Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Day the Earth Shook




My darling girl, 364 days and 23 hours ago, I was trying desperately to go to sleep.  And as anyone who has ever stayed in the hospital for more than a day can tell you, that feat is nearly impossible.  But as the clock crept past midnight, my usual discomfort began to change and morph into something unfamiliar and more difficult.  I have never known such pain.  My body seemed to lengthen.  My mind tried to convince me that from the crown of my head to my toes, I had expanded a mile.  I never got wide, barely putting on weight with your small body.  But the pain seem too huge and too great to be held by my 66 inches, and if I we're to look down, I would not be able to see my toes, so far away with so much aching and ripping and thrashing between.

I would never have believed someone so small and so perfect and so helpless could cause so much pain and fear and anxiety and terror. But you did.  You came into this world quickly and ferociously.  Too quick for medicine and drugs and deep breaths and quiet, numb entrances.  I gnashed my teeth and screamed out at the woman next to me telling me to be quiet.  I couldn't understand her words telling me to direct my screams to my belly and push push push.  Screaming didn't help, she said.  Screaming distracts the body, she said.  I never went to a class or read a book or a website or talked to another woman who had made it out of this room alive.  I feared I wouldn't as I screamed and cried and yelled anyway in the face of the woman chiding me for my noise.

But then it was finished.  Your tiny lungs, smaller than the size of a not-yet inflated balloon let out a cry I can still hear.  And the fifteen doctors rushed around you and put a tiny hat on your head full of hair and a mask on your mouth to help those too-small lungs, setting you gently but swiftly into a plastic box you would call home for the next two and half months.  But before they took you, before they wheeled you away to make sure your brain and your eyes and your heart and your lungs were safe and sound because my body couldn't keep you anymore, they let us hold your hand.  And you reached up.  You stretched high with your translucent skin and your needle-thin fingers and you grasped ours.  You clutched my finger with your whole hand and you held tight.  You let me know that it was ok.  You let me know that you would be kept safe and to not be upset I couldn't hold you inside of me anymore.  You let me know you knew me.  You let me know you would fight and fight hard.

My darling girl, you are destined for greatness.  You have already overcome the hardest part, and beaten the toughest odds.  Every. Single. Day. You show up and give me the million reasons to do the same.  When the cards are stacked against us and things can sometimes seem really really hard, you still show up.

It's been a hell of a year.  A stranger asked me the other day how old you were.  I answered, a year next Thursday.  They congratulated me for surviving the first year.  I smiled.

We survived, baby girl.

We made it.

Tomorrow we celebrate you.

Tomorrow we remember the day the earth shook.

Tomorrow marks a year since the first time you changed everything.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Happy Birthday






It has been nearly six months since I've posted anything on this blog and it's been even longer since I've written anything creatively other than a jotted-down line or paragraph in my phone's Notes section which I hope to come back to and use later.  But I haven't.  I've simply been storing them up.

It is also interesting, to me at least, to look back and realize that a year ago, I was sitting in a hospital bed, my back aching, eyes red and sore from constant crying, and my brain fuzzy from the information and weighty news it had received approximately a week before.  The constant oceanic pulse of my daughter's swift heartbeat filling my small room, the flowers and balloons I had received for my 29th birthday already starting to wilt and deflate.

I didn't know then, that she would come so early but also so perfectly on time.  I didn't know I would be flying to what would be my future home in Pittsburgh to stand next to my best friend, my sister as she vowed to love her husband forever.  I didn't know this kid would turn out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.  I didn't know how much I would be changed, how much of myself I miss but also how much of this new self I am proud of and impressed by.

I have always worked hard.  I was and am still the girl you call to pick up a shift or ask to help out with some favor or another.  But raising this tiny human has given me so much more pride in the work I have done, am doing, and will still do to be a better person, partner, mother and creator during my short time on this earth.  She makes me want to be better, work harder, eat kale, run longer, and create.  Oh god, does she make me want to create.  Now, don't get me wrong.  More than anything else, she makes me want to take a nap.  However, when it's quiet here in the house, and I've just begun the third load of laundry at 12:47am, I think to myself, if I was able to ACCIDENTALLY create such a magnificent and incredibly wonderful kid, what else am I capable of doing intentionally?  How else can I return the favor of being alive and having the joy of mothering this person than to continue to produce other things to bring the same happiness she brings me?

I got my best birthday gift, ten minutes before writing this post.  I was given the peace which comes from knowing there is so much beauty left to make and see, because I have the evidence of its existence right now, sleeping in a crib above me.

Monday, January 23, 2017

France

It’s like we were told we had to move to France.

“You’re leaving in 2 months. You are vacating the home you had built for yourselves, walls bursting with plans and dreams and paintings and pictures of the life you wanted to have for yourselves. You may never return to this house. It has been burned to the ground and swallowed up by the sea. From this point on, you will be ex-pats of this single and childless house. You will now and forever be responsible for this new house which, in turn, has new rooms. It has new paintings and windows and furniture and beds for those who will lay relative claim to it. They now have the right to come visit you in France, whenever they want. Your dialect will be your own, you may paint your house. You may paint it any color you want. But that too will change. It will fade or brighten depending on the soil in which you set it and the sun that will shine upon it. It will grow and create new rooms which you do not have access to.”

That is how it felt when we were told we were going to have a baby. We were told we were going to
have a baby nine weeks before we were going to move to another city. We were counting down the
weeks like pregnant couples count them down and up and away. We were nine weeks away. We had
begun to pack. We had made a reservation for a U-Haul (for which I received a confirmation the day I
went into labor). But. However. Although.

There were so many endings wrapped up in that beginning. So many stops to that start. So much more pressure, so much more. Still, sometimes, I cannot breathe thinking about it. Still, I shake my head and wonder if it is all some sort of elaborate joke, a prank, a story about someone else who isn’t me. But no. This is my reality. This is our life. And it will forever be something I didn’t plan on or prepare for. What am I supposed to do now? I had planned on so much. I wanted so much. I needed so many other things to happen before (instead) of this.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Life by Numbers


905.

96 92 87 88 84 77 62 83 88 94.

27 and 4.

17.

733.

1,216.

3 to 5.

14.

My life has been ruled by numbers since June.  The number of grams my daughter weighed when she was born.  The fluctuating oxygen satuaration in her small body causing my own breath to catch and alarms to ring when it dipped below 86.  The number of weeks and days when she was born.  The day she was supposed to be born.  The lifeline of social security her birthweight qualified our family for. The number of miles from here to our new home.  The number of years I was willing to give Austin.  The number of days I have left here.

I never expected to leave this city with two more people than when I came.  A dog, sure, and she's coming along too.  But a life partner and daughter?  Never.  It would have been a fool's bet.

You couldn't have told me I would be choosing another cold state after leaving this warm and sticky one.  I would have argued and smirked saying never under my breath.

We were supposed to be living in Vegas by now, you know.  That was our plan.  We were going to work hard and stack cash and reset our accounts and stroll hand in hand under the bright neon lights in the middle of the desert.  We were going to get off work at 2am, run home to change and grab the dog and then drive 5 hours through the night, trying to outrun the sun at our backs to the Pacific.

While I may not be strolling Flamingo Ave., I do see the hours before the sun now, the night and I so friendly, so familiar.  But instead of heading to California, humming along to Ryan Adams on the car radio with the windows rolled down, I am crooning the Lumineers to my newborn, my daughter, with the widest and most restless eyes I've ever known.  Hers are the color of the Atlantic, gray and dark blue and stormy.  They are pulling us east, not west, towards family and financially easier footing.

I fought it. I wanted to continue on with our plans.  I wanted to see it through and carry her along with us.  But our daughter is mighty.  She has changed our course.  And I feel now, so much more than ever before, like I have absolutely no control.  I have no say.

I do not know what to do next.  I was not prepared for this shift in the direction of my life.  And while I am in love with her, I am in awe of her, and I am forever grateful for the universe telling me and my plans to take a back seat and let it drive (because I never really had a hand on the wheel in the first place), I still grieve for the life I wanted for myself that did not include a baby.  And I accept and expect judgement from that statement.  However, I believe we are complex enough, multifaceted enough to hold two (or more!) feelings within us at once.  I can love my daughter endlessly, and still wistfully look down the other path and life that could have been.

We're leaving this town in two weeks.  There are so many memories here, good and bad.  So many experiences that have forever changed me.  I'm a Mom now.  And I have to take it minute by minute, second by second, placing one unsure foot in front of the other until the next chapter unfolds itself, presenting my humble little family with its next set of challenges and opportunities.

I accomplished the one thing I wanted in this town though, one which will allow me to leave without any regret:  I lived the last 46 months the best I could, and in such a way that allowed me to continue writing a truly interesting story.





Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pop

Blake was checking the perimeter, the sun having just sunk beneath the horizon.  When he heard the shots, he cut into the field.  Finding immediate coverage overruled his desire to go back for his gear.  Instinctually, he disappeared quickly and silently. 

The shots rang out from the west. 

Pop

Pop

Pop.

One shot every five seconds or so.  He began to run, steady and measured.  Several minutes later, he heard another round of gunfire, closer and clustered together coming from the southeast.

Pop pop pop pop pop

He stopped and sank low.  The stuttering noise of what sounded like automatic weapons caused his heart to sink.  He only had his Beretta.  However, even though he was hidden at the moment, crouching near the soft ground, a single spray of bullets would eventually find him. 

He hunched low and began walking quickly north.  Pop pop.  He had to keep moving, only hoping he was headed in a direction away from the gunfire. 

A rigid branch crunched quietly as he shouldered his way deeper into the field, soft tassels brushing his cheek.

He thought about the last time he saw Tommy; he had been coloring at their kitchen table.  When Blake placed his hand on his son’s small shoulder, he looked over and saw the picture was of the American flag.  It was messy and child-like, but there was no mistaking the reds, blues, and blank white spaces marking the familiar stars and stripes.  He could still feel the softness of the boy’s husk-colored hair, streaks of blonde brightened in the summer, just like his mother’s.

There was a sharp pain behind his right eye pulsing with his heartbeat, his vision beginning to blur.  Shaking his head and looking behind him, he saw the field went on and on with rows like black tunnels, bordering high stalks stretching high and thick.  

Boom

Boom

Boom.

He felt the explosions in his chest, rattling his ribcage.  The early July heat was fierce and unrelenting, his undershirt soaked in sweat.  The sky was now black, and the vegetation so dense and straight and unmoving in the still night air.  Suddenly, there was beam of light, quick and fleeting.  It was yellow and artificial, swinging back and forth quickly, searching.
He decided to run in the opposite direction, and after fifteen seconds, he heard their voices.  They were yelling, high with tongues rolling.  He figured they were about a hundred yards away.  Because he only had his handgun, he was able to run much faster than he would have with his rifle and full body armor.  But because of this nakedness, he needed to find somewhere to hide before the band arrived.

Blake cut in and out and between the high growth of the field, trying to avoid bending any stalks and branches which would leave a trail.  Then he heard Sara’s voice causing him to stop.

“Blake!”

This happened all the time.  He imagined hearing his wife at the worst of times, usually deep in the middle of combat. 

“Blake! Where are you!?”

It was both distracting and comforting.  He pushed it away and started running.  He couldn’t afford to be distracted, not when he was this vulnerable.

Pop.

The gunfire sounded further now and less frequent.  Feeling he was in a good position, he slowed to a walk, his shoulders hunched, his pistol raised.  Suddenly, gunfire was everywhere.  It was closer now, above and behind him, no more than fifty yards away.  He stopped, unsure which way to run.  There was a snap of a stalk broken behind him.  He spun and fired once.  Nothing.  There was only an empty row staring blankly in front of him. 

A searing pain abruptly shot behind both of his eyes followed by a wave of nausea so intense he doubled over and nearly fell to his knees.  He tasted char and red meat.  Five seconds.  Ten seconds.  He was wasting too much time.  He knew he had to keep moving, they were too close, there were too many of them.

Boom.  

Pop, pop.  

BoomBoomBoom.   

His mouth was sour with sick, his head pounding.  Every direction he ran, it seemed he was running towards a new enemy with the others right behind him.

His right eye went dark.  The pain in his head was so severe he thought he was going to pass out. He stumbled half-blind, feeling a ridge on either side of his feet.  He didn’t know whether to trust this path or try and fight his way through the thin trees on either side.

“Blake!” 

He wished his wife’s voice was real, feeling the tears stream down his face.  Something caught his foot and tripped him to the ground, his face slamming down hard.  His breath caught in his chest, and he wondered if he should just lay there, waiting for it to be over.  He was so close to giving up.

“BLAKE!” 

He flipped over, the yellow light blinding his remaining left eye, and fired.  POP


The light swayed for a moment, slightly right then left, then fell to the earth.  Blake sat up slowly, and crawled towards the body.  The flashlight was pointing at the person’s feet.  They were small and narrow, wearing red Keds.  He followed the lean tan legs to a denim skirt, then a white tank top with an American flag, blood staining and stretching out from the dark hole in the center of the chest.  He couldn’t see her face at first.  Then, it glowed red.  Pop.  Then blue. Pop.  Then green into purple, pop pop,, and with a deep and overhead boom, it glowed white.  Sara’s eyes were wide, staring up from the ground of their Iowa cornfield, the fireworks scattered in the sky. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Homecoming

For the past 89 days, I have spent some portion of my time, every day, in a hospital.  For the first 14, I was the patient.  Then, for the next 75, I would spend visiting my daughter, waiting for her to grow from one pound, fifteen ounces, and fourteen inches long to where she is now, six pounds, three ounces and eighteen inches long.  I am sure I will recount the struggles, the challenges, the battles, the victories and all the moments experienced in between someday.  But, for now, I will simply celebrate the homecoming of my daughter.  She is not sleeping at the moment even though I fed her by bottle and by breast and bathed her and sang to her and changed her and swaddled her.

And that's ok.

I will look into those deep dark blue eyes taking in all that is new and unfamiliar and undeniably home.  There are no bright fluorescent lights here.  No beeping monitors or laughing nurses or hourly vitals to be taken.  There is just us.  Just the four of us (Roxy is still getting used to her - her hands and feet have been licked all in good measure).

Here's to baby.

Here's to a new life.

Here's to the next great adventure.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Year of the Rabbit

The stairs to the basement creaked loudly.  The light switch at the top had stopped working earlier that year so the light had to be turned on at the bottom.  Jin had been meaning to fix it for months, Danielle too nervous to walk downstairs in the dark while she was pregnant, avoiding all trips without Jin leading the way.  He cursed himself for waiting so long as he stumbled down in the dark carrying the heavy and awkward glider. 

“There are always miracles.”

It was the year of the rabbit.  Danielle didn’t believe in signs or God or fate, but Jin did.  He prayed to both the Christian God and to his ancestors every day since finding out about his son.  She called him old-fashioned.  He could picture his son, James, a strong and handsome and funny young man.  Her due date was on Easter.  She had chosen the name for her father.  He liked it because it was the name of Jesus’s most beloved disciple.

“He is a fighter...”

There were dozens of bags from Danielle’s most recent shower.  He set the last of them down in the corner of the basement, overflowing and haphazardly filled with blankets and onesies and crib sheets and diapers.  He began with the bedroom because he knew it would take the longest, and there was very little time. 

“…but we want you to be prepared.”

He moved on to the kitchen.  He couldn’t decide if he wanted to put the champagne that had been chilling in the kitchen’s refrigerator into the one downstairs, or allow it to come back up to room temperature, or throw it away altogether.  The checklist in his head was getting crossed off, one room after another.  He found the box for the breast pump and the Baby Bullet broken down and folded behind the washer.  He reassembled them and carefully placed the equipment back in their boxes.  Danielle had given him such a hard time when he came home with the Bullet.

“He isn’t even going to be able to eat solids or baby food for months.” Jin remembered their small fight perfectly. 

Why did you buy that?”  They were folding all of the recently washed baby clothes they had been given in the basement, when suddenly Danielle let out a little “Oh.” 

He remembered her looking down and then up again, her face sheet-white.  She looked so scared.

“We never really know why things like this happen.”

He scanned the house once more, looking for all traces and triggers.  He grabbed the What to Expect When You’re Expecting book from her nightstand, leaving nothing in either of the bedrooms.  As he turned to head back downstairs, he noticed the overnight bag sitting by the front door, forgotten in their haste.  He slung it over his shoulder and headed down.

“I would give him about a week.  His liver is no longer responding.  His organs are beginning to shut down.”

Danielle would be home tomorrow.  She hadn’t spoken since they had taken his small body away, all 800 grams of him, just under two pounds.  Jin had tried to comfort her, praying silently to whomever would listen, but she would not be consoled.  Her eyes staring empty, her mouth set.  The tears never stopped streaming down her cheeks and into the soft creases between her neck and chest and engorged and useless breasts. 

“Sometimes these things just happen.”

After coming back downstairs for the last time, Jin sat down in the glider, surrounded by everything they had bought and been given and made in preparation for their first and only son.  He began rocking slowly back and forth when he noticed a small gray rabbit lying face down on the floor.  It must have fallen out of one of the bags.  He remembered buying it a few weeks earlier, gently placing it in the corner of James’s crib.

“Lay your hands on him and let him know you are there.”

He got up and walked towards the toy.  Picking it up, his breath began to shorten as he felt the softness of its ears and arms and legs, reminding him of the gentle blonde fuzz all over his dying son’s body.   He squeezed his eyes shut and clutched the rabbit to his chest, sucking in a shallow and sharp breath and then letting out an anguished sob.  His head hung low, a stabbing pain shooting behind his right eye.  He started wringing the rabbit’s body, twisting it in opposite directions.

“He can hear your voice.  The ears are some of the first things to develop.  Talk to him.”

He threw the rabbit with all of his might.  Silently it fell to the floor, as if caught by something invisible, too light to carry the weight Jin needed.  The unimpressive result of this violence enraged Jin.  He turned around and picked up the glider and heaved it at the entertainment center.  It crashed into the TV and dented the wall deeply.  He moved on to the boxes and bags, swinging them in every direction.  Onesies with “Mommy and Daddy Love Me” and “Little Rascal” stitched on the front, blue bibs and tiny hats and swaddlers and pacifiers falling all over the floor.   He grabbed the bottle of champagne he had decided to leave out to warm, and hurled it against the wall near the stairs.  It hit the switch and the light shut off, leaving him in complete darkness.
“He isn’t in any pain.”