Parallel Universe

I live in a world where

news of a new baby is greeted

not with congratulations but

a tremble and a quick prayer.

 

Where a pregnant belly in a crowd is noticed

with a swell of anxiety in the throat,

an averted gaze,

hiding the Evil Eye.

 

In every group of children gathered I look for the missing ones.

The one lost, perhaps, between siblings just a few extra years apart.

I search the mothers’ faces for signs,

the scars of miscarriage, infertility, stillbirth, loss.

 

The ground we walk is brittle and thin.

We tread gently,

yearning for babies,

afraid to hope.

 

Flesh and muscle

the hearts that pump our raw, fragile lives—

Laid bare.

All the skeletons visible, everyone an x-ray,

Stark black and white, empty cavities.

 

Everywhere are accidents.

Every new life a potential death.

 

© Burning Eye

 

Building

I feel, in a way, as if my life is starting over. As if, almost seven months after our baby died, I am opening my eyes and starting to look around at what is left of the wreckage. As if I sit in the rubble of my house after a storm has leveled it. Over there, I see a shred of cloth—the color catches my eye, and reminds me of something. And there, a photograph of someone I knew. A family member, maybe. The lid of a box that once held memories. A scrap of paper: musical notes, or words. Did I write them? Were they written to me? Maybe they have nothing to do with me.

The land around me is flat, empty. I have painted this landscape before, terrestrial. I have smeared the charcoal waves of this landscape, aquatic. Anything upright stands stark, conspicuous, against the sky. I can make out figures now, other people. The ones closer to me are clearer, and I am beginning to see who is still here. Some of them are silent. Some call my name. Some call Joseph’s name, and my heart smiles and blossoms and weeps.

 

It is hard to explain, I think. On the surface, the world I dwell in is not empty. I still go to work: I teach, I counsel, I console, I cajole, I entertain, I perform, I listen, I give. I still do the dishes, the laundry, care for the cats, go grocery shopping, keep appointments. I write, and write, and write. I read novels and curl up on the couch and watch more t.v. than I have in all the rest of my life put together, or so it seems.

And I have never been alone. I have A, and a loving family, and friends who have looked me in the eye and been brave in a way that I know I couldn’t have been if this had happened to them first.

But there is this persistent sifting of things. A slow, quiet shuffling of position, seaweed and driftwood in the calm swell of waves, rising, falling out of sight. I am waiting to see what washes onto shore.

 

What do you value? the grief counselor asks me.

I misunderstand. Well, I’m trying to work on my novel.

She explains. That’s more like a goal. The value behind that might be something more like, ‘I value an outlet for my creativity.’

Oh.

Ah.

 

It’s like she turned a light on in my head. I had been thinking, What things can I busy myself with until we are pregnant again, until we have a living, breathing baby?  Now, I have a way of asking myself, What in my life-without-Joseph still has meaning?

A week later, I am still thinking.

The grief counselor gave me a freebie with the bit about creativity. As I sat in her office trying to think fast, like this was some kind of quiz, I came up with, Um, well, I guess, I value A. Wait, is that too specific? I value my family. Ah, yes, that includes A, but it also includes Joseph—the time I spend thinking about him, talking to him, writing, doing art, mourning—and the rest of my family, and A’s, too.

So that’s two.

I recognize that, even in my moments of extreme introversion, I value friendships, too. I value making connections with other people. Having coffee or taking a walk with a friend. Writing long emails back and forth with those far away. My blog is a way of connecting to others, as is my writing at Glow, and the time I spend on forums.

I realize a fourth is currently being fulfilled by my job teaching elementary school: I value working to make the world a better place. On my heroic days, I value saving the world. On my discouraging days, I value ‘each one, teach one.’

A and I have a spontaneous dance party in the back room of our house, just the two of us. It is the first time I’ve danced since Joseph died, and I think, Aha! I value dance! And then I admit to myself that this is a bit narrow, and I need to expand it. I value moving my body in ways that make me feel strong and healthy. Maybe, thinking of it that way, I won’t drag my feet so much on days I go to the gym to exercise.

All of this has given me a sense of building up. Additive, not negative. That I am reconstructing my life one small bit at a time. I am noticing that many of the pieces I need are right there, within my reach. That scrap of paper, that photograph, that shred of cloth.

I don’t know what I’m building.

But at least I am building.

 

© Burning Eye

The Loss of You

Your first plane ride, all the way to California. Being those people at security, unable to get the stroller to fold. Carseat knocking knocking against my legs as we hurry to make the connection. Watching your face carefully as the plane takes off and the air pressure changes. Apologetic glances to the other passengers when you cry.

Hearing you cry.

Introducing you to Uncle J, and Aunt A, and your cousin O. Comparing your faces, cheekbones, the coloring around the eyes. Listening to stories of O at your age, wondering how much is genetics and how much is just babies are babies.

Learning which parts of you are you, which parts are me, which parts are him.

Walking through their neighborhood, teaching you the names of west coast plants. Pointing out all the colors in the yards filled with flowers. Stopping to let O collect rocks, having to explain to her that they are too small for you to play with just yet.

Seeing what you’d do with their dog. Pull fistfuls of his fur. Poke his eyes. Lean your open, drooling mouth towards him to give him a kiss.

The way you roll onto your belly, lever your knees under you, push up and rock. The way you look around, deciding what is tantalizing enough to begin to crawl.

Watching you crawl.

Tucking you in to the pack-and-play, your legs kicking in your sleep sack. Singing you a song. Saying a little prayer that you will sleep in a strange place, with new sounds, strange smells, a different slant of light.

Watching your eyes close, your mouth fall open in slumber. Wondering what you are dreaming about as we listen to your breath, look for the rise and fall of your chest.

Your breath.

 

© Burning Eye

Waiting, me desespero

me desespero—I despair

I spend hours on the internet, tugging at my lifelines. I check my email, waiting for the latest letter from one of the babylost mamas I have been writing with. I check the babylost blogs, waiting for a new post. I read the forums, trying to recognize myself in the aches and pains and hopes and joys of these other parents.

My heart breaks over and over for their stories and my own. I wait for the time when each break hurts a little less.

* * *

The waiting started six months ago. A bed, a tan wall, a spider in the corner by the ceiling. Waiting to feel our baby move.

Moments stretched long and gaping in my heart:

Waiting for a heartbeat.

Waiting for the world to just come and crush me and finish it.

Waiting for dawn.

Waiting for labor.

Waiting for the burn and ache of birth.

Waiting to see him. Waiting for them to take him away.

Waiting to be discharged from the hospital.

Waiting for my milk to come in. Waiting, waiting, waiting for it to dry up.

Waiting for my belly to deflate, the bleeding to stop, my muscles to tighten, my body to heal.

Waiting for my period. Reciting the names of my hormones in every possible order, trying to guess which one is surging: estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing, prolactin, follicle-stimulating.

Waiting for this migraine to go away.

Waiting as anxiety to creeps in and slowly tightens its claw around my throat.

* * *

I am waiting to feel God.

I used to be able summon God’s presence and lean back into the arms of God whenever I needed to. My sister says she admires me for my close relationship to God, and I feel like a phony. I am not close to God. God does not feel nearby.

I try to find God in other people. In the sympathy cards and emails. In the kindness of my coworkers. In the incredible unconditional love I feel from A. I sit on my stool and try to pray and the whole time our cat Isabel is bumping into my knees and my open palms, purring and rubbing herself all over me. Maybe our cats are God, A and I joke.

A wise friend tells me that whenever we think we have comprehended God, something happens to show us that we haven’t, and we have to widen our concept of God. We get stuck in thinking God is this or God is that, when God is so much more than we can conceive of.

God and I are playing Blind Man’s Bluff. I am the Blind Man, and I’m standing very still. I’m waiting for God to come closer, to feel the passing stir of air before I reach out and grab hold and cry out in triumph.

* * *

I wait, too, for the words to seep into my veins and creep down to my fingertips. I wait for the dusty charcoal lines and figures and shadows to order themselves behind my eyes. Sometimes, now, the images are in color.

Hope is a color.

* * *

I paint another stormy Frida sky.

I am sitting and writing in my journal, writing about this waiting, when I see the sky of my limbo, dark clouds blowing swiftly across a vast, empty plain. Dark above, dark below. I lie at the left side of the painting, on the horizon, resting my head on my outstretched arm. But I am not resting. My eyes are open. My fingers clawed into the hard, black ground. I press the weight of my legs into my toes, which are tucked under, as if ready to spring up and take off running.

This is what I would like to do. Run blindly into the flat and infinite right side of the canvas. See what is there just out of the frame. My body itches. A deep throb settles into my calves. Sitting still too long, my hips and my forearms and my fingers fall asleep, numb and needling until I shift position.

But there is nowhere to go. The future does not exist yet, no matter how hard I will it here more quickly.

I am a failure at one-day-at-a-time. All I want is for this day to end, and the next, and the next, until there is magically, miraculously, a baby growing in my womb again. And then, once I know it is there, fast forward through the terror of pregnancy until that baby is born safe and alive in my arms.

The thought of being able to try again gives me hope and makes me tremble with fear. My soul splits and half is giddy and half is knocked low, weighing me down. My attention darts back and forth between them until I am exhausted and confused.

The waiting has a purpose now, but purpose doesn’t come with control. I am at the whim of the thermometer and cervical mucus and pink lines and FedEx and plane travel.

There is absolutely nothing else I can do except wait.

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© Burning Eye