations, so anyone who saw The Buick could reasonably expect to see our core little group of friends.  We'd keep an eye out for the cars and trucks of people we knew, and then we'd pull up next to them in one of the two parking lots to talk.  Sometimes we'd get out of the cars to sit on the trunk or up on tailgates to talk, but there was "No Loitering" allowed in either parking lot, so before too long, the police would come through and run us off.  Then we'd get back in our cars, muttering anti-establishment comments, and go back to cruising until we saw someone else and stopped and pulled over and talked until a police car showed up.  You get the pattern.

Occasionally we'd grow tired of cruising, or we'd hear about a party, and we'd take The Buick outside the city limits and head to Thirteen Curves (a particular stretch of country road) or Witch's Bridge, where there would be impromptu parties begun when more than one car showed up at the same spot and someone had beer.  If we were feeling like jerks, or if we were holding a grudge against some of the people who were partying at these places, or if we were bitter that there was no one willing to buy us wine coolers (so classy!) we'd drive by without stopping and yell out the windows that the sheriff was coming, sending people scattering to their cars as we drove away, cackling wickedly.

Sometimes we'd invite other people to hop in The Buick and cruise with us.  One particularly quiet summer night, we decided to create our own entertainment by "Trunk Cruising."

It was as brilliant an idea as it sounds.  We had The Buick crammed full of people--three in the front, four in the back, and when we met up with a couple more people, we decided to just move some people to the trunk.  Perfectly logical solution, right?  (Not once did any safety concerns cross my mind.  This seemed like a perfectly legitimate and legal way to entertain ourselves.  I have since learned otherwise, but I think the first time I realized it wasn't a "normal" thing to do was when I told this story my freshman year of college and my new friends stared at me in shock that I would do something so stupid and think it was (1) acceptable and (2) funny.)

You need to keep in mind that in our small town (as in many small towns across the nation), Sonic is on the cruise route.  So we bought Route 44 cokes with lime almost every night that we were out cruising.  (You could also get a Route 44 water for a quarter).

This particular night, we pulled into Sonic with a carload of people and ordered two Cokes with lime.  The carhop brought them to the car and Monica said, "Oh, but those are for the people in the back."

So the carhop obliging moved toward the back window to hand the Cokes into the car.

Then we all shouted, "No!  The WAY back!" and Monica popped the trunk, allowing the two people in the trunk to sit up and take their Cokes with lime from the carhop.


Maybe you had to be there?

At least it was hilarious to us at the time.  And anytime we re-tell the story (which is more often than you might think), we still think it's funny.

Once we were good and jazzed up on vast quantities of sugary caffeinated beverages, we decided to spice things up a little more.  We switched things around so that another friend of ours ended up in the trunk with a boy she thought was cute.  And we decided to drive around for a long time and give them the chance to get to know each other (because nothing says "romance" like the opportunity to get felt up in the dark and confined space of the trunk of a moving car).  Cruising had gotten boring (imagine that) so we ventured off the beaten path.

If I remember correctly, Monica had actually turned the wheel of The Buick over to my high school boyfriend, and he was driving us around town when someone suggested we make a trip out to Deepwood Cemetery.  I'm not sure if someone dared him or if he just got a wild idea in his head and made an announcement that was met with applause and shrieks of delight, but it was decided that we were going to jump the railroad tracks on the outskirts of town.  As we approached the intersection, he floored it.  Despite all the weight in the car, The Buick picked up speed and once we hit the tracks, The Buick was airborne!

Those of us sitting in the car were bounced around quite a bit as we whooped and cheered.

Those in the trunk fared slightly worse...  And because we're good friends, we had the music playing so loud that we didn't even hear them banging somewhat frantically on the trunk for several minutes.  And because we're idiots, it hadn't occurred to us that they might have actually gotten hurt jumping the railroad tracks.

As it turned out, our friend had a bloody lip and a big bump on her head, and whatever romantic interlude she might have been hoping for didn't exactly work out.

So those are just a few of our adventures in The Buick.  Monica got a new car our senior year, but I like to think we all hold on to our dear memories of the LeSabre.

And really, if you think trunk cruising is stupid, you should let me tell you about the time my brother's friends decided to tie a shopping cart to the back of a car and pull each other around in it...

That's the thing about a small town Saturday night -- you've gotta be bad just have a good time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Stacy and Amy

The routine at David's grandparents' house is to get up in the morning and have breakfast in their sunroom that overlooks the lake.  This weekend is cool and gray, but the view is lovely and the breeze feels good.  This morning, we carried out there the big plastic folder with all of the information that his grandparents had gotten from the Chemo Information Meeting at the hospital, and the breakfast table was strewn with brochures and pamphlets detailing all the miserable side effects, posing questions for your oncologist, listing caregiver support groups.

David and I paged through these as we drank our orange juice and tea.  He used a highlighter to mark the questions or information he wanted his grandma to be sure to read carefully.

It wasn't long before his grandma got her coffee made and came out to join us.  She was carrying a greeting card in her hand, and she pulled out a letter that was folded up in it and said that she wanted me to read it.  Gene has gotten tons of "Thinking of You" cards in recent weeks--they've filled up a basket in the dining room and it's always nice to see how many people care about his grandparents.

So I unfolded the letter, expecting to read a funny story about Gene.  This letter was sent by a good friend of theirs who had attended church with them for several years, but had been away for last year or so, acting as a caregiver for someone in her family.  She'd recently returned to town and heard about Gene's cancer.

She writes in the letter that she's thinking of Gene and keeping him in her prayers.  That they miss him at church.  And then she writes this:
I hope you won't mind my sharing of my personal experience in a very sad time in my life.  My first children were precious twin daughters.  I wanted children more than anything.  I was advised not to have children as I have only one kidney.  I am sure you and Peggy know I am a very determined person.  I decided to have a baby anyway.  My twins were born prematurely.  Stacy lived 2 days, Amy lived almost a week.  My heart was broken, and I sought comfort from my church friends.  But they said all the wrong things to me in trying to offer comfort.  They said, "You're young, you can have more children" and worse yet, they told me it was God's will.  I spent 2 years mad at God, stopped going to church, and wondered how the God I had loved and had worshiped my whole life would allow my babies to die.  My Christian parents were devastated, no only by my loss, but not knowing what to say to help me.  But what my Mother did say to me repeatedly was that God had not deserted me.  She told me that life is not sustained on mountaintops.  It is in the valleys that true growth takes place.  It is there where we find God most easily.  
She's not offering platitudes, or vague well-wishes, or promising Gene that everything is going to be okay.  But she is telling him from personal experience, that even in the darkest moments, faith and friendships can sustain him.  She can say these things with honesty and authority.  She had two baby girls who were so wanted, and so loved, and in the wake of their loss, she found a way to go on.  And I'm so grateful that she felt compelled to share this with Gene (and with us).  I hope she realizes that her kindness is a beautiful tribute to Stacy and Amy.

I should add that, as far as we know, she has no idea about Eliza.  She's been friends with Gene and Peggy for several years, but she's never met David or me, and she wasn't in town at the time of our loss, having only returned a couple of weeks ago.

She closes the letter with this:
I have never shared my story with anyone, but somehow it seemed the right thing to do.  I hope it was.  We will continue to pray for you, and are here if you need anything.
I can't believe she's never shared this story before, but it's obvious that her girls have still been a part of her life at every moment.

This lady has no clue how much we really needed that story.  She just felt that somehow it seemed like the right thing to do.  I'm so honored that she found the courage to tell Stacy and Amy's story, and I hope someday I have the opportunity to tell her how much it meant to all of us.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hard Times and Schweddy Balls

It's been a long week.  And I'd just like to say that a number of friends and blog readers sent me a link to the announcement of Ben & Jerry's new Schweddy Balls ice cream, and I just want to say THANK YOU.

I'm so glad that when you hear Schweddy Balls, you think of me.

Honestly, it's totally flattering.  Really.

Seriously, though, that ice cream sounds delicious.

So that's the Schweddy Balls.  Onto the hard times.

To cut to the chase:  we've spent this week reeling from the worst news we've gotten since December.

David's grandpa Gene has cancer.  In his liver and gallbladder and the bile ducts in between.  It's a type of cancer that doesn't display symptoms until it's very advanced, and now there's nothing left to do.  Chemo might slow things up, but it won't cure him.  It will make him feel sick and weak.  Surgery is not an option.  He's not a candidate for a liver transplant.  The doctors have given him 2-3 months.

We were there when he got that news.  We knew it was bad, but we didn't know it was THAT bad.

Gene took it pretty well.  He said, "Well, I'm almost 80 years old and I've had a good life."

But I watched him count it out on his fingers.  September, October, November.

I saw my husband's eyes fill with tears as he hugged his grandpa and grandma.  I listened to him make phone call after phone call, informing the rest of the family, telling their friends and neighbors, notifying the pastor at their church.  I watched him reach out his arm to steady his grandpa--who has always been so active, energetic, and athletic--as they walked outside to take a drive in his favorite vintage Mustang.  David is such a good grandson.  I can't help but think he'll be such a good dad, too.

The weekend was full of tears, but we also spent time hearing stories and looking at photo albums.  Making lists of questions to ask doctors and questions to ask lawyers.  Working out in the yard that David's grandparents have always kept looking so pristine.  We headed home on Monday feeling tired and defeated.  We're both glad we can be there, glad we can do everything in our power to help make these months good ones, glad we can try to take some of the burden off David's grandma.  But we just wish he had more time.

David's parents divorced when he was very young and his mom moved back home with him, so he was essentially raised by his grandparents, spending lots of time with them even after his mom moved out and remarried.  He and his grandpa share a deep affinity for the St. Louis Cardinals and for all things that fall in the "dessert" category.  When David and I were first dating, he talked about how great his grandparents were and how much he admires his grandpa.  When I first met them, we had dinner and his grandma made mashed potatoes.  I wasn't a big fan of mashed potatoes, so I didn't put any on my plate.  David's grandpa totally called me out on it and his astonishment was so genuine that I decided to give mashed potatoes a try.  Thanks to Gene, I'm now a huge fan (of course, I'm pretty sure that David's grandma adds a pound of butter and a bucket of sour cream to them, so what's not to like?).  That same night, we played the card game Pitch and David and his grandpa were an unbeatable team.  His grandpa is a great story teller and often when David tells a story or a joke, his delivery and emphasis sound just like Gene, which cracks me up.

Like David's grandma, his grandpa was born in southwest Missouri and grew up in a family that had very little in the way of money or material possessions.  Unlike Peggy, Gene had a pretty rough childhood.  There's one picture of him and some other kids sitting on the front steps of their school house.  Gene and his siblings are the ones not wearing shoes.

He was the third of six kids and he lost his mom when he was young.  His stepmother was a terrible woman by all accounts, and at age fourteen, Gene moved in with a neighbor family and worked for them on their farm to earn his keep.  He was essentially on his own from that moment forward.  He joined up with the National Guard.  He got a good job with Boeing, and he helped build B-52s and later worked on the space shuttle.  He's one of those increasingly rare real life examples of pulling yourself up by your boot straps, starting out life a barefoot little kid living in the sticks, and retiring from a successful career in a lovely home on a beautiful lakeside piece of land.

Oh, and he's ornery as hell.

I hate that we're all going to lose him so soon.  I don't want him to have to suffer in his final months.  My heart aches for David's grandma, who is caring for him and preparing for a life without him, after 53 years of marriage.

So these are hard times.  I'm glad to say that we are doing okay so far.  It turns out David and I know a little something about surviving a crisis and coping with tragedy.  Priorities become clearly defined, and we welcome the specific tasks we can do to make things easier on his grandparents.  It feels good to have something to do, you know?  This is such a different kind of loss from Eliza's death.  It's one we always expected at some point.  It's one we can understand.  But it's still hard.

So thanks again for the Schweddy Balls links.  It gave me a much-needed laugh this week.  And don't worry--I'll report back as soon as I've had a chance to give that ice cream a try.  In fact, I may try to pick up a pint to take to David's grandpa this weekend.  I think he'd get a kick out of it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Marry Him for the Toilet

David's grandma is a talker.  She has a sharp mind, a remarkable memory, a lot of opinions, and plenty to say about everything.  Sometimes her comments seem to come out of the blue, such as last night when (apropos of nothing) she patted David's grandpa on the knee and then announced loudly, "Well, I know one thing about Gene.  I've never had to use an outside toilet since I married him."

This is the sort of remark that makes you kind of blink and wonder if you heard her right.

But it's true--she grew up in a house that didn't have indoor plumbing, so all their business took place in an outhouse.  And marrying Gene meant moving away from home and stepping in the world of indoor toilets and running water.  Now keep in mind, this was 1958, so really this was long overdue and much of the world had been peeing inside for years, decades even.  But Peggy's family was old school--Ozark mountain folk, scratching out a living from hard work and true grit.

Peggy was the youngest of six kids--and a total surprise to her mother, who thought she was finished having kids a decade earlier.  She was 42 when Peggy was born.  The older kids (three brothers and two sisters) were nearly grown by the time Peggy came along.  The youngest of them, Boyd, was eleven years old when Peggy was born, and the others were all teenagers.  ("Oh, but I was a good surprise," Peggy said with a smile.)

She grew up on a farm outside a small town in Southwest Missouri (and talks with the Ozark twang to prove it).  She remembers her mom working hard all the time, busy with farm and household chores.  Her daily uniform was a cotton dress with an apron--Peggy never saw her wear a pair of pants.  With two older sisters who doted on her, Peggy grew up being cared for by her sisters, especially Marie, who was thirteen when Peggy was born.

And she grew up using an outhouse.  And drawing up water up from a well near the porch (the porch was also where they bathed when it was warm outside).  They had a washing machine for laundry, but it was gas-powered and required constant attention.  You had to feed the clothes through the ringer and into the rinse water, then back through the ringer before you hung them up to dry.  The laundry water was then used by her mom to wash the floors of the front and back porch.  Because she didn't let anything go to waste.  Even dirty laundry water.

They didn't have electricity at home until she was a sophomore in high school.  She did homework by gaslight lamps.

The door locked with rope looped around a hook (just like Little House on the Prairie!).  In fact, David's mom remembers that rope lock from when she visited her grandma in the 1960s.  Because if it ain't broke you don't fix it (and evidently a good rope lock doesn't break).

There was no refrigerator, and not even an icebox for a long time.  "How did you save stuff?" David asked incredulously, because his grandma is still notorious for not letting anything go to waste.  Her refrigerator is currently stuffed with carefully labeled leftovers (in repurposed butter dishes and whipped cream containers, naturally), all ready to be reheated and eaten later.

Peggy laughed and explained that whatever they fixed for dinner (read: lunch--this was the big meal of the day on the farm) could be heated back up and eaten again for supper (read: dinner).  Otherwise there was no storing leftovers, so everybody cleaned their plates.

(This explains a little something about why she still pressures me to make several trips to the Chinese buffet, insisting that I need to "get your money's worth!" which apparently means stuffing myself with crab rangoon to the point of discomfort.)

"What about milk?" I asked, assuming they at least had an ice box or cooler or something.

Nope.  Milk was put in ceramic jugs, which were stored in the cold water stream that ran through her brother Basil's property.  (Isn't that adorable?  I mean, I know it must have been a pain in the ass in real life, but it seems so romantic to me, this idea of pulling a jug of milk out from a cold water stream and drinking it.  And I don't even like milk.)

After all this information, I was still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of having to use a freaking outhouse, so I asked what she did if she had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  "Well," she said, "We had a pot."  In fact, David's mom still has that pot.  She has flowers planted in it.  (I have mixed feelings about this.)

My favorite story might be the one about her family going to visit some friends who lived at the top of a very steep hill.  Her dad had a new car he was very proud of (he'd traded for it, because this was a bartering society), and the family had all piled in the new Ford to go on this visit.  Once they got to the hilly stretch of road approaching their friends' house, they ran into a bit of a problem.  The car could easily zoom downhill with everybody in it, but but once they started up the incline, everybody had to climb out of the car and WALK up to the top of the hill, before climbing back in to ride down, because the car couldn't make up a steep hill if it was full of passengers.  I just love that image of all of them dressed up to go visiting, hopping in and out of the car and hiking up the hills as they drove.

As I turn on my laptop and log on to the wireless internet at his grandparents' house, with all of its climate-controlled creature comforts, including a big screen hi-def television, and all the kitchen gadgets, and a bathroom with a whirlpool tub, it's hard to believe that his grandma lived (not so very long ago, really) in a house with no electricity and no indoor plumbing.

So today you might want to take a moment to be grateful when you flip on the light and pee in your air conditioned bathroom.  After all, that business could require a hike to the outhouse.  At least until you were lucky enough to marry your way into indoor plumbing.

Friday, September 2, 2011

You Didn't Upset Me; I'm Already Freaking Upset

I want to thank everybody who commented or e-mailed me yesterday.  That post was an explosion of self-pity typed in a low, low moment, and the comments and replies that beeped in on my phone that afternoon were like virtual hugs that I really needed.

I also want to add that although "Why?" is a question I have gone over and over again countless times, "Why me?" is something I have tried to avoid dwelling on for the simple reason that I know this didn't just happen to me.  I know that I wasn't singled out for this, because if there is one thing I have discovered since Eliza's death, it's that I'm not alone in this grief.  The real question is why would this happen to anyone?  And there's no answer to that question.

Well, Love's mom may be right when she says it's because life just sucks sometimes.  Such wisdom, that one!

At any rate, I know it may not be the last time that I'm in that situation, and at least now I know that I can come up with an answer and get it out without crying.  And that's not to say that I think crying is bad or wrong or embarrassing (my therapist says crying is not a negative behavior and I believe her).

It's just that this was a sweet kid who was trying to be polite to a professor, and I didn't want to have a total meltdown and make him think he caused it.  I'm sure he felt really bad when he heard my response (and it was sweet of him to stammer, "I'm so sorry,"--it's a hell of a lot more than I've gotten from certain health care and insurance professionals who've heard the same story), and I really didn't want him to think that he made me cry, rather than the situation itself making me cry.  You know what I mean?

I think this is the reason that so many people avoid mentioning Eliza or avoid talking about anyone who's dead.  Because we still tend to think that the mention of that person creates an emotional response instead of just releasing a feeling that's been there all along.

When I was in college, my friend Stephanie's mom died suddenly.  It was spring break of our junior year.  It was the first terrible thing that happened to someone I know and I had no idea what to do or what to say to Stephanie.  My heart was broken for Steph and for her sisters, and for her mom who wouldn't get to meet her future sons-in-law and grandkids.  I was so sad for them.  I was also freaked out because in my self-centered little world, it was incontrovertible evidence that someday I would lose my mom, too, and that it could happen sooner rather than later.  Which was something I did not want to think about.

When Steph came back to school after break, and tried to get back into the swing of things, I wanted to be a good friend to her.  And so, naturally, I completely avoided talking to her about her mom.

Why on earth would I do that?  Why would I try to pretend that his huge and terrible and life-altering event hadn't just happened to one of my best friends?  Why would I just carry on as usual when I saw Steph leave class in tears and I watched her pick at her food at dinner and I knew she had a hard time concentrating on her studies?  Why would I avoid talking about the grief that was obviously in her heart all the time?

You know why.  Because I didn't want to upset her.  I didn't want to make her sad.  I didn't want to make her cry.

Because I was completely clueless about grief and I just wanted my friend to be okay.

I realize now that I handled it all wrong, and I told Stephanie this and tried to offer this terribly belated apology when she came to see me a few weeks after we lost Eliza.  She shrugged it off with a smile and told me that it was okay--that she had some friends she talked to about her mom a lot, and some friends (like me) that she talked with about other things that were welcome distractions from her grief.

I wish I'd known how to be a better friend to Steph after her mom died, but I'm glad she had some people who were better equipped to step up and be the emotional support she needed.  I think it's a little bit like the threstrals in Harry Potter, which are mythical creatures only visible to those who have witnessed death.  Some people are intuitively sensitive and know what to say and how to talk with someone who is grieving.  The rest of us are too caught up in our own issues and we only learn how to handle the grief of others only by experiencing it ourselves.  (And of course some people never learn at all because they suck / are socially awkward / are selfish beasts.)

All this to say, that conversation at the salad bar was painful and horrible and I freaking hate that it had to happen.  But I don't hate that he asked me; I hate the answer I had to give.

I did make it through my afternoon class okay.  It was not my most sparkling teaching performance, but I'm pretty sure the students did not suspect I'd been sobbing in my office minutes before (thanks, Avon Waterproof Eyeliner and L'Oreal Voluminous Waterproof Mascara!  No, they did not sponsor this post, haha.).  I got home with a raging headache and cried some ugly tears.  It was one of those evenings when David walks in from work and gives me a hug with one arm while he's pulling a beer out of the fridge with the other because he knows he's in for an emotional hailstorm and he really needs a Hefeweisen to help withstand it.  (Also Project Runway came on, so that helped.)

Still, I'm proud of myself that in that moment at the salad bar, holding tongs full of spinach, with my heart pounding in my ears, I was able to say, "Thank you for asking," to let this kid know that he hadn't done something wrong by inquiring about my baby.

I'm proud of myself for not crying in the dining hall, for making it back to my office. I'm proud of myself for saying, "It's been rough" and not trying to pretend that everything's okay.

I'm even proud of myself for lying and making it seem like things are getting "back to normal" for me because he's just a college student I had in class last year and there's no need to burden a random eighteen-year-old with all of my grief and angst (after all, that's what you people are for).

But I have to say, that brief encounter was so emotionally exhausting that I think I've totally earned a 3-day weekend.  Hope you all find some peace and maybe even a pocket of happiness over the weekend.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

At the Salad Bar

One of the perks of my job is that I get a free lunch everyday.  Because I loathe packing a lunch, this is great news.  And the dining hall on campus is pretty decent.  At the very least, there's a fresh salad bar every day.  Vegetarian fare is always available.  And it's free, so I can't complain.

Today I was at the salad bar behind a student who was in my comp class last semester.  A nice kid.  I liked him.  He made a spinach salad and then handed over the tongs so I could scoop up my spinach leaves.

As he did so, he casually asked, "Hey, how's the baby?"

And right there at the salad bar, with a pane of glass separating me from neatly sliced vegetables and brightly colored shredded cheese, with fluorescent lights overhead and a college kid in basketball shorts standing next to me, I had to say, "Oh.  Well, we had very sad news.  We lost the baby."

I said it while focusing on pinching green spinach leaves between plastic tongs and transferring them to the little white bowl on my tray.  Concentrating.  Willing myself not to cry.

He said that he was so sorry.

I tried to keep my voice light.  "Yes.  It's been really rough.  Thank you for asking, though.  I'm just glad the semester has started and I can try to get back to normal."

Right.  The semester has started and let me tell you, "normal" is no where to be found.

I walked by the tables full of other faculty and sat at a small table by myself, pulling out a book--my best means of defense against unwanted conversation and escape from undesirable reality.

But it was too late.  My hands were shaking.  My eyes were full of tears threatening to spill over.  My appetite was gone.

I ate two bites of salad before giving up.  I put my tray on the conveyor belt, gathered my things, and headed back to my office to cry.

And now I sit.  Door locked, lights off.  Sunshine spilling in between dusty mini-blinds.  Looking at my computer.  Crying.

I have to teach another class in fifteen minutes.

Why does this have to be my story?  Why do I have to be the one whose baby died?  Why did this have to happen to me?