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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sparkle

Dear Josie,

I hate sparkle.  The game, not the glittery noun.  

You stand around in a circle and spell a word, each person contributing a letter in its respective order.  If someone makes a mistake, the next person in line calls them out.  The mistake is corrected and the sorry fool who got it wrong must sit back down.  Last one standing wins.

My second grade class played "Sparkle" all the time.  I loved it.  I would daydream about our vocabulary words, letters and sounds and pronunciations as if they were some prize to be won.  I was good at Sparkle.  Very good.

Until one day, Ms. Toczylowski lined us up.  The word was calendar. 

We made it around the entire class, seemingly without error.  We smiled, confused as our teacher refused to give us the next word, mystified as to who had messed up.  She proceeded to ask each student for their input, around the room once again and twenty two puzzled faces. 

I remember feeling angry.  Someone had ruined our chance, made the mistake I couldn't correct.   I scanned the crowd in search of the culprit.  Someone was going to get it.  Who dared interrupt this fluency?  This six year old's perfect record.

Then she looked at me.

I heard it then.  My own voice in my head.  Proudly, confidently yelling "E", where one should have yelled "A". 

I remember my face growing hot as my classmates jeered.  Why did the game have to stop?  After all, I was the one who had made the mistake.  But our teacher, a fervent disciple of phonetics and responsibility would have it no other way.  Everyone had missed the error.  Everyone had made the mistake. 

Later that night I would tearfully explain the horror of my day at the dinner table, describing in detail every dirty look I had received at recess.  The embarrassment and the shame and the guilt. 

My father looked at me then.  I remember his reassuring smile as he told me that my turn had been the most difficult.  The rest of that word is easy, Nora.  You got the hardest part. 

So much of this life no longer makes sense to me.  The rules and the lessons that evade you.  The tragedy that hits you upside the head, leaving you in pieces, bouncing away like red rubber on asphalt.

I try to tell myself there is a lesson here, but some days it's just so hard to hear her. The younger version of myself screaming from the bleachers.  Hold on.  Keep going.  You got the hardest part.  

Love,
Mom



Saturday, May 24, 2014

Permission Slips

Dear Josie,

We took a field trip this week.  Four teachers took 175 eleventh graders to the Zoo.

It just so happens that the Zoo is located in the same park as your tree.  I told the other chaperones that I wanted to visit you, all three insisting on joining me in the ten minute walk.  I work with some really lovely people.

I could see it as we approached, standing tall among the others.  It really just gets prettier with each passing day.  I imagine that's how a life with you would have been.

We found your brick, too.  Just across the street from your tree next to the fountain.  There was a letter a few months ago, letting us know the approximate date it would be laid but I hadn't searched it yet.  There it was today under our shoes.  All gray and permanent-like.

After I finished counting heads on the bus ride home, I got to thinking.  Everyone tells me it gets better and I guess they're right, only that they aren't.  For me, "better" is louder music in my car.  Butter Pecan over vanilla.  Better is adding a bold clutch.

It hurts sometimes.  Responding to emails about meetings after work and weekend plans, attending the parties and partaking in the excitement of it all.  The beautiful, ordinary-ness of daily life.  It hurts to think that people look at me and think that I'm okay.  That I'm better.

Better would be the extra car seat in the back, less room in our house because of baby swings and boppy pillows.  Better would mean morning arguments with fathers due to sleep deprivation, spit-up stains on my t shirts and tiny socks hiding out in my sheets.  Better was ripped from me mid-morning.  Better is no longer possible. 

You might notice a smile here or there.  There could be a laugh or a dance, but I want you to know something important.  Despite the growing trees and the passing of days, I want you to know that for me, better does not exist without you.  I know that life must go on, but sometimes I don't really want it to.  I know I'll be okay, but I don't really want to be. 

So if you see my world spinning here, please know that I never gave my blessing. 

Someone must have forged my name.

Love,
Mom

 
 
 


Friday, May 23, 2014

Stitches

Dear Josie,

Soft can be searing, you know.

I opened the trunk today and there it was, all neat and coiled.  For a second I couldn't breathe.

I had taken a class.  Just one.  I have always wanted to learn to crochet.  A very nice art teacher offered her time after work once a week, so I signed up.

I spent an hour at Michael's the night before, picking out the most expensive thick pink yarn.  I held it next to different fabrics, picturing the hats I would make you.  All the tiny blankets that would warm you in my arms.  I bought so many needles.  I wasn't sure the size or point, so I bought them all.  I just knew I would use them. 

As it turns out, crocheting is harder than it looks.  I went to the first class, barely containing my excitement as I practiced.  Stitch by painfully slow stitch, willing sluggish fingers to move in ways I had never asked them to before.  I drove home and watched a few YouTube practicals, fell asleep on the couch with the needle in my hand.  Two hours later I felt a prick and walked to bed. 

You died before I could make the next class.  I remember arriving home from the hospital, sunken and zombie-like, grabbing the prescriptions from the backseat and seeing the flash of pink.  The lone thread sticking out from underneath white plastic. 

I laughed at the absurdity of it all.  Not out loud of course, that would take weeks.  But in my head I was laughing.  My pretty pink plans laying next to a month's worth of Ambien.  Dreams for a mother who could no longer close her eyes. 

That night I walked to the car in the dark, picking up the bag.  I stood there for a lifetime with it in my hands.  I felt them leave me then, slipping through the fingers I had trained.  I saw sweaters running, pale bonnets like balloons into the stars. 

I didn't realize I couldn't throw it away until I heard the trunk open, blindly shoving it next to a box of size two diapers in the corner.  For months it lay there unprovoked, until now.

Needles are a given, sharp and unforgiving.  One is careful around her needle, though I have grown used to them.  Their prodding, invasive searches offering hope.  The pain contributing to the plan.

But the yarn, my love.  It sticks me like a thousand knives, twists and turns me in its skein.  It binds and complicates.  Like a noose, stealing breath from the fighter.

Love ,
Mom









Thursday, May 22, 2014

Regifting

5-20-14

Dear Josie,


I'm tired.


Most days, there's an enormous amount of energy spent showing others that I'm okay.  I've gotten pretty good at it.  So good that sometimes, I am not sure they realize how much I have changed, how different my life is now. 


It had been a long day at work, a long night before that.   I can feel it when I open my eyes some mornings.  Immediately there's a difference.  Immediately it's a bad day.  Today was like that.


Pulling into the driveway I noticed something in the mailbox.  Thick Manila peeking out from in between the hospital bills and dry cleaning coupons.  Yes, you still have to pay when your baby doesn't make it.  Lovely, huh?


Scanning the package I noticed it was from a high school friend.   Not a close friend or a best friend, just a friend.  Someone I know.  Someone nice.


There was a notebook inside with a familiar face on the cover.  Your brother's.  A picture that I had taken in our living room had been slightly enlarged.  I ran my fingers over the shiny surface.  
The title read:  "Frankisms".  I opened it.


There were tears for the first time in weeks as I read them.  Pages of them, these things your brother has said since learning to speak.  Funny things, sweet things.  Crazy toddler musings.  Adorable inferences.  Significant insight.   
I recognized all of them from countless status updates and shares.  Yes, I'm that parent.  The "Frankisms".  Little celebrations of innocence and trust.  Phrases uttered on holidays and during family dinners, between bath arguments and sidewalk chalkings.  Mimicry and wonderment from trusting lips.  A fluid document, its last entry from two days ago.


The card said she wanted to make me smile.  She had hoped the book could serve as reference on a particularly sad day.  Evidence of the happiness in my life, of the love that surrounds me on a daily basis, empty pages filled with potential.I thought of her then.  I thought of the time she must have devoted to this gift.  Scouring the archives of my profile, careful to include each priceless statement and corresponding date.  I thought of her enlarging the picture and laminating the cover, her fingers binding the pages.It is one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.  

 Inside the envelope, there was also a pendant.  "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly."  On the back, the most beautiful letters in sequence.  Your name.

I couldn't stop the tears if I had wanted to.  I cannot convey how it feels to know that someone had thought of you, someone who didn't have to.  I wonder if she knows how good it feels to see your name in print.   I wonder if she knows how many never speak it, how many pretend like you didn't happen. 


Turns out I was wrong.  Today is good.  
I just needed someone to remind me.

Love,

Mom






 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Heavy Lifting

Dear Josie,

I had a dream last night.

I was sitting in an office.  I was speaking to a woman.  I don't know who she was.  I don't know where it was.

There had been a stillbirth.  She was telling me about a child, a living brother like you have.  She was telling me how they had explained it to him.  There was a special mailbox at his school.  "Stillbirth boxes."  She told me some schools have several.

They deliver materials to the children.  Little presents and journals, helpful pamphlets to the teachers.  A guide to an understanding.  I thought, how nice.  I don't think my school has one.

I wish my dreams were of you.

One night, not long after losing you, I dreamt that your brother had died.  It was so incredibly real.  Your father woke me up, asking if I was alright.  He said I had been screaming, that it sounded like someone was being murdered.

I told him then, in the dark, that I didn't remember what it was, what I had seen.  This horrible, awful thing that no one wants to acknowledge.  But I do remember.  Every detail.  I remember feeling a panic, the finality hitting me quickly.  I remember being sad but not surprised.  Almost like it was expected.  Even in my subconscious, it never escapes me.

This is who I am now.  The woman who dreams of loss so profound, that all one can do is scream.  The woman who is always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But do you know who else I am?

Last week I visited your tree for the first time since your due date.  I'm sorry that it took me so long.  I think of it every day, living and growing and stretching and taunting.

There is a group of people I have recently met.  Lovely, incredible people who have shared a loss like mine.  They told me the names of their babies, and I wrote them out.  All thirty eight in colors of orange, yellow, blue, and lavender.  Black and white and pink.  Fingers bleeding existence onto five dollar ribbon.

I took them there, in a plain white box  and I hung them.  One by one in between bouts of rain.  I said each name aloud, and I thought of the mother behind it.  I thought of the love that had brought it to my hands.

Your brother was with me.  Afterwards we threw pennies into a fountain.  He made several wishes, but I only had one.

I wished that every child could outlive its parents.  I wished that no one had to endure what I have.  I wished that backpacks only ever carried books, never ashes of daughters in black boxes, carried by fathers to trees on sunny afternoons in March, dodging joggers on the trail.

I know it's unrealistic.  I have to know that now, but I wished it just the same.  I have always been an optimist.  I guess some things never change.

I can live with that.

Love,
Mom


Friday, May 16, 2014

Seeing (Pale) Red

Dear Josie,

You know what sucks?

Taking pictures of a beautiful, blooming tree instead of my beautiful, growing baby girl.

It's a lovely tree, don't get me wrong. Breathtaking, actually. The perfect embodiment of the continuity of life. Its branches twisting and snagging, culminating into a powder of angelic white.

You would be nearly two months old now, had you been given this chance. Had your life not been ended mid-step, rugs pulled from underneath every dream to grace my doorstep.

I like to think you'd have provided some balance. A calming presence in a sea of testosterone. Rosy cheeks among knees of black and blue. The tea party on the sidelines.

But you're not here.

This is not to say I don't enjoy a good wrestling match, and I do a mean "Shredder" impersonation. In all seriousness, it's better than your father's.

I love being tackled to the ground, time and again, succumbing to my wounds from sword fights on carpets and pirate ships atop blue comforters. I love the smell of the summer sun as it radiates down tired foreheads, kissing purple shins and de-splintering chubby fingers. I love grass stains and puddle jumping. "Mow-mows"and "weed-whips", dirt inside fingernails and worms inside pockets.

And there is nothing in this world that beats sweaty little boy hugs. Nothing.

But sometimes when it's loud, and there's a scrape or a scream, and there's laughter, and everything gets to moving so fast that I can barely hang on, I catch myself wondering what Spiderman would look like in pigtails, or how it would feel to fold a tu-tu, placing it into a little drawer lined in polka dots.

I can feel the empty spot in my heart, then.  It's massive, hollow as the trees you'll never climb.

And it's pink.

Love,
Mom








Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Risky Business

Dear Josie,

I met someone recently. 

This wasn't exactly a happy meeting.  In fact, I was reluctant to see this person.  I avoided her for several weeks. 

In Biology, we discuss natural selection.  "Survival of the fittest".  There is competition in nature, and the traits that are most advantageous will be passed on, becoming increasingly popular within the population over time.  In some species, this could mean longer beaks or webbed feet.  In others, camouflage.

Shortly after you died, I began to exhibit some "risky traits".  I refused to embrace the fact that this had happened to me, to accept that my baby had died. 

 There I sat for weeks, in my cushy denial.  Unfortunately, this created conflict in my every action, as there were two separate entities fighting for this one body.  There was the girl who makes popcorn for 'Real Housewife' 'reunion shows, and the one who falls asleep on garage floors next to tubs of her dead daughter's clothing. The mother who creates swords from cardboard J. Crew boxes, and the one who runs out of grocery stores mid-checkout in hysterics. 

For a long time I thought I had to be one or the other, and it was killing me.  I could be seen running from her at all times, the dark lady whose daughter had died inside of her. I would hide her inside closets of small talk and cliches.  What I didn't realize at the time, is that you cannot run from who you are.  You cannot change the things that happen to you.  There are really only two options:  adapt or die.  Sadly, this was the beginning of my slow and painful extinction.  It was only a matter of time.  

Then one day I saw her. 

The first time we met it was via photograph.  The eyes were different, but I recognized her smile.  Pain and gratitude in a shared skin. 

Gradually and increasingly, she has emerged. I have seen her in parking lots and reception halls.  Her laughter echoing through hallways and late night television.  One may find her on a park bench before the rain, sighing heavily in the wind.  She enjoys back rubs and the occasional good cry, almost as much as the company of preschoolers during Friday morning breakfasts.   Her thick skin and knowing eyes are charming, the perfect hybrid of sorrow and redemption. 

Sometimes I still see her running, searching for the place she was before, only she will no longer survive there.  Her skin aglow, she has evolved, forever clashing with the green pastures. 

Patiently, I await her return.  I know she'll be back.  And more importantly,







I know she'll be okay.

Love,
Mom







Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yellow Submarine


Dear Josie,

You can only fight change for so long.   After some time it begins to eat at you, gnawing at limbs and forcing its regression. The resistance sits on your chest, constricting with the time like a serpent.  If one isn't careful, she could suffocate.  
 
The morning after you died I stood in the hospital bathroom, staring in disbelief at the girl in the mirror.  There were pools under her eyes, red lines and cracks.  The loss was palpable in her skin,  remnants of the fight in every crevice.  She was barely alive.  I didn't recognize her. 

It has been nearly three months since you left me, since the last time I felt your life inside mine.  My clothes are beginning to fit.  Sleep brings peace once again, food has reclaimed its taste.

The spring is what got me. This may sound strange, but for weeks I fought it.  Your father would leave for work, opening windows and blinds and I would close them, grabbing my hooded sweatshirt and turning up the thermostat.  I would hide under heavy blankets, sinking into suede couches and willing the winter back...the winter when you were still alive...the winter when everyone was isolated, cold and miserable like me.

People would comment on the weather, and the warmth began to peek through the clouds as car windows lowered.  Winter's death rattle, finally surrenduring to the light. 
But I refused.  I couldn't allow any good could to come in your absence. 
 
There came a day where I had to embrace it.  The sun and all its glory. 

I had wandered into the backyard in my selfish recluse.   It was seventy degrees and I was clad in my down winter coat, cursing the leaves on the trees.  I sat on the patio, staring at the flowers I hadn't watered, everything that was dying with you. 

Your brother had followed me outside, begging me to get up, soccer ball in hand.  When I refused, his three year old eyes stared up at me in confusion.  "Mommy, why are you being so shy?"

The sun provided a reflection in the literal sense, and for a moment, I recognized the image in his eyes.  I saw a mother with all the answers.  She was perfect and she was strong.  A fighter, her beauty swimming in a sea of hopeful blue.   

I realized something then.  For the rest of my life I would have a choice to make.  The buttons were like shrapnel to my fingers as I lay it down, her bitter envelope. 

There was his laughter as I swung my legs, pretending to miss the ball.  A chill as I fought the urge to sit, glancing at the coat on the chair.

Maybe just a light jacket, for now.


Love,
Mom





Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Bad Blood.

Dear Josie,

You know how they say "blood is thicker than water?"  Apparently, mine is thicker than...well...blood.

Since you left me I've been wanting an answer.  I had to wait ten weeks for one.

I have lost count of the vials, how much of my blood has been drawn for you, bleeding onto socks and shoulders and white pages.  Bleeding into translucent tubes with labels.

There was the blood drawn at the hospital as I held you.  Again one week later as I sat in a waiting room next to people with strep throat.  Two more doctors' offices with more results.  Normal.  Typical.  Nothing wrong with me.

Last week one of my tests showed an abnormality.  Antiphospholipid Syndrome.  I already knew what it was. 

Basically, my body is one big drama queen, overreacting and responding immunologically to things that aren't necessarily harmful.  Clots can form, blocking blood flow to things like organs.  Things like babies. 

Apparently, I will need another blood test to confirm and
Apparently, future pregnancies will require blood thinners and increased monitoring and
Apparently, many people don't receive a diagnosis until "something like this" happens and
Apparently, I am at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, stillbirth, etc. so
Apparently, this diagnosis could improve my body while
Apparently, you died because of something it did to you.

I hadn't known it was possible to hate myself so much as in that moment.  As he spoke, I imagined you in there.  I saw myself picking out bows and dresses, standing in checkout lines with a smile.   I saw myself growing, telling friends and brothers about you, opening gifts and engraving frames.  You were coming and we were ready.  Like a fool, I thought you a guarantee.  

But as I happily planned for you, my body was busy planning against you the entire time.  I had no idea.  What a cruel, sick joke. 

Apparently, sometimes life can knock you on your ass.

Well I'm up.   And don't worry, darling. 

You don't fool me twice.

Love,
Mom






Friday, May 2, 2014

Red Velvet

March 12, 2014

Dear Josie,


Your father arrived home from work late yesterday.  In one hand, his lunch cooler.  The other held a bag.  Frank and I were mid-Elmo puzzle when he walked in and made eye contact with me.  I knew what was in the velvet bag.  I followed him down the hall.

We couldn't bring ourselves to open it yet, setting it in your armoire instead.   This place was supposed to hold your clothes, all of the outfits we would hang and switch out as you grew, happily and healthily in this room.  The dark wood empty now, I imagined the shoes that would never grace the bottom rack.  Tattered and worn from summer afternoons on blacktops, faded and outgrown from the busy feet inside the canvas. 

Late that night I crept into your room alone, bracing myself as I opened the door.  There it was, as still as I had seen you.  Mocking me in its  fuzzy, deep maroon.   I had imagined this moment since I knew it was coming.  The intensity I would feel, the despair.  I would crumble to pieces as I gazed at the remains of what had grown in me.  This fancy red bag with a drawstring. 

Instead, all I could think about were the red velvet cupcakes I had made for your brother's second birthday party. 

Rather than order a cake that year, I had wanted to create something myself.  Red velvet being my favorite,  I looked up the recipe (cream filling included!) and bought the ingredients, prepared to use the electronic mixer from our wedding for the very first time.  They didn't turn out as I had hoped.  Edible by a small margin,  all of the guests politely chewed through the dense powder between gifts. No one would confirm what I tasted.  Disappointment.  Bitter.  Hard to swallow.

I could never figure out what went wrong.  Was it the flour?  The salt?  Had I over beaten it?  Was that even possible?  Perhaps it had been the perfect storm.  Some hodgepodge of an "all of the above" paired with the inexperience of the baker.

I like having the answer.  Some reason for the pained smiles, the awful aftertaste.  I like to fix the problem.  I want to know why.

I ached for the emotions now.  I wanted to cry for you here.  The longing you so deserved, the pain so appropriate for this moment.   I willed for it to come.  For the sadness to cover me, the guilt of my failure lifting briefly in the tears I owed you. 

Nothing.

What kind of mother stands in front of  her daughter's ashes and thinks of some damn cupcakes?

Apparently this kind.  I'm learning about myself these days.  Namely, I'm sticking to chocolate next time.


Love,
Mom









Thursday, May 1, 2014

Rocks and Hard Places

Dear Josie,

Here comes the worst moment of your life.  Are you ready?


Most people aren't.  I know I wasn't. 


The moment is sneaky. It creeps around in your darkest nightmares, eluding your sight in its perpetual taunt until one day it hits you.  Like a fastball high and inside. All your life you have toyed with its potential in some distant place, but now it's happening. Mouths are moving and words are coming as you have played them in your mind.  Before you know it you are on the ground, dizzy and disoriented with a racing heart and a throbbing in your soul.  The person you once were is gone forever.  And the game resumes. 


 Please move.


I had dozed off with your brother at nap time.  There were two separate dreams.  In the first I had taken his antibiotic by mistake, waking abruptly.  Thank goodness it was a dream.  Thank goodness you hadn't been hurt.


The second I was in my doctor's office, listening to your heartbeat.  Nice and strong.  I felt relieved until I opened my eyes. 


You were still.  How long had it been?  The moment lurking its ugly head.  The moment slowly coming into focus before me. 


There was an apple and a shower.  Some couch time.   A Daily Show rerun.  Poking fun at Putin while I poked at you. There were words but I didn't hear them.   Laughter and applause as I stared at the spots I had seen you dance before.


Please move.


I knew you had gone.  I wanted to be wrong so desperately.  I wanted the nurse to be right as the elevator rose and she told me not to feel stupid.   Through all the "you can't be too carefuls" and the "I'm sure it's fine's" I just wanted to run.  I would have run anywhere to protect you.  I knew what was happening and soon they would know too.  Soon, there would be nothing standing between me and the worst moment of my life.  A lifetime between you and me.


Many people my age have yet to experience the best moment of their lives, and most have not seen the worst; however I'm pretty sure I have experienced both.   Maybe that's what made this the worst, knowing what the best feels like.  Knowing what I'm missing.


The gentle staff prepared me to deliver my baby.  My baby who would never cry or nurse.  My baby who would never try on dresses or taste watermelon.  How is a person able to do this, you ask?  How is one an active participant in her worst moment, bringing a life into the world that is already gone?


I don't know.  I really don't know.  

Best guess?

One has wavy hair and a calming smile.  The other, a quick temper and a face that breaks my heart every day.


And they both have your eyes.


xo,

Mom