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Friday, June 24, 2016

Scaling Back.

Dear Josie,

I figured out why I hate love running.  It's the only thing on this Earth that comes close to what this life without you feels like.

It's hard.  Like really hard, every time and I always want to stop.  In the beginning I could make it around our block once and then twice and then a mile and then two, and then three.  There was a lot of labored breathing at first, then gradually longer intervals of respite.  Finding my rhythm is a task that's become easier and familiar on the pavement.  There have been bouts of physical anguish where I didn't want to continue. People stare and sometimes honk, (Seriously?  How is near death attractive?) and when I make it home I always feel accomplished.  Like I could have stopped but didn't.  Like it could have killed me but it hasn't. Yet.

Apparently this is no new revelation.  This is why most runners like to run, actually.  The sense of accomplishment, the mental perseverance.  I was talking with a longtime runner friend recently about my new hobby and she was like, "Um, yeah that's why everyone runs."

The weight loss is an added bonus.  The other day I went to Target to buy a scale.  I'd noticed my clothes fitting a tad looser but I wanted to see just how much I'd lost since March.  When I got home the scale didn't work, so after trying several brands of AAA batteries I went back for an exchange. In my rush to make it home before dinner, I must have foregone my normal Target detour  because I quickly found myself walking aimlessly through the little girls' clothing section, a land that I typically bypass at all costs.   I became aware as I passed a particularly adorable denim romper, but it was too late.  The anger inside me of was already growing, but it wasn't about the scale, as my mental conversation took flight...

"Pink is dumb.  Splatter paint leggings are dumb.  Why didn't this fucking scale work?  I miss you I miss you I miss you."

By the time I'd  reached my desired location the tears had pooled in my eyes like welcomed relatives on the porch, long overdue for a visit.  I tried to politely wipe them away but there were too many, so I kind of just knelt there for a minute and cried.  I'm sure it looked like I was crying about some failed weight loss plan, next to the scales on the wall there but of course I wasn't.  I was crying because my daughter died two years ago and because there is no parting of the seas for my kind.  Pink will always be a color.  Father/daughter dances will always happen, and there will always be adorable polka dotted swimsuits with pink and navy strings, potentially on the way to the bathroom appliance section. 

Eventually the tears subsided, and so I grabbed the twenty dollar scale and I headed back to the front of the store, through the little girls' section on purpose because I wanted to.  Because there were cute splatter paint leggings that my goddaughter might like, and because it felt like running.



Thursday, June 9, 2016

That time I was like Sandra Bullock.

Dear Josie,

The other day I watched the movie Gravity.  Twice.  Because it's the summer and because I'm a space nerd and because I'm a glutton for punishment.

In the fall of 2013, a pregnant me went to the movies by herself.  It had been a looooong day (or what I'd considered long back then.)  Your father was helping your uncle remodel a bathroom.  I had been home alone with sciatica and an increasingly adamant and unruly and STRONG three year old, for most of the day.

Earlier we'd visited the mall.  Mostly to pass the time but also because I absolutely needed another overpriced maternity tunic.  My blissfully naive, swollen hands led him into "Motherhood Maternity", and after humoring their giant stack of blocks indoor playground for all of three minutes, he began to whine and cry and wail.   I decided the tunic wasn't worth all the stares I was getting.  Truthfully, I'm confident half of the customers were giving the whole parenthood thing a second thought because of us, but I digress.

He gladly followed me out and was smiling until he realized we were not going to the actual mall playground ten feet away (why did I park there??).  I picked him up and carried him, kicking and screaming all the way to the parking lot, where many horrified onlookers assumed they were bearing witness to the slowest kidnapping ever.

After I'd strapped him in, still screaming, I sat in the driver's seat and began to cry too.  I was exhausted and sore and sans adorable tunic on sale, but I still never thought you would die.

Your father arrived home two hours later.  Pretty immediately I kissed him goodbye and drove myself to the movie I'd been wanting to see.

**Spoiler alert**, but in the movie "Gravity", Sandra Bullock gets stuck in space.  Her craft is destroyed by some orbiting debris and the rest of the crew dies.  She is a newbie to the whole space thing, but with the help of some George Clooney oxygen-deprived hallucinations, she figures out how to get back home.  It's an interesting story but to me, none of it describes what the movie is about.   

Early on, Sandra's character explains how she lost a four year-old daughter.  During this scene I remember crying.  Rubbing my belly and crying. 

Later, she is stranded on a module with no remaining fuel or people.  She seems to accept her fate here, shutting off the oxygen supply along with the lights and closing her eyes.  George Clooney appears and  tells her that she certainly could.  She could give up and no one would argue, no one would begrudge her basically, because she'd been through the very worst thing.  Losing a child, not getting lost in space.

But she doesn't.  She opens her eyes and she uses the soft landing jets and a fire extinguisher to navigate towards the Chinese Space Station, where a module is already headed for home.

Of course the movie isn't entirely believable, but I enjoy it.   My favorite part has to be the very last scene where she makes it back.  After a fiery reentry and nearly drowning,  Sandra's feet finally touch the ground.  She digs her hands into the mud and she smiles and she says "thank you."

Sometimes, it still seems that I am orbiting some life that used to be mine.  Watching from afar, an unwilling witness at best.  Never really trying.  Never  truly taking part.  

But sometimes I can feel myself making the decision to hold on.  And that sand, or mud or whatever she lands in, is beneath my fingernails.  Sometimes, even when I'm crying on my couch at midnight after an FX encore presentation,  I feel more alive than I ever did before. 



Friday, June 3, 2016

On Talking To Strangers.

Dear Josie,

I know people assume I'm fine.   Sometimes I assume as much.

There's quite a distinction, though.  Before you died, fine was fine.  Obsessing over that nagging ten pounds fine.  Growing sentimental on birthdays fine.  Computer troubles sending me into a downward spiral fine. 

When you died fine became standing upright.  Fine was not praying I would die before the morning.  If I was sobbing to Grey's Anatomy reruns while on my third Vodka tonic at three in the afternoon, I was fine.  Stop asking, I was fine.

Of course I wasn't fine then.  Looking back I can see that I was hanging on by the tiniest of threads.  Connected to the daughter I'd loved and grown for nearly nine months, suddenly and abruptly and forever and always, by the most traumatic moments of my life. 

And "fine" in my subsequent pregnancy with your little brother?  Um, lets not go there. 

I'm not sure how I'd define the word now.  Crying on the way to work but stopping before first hour? Staring for creepily long stretches of time at fathers and daughters in checkout lines?  Or maybe, most recently, running out of restaurants when a stranger says something stupid.

It was ten minutes after we'd gotten our food. Your brother was insisting that we finish the 49th game of tic tac toe on the back of the kids menu, because we couldn't just leave it there and because "Duh mom it's the tie-breaker."

She sat down in the booth just behind us.  An older woman, maybe sixty maybe more.  Immediately she smiled at him as he begged between bites. 

"So darling," she beamed.

"Thank you," I said.

"How old?"

Your brother took over, getting up from the booth to stand next to her.

"I'm almost six!"

I lean over, "Please sit back down."  He doesn't.

"I graduated Kindergarten today!  My mom's taking me to lunch."

"Congratulations!" she offers, enthusiastically.  "You must be a wonderful big brother."

"I am," he assures her, sitting down.

"And what a lovely baby," she continues.

"Thank you," I say. 

"Will you have any more?" 

I choke a little.  "Um, perhaps." 

And then  it comes.   It always does. 

"Wonderful!  Maybe next time you'll get a girl!"

I make the conscious, painful decision to ignore her comment and it feels like I'm ignoring you, and then he stands up.

"We already have a girl!  My sister Josie, she died on birth."

I cringe, again with the grammar. 

"Oh no, I'm so sorry," her eyes change. 

"Thank you," I respond.

"Was there something wrong with her?"

My heart rate increases.  This is my child we're talking about.  Wait, why are we talking about her?

"No," I say. 

"Well, what happened?" 

I pick up the diaper bag, suddenly grateful for the cash in the pocket. 

"She died one month before her due date.  She was stillborn."  I don't look up.

The woman's voice softens as she continues. "When these things happen there is usually something wrong with them.  You probably just didn't know."

I turn to look at her finally, and in an instant there are a thousand things I'd like to say.  

Like, what do you mean by "them"?  And  in what world do you have the right to say what you just said?  And, three specialists and a geneticist and an autopsy have said otherwise, but I should just go ahead and take a stranger's word for it at Bandana's?  (with appropriate curse words in between, of course)

I note your brother's widened eyes, and the pride in his voice moments before.  I realize that I don't ever want him to fear saying your name, and so I don't.

"She was perfect."  I offer instead.  "There was nothing wrong."

Softly I declare that it's time to go and slowly, calmly we do.  And she waves and he waves back but I don't.

Because sometimes bad things happen.  Really, really, earth-shattering, shitty things and there is no reason.  There is no bow atop my tragedy.  There isn't a "something" or a mistake or a blame.  Sometimes a perfectly healthy, perfectly beautiful, perfectly someone's baby dies, and there is nothing that makes it more okay, or more palatable, or more feasible or more understood.  It is always illogical and it is always backwards and it is always, always horrible.

And this lady doesn't get to tell me otherwise, sitting here on this sunny afternoon in front of my children.  She doesn't get to tell me about my daughter, their sister, between fries. 

I grab their little hands and we are out the door and she offers a soft "goodbye", but I don't stop.  

Because there's a McDonalds down the road and because if you've taught me anything, it's that some people are worth a cold turkey sandwich and some are just not.