When You’re Gone

On the day we got married, we received a framed copy of our wedding invitation that had been decorated with quilled paper flowers.  It was supposed to serve as an example of our eternal love.  For a while, it hung in the living room above our mantle.

On the day our divorce became final, I dismantled the frame, removed the paper flowers, tore up the invitation, and fed it all piece by piece into the fireplace.  And it was stupid, but I cried.  Not because we were getting divorced; for that, I was very glad.  No.  I cried because I was afraid to be alone.

*

I was significantly early for my OB appointment that day, so I took the longer way around to the doctor’s office that wound down by the lake.  Nudging the volume up on the car stereo, I rested my hand on my stomach.  The baby tended to kick more for show tunes.

When I drove into the parking garage, I still had almost an hour before my appointment.  I parked on the fourth level by the doctor’s office and then took the elevator back to the first floor where there was a massive Whole Foods grocery store.  I figured there had to be something there to eat or drink that might strike my fancy.  The baby was a fan of apple juice, and since I was thinking along the lines of how to make him move more, that seemed like a good bet.

Whole Food was a crowded, yet totally amazing, grocery store.  I wandered around lost for quite a while, finding plenty of warm beverages but nothing cold.  I finally found the cold beverage section tucked away in the corner by one of the registers, but there was no apple juice to be found.  However, they had a wide selection of different smoothie type beverages.  I decided a real fruit smoothie would be an even better afternoon snack than an apple juice for the baby, and for me as well.

I walked towards the check-out.  When I was approaching the register, my purse swung and took out the lower shelf of a travel mug display.  The mugs hit the ground in a mass, the clanging echoing throughout the store.  I kept walking, hoping that no one had seen.  But even if they hadn’t seen, they had definitely heard.

*

The potholder clanged off of the guitar that rested in the papazon chair.  “You.  Are.  An ass,” I said as it fell to the floor.  It was the first time I had expressed myself in a long time.  I wished I had better aim.  I wished it had hit my husband in the head.  Not that a potholder would do much damage, but it would get my point across.

“What?” he asked.  “I just…”

“I worked all day, I’m tired, I come home, and the first thing you say is what’s for bloody dinner?  Are you serious?”

“Well, it’s your job.  To cook.  It’s not my job.”

Nothing is your job.” I spit.  “Absolutely nothing.”

I turned around and stalked back to the kitchen, minus the potholder.  I stood over the pot of spaghetti, stirring it with my wooden spoon.  I thought about our marriage, about the unequal division of pretty much everything.  I kept my mouth shut.  My small explosion was the most I dared to express my feelings.  He didn’t work; I worked fifty plus hours a week.  He didn’t clean; cleaning was a woman’s job.  He didn’t do anything.

But, I consoled myself, at least he usually let me control the remote.

That was pretty much the highlight of our marriage.

*

When I checked in at the registration counter, I still had half an hour before my appointment.  The waiting room was crowded, so I dropped into a chair in the corner to play a game on my phone and drink my smoothie until they called me to come in.

It was quieter behind the door, back in the doctor’s offices.  I was in the same room for testing as I had been in two days before, so it was all familiar.  There was nothing wrong with the baby, they just thought he might be a little small.  As a result, three days a week, I got to be wired up for what they called a stress test.  This was my second time.  Same chair, same monitor.  Same little belt contraption that they put around me and hooked up to my belly.  The only difference was that I was prepared this time.  I had a new book to read on my phone and a smoothie to drink.

“Can you roll up your shirt for me, please?” the nurse asked.  I checked her name tag.  Joanna.

I obliged and rolled my shirt up.

Joanna fiddled with the monitor, and then with the printer, turning them on and then off again.

“Not working?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s an old machine,” she replied.  “Sometimes we have trouble with it.”

“They had some problems the last time I was here too.  I had to hold the sensors down on my stomach to get good enough readings.”

“Try that again,” Joanna suggested.

I pressed down on both sensors, and she shifted things around but still couldn’t pick anything up.  “Hmm,” she said.  “Let me get a nurse who has been here a little longer and has more experience with the older machines.  Give me one minute.”  She left the room and came back a few minutes later with a woman I had never seen before.  The new nurse played around with the machine in much the same manner as the first had for several minutes.  At that point, another nurse came in.  They all crowded around the apparently ancient machine, whispering to each other things I couldn’t quite hear.

The last nurse to enter the room turned to me.  I read her name badge too.  Tina.  “We’re going to have one of the doctors come in and do a quick ultrasound so we can figure out how to better position the sensors.”

I shrugged, somewhat tired but still unfazed.  “Okay,” I said.  “Is that normal?”

“Yes, of course.  Sometimes we have problems with these machines.”

*

One afternoon, my husband and I went through the drive through at my insistence.  I had to work in an hour, and wouldn’t have time to eat anywhere else between that and church.

“What do you want?” he asked.

I shrugged.  “A quarter pounder?  I don’t care.”

“Well, if you get that, that’s like all of your money for the day.”

“What are you talking about?” I shook my head.

“If you want to eat, you can have like three dollars a day.  Including stuff at home.”

I did the math quickly while he spoke with the cashier through the speaker.  Three dollars a day was twenty-one dollars a week.  We lived off of my salary.  Where was the rest of it going?    To his bands?  To his technology?  Did it matter?

*

“Is Doctor Wasserman coming?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “we can just have the on call doctor do it.  Your doctor is off today.  No need to call him in for something so routine.  We’ll be back in a few minutes.”

The nurse all left the room.  Tina reappeared not long after to take me to the ultrasound room.  I settled into a chair in the new room, tapping my foot and valiantly attempting to not be anxious.

“So, what do you do for a living?” she asked, pulling up a chair to sit next to me.

“I run a party store,” I answered while staring at the door.  I wondered when the doctor was coming.

“What does your husband do?”

“He’s a recording engineer.  He records bands and does live sound and stuff.”

She plopped a box of Kleenex in my lap.  I hadn’t even realized I was crying until she did that.  “Tell me about the most exciting trip you’ve ever taken.”

I thought for a second.  “Well, I went to Jamaica on a work mission the summer before my senior year of high school,” I responded woodenly.  “We built houses.”

“That sounds interesting.”

“It was.”  I began absently shredding the Kleenex one by one into a giant pile in my lap.  “There were termites.”

“Termites?” Tina repeated, confused.

“Yeah in the wall of the house.  They…”  I was interrupted when the doctor entered the room.  She was a short Oriental woman with really long, black hair.

“I’m Doctor Yang,” she told me.  “Let’s just take a quick look here.”

I rolled up my shirt and Tina spread some of the cold transducer gel on my belly.  The doctor placed the wand on my stomach and moved it around expertly, while reaching with the other hand to angle the screen away from me.  I jumped every time I heard what sounded like a heartbeat, only to be informed that it was just the uterine artery.  Tina whispered with the doctor for a few minutes, once again far enough away from me that I couldn’t understand what they were saying.

The doctor left the room.  When I looked quizzically at Tina she explained, “The doctor left to page Doctor Wasserman.”

I nodded slowly, attempting to comprehend her words.  “It isn’t routine anymore, it it?”

She shook her head.  “I think you should call your husband.”

Key word:  sometimes.

*

It felt like my husband never called me when he was away with his bands.  Like he was happy.

Likewise, I never called him when I was away for work.  I usually viewed it as a bit of a vacation.  A healthy break.  We didn’t really text each other.  We didn’t do normal couple things.  We stayed at home.  It was easier that way, easier to hide.

In the back of my head, I thought that a baby would fix things.  But we lost the baby.  And things got worse.  He changed.  We both did.

The baby left a hole behind that wouldn’t heal.

*

Doctor Wasserman came into the room wearing an outfit that made it apparent he had come straight from the gym.  He reached out and grabbed one of the cheap plastic chairs, dragging it in front of me and spinning it around to sit on it backwards.  “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.

“What happened?”  I bit the inside of my cheek to try and stop the tears.

“I really don’t know,” he replied.  “Everything was perfectly fine.  His heart rate was fine.  He was a good size.  Everything was formed.  We will do what we can to try and determine what happened, but sometimes you just don’t know.”

My husband appeared in the doorway and then sat down, his eyes red.

“It sucks that this happened,” Doctor Wasserman continued.  “I’m so sorry, guys.”

“Thanks,” my husband replied.

“What happens next?” I asked at the same time.

“Well, we basically have two options,” the doctor answered quietly.  “We can send you on over to the hospital where you’ll be induced, or you can go home and wait for labor to start naturally.  As the baby is…dead…your body will naturally attempt to expel it at some point in the next few days.”

“So wait…” I said, plucking another Kleenex out of the box I was somehow still clutching and jamming it against my eyes.  “Why can’t you just cut him out?  I have to wait?  I have to do all that?”  My voice steadily increased in pitch with each question, but I didn’t care.

“It isn’t really good for your body in the future if you want more children to perform a cesarean now that isn’t medically necessary.  It just isn’t a good option; it isn’t the best option.  It’s better for you to do things the natural way.”

I looked at my husband.  “I don’t want to go home and wait.  That’s like delaying the inevitable.  Like pretending he isn’t gone.”

*

The pastors told us that we could work things out.  I didn’t believe them.  And I didn’t want to work things out.  I wanted no part of it, of him.

I took my ring off the first night I was away from him, while I was sitting in the Walmart parking lot.  I didn’t delay the inevitable.  I didn’t pretend that we were going to get back together.  I was done with marriage, and done with him.

I still have the ring, tucked into a jewelry box packed deep within my belongings.  Several times a year, I consider selling it.  But I haven’t yet.  I also kept my wedding dress.  At the time, I believed that our marriage would last forever, and that someday we would dress our daughter in my wedding dress for when she got married.  It’s been difficult to let go of either.

I kept the pieces of our son that he allowed me to have as well.  I will never let those go.

I can’t say that our marriage was perfect.  It was not.  The balance of power was shifted dangerously to his side, and I am never willing to go back to being in a relationship like that—if I ever go back to being in a relationship at all.  But there is something to be said for that feeling, that hole, when a person is gone from your life.

Even when you hate someone, even when they hurt you, it can still be hard to fill the hole they leave behind.  Whether they walk away, or you walk away, or they just disappear, it’s all the same.

It takes a lot of strength to be alone.

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