Monthly Archives: July 2013

Diaspora: The Scattered (Section One)

(This takes place sixteen years after the prologue: https://girlinterrupted28.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/diaspora-the-scattered-prologue/)

Sixteen years later

I sank into the giant stone that served as a chair, relishing the cool feeling through my clothing.  I had just finished seventeen laps around the Enclave, and my entire body felt as if it had taken a beating.  But I was fit.  I was ready.  For what, I wasn’t sure.  But when it came, I was ready.

“Thirteen?  Where are you?”  Nine popped into the open doorway.  “Where have you been?”

I shrugged.  “I went for a run.  Not much else to do around here.  At least not today.”

“A run?  Where?”

“Just around the Enclave, not outside.  So don’t worry.  Which is not to say I didn’t want to go outside, because I definitely did.  Do,” I amended at the last second.

“Soon,” she replied, taking off her shoes and coat and shoving them under the cot that was directly across from mine.

My life was odd.  Even I didn’t fully understand it sometimes.   Nine wasn’t my mother, but she was a mother figure to me even though we were fairly close in age.  I let her tell me what to do.  I had never met my mother.  From the stories I had heard from Nine, she had died having me, and Nine had saved my life even though she was just a kid herself.  She brought me back to the Enclave.  In essence, I had no real family, at least not physically.  But everyone in the Enclave knew everyone else, and we had all bonded together as a unit of sorts.

Seventeen years ago, there was a Great War. Nobody even really remembers what exactly started it.  One country had nuclear weapons, the United States felt threatened and went after them, and….Well, the United States as it was in the year 2012 no longer exists.  Power is a rarity. I was four years old before I saw my first electrically lit room.  When people, when we, want things now, we have to work for them.

After the Great War, the nation had a massive shift in the way that citizens were classified.  There was the Enclave, where I lived.  We were the center of our society.  We had most of the resources, like food, water, and shelter, and we were very strong.  We worked together, and we worked very hard for all of the things we had.  Then there were the people who lived underground.  They didn’t want to participate in the organized ways of the Enclave, and chose to live out lives in wanting rather than the little bit of comfort offered within the Enclave walls.  The division didn’t make much sense, that people would choose to be below rather than above.  But we left each other alone.

Outside of the Enclave walls was a different picture.  That was where the savages lived, the Others.  They didn’t work with anyone; they were only out for themselves.  If someone got in the way of that….if someone interfered, well, that was it for that someone.  It was best to avoid the Others, to stay within the walls.  Though some people could acquire training to go outside, to be able to hunt and kill the animals that would feed the Enclave.  They were the providers.

I really wanted to be a provider.  Not just for the killing, because I wasn’t really that big of a fan of that.  For me, it was all in the getting out.  The pay off was in getting to actually see the world, really see it.

“Where did you go?” Nine asked.

I shrugged, getting up only to flop down again and drape myself across my tattered green cot. “I was just thinking….”

“About?”

“I think I’m ready.”

“For what?”

I hesitated for a moment before replying, “To be a provider.”

Nine looked me up and down.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“I’ve been practicing really hard with the targets,” I insisted.  “I can hit them dead in the center every time.  The instructor says I’m the best up and coming he has seen with a bow and arrow in a long time, and–”

“Thirteen–” she interrupted.

“No, really,” I pleaded.  “I know I could do it.”

The dinner gong rang somewhere off in the distance, signaling that it was time to eat and effectively putting an end to our discussion.  I got up without waiting for Nine to put her shoes on and drifted away down the corridor.

When I entered the hall where we gathered to eat, the line had already begun forming.  I grabbed a bowl and stood behind the last person, quietly waiting my turn.  He turned around and greeted me with a sly smile.

“Hello, Ven,” I smiled back.  Ven’s real name was Eleven, but he hated it and insisted that it sounded too much like a girl’s name.  He was a provider, and I aspired to be like him.  But I never let him know it.  The admiration would be too much for his ego.

“How’s it going?” he asked, reaching down to the bowl in front of him to ladle out some lovely looking gray substance.

“Great,” I replied.  I indicated the stew with my glance, “Mmm.  Tasty.”

“You’re too young to know what tasty is,” he retorted.

“I’m only two years younger than you!” I protested.

“Exactly.  You weren’t around before.”  He picked up a wooden spoon from the end of the line and moved to go sit at a table.

“Tasty is a freshly killed and roasted rabbit.  Or a deer.  Venison.”  I made a hungry smacking noise with my lips.

He went to go sit down at one of the tables, and I followed shortly after with my own bowl.

“Thirteen here,” he said to other man at the table, Four, “thinks that she would be better served by a freshly killed rabbit than this absolutely delectable stew.”

Four raised an eyebrow in my direction.

“I did NOT say that,” I argued.  “I simply said that I feel like a rabbit would be so much more tasty.  You know what I mean?”

Four stared back at me blankly, his left eyebrow still raised and quivering.  “My wife made this stew.”

“Oh, I…I didn’t mean,” I stammered uncomfortably.

He slapped me on the back.  “I’m kidding.  Just messing with you.”

I, in turn, turned and smacked Ven.  “Really, Ven, really?  Do you always have to try and mess with me?”

He shrugged.  “It breaks up the day.”

I rolled my eyes and shoveled my stew into my mouth. “Do you want to go practice with me later?” I asked Ven around a mouthful of food. “If you have time?”

“What, at targets?” he asked.

I nodded, swallowing another mouthful of stew.

“I guess I could,” he hedged.  “I mean, I don’t know how much time I have tonight.  But I could come for a little while.”

“You make it sound like such an obligation.”  I wasn’t trying to sound pouty, but I’m fairly certain it came across that way.

“I didn’t mean it that way at all.”  We had both finished our meager portions of stew by that point.  He walked back up to the serving area and grabbed two pieces of bread, one for each of us.  “We could go right now.”

“Really?” I asked excitedly, snatching the bread from his outstretched hand.  Then, realized that I sounded like a babbling idiot, I back peddled the excitement down to a “That would be great.”

He shook his head with a grin.  “You are so odd.”

I did a mock bow as we walked out of the eating area.  “Glad to be of service.”

Ven gave me a play shove, sending me across the corridor.  We ripped through our bread as we walked through the Enclave to the target arena.  It was a wide open space containing targets of all different shapes and sizes and types.  You could select a target to do basically anything you wanted–they could be stationary or even move back and forth or up and down.  I went to the weapons rack and selected my usual bow.  It was wooden with silver etchings, and in all of my practicing I had deemed it to be the most accurate.

“You’re going to use that one?” Ven asked, indicating my chosen bow.

I couldn’t tell whether there was a note of disdain or not in his voice.  “Why not?” I asked, feeling insulted.

He gave me another play shove.  “Be confident, Thirteen.  Be confident in your choice.  That’s what I’m trying to tell you.  There’s a reason behind everything.  So when I say, why this bow, for real.  Why this bow?”

I took in the bow again, really feeling the way that in settled in my hands.  “I like the way that it feels in my hands.  I like the lightness of the wood.  And I like how I feel when I hold it.  I like the way that it shoots.  It fits me.”

“Good,” he nodded his approval.  “Me, personally, I prefer the bows that are all metal.  It just feels more solid to me.  But you prefer wooden bows, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Facing the stand still targets, I picked up an arrow and tucked in carefully between the bow and the arrow nocks, which accepted it gracefully.  I drew my arm back, slowly and carefully, to my anchor spot along my chin, and then let the arrow land fly.  It crossed the hundred feet between where I stood and the target like it was nothing and landed square in the middle, vibrating back and forth as it stuck.

“How was that?” I asked Ven.

“Very good,” he nodded his approval.  “Very good indeed.  Try again, and try relaxing your grip on the bow just a smidge.”

I did as he suggested, and though I didn’t think it was possible, the arrow flew into the center of the target even more smoothly than it had before.  “Like that?”

“Exactly.”

I let a few more fly before he stopped me again.  “I have time for one more.  Let’s try a side to side.”

The side to side target was supposed to simulate a ground animal, like a rabbit or a squirrel. With a few presses of the control panel to the side of the weapons rack, Ven called one forward.  It moved back and forth, and I followed it with my eyes, bow at the ready.

“Now, Thirteen, remember.  Shoot where it will be.  Not where it is.  Anticipate the movement, and–”

Before he could finish, I had let the arrow loose.  It landed with a satisfying thwonk in the center of the target, and I lowered the bow.  “Like that?”

He laughed, “You don’t need me anymore, girl.  You have this down all by yourself.  You’re ready.

I beamed with pride;  I was definitely ready.

Advertisements
Tagged , ,

It All Ends

A broom.  Wooden.  Used for sweeping and cleaning the floor or getting cobwebs off the ceiling.  It moves back and forth, controlled by another’s hand.  It gathers more dirt in its bristles than in the dust pan.  It is meant to be used vertically.  The fact is, this is something even a child knows; this is how it goes.

A pink treasure chest.  Flowered.  Locks with a key.  This chest is filled with pennies, the perfect collection for a small child.  The lock can be pulled off with a strong enough hand.  Eventually the chest will disappear.  Unhappiness will turn the world black; you can’t go back.

A bow.  Plastic.  On the back of a black skirt.  This skirt is well loved, though much too short by society’s standards.  It does not belong on a child, but the child will not take it off.  This was the beginning.  Dress-up is nothing more than a game of pretend; we promised each other it’s ‘till the end.

A dollar.  Paper.  Purchases commodities.  The value of a commodity is determined by the user.  The higher the use value of a particular commodity to a particular user, the more dollars will be spent.  The dollar is used as a type of exchange, and this commodity should have more value than it does.  The damage caused is hard to see; how wild it was, to let it be.

A baby blanket.  White.  A fuzzy replica of Winnie the Pooh.  It is meant to hold a baby that’s not there, that will never be.  It will stay in its package in the memorial on the upper shelf of the bookcase.  It is the only thing left.  Life is filled with much regretting; your smiles at the wake and your tears at the wedding, forgetting.

A stool.  Leather.  Much too short to be sat upon.  It is used as a table, piled high with books and papers but never people.  The back is short, the legs stubby.  A method of control.  Learn not to stray; and more, much more than this, I did it my way.

A knife.  Sharp.  Used in the kitchen.  Cutco makes a most expensive brand that is touted for its ability to stay sharp under pressure.  Children are taught from an early age to use it properly.  Using it incorrectly places a large amount at stake; I think that I might break.

A stain on the carseat.  Pomegranate.  Faded by repeated attempts to exterminate it with disposable cleaning wipes.  The remnants will always remain.  It clings there like a poison to your insides.  Red does not come out of gray; nothing gold can stay.

A series of items.  Seemingly meaningless and random.  When put together, these things are the sum of the decisions of others to cause pain.  Life is not always used as was intended.  There is no such thing as normal, not anymore.  Even though the world is prone to warp and bend, it will all be okay in the end; if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

And remember: no matter how it feels in the moment, everything will be okay.

It all ends.

(The quote sources, in order-if you spotted them:  Aimee Mann, The Strange Familiar, Vanessa Carlton, Cheryl Strayed, David Gray, Frank Sinatra, Sia, Robert Frost, and John Lennon)

Tagged ,

Unreality

The chair that you’re sitting on while reading this?  It isn’t real.  Neither is the table on which you set your stuff, or any of your belongings.  They are matter.  Matter is not real.  This is one of the first tenants of Christian Science that a young child learns in Sunday School.  They call it unreality.

I was seven years old, and sitting in the Sunday School room that was adorned with posters informing me how much God loved me.  I was the only child in my class; in fact, I was the only child in the entire room.  (The church had a regularly attending population of six or seven people, including the organist, soloist, and the two who did the weekly readings.)  My teacher had a boom-box that she played hymns from, and when we were done singing that day she struck the table with her open palm.

“This is matter.  It isn’t real.  This chair.  Not real.”

“But you just hit it, and your hand didn’t go through.”  To seven year old me, this statement seemed perfectly reasonable.  If it wasn’t real, her hand would go through.  Like in a cartoon.

“You have to believe.  Believe that you need nothing but God.  Do you believe that?”

I honestly wasn’t sure.  I rather liked sitting in a chair.  The ground in the church basement was quite cold.  

Was anything real?

After a minute, she continued, “The things on Earth are just here.  They’re temporary.  Tell me what you value most in this world.”

I shrugged.  

“How about this week?  What did you value most this week?”

Even at that age, I was pretty sure that she wanted me to say God.  But as I thought about it, I knew that simply wasn’t true.  I had walked five dogs that week and helped two neighbors with groceries, earning me enough to walk down the street to the neighborhood bookstore and buy two books.  “Books,” I replied.

“Wrong.”

I knew that.  I knew the answer she wanted to hear.  But I also knew that I was only showing up to Sunday School because my grandma took me out to eat after church every week and enhanced my collection of McDonalds Happy Meal toys.  Bribery at its finest.  Whether I valued God or not, and whether I believed the table was real or not, I still went every week.

When I was eleven, my grandmother moved away.  The tradition of bribing me with food continued; the church population was down to six, and they were all over fifty.  To keep me coming even without my grandmother, they shoved increasingly tasty foods down my throat along with their lectures on matter.  As I got older, they started paying me each week to play the organ and sing the solos.  I enjoyed that check very much; I used it to by books and candy.  This kept me coming, when the population of the religion as a whole was slowly dwindling.

I learned a great deal about how to act; we were not supposed to pray out loud, as it was disrespectful.  We only spoke in church when spoken to, unless we were on the podium.  Silence equalled respect.  Medication was another thing in the land of unreal.  If God made a person sick, it was because they had done something wrong or because they had not believed in him enough.  If they believed in Him more and strengthened their faith, they would be healed.  Medication was matter; it wasn’t real and would have no effect.  When a person signs up to become a member of the Christian Science church, one of the rules they are agreeing to obey is that they will not take any medication.

I was sixteen years old when I went into the residential treatment facility for my eating disorder.  As part of my treatment plan, I took two different medications.  When I got out I didn’t want to tell anyone at the church, and I felt incredibly dishonest.  I stopped going.  I knew that the real me would no longer be accepted there.

*

My grandma is now in her eighties.  She is diabetic, and requires daily insulin as well as cholesterol and blood pressure medication.  She still religiously attends church with her husband each Sunday, but she can not become a member.  Though she hasn’t told anyone at the church that she takes medication, she just doesn’t feel right signing the membership document.  She feels it would be a lie.  And yet, she continues to go to church.  She’s a good person, but she can’t ever officially join again.  Doesn’t that make the Christian Science religion itself a lie?

*

My next venture into the land of religion began when I was sixteen, almost seventeen.  February 19th, 2001.  For many years prior, before my hospital stint, my voice teacher had been attempting to shift my focus from Christian Science to Christianity with Bible studies and helpful verses during my lessons.  I was resistant to this after my experiences in the Christian Science church.

When I got out of the hospital, I was on crutches due to an unfortunate accident while playing Ultimate Frisbee during recreational therapy.  I went with a friend from work to her youth group a week or two after being released because she thought it would be “good for my soul.”  I met a woman there who is still my friend to this day—a fellow writer and an all around good person.  She asked me how I felt about giving my life to the Lord.  Feeling religiously aimless without the routine of showing up at the old church each week, I replied, “I’ve just been waiting for someone to show me how.”  So she did.

Just like that, I was a Christian.  Back then, I didn’t really understand what that meant; I just wanted to find a place where I fit.  This meant that I had to change.

I quickly realized that being a Christian was about being challenged and tested.  Satan would give trials to people in the church, which God allowed because they would test and stretch the faith of believers.  Four days after, February 23rd, was my first challenge.  And while it hurt, I still chose to believe.  It was better to believe in something than nothing at all.  My continued belief in God despite circumstances beyond my control made me a stronger, better person, and He would love me more for my perseverance.  At least that’s what I was told.

*

I stuck solidly with the Christian religion for eleven and a half years.  I showed up to church nearly every Sunday, and I quite enjoyed it.  I made friends; I got to sing in the choir or worship line of every church I attended.  I was no longer regaled with tales of how matter was unreal, or forced to believe in a version of the Bible that didn’t make sense.  I fit somewhere.  Over that time period, I went to eight different churches.  And I was tested.  Oh, was I tested.  I was told this meant I must be pretty special, that God had fantastic plans for me.  But I always had trouble reconciling that statement.  I was a good Christian, and I followed the rules.  Don’t make a scene.  Smile, nod.  Respect your husband.  Stick with the herd.  Fit the mold.

Rape, child death, a horrible marriage.  These were just a few select tests of many.  Just a few parts of “God’s master plan.”  I still stuck it out though, because I knew nothing else.

I loved the church where my ex was hired on staff.  Were we still together, it would have been the church I stayed with forever.  But staying together was not in the cards; my very identity rode on the mandate that we separate.  I would be lost if we had stayed together.  The Bible cites only two acceptable reasons for divorce:  sexual immorality and spousal desertion.  My reasons fell into neither of those categories.  At first people were of the “who cares?” bracket:  “Come to church anyway, you can sit in the back, nobody cares.”  But in a rush soon after, both the public and social media de-friending began.  I knew that my ex was sharing stories about me; after one initial (poorly formed) attempt, no one made an effort to hear my side.  They simply turned their backs on me without seeking the truth, and I was not courageous enough or solid enough in who I was as my own person to force them to hear those details.  People who had been my friends were now his, just like that.  The division was very clear.  The side that the church supported was very clear.  And I left.  That was three years ago.

In those three years, I have visited a myriad of churches, but none have been to my liking.  All I see are people who are going to judge me as I was judged in the aftermath of the divorce.  While I am well aware that this is a blanket statement and does not apply to all Christians, (I have met many good ones outside of the church setting), I still find myself unable to trust many of them.  I am unable to settle on a church.  I am unable to attend.  

Christianity filled a hole for me when there was nothing else.  Losing my church the way I did left a hole like no other.

*

I can’t say for one hundred percent certain where I am now religion wise, but that’s okay.  I know that I believed in both of these religions for the wrong reasons: tiny Barbie toys, tasty food and fitting in.  It isn’t that I don’t believe in God, per se.  I do, though I sometimes wonder about the things He allows to happen in this world.  I just struggle to put belief into organized religion at this point in my life.  The church is supposed to be a place where everyone is accepted.  I did nothing wrong in either church, but I was no longer accepted.  I was treated horribly.  I can’t be a part of that type of system anymore.

I believe that I am my own person.  I don’t have to serve anyone else; I don’t have to conform to anyone else’s standards.  I don’t have to blindly follow orders just because someone told me to.  I am free to make my own decisions, to follow my own path.  This path does not involve standing in anyone else’s shadow, or following anyone else’s ideals.  It is about me being me, about me creating my own reality, about having my own ideas and sharing them.  I can’t allow my decisions to be shaped by anyone else, not anymore.  I believe that God should love me just the way I am, and that anyone who says otherwise is not worth the time it takes to hear their statement.

I am tired of being hurt.  And to me, the benefits of not being hurt outweigh the risk of trying to make myself fit where I’m not sure I ever actually belonged.

Tagged , ,

Diaspora: The Scattered (Prologue)

The pain had started about an hour before, but Cassia still forced herself to keep walking and putting one foot in front of the other.  The tunnels were dark and cold, like nothing that Cassia had ever seen before.  She held her hand out in front of her face, wiggling her fingers back and forth as if she were making spirit fingers, but she could barely see them in the dim light.  And in her moment of pause, the rest of the party had drifted ahead.

“Please, wait,” she called up ahead, unable to see if anyone was actually there.  Her head spun, and she gave consideration to maybe sitting down for a spell.  

“Here,” came the call back.

Cassia rested her hand along the wall, feeling her way along until she could make out her group in the dark mist.

“We have to keep moving,” Patrick grumbled as she caught up to them.  “Pregnant or not, you have to be able to keep up with the rest of us.”

Cassia was at a loss for words.  “I just…”  She tried to catch her breath, short from having hurried along so quickly.  “Can I just sit for a second?”

Patrick handed her a bottle of water, and she could see a few of the others milling around behind him, waiting. “A quick second.”  He was not totally without mercy.

Cassia lowered herself to the ground, her almost to term belly hindering her ability to bend at the waist.  “Thank you,” she whispered, but he had already turned around to talk to someone in the shadows behind him.  

The relocation was vitally important to the salvation of their society, and that was something that Cassia full heartedly understood. The tribes from the Surface, the ones that they referred to as the Others, were always looking to take over the resources of the people from tribes like hers, the tribes that lived down below.  And so those tribes, the Diaspora, were continually moving, spreading, separating, and spawning new tribes and new ways to defend the things that they held dear.  As much as she understood this, all Cassia wanted to do was lay down in bed and never get up.

The baby was coming.  That much she knew.  But if she didn’t keep going, her people would leave the area without her–and that was decidedly not ideal.

Cassia finished the bottle of water, gritting her teeth against the tightness in her belly as she heaved herself back to her feet.  There was a scurry of feet overhead-the Others.

“Try to keep up,” Patrick admonished her.  “It is vital that we keep moving.

They walked as a group further down into the darkness.  Cassia longed for someone just to lean on, but she was too proud to ask, and too afraid to admit any from of weakness.  There was a booming sound from somewhere behind them, akin to the sound of a large barrier falling or an explosion.  Or both.  Which was, of course, the moment that Cassia felt an enormous gush of liquid from between her legs.  The baby was definitely coming.

“I…” she panted anxiously.

“What?” Patrick snapped, spinning around in exasperation.

“The baby,” she moaned, having no choice but to admit it.  “It’s coming.”

“When?  Now?”

A full contraction gripped Cassia, and that was the end of her ability to stay on her feet.  She slammed down on her knees against the concrete, biting down so hard on her lip that she started to bleed.

“Can it wait?”

That was quite simply the most ludicrous question that Cassia had ever heard.  But he was a man, and would never experience the level of pain that she was currently feeling.  Another contraction ripped through her–things seemed to be happening very quickly.  Too quickly.  She bit down again to keep from screaming.  “No, no, it can’t wait,” she spit out.  “She’s not waiting.”

He grabbed her by the elbow, hoisting her to her feet.  “Up here.”

Cassia stumbled after him, her teeth grinding together as he hauled her through the darkness and into a small slit off of the main tunnel.  “What is this?” she asked, sinking the ground in a poorly lit corner.

“For the good of….for the good of the tribe, for the good of everyone…we have to keep moving.  You’ll be safe here.”

Another contraction tightened across Cassia’s belly, and the scream escaped her lips before she could stop it.  

Patrick rushed to silence her.  “If you can stay quiet, Cassia, they won’t find you here.”

Cassia struggled to wrap her brain around what was happening.  Her worst fears were coming true–the tribe was leaving without her.  “Wait,” she pleaded.  “Pleased don’t go.  Please don’t leave me alone.  I need help.  Leave me someone, leave me anyone.”

“It isn’t safe,” he whispered, slowly backing away from where she had sprawled on the ground, fading into the shadows.  “If you can just keep quiet, it will be okay.  They won’t find you here.  You would only slow us down.”

Like hell they wouldn’t find her.  Like hell he wasn’t leaving both her and her incoming baby girl to die.  “Patrick!” she screamed as he retreated.  “Don’t leave me here, please don’t leave me here!  Don’t leave your baby!  Patrick!”

He was gone, not even the sound of his footsteps remaining.  But there was still the scurrying from above, and in the absence of other sound, that seemed to fill the space all around her.

The world faded out of focus.  It didn’t seem like things were normal.  This was her first baby, yes, but it seemed like the amount of pain was enormous and overwhelming.  Something inside of her didn’t feel right.  It felt almost like her insides were ripping apart. She screamed, her hands knotting into iron fists around the fabric of her dress.  It was not supposed to be like this.  She wasn’t supposed to be alone.  They were supposed to be happy.  They were supposed to be a family.  And now the entire tribe had gone on without her. The cold, moistness of the concrete seemed through her thin dress and into her skin, making her feel more alone that she had ever felt before.

She screamed again, feeling like her entire body was going to implode, and slipped out of consciousness.

When Cassia came to, there was a tiny little girl kneeling in front of her, so close that she could almost make out her features.  She couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old.

“You’re bleeding,” the girl said simply.  “You’re bleeding a lot.”

“I’m having a baby,” Cassia said, lacking any other way to say it to a small child.  “A little girl.  She’s coming right now.”

The girl frowned, staring at Cassia’s stomach.  “Out of there?”

The expression on the girl’s face was so comical that Cassia would have laughed in any other situation.  But the strength of the contractions made it impossible to laugh.  She didn’t want to ask the child for help, but there was nobody else to ask and she thus really had no other choice.  “Do you think that you could be a big girl and help me?”

“I am a big girl,” the girl clarified, seeming insulted at the suggestion that she was anything but.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Nine,” the little girl answered.  “My name is Nine.”

“Nine, I need you to look between my legs and tell me if you can see the baby.  Can you do that?”

Nine nodded eagerly.  “I think so.” After a moment, she added, “There’s a lot of blood.”

It suddenly occurred to Cassia that she and the baby might not survive.  How could she survive, in a dark, disgustingly unsanitary tunnel with all of the blood that was coming out of her?  And what about the baby?

“Do you see the baby?” she asked.

“Yes,” Nine said solemnly.  “I can see its head.”

Cassia screamed, ducking her chin down against her chest.  It hurt like hell.  There were no words to describe how much it hurt.  “I need you,” she panted, “to catch the baby when she comes out.  Don’t let her fall down and hit the ground.  Can you do that?”

Nine nodded.  “I’ll protect her.”

Blood.  So much blood.

The last thing that Cassia heard was the sound of a baby crying, somewhere far, far away.

 

Tagged ,

Blink (Part Eleven)

Lanie walked into the pharmacy, wandering down the aisles in search of what she was looking for, too afraid to ask.  ‘Pregnancy tests’, she thought, scanning through the merchandise on the shelves.  ‘There.’  She reached out and pulled one off the shelf.

Walking up to the counter, she put the box onto the counter face down.  Sliding it to the cashier, she paid for it without saying a word and then took the bag back to the bench outside.

“Nobody gets pregnant from just one time…right?” she whispered to no one in particular.  

She walked home through the cold as fast as she could, wishing that she had thought to wear a heavier jacket.  Imagining all of the different ways that she would tell Rich, should she have something to tell Rich.  Lanie jogged the last couple of steps up the walkway and let herself into the house.  Running up the stairs two at a time, she locked herself in the bathroom and threw her coat on the floor.

Lanie pulled the test out of the bag and ripped open the box.  It seemed simple enough.  Two pink lines equals pregnant.  One pink line equals not.  Definitely simple enough.  Pee on the stick and look for lines.  She could handle it.

*

Alex pulled his car back up to the garage, and I ran out to meet him.  “Did you find her?”

He shook his head as he slipped out the door of the car.  “I looked everywhere.  She didn’t call?”

I put my face in my hands as I shook my head.  “No.  Not yet.”

“What do we do now?” he asked.  “Should we call the police?”

“She doesn’t even know how to drive, Alex!” I snapped.  “She doesn’t know how to drive!”

As I started to cry, he put an arm around my shoulders and steered me back into the house.  “We’ll go inside and we’ll call,” he said gently.  “We’ll call.”

I settled on the couch as he picked up the phone to dial, springing up when the there was a knock on the door.  Yanking the door opened, I was faced with two uniformed police officers on the front stoop.

“Mrs. Bradley?”

“Alex,” I gasped, the words barely coming out.  

He came up behind me, and the phone fell to the floor as he opened his hand without thinking.

“Mr. and Mrs. Bradley?” the officer said again.  “There’s been an accident.”

*

Jenna pushed through the halls of the hospital, searching frantically.  As she moved forward without looking, she bumped right into Becca.  “Hey,” Jenna said, coming to a halt.

“Hi,” Becca replied.  “Have you seen her yet?”

Jenna shook her head.  “Not yet.  I just got here.”  She stared down at the tile floor, unsure of how to meet her friend’s eyes.

“There,” Becca pointed down the hall.

Alex gave my hand a slight squeeze, and I looked up through my fingers as my friends came down the hall.

“Hi,” Jenna said, kneeling down in front of me.  “How are you holding up?”

I shook my head.  “What are you doing here?” I asked the both of them.  “Don’t you guys have your own stuff to worry about?”

Becca hung back by the wall with her arms folded across her chest as Jenna answered, “Honestly, it’s nice to have something else to think about…if that makes sense.”

I nodded slightly, looking down the hall to check for the doctor.

“So what do you know?” Becca asked quietly, still hugging the wall.

“They won’t tell us anything,” Alex said, laying a hand on my knee.  “They won’t tell us anything, and they won’t let us in.”

Becca looked down the hall and then back to me.  “They’ll let me in.  Let me go down and check things out.”

I nodded without answering, laying my head on Alex’s shoulder.

“What happened?” Jenna asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” I moaned, burying my head in Alex’s sweater briefly before looking back at Jenna.  “I thought…I don’t know.  I thought we were doing well.  And then tonight, I went to talk to her in her room and she…she was hacking off her hair with a scissors.  So I started to help her,” I rambled, “and then she wanted to talk about something…but she couldn’t.  She…she wanted to leave.  I let her go out the door, but then before either one of us realized it, she was in the car and peeling out the driveway.”

“She doesn’t drive yet, does she?”

I shook my head.  “The police say she took a curve too quickly and flipped over.  They say she rolled several times before coming to a stop.  She had to be pried out of the vehicle.  She wasn’t conscious when they arrived…” I started to cry again as I continued, “I don’t even know if she’s woken up yet.”

Jenna sat down on the floor in front of me, looking up into my eyes.  “She’ll be okay,” she said.  “She’ll be okay.  She has to be.”

Becca came back out into the waiting area and crossed over to us.  “She’s not awake,” Becca said.  “She hasn’t woken up yet, and they are still examining her.”

“What else?” I pushed.

“Someone will be out in a minute to talk to you,” Becca answered evasively.

“Becca…what?”

She shook her head as Dr. Thade came through the swinging doors.

“Hello, Michelle,” she said.  “Alex.”  

Becca and Jenna stepped back slightly to give us a small amount of privacy.

“Your daughter sustained some pretty seriously injuries, but she’s stable now.  She has a broken leg, a few cracked ribs, and a concussion.  If you’d like, I can take you down to see her, but there are some things that we should discuss first.”

“Okay,” Alex answered.  “Let’s go.”

The three of us walked down the hall through the swinging doors.  Dr. Thade led us to her doorway.  I looked through the window at my sleeping daughter as Dr. Thade said, “There’s no really easy way to say this.”

“Just say it,” I whispered.

“I’m not sure if you knew this, but your daughter…She was pregnant.”

I didn’t realize I was falling until Alex and Dr. Thade both reached out and gently lowered me to the floor.  “Put your head down between your knees,” Alex said.

“I’m fine,” I hissed, angrily brushing his hand away.  “I’m fine.”

“Put your head down,” Dr. Thade ordered.  She squatted down in front of me.  

“She was pregnant?” I whispered.  “Do you mean she’s not now?”

“No, she’s not anymore.  She lost the baby.”

“What happened?” Alex asked, joining us on the floor.

“She was wearing a seatbelt.  We think that the pressure from that on her abdomen combined with the stress of the crash caused her to miscarry,” Dr. Thade explained.

“Oh,” Alex said.  “Okay.”

I lifted my head up from my knees slowly.  “She hasn’t woken up yet?” I said softly.  “She doesn’t know?”

Dr. Thade shook her head.  “She hasn’t regained consciousness yet.  She’s going up to the operating room shortly so we can put pins into her leg to mend the break.”

“I want to see her,” I said, putting my hand on the floor and struggling to swing myself upright.

“Let me help,” Alex offered, holding out a hand.  I took his hand and let him draw me to my feet.  We walked into Lanie’s room together.

“Hi, sweetheart,” I whispered, sitting down on the edge of her bed.  I took her hand, my head flooding with memories of doing the very same thing the day of the shooting.

Lanie stirred slightly, her head turning slowly towards me as her eyes cracked open.  “Mom?” she whispered.

“Hi,” I said, rubbing my hand gently on her forehead to push her hair out of her eyes.  “How are you feeling?”

“Hurts,” she answered, her eyes drifting closed again.  “Everything hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Hi, princess.”  Alex came up on the other side of the bed.  

“Hi, Daddy,” she answered.

We all sat silent for several minutes, unsure of what to say.  Lanie finally broke the silence.  “I’m really sorry, Mom.  I’m so sorry.”

“For what, honey?” 

“Everything,” she answered.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart.”

Lanie looked at Alex.  “Daddy, can I talk…just to Mom?”

“Okay,” he agreed.  “I’ll be out in the hall if you need me.”

“What is it?” I asked gently as Alex disappeared.

“I have to tell you something,” she whispered.

“Lanie…”

“I…”  After thinking for a second, she rephrased her thought.  “Did…did they tell you?”

“Tell me?” I asked.

“About the baby?”

I nodded slightly.  “It would have been…better to hear it from you though.”

“I know,” Lanie answered weakly.  “I’m sorry, Mom.”

“It’s okay,” I answered.  “Sweetie, look…”  I turned away so she wouldn’t see me crying.

“What is it, Mom?” she asked, her voice trembling as if she as afraid to hear the answer.

“I don’t know how to tell you this.”  I wiped the tears off my cheeks before turning back to her again.

“Just say it,” she said, her voice a little stronger.  “Like you’re ripping off a band-aid.  Just say it.”

“Lanie…you were hurt pretty badly in the accident.”

“Just say it,” she repeated, her eyes filling up with tears.

“You…you lost the baby,” I stuttered.

She nodded.  “Okay,” she said quietly, a couple of tears trailing down her cheeks.

I folded her hand into mine.  “I’m sorry,” I said sincerely.

“It’s okay,” she answered sadly.  “I mean…maybe…I don’t know.”

“What?” I prodded gently.

“Maybe…maybe it’s better…?”  Lanie’s voice trailed off and she stared off into space.  “I mean…he’s gone, you know?  And…I just…It’s sad, but…I’m sad…I…”  She shook her head in frustration.

“Maybe this isn’t the best time to ask this but…it…It was Rich’s?”

She nodded silently.

“Did he know?”

“No,” she replied, shaking her head again.  “I never…got a chance to tell him.”

“I’m sorry that you have to go through this,” I said.

“Me too.  You…you have no idea.”

“You’re right,” I agreed.  “I don’t know what you’re going through right now.  But I do understand a little bit about pain.”

Lanie tried to roll over slightly, wincing at the pressure that it put on her injuries.  “What…?”

“You broke your leg in the accident,” I supplied.  “And a couple of ribs.”

She closed her eyes, trying to stop the flow of tears.  “This is…a lot.”  Opening her eyes again, she said, “I want to go home.  Can I go home?” she asked hopefully.

“Not today,” I answered.  “You might have to stay here for a couple days.”

Lanie began to sob openly.  “No matter how hard I try, Mom, I can’t run away from him…everything keeps coming back.”

“It hasn’t been that long, sweetheart,” I tried to console her.  “It’s like anything else, it takes time.”

“What if I…Mom, I…”

“What?” I asked.

“What if it never gets easier?”

“It does,” I insisted.

“You don’t know that,” she pointed out.  “I loved him so much, Mom.  I’ve tried so much…I’ve tried…to push it out, and I can’t.”

“You don’t have to,” I told her.  “You just…some day…You will be able to accept it.”

Her eyelids drooped with sleep.  “Not today, though.”

“Not today,” I agreed as she drifted off to sleep.

*

Jenna and Becca were sitting on opposite ends of the line of chairs when I came back out into the waiting area.  “She’s asleep,” I said to Alex.  

“That’s good,” he answered.

I sat down next to Alex.

“How’d she take it?” he asked.

I shrugged silently.  “She was okay, I guess.  As good as I could have expected.”

Becca got up from the chair she was sitting in, shrugging into her coat.  “I’m going to go.”

I felt my eyes flash, and the words were tumbling out of my mouth before I knew it.  “You’re leaving?  Just like that, you’re leaving?  As if it’s all better now?  Well, it’s not all better.  And you know as well as I do that it’s never going to be all better!”

“I think I better go too,” Jenna said.

“You are supposed to be my friends.  My friends,” I repeated, the second time with more emphasis.  “We were all friends.  And something happens, and suddenly you throw it all away?  Here’s a news flash—friendship doesn’t work that way.”

I picked up my own coat and stomped through the doors and out into the hallway.  “Michelle, wait!” Alex called, running after me.

Whirling on him, I cried, “I can not be the glue that holds everybody together anymore.  I just can’t.  I need some support of my own!”

Alex drew me in to his chest as my tears became the size of gumdrops and trailed down my cheeks at random.  They stood that way for a long time, and it took some time for it to click in my head that Lanie had been taken for her surgery.  I pulled away from Alex and began to pace up and down the hallway. 

Reaching out for me, Alex placed his hands on my shoulders to stop my constant motion.  “Michelle,” he breathed in my ear.  “Let’s just sit down now, okay?”

“I’d rather not,” I answered sullenly.

“Michelle.”

“No,” I answered, shaking my head back and forth before he could say anything more.  “Could you…could you go up to the gallery and watch the surgery?”
“Michelle,” he protested.  “She’ll be okay.  It’s only a broken leg; it’s nothing major.  I don’t think that I’m comfortable leaving you alone.”

“I’ll be fine.  There are plenty of people here that I know, Alex, I’d just…I want to know that someone is watching over her.”

He looked at me strangely.  “You don’t want to come, then?”
I shook my head.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea.  I just need a little space.”

“Okay,” he agreed hesitantly, before turning around and taking the stairs up towards the operating room two at a time.

I sank down into one of the chairs, and Jenna materialized and planted herself beside me.  “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.  “I didn’t mean to make you upset.  We didn’t mean anything by it.  It’s just…”

“I know,” I interrupted her.  I just can’t think about that right now.”

*

Jenna put her feet up on the coffee table, leaning her head back against the edge of the couch.  Her fingers folded comfortably over her very round pregnant belly.  “Do you think our babies will be friends?” she asked.

Becca shrugged, her hands caressing her own very pregnant belly.  “Maybe.”

“We could make them,” Jenna laughed.  “ I mean, if they spend every minute of every day together, they have to be friendly, right?”

“You don’t even know yet if yours is a boy or a girl,” Becca pointed out.

“And I don’t want to,” Jenna rebutted.  “It would ruin the surprise.”

“You aren’t even curious?  I’d be going crazy if I didn’t know he was a boy,” she said, gesturing to her stomach.  “Gabriel and I are buying everything boy right now, trying to get ready.  I don’t know how you do it not knowing.”

“Neutral colors,” Jenna insisted.  “A godsend.”

“Seriously…can you imagine if both of us have boys?  We grew up together…they could grow up together.  They’ll be built in friends, just like we were.  It’ll be amazing.”

“If I have a girl, they could get married.”

Becca reached out and hit her lightly on the arm.  “Thinking ahead much?”

“No,” Jenna laughed, “not at all.”

*

There was a knock on the door as Becca sat on the sofa, watching television.  She pulled it open slowly to find Jenna standing on the front stoop.  “Hi,” she said, too surprised to remember to open the door further.

“Hi,” Jenna said quietly.  “Can I…Can I come in?”

“Sure,” Becca answered hastily, pulling the door open further and then closing it as her friend entered.

Jenna wandered into the living room, almost bee lining to the fireplace and lifting a picture off of the mantle.  “You still have this,” she whispered, tracing over the photo with her fingertips.

“It was a long time ago,” Becca answered awkwardly.

“There aren’t too many pictures of the three kids together.”  Jenna’s finger came to a stop on her son’s face, and she held it there for several seconds before putting the frame back down on the mantle.  “It’s nice,” she said, trying to force a smile and failing.

“Why are you here?” Becca asked quietly.  “Not that I’m not happy to see you and everything, but…”

“Because it’s been a long time.  Because there were a lot of things that I’d forgotten.”

“Oh,” Becca answered, confused.  “Do you…Do you want to sit down?”

Jenna crossed to the couch and sat down without being led.  “I’ve missed you,” she started.  “I’ve missed you, but it’s been…”

“Hard?” Becca prodded gently.

Jenna nodded.  “A little.  I mean, I know that…”
“It’s okay, Jenna,” Becca interrupted.  “I understand…it’s been hard for me too.”

Shaking her head quickly, Jenna spit out, “No, I didn’t mean that it was harder for me than it was for you, I just…”
“I understand, Jenna,” Becca said again.

“Okay,” Jenna said, sinking back against the couch.  “Look…I…”

Becca perched on the edge of one of the armchairs, afraid to say anything at all.

Looking around the room, Jenna asked, “What happened to your walls?  What is…”

Shrugging slightly, Becca gestured at the wall.  “People hate me for what my son did.  Some days, even I hate me.  Like you.”

“I don’t hate you, Becca,” Jenna said quietly as tears sprang to her eyes.  “I could never hate you.  I just…I think that I needed someone to be angry at, and you were there.”

“I don’t condone what he did, and I never could.  But he was my son, and no matter how much I may hate what he did, no matter how much I might not like him, I do love him, and I always will.”

“I know,” Jenna agreed.  “I loved my son with all of my heart.”

*

I knocked on Becca’s door, truly surprised to find Jenna inside as well when I entered.  “Hi,” I said, not bother to rub the surprise from my features.

“Hey,” they both answered at the same time.

My eyes tracked back and forth between the two of them.  “This is…good,” I said, referring to the fact that the two of them were together.

Jenna shrugged as we all moved back into the living room.  “We’re working through some stuff,” she explained.

I nodded.  “That’s a good thing.  Look, I came to…I came to apologize.”

Shaking her head, Jenna disappeared into the kitchen without a word and returned seconds later with a bucket and a sponge.  “It goes without…….you…..you don’t have to say anything.”  She lifted a hand to the wall and began to scrub.

 

*

“If I could say anything to you right now…there are a million things that I would say.  I don’t even know where to begin.”  Jenna wrapped her jacket tightly around her shoulders, sitting down on the ground.  “There are a million wishes.  I have a million wishes for you.”

A chill whipped around me, damp rainy air leaking up the sleeves of my jacket.  Lanie and I waited a short distance away, our hands filled with keeping a handle on Jenna’s gift.

“I have a million wishes for you,” she whispered again, letting the phrase carry off into the wind.   “I hope you’re happy, where you are.  I hope you aren’t cold.  I hope you have a lot of friends, a lot of kids your age you can play with.  Maybe you even have a puppy.  Or a kitten.  It would be nice if you had that.”

I put an arm around Lanie, holding her close as we jostled the strings.

“I wish that you could have grown up…gotten to go to school…have a girlfriend…drive a car…get married, someday, but you won’t, and I’m sorry.  It wasn’t meant to be.  There are so many things that I wish I could give you, so many things that I wish I could say.  I don’t have enough time to say them all, Richie.  There’s never enough time, you and I, we didn’t have enough time.”

Lanie and I walked forward so that we were directly behind Jenna, and I squeezed her shoulder slightly to let her know that we were there.

“If I could give you one last hug, one last kiss…I would.  But I can’t reach you where you are right now, not until we’re together again…and I don’t plan on that happening for a long, long time.”

Jenna stood up and turned around to face us, reaching out and taking the fistful of balloons from our hands.  “You always liked balloons, you liked to see the different colors.  We were at the fair once, and you accidentally let your balloon go.  You started to cry,” she continued, “and I told you that when a balloon flies up into the sky, it represents a wish that someone wants answered.  I brought you balloons,” she said, holding them up to the sky while still clutching them tightly in her hands.  “They are all my wishes for you, Richie.  All my wishes, and I wish for you to have everything you ever wanted.  I wish for you to be happy.  I wish you peace.”

Jenna opened her hands and let the balloons fly gracefully up into the sky in a flock of rainbow colors.  “I wish you peace.”

Tagged ,

The Fourth Trimester

The fourth trimester is defined in pregnancy books as the idea that the first three months of life should essentially be an extension of life in the womb for the newborn.  It starts in the hospital; it is better for the baby to stay with the mother.  Mother and baby bond and the mother takes her cues regarding establishing new routines from the baby rather than trying to force upon the baby a routine that may not fit.  This gives them both time to adjust to “life on the outside.”  But when the baby dies, this period is missed, glossed over.  The mother does not receive time to adjust as there is no baby to adjust to.  She is expected to pick up and move on as if nothing happened.  They leave her in the labor and delivery ward, because the regular nurses on other floors aren’t specialized in postpartum care.  She stays up all night listening to other babies crying, other mothers taking care of their children, and she is constantly reminded that there is no baby for her.

The other mothers on the floor are starting their fourth trimester, but she is standing still.

*

Someone slid a tray in front of me with soup and water.  I dipped the tip of my spoon into the soup, but the noodles were congealed.  Leaning over the bowl, I sniffed briefly before making the decision that it was not worth my eating.  I didn’t feel like eating ever again.  My cousin had come with flowers, and was talking to the husband and his parents.  I sat in the middle of their conversation, but I wasn’t really talking.  I smiled and nodded in all the right places, but I had never felt so alone in my entire life.  She was gone suddenly, and I couldn’t recall a single word that had been spoken.

People were moving around me and talking throughout the room, but everything was hazy.  The nurse who had been present for the delivery introduced me to the night nurse.  They checked my vitals for what had to be the tenth time in the two hours since the birth, and then they disappeared.  My body and my aftercare were apparently quite important, and yet, I was invisible.

The friends we had picked to be the godparents drifted in.  As they crossed the room, a dividing curtain drifted back to reveal the plastic bassinet next to the bed where a newborn would sleep.  They hadn’t taken it out.

There was no newborn inside.

*

When you are expecting a baby, especially your first, people find it helpful to fill you in on all the little facets of pregnancy and birth.  The first thing they tell you is that childbirth will hurt.  A lot.  They aren’t lying.  I’ve heard it referred to as taking your lower lip and stretching it over your head, and though I haven’t tried this particular activity, I can’t imagine it even comes close.  I don’t know of anything that does.  The pain will go away though, once you hold your baby in your arms.  Now this is a lie, as it does not take into consideration those who do not get a living breathing baby.  For us, the pain does not vanish.  The next thing they tell you is that stretch marks will eventually go away.  Another lie.  Sure, they fade and turn a freaky white color.  But they never disappear, not completely.  Yet another thing I remember learning is that you burn a lot of calories when you breastfeed, and that many women lose baby weight in this manner.  I’m fairly certain this is true, based on research I did pre-pregnancy.  For me, however, this was yet another lie.

Some things, people just don’t talk about.  For instance, they don’t tell you that one percent of pregnancies end in stillbirth, which is defined as death after twenty-four weeks.  They don’t tell you that things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to, because they only prepare people for the best possible outcomes.  They don’t tell you that your body postpartum will be irrevocably changed.

A stillbirth baby, especially at full-term, is such an unexpected and sudden loss that people often forget you have gone through the birthing process and need to recover just like any other woman.  You might receive pain killers, but they don’t tell you what they are for.  They don’t tell you that you’re going to hurt like hell as your womb shrinks back to its normal size and shape.  They don’t tell you that you might need help with simple physical tasks.  They don’t tell you that you will bleed for weeks after, and that your cycle will change forever.  They are more concerned with handling your grief than with handling your body after the baby is gone.  All of the little details go by the wayside in favor of making sure that you are “okay” and that you are not going to walk out of the hospital and throw yourself in front of a bus.

*

The first thing I was able to articulate, once the epidural had fully worn off and the people were gone, was that I had to go to the bathroom.  The nurse helped me to get up by having me grab the bed rail and then swing my legs one at a time over the side of the bed.  They were still tingling from the drugs.

She asked if I wanted a shower.  I nodded.  She guided me into a chair outside the bathroom and then buzzed around hanging up towels and getting things inside the shower ready.  She put some shampoo and soap on the little ledge in the corner, then laid out my new underwear and gown.  As she left, she told me to pull the chain in the shower if I got into trouble.  I nodded, but she had already shut the door.

I stripped out of my gown, carefully depositing it into the hazardous materials bin along with the underwear someone must have put on me at some point.  I shut the lid, hoping I could pretend that the blood on both garments was just a dream.  It took me at least a minute in my daze to figure out how to operate the tap within the shower, but I finally got it on and cranked it as far as it would go.  The noise was almost deafening after the time I had spent removing my clothes in complete silence.  I stuck my head into the water, shampooing and rinsing my hair.  The hot water felt wonderful, rinsing away even for a moment the reality of the situation.  I didn’t realize how hard I was crying until the grief became so overwhelming that I sank down on top of the shower seat.

I turned off the tap, standing and wrapping myself in a towel.  Reaching out with one hand, I rubbed the steam from the mirror.  I dropped the towel and turned first one way, and then the other.  My body looked almost normal.  Heavier most certainly, and differently shaped.  But almost normal in that there was no more pregnancy belly.  Almost as if it hadn’t happened.

*

The biggest thing that no one told me when I lost my son was that my breasts would still produce milk.  It wasn’t really anything I thought about once he was gone, not until it happened.  My body didn’t understand that I didn’t have a baby anymore; it’s not like I could explain it or make this natural process stop.  I called my OB right away, they made me wear a sports bra that was several size too small with cabbage leaves shoved inside.  They apologized for neglecting to inform me, but it meant nothing.  To add insult to injury, not only did I not have a baby, I stank like cabbage.  My body had betrayed my mind.   As a society, we are largely concerned with how we look.  And here I was with the body that comes after having a baby, and no baby to show for it.  I had a ring of pudginess around my middle that had never been there before as well as a plethora of stretch marks.  No amount of exercise would make those things going away, not completely.  I was shaped differently, inside and outside.  I was different.  And this went unacknowledged.

*

The bill from the hospital came a few weeks later.  It cost us nearly eleven thousand dollars to not bring home a baby.  I crumbled the bill up and threw it at the wall before realizing that the husband would want to see it.  I retrieved it from where it had fallen behind the couch, smoothed out the edges, and placed it face down on the coffee table for him to read when he got home.

I paced around the apartment, restless and bored, before turning on the Wii and coming to the decision that this was as good a time as any to begin exercising again.  I had the misguided notion that I could get my pre-baby body back.

I was still doing step aerobics when he got home.  I didn’t want to see his face when he caught wind of the bill.  Eleven thousand dollars.  Who knew?

I burned over five hundred calories doing step aerobics, and I did them every day for a long time.  I started running again.  But I couldn’t get my life back; I couldn’t even get my body back, not the way it had been.  Clothes shopping became the bane of my existence once again.  In the month after the birth, I had an event that required I purchase a dress.  I had just had a baby.  Even though he was gone, I had had a baby.  I had all of the extra weight but nothing to show for it.  I thumbed through the racks aimlessly, attempting to be interested but having an incredibly difficult time engaging.  I pretended to be enthralled with a few choices and vanished into a dresser room.

I stepped into a dress that was the size I had been pre-pregnancy.  It wouldn’t even zip.  I threw the hanger against the wall of the dressing room so hard that it broke and fell to the floor in pieces.

That seemed fitting.  I hated my body, and found myself massively ashamed by my inability to make the clothing fit.

*

A normal fourth trimester:  snuggling with the newborn, feeding on demand, lacking in sleep, and developing routines.  Maybe beginning to exercise.

My fourth trimester:  going home with my son in a box, planning a funeral, and then going back to work and moving on in a society that had a difficult time acknowledging he had even existed.  And exercising.

*

The Fourth Trimester Bodies Project is a photo documentary created by Ashlee Wells Jackson, a mother and photographer from Chicago, Illinois.  After going through a traumatic pregnancy and birth, Ashlee now wants to change the way that women view their bodies postpartum by creating this project to help women learn to love the changes that occur in their bodies.  She is photographing women in the Chicago area, and hopefully other areas as well, to put all of the images into a website, gallery, and eventually a published book.  The tagline of her website is “dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to our bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding.”  I don’t know why it took so long for someone to embrace this idea.

While the project is intended for women with living babies, Ashlee’s mission touched me all the same.  She mentions in her introduction to the project that while women are accepting of the changes that occur in their bodies during pregnancy, it can be harder to adjust to the fact that their body just won’t be what it used to be once the baby is born.  Women carry the scars of childbirth forever, even those who have lost their babies.  And the women who have lost their babies are an often passed over category.  Their fourth trimester is a radically different, yet in some ways the same, period of life.  Many women hate their bodies after.

To a woman who has experienced a stillbirth, her post-pregnancy body feels like adding insult to injury.  It’s hard enough to try to carry on with day to day activities, but to not be able to wear your old clothes is horrible.  Dieting and exercise while grieving is complete and utter torture.  When she looks down, she sees the flabby belly that used to hold a baby.  And sometimes it is easier to deal with those feelings of body hatred over the feelings of loss.  It is easier to just let people assume that because you are not carrying a newborn to show for it, you are simply fat.  That’s just wrong.  It’s wrong to hide.  There is an idea circulating our society that, no matter what the reason, it is wrong to be fat.  It isn’t fair.  Ideas like this just perpetuate sadness in women, particularly those that already hate their body after an infant death.  But in reality, it doesn’t matter what size we are.  We can’t always help the things that happen within our bodies; many things are out of our control.  We are all beautiful, and any woman who is willing to give up her body for almost a year to create a tiny little human is all the more wonderful for that.  Regular birth, traumatic birth, c-section, stillbirth, any birth—all of these women are heroes for their experiences.  This should be recognized, not put down.

The Fourth Trimester Bodies Project is such a beautiful idea because it brings to light the idea that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a post-pregnancy body.  Whether you have a baby at the end or not, there shouldn’t be body hatred at all.  It should be acceptance of the battle; it should be acknowledgement of what was rather than a desperate effort to erase it.  No woman should have to be ashamed of her body after the experience of pregnancy.  No woman should have to be ashamed of her body at all.

(The URL for Ashlee’s website is http://4thtrimesterbodies.com.  This project is an amazing idea.  And you should donate to it, if you are able.)

Tagged , , , ,

Graduation (Full Version)

The phrase “swan song” is used to refer to the final effort or performance given by a person just before death.  It’s based off the Ancient Greek belief that swans remain silent for most of their lifetime, only vocalizing in the moment before death to sing a beautiful song.

This concept makes death seem beautiful.  In dying, the swan sings a gorgeous song that it couldn’t sing while living.  

What they don’t tell you is that the swan sings this beautiful song as the result of air escaping their body when their lungs deflate.

In reality, it’s not a beautiful concept at all.  Death is agony.

*

As residents of the RED building, otherwise known as the Rogers Eating Disorder clinic, we were always looking forward in time to the moment when we would turn eighteen.  Eighteen was the magical age, the age of consent.  When we turned eighteen we couldn’t be held in the ward against our will.  Treatment would no longer be mandatory; we would be free to make our own choices.  We could go to the adult ward if we wished, or we could leave.  Nicole had lived on the adolescent unit for nearly a year, but she was almost eighteen.  

Her graduation was coming.

I didn’t know Nicole that well in the beginning of my treatment.  I had seen her from afar; everyone had.  She was the type of person that everyone noticed when she entered the room.  She was tall, with long brown hair, and she walked with a confidence that we all only wished we could have.  And god, was she skinny.  It was like seeing a stick in the middle of a forest filled with chunky tree limbs.  She could have been a model.  

Nicole had what we referred to behind the nurse’s backs as “it.”  She knew what to say and when to say it.  Projecting an aura of “okay-ness” came easily to her, and she knew exactly how much to eat to keep the nurses off her back.  Nicole had almost everyone sold on the idea that she would be okay upon leaving.  Moving to the adult ward was not an option for Nicole.  The only option was moving out.  It wasn’t about getting well; it wasn’t about beating the disorder.  It was all about being free, and it didn’t matter how she got there.

She wasn’t okay, and she didn’t want to be.  None of us did.

Perhaps it was that way for everyone who lived with an eating disorder.  I don’t know for sure.  I have only ever known the girls I lived with during my treatment.  We were silhouettes of girls, echoes of the people that we had once been.  We were on the fringes of existence, and one step in either direction would either knock us off the precipice we had placed ourselves on or save us.  Most of us were at a point where we didn’t care anymore, and we didn’t know how to come back from that.  

Every time we looked at ourselves in the mirror, we saw ourselves as larger than life.  We were huge; we were overpowering; we were fat.

I was a stick figure.  Nicole was somewhere close to that.  It was the opposite of fat, but it would take a miracle for us to understand that we were nothing more than a whisper.

Beneath the main unit of the RED building was a circle of hell formally known as the cafeteria.  As residents, we had mandatory cafeteria time three times a day.  It was “important to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”  Failure to cooperate with cafeteria time resulted in a loss of privileges.  Because of my lack of desire to eat normal food, I had very few privileges.  The single serve containers of peanut butter stored by the toasters were the only food I was interested in.  This interest got marked as an obsession by Staff, and they banned peanut butter from my menu.  I was bound and determined to not eat until the precious substance was again allowed, so I embarked on a hunger strike.  

My goal during this hunger strike was to sneak peanut butter packets out of the cafeteria to enjoy in the privacy of my room, and while this had been easy in the past, I suddenly found myself having trouble.  I was on crutches due to an unfortunate gym activity incident, which made sneaking incredibly difficult.  But I needed that peanut butter so badly that I couldn’t breathe. 

And I wasn’t going to get it.

It was the moment I realized this that I officially met Nicole.

Everyone was looking away.  I made a swoop in for the peanut butter…and banged my crutch against the metal counter.  Suddenly, everyone was looking at me again.  Nicole grabbed my arm to steady me, and that was when the miracle happened.  With her other hand, Nicole swiped at the peanut butter and knocked a few of the containers onto her tray, then stuffed them up her sleeve.  She knew; she had been watching.  

Our friendship was born.

We sat together at a table.  She was my new hero.  I watched her shovel piece after piece of nasty looking green lettuce into her mouth and wondered how she could make it look so easy.  I received my answer when she invited me back to her room.

Only one part of Nicole’s life was normal, and it was there on the floor in front of the toilet.  She didn’t shut the door; she was begging for me to watch, begging for me to see.  It all struck me as quite mechanical, how she tied back her hair, knelt over the toilet, and jammed two fingers into the back of her throat until the salad reappeared.  The mystery of Nicole was solved for me then—that was how she managed to eat and yet not.  It was a wonder that Staff hadn’t figured her out after all that time, but maybe that was why she invited people back to her room after meals.  It was all about the distraction.

Her strength amazed me.  I wasn’t strong, not in the slightest.  I sat on her bed eating my peanut butter packets, and there she was, able to just do…that.  I wanted to exhibit control like that so much that it took my breath away.  I wanted to be her. 

Everyone did.

After a week of eating together and hanging out in the day room, Nicole and I started sharing stories.  It was like we had never had anyone to trust before.  She was the child of two university professors; they were never able to have another baby.  They doted on Nicole as often as they could.  Nicole’s mother stepped away from her job to stay at home with her only daughter.  She enrolled Nicole in every type of lesson available, from music to drama to sports.  The one that Nicole fell in love with was gymnastics. 

There was pressure in gymnastics, she told me, and a lot of it.  Pressure to learn new skills, to take her routine to the next great level.  Pressure to be the best.  Pressure to be thin.  At first it was just fried foods that she couldn’t eat.  Then carbs.  Success equaled thin, and Nicole was definitely thin.  She took pride in the fact that she was one of the thinnest in her gym; the other members of her team looked up to her.  

Nicole was working out late one night with her coach, training a new dismount from the balance beam.   It involved jumping up in the air, doing three and a half somersaults, and then landing backwards.  She tried to explain this to me, but my non-gymnastics brain could never comprehend it.  It took a lot of concentration, and she was trying to stick it but kept missing the landing.  Her coach would grab her hips to steady her, again and again.  And again.  

Until suddenly, he wasn’t just steadying her.  Suddenly he was touching her.  His hand was on her hip; his hand was in her leotard; his lips were on hers and his tongue was in her mouth.  She didn’t know what to do.  She wasn’t strong enough to push him off.  

Perhaps she wished she could disappear.  Perhaps that’s where her disease really began—which I assumed because I saw myself in Nicole’s story.  But even though Nicole had shared what happened to her, I couldn’t give her this detail.  It was one thing I would never share with anyone; I had no idea how to talk about it.  

When Nicole’s coach was done with her, she left the gym.  She didn’t call her mother to pick her up, choosing instead to walk all the way home.  That night, she informed her mother that she didn’t want to do gymnastics anymore.  She got a lecture on how much time and money had been put into shaping her career, too much to just give up.  Her mother forced her to go back, day after day, week after week.

Slowly, Nicole stopped eating anything at all.  And her friends showed her how to get rid of her food so that when she did eat, it wouldn’t count.  She had been thin, but she became skeletal; she was fading away.  That was exactly what she wanted, that invisibility.  She wanted it with all her heart, until the day she was doing a routine on the bars, lost consciousness, and plummeted to the ground.  She didn’t get up.  Her gymnastics career was over.

Nicole and I were both looking for something, looking for some validity, that would make our lives seem worthwhile.  She seemed well on her way to finding it, and I wanted to get where she was going.  We went to the cafeteria every day together.  I drew strength from Nicole; I trusted her.

Then came her eighteenth birthday.

*

Everyone on the ward was searching for something, be it love, happiness, friends, control, one or all of these things, or something completely different.  I suppose Nicole spent her whole life searching for validation for what had happened to her.  I’m not sure she ever found it. I’m not sure it would have made a difference if she did. 

She wrote me a note the day she left.  I do not believe in people; I do not believe in humanity.  I do not believe in joy.  I don’t remember knowing these things.  I can’t believe in what I don’t know.  I don’t know anything, thus, I have nothing to believe in.  People are always telling me that I need to grow up, that I need to learn to take care of myself.  I find myself to be fairly independent … I can’t grow when I don’t even know where I am starting from.  I will miss you.  But this is a circle of hell that I am ready to leave.  I will be okay.

At the time, I didn’t realize how sad this was.  I just thought it was normal.  Everyone in the ward held Nicole up to be this great hero, someone to be proud of.  She was graduating, and she was moving on.  Everyone wanted to be like her, to be leaving.

We were so stupid.

Nicole faded.  It wasn’t sudden; it was a gradual process.  And just like she wanted, no one seemed to notice.

Her bones were the first thing to go.  Low estrogen levels and calcium left her with osteoporosis—an affliction normally found in old people.  She wasn’t even nineteen, and her bones were collapsing.

Next was her heart.  Her body was starving.  Blood flow was reduced, her blood pressure was lowered, and her heart muscle started losing size.  She became anemic.

Her organs began giving up.  Her liver failed; her kidneys shut off.  What was the point anymore when the person in charge of the body didn’t care?

Her brain was the last thing to go.  She was alone in her apartment one day, and she had a seizure.  She never got back up.  No one knew for two days.

I didn’t know any of these details until after she was gone.  

Nicole died alone.  And maybe that was how she wanted it.  That’s the battle of the disease, the battle of anorexia.  You fight it alone.

You lose.  Alone.

*

Honestly, if her mother hadn’t called me, I may not have even known what happened.  Nicole had left a note for me, with my name and phone number on the front.  She must have known that the end was coming.  Perhaps she welcomed it.  We have no way to know, really, but I can make assumptions from the note that she left me.

It was only two words:  Don’t. Fade.

*

I had never been to a funeral for someone I knew before.  In fact, the only funeral I had been to was my grandfathers when I was five.  Nicole’s parents had asked me to speak.  Sadly, I was one of the people who knew her best.

The lid to the casket was open for the viewing.  It shouldn’t have been.

Nicole’s skin was so paper thin that it was almost translucent.  Her cheek bones were clearly visible, as was her collarbone above the neckline of the dress she wore.  There was nothing left to her; she was completely devoid of fat, empty.  She spoke a strong message, even though she would never use words again. My hand drifted into the casket and stroked her face, then came back to touch my own.  Bones sticking out. Matching.  Fading.

I sat down on the ground right next to the coffin, crying.  She was gone.  She had faded away, and no one had even known.  I realized that I, too, was dying. I was fading, and suddenly I didn’t want to fade anymore.  Suddenly I wanted to be alive.

Someone moved me to a pew.  The words I had wanted to say were scribbled on an index card and shoved into my bra.  I pulled the cards out, rubbing the creases in the paper.  The words didn’t seem fitting now; I couldn’t read about what a lovely person she had been, what a lovely life she had led.  It was a lie.  Anorexia had taken her life.  It was neither beautiful, nor lovely.  It was agony.

I took a pencil from next to the hymnal under my pew and scribbled out a poem on the back of one of my index cards.  These were the words I would go on to read:

whisper once or twice / a song / upon an ear that has no being / words that fall, apart from humanity / a war internally / taken to the stars / a pain felt only in the heart / the final note of the beautiful swan / pray to fade away //

breathe in once or twice / a drop / of life left to sustain / air that causes the tornado within / bones that stick out / in agony / betraying the falsity of the mask / pain lying underneath / in the final note of the beautiful swan / pray to fade away //

trust once or twice / a soul / holding on without reason / at least one that we see / “the less that’s left to me,” i say, / “the less there is to hurt.” / pain caused by two human hands / during the final note of the beautiful swan / pray to fade away //

search once or twice / for a speck / a reason to hold on / a reason for reason / a new life at eighteen; the past is in the past / though beautiful swans never forget, / we move steadily forward / and the beautiful swan sings her beautiful song / pray not to fade away— / pray to stay ///

Looking back now, I don’t think I wrote the poem for her so much as I wrote it for myself.

I know that there’s a great debate even now over whether or not anorexia is a conscious choice.  Does the anorexic wake up one morning and just decide they’re not going to eat?  There’s no real answer to that; it isn’t simple enough to sum it up in that way.  I believe that anorexia starts as one thing and then gradually evolves into something else.  We start out trying to control the one thing that we know we can; we end simply trying to sing our swan song and take a final bow.  There is no cure; there is only living with it.

I think often about all of the things that Nicole missed.  Perhaps if she had lived, she would be married right now to a wonderful Christian husband.  They would live in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a lawn the brightest green possible.  I suppose they would have a dog.  Or maybe two.  Their three children, two girls and a boy each two years apart, would be perfect.  They would be dancers, or athletes, or writers, or whatever they wanted to be—they would be free to make their own choices.  Nicole wouldn’t let them be boxed in by society.  She would encourage them to find their own way, but she would be there for them if and when they needed her to be.  

She could have had the ideal life.  But she didn’t.  She faded.

And when I think about that, when I think about her, I wonder if that was necessarily a bad thing.  Because me?  I chose recovery, and I had the ideal life.  I married a wonderful Christian man who turned out to be not so wonderful.  He hurt me, badly.  We lived in a condo-style apartment that neither one of us wanted after the divorce.  We had a son together, but he died.  The ideal life isn’t bright at all.  It’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be when you’re looking at it from the outside.

In moments like that where I remember all of these things, I question my choice to stay.  Perhaps Nicole may have had the right idea after all; maybe it was easier to fade than to stick around and get hurt again and again.  So why stay?

I stay because to give up is to let them win.  I stay because I don’t have any other choice.  I stay because I want to be better, and because I want to believe that something better will come for me.  

I stay because I touched death.  Really touched it.  And I realized that death isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.  Nothing is as good as we make it out to be.  So maybe, just maybe, we need to find our own way.  

I wish Nicole had seen that.

Tagged , ,

Taste

“Do you remember?” Bonnie asks.  “If I were to ask you right now to describe to me what an apple tastes like, would you remember?”

“I don’t eat apples,” I reply.  “I don’t like the way they get stuck in my teeth.”

“Correction–you don’t eat anything.”

“You’re wrong.”  She was.  I ate.  I ate lots of things.  When I wanted to.  And I didn’t want to.

“How is it that I’m wrong?  Honestly, is there anything out there that you can tell me how it tastes?”  She gestures to the table where my worst enemies wait–a bag of sour cream ‘n onion chips, an apple, and a container of strawberry Yoplait yogurt.  “Pick one.  You’re not leaving without one.”

I fold my arms stubbornly across my chest.  “No.”

She folds her arms and leans back in a mime of my position, and she says, “That’s fine.  I can wait.”

“No, you can’t,” I groan.  “You have other appointments.”  I get up off of the couch and grab the apple.

“Good decision,” she nods, a little too eagerly.

“Doesn’t mean I have to eat it.  How do you know I won’t throw it out the first chance I get?”  I am trying to be as big of a smart-ass as possible.  I am very good at it.

Her eyes are sad, the light that came on when I closed my hand around the apple slowly going out.  “I’m hoping you won’t.”

We walk out to the reception desk, and she makes an appointment for me for two days later.  Apparently I warrant every other day appointments.  As I leave, shoving the apple into my coat pocket, she says, “Don’t forget your appointment.  I want to hear all about that apple.” 

It’s cold outside for November, and I clutch my coat around my body.  Shaking, I reach into my pocket and pull out the red, round apple.  I contemplate the advantages and disadvantages of taking a nice, big, juicy bite out of it, and I have no clue what I will do.

How many calories can there be in a stupid little apple, anyway?  Are you going to let that piece of…of…food…win?  Come on!  It’s just an apple!  Just an apple…I shrug.  What can it hurt?  

I lift the apple to my mouth, and I take the smallest bite I can possibly take, certainly no bigger than my thumbnail.  Still, the juice slides down my throat and I am shocked.  In my head, there is color to the taste–indescribable color.  I hadn’t realized I was beginning to forget.  I savor it, that pure, innocent, color; the texture.  And then…it’s gone.  To get it back, I have to take another bite.

At this point, I am in my parking lot, right next to the dumpster.  The consequences of my actions seem enormous.  I raise the apple to my lips to take another bite, but I can’t.  Everything’s changing.  I think I’m growing older.  I know I’m growing older.  I’m not a kid anymore.  I know my mistakes now, or should I say, I am aware of my mistakes.  Everything’s changing…but I will never change this.  I can’t.

I have to disappear.

I throw the apple in the garbage and walk away.

 

“And so I went through the looking glass, stepped into the netherworld, where up is down and food is greed, where convex mirrors cover the walls, where death is honor and flesh is weak. It is ever so easy to go. Harder to find your way back.”  –Marya Hornbacher

 

Tagged ,

Blink (Part Ten)

Becca was sitting in the chair in the corner of her room when I entered.

“Hi,” she greeted me without turning away from the window.

“Hi.”  I pulled up another chair so that I was sitting beside her.

“They told me this morning that I could go home today.”

“That’s good, right?” I said encouragingly.

She hung her head so that her hair shielded her face from my eyes.  “I guess…I mean, I was happy for a minute, and then, I…”  Looking up, she said, “I realized that I don’t have much of a home left to go to.  A family makes a home a home…and I don’t have that anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Tell me about it,” Becca abruptly changed the subject.

“About what?” I asked gently.

“The memorial service, the funeral, the burial…the others.  Everything.”

I shook my head slowly.  “Becca, I…”

“What?”
“The funerals that we went to…they were lovely.  We had a hard time, but they were…very nice.”

“Gabriel…?” she whispered, not daring to ask about Doug.

“There were no funerals for them.  Gabriel was talked about in several articles—they named him a hero for saving all the kids in his class, but…You can put that together when you get out.  I can help,” I offered.

Smiling weakly, Becca drew her legs up underneath her in the chair.  “I guess.  It’s just a lot.”

“I know,” I replied.

“The others…the kids…How many were there?”

“Becca, do you really…”
“How many?” Becca interrupted.

“Fourteen students, one teacher…and Gabriel.”

She nodded slowly, her gaze drifted back out the window.

I reached out and gently grabbed up her hand.  “Don’t do this to yourself, Becca.”

“Do what?” she asked absently.

“Feel guilty.  You can’t, honey.  There was nothing you could have done.”
She closed her eyes as she squeezed my hand slightly.  Just as suddenly as she tightened her grip, she was suddenly pulling away.  “I wish…I wish that he would have killed me too.”

“Becca-“ I started to say.

“No,” she snapped, her eyes suddenly dead locked onto mine.  “No.  Why me?  Why did I live?  I should have died, Michelle, I should have died, and all of those people are dead and I’m still here.  It’s not fair.  It isn’t fair.”

“No,” I agreed.  “No, it’s not.  But you…This is survivor’s guilt, Becca, you don’t need to talk like that.  I don’t want to hear you talk like that.”

She rolled her eyes, shaking her head.  “Survivor’s guilt?” she scoffed.  “Because it’s such a wonderful thing to survive, right?”

“Please don’t talk like that,” I whispered, feeling my face sadden despite my efforts to fight it.

“All those people…they died, Michelle, they died.  And I’m still here.  What makes me so special that I’m still here, and they’re not?”
I shook my head.  “I think…What Doug did, Becca, for the most part…I think it was random.  But he loved you.  He loved you with all of his heart, and you certainly can’t feel bad that you survived while none of them did.”

“You can’t tell me what I can and can’t feel,” she retorted.

“I can tell you what I feel,” I answered quietly.  “I love Lanie with all of my heart, with every breath that I take…but when I see these other parents who’ve lost their children, when I see you…I almost…I feel badly that I still have her.  Do you understand?”

Becca nodded.  “I guess.”
“Nobody blames you,” I said softly.

“Yes, they do,” she answered matter of factly.  “I’m sure they do.”  Swallowing hard, she pulled herself up out of the chair and walked towards the door.  “Can you…get me out of here?  Can you take me home?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I didn’t know what else to say.

*

“Are you sure you want to go to your house?” I asked as we turned down her street.

“I’m sure,” she affirmed.  “I have things I need to do, things I…”

“Nothing that can’t wait a little longer if you need it to,” I pointed out.

“No,” Becca replied firmly.  “No, I want to go home.”

I pulled up into her driveway, and we walked up her front walk together.

“Michelle,” she whispered, her hand on my elbow.  The front door was slightly ajar.

“Let me go in first,” I said, stepping in front of her.

I pushed open the front door, walking forward into her living room.  Spray painted in bright red across her white wall were the words, “Their blood is on your hands.  Someone needs to pay.”

Becca came up behind me, murmuring the words under her breath.  “Nobody blames me, huh?”

I was at a total loss as to what to say, once again.  “I…”
“It’s okay,” she said, moving into the kitchen so she wouldn’t have to look at the wall anymore.  “I’ll clean it up tomorrow.”
“Let me help you,” I insisted.

“That’s okay, “ she said.  “I can do it.”

“But you shouldn’t have to,” I answered.

Her eyes glassed over slightly as she sat down at the kitchen table.

*

Lanie, Alex and I sat around the kitchen table at dinner, the only sound being the forks and knives clanking against the plates.  “How was your day?” Alex asked.

“We went to the memorial service,” Lanie answered.

“How was it?”

“Fine,” she said shortly.  “It was fine.”  Pulling her napkin off her lap, she folded it next to her plate and pushed her chair back.  “May I be excused?”

“Sure,” Alex replied.  As she disappeared up the stairs, he said, “How was it really?”

“It was okay.  We didn’t stay that long.  Lanie actually went up to the microphone, I was surprised.”

“And she was okay?”  He set his fork down, leaning back in his chair.

“She was,” I confirmed.  “Doug’s girlfriend came up to the mic after her, and we left after that.”

Alex raised an eyebrow.  “How was that?”

“It was…interesting.  I feel sort of sorry for her.  I just…”  My voice trailed off, leaving the thought unfinished.

“I understand.”  He picked up the dirty plates from the table and started rinsing them off in the sink.

I threw out my napkin, and went to the foot of the stairs.  “I’m going to go up and just make sure she’s okay.  I’ll be back.”

Alex nodded as he grabbed the dish soap from under the sink.

*

It was dark as they lay on the rooftop, staring up into the sky.  It was a darker dark than one would ever find in the city, and Lanie could pick out several stars that she never would have seen with her feet on the ground.  “It’s beautiful,” she whispered, almost afraid to break into the reverie.

“Lanie?”

“Yeah?”

“You’re beautiful.”

She rolled over into Rich’s arms, letting him enfold her against his chest.

“Say that again.”

“You’re beautiful,” he said obediently.  “Really.”

“I love you,” Lanie said softly.

Rich put his hands gently on the sides of Lanie’s face, sliding his fingers back so that they tangled in her long red hair.  Resting his forehead against hers briefly, he then pulled back and sat up suddenly.

“What?” she asked.  “Did I do something wrong?”

He shook his head.  “No, no, definitely not.”

Frowning, she questioned, “Then what is it?”

Rich sighed.  “As much as I want this…”

Lanie scooted forward slightly so that she could peer off the edge of the roof into the darkness.  “You can’t.”

“Yeah.  There’s just…a lot of stuff right now.  I don’t want to be in any serious relationship until I’m sure I have my head on straight, you know?”

She nodded, even though she didn’t.

“A lot of kids our age make that mistake, they put relationships in front of what’s really important.  I don’t want to be one of those kids.”

“Me either,” Lanie replied, knowing that’s what Rich would want to hear.

“So when we’re older, maybe.  But not now.”  Rich moved forward as well, so that he was sitting right beside her on the roof. 

“That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, right?” Lanie asked.

“We did share blocks,” Rich smiled.  Taking off his jacket, he draped it over Lanie’s shoulders.  “If we can share well…we can be friends.”  

“Okay.”

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, reaching so that he could run his fingers through her hair.  “But it won’t be easy.  I think I care about you too much.”

“I know.  Me too.”

Rich drew her closer again, the signals that his body was sending her completely disagreeing with the words that were coming out of his mouth.  

“Rich,” she protested.

“Don’t say anything,” he said, putting a finger to her lips.  “Look, one time won’t hurt.  One time.”

His lips melted into hers, and Lanie found all of her misgivings melting away right along with them.

*

Lanie was standing in front of the mirror when I entered the room.  Before I realized what she was doing, the scissors in her right hand that she must have been hiding in front of her body, appeared.

“Lanie?” I asked, crossing rapidly to stand beside her.  “What are you doing?”

“Just stay away, Mom, let me do this,” she snapped.

Holding up a hunk of her hair, bright red hair that was just like mine, she stuck it between the blades of the scissors and cut.  As the foot long tail of hair fell to the floor, I noticed Lanie’s hand starting to shake.

She bit down on her lip, trying not to cry, as she grabbed another chunk of hair to put between the blades.  Her hands quivered as she struggled to grasp at the hair, and I reached out gently to cover her hand with mine.  “Can I help?”

Lanie shook her head furiously at first, but as she tried again and lost her grip on the hair again, she relented and surrendered the scissors.

I pulled up a chair.  “Sit,” I said, pointing down.

She sat in the chair without argument.

“Now,” I asked, “what are you trying to do?”

“Cut it off,” she answered simply.  “All of it.  I want to cut it all off.”

“Okay,” I agreed reluctantly.  As much I hated to cut off her beautiful hair, I would rather do it myself with my steady hands than have her try to do it while shaking.  As I started working my way around her head, cutting off hair at the same length as her original cut, I asked quietly, “May I ask why?”

After a minute or so, she answered, “Rich liked my hair.  So it makes me sad now every time…When I brush it, or run my fingers through it, or…It reminds me of him.”

“Okay,” I answered.

“I need to get rid of it,” she continued.  “I need to cut it off.”

I cut the rest of the bigger chunks off in silence, before grabbing a smaller scissors off the dresser to do some trimming.  “I’m sorry I’m not a hairstylist,” I said.

“It’s okay.  Thanks for helping me.  You didn’t have to.”

“Yes, I did,” I answered matter of factly.  “Of course I would.”

Snipping at the ends of her hair in silence, I pulled away and let her take in my work.  “Thanks,” she said again.  “Mom?”

“Yeah?”

She shook her head slightly.  “It’s nothing.  Never mind.”

“What is it?” I frowned, putting down the scissors and leaning against the front of the dresser.  “You can talk to me.”

Lanie bit down on her lip, her eyes shifting slightly as she considered words.  “Not yet, Mom, not about this.”  She stood up, walking towards the door.  “Is it okay if I go out for a while?”

“Where?” I asked.

She shrugged, shaking her head.  “I don’t know.  Just…out.”  Without waiting for an answer, she disappeared out the door.

I followed her down the stairs, reaching their base just as she went out the back door.

“What was that all about?” Alex asked, looking up from where he was drying the dishes.  “Was her hair shorter?”

“Yeah,” I nodded.  “She wanted to cut it off.  I have no idea…I think it had something to do with Rich.”

He raised an eyebrow slightly.

“She wanted to talk to me about something…but then, as suddenly as she brought it up, she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“It’ll come,” Alex answered.

I came up behind him to help with the rest of the dishes, and as I picked up a second drying towel, I heard the car start up in the driveway.  “Is that…”

“The car?” Alex finished.

I threw the towel back into the sink and ran through the house out the front door, just in time to see my daughter who did not have her license back the car crazily down the driveway and peel away.

Tagged ,

Fat, Weak, and the Aftermath of Letting Go

Today, I feel like a freak.

I have the worst self esteem when it comes to body image.  I suppose that overall, my self esteem is not fantastic at least fifty percent of the time.  But I’m especially lacking in this particular area.

Tonight at rehearsal we were fitted for our costumes.  I’ve been better lately; I don’t mind trying on clothes and shopping like I used to.  But this was different.  Whether it was the calorie counting app I recently started using, the stressful week I’ve had teaching, the chaos that was our previously unscheduled rehearsal, the fact that I just have too many balls in the air, or some combination there of…The first costume I tried on didn’t fit at all.  It was for my measurements.  But it didn’t close around my chest.  A lot of women would be pleased with that—but not me.  It freaked me out a little and made me feel sad inside.  And I didn’t say anything, I just handed the costume back and told her it didn’t fit.  Then I went on to try the second costume.

My second costume fit pretty well, if I fastened the skirt right under my belly button.  I suppose that this truly was the style of the 1920’s, but it didn’t make me feel wonderful about myself.  I went with it, however.  I went back to the costumer, and this fitting (with the costume on) was hard for me for a myriad of reasons.  The blouse I’m wearing for a formal scene has bell sleeves and is quite baggy in a variety of places.  This meant that the costumer had to pin it in all of those places.  On my better days, I’m not a fan of being touched by most people.  Today wasn’t one of my better days.  She had my shirt up, the door open and guys in the hall, with a load of safety pins in her mouth, and then told me I needed to smile more as she had her hands on me.  Way too much.  I wanted to scream.  I missed my personal space bubble; few people are allowed to invade that.  It’s been shattered too many times.  In reality, she meant no harm.  And I will have at least one costume that fits me.  But I still melted.  I can’t just be normal.

In previous years, I struggled with an eating disorder.  Things like this, little reminders, make me think about those days when I lived for peanut butter and Tobasco.  While I can go into a fitting room now and try clothes on and generally be happy with them, there are many things I can not do.  I blame a combination of the events of this past year and that damn calorie app for today’s meltdown.  I can’t see all of the calories.  I am perfectly capable of being responsible about what I’m eating all by myself, but seeing the numbers puts that little voice right back in my head.

“How ‘bout 100 less?”

“Or even less?”

I can’t have that voice there.  I can’t do anything that give it even a little edge.  I am stronger than that.  Fittings of costumes that are just too tight set off my rape flags and my eating disorder flags within my brain.  One of these I can recover from.  The other, not so much.

Gah.  It’s annoying.  It’s annoying that they call it recovery, and yet, you never really recover.  You always have to make conscious decisions.  I have recovered from so many things, but this will not simply disappear.  It is a deep piece of me.  The term just doesn’t work here.  Marya Hornbacher sums it up well in the final pages of her memoir, Wasted, when she writes “This is the weird aftermath, when it is not exactly over, and yet you have given it up. You go back and forth in your head, often, about giving it up. It’s hard to understand, when you are sitting there in your chair, having breakfast or whatever, that giving it up is stronger than holding on, that “letting yourself go” could mean you have succeeded rather than failed. You eat your goddamn Cheerios and bicker with the bitch in your head that keeps telling you you’re fat and weak: Shut up, you say, I’m busy, leave me alone. When she leaves you alone, there’s a silence and a solitude that will take some getting used to. You will miss her sometimes…There is, in the end, the letting go.”   The weird aftermath, as she puts it, is forever after.  I’ve given it up.  I eat, and I love food.  But yet, there are those times where I think about how easy it would be to just step back into that looking glass.  But I have friends now, and people who look up to me.  I have a lot of female students who are watching what I say.  And if I say I’m fat, if I say I’m ugly, they hear that.  What stops them from going home and saying the same thing to themselves?  So I have to let it go, no matter how comfortable of a fallback it is to hate my body.

I have not let myself go, let’s make that perfectly clear.  I’m at a great weight.  I eat “normally.”  But sometimes, like today, I really have to think about it.  I have to think about her, about that voice.  And sometimes, I cry.

And then what do I do about it?  Go home and eat chocolate and wish I had wine to drink.  And I tell myself I love me, no matter how badly I have been hurt by others or how crappily my costume fits.  Because pretty much every costume needs to be altered.

Oh.  And and I deleted the app.  I need to give myself every opportunity to see myself as fine just the way I am.

Tagged , ,