Tag Archives: death

You Are Beautiful

You are beautiful. Your fingers so tiny but so long, nails that won’t grow past their tips; your eyes closed, lids almost translucent and covered in sleep that will never be erased; your head, covered in wispy hair that will never be longer or gain color; your entire essence contained in one black and white photograph that I said I would never want. That’s a lie, I know now. I’d take more if I could. I would cling to your weight, dead in my arms, and not return you, not send you to their fridge, to the van, to the crematorium, to a velvet covered red heart, to be scattered by the ex in an unknown location as a means of showing me how little it all meant. How you were just a pawn in it all. 

I am sorry for that. You can’t know. 



This year, as I grow and learn about myself and reach out more and form more, better relationships, I confront a new reality in which you are not and never can be found, a reality in which you wouldn’t have ever existed. Up until now, I have always whispered that I’d rewind it and take it all back, everything to now, to hold you again and have you live, but I realize now that I wouldn’t. It wasn’t fair.

 
It isn’t fair. 

When you died, you gave me a gift–you showed me the world for what it is. I was in a stage of pretend, trying to force rocks and weeds to be unicorns and rainbows when a rock will always be a rock and a weed will always be a weed. You gave me the greatest gift–my freedom–as a catalyst, you allowed me to finally go, to break away. Every year at this time, I picture you as you would be–a big, genuine smile (I’m told mine is fabulous), a head full of hair (brown like mine, I’m sure it’s brown), an avid piano player who has well surpassed me even at seven (because those fingers, god, those long fingers)–but this year, as I confront reality, I picture a different scene. You, me. Dead. Because could we have survived another seven years in a world that constricted and stifled us beyond a point of recognition? I cannot answer that question. You will never be able to answer that question. He took everything from me, and I think he would have eventually taken you too. 

I think he did take you. 



I don’t know where you are now. But I know where I am. In the city, a modestly successful writer with a graduate degree who trains dogs and is trying to reinvent herself. No, not trying. IS reinventing herself. This is a place I would not have been without you, but also a place I never would have been with you. I am grateful in ways you can’t understand, that I can barely understand, for that brief duration of your life. I hope you understand the love behind all of this, behind every statement and every thought I have of you. 

I’m not saying I’m glad you’re gone, but I think it echoes behind the scenes of everything because I think you’d be gone anyway

Your existence is so much more than a brick in the ground in Wisconsin that’s covered in ice the entire season of your life, so much more than a hospital bracelet and a disc of pictures of people I didn’t love because they didn’t love me holding you for longer than I myself could stand to do so, so much more than this land of new people who do not even know your name, who will never know. 

You never would have been here. 



Happy February, my love, my life. You are my life, in more ways than just existing, and I am eternally grateful for what you gave up so that I could be here. Because of you, I know that I am more. More than a wife who cooks and cleans and earns all the money while being nothing more than a title, more than a physical and emotional punching bag, more than a girl in the backseat of a car in a parking lot in a situation that completely lacks of sense and orientation. I’m worth something, and while I may not always recognize or understand that, I am worth something because of you. 

You are beautiful; I am too. 

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Death

Our marriage began with a death.

Sunday night, a lot of years ago. October, maybe? I was on my way back to Wisconsin from Indiana, where I had been helping chaperone a herd of teenagers at a Christian youth event in the Thunderdome, when his mother told me he had a surprise waiting at my apartment. My apartment where he was not allowed to be.

“Did you give him my key?” I couldn’t keep the scorn out of my voice. “I don’t want him in my house.” There was a lot I didn’t say. Were there blankets on the couch. I’m pretty sure I left blankets on the couch. You know he’s going to want to do things, right? That he won’t want to hear no? You know there’s a reason I took his key away? I blinked without continuing out loud.

Her reply seemed strange at the time. “You seem ungrateful. You should be grateful. You will be.”

I arrived home to baked chicken, handmade potatoes, and cheese covered broccoli, one of the only veggies I actually enjoyed eating. He had cooked me all of my favorite things, covered my cheap gray card table in a fancy red table cloth adorned with two silver candle holders with pine green candles. We watched Amityville Horror on the couch, under the blanket of course even though the apartment was easily in the 70s, and then he proposed to me with very little fanfare. I said yes with equally little fanfare. The proposal was nothing like the movies. After he left, I went to feed my betta fish, Bob, and found him belly up in his tank. Dead.

Five years later, I was in my OBs office for my 37 week pregnancy appointment, without him, making small talk with a nervous handed nurse with hints of lemon on her breath about a mission trip I’d been on at seventeen to build houses in Jamaica. Her hands shook because of the things they wouldn’t show me on the backward facing monitors, the test results that told them my son was dead, the results that, once confirmed, I could trace back to near precisely the minute it had happened–me sitting at my desk on my last day of work as a merchandising manager, eating cheese poppers from Pizza Hut and entering theft numbers into the computer while giving zero fucks about accuracy because I knew I would never return.

Our marriage ended with a death. But had it ever been living?

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On Memory

I remember A, remember hanging out at school and sleeping over at her house on the weekends. She and her twin lived down the street from me, and I remember being one of the only people who could tell them apart. I didn’t think it was that hard; they didn’t look alike at all to me. I remember that A was involved in the first real lie I ever told; I said I was going to park by myself when I was really going to the park with A; I don’t remember why, but I wasn’t supposed to play with her. I remember being grounded for two weeks and thinking it was the worst thing ever, that I was going to die. I didn’t die, but it certainly felt like torture.

I remember when A died, though, for real. She was barely 21 and fell asleep behind the wheel driving home from a music concert. I remember thinking of A’s sister and how terrible it must feel to lose a twin. I didn’t reach out to her because I was too afraid. I don’t remember the last time we all spoke; I don’t remember seeing them after seventh or eighth grade, even though they still, to my knowledge, lived in the peach house down the street. I remember wanting to go to the funeral but intentionally not going; death scared me, and I didn’t want to see my childhood best friend that way.

I remember the first funeral I ever went to, for my grandfather. I remember that the coffin was closed and I couldn’t see him, so my little kid brain didn’t think he was really gone; why would he be sleeping in a big wooden box in the dark? When my goldfish died, we flushed him down the toilet. I remember wondering if dead people also got flushed down the toilet. I remember saying that out loud and getting shushed repeatedly by the embarrassed adults around me.

I remember the next funeral I went to. I was a youth leader at the time, and it was for a student who had been killed in a drunk driving accident. I was sixteen years old; she wasn’t much younger than I was. I remember that the body was pale and glassy white like wax, and I remember bursting into tears and fleeing the funeral home as quickly as I could, hiding inside my mother’s red Camaro before collecting myself and going back inside.

I remember that, when my son died, I discovered that dead babies get kept in the fridge of the hospital because the morgue drawers are too big; when he died and the nurse took him from me, she suggested I spend as much time as I could with him while he was still warm. I remember understanding why everyone shushed me at my grandfather’s funeral when I asked if dead people got flushed down the toilet, suddenly embarrassed for my little kid self after years of forgetting.

I remember my son’s “funeral,” in the basement of my in-law’s house. It was dark down there. I remember thinking my son was in the dark too, just like I was, as I set up rows of tan metal folding chairs and stuck a box of Kleenex at the end of each row. I remember that people were late, and I thought that if he was alive, they might be on time; I remember wanting to start without everyone there and then shutting myself in the bathroom until those invited all finally appeared.

I remember that everyone at my son’s funeral cried but me. I remember feeling like I should cry, a good, ugly, ridiculous cry, to just hash it out, but I didn’t, because i don’t. I have never been a crier.

I remember my grandmother’s husband coming up to me after the funeral and telling me that my son was in heaven, but that it was okay because he was going to die soon and would be there to take care of my son. He swore up and down that he would be the first member of the family to be reunited with my son, and he was right. I remember I was teaching a piano lesson when they called to tell me he had died at home in the condo he shared with my grandmother. I remember my fingers freezing on the suddenly cold piano keys, my student staring up at me as I sank into guilt over not visiting him. I remember that I didn’t visit him because his dementia made him forget everything, forget my son was dead, and it hurt too much to re-explain that every time I saw him.

I remember that memory is funny, that thinking of one thing can lead to another to another to another, and I wonder how my grandmother’s husband’s memory went the way that it did, and if mine will go that way someday too. I remember, and I write everything down.

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Six Years (The Value of Time)

It’s sunny outside today on the streets of New York, the kind of light so warm it has its own unnamed color. It’s sunny, and you will never see it. I imagine you though, as you would be now, eyes of greenish-gray that stare into me with a wisdom beyond your years; favorite color of blue, the blue of jean overalls like the favorite pair you have that you always refuse to take off; so smart that you skipped from pre-K to first grade because you were just that advanced. You remind me of me, or, rather, I imagine you do. You will never see it, you will never be any of it, and that’s okay—you were meant to do more somewhere else, and I was meant to be here.

I expected your skin when you were born to be like paper, that thin flimsy yet rough texture that cuts you if you touch it wrong; it wasn’t—your skin was like almost like mine with its peach and rosey blood hues, but marred with a translucent quality of never having seen the sun. Hair coated your head in wisps and slight curls, almost brown but not quite, so thin (like mine) that I could see the skin beneath. Everything about you looked normal, from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, and it occurred to me that occasionally time just stops us where we are, that we look the same when we die. At least at first. They put you in the fridge to keep you as you were, preserve you, in case I wanted to see you again. I didn’t. I wanted to remember you warm and pink, not cold and blue; I wanted to remember you as alive even though you weren’t.

Growing up, I was always afraid of death and the dead. When I came home from work to find my goldfish Herman floating in a u-shape above the pretty purple castle inside of his glass bowl on top of my television, I called my boyfriend to come and scoop him out for me. When my grandma’s dog Max died, I had to cover it in three different blankets so that I wouldn’t feel the body as I helped her put it in the car to take it to be cremated. I couldn’t touch them or be involved with any of it, because I couldn’t accept that they were dead. You were different though, your tiny body still somewhat warm from being inside of me, stiff from being dead for many hours, at least 22, but as many as 30—we would never know exactly. I felt like I was floating above you, like it wasn’t real, and I tried to grasp every detail: the way your fists were clenched and how hard it was for me to wrap your dead fingers around mine, fingers just long enough for playing an instrument, the way your head listed just slightly towards my chest in a way that made you seem alive. It didn’t seem right that you could be there, that you could whole and still be dead. It didn’t seem right at all. The only detail that I can’t recall, six years later, were the color of your eyes. I will never know this about you. It seems important, somehow, like a fact that I should know, and it kills me that I don’t. A mother should know what color her son’s eyes are. Were. Holding you gave new meaning to the word dead weight; your four pounds in my arms felt like the world and the air at the same time, like you were everything and nothing and here and gone, because you were—here, and gone. It is the gone that we don’t expect, that we don’t take pause to consider.

I’ve begun to forget your face. It’s harder every day to remember what you looked like, and so I write it down; I never head your voice, your laugh, and I never will, but I can commit what I saw to memory when it’s on the page. You were burned, your remains put into a little red satin box the shape of a heart that fit into my palm, and you were later scattered somewhere unknown to me. Your things are gone; you are gone; I have no part of you left, nothing physical to hold, to see. I have no proof of your existence, only memories of what I’ve lost, of what I’ve learned.

What I learned from you was the value of time. There is never enough. If I want something, I need to go for it. Get it. Take it. If I want to be the top, I need to rise to it. If I want to climb the mountain, I need to climb it. There is no time. There is never enough time. My roommate has a beautiful clock tattooed from her hip up through her ribs, with hands that spin and extend and get lost as they turn; I imagine that time is like that, that we spin and extend and get lost. Because of you though, with your beautiful piano fingers and your chubby little legs, I am not lost. I will not lose.

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We Were

My cat was there one minute and gone the next. Legit. One night, she was running up and down the hallway chasing The Great Red Dot, and the next she was gone. She had a tumor inside her that exploded, and there was nothing that could be done. It’s a metaphor for life, in a way. A bomb goes off and things are never the same after that.

*

I’m sitting on my bed, sinking into the comfort of my two inches of memory foam beneath three fluffy blankets, the Roku remote in my right hand and a hard cider in my left. There’s a new movie on Lifetime Movie Club today, an older flick entitled “We Were the Mulvaneys.” Beginning in the late 70s, the movie (and as I later found out, the novel by Joyce Carol Oates) centers on a seemingly perfect family that crumbles into oblivion after their daughter, Marianne, is raped by an upperclassman in the parking lot during a high school dance. Marianne’s father is so disgusted when she refuses to press charges against her attacker that he send his daughter away to live in a commune; he falls into alcoholism and leaves his wife after they are forced to sell their generations-old farm to pay off their debt. All three of Marianne’s brothers drift away from their mother, and one goes so far as to exact revenge against Marianne’s rapist. At the end of the movie, the father passes away and the family suddenly reunites, twenty years after the assault, to beginning the process of becoming a family again.

Honestly, I’m a big sucker for sexual assault/recovery movies. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I like seeing other people survive so that I know I’m not the only one. In the past, I’ve been drawn to movies where the survivor seeks revenge, movies like “Bound to Vengeance” and “I Spit on Your Grave.” But “We Were the Mulvaneys” is a totally different animal. Marianne does not seek revenge against her attacker or stand up to him in the slightest; she simply disappears—there one day, gone the next.

*

Every night now when I lay in bed, I find my hand drifting over to the pillow my cat used to sleep on. We were together most nights for sixteen years. She was my best friend. It’s only logical I would reach for her, sometimes. She was there forever, and then she wasn’t. We were always together, and then we weren’t.

*

“Strange:” Marianne’s brother speaks, “how when a light is extinguished, it’s immediately as if it has never been. Darkness fills in again, complete.” Marianne was extinguished so completely by her father that she almost literally ceased to exist. I think that’s how it happens for a lot of survivors of sexual assault, and I think that’s the reason I identify so strongly with “We Were the Mulvaneys.” Sure, I’ll admit that I love a good revenge turn. But a mistake that many of these movies make is that most survivors simply aren’t that person. We may want to be, but in being that person, we become our attacker and our attacker wins. While Marianne’s aftermath is an extreme, I think it’s an end that many survivors drift towards. 68 percent of rapes never get reported at all, and that’s a current statistic—I can’t imagine what it was like in the late 70s. Things are different now than they were then, and I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.

*

My cat’s ashes came today via Fedex, a purple tin wrapped in lavender tissue paper in a purple gift bag inside a brown cardboard box, all the empty space in the box stuffed with marketing materials. I cried when I opened the box, but then I built a shrine on my dresser—purple tin with a black cat tea light candle holder on either side and a clear crystal cat in the front, with two of her favorite toys on top. Squire McSquiggleton and Queenie. They were her favorites. I think she would like the shrine.

We draw lines in the tea light so that she will visit in my dreams and then let the candle burn down to nothing. There one minute, gone the next.

*

I think I’m Marianne. Not that I’m quiet about what happened to me, but that it changed everything. Sexual assault is like a bomb in that once it happens, you don’t go back. I can think of too many moments where I didn’t stand up, where I didn’t fight back, where I didn’t speak.Where I didn’t say “I am a survivor.” But then there are just as many where I did stand up, where I did fight back, where I did speak—I just don’t think about those as much. Marianne never did.

Who I was before what happened to me was gone in what amounts to the blink of an eye. I won’t get that person back. I don’t want her back. I’m stronger without her.

*

I look at cats in shelters online, searching for a new best friend. No one jumps out and screams they’re a perfect match to me. I need to go and see them, visit the cats and pet them and experience them in person, but I’m not ready yet and that’s okay. Who we are is who we are, and what I’ve learned from Marianne and from my cat is that we’re here one minute and gone the next. We don’t control it. We don’t control anything but ourselves.

We were one thing, and then we were the next, and then we were the thing after that. We were always moving. We were change. We are.

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On Time

My grandma taught me to volunteer from a young age. Every Monday, we did Meals on Wheels together. We would go to the assisted living center, take the service elevator to kitchen lugging an enormous cooler and a rolling cart, and load ourselves up with meals for people who couldn’t leave their home for whatever reason. We put the hot meals into the cooler so that they could stay warm, and the cold meals went into the cart. I put the cooler in the backseat with me, along with a stack of hand towels so I could handle the hot containers pain free. Grandma would drive to each house, and then we would both pop out with our respective parts of the meal and deliver it to its intended recipient.

There was one particular man on our route that still sticks out to me even now. I can’t remember his name now, so I’ll call him Herman. Herman was very old, at least, old to my eleven or twelve year old self, but he was always incredibly nice to me. His apartment reminded me a lot of my mom’s—there was stuff everywhere. Giant stacks of newspaper taller than I was lined the walls. In order to give Herman his meal, we had to open the door, holler up the stairs, wait for him to holler back, and then wind our way up and through the maze to where he was always sitting at the kitchen table. Every Monday at 12:30pm, he was always in the same spot, the same chair, reading his newspaper. As a kid, I used to wonder if he ever left the house.

One Monday, Grandma and I were slightly late getting to Herman’s. The meals hadn’t come to the kitchen on time, and they’d made us late. She opened the door, and we slipped inside. “Hello??” she yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “Meals on Wheels!”

For the first time, there was no answer. She tried again, and then a third time. By this point, my hands were burning through the towels I had wrapped the container. “Maybe he’s not home,” I suggested, desperate to put the food down.

“He might have had a doctor’s appointment and forgotten to mention it,” she agreed. We decided to go upstairs and leave his food in the kitchen where he would see it right away when he came back.

Herman’s staircase was only big enough to go up single file, and it was barely even big enough for that. This meant that when Grandma stopped short at the top of the stairs, I couldn’t see the reason why. She very quietly told me to go back to the car, and she turned to place the cold food on top of the hot stuff I was still clutching. Herman was sleeping, she said, and I had to be careful not to wake him up. I did what she said and went back to the car, where I sat quietly with the food in my lap wondering why Grandma wasn’t coming down. I got so bored, I pulled out my book and started reading. Eventually other people showed up, and Grandma got in the car and started the engine again.

“Did you wake him up? Should we bring him his food?”

“No, sweetheart.” She clipped her sunglasses on over her glasses. “He doesn’t need the food today.”

I took the sleeping idea at face value, and only later as I thought back did it occur to me that Herman was not sleeping at all. Herman was dead. I thought about that day a lot, about how we never know how much time we have left. I wonder how long he would have sat there if we hadn’t come that day to deliver the food. We would never know the exact circumstances of his death, the mark that he had left on the world. We would never know anything other than the fact that he hated the juice that came with his meal and that he liked to horde all of the newspapers.

My grandma died on her living room sofa at approximately 8:45 the morning of September 14th, 2015—over 20 years after that day with Herman. She had just made a phone call to a friend, leaving a message that detailed her excitement for the beautiful day and the bridge club she would be attending that afternoon. Her morning pills were resting next to her on the arm of the couch, and a plate of toast was in her lap with one bite missing from the piece on top. The medical examiner told the people who found Grandma that her face was peaceful, that deaths like these were her favorite because she knew the person didn’t feel any pain. I like to think that this was the case; I also like to think that all deaths are this way, even though I know they aren’t.

My grandma taught me a lot of lessons growing up, but it’s the ones like this that really mean something. The idea that everyone is a person who deserves care, who deserves to be loved. I didn’t really think about these things before, all of these random things that I learned. But I’m a better person because of my grandma and the things that we did together.

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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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Defining Moments

I’m sitting on the couch tonight watching old SVU’s on-demand, and I saw a commercial for the Olympics that are coming up.  The last Winter Olympics were in 2010.  I know that, because I was in the hospital during them.  Because I watched curling for many, many hours in a row.  Because I used to love the Olympics (Still do, I suppose).  Plus, it’s that time of year.  You know.

So here’s how it was.  That moment when he died.  I remember every piece of it. We all have that moment in our lives that makes us who we are; defines our very essence. This is mine.  Despite things that had happened before and have happened since, I still feel that Carter’s death was a catalyst to several different things within my life.

I was a merchandising manager for a local company, working about fifty hours a week.  I carried an extremely good benefits plan and had been employed with the company for about five months when we found out I was pregnant.  Everything went well with the company at first, and they sent me the appropriate leave paperwork in October 2009.  My due date was March 30th, 2010.  In February of 2010, when I turned in the paperwork for my leave, I was informed that my FMLA could not officially begin until two days before my due date, because that would be my year anniversary.  (They didn’t tell me this in October.).  I would not be allowed to leave earlier, and if I did, I would only be able to take my one week of paid vacation, one week of sick leave, and four week of unpaid personal leave that I would have coming to me.  If I did not return after that, I would have no job.  At this same time, I was placed on a work restriction that stated I had to spend half of shift standing up and half of it sitting down.  The company called me a liability, and a week later forced me into taking my leave early because there “was no reasonable way to accommodate my medical needs”.  The date that was my final day working would put my return date if I wanted to keep the job to be just a few days after my due date–so when I finished work that day, I was uncertain that I would be able to return.  I had an appointment that day with my OB, and I figured that he and could discuss it then.   

I went to my doctors appointment, but I was almost an hour early.  Instead of going in, I went to the grocery store downstairs to get something to eat before I registered with the front desk.  I selected a fruit juice smoothie; I was pissed off at the time that there was no apple juice.  The baby liked apple juice.  I bumped a display of travel mugs, I believe with my giant purse.  Several of them fell on the floor, making a ridiculous clatter.  One of the employees told me not to worry about cleaning it up.  She asked me when I was due, and I told her.  Then I went to my appointment.  I was warm, so I left my coat in the car even though it was the end of February.

I hung out in the waiting room for about twenty minutes playing around on my phone, and then they took me back early. The nurse hooked me up to this machine and then put all of these different sensors around my belly before she turned it on…and couldn’t pick up anything. I shrugged it off. The nurse three days prior hadn’t even known how to properly load the paper in the machine, and this nurse apparently didn’t know how to turn it on. So I sat and waited, still somewhat patiently. The first nurse came back with a second nurse. She messed around with the sensors some and then they both left the room. The second nurse came back in without the original nurse and said they were going to get one of the on call doctors to come in and do an ultrasound because they were having trouble with the machine. I started to feel weird then. I didn’t like the looks on their faces. I asked for my doctor, but it was his day off. No point in calling him in, I was told, for something routine. But it didn’t feel routine at ALL.  

One thing that I can’t remember is when I started to cry. It just happened. I’m not a crier. The nurse must have been told that she had to stay in the room with me until the on call doctor came, because there was a wait for the ultrasound machine and they didn’t know know how long it would be. She plopped a box of Kleenex into my lap and started asking me questions….what did I do for a living….what did my husband do….had I ever left the country? We started talking about the mission trip I took to Jamaica my senior year of high school. At some point the doctor came in. The nurse stood between me and the ultrasound screen so I couldn’t see. I was crying so hard I doubt I would have seen anything anyway. I jumped every time I heard sound come from the machine, but she kept telling me it was the uterine artery, not a heartbeat. They looked for about twenty minutes. And then it came… 

“I think you should call your husband.” 

I knew then. I think I already knew, but I KNEW then.

My doctor arrived about five minutes later. I thought offhandedly that it must no longer be routine. He pulled up a chair in front of me, sat on it backwards, and said those two words that I wish I would never hear again. 

“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.”

That was it. That was the moment when my entire life changed. My child, who I had never held, never seen, except on a little screen, was gone. 

And that’s how it was.  The rest has already been written.  This moment, these couple hours of my life, set me up for the rest of…well…everything.

I’m bracing myself, February.  For the first time in these (nearly) four years, I think I’m ready for you.  And that doesn’t mean I’m forgetting.  It just simply means that this has happened, and that I am learning to be okay.

Image

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An Irreversible Process (Final draft)

I’m a firm believer that the human brain can only handle so much at a time before it shuts down.  When someone you love dies, you spend a lot of time answering questions.  After a while, you get sick of them and start picking random things just so people will leave you alone.  The woman in the funeral home was the last straw for me after my son’s death.  It wasn’t that she was rude; she was quite the opposite.  There was just too much she needed to know, like there was too much I needed to know.  

When someone dies, many things are unknown.

Her name was Cori.  She was waiting for us when we walked into the lobby.  My mother in law shook her hand, and Cori seemed to somewhat know the situation from a conversation they had had beyond my awareness.  The four of us walked into a tiny room off of the lobby and she began asking questions.  

My son’s entire life fit on a single form; it was the form she would use to draft the obituary.  I stared out the window as she spoke, at a bird fluttering about in the bush.  I wondered what would happen if he suddenly tried to fly inside, if he ran into the window and fell to the ground.  And died.  

Where do we go when we die?

Did I want our son to be cremated?  

No, cremation is forever; cremation happens by fire.  I didn’t want my son to burn.  Someone was pushing a clipboard towards me.  I looked down.  It was an acknowledgement that cremation was permanent.  I hadn’t agreed to that, I never said…

Cremation is a permanent state of being; an irreversible process.

The husband signed the form, so I did as well.  I had no choice.

Irreversible.  As in never coming back.

Cori gave me an enormous binder.  Flip through it, she told me.  See if there was anything I might want to put him in.  Like he was a deceased pet I would bury in the backyard.  The photographs were nice, but I couldn’t tell just by looking at them.  I pushed back from the table and wandered into the showroom.  There were coffins everywhere, but in a smaller room at the back of the showroom there was a room filled with different kinds of urns.  Cori drifted in, explaining the differences between the urns.  The large ones were obviously for adult remains.  But the smaller a person was at the time of their death, the less mass they took up.  Obviously, babies are quite small, she said.  There were urns made for babies, but she plucked something else from the shelf and held it out to me. 

I didn’t see the difference.  The urns for babies were small.  This urn was small.  But this one was special, she said.  It was for cases where siblings or other family may want to divide up the remains of their dead so that they could each take a piece home.  It was morbid, the idea that people would want to split up their dead.  But obviously it happened. 

How did I choose where my son would spend forever?  What makes one urn better than another?  I spotted one that I thought I might like, if it was possible to like such a thing.  It was a tiny bronze one with a red satin case shaped like a heart.  The urn rested in a small niche inside, and the heart could be closed around it.  Like a jewelry box.

If it was on a shelf, you would never know there was a dead person inside it.  You wouldn’t know it contained all that was left of my son.

We went back out to the room and filled out the order forms for the urn and its accompanying red heart case.  A second woman appeared with the first draft of the obituary.  The husband passed the typewritten page to me.  I was the writer, he said, so I should look at it.  I gave the paper a once over and passed it back.  I didn’t really see it at all.  I watched as everyone else in the room finalized the details without my input.  Watching as they finalized his death—a permanent, irreversible process.

He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, though I suppose everybody says that about their child.  He was mine.  He was gone.  He was dead.

Irreversible.

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