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Reluctant Time Travel

I’m back.

Back where I don’t want to belong, or at least, I don’t want to belong. Yet I find myself here, again and again. 

Back in that cool fall room, the morning mist still rising from the recently shaded lawn. Even as the leaves fell, the shadows deepened, and the buzz of insects was slower to chorus. 

Not from exertion, but from having it stolen, I stand out of breath at the doorway. My wife lays in bed, not noticing my approach. The scene glitches, and then they lay on the floor, pale and cool, wearing only red plaid boxers and top surgery scars. We had joked so often about the near-translucent whiteness of their pale skin; now it was the brightest color in the room. 

I don’t want to belong here. I don’t want to be here. 

I don’t want to find myself here, over and over, when I am running down the sidewalk, waking up from a dream, startled by an unexpected hand on my shoulder; this is where I wake. Thanks, I hate it. 

I hate that the vision I have of the love of my life is, most often, their death.

Sometimes, the doorway is as far as I get. I stand there, frozen in time, staring, unable to move.

Sometimes I feel the bones in their chest break under my hands. 

Sometimes I am pacing in another room, begging for someone to come while the first responders push breath and electricity into someone who doesn’t need those things anymore.

Sometimes I walk out the front door, dazed, and see the volunteer firefighters in a social distance half-circle around Lucy in her stroller, too small to be strapped in that way. 

I have never been in time. 

I have never had a do-over; never got there early enough, never yelled loudly enough for them to hear, never threatened – then followed through – on calling 911 if they didn’t answer. 

They never answered. 

Sometimes, in the bright sunrises over the duplex homes on our street, I’ll remember the last time I saw them alive. The soft moments just after dawn when I had tucked them in after a bath when they’d been unable to sleep, nuzzled the recently buzzed baby duck hair, and told them I loved them. Get some good sleepies, I said, and slipped out the door while they were still asleep.

What if I hadn’t? What if I had stayed while they’d slept?

For years, I have prized my early-rising morning time. My body has never liked sleeping in. And now, that morning especially, I wanted to write. I had just started really writing again – just the week before, I had posted for public accountability that this blog would be updated every two weeks. I figured the off-weekends would be the best time for actually writing, so I was at my desk with full-octane coffee. I was no longer pumping breastmilk for the baby, so when she woke up, I’d changed and fed her, and settled in her swing next to my desk for her first morning nap. I was tapping away at the keyboard – like mice tap-dancing, according to Hawthorne – when the sound of their snoring coming through the floorboards changed. I listened, and didn’t like how long it took the next one to sound out. 

Sometimes I go back to walking up the steps, and think I remember thinking about getting the phone, unlocking the door. But I didn’t then, and like I said, I haven’t had any do-overs. 

I remember the turn of the stairs, my thick socks cushioning my steps down the hall. I couldn’t hear the creak of the swing or the tinkly music, but knew I’d hear Lucy if she cried. Then I’m back at the doorway. 

I don’t know if it was grief or parenting that made me realize what a bullshit construct time really is. The two have been intertwined for me since July 19, 2018. Some days, I look at their picture and wonder where they’ve disappeared to, since the house isn’t that big. Some days their life seems like it was too long ago to count in anything but eons. 

It’s been two years since I first walked into our bedroom and found my wife, too pale and still for this world. It’s been nearly that long since I physically stood in that bedroom. It’s been about three hours since I was last there. 

This is not what I thought time travel would be like. I mean I suppose I should have expected some pain, what with the rearranging of atoms across the time-space continuum, but this keen slicing of paper-thin sheets of my heart is a little much. The wail of grief is well imprisoned, an iron mask that no one really wants to acknowledge; if they did, they’d have to face their own certain mortality, and so many people just aren’t ready to think about that. Who is? Only those who have been given no choice, their brush with it close enough to feel her breath. 

Have you felt it? 

I live with that breath inside me, entwined in me. It has the most intimate knowledge of my lungs, my arteries and veins. I have carried life in my womb, and in my arms. I have carried death in both as well. Sometimes I feel she walks alongside me, and the touch of her hand to my shoulder is the trigger that sends me back across time and land to arrive, again, at the open bedroom doorway. I am the time traveler, but it is at her whim. 

I want to belong at home, here at my desk, tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard like mice in the walls. I want to belong with the scent of farmer’s bouquets, pungent and spicy as the world turns toward autumn. I want to belong where the laughter of my daughter is, and her increasingly clear speech.

But I don’t; at least, not only there. 

Time passes when I’m in the bedroom doorway. It starts out bright, the early morning September sun streaming through the bathroom windows and onto the floor just where I stand. It moves; the beams of light grow shorter as the sun rises higher, changing the angles. I stand, staring, as the world continues to turn around me. I don’t want to belong here. 

But I do; at least it’s not only there. 

Grief is a trickster, for all her sad smiles and damp eyes. She’ll fool you without mercy. Death is the one who makes things happen, who pushes the buttons and programs the machine. Time is a construct, a scarecrow, a nonsense creation that falls apart and gets stuck back together at odd angles. These three sisters, hair falling down in mobius curls; they are muse and master. There is no one that they have not touched, not rock nor tree nor person, let alone a displaced people. We are at their mercy, of which they have none. Always a step ahead, up around a quiet corner, waiting; waiting until you are right where they want you. 

And what do we do? We fight back, because that’s what we’ve been told. On the ambulance, we raced to the scene, sirens screaming down side streets at all hours of the night, letting everyone in earshot know that we were the front line against death. We buy cards with platitudes, console people with thoughts of being in a better place and sanitized images of angels. We buy cream after lotion after facelift in order to turn back the clock. 

For all of that, though – the bravado, the Hallmark and Oil of Olay profits – we fight back with hope, and continued solidarity, intrinsic to our corporeal bodies. We rise, and breathe in, then out. Over and over and over again. 

Time passes, smoothly or in fits and starts. Grief waxes and wanes. Death eventually takes our breath for her own.

I am standing in the bedroom door, watching the chest of my wife fail to rise and fall. I breathe in, then out, over and over as I stand, immobilized, wishing for this not to be true. Eventually I awake, and I am back. I breathe in, then out. And I rise for another day.

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Another Walk, Another Beach

We spent Labor Day weekend with family. We went to the beach, the three of us. Three generations. Lucy, for particularly toddler reasons, didn’t want to be in the water. Instead she was fascinated that we could draw on the sand, and after some coaching from Nana, she drew circle after lopsided circle. I chased her around the beach, apologizing when she would disregard all sense of personal space and run between towels and occupied chairs. Folks laughed and commented on how adorable he was, then looked slightly confused and embarrassed when I’d call out “Lucy!” Since she has a whole floaty vest thing, it’s easiest to put her in swim trunks at the beach, which increases the confusion for people. I was going to say ‘misgendering’ but hell, Lucy doesn’t even know if she’s right- or left-handed yet. Just because I’m calling using ‘she/her’ doesn’t mean I’m not the one getting it wrong. 

I had waited too long to put on the sunscreen I pulled out of Lucy’s backpack, and neglected a couple spots completely. I don’t really have pictures from the weekend to redirect the conversation, so I’m resigned to hearing multiple iterations of “oh, looks like you’ve got some sun!”

The next morning I made the beach trip that I really came for. I’d been restless the day before on the sand, heart searching for something that even the sunny time filled with Lucy’s laughter couldn’t fill. The parking lot was closed; the last weekend of the season, and dawn was minutes away from breaking. The gate was opened by someone from the town to let the sandraker in, the beach version of the Zamboni. The long metal bar swung closed, so I pulled over to the side and parked behind the only other vehicle around. Above, I could hear the young osprey calling out. They would be on their own soon, flying back south, finding their own meals as they lost the last of the soft down of their heads.

I walked through the lot and onto the shore. This particular beach faced southwest, so that the sun was coming up behind both me and the dunes. The sweep of clouds overhead, white brush strokes against jewel blue. A passing gull was lit up pink and gold. I didn’t need to see the bright face of the sun to experience the glory of its rising. I took a moment, breathing it in, feeling the wind pull at the hem of my dress to extend it behind me, pressing the fabric against my body. I tried not to think about the silhouette I made, since there was no one else to witness but the sky and the sea, and they were certainly not unhappy or judgmental over it. I hoped they were as glad of my presence as I was of theirs. The wind swirled around me a moment, a soft embrace. I was going to smell like the sea all day.

Mine were not the only footprints in the surf. My walk was preceded by two other sets, soft indentations that would be carried away when the tide returned. I didn’t follow them with any intention, but rather wondered how many of these walks I had taken, parallel in time to one another. I took them with Hawthorne, with my babies, with family and friends. Most often now I take it alone, and talk to those who left. 

I brought a bucket this time, the small green pail from Lucy’s beach toy set. I stooped here and there to pick up a shell or a rock, some detritus of the knots of seaweed. I talked a little, to the waves that carry some of my loves, but I didn’t feel like I have much to say. I couldn’t shake the restlessness. I rolled out my shoulders again and again, but could not get them to relax. It’s an itch that can’t be reached, deep in the muscle and sinew. My bucket filled very slowly. There’s not much on the sand that called to me to pick up, to hold for a moment and smile at. It’s the busiest season for the beaches, and no recent storms have left many of the shells and rocks under the waves. 

I looked toward the dunes. They are roped off, protecting the nesting grounds of the terns and piping plovers. There would be no visit to the tree today, and I was prepared for that. However, on the other side of the thin, fluorescent cord strung between wooden stakes, the sands on the edges of the dunes has been disturbed. Temper rose in me swiftly, as if called by and rode on the wind. White rocks and shells spelled out two names, flanked by “BFF” and “summer 2022” in smaller font. More shells created flat replicas of fireworks, and a few steps later, spelled out GOD BLESS AMERICA that reached from the angle of the shore all the way up to the visible roots of the dune grasses. This was no memorial, no labor of love. This was for Instagram and selfies and Facebook memories. If you need to disturb the fragile edges of the dune to get attention, you’re doing it wrong, my mind snarled. Deliberately I turned back to the water and paused to breathe it in, to let the anger flow out with my breath and be carried away.

I reached the end of the southwest side of the beach and looked out along the rocks that formed the channel for the ferries. It was quiet here, the rumble and clicks of the sandraker too far to overcome the gentle rush of waves. Gulls picked through thick mats of seaweed, reluctant to leave as I approached. I turned away from the little jetty and followed the sand around the point as a ferry glided past, taking the riders out to the islands, cars and all. 

The water on the other side, facing northeast, was as calm as I had ever seen the ocean. From the shore you could not even see the bob of the buoys and boats that were anchored in the little harbor; they had already absorbed the disturbance from the passing ferry. I stayed close to the jetty, where the expanse of sand was still damp and smooth from the tide. One by one, I pulled the ocean’s offerings from my bucket and laid them down, adjusting the lines every few placements, until I was happy with the shape of the heart. It was not as big as when Hawthorne and I made it together, but it was big enough for my purposes. I took the sable brown feather dropped by an immature gull and wrote Oscar’s name and date, Hawthorne’s. The writing was finer than it was with Hawthorne, too, as they had preferred a stick. I took my single picture, and a video of the shoreline; not for social media and attention, but for a couple friends who I knew could use a moment or two of peace in their day.

I sat back and watched the cormorants come and go, and the occasional sandpiper. The gulls preferred the other side of the beach. A couple folks walked by; good New Englanders, they kept their distance and their mouths shut. Sometimes the best acknowledgement was being ignored completely. 

From there, I lost track of time. 

The tension in my shoulders finally eased, the gentle lap of the waves lulled me. If I looked closely, I could see the buoys rise and fall, maybe a couple inches up and down. The boats beyond them looked as still as a painting.

Eventually, I felt the lightest pressure against my boot, and looked down to see the shy little wave retreat. I smiled, and let my fingers down just above the sand, greeting the water when it rolled back in. 

I took my time walking this side of the beach, noticing the different shells that collected here than the other side of the dunes. There weren’t a lot, again a nod to the lack of rain and storms that would leave the beach littered with shells. I was about to turn toward the boardwalk when I noticed that someone had made a couple of piles – one of razor clams, one of thickly layered oyster shards, and one of horseshoe crab pieces. I appreciated the organization, so when I saw a couple of crab legs between the water and the boardwalk, I reached down to pick them up and add them to the pile. But they weren’t crab legs; they weren’t anything from a crab at all. 

Bones. 

The two halves of a full jawbone of some kind of fish, with a three-inch row of short, sharp teeth; the first bones I have ever found at this particular beach. With puzzled gratitude and a strong sense of satisfaction, I placed them gently in my empty pail, and walked back to the car.

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Take A Walk With Me

I am falling asleep at my computer; the record validation I am working on is going smoothly enough, it’s just tedious and I’m tired. Lucy’s schedule does not change for September, yet I feel like she’s already trying to stretch both ends of the day in the anticipation of returning to school.

So, with no meetings on the calendar, I take myself for a walk and head across the street to the little beach. I step deliberately on the bright shards of glass, grinding them further into the rocks and sand under my thick-soled boots. The glass here is not a gift from the sea, but the recent litter of people, so I like to play a small part in smoothing their edges.

About ten feet out in still-shallow water is a worryingly large splash, with no bird near enough to associate it with. This cove is rather industrial, and my imagination runs wild with visions of mutated sea creatures that feed on the pollution, pulling down the occasional gull from the surface.

A white band circles the water’s edge, marking an earlier tide. The pale skin of dried seaweed chokes out the grasses in a narrow strip. I use this as my guide; above the line is dryer, the stones and shells paler, while below the line everything is covered with a thin veneer of still-wet sediment. 

When I walk the beach, I find no bones. Those are gifted to me, at odd moments and at odd places, and never where I think I will find them. Instead I find crab and clamshells, and rocks broken under human intervention. So many of the stones you expect to find at the beach – rounded corners, soft edges that lay smooth in your fingers – have been abruptly interrupted. Maybe they fell to just the right pressure in just the right spot as they were buffeted by construction to sheer off into a flat surface, or thrown against a sharp boulder to crack them open and reveal the darker true color of the sun-washed stone. I take my phone out and make a note: stone-crossed lovers searching for the other half to the one they hold, meeting on the beach and discovering each other. Yeah, I can work with that. 

Thunder echoes in from the direction of the wind, and I look up to thick gray clouds. There’s no rain yet, just the tease of it on the humid air. The cove is sheltered, so there really aren’t any waves to join the strengthening wind.

I approach a tide pool in direct defiance of the thunder as the gulls begin to sound their alarm. There’s no life in the pool that isn’t already strewn along the rocks; periwinkles and limpets that cling to broken shells, turning what was once the home of a single mollusk to a crowded apartment building. 

As I begin to walk back up to higher ground, I think of the starfish story, and remember Hawthorne throwing back shell after shell stacked with new inhabitants. There is nothing here that I throw back, nothing I need to save; even as I’m thinking this, a clam spits out a warning from beneath the surface. The stream just misses the toe of my boot, and I laugh. They have their own defenses that don’t include a flight from my hands. Sure, they are more likely to be caught and eaten out here on the drying shore, but they’ll survive the cyclical rise and fall of the sea. Any who do become stranded will be quickly dispatched by the gulls. Such is the natural cycle of life on the beach.

I stoop and pick up a stone; quartz, it is jagged and pocked. I am always on the lookout for hag and wishing stones. This is neither, but it is oddly warm when I pick it up – I don’t need to scan the beach to know it is empty of people, even as it teems with life below me. The skin prickles on the back of my neck, and the cracking sound in the roll of thunder demands my return to the damp cool of my basement office.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Sometimes I will pick up a stone in the forest, or a shell on the beach, and find it feeling like it has already been held, warmed by hand other than my own. I wonder who it is. I wonder who walks with me; I wonder if they bend more easily than I do, or if pain still resides in their spirit, the very atoms scarred. If so, what scars are we made of, what marks do we carry as we are conceived and borne and grow? What pock marks and holes and missing pieces are we made of? Which star bled for each of us? How can we continue to consume and consume from our world and not give back, when will the universe demand it’s due? The number of people who die in a day are replaced within minutes. What is that if not the road to catastrophe?

The first fat drops of rain hit my back at nearly a 45-degree angle. Already the rain is coming in, driving itself sideways, hurrying those like me who’ve tarried too long, breathing in the energy of the coming storm. I wonder how Lucy’s day is going; if she’s feeling it, and being a little shit. My poor dog, I’m sure, is huddling behind the front door, her recent safe spot. I wasn’t expecting a storm and neglected to put on her Thundershirt. I’ll come home to a puddle inside the house, away from all the windows, my poor old lady. She’ll get some extra cuddles tonight, which will be easy since she’ll become my shadow the moment we get home.

I don’t have pockets in this dress, so I carry the stone with me and put in on my desk. It joins a couple pieces of glass, my wind-up toys, and a curved piece of broken shell that spoke to me on the very same beach when I was first transferred to this office. It might stay right there, just north of my keyboard; or it might join the plants in the window, enjoying the turns of shade and sun. I wonder if it will be warm when I pick it up, and who will hold it in the meantime.

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The Least Competitive Person in the Room

There is nothing in the world quite like dirt therapy, I thought as I knelt, shifting every few minutes to ease the sting of grit on my knees. The drought-dry dirt lacks the soft landing of planting season, or even harvest. Shallow roots come up easily; even the tough knobby joints of the wild violets give up their stronghold, and dandelions dangle their long tubers from my grip. Still, it only take a couple breaths until my exhale is a contented sigh. Even when it’s 82 degrees at 7 am, I find refuge in the garden.

Ella wandered around the yard, sticking her nose in every nook and cranny she hadn’t seen in a while. When it’s just the two of us, I can let her wander in the quiet dawn, though it takes some coaxing to get her out of the house without it now. As I pull the invited plants from the garden, I watch her explore the spaces she cannot usually reach: the far corners of the yard where the mismatched fencing meets, the rotting wooden posts behind the tiger lilies, the dried stalks at a permanent-until-pulled lean. I worry a moment she’ll get her head stuck where the two fence slats are missing, but like her human sister, she figures it out without my assistance. 

This was reentry week. I have been out of work since the beginning of June, as I played gracious hostess to a lovely intestinal parasite that moved in and wreaked havoc on my body. I was supposed to go back to work on Monday, only somewhat eased in by a 4 day workweek. I felt ready as I could be; the only part I was dreading was opening my email. The rest, I felt normally nervous about. Figuring on that anxiety to only grow exponentially until Monday morning, I tucked these quiet moments in envelopes in my mind, labeled by light and scent, to pull out when I needed. 

About an hour later, not liking the cough Lucy had woken up with, I wrapped her in a thin blanket to  keep her some semblance of still and stuck a Q-tip up her nose. Covid positive. Well, shit.

On the first day Lucy was pretty much fine. She was vaccinated, and acting pretty normally; there was no need for immediate concern. At first I was, selfishly, more upset about the timing. My friends had been planning on coming in for months; I was all set to head up to Vermont, a place I will always consider home, and take the next step in my dream. I had a writers conference to attend, and an appointment to pitch to an agent who might be interested in my book. I was feeling ready to go back to work, hopeful, armed with my updated notebook and shiny new mindset.  But I shrugged, said c’est la fucking vie, and prepared to hunker down in quarantine with the kiddo. 

Within a day, my symptoms were starting. The sore throat came first, sharp and uncomfortable; less than twelve hours later, on my way to get tested myself, I felt my bones catch fire and my whole body begin to weep. I almost turned around to go home and curl into a ball. By day three, I had the cough and logged less than 600 steps. We were a sorry pair, for sure; we spent the weekdays in our pajamas til nine, the TV on almost constantly, and doing our best imitations of potatoes. I kept up on Lucy’s over-the-counter medication regimen better than mine, and she repaid me by spending the majority of the hottest days sprawled in my lap. The threatening storms had Ella practically attached to me as well, none of which helped the fever that pushed against the Tylenol. Lucy still seemed mostly herself, just subdued. She continued her moratorium on taking naps at home, even as I struggled to simultaneously rest and stay awake with her. 

My anxious and fevered brain began to ramp up when my eyes closed. I remembered being in the PICU last year, with RSV and pneumonia, looking at the uneven tiling in the bathroom by the locked doors. I remembered the 24 days she spent in the NICU before she could come home, this tiny human that didn’t even break 5 lbs until three days before she left. I remembered getting the steroid doses into my body with minutes to spare, to help fortify her underdeveloped lungs were born via emergent C-section at exactly 34 weeks. 

I dreamed of Oscar, gone before he could take an earthside breath. I wept for Hawthorne, who had lived their last months in fear of this new respiratory virus they were convinced would be their death. 

That’s when the guilt hit, taking full advantage of my weakened defenses. 

I hadn’t protected Lucy. I hadn’t stopped her from getting Covid. I had let this plague get to my preemie daughter – because no matter how old she gets, I’ll never fully get past those first 24 days.

But, I reminded myself, had protected her. She was vaccinated, as soon as she was eligible. I took her to one of the first available clinics for her age group, and she’d had the second dose not quite two weeks before. I had done everything I could, for the 870 days since the pandemic was announced as a public health emergency. She is one of the youngest kids I know of to be vaccinated. I don’t need the headlines to tell me that the uptake by toddler parents is frighteningly low; I can see it by our clinics. 

We are coming out of it now, definitely on the upswing. I’m still exhausted, but other than that one day, we’ve gotten outside to at least get some fresh air, and usually a walk around the block. The sunshine, as well as the rain that finally broke the heat, felt so good. I am so glad and grateful that we were vaccinated. I’m completely certain that without it, we both would have been much sicker. Even as it was, it’s nothing I’d want anyone else to get, so we stayed away from people all week, and practiced wearing a mask, too.

I go back to work next week, providing my testing is clear. I’m a tad anxious, which feels about right. I don’t want to think of this as the summer of sickness. I want to think of this as the summer I learned, the hard way maybe, that I need to take better care of myself (and sooner); I’ve got someone watching every move I make. And I’m done feeling guilty; I can acknowledge that I did, and be proud of reminding myself that I have no reason to. And if Hawthorne were to somehow take it up with me from beyond the grave, I’d bank on their competitive streak, and point out that in the grand scheme of the three of us, I went the longest without getting it – that is to say, (morbidly, I know), I win. 

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Sway Like No One is Watching

It’s been over a year since I have experienced music live, more than three since I had a ticket to a performance in another city. I thought I knew how much I missed it; I thought I knew how much I associated live music with love. 

This week, a good friend took me to see one of her favorite musicians, Takenobu. They were playing at a club I had sworn I’d been to before, but after going, I don’t think I had. People were respectful of the masking rule, free masks were available at the door, and everyone had to show proof of vaccination. I felt comfortable in the space, as small as it was; we made quick friends with the woman on my right, a recent college graduate and new resident of the city. When the unassuming couple took the two steps up to the stage, silence swept the underground room. 

I had never heard of the musicians, at least, not knowingly. I didn’t know anything about them other than my friend was super excited to see them. I just missed the experience. 

It only took the first song to have me hooked. We were maybe ten feet away from the musicians, just the 3rd table from the tiny stage. Their movements flowed like water, bows sliding over cello and violin strings. It was beautiful, and appeared effortless. The music simply lifted from the fingers that played it. This was not music you listened to; this was music you breathed. I felt it with every inhalation, as I filled my lungs with the sound and let it go, let it surround me. The voices that rose were the perfect complement to the classic instruments. 

By the third song, I was actively swaying in my seat. I noted that my friend was as well; everyone else in my line of sight sat statue-still. I didn’t understand that, never had. Could they not feel it? Feel the way the music moved around them, electrifying the cells in their bodies, coaxing the movement from their limbs? I had an image of a ballet performance in my head, the dancers reaching forward as if their fingers were desperate to feel the music run through them, even as they were pulled backward by some other invisible force. I wished it was an open floor plan; I wished for the confidence and the grace to be able to get up and dance the way the music was insisting. I wished I’d worn a long skirt that would continue to flow with the movements of my hips after they changed direction. 

I absently noted the passage of time only because the clock was in my direct site. The brass hands made their slow sweep over black as the view out of the high windows went bright as the streetlights came on. The violin and cello continued to make their easy transitions, moving from smooth notes drawn out with the bow, to playful with quick plucks of the strings. I noticed a familiar hand pattern; yes, the cellist was finger picking the cello. I felt the excitement bloom in my chest and turned my head to tell Hawthorne. Oh, right.

As happens when I get really into something, I had lost track of where and when I was, swept away in the music. That surrender is how I had danced for our entire wedding with my shoes on the whole time; it was what made road trips fly by as fast as the highway outside. It had been a long time since I felt it. It was what happened when music and joy and love and wonder converged. 

The music swelled with meaning, not just from Takenobu. Bright memories of both my first and last loves washed over me in time-hazed pastels. Half-running from the train to get to the little club where we had ten-dollar tickets to see someone we had barely heard of, waiting to snuggle up and sway together in the sweaty crowd. Having a mountain of a man put me and my skinny boyfriend in front of him, protected from the pit forming behind us. Hawthorne dragging me closer to the stage so they could watch the hands of the musicians. Sitting on the grass and watching their eyes sparkle in the dusk. 

I pressed a fist to my heart to hold it, that joy, that sweet ache of beautiful memory. This is what live music is about, I thought. This has been missing from my world. 

The last time I’d heard it was at the jam at the Wild Fern where we had gathered to celebrate Hawthorne’s life, just over a year ago. I felt that sweet ache falter towards something more painful; applause rose around me and brought me back to the moment. 

We drank our craft beers and savored the rich mouthfuls of tres leches cake we split. I watched the young person in the corner write page after page in the notebook balanced on their knee, occasionally reference a book with a pink cover and long title that I couldn’t make out. I remember those days, where any moment I sat was a moment to study. I made notes on my phone, regretting the absence of my own notebook. I didn’t want to be rude, but I knew I needed the words that moved through me to be captured and not carried away on the music. 

Suddenly I heard bars I’d recognize anywhere rise to dance on the air. The instruments were different, but suddenly I was on a mountaintop in Vermont in midsummer, bonfire lit, chairs pulled up to the light, Hawthorne and friends picking up the key and melody. The melancholy rendition of Shady Grove transported me so that the woodsmoke obscured the young student, the café tables and fake candles. I could see the faces of friends, of my love, as if they were there to reach out and touch them. My heart squeezed. I pulled up a favorite picture of Hawthorne on my phone and set it on the table; for a moment, just for a beat, they were with me at the show. 

Takenobu finished their main set, then told the story of why they don’t actually leave the stage at Club Passim, and then immediately began their encore. We paid the bills that were handed out, heads bent toward bright phones and paid by QR code. I thought of when my first boyfriend and I went, the black X’s on our hands and cash carefully folded into his pocket. I looked around at our masked companions, and hoped he was still going to shows. 

The show ended at what, at thirty-six, was the perfectly reasonable time. Twenty years ago, my boyfriend and I would be wondering if another act was coming on. Instead, my friend and I joined the tiny merch line, where she got a T-shirt and the chance to tell them how much she loved them. I asked if he had actually been finger picking, and he said that he had. I felt a smugness that I know Hawthorne knew well, and was glad they had taught me what that style looked like. 

I had a blast at the show; we talked about how perfect it was on the way out of the city. The only thing that could have made it better, I told my friend, was a cup of Turkish coffee to go with the sweetness of the tres leches cake. She agreed. Neither of us could understand how the rest of the crowd was so still; I could already feel the motion of the night in my sides, those muscles rudely awakened. I smiled at the slight pain, willing to take that as my due. Whatever the price was from dancing in my seat, it didn’t matter. The music is back. 

Posted in Uncategorized

“Should” is a Bad Word

I should be planning a party. 

I should have sent invitations to the whole pre-K class. I should have bought a specially designed cake from the grocery store bakery. I should be filling colorful paper bags with candy and crayons and little activity books. I should be decorating the house with streamers and balloons and Paw Patrol party supplies.

I should be making plans with my wife for a special bottle of wine – let’s be honest, whiskey – for when the kids go to bed after the party. 

Instead, I’m sitting down with a cup of coffee. I’ve been up for more than two hours; my journals are completed for the day, the yard has been picked up for the landlord to mow, and the front gardens have been weeded and watered. The plans I’m making are for one kid and one adult – visiting the library, and maybe a splashpad, since it’s going to be ninety out today. 

Instead of wondering who will show up without having RSVP’ed, I’m wondering when it will stop hurting. When the milestones will stop the daydreams of what I should be doing, or would be doing, if Oscar had lived; if Hawthorne had lived. 

I should be in Vermont, making breakfast for my family of four. 

I’m in Boston, vaguely planning to get Lucy a donut on our way out and about. 

Facebook reminded me that four years ago, we were painting the nursery. Sweet Buttercup, the shade of yellow was named. It made the oddly shaped room seem happy as we rolled it over the terracotta walls and up to the ceiling. We got less than a wall done before we gave in to the heat, and my big-bellied exhaustion. We spent the rest of the day in the river. 

Just two days later, I felt Oscar move for what would be the last time. I remember it so clearly; sitting up on the edge of the bed after using the bathroom for the eleventy-millionth time that night. I knew he was big, and actually had my growth scan coming up to make sure I could deliver without a C-section. 

I woke up in the morning and something said to me, remember this date. Something big is going to happen today. 

I thought my son was going to be born a few weeks early, but breathing and healthy and here. 

I remember that whispered premonition as well as I do all the other stark moments that followed. The moment I realized it had been too long since he moved, and I ate a brownie and chugged some coffee. Calling Hawthorne. Leaving work. Hawthorne keeping steady while driving us to the hospital. And everything that happened from there. It makes this anniversary difficult because it spans nearly a full week, from the hope and the wonder, through the terror and the devastation. 

My body remains an active participant in this, even now. I get phantom contractions that my body tells me are an elbow, or a foot. I rub my hand over it and for a split second, I don’t understand the softness of my belly. I have been through physical therapy trying to repair the diastasis recti, the separation in the muscles of my abdomen that never knit back together. More recently I’ve developed a small hernia at the site. Add that to the list of things to handle at some point, should it ever cause me its own pain, not this psychosomatic bullshit kicks from a baby who is no longer there. 

This was one of the hardest days of 2019. 

In 2020, we also had Lucy, who at eight months had already been outside my body longer than she had been in. We were preparing for Hawthorne’s surgery from their back injury, delayed by Covid as it was somehow deemed “nonessential.”

And it 2021, it became even worse. 

Hawthorne’s birthday is July 9; Oscar’s July 19. Those ten days in between remind me of the time between Christmas and New Year’s, when no one knows what day it is, and are loathe to put on pants or have responsibilities. Except those two occasions are, at least, supposed to be joyous and celebratory.

This month I should be trying to figure out how to celebrate and mark the passage of another trip around the sun for half of my household family. Instead, I am desperately seeking solitude and space away from my own kiddo. Her muppet-ness and the light in her eyes are she causes trouble are 100% from her papa; the way she holds her hand up to her face some nights while falling asleep in my arms are a carbon copy of her brother. For these days, this space between, it can hurt to look at her; a fact that fills me with guilt about being a terrible mother.

(I am not a terrible mother, and I know this is grief. And still.)

The books don’t tell you how to handle this. What to Expect When You’re Expecting doesn’t mention how to respond to your kid when they start asking, where’s daddy? The grief books prepared me for this incapacitating mental paralysis that prevents me from doing anything more to mark these birthdays, and I know it’s OK that I haven’t done much this year for either of them. Truth be told, other than trying to be alone, I don’t know what I did last year, either. This year, too, my body has decided I needed to sit down. I can’t run to turn off my brain and escape my thoughts. I can’t blow off work for a day and go for a hike and lose myself in the refuge of the forest. At least I’m able to think a little clearer now, and again able to focus enough to write for short amounts of time. I used to do a post like this in one go; I’m not sure what sitting I’m on now. 

One thing I remember from last year; July 20 felt like a new year. A new chapter, a fresh start. It would be another twelve months before I had to feel like this again. And, as with most things, there’s both truth and folly in that idea. 

It’s a good time to reset how I care for myself, to make sure I’m doing certain things every day that keep me level and healthy. I can set some intentions and resolutions, and I’ll know exactly when they are coming due. It’s also ridiculous to think I won’t feel this way, this squeeze of grief, at some point over the next year. Oscar and Hawthorne are just as gone from this world on any other day. I think it’s safe to say no one understands that better than I do. 

I should be planning a party. 

Instead, on July 19, I’m going to take lucy to daycare, go to therapy, and find some solitude. I’m going to pick up a single cupcake. When I pick up Lucy from daycare, we are going to go home, light the candle, and sing Happy Birthday to the brother she never met in this world. I won’t wish for him back when we blow out the candle. I’ll put Lucy to bed, and wonder what it would be like to have a four-year-old, and a papa of two. I know those three would cause so much trouble together. I’ll imagine the giggles of all three combined as they all hide from me to evade bedtime. 

I’ll look at the only pictures I have of my son, and turn out the light, and go to bed alone. 

And then a new year will start. 

Posted in Uncategorized

Just A Glimpse

“June you is my favorite you.” That’s what one of my nearest and dearest said to me last year as the month approached. I agreed with her; June me is happiest me.

June is the month of dad birthdays, of Pride, of Midsummer and Litha celebrations. June is when the days are at their longest and the darkness is most at bay. June is for air conditioners, ice cream trucks, and kids screaming on the last day of school.

I definitely meant for all of these things to happen. There was going to a be a lot of ice cream, and lots of wicked gay stuff. I look forward to June.

Instead, I have spent most of the month on the couch, resting, falling asleep with the TV on. To those who know me, you know that’s not me. I haven’t been eating much, because every time I do, I feel overfull and miserably sick for hours. Keeping up hydration has become my daily mission. I go from the couch to the bathroom, back again, so much so that I wonder the dust doesn’t settle in the groove my feet have carved into the floorboards. I haven’t been working; I can barely able to summon the energy to handle dinners and bedtimes and rides for Lucy. I haven’t been able to focus to read or write very much, and being upright for about 3 hours at a time is all I can manage before I need to rest. Yeah. To take a rest – from sitting upright. 

Beyond the actual symptoms I’m having, I don’t know what is wrong. It’s a bit of a waiting game. There’s no easy answer to what’s going on, so I’m waiting for test results, waiting to get in to see a specialist. It’s not just for gut stuff, either; even my dentist is booking into September for a cleaning. 

The whole medical system is inefficient at best, and those who work in it overtaxed, underappreciated, and burned out. It’s impossible to think that I’m not suffering from some of the same, but I’m just as sure there is more biophysical going on as well for me. 

I’ve missed the run I trained for, a fundraiser for work I bought a new dress for, and all but the very first Pride event I had on my calendar. I’ve had to be miserly with my energy, keeping to a minimum of commitments I’d made. I was able to see my southern friends as they rolled through town, I just couldn’t give them the proper Boston experience. I am grateful I was able to attend my sister’s wedding, and meet her lovely in-laws for the first time, but missed out on the other family fun planned for the weekend. 

And still. I am so lucky that while I don’t have answers, and feel generally like crap most days, I have had an amazing support network to help me out. My sister and newly-minted brother-in-law have been instrumental in keeping me and Lucy going; those more far-flung have helped me remember that rest is not just OK, it’s necessary. I need those reminders, at least daily.

I hope things improve from here, and I have it in me to write the way I want to in the next couple of weeks. For those who follow along with the blog, however, I wanted to give you a heads up as to why the page has been silent these past few weeks. Keep an eye out for the next real installment, hopefully later this month.

Posted in Uncategorized

What is There to Say

CONTENT WARNING: This post deals with the horrific events this week in Texas and Buffalo. It’s raw and does contain significant imagery that I imagine others will also find disturbing; I certainly do. Even if you are a fan of this blog, please, everyone, feel free to *not* continue to read this.

I didn’t think I’d be writing that night. I’d had a migraine, bad enough that I had to leave work before I was unable to drive. I was feeling better, if a little off from the medicine, when I happened to check the news section on Facebook after getting home from picking Lucy up. 

Fourteen kids, one teacher, at elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. That number would only increase until nineteen children and two teachers were known to lay dead in a classroom. 

Last week, it was eleven people, grocery shopping, Buffalo, NY; because by a shooter who hated black people. Then four more, church parishioners in Laguna Woods, California, because by a shooter who hated Taiwanese people. Hatred or not, I cannot fathom that violent of a response.

Who could hate young kids so much? 

I have a memory of talking to Clark (on one of his good days) and Hawthorne; Clark had made this point before, I knew. He was talking about terrorism, you know, your general light dinner table discussion. He said that the enemy would never win with the large scale attacks like 9/11; America was more unified than ever on 9/12/2001, after all. No, he said, it would be small attacks; “soft targets,” he called them. Supermarkets and movie theaters, malls and sporting events. And this was back in 2011. He was saying this before Sandy Hook, before the Boston Marathon, before Charlestown and West Webster and El Paso and Las Vegas and Orlando and the rest of the mind- and heart-numbing list. Attacking innocent people here, there, who were just going about their daily lives would sow fear into the social fabric of America. Not for the first time, today those sentiments haunt me. 

I wonder if he would be surprised at how many more mass shootings there have been since he died. Or how little has been done to prevent them. Or how Americans have responded to the pandemic. Probably not, I figure; he had his health problems, but never was afflicted by optimism much.

Clark didn’t live to feel Oscar kick, or see Hawthorne discover and settle into themself, or hear Lucy’s ridiculous giggle. He missed those joys. Yet I find myself grateful that, as with my own parents, he also missed the entire Trump presidency, the pandemic, and the death of his firstborn. He didn’t have to know that pain. 

Hawthorne had been so immediately and deeply affected by the death of RBG, mere hours before their own. It broke my heart that we spent our last night together with that tension between us. Three and a half months later, I was grateful that they did not know of the attack on the Capitol; they would have been terrified. They already lived with so much fear – of violence, of death, of losing their rights. We used to laugh about their “prepper” ways, the supply of canned goods and campstoves, the tote filled with space blankets and lighters, gallons of potable and non-potable water and container of bleach, “8 drops/gal” scribbled on the white bottle. They weren’t jokes so much as a dark-humor attempt to bring levity to Hawthorne’s real, deep-seated fear that we would one day have to suddenly fend for ourselves.

It was this mentality that had Hawthorne demanding that, if we were to have a gun in the house, I needed to know how to use it. Clark had recommended a particular rifle, and that’s what Hawthorne wanted. A couple days after filling out the paperwork, we stood in the yard of the local instructor. I cried as I loaded, racked, and shot twice. I hated the cold, heavy feel in my hands, weighing on my heart. It didn’t matter that I had managed to hit the broad side of the hill that served as the target. My soul hurt worse than my shoulder as I left Hawthorne and the instructor to their apparent enjoyment of handling this weapon. I told Hawthorne on the way home that, even knowing how to use it as intended, I was far more likely to swing to hit someone with it. I didn’t think I could ever pull that trigger.

I do not understand the appeal of guns, for any reason – for hunting or sport or protection. I have seen firsthand the damage they do to the human body; I’ve staunched the blood and bandaged the wounds on the living, and closed the glassy eyes of the dead. The headlines in Uvalde, the closeness of the community where I lived for seven years in Buffalo; all the details I try to avoid haunt me. They needed DNA samples to identify some of the children. I’ve seen the wreckage bullets leave in the flesh of grown men; I can’t stop thinking about what they would do to a child. I look at my own child, and she does not understand why I am silently weeping, but pats the tears on my face anyway. My two-and-a-half year old tells me, “Mama, it’s okay, it’s okay, Mama, good Mama.” She’s far too young to understand that some things won’t ever be OK.

I don’t want to send her to school in a few years. I barely want to send her to daycare now. It’s not like I feel like she’s any safer with me, these days; I definitely thought twice about grocery shopping this week. How quickly could I get out? Where are the other exits? Maybe I should just do Instacart. Is that putting someone else in danger, someone else’s kid or parent that could be taken away? Am I willing to put my life on the line to assuage this theoretical guilt in what should be an impossible scenario? 

Is your belief in the Second Amendment, that you have the right to bear arms and fancy yourself a vital member of a “well regulated militia,” stronger than any other single person’s right to buy their fucking groceries? Sit in a goddamn classroom? If your answer is “but my freedom!” then you go take your hard-earned “IN GOD WE TRUST” freedom and just buy yourself a bigger dick at the local Amazing and wave that around instead. Bet they’ve got bullets, too. 

No disrespect to Brian Bilston, America is not a gun. It is the blood-stained money that passes over glass counters into the hands of men, men who profit in the wakes of innocents, who mumble “thoughts and prayers” like it’s their get-out-of-hell-free card. 

If admitting that I am scared means “the enemy has won,” whichever enemy that happens to be today, so be it. Just stop killing our kids, our families, our elders, our lovers. I, like so many, really believed that things would change after Sandy Hook. And instead of those twenty kids getting ready for junior prom, and those teachers getting ready to wrap up another pandemic school year, they are nearly ten years gone, and we are again in mourning. This time, the rage feels helpless. There is no unity, no banding together of what felt like the whole country the day after the towers fell. I have more faith that once again, the gun rights activists – especially now, in what I wish we could call a post-Trump era – will make sure to line the pockets of enough of those government influencers, the politicians, so that nothing changes; I am more certain of that than I am of my own relative safety while running errands anymore. 

There’s no silver lining; there’s no coming back from this. The incidents in Buffalo and Uvalde blend in my mind until they are nearly indistinguishable in the well of collective grief. This is not the world I want to raise my daughter in. If she chooses to go into battle, I want her to be old enough to make that decision logically, and be aware of the consequences; not when she’s learning what a goddamn preposition is. If she’s going to face death, I want her to have lived more than a scant few years. Instead, I’m going to send her into a brick building that may have a door left unlocked, to be protected by someone who is vastly underpaid and undervalued, and never asked for this shit. I’m not okay with this; but this is the world we live in now, where hope is school child, playing dead among the bodies, still in the line of fire. 

Posted in Beliefs and Practices

Blessed Be the Fruits

“Why aren’t you crying? I mean, are you even upset? Do you understand what this means?”

This was the start of the argument Hawthorne and I had the night before they died. I had just told them that RBG had passed away, and they immediately became distraught. I was sitting on the edge of the bed where they were laying. I may have had to wake them up to tell them; I don’t remember anymore. 

I sat quietly. Yes, I was upset. Yes, I understood what it meant to lose RBG, a sitting liberal justice who had championed civil rights for everyone who was not an affluent, cishet, white man. 

I was also exhausted. It was Friday night, and I was balancing working full time, doing all the driving needed, and providing the majority of care for Lucy, who was just ten months old. I reminded Hawthorne, too, that I was not the type to get emotional right away. It would hit me later, I said. This did not satisfy my wife, who was absolutely distraught. 

“They’ll kill me,” they said. “There’s nothing to stop them now.” 

I thought back to election night 2016, how awful yet different it had been. Watching the results start to roll in, 1, 2% at a time, we had snacked and gotten slowly drunk on bourbon. It was before Lucy, before Oscar. We had recently lost Clark, Hawthorne’s father, and remarked about how in a lot of ways, we were glad that those who had gone before us weren’t here to see this. I figured my mom would have been making plans to move back to Poland; Clark, were he healthy, probably headed for Canada. It had already been ten years since we lost my dad. 

Hawthorne and I had felt a lot closer. We were standing on more equal ground; both of us working; school and family plans had yet to steal attention away from each other. We talked about how we were in the best place for this eventuality to happen; Vermont would not be taken over by Trumpers. Sold to Canada, perhaps, but that was OK. We joked that maybe we could ask them politely to annex us sooner.

We knew this was more than an election; this was a regime, with a long-range agenda and the weaponry and war chest to carry it out. Obama’s Supreme Court pick had already been stymied, and the court sat at 8. We knew Trump would cater to his base, after all, he had claimed to be Christian, and the evangelicals ate that shit up and asked for seconds. As long as he was getting the kind of attention the Republican party and lobbyists were willing to lavish on him, he’d do their bidding. That included seeding the courts with anti-choice judges, and cherry-picking the perfect “moderate” justices. 

Over the next few weeks, we heard (as many of our progressive, queer, trans, and myriad of “othered” friends did as well) that it would be okay. We were overreacting. The US government had checks and balances, Trump wouldn’t be king, after all. The courts and Congress would balance things out. 

Right. 

Now here we were, four years later. We had been through the wringer. Hawthorne had come out, changed their name, their pronouns, and their body to match and reveal their true self. It was a journey that even they weren’t sure where it would lead – though we had never dreamed it would be so abruptly interrupted. 

Hawthorne was scared of what would happen; Trump had already put Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the bench. Ginsberg’s breath had barely left her body before the Republicans turned a wild and greedy eye on the vacancy. Their strategy had worked, and their chance had come.

I knew Hawthorne was terrified, and I understood. We had so much to lose, so much that had been decided in just the past ten years that made our family possible, and safe – and even that felt tenuous. I was upset, but not scared yet. I didn’t have the energy to be scared. I was still processing the loss of life; death has affected me much differently since losing Oscar, and I couldn’t tear my thoughts away from Ginsberg herself to focus on what was so disturbing my wife. I could only take care of the baby, tidy up a little bit, and try to get Hawthorne to calm down enough to get some sleep. 

Hawthorne had put the message out on Facebook, needing to talk to someone who was similarly emotional; I watched as they stepped outside to pace the porch and smoke while I cleaned up the kitchen and took care of Lucy. I could hear their voice rise and break at times, the deeper timbre still relatively new. They spent an hour in the cool September night out there, talking to their cousin. When they came in, they demanded to know if I had even cried yet. I hadn’t.

They died before I shed a single tear for the Notorious RBG; after that, all my tears fell for them.  

In the days since the Supreme Court leak of Alito’s draft opinion, I have thought of that last night more often that I feel like I have since their death. I have been so angry; the kind of hot, pulsing anger I keep thinking I’m done with. I’ve had more memories surface this week, none of them happy. I understand that with the traumatic events that are happening in the world it’s only natural that it would stir the painful memories first. Still, I am frustrated that it feels like the best memories still lay beyond my reach. 

I cannot help but see beyond the potential fall of Roe v Wade, however. I see this as the first in a long series of dominoes that would put my humanity, the rights associated with that humanity, back in the hands of the state courts. And yes; I live in Massachusetts, have always lived in the Northeast, and have much less to fear than most. I would be safe; my family and local friends would be, too. 

I don’t want to go back to a time where we had to wonder if we were safe – if we would be considered married still, over state lines. If Hawthorne had ended up in the hospital somewhere out of state, how would they be treated? That was somewhat of a concern, even here in New England. Bigotry and hatred don’t care about state lines or laws; they just don’t man the political wheel where we have lived. 

If Roe falls, it is only a matter of time before marriage equality – as far back as Loving v. Virginia, I fear – are back up for debate. I am utterly incensed with the court’s apparent willingness to undermine the autonomy of half the country. In a country with some of the worst maternal health statistics in the developed world, they want to force more people into risking their lives in being pregnant and giving birth. 

There has been nothing in my life that has made me more pro-choice than my experiences with pregnancy and birth. I did not recognize how endangered my life was, when my blood pressure began to rise and rise. I did realize how uncomfortable and painful things could be; how my kidneys could start emitting blood and shards of calcification, how my gallbladder could fill will sludge, how my placenta could trick my body into changing insulin production. Being pregnant is a (at times hostile) takeover of one’s body and lifeforce in the creation of another, which may or may not be healthy enough, or lucky enough, to survive the ordeal. 

I have carried my two babies, not easily. Both pregnancies were celebrated, and both were difficult. One ended when my body turned on me even more, and Lucy had to be welcomed six weeks early. The other ended with an aberrant twist of the very cord that gave my baby his life. I delivered my son, already dead, at more than a week older than my daughter at her birth. 

I would never wish that on another. I would never wish pregnancy on someone who did not want it. And I would certainly never wish anyone to be forced to go through what I have. 

There is a march today, in cities all over the country. I was prepared to go, thinking of bringing my daughter, but ended up securing a babysitter since I simply do not have the energy to wrangle a toddler in the heat and press of bodies. Either way, the plans did not come to fruition; mission aborted, as it were. It’s a hard decision. There is a part of me that still wants to find a way to go – because I believe in activism, and this is a cause that calls for action. However, most of the reason I wanted to go specifically today, goes back to that night where I never cried for RBG. And while she played a role in the events leading to today, it is the memory of Hawthorne that makes me feel most like I should go. I have to remind myself (with the assistance of beautiful friends) that I do not have obligations to dead people. Not to RBG, not to Hawthorne. 

Maybe that seems cold and unfeeling. Maybe you don’t feel the same about doing things that “they would have wanted,” whoever “they” is for you. I promise you, there is a tumult of emotions every time I think about what Hawthorne “would have wanted.” That is a storm I am very familiar with, and will continue to go through. Yet I have come to a place in my life, as a person, as a mother and friend and widow and everything I am, where I am living this life for me. Not for RBG, not for Hawthorne, not even for Oscar. My life. My body. My choice. 

To everyone marching today – your reasons are your own, your journey is your own. I raise my glass (mmm coffee) to each and every one of you; know that I am with you in spirit if not in sneakers. To everyone Roe v. Wade has affected – my heart is with you today, as well. You always have a safe space with me. To everyone worried about what this will mean for them, now and in the future – I’m with you, too. 

And to anyone who wants to deny people their autonomy on the grounds of “morality,” politics, or religion; anyone who wants to roll back civil rights for folks who have had to fight for every inch of them; anyone who wants to bring back any measures of discrimination – let me make it absolutely clear that I am not with you. 

It’s a lovely May day, don’t you think?

Posted in Uncategorized

I Know How to Love Me

It amazes me, the way our brains can handle two lines of thought separately, and seem to deliberately keep them that way. I’ve been very cognizant that it’s my birthday; and also, wondering why this week has felt difficult and I’ve had so much trouble focusing. 

I’ve had a hard time celebrating my birthday since Oscar was born, and after losing Hawthorne, I just don’t see the point. This year is an improvement over the past few; I’m able to say it without crying, and I haven’t spent the week leading up to it in absolute despair. This year, it’s a little closer to just another day on the calendar, and a little further from being a reminder of the ones I love most who don’t get them anymore. 

Hawthorne was the birthday celebrator. They’d wheedle me into taking time off from work to celebrate, to go do something fun, have a fancy dinner or dessert. They grew up in a family where birthdays were important and special. 

In my family, things were much more muted. We would go to a nice dinner, something would arrive with a candle, and that was pretty much it. The effort went into the kids parties: what to do, how many guests, how many conversations to watch my sugar or chocolate intake. As a parent now, I’m already exhausted by the thought of Lucy’s school-age birthday parties. I don’t blame my parents for keeping our own celebrations more subdued.

For Hawthorne’s 36th birthday, we went all the way up to Burlington with a friend to see the movie Midsommer. I felt utterly traumatized; I could hardly acknowledge the aesthetic beauty of the film, and certainly had no interest in analyzing it. I just wanted to get as far away from it as possible. I’m sure now that this is because I was 5 months pregnant at the time, and far more sensitive than usual to certain types of horror. I cried the whole way home, my fingernails digging into my arms as I tried to hold back the outright sobs. I may have been distraught but I did not want to ruin it for Hawthorne. As it turns out, it was the last year of “normal” birthdays. 

It is now my 36th year, and I find myself thinking about the film more and more. I don’t know if I’m ready to watch it again; yet scenes play over and over in my mind. In the movie, 36 is considered the midpoint of one’s life. While I don’t feel as if I’m in the throes of a mid-life crisis, there has definitely been a shift. Coming out of the season of depression I was recently so deep in, I have made a lot of changes. I’ve started to transition my diet (at home) to more plant-based and pescatarian. I’ve started running again, and as difficult as that has been, the joy of feeling the wind on my face as I plod along could not be more incentive to keep at it. I have missed running. 

I am being more proactive about my health. With hypertension that began in my twenties, and two rounds of gestational diabetes under my belt, I understand that the risk of developing heart disease and type II diabetes are very real for me. And while I believe that people can be healthy at any size, I don’t feel like am at my optimal size or health. 

Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t questioning myself to death over this. Both my parents died at 63. My father did everything “right:” he exercised, he ate extremely healthy, had something like 7% body fat. I mean, the man was 2 seconds off the time to qualify for the Senior Olympics in the 800 meter race. He was fit as a fiddle. And he got ALS. 

My mother wasn’t quite so well-behaved. She smoked as a teenager and young adult, as nearly everyone did then. She enjoyed her wine and her chocolate with less reserve than my dad wanted, and I remember his occasional admonishment, which she would wave off. And really, to be fair, her usual dessert was trail mix – which is just more evidence to the hard-ass my dad was about sweets. Trail mix had chocolate chips in it, and was automatically unhealthy to him. 

She had some health problems, but were seemingly well managed; then one day she had a hypertensive event, was diagnosed with a 10-day old heart attack and stage 3 cancer, and was gone just days later. 

It definitely feels like a sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. I lost my son to an umbilical cord accident, before he could even draw breath. I’ve lost family members in their eighties or nineties. And I lost my wife, my forever person, at age 37 on a normal, sunny Saturday. 

I am not afraid of death in the abstract; we have been friends for too long. I am afraid, however, of dying young. I have so much to say, and I am terrified that my time will be up before I have a chance to do that. Or, like my father, that some disease far outside my realm of possibility will steal my ability to do that. This is a fear that Oscar left me with; I need to tell my stories, and there is no telling when something will happen and abruptly end my chance. I ache for the time and space and bandwidth and energy. All of these are in short supply with a full-time job and a two-year old, and on the days I don’t quite get around to writing, the nagging fear is there to remind me that I’m going to leave things unsaid. 

The fear that Hawthorne left me with is quite different, and is currently, finally, stretched out face-down while the changing colors of the nightlight illuminate her curls. Now that spring has arrived, the days growing longer and the weather enticing us outside more, the TV is not on nearly as much, and I’m enjoying the company of my kiddo again. To watch her learn is just incredible. You can practically see the synapses dance as they find where to put each new piece of information. I don’t want to miss a moment. 

I have started the process of spelling out my end-of-life plans and wishes – my mom never had a chance to update the basic template she used, which made things difficult for my sister and I (and the wonderful people who helped us navigate that after her death); and though Hawthorne had spoken about death and what should happen “if and when,” there was no guidebook. Of course, now that Hawthorne is gone, there is Lucy to be even more worried about should something happen to me. I don’t want to see that light dimmed by anything.

And so, plans are in motion, some already in place. Bloodwork has been collected; medications and monitoring scheduled, and daily intentional movement and stillness have both increased to try to achieve some state of balance in what feels like a very busted-up body, mind, and soul. Two knees and one ankle scream at me after every installment of Couch to 5k; my abdomen is strengthening, though I feel like I have looked pregnant going on four years now. I forget how to breathe while I’m focused on breathing; as soon as I turn my attention to my form, it generally evens out.

There is nothing pretty or exciting about this; no “most improved!” award I’m aiming for. I am consciously not following the footsteps of my father, with his strive for perfection; or my mother, who would put off getting something checked out until she had time. I’m not doing this to get skinny, or look better for other people to enjoy. I don’t give a single fuck if someone at the beach on a hot day thinks I should wear something less revealing. As Janelle Monae clapped back at one tweeting moron, “Sit down. I am not for your consumption.”

I’m doing this for me, and for my daughter. I want to feel better – body, mind, and soul. I want to do things I love – eat, write, and run. I want to be around a long time; I have a lot to teach her, and a whole hell of a lot more to say.