Two

The days are long but the years short

I have been privileged to witness the most mundane of marvels.  From squinty newborn, all slippery limbs and muted squeals to confident mover of heavy equipment, accompanied by a narrative that more than makes up for in charm what it lacks in technique.

You have become the hardiest of saplings, tall and leafy and I, despite the dark circles beneath my eyes, am just a mere observer.   Of course I have never forgotten to fill the watering can and have scattered fertilizer and pulled weeds with a profound sense of duty but I see now that the heavy lifting has been yours entirely.

I know that there is no invisible threshold to safekeeping, no finish line for a mother’s worry.  There will be surprise frosts and pounding rains, garden variety snails and foreign blights.

But just for a moment, while the candles are smoldering, I might be forgiven if I happen to forget.

Happy birthday to my precious boy!

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The wishing tree

The thought hadn’t even occurred to me. Not until my father-in-law, visiting from overseas, asked about the place.  “Oh, it’s a convention center.  The last time I was here was for a huge meeting in late 2008”. It could have been 10 lifetimes ago. The meeting was not exactly in my field but I used to enjoy those meetings most of all. I had this theory that I had more to learn from them because they were more likely to lead to a paradigm shift, a new way of approaching problems.  Scientists, I reasoned, have an unfortunate tendency to shut themselves into their narrow niche.  In reality, I was pretty much lost the moment the acronyms started to fly, usually just a few minutes into a talk.

The decision to attend that meeting had been motivated largely by the desire to get back to “normal”, to refocus after the devastating loss of my first pregnancy just 5 months earlier.  Wishful thinking.  To my surprise, I had conceived again, perhaps too quickly for my own good, and was now entering my second trimester.  I took advantage of the breaks to wander the city and shop for larger, more concealing, clothes.  I hoped that nobody would take notice this time unless I was granted the good fortune to announce the arrival of an actual baby.  Unfortunately, this was proving to be rather challenging as I was already surprisingly large.  At the time I had no idea that I was carrying twins.  At 9 weeks my doctor and I had cheered at the sight of one lovely heartbeat.

I had reached the next step in my career path.  I should have been introducing myself to strategic people.  I should have been vigorously promoting my work.  Had I known about the wishing tree in the garden, I should have promptly visited and wished for a smooth path to the publication of my work and it’s wide recognition in the field.  It never came up in discussion.

I was avoiding asking myself the difficult questions at that point.  To me there was only one question and it was by far the most difficult of all.  Will my baby live?  Yes! And no.

Today the sun is shining and g is dancing around a playground that I didn’t even know existed during those rainy days of the conference.  He delights in the break in routine, the extra helping of attention.  I search for my disappointment but it is nowhere to be found.  I wonder where on earth it is hiding.  Today we find a wishing tree and I make a wish. And today I believe that it is the most important wish of all.

Remembering

I started this blog to restore the voice that I remember possessing.  It seems I have reached a point where it has become exceedingly rare to find the time to talk, let alone someone who will listen. My hope was to begin to make something, stone by stone, where I currently see nothing but rubble and weeds.  It strikes me, however, that in order to begin the hard work of re-building, I need to first pay my respects to what was. However much I might wish for it, I am no clean slate.

The act of remembering is a powerful one.  It is the difference between submitting to the events of one’s past and owning them, shaping them ever so slowly that they might even someday become our most prized possessions. In memory is both recollection and recreation.  It is only now, years later, that I have found just enough strength to look back.

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April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire

– T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland, Part I, The Burial of The Dead

4/20/09

I was delighted to see the name in my inbox. Even though many years separated our friendship from the present, he had been a good friend, one of those rare people with whom it felt good to be myself, even in high school when such a thing was practically unheard of. The greeting in his mail made me laugh out loud: “Happy 4/20!”. Of course, this was the day when marijuana smokers across the globe celebrated their mutual love of the “herb”. I had been the radical teenager, close on the heels of college, who loved to smoke joints and posit the answers to all of the world’s problems.  It was all so simple.

I wondered if he would think that I’d “sold out”.  Indeed, I wondered if I’d “sold out”, not because I hadn’t smoked a joint in as long as I could remember but because teenagers have the power to believe that they can change life before it can change them.  I looked down at my giant belly and resolved to write back as soon as I returned from my appointment. He would surely be amused by my current status: expecting twin boys in just a few months.  But I was late to the hospital. And I couldn’t think of a simple way to explain a non-stress test to a chronic pothead.

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I knew the drill. Relax, put your feet up.  Twin A was in his usual spot, buzzing away. Twin B, I assured the nurse, was right there. But he wasn’t. I knew instantly yet I remained calm, allowing her to keep searching, more for her sake than mine.  I focused on the monitor. There was still a heartbeat in there. Nothing can be done for the dead.  Mourning is for the living.

The nurse fumbled with the ultrasound machine, visibly agitated.  It was the first of countless times that I would regret the burden that I posed on others.  It was the first of so many times that I would feel the need to do the soothing.

I wouldn’t step outside the doors of the hospital for another 6 weeks. We chose not to meet Twin B but rather to see him as he might have been, alive, in the appearance and gestures of his identical twin brother.  I don’t regret that decision. We never gave him a name.  I do regret that decision, but it wasn’t mine alone to make.

Now 2 years later nobody speaks of him anymore.  It is an old story, a sad piece from a newspaper long since recycled. I don’t dare ask my husband G if he also finds himself wondering what it would have been like.  How would g have been different if he had a twin brother?  We are both grateful for what we have.

Still, when pot smokers around the world are lighting up in celebration of their favorite plant, I will light something in his honor.

I will remember.

One step at a time.

Even under the best of circumstances, pregnancy and childbirth are the equivalent of a physiological revolution. Still, in my own experience, the emotional struggles pushed my limits with a force that could never be matched by the physical pain.  Now that the emotional scars lay buried, largely invisible to the outside world, it is glaringly evident that the process took a toll on my body.  The observation is greater than vanity alone.  Months of bedrest and inactivity have robbed me of the strength that I, never particularly athletic, took largely for granted.

As I begin to carve out tiny spaces in time, a precious hour here, fifteen minutes there, I feel the burden of responsibility.  In theory, there are a million things that I’d like to do.  In practice, I submit easily to an absence of mental clarity and physical endurance.  I remind myself that getting started is the hardest part.  Surely, it will get easier.

It’s a discouraging place to be and yet I envision myself as a winner in my own fictional reality show. I love Cinderella stories.

I want to be in motion but a first and second attempt at running left me gasping and sore, disappointed.  And then, just recently, I failed victoriously.  I couldn’t force myself to run but I was propelled. I was back in my suburban neighborhood of more than 8 years, admiring the May roses and lovely front-yard gardens.  I was smiling at all the markers of domesticity on display.  I was walking. I was reminded that my legs have always been my favorite mode of transportation.  A flaneur at heart; I am a wanderer in both mind and body.

I know that walking is not likely to help me to drop my extra pounds or to restore all of the strength that I’ve lost but I am enthusiastic about the rediscovery.  It was so obvious as to be hidden and, I want to believe, the perfect first step.