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Third person.

Dear Harvey,

You would be three and a half now. First of all, I don’t know how that can be. Frozen as you are in black and white photos, doctored to cover the signs of hospitalization and death: No angry, red irritation on your skin wherever there was tape. No purple nail beds from the pooling of non-circulating blood. No flopping, unresponsive limbs. You could be asleep in the pictures, the way the photographer posed you, propped you, gave us a view of you we never saw. When I think of you now, I often think of your picture since I see it frequently, and not as you really were in your humanness, your animalness, your flesh and blood, dying in my arms.

Papa hung your photo above his desk and realized that that was it. That was the only picture he would have of you. There would be no more. It’s funny how a simple, normal action like that, hanging a photo, reveals so much truth. You will never change. You will always be a baby, an infant, a newborn.

Even as you grow in my mind. Even as you age. Even as I track the progress you are not making. It’s the same, except the exact, horrific opposite. Still.

When you died, your sister was three and a half. I’m trying to put my mind around that. Trying to understand that we would have had you, now, for as long as we had her, then.  When the world stopped. There is so much frozen in time for me then. I remember her so clearly. More clearly, then any other time of her life, except for the recent past. I remember clothes she wore and individual trips to the park though it was a daily occurence. I remember the roundness of her cheeks, the bounce of her ringlets, her little hand in mine as we walked the stone path to the playground. As that little three and a half year old, lead me through my life, through the haze of my unrelenting grief. So much of that time of my life is gray and hazy and gone but not your sister at three and a half. It is an age I remember so clearly.

She has lived half her life without you. Half of her life with relatively happy, contented, light parents and half with the bereaved version of us, the broken version, the picking-up-the-pieces parents. I have a hard time recognizing myself still. I can only imagine what that shift from one day to the next in late April of 2013 and all that has followed, must have felt like to her. With no words for it, no real understanding. Just feelings, just sensing and noticing something had gone terrible wrong. Very little felt familiar anymore. I wonder if she felt us trying to make it so, too. And if that just contributed to the confusion.

Your three and a half birthday is  another strange milestone that goes unnoticed except by me.  I often feel like a baseball statistician as I navigate the days, months, years after your loss: “Wow Bob! This is the first time in baseball history that anyone has gotten on base against a pitcher named Thomas on a Tuesday afternoon at 4:13 in July! Just incredible!”. I see the details. I keep track. I notice. I can’t help but. There are, like all dead people have, birthdays and death anniversaries. For me, there is the 27th and 28th of each month that I track. There is the half birthdays. The due date and, because I happen to know it, the conception date. The around-the-time when you don’t “fill in the blank”: roll over, sit up, eat food, crawl, walk, talk, smile, clap, laugh, fall down, dig in sand, climb a stair, cut a tooth and on and on and on. The day you don’t start preschool. I have friends who know the exact number of days since they held their babies. And there are a million of other dates, silently on the minds of bereaved mothers. We anticipate them, we experience them, we feel the aftermath of their passing. Time and again. For the rest of our lives.

These milestones don’t sting the way they used to. Sometimes, I even smile. Often, I marvel at the acceptance I have accomplished. I find you in my heart, now. That time is so far away now. In the early months and years, I watched other people living out the life I had planned for myself. The one where you have babies and they don’t die. The one where you space your children just the way you planned. the one where you hold your older child’s hand while adjusting the straps of the baby carrier strapped to your chest with your living, breathing baby in it. The one where you didn’t even noticed that you brushed up against death in the dynamic dance of birth. But now that I am so far away from having a second child: no infancy, no toddlerhood, no no no, I can no longer even imagine what my life would be like had you lived. I no longer see myself in the lives of other people who take theirs for granted. It stings when a child is revealed to be three and a half. I try not to flinch. But that’s all these days. I just try not to flinch and move along. It’s amazing.

Tonight though, that 7 year old sister of yours, that 3.5 years plus 3.5 years sister of yours, the one who was the age you would now be when you died, told me a story. She tried to make it elongate post-dinner/pre-bedtime but I insisted she tell me once we were laying in bed for books. And so she did. Her eyes heavy for sleep from the time change but also wide from her imagination weaving it’s own narrative this time. She used words like “eagerly” and “lured” correctly and well which suprised me. She flourished her story by describing tone of voice: “… she nervously said “. She even built suspense with her voice: pausing appropriately, whispering,  changing the pace and lilt of her speech. I’d never heard or seen such craft from her. I thought, “We are good with her words, her dad and I, and here are her genes, her proclivities, her leanings, her talents, showing up in a way I have never seen before.” And I loved it. I loved watching her little face, so close to mine, and listening to her words and watching her little brain twist and turn the story around as she went. It was amazing.

But most amazingly was that she stayed in third person the whole time. This was amazing because the story was about a sister and a brother, the sister’s name was Vesta and the brother’s name was Harvey. At 7, she told a story about herself, never veering from third person, never slipping into “I” statements. She created conversations between Vesta and Harvey. When frightened, Harvey crawled into Vesta’s bed. Harvey, being the more mischievous and adventuresome of the two, cajoled and convinced Vesta to sneak out of the house, despite Vesta’s warning that their parents would be “worried sick” if they left to investigate the mysterious flickering lights outside. I fought the tears as the children in the story, my children, both alive and living together for these few moments, talked to each other, doubted the other, encouraged, abandoned, touched, rescued and rejoiced together, for the first time. For the first time, she told me a conversation you had together, an experience you shared, a snuggle you had in her bed. A fiction, and yet we lay there, with you animated in a way you never were, never could be, but there you were all of the sudden. I wondered (truth be told, I longed) to see what you looked like in her mind’s eye. What does his voice sound like? How does his body look as he runs? What does his skin feel like when you lay with him under the covers? How does his hair smell? But I was quiet, holding the tears in for fear that they would stop the story, red eyed and enthralled. Trying to stay present.

From the fiction of a young girl, came a moment in the life of her dead brother. And, I imagine now, that she could commit to third person so easily because it is a fiction. You are a fiction. There is no brother Harvey to get confused with the character Harvey. You, my love, are a character in our lives. A person that we cannot see or touch or feel or smell but who is very much present. Less and less, it is true. Less and less, in a daily manner. But there, none-the-less, as a character, as Vesta’s brother, as a force in her story that encouraged her to be brave, that she was able to stand up to even though she was afraid to, to face the darkness and the flickering lights and the scary dwarves turned werewolves together. Vesta left Harvey there at one point, at the strange cabin with the mythical creatures, to fend for himself and he did. He out ran them, climbed into his bed and fell asleep. But she got back up, and snuck back out without him, against her better judgement, to make sure the coast was clear, to make sure no one was after him. And it wasn’t and they were and she took care of it and then went back to bed in her own bedroom in a house that had a bedroom for each of the children. A bedroom for Vesta and a bedroom for Harvey. You even had your own room.

There is space for you. There always will be. At every age. I will carry you with me and so will she. We won’t forget you. We don’t have stories to tell about you but we will tell them anyway. We will never have even one new photograph but that doesn’t mean you have to stay frozen. We can animate you. We will fictionalize what it’s like to have a brother and a son who is alive and we will tell each other about it now and then. Sometimes, we will take the feeling that is you, in our lives, in our psyches, in our hearts, and we will tell each other about it. In new and unexpected ways as well as the same old, sad, tired ways I love so much.

This will be one of those days that only will I take note of. It’s a baseball stat day: The day your sister brought you back to life. For both of us.

 

Luck.

Dear Harvey,

We spent the weekend at Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water park, with Nona and Papa. On the last day, we played in the wave pool, bobbing up and down, jumping to keep our heads above water, playing tag when the water was calm. We let 1,000 gallons of water pour down over our heads while we squealed. We put our feet over spouting water and dashed between the drops of the fountains. When it was time, we headed for a shower.

As we were washing up together, Vesta, newly 7, said “I’m luck to be alive.”

“You are,”I agreed, emphatically, saying my silent mantra-prayer (please.don’t.let.her.die,please.don’t.let.her.die) to that venegeful God in the clouds that took my son and could take my daughter any time His coffee isn’t hot enough or His pasta too soft.

“We all are,” she stated, stomping her feet in the water that pooled around the drain. The warm water drenching the top and back of her head as she only looks down in the shower. “Harvey was…not so lucky.” Stomp, stomp stomp.

“No, he wasn’t. But we are. You’re right.” Pray pray pray. Stomp stomp stomp. Sensing the warm water on our hair and skin.

Lucky. We are lucky.

Sometimes I forget that fact. Sometimes I forget that I never thought I’d feel “lucky” again after you died. That luck would never apply to me.

Modern medicine saved Vesta and me. She was stuck. Pressing her little neck and shoulder against my pubic bone for hours. The constant pressure, contractions and baby head, swelling my bladder making it even harder, and eventually impossible,  for her to get out on her own. I pushed at home for four hours. We got to the hospital and they were “committed to my vaginal birth”, though I no longer was but without the energy or courage to say so, so they put us on Pitocin. I fell to the cold, cement floor as my body responded with ferocious, mechanical contractions. I had been laboring for almost 24 hours at home, unmedicated, and this was by far the worst pain I had ever felt. By far. I felt like a machine had taken over my body. I was unable to have any control. The contractions of seemingly every muscle in my body wracked me and brought me to my knees, to the floor. She was still stuck. No progress. The midwife had had both of her hands inside me at home trying to free her little body from my bones and swollen tissue, to no avail. The hospital tried to force her out with drugs. They offered the epidural I never wanted and I accepted. Maybe she would move down on her own while I rested, numb, but my body continued to force my baby out, stuck and cramped and terrified, I would imagine. I welcomed the relief for myself and felt deep guilt and fear that my baby got no relief as I slept. No progress. So they booked an operating room and wheeled us in there and saved us.

I didn’t see it like that, though. Didn’t realize until weeks later that without modern medicine, we both would have died. Here little body collapsing in the cage of my pelvis and mine collapsing from the complications of a dead baby inside of me. I didn’t count myself as lucky for having a c-section until  I began to think about what would have happened if we lived the age before surgery, medication and post-surgical care. Death is what would have happened. The maternal and infant mortality rate back then was astronomical. For someone who uses Western medicine infrequently compared to traditional medicine, I was grateful for their heroic efforts. We were lucky I said. If just for the date of my own birth.

But, of course, humans are not infallible. It took them a long time to sew me up. Longer than it should have. I was so drugged on epidural and morphine and new mama happy hormones that I didn’t really inquire. They had also shamed me enough, subtly so but shamed just as much for laboring at home, that I didn’t inquire. I didn’t want more shame or judgement or answers containing BS because of their  based on their opinions of me and my choices. So, I didn’t ask anymore questions. There was some murmuring that I found suspiscious. I had a sense that something went wrong. In the surgeon’s debreifing there was some telling but not telling: “It took us longer than usual to sew you up” (emphasis not mine), “I’ve never seen a bladder so swollen”, “This is why we don’t like to do c-sections after such a long labor”. My incision opened 10 days after her birth. Danny said it was open more than an inch and he could see the striated muscle. We had to irrigate it, rush water through it and stuff it with wads of cotton squares twice a day for months. It was on the left side. I couldn’t walk without a deep pain in my lower abdomen, below the insciosn for 5 months and even after that it still ached with too much movement for months after that.

I waited more than enough time to get pregnant again and I miscarried. By the time I was pregnant with you, I was more than twice as faraway from my c-section than is recommended. So, safe from rupture. Despite my luck during my last birth, despite the brush with death I hadn’t realized I had, I never considered that you would die. Not in the light of day. I woke in the night several times in cold-blooded terror that you were going to die but I told myself that was the darkness, the vulnerability that we experience during sleep and sleep-waking, the irrationality of the mid-night time. By the light of day, I would often say to myself and others “If we have him at home, great. If we end up in the hospital, great. No one’s going to die.” No one’s going to die. Not me, not my baby. Though I said it and woke in terror to the thought of it, it never really crossed my mind that it was an actual threat. That my baby could and would die. I did everything “right”.We’d be saved again, if we needed to be.

Or not. I would have that luck. Harvey…not so much.

Where the rupture was on my uterus was deep below where the incision had opened. Where I had always felt a weakness since her birth. Where, after they went in to sew the area that never healed after the rupture and your birth/death, the “gap” as they called it was deep below where the incision had opened. Where, after I recovered from that surgery, I felt strong again in my lower abdomen, especially on that left side. I realized I had been protecting that area since Vesta was born, that it had felt weak and vulnerable and that now that it was sown up and healed, I felt new again. Something was wrong in there all along. Bad luck. The worst, in fact.

And my mind looks for blame. The surgeons from the c-section: my surgical records could not be found when I called to get them for Harvey’s midwife? My first mid-wife: my doula thought Vesta got stuck because she had asked me too push to soon? Myself for attempting another homebirth? Harvey’s midwife for not seeing signs: even though there were none to find, maybe she missed something?

But no. There is no one to blame. And if there was malpractice or negligence or even just a mistake or something overlooked, which there wasn’t, it changes nothing. Not midwives or surgeons or myself or anyone else. It was series of choices, made by a bunch of people, with a devastating outcome no one intended or wanted or even imagined. It was life. With it’s torturous quality of 20/20 hindsight. Life is a series of events and effects, choices and consequences. We do the best we can. Each of us. And sometimes people die. Sometimes, my baby dies. It’s just life. And some seriously bad luck. The worst, in fact.

Back in the shower, we are lucky. Standing there just having enjoyed a weekend with two of our grand/parents who are in their 70s and healthy and able to play and splash and laugh and love us. We shared a room and meals and quests and pretend games and movies and our hearts with her best friend and my new love. We come from a family who can afford not only a trip across the coutnry but also an excessively fun and expensive weekend. We have our skin with this warm water dropping on it, soothing it, cleansing it. We have these bodies that work, that are healthy and strong and growing and changing and beautiufl. And we have each other. We are missing her brother, she is missing her father. Always always we notice their absence but she and I, we have each other. She didn’t die and I didn’t die and we are lucky. We are so fucking lucky.

Tonight.

Tonight she asked me to help her down off the stool. She’s big enough to climb up there and pick out her dress and climb down and lay out her clothes, like her dad taught her. At his house.

But tonight she called for me to help her get down. So I did. I held her tiny pelvis between my hands and felt the arch of the bones, the soft skin and squishy fat and strong, small muscles sink between my palms. I put my nose into her long hair, breathed in and then held my breathe there, just a split second, for my prayer: please don’t die.

I’ve held that baby. The one who suckled and grew. And I’ve held that baby. The one who died. Here, between these very palms.

Please don’t die. I pray to her, to Him, to anyone who will listen. Please don’t die.

We crawl into bed and we read the stories she has chosen. She is older and grown into snuggling. She runs her tiny hand along my forearm as I read and I am getting used to her touching me voluntarily. Trying not to be too greedy, too overexcited that she seeks it herself now. That she will hug me first and let me hold her when she is hurt, rather than tearing into her room and slamming the door. I close my eyes without closing them and inhale again. She’s here now and I try to memorize how her skin feels on mine, the particular wrinkles of her knuckles, the shape of each nail bed.

I held my boy and I did the same. That was all the time I had. Memorize. Learn him. And quickly. And so I studied and studied. In the haze of shock, I scrutinized. Slowly pulling the blanket away to reveal chest and nipples and ribs and belly and navel and how the diaper top lifted away from his skin and the rolls on his thighs and the slope of the shin and big, big feet, similar in shape to his dad’s and sister’s. I don’t remember any of it now, not one detail that isn’t in a pictutre, except that I tried. To memorize. To remember. My boy. The most important test of my life. And now, I look at his picture as I would a stranger.

And what if I forget her? Her touch, her arcs, her laugh, her voice, how exactly long her hair.

Tonight she stayed awake for each of the three books we have been reading every night for most of her life. Tonight, for the first time in months, she asked for songs. So I sang. I breathed deep and I sang the songs of my mother and my aunt and my grandmother. “Duermete, mi nina”. And I felt the ghost in my throat: the exact way my wind pipes vibrated as I sang to him but that time, it was “nino”. The first time. The last time. Shrill, as I realized. As I caught my breath and sang on anyway, aware but undeterred that the others in the room would have heard my voice crack, the plea in it. I thought tonight of the arc of helpless pain that must been have sent through my dearest ones at its sounding, all sitting in that NICU room, holding their heads, no words, no way. Helpless as we were, at the hand of God.

Like, tonight, as I lifted her 6 year old body off the stool. Her fragile, sturdy self. Will I remember her if she goes, too? Will I never not pray for her to stay? I hope not. I hope I am 82 and reaching for her hand and repeating my silent prayer: please don’t die.

Please let that be.

Scholarship.

He was the first to go to college. It was not expected or even encouraged. But he got on a train one day and started a new trajectory for himself and his family, yet to come.

He went to a school he loved. Met friends he still has. Played a lot of cards and got a good job.

He had a son and then a daughter, who, though troubled, grew and left in cars he bought them. For college and then for life.

His daughter had a daughter and then she had a son. Her son died. He canceled his trip to Italy, despite her protests, and flew across the country for the funeral one week after the boy died. He sat at her dining room table and told her college roommate, the first friend she made there, that he would start a scholarship.

He is humble. He told close family only and worked close with a man at his old college, the one in Ohio, the one he took the train to, the one that is full of brand new buildings that look old, the one where he still feels at home. He and the man became friends He and the man made a plan: the Harvey Richard Walker Scholarship for Humans Right.

He flew his daughter and her daughter to the college to see it, to dine with the man and the dean and the president and the other alums. The man arranged a meeting with the director of the human rights center at the university of Dayton, the only one of its kind. The kind that trains not academics but advocates. That teaches responsibility, accountability, compassion and care. That is actually doing something, many things, to stop human trafficking and slavery in the states and abroad. The director assured us, as did the dean, that this was a program that is making a difference. His daughter could feel the ripples.

She had sat holding her dying baby trying desperately to come up with ways to not let this just be a waste, just a loss. They donated his organs. She pumped his milk. What else could be done? What other good could come from his body, from his being here? The eyes, the heart valves, the milk were the first ripples, the front lines. Could there be more? More than personal transformation through fire and hell on earth? There could. Even though it felt meaningless for so long, robbed her of so much joy, no gift or lesson able to even be imagined, there could be.

He could use the money he made, the money his parents made, the money that made money on the market. He could make a difference in this world in the name of the boy who died. Because he was here and he died and we loved him with our whole hearts and wanted him to stay more than anything we’ve ever wanted in our lives, students for years to come will be able to get the education they need and want but couldn’t afford. They will learn real skills, how to negotiate, create policy, evaluate programs, talk to victims and perpetrators, lawyers and law enforcement, travel the world and advocate, research and innovate. They will tell the stories of the most vulnerable. They will change the course of the lives of the most  vulnerable. Because he was here, because he died, because he was loved and wanted, this boy and his grandpa will change the world.

They called his name and he and his daughter and her daughter, all arms empty without the little boy to wrangle, walked up to the podium. They told his story. They said the boy’s name. They took a picture. His daughter went back to the table and cried in front of everyone because someone said his name.  She so rarely gets to hear it and never from a stranger anymore. Because people are going to type his name and write his name and say his name because of the scholarship, because of the generosity of his grandpa, because there is so much horror in this world that needs light shone upon it and young people will want to do just that and will, under his name. 

Read more about the amazing work being done at the University of Dayton’s Center for Human Rights.

Three.

Will you become a full citizen of vulnerability, loss and disappearance, which you have no choice about?

                             David Whyte

Three years, boy. Three years. 

How is that even possible? What you would have been through in these years. Just the beginning but you would have learned to nurse or take a bottle or both. You would have felt the sunlight and the rain, the cold and the heat. You would have touched grass. Laughed and smiled. Started eating food. Learned to roll over, crawl, walk, run. Speak. You would have thousands of words by now. 

There are several families in Vesta’s class with kids your age. I see what you would be, what you would be doing, in a general sense. I see inevitable milestones, averages. Not your particular timeline, abilities, personality, quirks. Not what kind of eater you would be. Not how in your body or in your head you’d be. Not how well or terribly you sleep. Not the books and toys and activities that you’d love and prefer. Not the sweet smell of your dirty hair. Not your details and particulars. I see you there in these other children who are about your age and I see you starkly not there. Every day. 

It has been three lifetimes and these three years have blown past me. I find myself waking up on a new level at this anniversary, looking around and taking stock. 

I have worked my ass off to get where I am. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours in therapy, three different therapists. An incredible amount of bodywork: massage, acupuncture, chiropractic and energy work. I have worked with shamans to heal our spiritual connection and understand my own soul’s journey. I went to my support group twice a month for a year and only stopped that because your dad moved out and I didn’t have any one to watch your sister at night so I couldn’t go anymore. And my focused shifted to the grief and heartbreak of the loss of my marriage. I’ve had countless conversations with many, many grieving parents. Some of whom have become close friends, always united in our loss, always with a keen understanding of the terrain of each other’s path. I have written over one hundred blog posts, the story of your birth, begun a book. I have stood in front of two audiences and told my story. I went on a healing retreat with other bereaved mothers and a writer’s workshop in which both the leader and half a dozen others in the class had lost children. I have written and am producing a performance and visual art piece based on our story. I have danced and done yoga and gone swimming and walking and hiking. I have cried more tears than I ever thought possible. I have taken medications and supplements and your placenta and am doing work with my brain to rewire it out of its  traumatized, anxious state. I have answered unanswerable questions. Grappled with this crazy, hypocritical, ironic state of humanness. I have found joy again. And hope. And love. After all of this, I have returned to my body and to my life, more fully than I ever imagined I’d be able. 

That’s the thing about this. I never thought I’d get back to myself, smile authentically, feel single emotions again. It was all consuming, my grief at your loss. It colored everything in bitter sweetness. It made me hateful and angry and vengeful, experiencing thoughts and emotions I thought I was incapable of. That made me feel inhuman. 

One does not “get over” the loss of a child. That is true. But it gets easier. It gets better. Breath by breath, step by step, I am able to recover from wounds that won’t heal. I am not only able to live with these wounds turned scars, not just tolerate and live with the pain but accept them, allow them, integrate them into who I am, who I am becoming now.

Harvey, I accept that you died. I accept that you are not coming back. I accept that I will live the rest of my life without you. I have come to accept the most unacceptable, the most impossible of circumstances. And I marvel. It doesn’t seem to be something that is acceptable, something that can be intergrated but I have done it, I am doing it. As much as I have enjoyed moments of pure and simple joy again, I also now enjoy moments of pure and simple grief. I don’t spend time with kids your age and come home ruined on a variety of levels anymore. I just miss you, you and only you. I am jealous that other families get to have all of their children, get to have their almost three year olds and I have twinges of hatred toward them and anger at the naïveté their lives have granted them but it doesn’t take me out. I can see it now for what it is. Just thoughts, just feelings, which now pass, leaving me with only my grief for you. For your details and particulars. For the Harvey shaped hole that will always exist in my life. 

I don’t want anymore children anymore. I have accepted my infertility. I have embraced the end of my marriage. When I see these families, I even think that I couldn’t imagine having a three year old now. The idea of another baby, going through all of the stages and sleeplessness and imbalance and fear and lack of autonomy that accompanies parenthood, is extremely off putting to me now. And even that, son. Even that, I accept. I chide myself at these thoughts because they sound a little too close to gratitude that you are dead for my comfort. But I soon notice that it’s not gratitude, but another indication of my acceptance. I wanted you. I wanted to care for you. I wanted to be the exhausted, worried, begrudging parent we all are a little bit. I wanted to be the mom that raised you, got to know you, guided you, learned from you, not buried you. I understand now that not wanting another child doesn’t mean I didn’t want you or wouldn’t instantly change everything to have you back. It just means that I am okay. I am okay without you, without my fertility, without my husband and the family and path we planned. I still don’t know how that is possible, but here it is, in the flesh.

It’s possible because I’ve gone broke trying to feel better and get back on my feet. Get functional and then way past functional. It’s possible because I have the most incredible community of friends and family, students and clients, coworkers and colleagues, acquaintances and soul mates in all of human history. You know what happens when babies die? Friendships die, too. Family relationships fall apart. You know how many friends and family I have lost? Zero. You know how many I have gained? Dozens. The support and love and encouragement I have received is unprecedented. Even through the ugliest parts of my grief, through my sharing torturous details on my blog that even I can no longer read through, people loved me. I asked them to look at exactly the things they don’t want to look at and they did. They cried with me and hugged me and held my hand and walked beside me and held me up when I couldn’t walk on my own. The sent me messages and letter and presents and donation cards. They still do. I demanded people remember and acknowledge and they compassionately, thoughtfully and lovingly did and still do. 

After you died, I thought I would never say that I was lucky again. I had shit luck, the worst kind of luck there is because my baby died. But now I count myself among the luckiest people on the planet, because in the worst of experiences I survived. Thanks to my community, my close friends and family, other bereaved parents, professionals, authors, musicians and sheer force of will.

 I didn’t kill myself because I had a daughter and parents who I would just be transferring my burden to. Not healing anything, not stopping anything, not ending pain. Just giving it to the people I love the most. And so I stayed. And then after awhile, I realized I  couldn’t  depend  on them to keep me alive, especially your sister. That, too, becomes a burden. Being the people that someone else is staying alive for. And so, I went about the business of trying to figure out what keeps me alive. And it turns out, that’s about a million things. It’s dancing and community and sunshine and laughter and falling in love again and drinking too much with my best friend and trying to figure out what the fuck this whole being a human animal means and never being fully able to. 

I am not healed nor will I ever fully heal. But I don’t want to be anyone else anymore except myself. My broken, scar tissued, resurrected, stronger, weaker, braver, more afraid self. I came to a point with my grief that I didn’t want to be the person I was before you died. I didn’t want the naïveté back after awhile. I didn’t want the self righteousness I once held so dear. Like I had some truths. Like there was only black and white. And now   I have come to a place where I don’t want to be the person who I was when I realized that. She was filled with blood curdling anxiety, always waiting for the next tragedy she was sure was just around the corner. She was hateful and angry and irritable and sad and lost all of the time. Now, that I can feel grateful again, lucky, joyful, at ease in many moments, aware of life’s fragility and our hardiness through it, now I want to be the person I am becoming. The person I am becoming because you were here and because you died and because I had to figure out how to live without you. I want to be the person I am becoming who has gotten through the worst thing that can happen and several quick succession, subsequent traumas. I want to be the person I will become who embraces and accepts the true nature of this life: both its joys and sorrows, it’s grief and hopes, it’s fears and dreams, alive in the life force and human will to not only survive but to evolve and grow and learn and become better. I want to be the person who sees that love and support are our one and only true life line. Who appreciates it when it’s received and who gives of it freely. I want to become the people who got me through, to others. I want to be the people who said I jnderstand your pain or I don’t understand your pain and I’m going to sit here with you while you’re in it. Because of you, my beautiful, perfectly-formed, dead son, I will become, I am becoming, I am the best, truest form of myself.

I am no longer even living for you. I am no longer trying to create some legacy for you, though it’s happening anyway. I am not living my life in your name. I am living my life in my name. And you are informing all of it. They way you have transformed me means that you will be in everything I do, every interaction, every piece of art, everything and anything I contribute to this crazy world.

I can’t live without you and I don’t have to. I have to live without your body, your physical presence but I will never live one day of my life without you. Not one day.

You are three.  And I am three. Let’s begin. Again.

Mothering.

Two days before Harvey was born and three before he died, I posted a picture to Facebook of three and half year old Vesta in her new blue shoes. I captioned it with lyrics from my favorite Paolo Nutini song: “hey, I got my new shoes on and everything’s going to be alright.”
Yesterday, Vesta was playing dress up in my closet. Pulling dresses from hangers, she came to me holding the dress I wore to Harvey’s funeral. “Look at this one, mama! So beautiful!”. That day as I fumbled around trying to find something that fit my postpartum body, complete with a uterus that had finally coagulated it’s leaking blood, I pulled that dress on. I tried to put myself together. I stepped outside into the rare May sunshine and hear and Vesta said “oooo Mommy! You look beautiful! Spin around”. And so I spun. I remember buying that dress. I was so excited to receive it. I wore it to Vesta’s baby shower. And then her brother’s funeral. It struck me yesterday as I tied it around her neck and she spun, that without any foreknowledge, many years ago, I was so excited to receive the dress I would wear to my dead baby’s memorial service. Sureal and odd. And still worn. Still spun in.

We walked in the door the other day and Vesta wondered if a package recently delivered from UPS was a gift for her. I jokingly said I gave her life and that’s gift enough. Without skipping a beat she said, “why didn’t you give Harvey life?”. “I tried”, I said laughing and noticing that it didn’t sting, her innocent, true words. But they haunt me. Why didn’t I give Harvey life? Why did one child receive the gift of life and two die, one inside and one out. Why will there be no other lives to give?

Girl.

Six years old, 40 pounds and 40 inches tall

We got all dressed up tonight

My high heels sink into the wet earth

I parked too close to the pole so I have to wriggle you out and you stay asleep on my shoulder

 I am tired, too 

Missing the ritual and the ease it brought. The comfort of sharing, of creating and then doing.

The car rolled forward, the doors propped open, the bed readied for your tiny body. One of us carrying you, one the bags and leftovers in the car from this or that celebration. The coming together. The not sinking down into the earth. The heels not scrapping the edge of the stairs under our weight. The scarf not tangling at my feet as I try to navigate us back home.

I miss him only in the tiniest of moments now, only in the logistics, only in the carrying of heavy things. To and from the car. The loading and unloading. 

How many more times? At what age, what weight, what height? Will I know it’s the last time? Will you stop falling asleep in the car? Will I wake you and ask you to walk? Will you ask me to carry you and I, unable?

Will I be able to help you with your heavy things? We’ll work together on the logistics, on the loading and unloading. And I’ll try to make your life easier: propping doors and readying your surroundings for wherever you decide to lay your body down. For wherever you decide to go. 

I’ll do my best. Which will come up short. We inevitably do that for each other. Except when we rise above. Above and beyond. That is my wish for you.

My girl. You’ll always be my girl.

Girl.

Six years old, 40 pounds and 40 inches tall

We got all dressed up tonight

My high heels sink into the wet earth

I parked too close to the pole so I have to wriggle you out and you stay asleep on my shoulder

 I am tired, too 

Missing the ritual and the ease it brought. The comfort of sharing, of creating and then doing.

The car rolled forward, the doors propped open, the bed readied for your tiny body. One of us carrying you, one the bags and leftovers in the car from this or that celebration. The coming together. The not sinking down into the earth. The heels not scrapping the edge of the stairs under our weight. The scarf not tangling at my feet as I try to navigate us back home.

I miss him only in the tiniest of moments now, only in the logistics, only in the carrying of heavy things. To and from the car. The loading and unloading. 

How many more times? At what age, what weight, what height? Will I know it’s the last time? Will you stop falling asleep in the car? Will I wake you and ask you to walk? Will you ask me to carry you and I, unable?

Will I be able to help you with your heavy things? We’ll work together on the logistics, on the loading and unloading. And I’ll try to make your life easier: propping doors and readying your surroundings for wherever you decide to lay your body down. For wherever you decide to go. 

I’ll do my best. Which will come up short. We inevitably do that for each other. Except when we rise above. Above and beyond. That is my wish for you.

My girl. You’ll always be my girl.

Truth.

Hey.

You want to hear the truth?

I came home from a trip and the ceramic tile that hung on our bedroom wall with my maiden name on it was turned around. I quietly turned it back right while he sat with his back to me at the computer. I never said a word.

I would wake up when he can home in their early morning hours and hear him go straight into the bathroom, into the shower, before coming in to me, kissing my forehead, laying down next to me and then rolling over to fall asleep. Time after time. Many, many nights.

Once, I knew he wasn’t out this late with his mom. His rushed tone in the phone, asking me not to come meet them: You just finished work. Go home and relax. Don’t drive across the city. I agreed. I thought I’d call his mom at home just then but I didn’t. In case she was there.

Once, he had purple scratch marks down his back. I explained it away. For this perspective now, I can’t imagine how, but I did.

I was not a victim. I was complicit. I, too, am a liar. And the worst kind: I lied to myself. Over and over again. I wanted to believe, I had to believe, that we were what we said we were.

We spoke two different languages: one with words and one with what we didn’t say. I fluent in one, he the other. Agreements made in each that we both misunderstood or mistook or misconstrued or picked and chose as they suited our fancy. Two things always at once: the yes and the no, the I’m here but not here, the truth and the lie.

It was enough for me: the turning over the tile, the explaining away of fingernails marks, the not checking up. He was enough for me. Even only partially there. What he gave to me and what he hid. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and he took it. And he ran with it. And I kept handing it over and he kept taking and running. That was our language.

It’s okay. Two to tango. Enough is enough. If he’s cheating, it’a his thing, not mine. I’ve told him we ca talk about it and if we don’t and he does that’s his issue. I have enough of him. I have 90% of him. He works and cooks and runs. We are his world, except when we’re not. Except when he sneaks off and we all pretend he doesn’t. Because we agreed without words that I won’t ask and he won’t tell.

I can see my role in it. I can see the hole I dug for myself, for my marriage. I can see how I taught him how he could treat me by not saying a word. I did so much and said so little. And so did he. I was in a 13 year marriage that I tiptoed around. That I wouldn’t allow myself to be myself in. That I was so afraid he’d leave (someone who just might not this time if I didn’t rock the boat) that I never said a word, never asked a hard question, never took him to task. What I did watch carefully was what he wouldn’t put up with and I avoided those things like the plague.

I did this to myself. I, too, created this relationship. The one where the lying and infidelity became so egregious because it could. Because I’d never said anything before. Because is never left before. 

In my brain and out loud, proclaim myself to be so virtuous. So above all this. So incapable of ever hurting another in this or a similar fashion. That is also bullshit. This injury from the “weapon” I say he used, the lying and cheating that was fine until he “used it a s a weapon when I was already down”, was self inflicted. 

I had happiness and contentment and love and connection for over a decade with my husband. The bulk of our marriage was the happiest of time of my life to date. All of that is as real and true as the purple lines down his back. In the not speaking, in the language of permission by omission and unacknowledgment we forged a relationship that worked for us. That we found joy in. That we both had what we needed: he, me and secretly other women and me, enough with that.

I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I don’t want the fear of being left to land me with someone who would kick me when I was down. I want more than enough. I want happiness and love and connection and joy and neediness and anger and sorrow and fighting and confusion communicated with one or more languages that we have all agree upon using. That we are aware that we are using. That we are, at the very least, interested and available to discover if we’re speaking a language underneath our words or anywhere else.

This is the good stuff. This is what I love. When I can say “thank you” to myself and this man I loved so dearly who also nearly killed me. That was the worst, or nearly the worst, but it woke me up. I’m awake now. I see myself and where I’ve been and the direction I want to head. His betrayal and lies, my compliance and fear, they got me to here. To not being a victim. To being a heroine. Writing and rewriting her own story.

Gram.

Today, one of my best friends on the planet turns 90 years old.

Once, when she was just about my dad’s age now and I was a teenager, she sat on the steps by her front door and told me she was tired and getting old and didn’t feel well. It struck me for the first time in my life that my grandma was also doing this life for the first time, was also trying to figure out how to navigate it, that this life was a new experience for her, too. Up
Until then, I thought she had all the answers, that she understood what was happening. Instead of falling from a pedestal I began to love her wider and deeper in that moment. I wasn’t alone in this confusion even though our struggles were generations apart.

I come from one of the strongest women in the world.

She has taught me how to live. How to laugh about it. How to care about others, to be interested and curious about their stories. She has taught me about connection and how we can always find one, even with strangers.

She has taught me how to work. How to do it anyway. How to be resilient and strong and selfless, sometimes to a fault but so important nonetheless.

She has long beautiful fingernails that she tends to regularly. I always loved that because it never occurs to me to tend to mine. Her short, black hair didn’t start graying until her 80’s and then, only at her temples. She looked amazing in a bikini as a young woman on a boat in the lake.

She buys us too many Christmas presents. She remembers what we love. She sends me clippings from the local paper about a HS friend done good or my favorite hometown restaurant. She checks the Giants standings, even though she could care less about baseball.

She took us back to school clothes shopping every year. Once, I wore perfume in her car and she got pissed. Possibly the same time, she closed my finger in the window and didn’t realize it despite my yelling and then we laughed and laughed. She bought is gigantic sundaes and then sent us home.

She bows her head and puts her hand to her forehead and says “oh, I don’t know, Monica”. She calls me every name from her daughters-in-law to my cousin to her friends until she gets it right or just says “oh whoever you are!” She always has.

I’ve never had a meal that she’s cooked that wasn’t delicious, even food I don’t normally enjoy, like cooked bell peppers. Even cheese sandwiches. My grandpa used to sit at the end of the table relishing his meals, eating his salad right out of the serving bowl when everyone had had theirs. He loved her cooking. He loved her big, beautiful heart, the home and family she created for him. When he rolled his eyes at her, something she said or did, it was the most loving annoyance I’ve ever seen, to this day. Like he loved even the things he didn’t love about her.

She took exquisite care of my Grandpa their whole marriage, even when he didn’t deserve it, even when he turned off his hearing aid, even when he was gruff and dismissive, even when he lay dying and she held his hand and patted it with her other.

She lost her mom, so young, and made an incredible life with her dad. When her husband died just after the war was over, so young, she made an incredible life with my dad. She lost her beloved daughter-in-law, so young, and yet she kept our family afloat when we didn’t know how we’d go on without her.

I can’t imagine how she must have felt when I went into the hospital after trying to kill myself the third time. Or when she heard about Harvey and watched me nearly die from that too. She told me sometimes she wakes up calling for her baby and realizes it’s me. She didn’t lose her son but she’s lost enough to know.

She worries.

She’s got a friend like I have. A life long friend. 8 decades now. They don’t see each other enough anymore but I’ll bet the farm they know each other’s secrets.

I’m sure she has secrets. Truths she’ll never tell, experiences she keeps tucked tightly in her heart. I’d like to know all of them, except the ones that are precious and sacred to her insides. Except the ones she pulls out and basks in when she’s alone because they are just her’s and she’s had so very little that’s just her’s in this life.

I come from a long line of strong women. A long line. She told me the other day how amazing her family is and I said “you started it!” And she did. And she’s kept it going. And she’s taught us everything we know about family and love and work and how to do this life with heart and laughter and courage. She keeps on teaching us and she’ll teach us for the rest of our lives, long long after she’s gone.

My only regret is that we won’t grow to be old ladies together. That when I am her age, I’ll wish I could pat her hand and shake my head and say “oh, I don’t know, Gram.”

I love you Vesta Marie Kilmer Welty Scarano. The eldest and the youngest of my family, you and Harvey, you are my heroes. Thank you for being my Gram and helping me through this treacherous, beautiful, messy, wonderful life.