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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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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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“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. 

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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. 

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s a Shame About the Weather

It’s a Shame About the Weather

I have not been shy about talking about the things I go through and experience – my mental health, stillbirth and pregnancy loss, losing my spouse, queer widowhood, sexuality and gender. These are often taboo to talk about, to write about; there’s a thin line between “enough” and “too much, I don’t want to hear this.” I try to stride down that line with my Docs on. I prefer to lead by example; if I think these topics should be destigmatized and not avoided, I’m going to write about it. The greatest reward would be to help someone else write or talk or explore what they need to.

There are also topics that are important to me that I don’t write about here. This isn’t from shame or remorse, stigma or embarrassment; some things are just private. A couple of times I’ve blurred that line, and asked the other person(s) involved if I could share the redacted story. This is, in part, in deference to the fact that I personally know many who follow this blog, and many of those are family. Oh, it still gets written; just not here. 

All that to say, my mental health has been junk lately. The early dark, the seemingly constant rain, the changing of seasons: none of these help. Depression has made its home in me again; uninvited, but not unexpected. 

I know the signs. The dwindling creativity, the defiance of self-care, the isolation all tell me I was right to be afraid of this season. I can function for about 14 hours a day; from the time I open my eyes before 5, unable to sleep longer, until Lucy is tucked into bed. After that, I shut down, as if programmed. I live in a state of exhaustion, one that is colored by that of having a toddler, grief, and depression itself. If you have never felt those last two flavors, I hope you never do; but those who have know the differences between. 

This is not a cry for help, or even a reason to worry. This is not the kind of depression where it is important to be able to ask, are you going to kill yourself? (The answer is no, anyway.) I have felt that depression before, and it is scary shit. 

This is an acknowledgment. I am depressed, and right now, that’s OK. This is a season I will get through. I’m not afraid; I don’t have scary thoughts, or thoughts I cannot control. I’m not in danger, Lucy’s not in danger. She may notice that I’m crankier and I cry a lot more, and she might watch a little more TV when my spoons are depleted before bedtime, but she still sees me laugh every day. She knows she is loved, she knows I will always pick her up when she runs to me. 

I have worked hard to gather my resources prior to the fall. My medications are stable; blessings on chemistry and SSRIs. I am on the waitlist for a counselor who seems to be an excellent match for what I need right now. I replaced my desk lamp with one used for seasonal affective disorder, and I love it. I have pulled back from social media, and I am allowing myself to only access the news of the world when I feel I can handle it. I have talked to my friends, to my family, to my doctor about it. I am open and frank about what I am experiencing. I buy little junk food and easy (I mean, easy; thank you, Wegmans) meals. I keep my routine and my bullet journal. I try to be strict about my bedtime. I have consistent plans to get me out of the house or allow people in, and I really enjoy my job. 

Someone asked me last week if they did something to upset me; another asked if something had happened. Both answers were no. This is just how it is, sometimes. And right now, sitting and writing with my sun lamp in the dawn of a new day, it’s easy for me to remember that this, too, will pass. This is a season, one I prepared for. 

I am depressed. I have chronic depression, and seasonal affective disorder. I have general anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD and agoraphobia at times. 

I am depressed, and I am OK.

For you creative types out there, I know you understand this next thing – when you start a new piece, in whatever your medium is, and it just takes off on you? You know what I’m talking about. That’s happening right now, real time. Front row seats for all.

I hadn’t intended to talk about mental health, mine in particular, like this. I had intended this post to be short and to-the-point. I wanted to tell my readership (and let’s be honest, anyone who will listen) that National Novel Writing Month begins on Monday, November 1st. I will not be keeping my schedule of biweekly posts to this blog for November, as I am concentrating my writing efforts elsewhere. I have a lofty goal to hit, and a lot to say. The blog will resume in December. Thanks for sticking around!

NOTE: if you are depressed and considering killing yourself, please check out these resources. It might not feel like it right now, but there are people out there who truly care. You will get through this. It gets better. 

(International) http://www.suicide.org/international-suicide-hotlines.html

(US) https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

Posted in Uncategorized

Last Year Was a Son of a Bitch For Nearly Everyone We Know

On the morning of the anniversary, I awoke in the dark. I was sharing a room with both Lucy and a cousin; we had just had Stan’s funeral mass, and the family was spending the weekend together. 

I have always had a hard time with anniversaries. I’m good with dates; they stick out like pins in a map, destination points on the journey. If I can just make it to the next one, then I can think about what comes after. This mindset evolved after my father died fifteen years ago. His long battle with ALS seems more like limbo now, as if life was paused on this side of the veil. He wasn’t ready to be counted as one of the dead, and yet, it was hard to exactly see how he was still one of the living. This moratorium on mortality remains nebulous, a shadowy place on the map where the same paths have been trekked so often the lines themselves are blurred. 

October 12, 2006, I got a panicked call from my mother around 6:30 in the morning that “something is wrong with your father.” I was groggy with pain, having separated my shoulder in a rugby game 5 days prior. One of my roommates helped get me into a sweater and my sling, my boyfriend and his dad came to pick me up. My mom had been unable to say it, but my father had died, finally and peacefully. Eight years after symptoms started, six years after diagnosis, and two years after losing the ability to communicate, his body let go of its tether to the machines, and he crossed over. 

The date was burned into my brain. The twelfth of every month after that was hard; I don’t think I understood it as grief necessarily. I didn’t know why I grieved; he and I had said our goodbyes long before that day. I felt as if I had done my grieving (breaking news, I hadn’t). Years went by. I became an EMT, I graduated; I made an ill-advised decision to get married, bought a house, became a paramedic, suffered through the marriage until my breaking point. 

January 5, 2012, my mother died after a sudden episode of a silent heart attack, complications from the medication, and a Stage III cancer diagnosis. She was spared the years of suffering my father endured; just over a week passed between her hospital admittance to her death. We had never mended our fences, but she squeezed my hand and smiled at me as best she could. She died comfortably, surrounded by family and friends. 

September 20, 2016. My father-out-law, Clark, died under hospice care at home, after a series of strokes that spanned close to a decade.

July 19, 2018. Oscar, my starside wild child. 

September 19, 2020. Hawthorne, the love of my life. 

Grief is the compounding interest of daring to love. There is no formula to guide you through it, no way to quantify it; there is no forewarning before she appears. She knocks silently and lets herself in, making herself comfortable. She has permanent lodging in my heart and holds the master key. 

I spent the morning of the anniversary watching dawn break over our favorite beach. I wore one of their favorite dresses and walked barefoot in the cool sand, picking up shells to make the heart. I talked to them down the first side of the beach; it’s rare to have that conversation out loud, but I needed the wind and the sea to carry the message to where they might get it. I love you, endlessly; I miss you, I’m angry, and I’m surviving. 

I took the path into the dunes and visited Oscar’s tree. I sat in silence as I watched the early sunlight brighten the branches that now stood for both of them. The colors were so vibrant; the blue of the morning sky, the deep green needles of the pitch pine, the silver of the sticky sap that exuded from the cones turning brown. Not for the first time, I thought of just how bullshit it is that they have to miss this. 

I went down the dune path and over to the leeward side of the beach. There was more chop than I had seen over here before. It’s as if the wind knew I needed to feel her as surely as the sand beneath my feet, the water a breath away. 

I knelt in the sand, weighing the bag down with my sandals as I removed the shells and rocks and flotsam I had collected. My hands shook as I began placing the natural decorations into the heart. I made dozens of adjustments to create the outline just so.

I hadn’t found a stick, and didn’t want to leave before it was finished, so I traced their names out with my finger, patting down the sand moved away from the lines and curves of the letters. My heart ached without a trace of sweetness to temper it, and the wind blew the tears from my face to rejoin the sea. When I had finished, I took my pictures, the heart half in the sun now. I sat a few minutes, steeped in grief, before slowly making my way back down the curve of beach.

When I got back to the house, we packed up the cars, did the sweep for tiny toys and phone chargers left behind, and left the rental. We made our way across the Cape to the bay side and met up with some friends for breakfast before going our separate ways.

The one other thing I really wanted to do to mark the anniversary was to visit Walden Pond, where Hawthorne had asked me to marry them. They did the whole down-on-one-knee thing; I have the picture of their sandy jeans to prove it. That afternoon, I tucked a sleepy Lucy back into her carseat and headed out again.

I was more focused on being at Walden Pond and taking a walk around than I was with silly things like directions. Turns out, there is a small pond also named Walden a mere 20 miles away from the one I was trying to get to. It was 4:30 by this point, and all I wanted to do was cry and give up. I was tired and heartsick, and Lucy was awake by now and unhappy with being in the car. Still, I plugged in the real destination, and followed a typically convoluted path through Boston and out the other side to get there. 

We arrived at 5:30 to a full parking lot that still demanded payment. I took my ticket and hauled Lucy out. I was still in my dress, with the addition of hiking boots it had become clear I would not be using, since the park closed at 6:30. Lucy was in one of my favorite new fall outfits, sparkly shoes and all. 

We started towards the entrance and I realized that I had never been here when the park was “in season.” The tears welled up as I lost hope of a quiet moment with every step.

I knew, of course, this was a pond; it had never crossed my mind that where there is a pond, and a sandy crescent of beach, that there would be swimming. My heart sank as I gave up every notion of what I thought this trip would be. My steps fell heavy as I skirted the water’s edge; the spot where I had wanted to be, where Hawthorne had asked me to be their forever, was completely across the pond. We wouldn’t be getting there today.

I was holding Lucy’s hand as we navigated the narrow strip of shore between larger sections of the beach when she tugged her hand and broke away. No longer content with the dry slope, she had noticed we were right next to her favorite thing besides trucks and dinosaurs – water. 

She stepped, shoes sparkling in the sun as she splashed just in the surf. Tiny fish darted at the disturbance, and as I crouched to point them out to her, she ran into the water up to her knees. I could do nothing but laugh. The sheer joy on her face shone brighter than the sunlight, and her laughter rang out over the water. She danced and threw herself into the water as I stood at the edge. The water was still and very shallow and full of kids, and she strayed no further than six feet from the sand, splashing and stamping her feet. The droplets that flew from her glittered like diamonds until being swallowed by the growing shadows, and I heard the announcement over a loudspeaker that the park was closing soon. 

I watched her play a few more minutes, making sure she kept close, and she made sure she got every inch of herself soaking wet. The next time she was in grabbing distance from shore, I caught her and hauled her up, dripping and screaming. I caught several looks from other adults, both parents and not, and there was more judgment than there was sympathy. I missed Vermont keenly in that moment, homesick for the mountains, and the acceptance of the wildness of kids. Fuck ‘em, I thought, as I held my chattering Lucy close. We got back to the car, I pulled off most of her wet clothes and wrapped her up in a towel for the twenty-minute ride home. When we got there I put her immediately into the tub, which she made abundantly clear was not a substitute for the pond.

As I rocked her to sleep, I thought about the day. The morning at the beach had been what I expected, wanted, and needed; the afternoon hit one out of three. Walden Pond gave me neither what I expected or wanted, but it may have given me something else I needed.

One of the biggest surprises of the day was the emotion of pride I had felt; a little at the beach, but more so, at the pond. Watching our curly-haired ray of sunshine act just like her Papa in the water was a balm I hadn’t prepared for. I have been accustomed to sitting in the grief and pain on anniversaries. I understood the craggy emotions that coalesced into mountains, and I could isolate behind them until the date passed and they crumbled away to more manageable bits again. 

Lucy doesn’t let me do that. Lucy demands to be seen, to be experienced. There’s a line in Brandi Carlile’s song The Mother that comes to me in these moments: “the first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep.” I cannot be both selfish and present with her. What I can be, however, is proud. 

I’m proud that I’ve survived this year; I don’t mean in the life-or-death sense of survival, but mentally and emotionally. I have been active and present, and while I may have felt like it, I haven’t been consumed by grief.

I will never stop missing Hawthorne. My heart will never be complete without them; the wound heals, but the scar remains. And I still see them: in the crow presents I find in my path, in the exuberance of our daughter. There is nowhere we will go that I won’t know that some atom of them hasn’t touched. 

It feels like a new year, like the holiday now falls on September 20. Maybe that’s a good thing; it’s the equinox, when the season turns from summer to fall, that midway point between light and dark. It feels fitting that the calendar should reset here. I’m trying to hold less expectations of what this year will bring, and make sure that I am getting what we need to keep on living presently and actively, with a solid dose of what I want as well. 

And on it goes.

Posted in Uncategorized

This Grief Has Gravity, It Pulls Me Down

September. The morning dawns cool; there is a chill on the breeze that wasn’t carried there last week. The sky is still sleepy, reluctant to let go of her blanket of darkness and allow the light to cover her, soft as the pinks and oranges are. It is light enough to see when I first awake, but I sense that will not be the case by week’s end. 

It took years to be able to enjoy fall after my father died. I associated the change of seasons, the natural cycle of trees shedding their leaves with transformations for the worse, and the finality of death. Indeed my mother, incorrect as it was, had blamed the colorful foliage itself for my father’s disease. There was something wrong with the trees, she said; he must have gotten it from raking the leaves. Her logic for this was our dog had a bout of lockjaw, quickly remedied with antibiotics, some time after playing in the giant leaf piles gathered up in the yard. My father was finally damned with ALS that month, after years of incorrect differential diagnoses, including a short while where the doctor suspected tetanus. I judged her harshly for years for this ridiculous conclusion, though not to her face. Now that I’ve lost my own spouse, and son, I understand much more.

I have been raised to believe in science; I was raised Catholic, yes, but never at the expense of scientific reasoning (recovering Catholics, lift your glass [Response: we lift them up to the Lord]). There are scientific reasons, biologic and chemical and physical reasons for both Hawthorne’s and Oscar’s deaths, and my father’s, and literally everyone else’s. But when it is your loss, the science does little to comfort, and is not the answer you are looking for when you keep asking why. 

Why them? Why did I have to lose them? Why did they have to die? 

It has been a year since my wife suddenly and unexpectedly passed out of this world; coincidentally, this week we were finally able to gather and say goodbye to my cousin who died almost exactly six months later. The two shared a particular bond, one born of an understanding of pain the way many of us are fortunate enough not to experience. They traded stories of what they wished they could do, tips and tricks for getting through the harder moments when their bodies refused to answer directions or punish them for movements. They were more than in-laws; they were confidants and brothers in their struggles. Stan guided Hawthorne more than anyone else through the multiple surgeries and treatment options. When Hawthorne disclosed their gender journey, Stan had difficulty understanding but nonetheless accepted; deciding that Hawthorne was too long of a name, he rechristened them Ed, to Hawthorne’s delight. Even as I mourn them both, I am grateful. 

Hawthorne died of an accidental polysubstance overdose. The combination of medications they took, the amounts they were taken, and the addition of alcohol as a means of pain relief caused their breathing to slow, their autonomic nervous system to fail to pick up the pace. Without breath, there is no life, and my beloved slipped away. I had cuddled them and seen their ocean eyes smile after an early morning bath, kissed them and tucked them into bed, only an hour before. 

Night is coming quicker these days. Grief and anger take the dark as their cue to tango, a passionate dance punctuated with sudden strikes in the flow of the movement. I rocked Lucy to sleep, tears streaming and inwardly screaming while lullabies filled the silence. I spent my alone hours of the last evening crying until I finally slept, heart wrenching without pause. As time hurtles forward to the impending anniversary, I can feel depression gather, a kettle of vultures circling closer until the time comes to descend. It baits me, intrusive thoughts of violent death flashing uninvited through my mind. Things I have seen, things I’ve read, and a vivid imagination create horrific scenes that arrive unbidden, threatening to swallow me unless I can find a way out. 

The question why is a constant drumbeat in my blood. Why did they have to die? Why am I left behind, again? These aren’t welcome thoughts, but impertinent intruders. I look at Lucy and think, she needs me. On my worst days, when I can’t seem to function for myself, I can pull it together enough for her. Oscar never had the chance to need me on this side, but I can be here for her. Though it is Hawthorne’s anniversary approaching, one loss feeds the other, and I grieve for our lost son as well. 

People ask how I’m doing. What can I say? Most of the time, things are good. I love my job; it’s challenging and rewarding and an excellent fit; my coworkers are fantastic. Lucy is the brightest light in my life, and she’s thriving at daycare and at home. I have an interactive online social life, which fits, between the pandemic and solo mom life. I’m privileged enough to afford a good apartment, reliable car, food, utilities. I’m writing more than ever, slowly and intentionally losing weight, and reading again. All systems go. 

And yet my patience is thin, my tolerance for bullshit low; I am on edge constantly, primed to react. 

The anger I harbor snaps at her leash; grief drops in, unannounced. My soul is permanently disfigured from the deep wells that loss has carved; it’s these dark depths that part of me longs to curl up in, never to be left again. This is the call of the abyss, and must be met with resistance. 

Over the past year I have structured my new life very deliberately. I have nothing more to unpack; there is a place for everything, and most things are in their place. I don’t often have to search for something, unless Lucy hid it. I go to the pharmacy once a month; the grocery store once per week, buying 80% of the same things as the week before. Target is still my weakness. I try to read, write, and stitch daily, usually picking two of the three. I am learning how much reading goes into writing a novel, and I find it thrilling. 

So much has changed; but so much hasn’t.

I still post on their Facebook page, and tag them in memes. 

I still turn to my right to tell them about my thoughts. 

I still hold my hand out in the car to the passenger seat beside me to be held.

I still reach for them at night. 

I still think of making special breakfast or fancy coffee on weekends, because Hawthorne liked it. I think of making it, but I don’t. 

I don’t listen to a lot of new music.

I don’t watch TV consistently, or almost any movies (that aren’t for Lucy).

I don’t cook much, and some weeks, not at all. 

I don’t feel home.

After so many years where I had felt untethered from a place called home, Hawthorne had become my refuge. Now again, I am unmoored. I can’t settle the same way I once could; there’s a restlessness, a searching. I know I’m still looking for my place. What I don’t know is if I’m still looking for Hawthorne, somewhere in the wind. Where we are now is good, solid ground, and that is going to have to be enough for now. 

It’s said that, while dealing with the loss of a spouse or someone of significant importance, that you shouldn’t make major decisions for a period of time; sometimes six months, or twelve, or three years. Within three months of Hawthorne’s death I had moved states, found a new job, put my daughter in childcare, and changed essentially everything. Conventional, I haven’t been. 

When I step back and look at it, yes, things are going well. The daily routine, the job, the apartment, all the boxes are ticked. In the day to day of things is a different story. It’s still one foot in front of the other; sometimes one day at a time, sometimes an hour. All the good things that have happened, the successes, the reclamations: I’d trade them all to have them back, so we could work through our collective shit, persevere through the hard times, and come back at it together and strong. 

Instead, every day I crawl into bed, utterly exhausted and feeling deeply alone. There’s no one to hold at the dimming of the day, no one to ground me with cold bare feet, no arms to hold me while the tears flow. I know as steadily as I did when I said my vows that they were the only one who could fill that hollow, only the shining optimism is now bitter and tarnished. Year one a widow, in the books. It’s time for chapter next, knowing that I’ll never find a love like that again. Hawthorne broke the mold, reformed it to fit better, and broke it again. How I wish I could pick up the pieces, hold onto something that once held them, instead of walking slowly through this landscape of debris and broken dreams. 

Just one step at a time.

One foot

then the other

for this body is still in motion.