The ancient Greeks believed that the Mute Swan, the Cynus olar, who remained silent throughout her lifetime, in the moments before her death, sang at last, a hauntingly beautiful song.
My darling, the father of my children, and my biggest supporter: this is my swan song for you.
I’d never planned to be married. The very notion of marriage made me heave and hide in the nearest closet – I’d seen Heartburn (one of my mother’s favorite movies) too many times to ever believe that marriage could actually work. I equated marriage with loss of self, and I, all 120 pounds of me – soaking wet with a backpack on, well, I had big plans for my life, and really, I’d had always figured I was destined to roam the world on my own, my young son by my side, making mischief and learning as we went. It’s something I both expected and wanted.
Inexplicably, I met you. While I told you blithely on the train, the first time we hung out that, “being set up never works,” I should’ve known better. By the end of our first non-date, I scampered out of the car, before we could do the awkward “are we going to kiss?” moment. I knew then that I liked you. I simply didn’t know how much – but it didn’t take long to find out.
You were the first person that didn’t look at me as a 22-year old unwed mother still in school, trying her hardest to make her son proud: you saw me as I was – someone almost entirely unlike you, but someone who cared deeply for you; about you. In turn, you refused to let what others would call “baggage” as anything less than wonderful.
As I woke up in your bed, the morning after our second date, I looked into the living room, while you snored softly behind me, and it hit me like a punch to the gut. My Eye said, without question or hesitation:
I was going to marry this man.
A year and a half later, I did.
I won’t say that it was the “happiest day of my life,” primarily because it was 190 degrees out and I had pneumonia, but I do remember that the entire church wept as you said your vows first to our son, then to me. While I may not have been a happy bride, I was a tremendously proud wife.
In those early days, back before the chasm, I tried to cook – to much shock, dismay and horror to the rest of our condo building, until your schedule became unpredictable enough that I could never expect you home at a certain hour. Our first Christmas in our new home, lovingly, I put together ornaments with our then-four year old son, Benjamin. Carefully, I wrapped each package, in the way only someone who deeply cares can. And I did care – so very deeply.
I didn’t know that someone like me could be; deserved to be so lucky.
Soon, we were expecting our first son, a boy, who we named Alexander Joseph, after my father. My pregnancy was fraught with prenatal depression – something I didn’t recognize until I found myself, one day, weeping over our broken ice-maker. When it came time to birth our second son, you were so nervous in the delivery room that you vomited while I lay in labor, trying to watch the tiny wall-mounted television that appeared to get reception only if the moon was half a degree to the right on a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of January (it was March).
But once your second son was born, you grabbed that baby on up and twirled him around. I’ve never seen a prouder father. For all of the discomfort and sadness I dealt with during my pregnancy, I was, at long last, happy. I’d spent the years before hoping, planning, wanting another child; a sibling for our firstborn. This was my dream come true – I don’t recall a moment happier than that day, March 30, 2007.
What came next was a series of unfortunate and ill-timed events.
Unprepared for a life that didn’t resemble as a Norman Rockwell painting, you began to turn yourself off emotionally - you worked more, harder, and better to try and “fix” the “unfixible.” Alex, being the colicky sort, while he has grown into a wonderful child, he was no easy child. While our firstborn would rather fix his gaze upon his mobile than be touched, our second son wanted nothing… but me. For a whole year, I fed that baby, twirled him, loved him, and got up every 1-3 hours with him, before he began to allow you to care for him.
This became the beginning of the chasm.
We lost our ability to be a couple, between our autistic firstborn and our difficult newborn, the chasm, which began as a few cracks in the foundation, began to show. I was exhausted, depressed and trapped with a baby to my breast while you were exhausted, depressed, and trapped with a job that hung as an albatross around your neck.
Still, we soldiered on. It was the thing to do, and still, we loved.
Shortly after Alexander turned one, I found out that I was unexpectedly expecting. It took a couple of hours for us to get over the shock of a positive pregnancy test, but by nightfall, we were elated. I knew that if I didn’t have another baby – and soon – I’d remember the nightmare of a baby Alex was and decide to remove my uterus with a butter knife before reproducing again.
The following morning, I awoke to blood. Lots of blood. Immediately, I called my OB and hurried to his office to get a shot of Rho-GAM and to see what was up with my uterus. Labs showed that I was experiencing a chemical pregnancy. While the doctor apologized profusely for the loss, I was, for the most part, okay. Until the hormones dropped precipitously and I began weeping. I don’t think I stopped for a breath for weeks.
Inexplicably, though, we managed to fight through the tears and the following month, I was, again, pregnant. For a couple of days. I didn’t even get to tell my Pranksters that I was expecting before, once again, I had another chemical pregnancy. This one hit me harder than the first, so it was a huge shock to learn that, for the third month in a row, I was expecting.
Rather than FedEx you a silver baby rattle from Tiffany & Co or hire a singing telegram (as if they’d be able to get through the security in your former place of employment), I simply called you and said flatly – “I’m pregnant. Again.” Rather than jump around with joy, you replied, “I’m training someone right now. I’ll call you back!” Since I hadn’t expected the pregnancy to last, I made a quick announcement on my blog – I wanted to hear “congrats!” before I heard, “I’m so sorry,” again.
I began waiting to bleed. After two consecutive miscarriages, who wouldn’t?
It didn’t begin until approximately six weeks into the pregnancy, when we learned that, a) I was, indeed, pregnant with something that appeared to look like a gummy bear and 2) my progesterone level was at a six, which, according to the doctor, was very, very bad. It was then that I began to use progesterone suppositories, which made the pregnancy hormones even worse.
My prenatal depression was intolerable, I know, and I’m sorry for the mood swings. You, darling, are one of those people who remains fairly stable day after day. Before the pregnancies, I had been too, and I know I bewildered you. I bewildered myself. The cracks widened – your once-stable wife had turned into someone who spent her days consumed by fear. For nine months.
Concurrently, after much discussion, you’d accepted a management role at your workplace, which we’d assumed meant a boost in pay. Instead, it meant longer hours, the same pay, and greater responsibilities. You were home less, and when you were home, you were on call 24/7. And because you’re a “fixer,” you dove headfirst into work, knowing that while working, you could solve the problem. I, on the other hand, was a whole different breed of wife; the sort you had no idea how to handle. Hell, I could barely handle her.
Finally, on January 30, 2009, we drove to the hospital nervously, ready to meet our last-born, a daughter, whom we’d chosen to name Amelia. I’d spent most of the pregnancy terrified that there was something wrong with the baby, but ultrasound after ultrasound showed nothing beyond a daughter who liked to grab her junk in utero. I don’t know how many times you reassured me that she was fine; perfect, but it had to have been somewhere in the thousands.
We drove to that hospital at the ass-crack of dawn, the big fat snowflakes peppering the window of our SUV as we drove grimly through the night. There wasn’t much to say – we were both terrified, bewildered and exhausted. The tears that fell from my eyes plopped down onto my jacket, as I stared out the window, marveling at the beauty of the morning, trying to keep my anxiety at a normal level.
It was daybreak when we reached the hospital; the sunrise on the horizon, dripping as soft as honey, coating the freshly-fallen snow with a thick layer of honey-colored sun. I waited for you in that tiny vestibule while you parked the car, knowing, in my heart of hearts – just as I’d known I was to marry you, no question – that things would never again be the same, the next time my footfalls, once-again, echoed these hallowed halls. I simply did not know why.
Silently, I grabbed your hand like a drowning person as we made our way to the maternity unit, as we had when Alex was born. Same drill: up the elevator and into the bustling maternity ward, where I was checked in, given some Pitocin, and told to stay in bed – the baby was still “too high” in my womb, and (the unspoken truth) they didn’t want a prolapsed cord. Unhappily, I obliged. When the nurse left the room, I began to weep softly, as I bore through the contractions, wiping my face occasionally on my gown, occasionally rubbing my eyes with the hospital-grade
sandpaper tissues. Gently, sweetly you stood at the head of the bed, wiping away my tears and reassuring me that “everything was going to be okay.”
It wasn’t. No matter how I wished it had been, it wasn’t.
Several hours later, our daughter was born with a previously undiagnosed neural tube defect; an encephalocele, which protruded mightily out the back of her head. While the NICU whirled and twirled about our daughter, I laid in the bed, delivering the placenta and weeping, the precipitous drop in hormones not helping an already-terrifying situation. You remained with our daughter, as I’d begged you to, as I was still mired in the bed.
The chasm, something that could’ve been mended during this crisis, only widened further, as you approached our daughter’s (soon-to-be-diagnosed) encephalocele with an analytical mind while I was an emotional wreck.
The following weeks are a blur.
Weeping, I sat on the couch, holding my poor daughter; the girl smaller than the Turkey we’d roasted the previous Thanksgiving, who’d have to undergo neurosurgery at a whopping 27 days old. While I come from a medical family, you, darling, do not. Which means that I knew the risks we were taking; I understood that this wasn’t a “blip on the radar” but something far more sinister.
The one and only thing I can recall during those days, is the memory of you, love, holding our new daughter, singing and twirling her around. When I asked what you were doing, you simply said: “she can’t dance – so I’m her legs.”
I cried. This time because it was beautiful.
While our daughter, our warrior girl, the one with curls like a halo, went on to kick neurosurgery in the balls, I sunk. I developed post-traumatic stress disorder and was unable to leave the home without panicking. I relied too heavily upon you to be my support, even as you yourself floundered. I didn’t seek the care I so desperately needed – determined that I, myself, would be able to “fix it” on my own. I deeply regret not seeking help sooner, maybe then our marriage could’ve been saved.
The cracks turned into chasms we could barely walk over without the fear that we’d be sucked into the nothingness below.
The daily migraines made it all the more dire – I could no longer drive if I had a migraine – it wasn’t safe. I spent day after day alone in the home, terrified to go outside my own doors and live my life. I was stuck. We were stuck. You turned to work. I turned to writing.
Here we sit today, the chasm between us so wide neither can yell across to the other. While I’d once hoped that “where the sidewalk ends” a “road would begin,” it became evident that “where the sidewalk ends,” became “where two separate roads began.”
While I know that this is the very best thing for us – for our family – it doesn’t make the hurt go away. I’m so very lucky to have known you for ten wonderful years. I’m fortunate that I was once able to call myself, “your wife.” You’ve taught me so much over the years; about myself, about the world, and about myself.
If I’d never known you, I’d never have the two bundles of joy currently wrestling about in the other room, like two adorable puppies. Our eldest would never have had the structure he so desperately needed to thrive. Without you, we’d never have had a home.
Without you, I’d never have thought of myself as a “writer;” this blog wouldn’t exist, I wouldn’t have found the courage to take my internal pain and turn it into a safe place for others – it simply wouldn’t have occurred to me. Without your encouragement and countless hours of technical dedication, I wouldn’t have founded The Band Back Together Project, a place where we kick stigmas squarely in the taco, a place that has grown so much, inspired so many, and provided comfort to so many. Without you, I wouldn’t have found my missing piece – words.
I know that we’ll both walk away from our marriage with grace and dignity, with the hope that given some time and space, we can once again travel the same road.
This time as friends.
When I am hurting most, I will look forward to those days tremendously.
Dave, you’re a wonderful person and I wish you everything. Thank you for believing in me during a time in which I didn’t believe in myself.
(hint, it’s not me)
For putting up with my moaning, pissing, and general woefulness, I’m giving you, Pranksters, a gem.
Let’s just not discuss how damn long this took me to put together.
“Will you come in with me?” his eyes wide, full of frantic energy, met mine from the backseat of the car, where he sat buckled in like a fighter-pilot.
“Of course we will, Baby,” I took his hand into mine, marveling at the feeling of his tiny bird-like bones beneath his skin.
He nodded, unsure if this was an elaborate trap, trying to get him to go to kindergarten under false pretenses – his Mama’s boy.
“We’re juuuuuust going to go and finish your registration,” I assured him, his hand still gripping mine for dear life. “And then we’ll go home.”
“Do I get a treat if I’m good…?” he asked slyly, always my wee conman.
I just laughed and nodded – that kind of simple request is about the easiest I’m dealing with these days. Although, to be fair, the kid wants a treat when he’s stayed dry overnight, when he’s eaten all of his dinner, when he’s managed to NOT to stay dry, when he’s properly wiped his own ass, when the moon is full, when the moon is NOT full.
Most treats involve Batman in one form or another. As the girl who’s first bra was a Super Woman training bra, I can fully support this.
We walked hand-in-hand into the school just as we’d done so many times before with our eldest son, Benjamin. I could hardly believe it wasn’t Ben’s hand I held in my own; that my middle son was ready for kindergarten. The same kid who was a clingy infant last week, not 4 years prior.
Standing in line at the registration counter to receive our “school handbook*,” I sat on a bench with Alex, remembering all the times I’d walked those hallowed halls with my firstborn. Suddenly, like a stab to the heart, I missed him terribly. I shook it off as best as I could as we made our way down the hallway that once led to Ben’s forth grade room, winding through a maze of kids and their parents.
“Okay, J,” I said, “It’s time to take a picture.”
He nodded solemnly.
“Now, see if you can make a REALLY silly face, like this,” I squished up my face, stuck my tongue out and gave the metal horns. Sorta like this:
He giggled, the laugh that always makes me burst into gales of laughter – it’s so from the heart, you simply can’t not join in.
“Okay, Mama,” he said, grinning ear to ear. The kid is a ham – he loves to make people laugh and this would be the ideal opportunity for him.
We stood around awhile in the LRC (did they always call the Library the LRC? I can’t remember, which, for some inexplicable reason makes me want to play Oregon Trail, but that is neither here nor there).
We stood in what appeared to be a line, but turned out to be just a bunch of people standing around, which is something I do often. Form lines of people in my head, and then stand around like a doofus, waiting for my turn until someone gently explains that I’ve been waiting on the fringes of a group of women discussing their cats.
I noted the large pile of combs sitting around and giggled – I don’t remember seeing combs when I had my last school pictures:
Could’ve benefited from both a comb AND a tan there. Possibly highlights, but this was back before Jennifer Aniston made everyone think that cutting your hair into face-framing layers and highlighting it would make you as beautiful as her.
Note to world: doesn’t work that way.
Alas, I motherfucking digress.
We stood there in the line-but-not-a-line for a long while, as I tried (in vain) to hack through the school’s firewall so I could tell The Twitter, “LOOK OUT BELOW, MOTHERFUCKERS!” It’s the little things in life, really.
Finally, a PTO lady who was probably in charge of all things picture-related stared at my arm tattoo to my son, back to my arm tattoo again before asking: “What’s his name?”
“Alexander Harks,” I replied, looking around for Daver, who is more official-looking than I, and therefore more apt to be taken seriously.
“Okay,” she replied, looking as though I might knife her or something, “ummmmm, you go stand in THAT line,” she said nervously as she pointed to the line farthest from her.
“Thanks!” I said brightly, giggling inside – I find it funny that a tattoo of a peacock would intimidate ANYone.
It’s not like I got a snake eating a lion with a knife oozing blood (although perhaps I should’ve).
We stood in that line (which was not ACTUALLY a line), waiting for the photographer. “Should we, uh, comb his hair?” Daver asked as we stood patiently in the non-line.
“Nah,” I replied. “Let’s remember him how he was at this age, and not all Toddlers and Tiaras.”
It was at that moment that I began to hear what sounded to be an Eagle, standing in the non-line next to me.
“Wait, WAIT,” she nearly screamed. “LET ME FIX HIS HAIR.”
The Helicopter Parent had arrived.
The little boy in question was starting kindergarten as well, and his hair, well, it appeared to be perfect from where I stood. I don’t know, maybe it was like all over his face like a werewolf or something – I couldn’t see. All that I *could* see was that he was just a little boy.
The Eagle Helicopter Mom swooped in and began to vigorously comb her son’s hair, practically hissing in his face, “YOU’RE GOING TO BE LOOKING AT THESE PICTURES FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. YOU BETTER LOOK GOOD!”
The three of us stood there, stunned into silence, as the Eagle Helicopter Mom prattled on. “Forever. You’ll be looking at these pictures FOREVER and YOU WANT TO LOOK YOUR BEST DON’T YOU?”
The kid just sat there, nodding – probably afraid of The Eagle’s wrath. I know *I* was.
(It was at this point that I began to smirk into my hand – maybe the kid’s future HUSBAND or WIFE might care, but most boys don’t give a flying shit about their school pictures)
By the time she’d fixed his hair so he looked impeccable (for a 5-year old), my own son had already had two snaps taken and was now standing neatly by my side, asking for a treat for “being good.”
I took one look back at “The Eagle” as we left the LRC (without playing Oregon Trail), and saw that she was standing there, trying to direct the school photog to make sure that the lighting was proper and that he had a “good angle” for the photograph – the shitty school photograph, not even one of those studio places.
“Did you make a face?” I asked Alex on the way out.
“I tried,” he looked up at me, hand firmly clutching my own.
“Good,” I smiled as I picked him up and twirled him around. “THAT is perfect.”
I’m sure “The Eagle” Helicopter Mommy will be all about retouching the snaps of her kid, pointing out all the flaws, and insisting that he have his photo redone, while I’ll be content looking my son. Just as he was. No more. No less.
I couldn’t ask for anything more.
*Not entirely sure WHAT that book is – could be The Anarchist’s Cookbook.