Tag Archives: child death

Forgetting (Never One)

The bathroom floor was littered in black dirt, the kind of dirt that held on forever despite the best bleach scrub. The walls were streaked in mildew and other substances that couldn’t be defined. Numerous customers and homeless people and god knows who had sat in this very spot, in this very bathroom. How many of them cried? My tears burned as they slid down my face, as I sobbed my heart out into the knees I held clutched to my chest. I was bigger, fatter. I was back at work. I was childless.

It was April 4th. 37 days after your death. And the first day where you didn’t consume my every thought.

When you first died, I thought about you every day. I started a Live Journal and blogged about you to the world. Day one. Day two. Day three. Day four. An entry for every day after you were gone. The most blissful moment of the day was when I first woke up, the moment when I pictured you sleeping in your crib in the other room. It was every morning, for a while. And every morning I would lie in bed and suddenly remember, the crush of the blankets too heavy against my skin, and the weight of my tears too much to carry. Every morning. From waking up, you consumed every moment. 

I planned your funeral. Who to invite. What to put you in. I ordered a box to keep your things in. I sat on our giant brown sectional couch and I watched movies. One was Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I thought that you might like it, before I remembered that you would never see it. You would never watch a movie. I couldn’t focus on the screen then. My gaze drifted into the den, the place where we had assembled all of your things. Where the crib had sat, fully assembled, ready for you. Your things were gone, not there anymore. I pictured them in a dark, lonely storage place, behind a padlocked door. Cold. Lost.

I wondered where you were.

I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed about you. It was your first day of preschool. I came at the end of the day to pick you up and found you fingerpainting. You held your hands up to me with the biggest grin on your face; one was blue and the other green. The once white paper in front of you was covered in a mash of multicolored handprints, the colors blurring in many places to brown. A stranger would have found it ugly, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We drove home, you in the back in your carseat and me singing along to Muppets songs playing from the stereo. I laid the painting carefully on the passenger seat, and when we got home, you made me put it on the fridge. You wouldn’t eat your dinner till I did.

I woke up the next day, and the first thing I did was jump up and go to the nursery to check on you. Only it wasn’t a nursery. It was an office. And I didn’t have to check on you, because you weren’t there. You never would be. I thought about you all the time—what you would have grown up to look like, who you would have been, what you would have done.

On April 4th, I went back to work. I took the full six weeks of leave to which I was entitled, even though you were gone. I went back, and found a shoebox on my desk in the cash office. It was filled with all of my favorite snacks, a gift from my employees to help me get through the week. I sat in my chair, the chair I hadn’t occupied since the end of February, and I unwrapped one of the chocolate I found in the box. I crinkled the foil and threw it in the trash as I popped the candy into my mouth, savoring the taste of the melting truffle on my tongue. It was delicious; it was glorious; it was—

I blinked. Swallowed. You were dead. You were dead and I was sitting in an office chair behind a desk eating a chocolate candy as if you had never been there. There were no pictures of you to hang with the other manager’s children. No evidence of you other than my physical size and my six week absence. For that moment, as I ate that chocolate truffle, I forgot about you. I forgot that you were dead; I forgot that you were never coming back. I forgot.

How could I do that, forget? How could I move on, how could I never visit the storage unit where your things were, unpack them, love them like I should have been loving you? How could I go to work and move on and have a life and eat a chocolate and … forget?

Forgetting is a regular thing now. When I look at the skyline, I don’t always picture you with me in the city. When I watch a movie with a baby, or I see my friends with babies, I don’t always think of you. Sometimes I do. But sometimes I don’t. I’ve honestly lost track of the time that I don’t think of you. And I’m sorry. For that. For forgetting. And I’m sorry that I’m sorry.

I like to think that you’re somewhere fingerpainting, that your hands grew big enough to do it successfully, and that when you make a painting someone hangs it up on a “wall” somewhere. And someday I will see that wall of all the things you’ve done and be proud of you like I hope you’re proud of me right now.

You were my chance to have a child. I will always ‘have’ you, yet never have you. I will have a child, but never have one, I will say that yes, I was pregnant once. But I will never check the box for my offspring on surveys and online forms and background checks and tax forms. The total will always be zero, never one. You will never be one. And that, I won’t forget.

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Sometimes (In February)

I had the messiest car ever—had for years. It started with my longer commute to the gas station. I would eat food in the morning and deposit the wrappers in the backseat. And I started traveling more for work, additional things appeared. An extra coat. Random shoes. Pants. Shirts. Books. The runner’s badges from a couple walk/runs. For all I knew, there was something alive back there. The pile was so high that it surpassed the center console in height and threatened to spill over into the front. It got to the point where it was just too overwhelming to even consider cleaning. Of course, this meant that when it was time to install a carseat before our baby was born, there was quite a bit of work to be done. I didn’t dare ask the husband to help me. It was my fault, my mess. My obvious fact that I was happier in my car than my apartment.

The husband never rode in my car. I didn’t want him to. The car was mine. But I was more than happy to share it with our son; I just had to clean it first.

I waited as long as I could to tackle the project, ignoring the insistence of the husband, and picked the first semi-warm day in January to camp out in my garage and do what needed to be done. I picked my way, eight months pregnant, through a lot of disgusting items. Many times during the ordeal, I found myself wandering away. Out of the garage, down the block, getting air. I wasn’t sure how I had driven for so long with the car in that condition; I suddenly understood my need to drive with the windows down. At least five bags of trash made their way to the dumpster, with several more bags awaiting a travel destination of either Goodwill or the apartment. Exhausted, I never bothered to clean out the trunk.

When we found out our son had died, this cleansing was a moment I kept coming back to in my mind. That (then) sadly hopeful day, getting ready for a baby. The way I sang as I cleared the trash away, the way I assumed that he would just be there. That he would grow, grow up, grow out of the carseat. Sit in the front with me after he turned twelve. Start driving at fifteen and a half.  The carseat base I had worked so hard to give a clean surface to never actually made it into the car. Nor did the baby. He never rode in the carseat; he never outgrew it. He never sat in the back, or the front. He will never drive. I cleaned my car for him to never ride inside it. Lying in my hospital bed, I pictured that car, in the parking garage, with a clean and empty backseat that my son would only ever see from the inside of a box. I learned then to never assume. To never make plans.

Sometimes, when I see people with children, I get jealous. Not a mean jealous, not angry. Just jealous. I accept what I gave up to get a master’s degree. People tell me all the time, “You never know.” But I do. Know. And it’s okay. I will live vicariously through my friends. Wishing. Dreaming. It is hard not to have a child. Harder still this time of year.

Sometimes, I imagine what my life would be like if my son were here. Sometimes, in February, I like to pretend he’s still around. That he’s just away, at school. Kindergarten this year. That he’s in a big boy carseat, that I sold the newborn one a long time ago. That he will come home with stick figure drawings and graham cracker crumbs stuck to his shirt. Only I didn’t sell the carseat, it’s still in a storage vault somewhere that I have no access to. And my son is not away at school; he’s not in kindergarten; he’s not bringing me anything home. He’s dead. But sometimes, in February, I like to forget that fact. Just for a little while. 

My backseat is empty, and it always will be.

Carter feet

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Childless

I could see a McDonald’s down the street as we sat at the red light.  “I want a chocolate milkshake.  Can we stop?”

The husband’s hands tightened on the wheel.  “Why?”

Because I want a milkshake?  Because I worked ten hours today?  Because I’m seven months pregnant?  Because…because?  Rather than say anything, I shrugged.  

“We’re going to eat at the party.  You can’t wait?”

I shook my head.

He sighed deeply and turned into the McDonald’s drive thru.  I could tell he wasn’t happy.  As if his body language was not enough, he practically threw the milkshake at me when the cashier handed it to him.

I wondered how he would treat our son when he asked for things.  I wondered if he would be different.  Kinder.

It was New Year’s Eve.  Our last year childless.  We wished at midnight for good things, for ourselves, for our son.  For good health.  At least I did.  I don’t know what the husband wished for.  I never asked.

*

Our first year childless.

I ordered a white box online; I thought it big enough for all his things.  The website promised the box would come in just two days time—plenty of time before the funeral.   I had it engraved with his name and the day he died.  Saying his birthday felt weird to me then, though it’s something I do now to make others feel comfortable.  But then, it was the day he died.

I suppose I can say it’s both.  

Sitting in the waiting room of the OB the week after, I was surrounded by a bunch of expectant moms and their husbands and I wanted to stab myself in the eye.  I had dreaded the moment I’d have to come back here, tried to come up with ways to get out of it.  But it was necessary, I’d been told.  To care for myself, after.  The receptionist had called me two days prior:  “I notice you have an after care appointment scheduled.  Would you like to cancel your 39 week appointment then?”   

“Yes.  Yes I would.”

“How’s the little one?”

I wondered why she’d even ask that.  Though I suppose it’s a natural response.  But I still sat quietly in the waiting room that day.  I stared at my lap, my hands folded and my thumbs tapping against each other.  I didn’t want anyone to ask.  I didn’t want to have to answer, to say the same thing I’d said that day on the phone.

“He’s dead.”

I didn’t wish hard enough.

*

Childless is a weird term.  To have no children.  To be without a child.  To have never had children.  To have once had children but not anymore.  It can be used in so many different ways.   There are many things a person can wish for, but this isn’t one of them.

When you fill out forms and they ask if you have children, there is only yes or no.  There’s no line that says “I had a child who died.”  No line to acknowledge a life that is gone.  And when that happens and you have no other children, you are childless.  For a long time, I left that line blank on forms.  At the doctor.  At work.  Taxes.  I never figured out how to say “I had a child and now he’s dead.”  I still haven’t.  I wish I could.

I never will.

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Broken

(Link to Refrigeration-previous piece chronologically)

Building a crib is hard.  Especially when it doesn’t come with instructions.  The cat crawls underneath the bottom piece and presses his face up against the springs.  I swear that he’s laughing.  If cats can laugh, that is.  And I believe that they can, and do.

The husband sits on the floor, various crib side pieces strewn about.  He ponders what goes where, and I shrug.  He tries one piece, and then another.  He tosses them aside on the floor.  “We need a new mattress for this.”

I look at the mattress and nod in agreement; it has minor stains in a few places and has obviously been well loved.  This is something I can do.  I pull out my laptop and look up crib mattresses, trying to figure out which one will be the best.  There are many choices.  It’s hard to choose.

This is all hard.

Getting ready for a baby is hard.

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We are sitting in the parking lot at Walgreens, and I do not want to get out of the car.  It’s not that I’m incapable.  It’s just that I simply do not want to move.  But I need things.  My mother in law comes around and opens my door in an attempt to inspire me to get out.  I wonder offhandedly why the husband is not here.  Why he did not drive me home.  And I don’t get it.  It’s all too hard to think about.  Life is too hard.

We are in my car.  It has taken me the entire drive to realize this.  I look in the rearview mirror and see the carseat base.  Nobody thought to take it out.  A simple little thing everyone forgot, but huge.  No carseat would ever attach to it.  No baby would ever ride back there.  I fight the urge to rip it out and throw it into the snow, run it over until it is shattered and broken.

Dead.

I get out, the maternity pants I’m wearing slipping down around my hips; they’re too big now.  Nothing will fit me; I haven’t been home yet, but I know this.  My feet sink into the slush around the car.  I hate winter.  It seems so awful that the world is still moving, that it has snowed and melted, that Earth is completing these cycles and he is gone.

He is gone.

I follow my mother in law blindly through Walgreens and I throw things into the cart I am using to hold myself up.  Giant bottle of ibuprofen.  Yes.  I hurt everywhere, in every inch of my being.  Extremely tight sports bra.  Check.  Feminine products.  Check.  Caffeine.  Check.  I may never sleep again.  I will need caffeine.

We go up to the register to pay and the clerk flips my credit card over and asks to see my identification.  She looks from the identification to me and back again, and I imagine how horrid I must look for one fleeting second before I realize I don’t give a shit.  It doesn’t even matter.  Not without him.  The clerk asks me my birthday, but I can’t remember it.  My mother in law says something and steers me away with my things.  Back to the car.  I dimly think that I must still be in shock, and I wonder why I didn’t stay longer in the hospital.  Why?  Because it’s expensive.  That’s why.  And it won’t help.

He is gone.

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The husband has gotten two out of four rails properly fastened to the crib.  I am holding the third in place as he attaches it with a screwdriver.

“A few drop rail cribs have been recalled lately.  But this one’s not one of them; I checked.”  When he nods, I let go of the piece I’m holding and hand him the last side.

As he screws it in, he asks, “Why were they recalled?”

“Babies get caught in the drop rail.  A few have died.”  I shudder.  Our baby dying isn’t something I want to think about.

“But not this one?”

I shake my head.

He puts down his screwdriver and shakes the last piece slightly, making sure everything stays together.  “That’s good.  We wouldn’t want to kill our baby and all.”

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The husband is leaning on the breakfast bar when I get home, talking to his father.  And eating pizza.  He didn’t drive me home because he was eating pizza?  I don’t understand this.  I don’t understand anything.  And I don’t want pizza.

I didn’t think it would be this way.  I pictured coming home to be happy.  Tiring, but happy.  Just like I had pictured the delivery ward differently.  No one expects their baby to die.  I certainly hadn’t.  I hadn’t seen this coming.  And suddenly I was back in my life as it had been pre-pregnancy, just expected to move forward.

It hurts to walk.  I move nowhere, let alone forward.  I can’t believe life is expected to go on.  I will not go on.

He is gone.

I sit on the couch.  People visit us in seemingly random spurts, but I don’t remember who they are or when they come.  I remember random details.

A single yellow rose in brown paper.  I think it goes in a vase.

A handful of brownie batches still warm in their pans.  They go to the fridge.

An empty cardboard box.  Something had been inside it.  The cat takes it over.

I do not notice these new things.  I only notice the lack.  When people are gone and everything is quiet, we rent a movie on demand.  “Land of the Lost,” the new version.  It’s absolutely ridiculous, but I am not watching.  I am staring into the side room, the room where the crib and all the things had been.  The things that aren’t there.  The crib that is gone, broken, somewhere else.

He is dead, broken, somewhere else.  Not here.  The lack can never be made up for; the hole can never be filled.

He is gone.

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We put the finished crib into the side room.  One cat climbs inside to investigate while the other sit beneath and sniffs at the legs.

“We can’t let the baby sleep out here,” I say.  “When will we switch this area with the office?”

The husband shrugs.  “After the shower?  Maybe we could do it then.  Get some people over.  Put them to work.  Feed them pizza.”

I imagined how the nursery would look when it was all finished.  How it would evolve as our son aged.  How we could take out the drop rail; how he would become a big boy in a big bed.  How it would be broken down when he was a toddler, put in to storage.

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The room was never used.  His things were never used.  They never will be.

Somewhere in existence, there is a storage shed that is filled with baby things.  Bouncer, car seat, crib, clothes, toys.  Everything disassembled, broken.  I don’t know where these things are; I gave up everything in the divorce.  But I wouldn’t want them anyway.

They’re broken down.  Unused.  Unneeded.

He is gone.

Things can be broken, and broken down.

People can be broken too.  He was broken.

He is gone.

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The Blank (On Power)

We all have our blanks in life.  If I had done ________, ________ wouldn’t have happened.  ________ is the reason for everything.  Today I had a very interesting discussion regarding this phenomena.  My example:  If my son wouldn’t have died, my marriage wouldn’t have either; I don’t know why he died and therefore all of these events must be my fault.

I was told that this statement is, in a way, dishonoring his memory.  Rather than remembering him for the baby he was, I am choosing to place blame on him for something that was in no way his fault.  It is easier to do this than to place the blame where it really lies.   I can logicize (yes, I created that word) the dissolution of my marriage in its entirety:  I carried Carter; Carter died; there were no more children; the essence of our marriage became filled with anger and bitterness; the marriage dissolved.  It started with my son; it ended with me leaving.  Regardless of the events in between, I can trace a clear path of fault back to myself.  I’m not saying that this is rational or correct.  I’m simply saying that I can see how others, my ex specifically, could have arrived at this conclusion and used it to justify their actions.  I don’t know that I truly believe this statement.  I do believe that I just plain don’t have any other rational off which to form a basis for opinion.  If I stray away from this idea, I begin to see things for what they really were.  Would my marriage have been any better had Carter lived?  Probably not.  Was it good before his death?  Not particularly.

Where does the fault lie?  Is it with anyone in particular?  Or was this dissolution a community effort?  Power in a relationship is supposed to go both ways, but sometimes that doesn’t happen.

This comes back to Michel Foucault’s four main tenets regarding power:  it is exercised from many different points, it’s repressive but also productive, it can come from the top down as well as the bottom up, and where power is found there is always resistance.  In class, the example that we used was that the professor has power because it is given to them; as students we know that the professor is responsible for our grades, and therefore we put power on them.  However, we can choose what we do with that knowledge and how much power we give by choosing whether or not to show up to class and working hard to earn said grades.  While the professor has the power to give grades, as students we have the power to earn them.  In the essay “The Subject and Power,” Foucault states that “Power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free.  By this we mean individual or collective subjects who are faced with a field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several reactions and diverse comportments, may be realized.  Where the determining factors saturate the whole, there is no relationship of power; slavery is not a power relationship when man is in chains.”  When you tie a person down, or tie them into a relationship, it is a display of power.  It is not, however, true power.  Holding one down in an effort to force your will upon them is not power at all; it is trying to make up for a lack.  When person completely takes over another, it only illustrates that they have no real power themselves.  Once the chains are gone, the slave is free to leave; it is their choice then as to whether or not they choose to go.

I don’t believe my former relationship could have been considered a “free” relationship.  I allowed him to make a lot of the decisions.  I followed, I was obedient, and I served.  I allowed his factors, his needs, to overshadow mine a large portion of the time.  This was a decision I made because I knew no better.  At the time, I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do.  I didn’t see another way.  I gave him power, and while I had the power to leave I chose not to take it.  Until one day, I did.  It had nothing to do with Carter at all, but rather it was a decision that I made because I had to for my own sanity.  Where he had tried to force power upon me and failed, I displayed legitimate power in leaving.  A marriage is supposed to be a relationship of equality, of both give and take; it shouldn’t be about one partner forcing the others’ hand.

All this to say, the human mind does not like to deal with blanks.  We do the best we can to fill them in, regardless of the consequences mentally.  The unknown is scary; we find ourselves in need of answers.  But maybe those answers don’t always exist.   I can’t place the blame for the destruction of that which was already sour on the shoulders of a child who did nothing to deserve it.  The blame rests in the fact that I had power I chose not to exercise, in the fact that I allowed the illusion of power to fool me.

The blame rests in the fact that that illusion even existed in the first place.

Perhaps a blank just means that some things are meant to end.

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