July, 2004

31 Jul 2004, by

So Simone

I’m at work. The media room is completely empty. I don’t mean just a couple folks who know what they are doing and won’t bug me empty, I mean no one in here but me empty. I went out to check the main room, to make sure I hadn’t been propelled into some twilight zone where time had frozen and no one could pass through the doorways into my section of the library, but apparently all is well, if quiet. It’s kind of peaceful and nice, but there’s always a double edge with these things. When you’re busy the time flies, but when there’s no one the minutes tick by slow, slow, slow.

This morning someone asked me about Simone. The person asking hadn’t seen me since I was pregnant and asked me if I’d had a boy or a girl. I had to say she was a girl, but she had died. It was rougher on the person asking than on me, I think, and I didn’t start crying or anything but sometimes I wonder about this constant deep sadness I carry inside. It’s not that I mind it, or that I can’t live with it, or that I want it to go away, particularly. There’s something still foreign about it to me. I’m still adjusting to being a person to whom something undeniably terrible has happened. I’m still adjusting to being broken in some fundamental way that can’t ever be repaired completely. If I were a pot or a vase, I’d throw me out. And yet, I walk the world, I do stuff, I talk to people who have no idea how I’m feeling and can’t tell by looking at me the spider network of cracks in my being. Even people who know what happened have no idea how close Simone is in my mind all the time, how shaky I feel doing things that seemed pedestrian and second nature to me a short time ago. Obviously there are people who know, who understand, who sympathize. This isn’t a woe is me post (like the other day). No, this is more of a marveling at the fact that I could be so radically reconfigured by the events of my life and then carry on in the normal everyday activities plus the fact that it seems so obvious to me that I’m flawed and yet no one seems to notice. Maybe people are just being kind and are too polite to ask me what the hell is wrong with me. It’s not like if someone did ask that I’d be able to answer. I don’t really know what’s wrong with me.

Things are improving, especially in terms of my concentration and my ability to focus. I can actually complete tasks assigned to me now. I’m still distractable and easily lost, but I don’t find myself quite as often wondering what people are saying and I find myself thinking about abstract things : politics, human nature, php coding. That’s a step up from food, sleep, tears.

Yesterday Sophia and I went to the park. It was too hot to go, actually, and we only stayed about 10 minutes. It was the first time I’d been back to that park since Simone died, and I found I had to convince myself that I didn’t have to keep looking for her infant carseat or carrying her with me as I followed Sophia. I had conditioned myself to always be conscious of her and now that’s like this preternaturally honed sense that I no longer need.

I have an ironic story to tell. In the first weeks after Simone’s birth, Kurt and I both had a difficult time adapting our cooing to her. “How you doing, baby? How you doing little So-Simone?” We’d start in on Sophia’s name, you see, and have to switch at the last second. My mom, after hearing us in several false starts, joked that we should have named her “So Simone”. We were working hard at correcting ourselves and I had pretty much stopped making the reflexive error of starting on Sophia’s name before getting to Simone’s. In the first days after Simone’s death her tiny figure was so looming and persistent in my mind that on several occasions I had to correct myself mid-naming while talking to Sophia. Simone’s name kept wanting to come out of my mouth, kept trying to be uttered, kept slipping from my lips as I spoke.

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So yeah, day ended better than it had begun and middled. Turned out to be a passable birthday, despite my wails to my husband at one point of “This is the worst birthday ever!”. My family was very good to me. There was cake. And presents. Did I mention how I like presents? And email from people wishing me happy birthday with timestamps older than my blog entry and from people whom I know
don’t read my blog at all. Note to self : if it’s your birthday, try checking your email before announcing it utterly forgotten by everyone you know. Sophia was enthusiastic and excited as we gathered around for
dinner, shouting “Yay! Mama! Happy Birthday, Mama!”. She helped me open my presents, relishing the unwrapping without caring that the objects unwrapped were not for her. She led the chorus of Happy Birthday. She wanted a second helping of cake, but didn’t get it. Her unbridled joy was amazing, a truly unparalleled gift. The physical gift that my husband conspired with her to have her get me was pretty cool too :
It’s the biggest lego set I’ve ever gotten in my entire life. Even bigger than the scary laboratory. I can’t wait to sit down and build it. Sophia says she wants to help.

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Today is my birthday. You won’t see me talking much about my birthday in the blog, usually. I tend not to make a big deal out of aging a year. I am 35 today, and, except for the gordian knot of my confusing biological clock which is about a lot of other issues besides getting older, I’m happy to be in my thirties. I feel, mostly, like I’m just now hitting my stride, like all the stupid things I had to worry about when I was younger are thankfully a lot less important to me now. I just don’t have a lot of time or patience for being anxious about getting old. I’m perfectly happy to be old, quite frankly. Maybe I was always old, and just needing to get to where I could act old without arousing the suspicions of my peers.

I like presents; my co-worker (known colloquially as britchik) brought me a bright green bag full of goodies, so that was nice. I can expect a couple of books from my husband, too. I got a nice email from my brother and my
mom made sure I got something. I’ll have lunch with another co-worker. Won’t be much of anything overall, but it’ll be more than nothing. My daughter asked me if I was getting cake, and I said that I didn’t think so, but that it was possible. She was primarily interested in whether I’d
be sharing cake with her, actually. My co-worker asked me what my daughter got for me, and when I replied “Nothing.” seemed appalled. I guess if I was savvy I’d have pimped my wishlist and announced my upcoming birthday and yadda yadda, but oh well, there you go. I’m just not savvy. In fact, I
have a (not small) number of friends who every year act startled and say something like,”Oh, it’s your birthday? I always forget your birthday.” That’s me, forgettable birthday girl. It’s alright, really, and I’m not so into stuff or myself that I want a really big
celebration of any type, but it’s come to my attention that my birthdays appear to be consistently very understated affairs. Sophia’s just recently become cognizant of birthdays and what they mean, so we’ve been doing a lot
of talking about them lately. Birthdays are totally different for kids than for adults. They’re a real significant milestone for children.

The thing is, it’s not just my birthday today. It’s also one month since Simone died. I don’t know if I ever had miserable birthdays as a child. I doubt it, but it’s possible I cried myself to sleep for lack of a pony at six years of age. So I can’t promise that I never had a
birthday in which I wept this much since I suppose I may have had a worse one at some point which I’ve since forgotten about. Still, this one pretty much sucks and it’s not because I’m getting old and it’s not because no
one bought me presents or called me or did much of anything special for me (though that doesn’t help). It might have been weird if people did go out of their way for me today, so I guess it’s just as well no one really noticed me. I’m definitely not up to interactions with acquaintances or
small talk today, so I guess a party would have been a stupid idea. I’m not sure what I might have wanted that would have made me feel happy and celebratory. Perhaps there is nothing that would have worked today. I
think one month anniversary of dead child trumps birthday. In some ways I feel like I’m still standing, blinking back tears in the unforgiving sun, just outside the hospital where she’d died and thinking that I have to go home now and move on and build a life without her, but I don’t want to. No one really cares that I have another year to count my own, not even me. I’d give them all up for her, if I could.

And you see? I didn’t mean for this to be so negative or so completely pathetic. I wanted to be upbeat. Growing old is good! My (remaining) child is fascinated by birthdays! I’m happy today because… and I just don’t have the strength for it. I can’t believe how difficult this sometimes is. I don’t even want to post this, because it’s such a pointless downer. Still, honesty, right?

I’m one year older and I miss you, Simone. I didn’t want you to go.

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26 Jul 2004, by


This morning Neil Gaiman’s blog made me happy. The train anecdote is funny, and the news that Dianna Wynne Jones is coming out with a new Chrestomanci novel made me smile with genuine anticipation. The books in this series are a long lost gem recovered from my childhood. I spent years in library school trying to track them down by reading YA reading lists and quizzing school librarians in training. All I had to go on was that the books were in the genre of fantasy, that they were a series of more than one book, that one of the books had a title with “capricorn” or “unicorn” or something like it (it was “ The Magicians of Caprona” – I was close!) and the precise location on the shelves where they could be found in my elementary school library. When I finally found them again, they were as good as they had ever been, though frustratingly out of print. A few years ago they were reprinted and I snatched up copies to read with Kurt and, maybe sometime soon, with Sophia. It’s delightful to know the series continues on. In my opinion, Dianna Wynne Jones is an underrated children’s author.

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Yesterday we got mail from the Montessori school. Applications forms, supply lists, the school handbook, parent volunteer forms and the class rosters tumbled out of the large envelope. After about an hour in which I perused paperwork, my astonished mother asked me “Are you still reading stuff from the Montessori school?” I was. There was plenty to read and I devoured every word. I was excited, filled with anticipation and wildly pleased. It has been a long time since I felt unalloyed joy at anything. I love Sophia and I know the Montessori school will suit her perfectly. I can’t wait for her to go. She will thrive. I am not saying that since yesterday all is happy and good for me now. It most certainly is not. Still, a moment of pure enthusiasm like I experienced, however briefly, gives me the surety of what I could previously only suspect, which is that there are edges to my anguish and despair. It has form, it is finite, it is not eternally all consuming. There is a difference between knowing this by logic and experiencing it.

I have not written much concretely about people’s gestures towards us in the aftermath of Simone’s death but I wanted to highlight one thing in particular, since I’m talking about the Montessori school. Many, many were the people who brought food and company and gifts, especially gifts for Sophia, during this time. The bookkeeper at the Montessori school arrived on our doorstep with a package and tears in her eyes. I could not believe that they went out of their way to express a gesture of condolence to us when our daughter is not yet even a student at their school. In fact, I’m not even completely sure how they learned that Simone had died, although we have friends that know people at the school so there are ways they could have known. This reaching out to us seemed to me to encompass all of the good qualities of the Montessori philosophy and spoke to me very truly about a group of people who have certain ideals and practice them not just as an educational system but in all aspects of their interactions. The gift itself was also typically Montessori. It is a gorgeous ceramic bird feeder : speaking to the value of beautiful works that are made by hand as well as to the importance of our relationship with nature and to the connectedness of life and death. I love it, and love that it was given to us. Maybe I will take a picture of it and post it here. I am hoping to find a very good place for it in the yard so that we can watch birds together and remember, hopefully fondly and not quite so sadly as we do presently, our departed Simone.

Yesterday I spoke on the phone to a family friend in Spanish and he used the word “fallecer”. This is a very respectful and graceful way to express the verb “dying” without pussyfooting around the way “pass away” does in English. I had forgotten how good and right a word it was.

Sophia is grieving in her own way. I don’t know if some of the things she has said and done should be analyzed in this forum. Maybe later, maybe elsewhere, maybe not at all. It is a thing that is much on my mind, however, even if I don’t write much about it here because I’m trying very, very hard to – and there’s no graceful way to put this – not fuck it up. At any rate, I will say this: there has been an absence of music and an absence of singing at our house for several weeks. This is an unusual occurrence, as Sophia loves music. Often she could be seen running circles around the couch as she danced to music and yelling out “I like this music!” Yesterday, the silence that had settled into our house was lifted. I pulled out her Mozart Cube and asked her if she remembered how it worked. She told me she did and started up the music and commanded me to dance with her. Then, when Kurt arrived, she demanded that he dance as well. She turned round and round with bright eyes and a contagious smile. It is simultenously heartening and heartbreaking to be with her because she is so innocent and so wonderful and reminds us so much of what we have lost. One cannot help but dance when she insists on it, though, and I think it may have done us all some good.

I can see that this post is all over the map. I am sorry about that. Believe me, it’s far more frustrating for me than for anyone reading. I am still having difficulty with concentration. Today I was so sure it was Thursday that I fixed Sophia’s Water Day bag for daycare. Someone in my family gently corrected me before I got out the door with it.

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slacktivist: Incredible

This is meaningful to me, because I often feel as though I was born and bred Baptist and that the underlying tenets of what it means to be Baptist (soul competency and the priesthood of the believers) have been abdicated by everyone but me. I’m no longer Baptist by virtue of holding fast to what I thought it meant to be Baptist. It’s unsettling and disconcerting.

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I found my Waterman. For several weeks I didn’t know where it had gone, neither it nor my print journal. I’ve started using my Waterman again, but my paper journal is one of those things I must steel myself to face. The last thing
I will have written in it will have been something about my meals and Simone’s nursing patterns. Even thinking about opening it makes my stomach churn. I find it especially difficult, for some reason, to deal with things about her diet (or my own) or about nourishing her. I had to ask
someone else to dispose of her bottles and my breast pump, for example. At any rate, because the pages of the journal will be filled with details about my eating and my feeding of her, I am afraid to open it. I know I will have to, eventually, but while it was lost I didn’t have to try and make myself do it. It’s also got, by the way, all of my to-do lists and all kinds of other things that I need to be referring to. Both it and my Waterman were sitting in the bag we had packed to take to the hospital, which I finally
unpacked this weekend. However, for the weeks that it was gone, I kept wondering where these things were. I couldn’t remember where I had put them or what I had done with them or why they weren’t directly handy to me.

I feel obligated to give this warning : I don’t know how long it will be before this journal is something other than a sad and dark place. I have a lot of things to say and work through. Some of them you will be spared. You can be spared of all them by simply navigating elsewhere on the web. I can finally understand, I think, why some people say there are things they are not willing to blog about. Before now, if I needed to get it off my chest I would just write about it and whomever might read it would read it and I can’t say I cared over much who that might be or what they thought when they read it. I’m not a terribly private person in this regard, I guess. But now, now there are so many things in my mind that must go to other places but not here. I need my paper journal back and the strength to write in it.

I do not know what is happening in my dreams. I go to sleep and there’s a curtain that falls and I wake up and I don’t have any idea what happened there. I have hopes that I am spending time with Simone while I sleep, but I cannot recall if this is true once I have wakened. Maybe I am dreaming about paperclips or weeds or skyscrapers. I cannot say. Like so many other things in my life right now I am disconnected from the world of my dreams.

I sometimes feel like a quantum world split off at the moment of Simone’s death and that I somehow went the wrong way and got stuck in this world, the not quite real theoretical what-if world of how my life goes on if she dies, instead of the real world where she survives. I feel like I need to be there instead of here, urgently, because she needs me to take care of her there. I feel like everything here is insubstantial and hollow, a likeness of life and a universe but not authentic. I am aware that this
involves a certain degree of wishful thinking on my part and I feel a little bit ashamed of that but like so much else that happens to me I cannot help it and I cannot avoid it.

There was a day last week that I did not cry in the shower. However, I cried before I got in it and after I got out, so I’m not sure if that counts. On that same day (last Thursday) I told two people that had not seen me since I was pregnant that my daughter had died and didn’t feel tears fill my eyes and blur my vision, though they were still lurking nearby. The only thing I felt intensely, on telling them, was a little sadness because I had to give them bad news, because surely they had asked out of convivial intentions and I had to ruin everything by telling them something harsh and horrifying. I keep forgetting that it’s not June anymore. My husband has the same problem. I see him looking at the calendar with a slight frown, as if he’s trying to read something in a language not his own. “Oh
wait, it’s July now,” he’ll say. Not a day has passed and yet it’s been forever.

My body is a strange and alien being. It displeases me in almost every way. It is not bearable to me to still have pregnancy pounds. The child is gone, what use is the weight to me? I have lost all the strength I had developed before getting pregnant. When I went to yoga last week for the first time I ached for two days following, even though I tried to take it easy on myself. None of my clothes fit but I don’t want to buy new ones because I don’t want to be the shape I am or to give it the permanency of suitable clothing. My eyes, normally a point I am pleased with, are sunken and sad and I cannot look at them in the mirror. My hair is falling out by the handfuls. I got it trimmed last week and the hairdresser told me it looked healthy and shiny and not to worry about what was falling out. I can try to
fake some satisfaction in the health of my remaining hair, but every day more falls out. Here’s a little irony for you : my hair started falling out about four weeks ago and I was giddy with joy about the blog entry I was going to write. I was going to state that I was going bald but that so was my
daughter so it was ok. I was going to talk about the forward combover I was giving Simone to disguise her receding hairline. I was going to write all these cute and funny things about her and me and our common hair loss. Ha,
ha, ha. So yeah, my hair is falling out and I have no company. My mind is confused and unfocused. I cannot concentrate or complete simple tasks. I go into the kitchen and find a ziploc bag, a marker and a set of Sophia’s clothes. I stare at them for a few moments before I realize that I put them there, that I was trying to put together an extra set of clothes for Sophia to have at daycare but got completely derailed and left everything undone. Several work days in a row my mother has come running outside to
hand me my badge. The one I can’t get into the building without. Even after I realized this was a trend and something I needed to be extra careful about and after I told myself several times this morning not to forget my
badge I drove away without it. I’m an emotional wreck. Every spark of feeling I have winds up being grief, even if I thought it was going somewhere else. Happiness, inspiration, beauty, hope, gratitude – they all somehow
turn out to be somber and unhappy just as I start to relax into the sense of them. I am not a sad person by nature and I find I have no understanding of this self who is perpetually two breaths away from breaking down. Who am I if everything I knew to be true about myself is not so? If I see myself as happy but am not, as smart but cannot think, as competent but constantly failing, as thin but with too many pounds, as a helper who is in desperate and constant
need of help, as a dreamer who cannot remember her dreams, as a parent but without that child, then who am I?

I don’t know.

I really don’t know.

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I thought today might be the day that I didn’t cry in the shower but it wasn’t. I thought today might be a day where I felt like I had a somewhat firm footing in the world, where it might not seem like everything was slipping away from me but it isn’t. It’s hard to write in the blog because in order to do so I must go to the page that shows me both blogs which I manage. I have to look at the words “Little Bunny”. I have to think about mustering the strength to change the blog I made for both my daughters back to the blog for my remaining daughter. It’s hard to write in the blog, too, because my last entry was about death and the loss of good people and I had no idea how much more personal that would all be for me today. I have written a number of things in a vim window and I just don’t know if I can bring myself to put them here. This may seem strange to people who have read my account of Simone’s death on SlithyToves but I’m not sure I can tolerate giving people a view inside my head right now. I can hardly tolerate being inside my head.

It all comes back to this : I didn’t want her to go.

There are a few notable things I am taking with me from the past two weeks of life, and I thought I might list them here:

  • People are kinder than you think. Support for my husband and I and for Sophia has sprung up from nowhere. The unlikeliest people have given us solace, and too many to name have offered us comfort. In fact, I find the list of acknowledgements and thank yous I must write almost overwhelming. I am so thankful both for humanity in the abstract and my place as part of it and for the specific people who are just striving to be their best selves and to be good to others who need it. We have needed such goodness in ways I had never dreamed we would and the people to provide it have materialized at every turn. We would neither of us be standing today if it weren’t for all the prayers and well-wishes and good thoughts from friends and strangers alike.
  • Deep and true grief is physical. I have felt, in the last week, not just emotionally wretched and mentally fatigued, but physically ill. I never knew that my stomach and my feelings were so intrinsically linked. I am still struggling with both the physical and emotional aftermaths of the road I’m on. I don’t know how long it will be before I am ok again.
  • You never know where people have been and what they have suffered. I have been astonished at the number of people who have lost children and have reached out to us. In many cases people have talked to us about miscarriages that really shattered them. It seems to me that it is harder to carry the grief alone, because in those cases people might not even know you are pregnant and so cannot fathom your loss. I have been very public about my grief, mostly because I cannot help myself and I have no idea what else to do. However, in other places and circumstances people bear enormous burdens of mourning alone. You cannot know from how they look or how they act where they have been. People thanked me for what I have written because it resonates with them. Whether they experienced something like it or not, they understand and commiserate. This reinforces to me that there is a kinship in humanity. I hope I can strive to be more compassionate to people, to be cognizant of their inevitable suffering and to ameliorate such when and where I can.
  • Cremation is absolutely the way to go. I have never had to deal with taking care of a corpse before. When my grandparents died, that responsibility fell to other people and all I had to do was be present at funerals. I have discovered that, for me, a corpse has no real religious or spiritual importance. It is a shell of a being. Cremation is inexpensive and has given me an appropriate sense of closure. I cannot see myself revisiting a gravesite, and I actually have a fondness for cemeteries that most people probably don’t.
  • There are always more tears than you think you can cry.

My mind is still not as focused as I’d like it to be. I’m tired and my thoughts separate and thread away from each other and many things fail to make sense to me. So I know my list is shorter than I intended. Perhaps this is a topic I will revisit again at some point, perhaps not.

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