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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. 



  1. Oh my goodness, what a bitch! [And that is why I usually try not to tell strangers about Olivia when we can avoid it, I know most of the time it goes ok but the times it goes downhill, it goes really badly.] And I seriously hate when people make rude comments about having all boys right in front of them. I need to come up with some bitchy comebacks for that.

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  3. Oh Nora, these conversations are the worst, truly. "Maybe next time you'll have a girl" - dear God, who says that? I mean, to anyone, in any situation?

    People never fail to astound me. I tell strangers I have two girls and am expecting my third (I rarely say N died, unless they want to get into ages etc). Honestly, the looks of pity, the 'oh no your poor husband' comments.

    It's enough to drive me to drink, or violence, or both :)

    I had a different painful conversation today. Standing at a kids' party with my 29 week bump.

    Other mum: "it's tiring the second time around isn't it?"
    Me: "..."
    Other mum: "the first time you get to look after yourself and rest, it's so different when you have another little one to run around after"


    The gender thing is such utter, utter bullshit. We don't get to pick our children. We don't get to pick which ones live and which ones die, which ones we raise every day and which ones we carry in our hearts.

    And we love them all, equally.

  4. I've gotten the, "Well, these things happen for a reason" thing, implying that Eliza died because otherwise she would have been imperfect or unhealthy. And I want to scream. And the whole phrase "Everything happens for a reason" makes me want to scream, sometimes when it's stenciled on wall hangings in people's bathrooms, but especially when it comes out of someone's mouth like word vomit that I want to shove back down their throats.

  5. Hey lady, fuck you.

    Sorry, but she makes me really, really mad.

    Your Josie was perfect, just like my Lydie. They should be here.

    Lots of love, friend.