Tag Archives: death

Everyone Deserves an Ordinary Day

Those who know me well know I am a creature of routine. I eat the same things each day; I walk dogs in the same order each day; I walk the same ways each day. I’ve got one dog, a little miniature pinscher, that lives in Tribeca (South Manhattan). Every day that the weather’s nice, we walk to Hudson River Park. We cross the highway from her house. We cross the bike path. We walk along the river, we meet up with our puppy friends, and then we walk back along the bike path to her building. 

Yesterday was just an ordinary day. We walked along the water and met up with our more reluctant walking buddy. My dog stopped to play in some fall-tinted leaves at the corner of Chambers and West, and I had to urge her along so that our friend would make it home in time. I promised her we’d come back and play after we left our friend, and we did. She pranced through the leaves with her long tan legs, kicking them everywhere and somehow getting them stuck to the Velcro of her purple windbreaker. I peeled off the foliage, scooped her up, and took her home. 

As I was leaving the tiny pup in the care of her moms, a man in a Home Depot rental truck jumped the curb off the highway, accelerated over the bushes, and crashed down onto the bike path. He mowed down some pedestrians almost immediately, a group of Argentine tourists, and then proceeded to speed south towards World Trade Center. He sped past the dog park where my dog and I stop to train, past the benches where we sometimes hang out, past the skate park where she sometimes stands and barks. He mowed down people biking, someone on skates, pedestrians. He crashed his truck into a school bus a few minutes later. 

On the corner of Chambers and West. He crashed on the corner of Chambers and West. Where I had literally just been. Where I had stopped. Where I had loitered. Where we had played like it was any other day. 

We (New Yorkers) thought at first it was a shooter. This wasn’t true. The police had moved to intercept him, and after he crashed into the school bus and exited the truck with what turned out to be a paintball gun, they shot him and stopped his rampage. It last around 12 minutes, from what I can ascertain. 12 minutes. Had I been late yesterday, even by a few minutes, my pup and I may have still been at that leaf pile. Who knows how that might have ended. I don’t want to answer that question. I shouldn’t have to. 

All the social media seems to be focusing on is that this man, a man I won’t name because he gets no fame from me, “planned his attack for weeks in the name of ISIS,” that he was a foreigner who wanted to kill people to glorify this regime. I don’t think his race even matters; he could have been anyone. What matters is that he did this here, in my city, where I work. My city that I love. Had I been earlier, I would have been going about my ordinary day just like the 11 people were that no longer have an option to do so. And that doesn’t sit well with me. 

This man is a coward. He planned a cowardly attack on innocent, everyday people just because he could. And I’m angry. I’m angry for the people who won’t wake up today, for the families that have to go on without them. I’m angry that I now have to look both ways before crossing the bike path because I’ll always wonder if it could happen again. I’m angry that I’m not sure I want to walk there anymore. 

I’m angry that someone has made me afraid. 

I will never understand how some people get off on causing fear in others. By being afraid, aren’t we just giving these people what they want? Because there are more people like this man out there. They want us to be afraid. But we shouldn’t have to be. 
Everyone has the right to have an ordinary day, to go about their business and to do their work and to have their fun without worrying about a rental truck barreling off road down the bike path and mowing them down. There are 11 people today who no longer have that privilege, who can no longer appreciate the simple things because that coward took their lives away. And for what? The glory of living on forever in the media? Was it worth it?

I want to say that I have answers. I don’t. Clearly. But what I do know is that we have to appreciate even the most ordinary of days. Because we don’t know when those will end. It’s not fair, but we will never know. I am grateful for today, for the pittie sitting in my lap while I write this and for the sun (that hid behind the clouds, but who cares). And I am grateful that I was on time yesterday, that I was not in the wrong place at the wrong time. I am grateful to play fetch and to get hugs and to appreciate every single bit of this ordinary day. 

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Then Again, Maybe I Won’t

We were sitting by the pool, draped on a set of decrepit matching white beach chairs—me, B, B’s mother, B’s sister. I was covered in a towel so no one would see my pathetic body in my bathing suit. It was June; the baby had died the end of February. I hadn’t felt much like exercising, and I wasn’t ready to be in a bathing suit, or, rather, I wasn’t ready to see myself and be seen. 

“Have you thought about it?” B’s mother asked. “Having another?”

She said it so nonchalantly, like it was nothing to her when it was everything to me. I couldn’t replace my son just like that, couldn’t snap my fingers and create another, a baby to take his place. Couldn’t? Or wouldn’t? 

B’s sister slipped away, into the pool, completely removing herself from the conversation.

When I didn’t answer, B did it for me, “We didn’t go back on birth control, so if it happens, it happens.”

I thought of them in my purse, the birth control pills I’d refilled but not told him about, the tiny round dots in their little plastic slots; I thought of the endless times I’d said I was on my period over the prior months rather than submit myself to the process of baby creation, baby replacing. I thought of the doctor, and how he said we had to wait six weeks before we could try again, and how we did wait those six weeks, and how we did try again, and again, even when I didn’t want to, even when I said no. 

B’s sister was pregnant, due in the middle of the summer. She was in the pool no problem, paddling slowly back and forth completely unashamed of her round body. She would have the first child of the family, not me. 

Not me. It was like my son had never existed. Everyone was moving on. 

The thought of what I didn’t have, the hole left by my unmentioned dead son, made me brazen in my speech in a way inappropriate for my gender. “We did.” I never talked back. I knew better.

“We did?” B’s brow furrowed.

“Go back on birth control.”

That’s a marriage, isn’t it? Telling each other the difficult things? We were supposed to tell each other the difficult things. 

B’s mother produced pamphlets from her pool bag and started dropping them onto my lap one by one. How to Know When to Have Another Baby. A Women’s Place in the Home. Raising Your Family After Grief. Yadda yadda yadda. I opened none of them, but I saw all of them. “It’s your job to raise a family,” she told me. “Your job to be a mother. You can’t just turn away from that. It’s God’s plan that your son died, and it’s God plan that you have another.” 

I fumbled the keys to our condo out from under my chair and stood up, the towel firmly pressed around my middle. “If it’s God plan that my son is dead, that is not a God I want. I don’t believe God would want me to replace him.” 

B said nothing; he did not speak up for me, but instead chose to follow his mother into the pool to splash around with his sister while I fumbled back to our condo as the sun passed over. He said nothing all afternoon, went to dinner with his parents where I was not invited, and then came home and said nothing all night. But he stood behind me in the bathroom, me at the sink, him with his arms around me and his hands as fists against the counter, while I poked the pills out of the package one by one and let them find their way down the open hole of the drain. Each disappearance another black strike of dishonor to my son. 

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The Difficult Miracle of Being Human

She knew she was pregnant before the stick said she was pregnant. It wasn’t fetal movement or anything like that, because no baby moves that early. It was more of a feeling, a sense of being together with someone, finally, in a way she had never been together with the husband.

She did not tell the husband. Not right away. She waited until it was “safe,” until there was “less chance to lose it,” and then she peed on a stick to confirm the beautiful thing she already knew so that she could take that stick and tap it against the doorframe of his office while waiting for him to notice her. He turned around, removed his all-encompassing soundman headphones, and flashed her a quick eye roll that he completely intended her to see. “What is it?” 

The husband did not like to be disturbed, but clearly he hadn’t seen the stick. She waved it a little closer, a little closer. Still nothing. The husband moved to turn his chair around. “I’m pregnant,” she blurted, just to get him to stop, pay attention. It wasn’t how she’d planned to tell him.

“Are we ready for that? A baby?” His words were fast, sharp. To the point. He wanted to get back to work. 

“Who’s ever ready for a baby?” The stick hung limply in her hand, unseen. Wasn’t he supposed to want to see it, to celebrate? At least, that’s what she had thought, hoped would happen. She shoved the stick into her pajama pants pocket, because what else was she supposed to do with it? 

“It won’t fix things. With you. Us.”

It was always her that had to change, never him. But she wouldn’t dare say that out loud. “Don’t call the baby an It; the baby can hear you.” 

The husband didn’t respond.

When the husband turned around to go back to work, she went back into the bathroom and cried. She didn’t need him. She had a baby now. Or she would, in several months.

She did what she thought she was supposed to in the months following. She went to the doctor, let him confirm what the stick had already confirmed. She took vitamins. She read websites: What size was the baby today? What was developing? Growing? Changing? Did they have fingernails yet? Or rather, would she feel them if they did? She thought about what weird things; she pictured the baby clawing her insides as they waited impatiently to come out and meet her. 

She wanted to start registering for baby things. She convinced the husband to let her find out the sex so that she could pick better items. It was a boy! She thought the husband would be more excited to have a boy, but the husband didn’t respond. She took the 3D ultrasound picture, with it’s grainy whites and browns, snapped a picture with her own phone, and sent it to everyone she had ever known. She showed the registries to the husband that night while they watched tv, the show on display was meaningless in comparison to the excitement of picking her child’s future. Bottles, pajamas, toys, diapers, a crib, a stroller, she registered for anything and everything that any site told her a baby would need while the husband sat next to her, supposedly helping but really somewhere else. “Winnie the Pooh,” he scoffed at one point, “isn’t that a little young?” 

She had always loved that cuddly yellow bear, and the husband certainly hadn’t helped her pick things out. “What would you rather ask for?”

The husband didn’t respond.

She worked hard, saving money for when the baby came and she would need to take off. The husband stayed home, or worked at the church, or did whatever sound career thing it was he did with his day. She came home after ten, twelve hour days and made him dinner, cleaned. He told her she didn’t do enough, so she threw a potholder at him and called him an asshole.

The husband didn’t respond. 

She pictured life after the birth of their son, and how she wished and hoped it would change, when she really knew that nothing would change at all. That she would work a 50-plus hour work week and then have to take care of a baby at the end of the day. She said nothing to the husband. It would do no good. She kept plugging along; she kept getting ready. She cleaned the backseat of her car to get ready for the carseat. 

It came time for the baby shower, a mixture of cakes and presents and balloons—cute green and blue-for-boy balloons that she loved but couldn’t bring home in case the cats decided to eat them and then died from choking on string. She asked the husband to help bring home gifts; they lived up a steep flight of stairs and she didn’t want to carry everything. 

The husband didn’t respond. 

So she did it herself. She carried each and every thing up the stairs, and then she took a nap with the cats on the couch while a Lifetime movie played on the tv. A few weeks, just a few weeks, she would meet him. And everything would change then, when her son was born.

And just a short time later, at 37 weeks, when she called the husband to tell him the baby’s heart was no longer beating, well, he didn’t respond then either. 

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The Dead are Cold (And Other True Facts)

My son is beautiful. He is seven, almost eight years old. Tall for his age, with a head full of brown hair that he refuses to let me cut because he likes it long. His eyes are greenish gray, and they stare right into me with an understanding much beyond his years. He is an avid piano student, but some days he hates playing. He reminds me of myself in that regard—when I was a kid, I told my organ teacher that my hamster had bit me in the finger so I couldn’t play, but then I went home and played what I wanted to play instead of what I was supposed to. 

My son is kind. His favorite toy is a giant stuffed brown bear. He still sleeps with it at night, but he will also share it with other children when they are sad. I worry for the day when he will decide he is too old for toys, that I will cry. His favorite color is blue, and his favorite clothing item is his tiny pair of blue overalls where the straps are so worn that they slip off of his shoulders. 

My son is smart. He’s already in third grade. He went from pre-K straight to first because he already had the fundamentals down cold. They said he was “smart,” and “needed to be challenged.” He brings home a new book almost every day, but he prefers to read it to me rather than the other way around. I only help him when he asks, and he rarely does—and all his books are far above grade level. He can’t draw though. He comes home from school with stick figure drawings that have graham cracker crumbs stuck to the edges, but I am proud of them.

My son is proud of me, and of my writing. Or, at least, I like to think so. 

My first major, national publication was for a parenting magazine called ‘Brain, Child: A Magazine for Working Mothers.’ I wasn’t horribly enthused about it, and I didn’t tell that many people. One I told, a professor in my graduate program, replied, “Oh, are you a parent?” I didn’t know how to answer that question. I never do. 

My son is dead.

*

The first dead body I remember seeing was when I was eighteen years old. I was a new youth leader for a local teen coffee house. It was New Year’s, and Renee and Stephanie were riding home in the back of a station wagon with one of their families—Stephanie’s, I think. A drunk driver came down Highway 120 and plowed right into the driver’s side of their car; everyone inside was killed instantly. I attended Renee’s funeral as both a representative of the coffee house and a friend; we were not that far apart in age. Because she had been on the passenger side of the vehicle, Renee was, for lack of a better term, more intact than Stephanie and thus had an open casket. I waited to see her for over an hour, listening to the people around me cry. By the time I got up to the casket, the line behind me wrapped around the funeral home. I stared down at Renee, her eyes closed, her skin the pasty white of overdone makeup, her hands with fingernails still lacquered in solid black gently folded across her stomach. Her dress was white, and I remember thinking that Renee would not have worn a white dress. I remember reaching out gently, to touch her cheek that was completely devoid of the normal pink color. I remember how cold she was. I remember nothing else until I sat in the driver’s seat of my cherry red Camaro, smacking the steering wheel over and over with my fists and bawling my eyes out because this “little” girl was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. 

And she was cold.

My entire life, I’ve been afraid of dead things. When I came home from work one night to find my goldfish Herman floating in a u-shape above the pretty purple castle inside of his glass bowl that I kept on top of my television cabinet, I called B, my then-boyfriend, to come and scoop it out for me. When my cat Tigger died, I couldn’t look at the body and had to go in another room while someone else took it away. 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. My son was different though. His tiny body was still somewhat warm from being inside of me. Stiff though from being dead for many hours, at least 22, but as many as 30; we would never know exactly. When I held him, it was amazing to me how light he was. I don’t know what I had expected; at four pounds, he was substantially lighter than my jumbo-sized 22 pound cat, and he felt like he was floating in my arms. At the same time, I felt like I was floating above him, like it wasn’t real, and I took in every detail—the tiny bit of hair scattered across his head, the way his fists were clenched and how hard it was for me to wrap his dead fingers around mine, fingers that were long and just perfect for playing an instrument. It didn’t seem right that my son could be there, that he could be whole and still be dead. It didn’t seem right at all. 

The one thing I didn’t look at when I held my son was his eyes; I don’t know the color of his eyes. I never will. 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.

I’ve begun to forget his face. It’s harder every day to remember what he looked like. I never heard his voice, his laugh; I won’t ever know these things. He was burned, his remains put into a little box the shape of a heart that fit into my palm and later scattered somewhere unknown to me. His things are gone; he is gone. I have no part of him left, nothing physical of him to hold, to see. I have no proof of his existence; he only exists in my head now. When I miss him, it feels like I’m being gutted. There is no way to make it okay. There is no part of him that remains. 

*

The first time I saw my son, he was nothing more than an image on a screen. A strange mix of brown, sepia, that produced a recognizable image—a nose, eyes, even tiny fingers. A human. A baby. It was hard for me to reconcile the image on the screen with me, to believe that I was really growing a baby inside of me. When the technician asked if we wanted a copy of the ultrasound, I eagerly took the picture. I scanned it in with my new iPhone and sent it to essentially everyone I had ever known. It was the first time B, the husband, was at all excited.

The ultrasound spurred me to clean out my junk-mobile of a car. I had the messiest car ever, and I had for years. It started when my commute time to work doubled; I would eat food driving both to and from work and then throw the wrappers into the backseat. The more I traveled for work, the more things appeared—an extra coat, random shoes, pants, shirts, books. 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 now that I needed to install a carseat back there, there was a lot of work to be done. I didn’t dare ask the husband to help me. It was my fault, my mess, and he never even rode in my car anyway. 

I pictured my son while I was cleaning. I imagined that he would grow, grow up, grow out of the carseat. Sit in the front with me after he turned twelve. Starting driving at fifteen and a half. Many times during the cleaning ordeal, I had to wander away. Out of the garage, down the block, getting air. I wasn’t sure how I had driven so long with the car in that condition; I suddenly understood my need to drive with the windows down as at least five bags of trash made their way to the dumpster, with several more bags awaiting their end destination of Goodwill. Exhausted, I never bothered to clean out the trunk. I worked hard enough during my day job that I didn’t want to do anything more than I had to.

I was a merchandising manager for Party City while I was pregnant. Halloween pack-up was well underway, which involved a great deal of ladder climbing and frequent sitting on top of rolling ladders when I got tired—which happened all the time. People worried that I was working too hard, but my doctor supported me. The level of work I was doing was in the same league as what I had been doing pre-pregnancy. Since it wasn’t a new routine, it wasn’t a problem. I almost wished it would be. Ten hours on my feet while pregnant made an extremely long day.

By the time I got home most nights, I was too tired after an entire day of work to do anything else. B had a specific list of daily chores for me: dishes, cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, anything pet related, and anything the husband didn’t want to do. I never got to the dishes or the cleaning or the vacuuming. The cats were like my children, so I took care of them. I cooked meals because I was hungry, but frequently grumbled in my head that the husband should cook for me once in a while. When he bitched that things around the apartment weren’t done, I chucked a pillow at him and called him an asshole. He wasn’t the one working fifty hours a week while growing a human being inside his body. He wasn’t working at all. 

“Do you want to quit your job then? Is that what you’re saying?” He leaned on our breakfast bar.

“I didn’t say that. I just said that I’m tired and need a little rest every now and then. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.” I bit my lip. I was crying, again. Damn hormones. 

“I do everything around here,” he replied snidely. “I pay the bills.”

That was all he did. He didn’t have a real job. I was the breadwinner, but I couldn’t quit—I held the medical insurance policy. The husband was wrong, I was sure, but I nodded slowly and got up to make him dinner; I imagined that someday soon I would be cooking for both me and my son, and it didn’t seem weird to me at all that B wasn’t in that picture. 

*

B and I didn’t name our son until we held him. I had just finished The Mortal Instruments, and I was absolutely in love with the name Jace. The husband was in love with naming him after his grandfather and the slew of men on his side of the family who carried the name Erich. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the name Erich; it was just so old fashioned. We argued back and forth about it, electing to waiting until the baby came to decide. Somehow then, February 26th, 2010, I looked into my son’s eyes and held my finger in his tiny fist, and I knew his name was Carter. I conceded to Erich as a middle name, because I didn’t have the energy to fight. It didn’t seem to matter anyway.

*

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, they tell you, 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 people 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 won’t always go the way they’re supposed to, because they only prepare people for the best possible outcomes. No one tells you that babies can die. 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 no one tells 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 you cycle will change forever. They are more concerned with handling your grief than with handling your body, since the baby is dead. 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 leave the hospital and promptly throw yourself in front of a bus. 

The biggest thing that no one told me when my baby died 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 there was no baby anymore; it’s not like I could explain it to myself and make the natural process stop. I called my OB right away, and they had me wear a sports bra two sizes too small that I stuffed with cabbage leaves. 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 post-baby and no baby to show for it—a ring of pudginess around my middle that had never been there before and a plethora of stretch marks. No amount of exercise would make those things go away, not completely. I was shaped differently, inside and outside. I was different, and this went unacknowledged.

March 2010 was the time that they took the population census. I did not fill out the form when it came in the mail the first time, and I didn’t fill it out when it came in the mail the second time. I never filled it out, instead choosing to rip it into pieces and stuff it in the kitchen garbage like it had never come at all. When May rolled around, the census workers started coming to people’s houses. One rang my doorbell. I went down the stairs into the entry hall and pulled it open. 

“Hi.” It was an older woman with hair like my grandmas and a bright red vest that identified her as a census worker. “I’m here because you didn’t fill out your census form. I just need to collect your information.”

I tried to shut the door, but she stuck her foot in it. “It will only take a few minutes.” She was very persistent, and I left the door open just enough to see her face as she asked, “How many people live in your household?”

“Two,” I said to my feet.

“And they are?”

“Me and my husband.” I tried to push the door closed then, but she wouldn’t move her foot.

She was scribbling on her clipboard. “And how many children?” She didn’t even look up as she asked. 

“None,” I snapped. “None. My son is dead.”

I slammed the door in her face.

*

I constructed a world in the months after Carter died. A world inside my head where the imagined was real and the real was imagined. In that world, my 37 week OB appointment never happened. I was not an hour early. I did not stop at the store for apple juice. I did not leave my coat in the car even though it was the middle of February. The nurse never hooked up the heart monitor; I never heard her say the baby’s heart wasn’t beating. I didn’t watch an ultrasound screen where the baby didn’t move. This world where the nurses asked about what I did for a living and shoved Kleenex in my face and distracted me while we waited for the doctor and the husband; this world where the doctor told us he was “so, so sorry,” where he gave me the option of going home and waiting for labor to happen naturally or going into labor artificially; this world where I laid in a hospital bed in labor for 22 hours to give birth to a dead baby. This world is not the real world, and I know that. 

If I think too hard, what I’ve constructed completely unravels. 

My son is beautiful.

My son is kind.

My son is smart. 

My son is dead. And cold.

Two years after Carter’s death, I purchased a memorial brick by the lakefront. The city planted a tree as a memorial to “all the dead children,” and it sits twenty feet from the shoreline; it’s small, with spindly branches, and the leaves are few and far in between. It didn’t seem to grow much, and I was struck by the idea that a memorial for children that will never grow up would never grow—the stunted tree surrounded by bricks surrounded by flowers was the perfect tribute; clumps of purple and red and pink that took away from the fact that each brick was all that was left of a life.

Every year, tiny growths appear between the bricks. Weeds, or perhaps flowers. Signs of life that will be gone come winter, because everything dies. Winter brings snow and ice, coating the ground and making it impossible to remember him. I visit the tree on the anniversary of his death every year I am in the state, to place my hand on his brick and be able to touch him. A simple reminder. If it’s winter, I can never make headway in the frozen-over snow. I can get down on my knees and claw with my fingers, but I only ever break through to ice. Carter is sealed away behind a wall I can’t break through, an event I cannot penetrate. Death.  

On the anniversary of his death, I will never locate the brick. I will never be able to break through. I will never find him.

It’s too cold. I am cold. 

The dead are cold.

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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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