Closing Doors

Someone I know is pregnant.

This statement is becoming increasingly rare as the years keep marching on in my life.  It used to be that everyone I knew was in a couple.  Then, couple by couple, everyone seemed to be getting engaged, and then married.  Back in “my day” (intone the Old Lady In Me here) this was around age 23-28.  Most of my close friends were good and married off by then, which I know isn’t exactly the case with kids that age these days.

Then the babies came.  Each time I was pregnant I shared my pregnancy with at least someone else I knew.  In my eldest’s case, these women were my older sister’s friends.  But with my younger two there were any number of contemporaries that were either in the same family way, or who had just had a child within the last year, or who would find themselves pregnant shortly thereafter.

My youngest was born when I was the ripe old age of 31.  At first, we weren’t really sure if we were done having kids.  I stubbornly packed up all of the tiny baby clothes as he grew out of them and put them in sturdy plastic bins in the basement; the kind that would last.  I put the Pack and Play and the swing and the crib down there with them. We kept thinking….maybe.  Maybe just one more.  But it never seemed to happen.

As M’s issues came to light, we actively avoided the idea of a fourth child in our house.  We had too much on our plates with him and his issues and needs.  So many therapy appointments and meetings at school and worries.  It wouldn’t be fair to bring another child into all of that. And then, after we felt like it might be an option again, our eldest went to college.  He turned twenty.  And then twenty one.  By then, it just seemed preposterous that we would give him a brother when he was old enough to be a father himself (Lord help me that I’ve actually put that in printed form).

That door has been closed for quite a while now.

But then, I heard about this woman I know who is pregnant.  She has two adopted children from China, hard fought adoptions after years of infertility issues between her and her husband.  It had been universally assumed that they couldn’t have children, and their two perfect cherubs made them all the perfect family from the outside looking in.  Except that around Christmastime, the woman somehow found herself inexplicably pregnant.  The weeks wore on, everyone quietly waiting for doomsday to occur, but it didn’t.  She is nineteen weeks pregnant, and forty four years old. It is an amazing thought, after all of this time, that she and her husband will have a biological child.

It makes me wonder if my door is truly closed, as well.  There have been times in the last five years, perhaps six or seven, when I thought I was pregnant.  A few times so sure that I purchased pregnancy tests and took them.  But each time, the test slowly turned negative before my eyes.  And each time, I was a little disappointed.

I do wonder.

 

Instant Message of Pain

I sat in front of the television, laptop balanced on my lap two days later.  It was ten or so, the little ones in bed, my husband in Michigan.  He worked there now, about eight days a month, him having been given the job after all but it being determined that it wasn’t a big enough piece of the pie for the company to have to move us there.  It meant he was gone every other week for a few days, and at this point in our life, I was OK with it.  I liked that he could reconnect with his parents and sometimes my sister and brother in law (he’d taken my niece to a hockey game a few months back as a graduation gift) when he was there, sometimes, and it gave us a little breathing room from each other.  It wasn’t so hard, with both of the kids now in school, to have him gone sometimes.  I relished, in fact, the quiet evenings when he was away, like this one, when I could sit in front of my computer, or overdose on my Grey’s Anatomy DVD collection.

I hadn’t heard from Zachary yet, though, and I knew what that meant.  He had said he would call me when Pat (his biological aunt on his father’s side) had emailed him back with the arrangement information for his grandmother’s funeral.  I’d already found it, over a day ago, online.  I felt badly for the family, of course, but I read it with interest.  There were the three surviving daughters, Pat and another sister who both still lived in Michigan, and Zach’s biological grandmother, who was listed as living in Seattle, WA.  I wondered what turns her life had taken since I’d last seen her to bring her so far away from her home.

I knew that the family right now was likely engaged in a grand discussion about my son.  Pat had promised to send him the arrangements, and they’d clearly been made, so why the delay in letting Z know?  It was surely because there was a debate going on right now about whether or not Z would be welcome.  I cringed at the thought of it.  While I surely didn’t want Zach to go to this funeral and experience all of the loss involved on so many different levels, I wanted it to be his decision.  And clearly, obviously, the family wasn’t sure about even giving him the opportunity to say yes or no.

“Hi Mom.”   The words popped up on my computer screen, an instant message from Z.  Sometimes he did this; like many his age, I think, he thought IMing was easier than reaching for the phone.

“Hey Z.”  But just as on the phone, the pauses in the typed words meant something.  It was harder to tell this way, but I could guess.

I should just get right to the point.  “Have you heard from them?”  I typed into the box.

Thirty full seconds ensued.  My son was a fast typist; this meant that he was uncomfortable about giving me the answer.  “No,” was all that came back.

“I’m sorry,” I answered.  “I know you weren’t even sure about going, but it should have been your decision.”

“Do you think they just haven’t finalized everything yet?”

Ouch.  Clinging onto hope, because he didn’t know, didn’t want to know.  My son knew how to use Google just as well as I did.  “Z, they have finalized everything.  It was online yesterday.”

More blank screen.  I wondered if he were crying, again.  “I feel like I missed my chance to know part of who I am,” he’d told me.  And I couldn’t do anything but listen.  Nothing more I could do to erase the pain that I’d given to my son by not being able to give him more of his father’s family.  If only I’d done more when he was younger, I thought.  “Well I guess that’s that,” he finally typed.  “Decision made.  As usual, not mine to make.”

I sighed and wished I had a glass of wine in my hand.  “I wish it were different, Z.  I tried to give you everything I could to make up for him, them, not being here.  But I guess nothing can fill that hole.”  It was the frankest statement I’d ever made to him about his missing father, and my own actions.

“My whole life, I thought he would come around, you know?  I really did.  It was like this unanswered question, my whole life.  And then when I went there two years ago, and they showed me all of these things about him, I knew.  I knew that when I looked in the mirror, that I looked like him.”  It was more than Z had ever said on the subject of his missing father, too.

“You do,” I typed in.  “You always have, from the day you were born.”

“Do you know he’s married?  Aunt Pat told me that.  He has two kids.  And here’s the kicker.  They ADOPTED them from China.  Adopted.  Like it wasn’t enough that he has had a kid he ignored his whole life, he had to go all the way to China to get some more when I was right here, all along.”

I was glad we weren’t on the phone.  The words were like a punch in the gut.  I had no idea that they had talked about Joe to Z, or that he was married and had kids.  I had always suspected that he would get married someday; he’d always seemed like that type of guy.  But the kids?  Wow.  Just, wow.  “So that’s some of those great grandkids mentioned in the obit,” I typed in, trying to encourage Z to keep going while covering my own shock and grief at the news.  Even though I was married and had more kids, it would have been nice to keep the fantasy that Joe had spent the rest of his life wandering the world, regretting his treatment of me.

“So the adopted kids from China will be there, and be considered her great grandkids, and welcome at the funeral, but I won’t be.  That kills me,” he continued on the computer screen.

By now I was crying.  I wanted to kill this bastard for hurting my son, my sweet son, who didn’t deserve this pain.  “I am so, so sorry, Z,” I typed in.

“It’s not your fault, Mom.  You did everything you could.”

I thought I had, truly.  But as usual, it wasn’t enough.

Terminal

My sister and I had agreed to give my father the news together.  Two days after Christmas, with her husband watching our children, we drove the thirty minute trek to his home and asked him to sit down.

I had repeated my mother’s doctor’s words at least a dozen times in the last five days.  The first time, to my sister, who had expected about as much but was shocked and dismayed just the same.  She offered some kind words about me having to hear the news alone, which I appreciated.  Next, to my brother, who was also upset but also unwilling to get too invested in his emotions for fear that he could not control them.  Then to some of my mother’s friends, then to some of my friends.

But my father was a different story.  Their angry divorce and subsequent years of hostility had made the relationship awkward at best.  However, since my son’s birth and my sister’s marriage, things had gotten nearly amicable between the two of them, and my father had expressed much concern over my mother’s diagnosis.  It was clear to me as the months progressed that they had a complicated relationship that had boiled over because of very strong feelings; as I had always said, you don’t get angry at someone you just don’t care about.

“Dad, Mom will be coming home in a few days,” I began.

“Oh, really?  Then that’s good news,” he said, smiling.

“Well,” I said, drawing out the word to delay the inevitable.  “She’s coming home with Hospice care.”

He blinked, not really sure what that meant, but suspicious.

“It means,” my sister said slowly, “That they consider her having less than twelve months left to live. Terminal.”

How many times had I repeated that word in the last five days.  Terminal.  They consider her terminal.  Terminal.  End of the road.  The station at the end of the line.  The end.  Terminus.  End.

My father’s face grew red with emotion.  “Are they sure?”

I could feel my hands fidgeting, trying to warm them.  They were always cold these days.  “Dad, they’re sure.  The doctor came and took me aside a few days ago and showed me exactly where her tumor is now and how bad it is.  It’s why she keeps going back in the hospital.”

“But can’t they remove it?”

“It’s wrapped around her heart, Dad.”  My sister had tears flowing down her face, but she wasn’t sobbing.  “They can’t take it out.  And she’s too weak from all of the damage from the last rounds.  It’s just…too late.”

“What does she say?”

I flashed back to yesterday, when my mother woke from her bronchoscopy.  She and I were alone in the room, Zachary playing quietly on the floor.  She had reached for my hand and said, “It’s just like my father.  They told him he was in remission too.  But he wasn’t.  And I’m not either.”  The sadness on her face had been excruciating.  The knowledge, the certainty of knowing the end was near.

“She is ready to go home and enjoy the time she has left,” I told him, my cheeks hot.  I held my icy fingers up to them to warm the fingers and cool my face.

He looked at us very seriously and quietly said, “We have to do something.  I don’t know if she’ll be upset at me for telling you this, but she has another child, a son, that she gave up for adoption before we were married.  We have to find him before she dies.”   His voice was so thick with emotion it was hard to understand him.  But as I processed the words by mentally replaying them, I was stunned.  My father knew about my half brother, and wanted to help.

My sister spoke up.  “Dad, we know.  We’ve known for a long time.”

“Oh.  Well good, then she won’t be mad at me for telling you.”  He started to delve into the details.  I could see what he was doing.  He needed a project, a plan, a diversion.  I’d done it myself a million times.  Something else to focus on to distract yourself from the horrific situation at hand.  Something to work on because there was nothing that could be done for my mother’s cancer.

I held up my hand.  “Dad, she doesn’t want it.  I’ve talked to her about this before.  I even asked last spring after her diagnosis.  She said she wanted to always believe that he had a great life, that things were as she had hoped, and she wasn’t sure she could deal with the reality that things might not have been perfect for him.  The unknown, in her eyes, was easier than knowing the truth.  I guess you can hardly blame her with the truths around her being so…crappy.”

“But, but, but…” I could see him struggle to process our news.  We’d had days to accept it, months, really.  We’d all known since her first hospitalization in November what was likely happening.  We’d known since last March, with pamphlets in every waiting room we visited, telling us the most likely outcome of our journey.  We were here.  We were there.  It was happening.

“Dad, if you want to help, please just…don’t try to invent something to do.  There is plenty to do.  We’ll need a lot of help.  Just…help.   Please.”  I looked at my father, his eyes red, mine dry (again), and pleaded.  “Please.”

He reached out to hug us both.  “I will,” he promised.  “I will help.”

 

On A Break

I was sitting across the table at a Big Boy restaurant from Mr. H.

I’d come home for my Spring Break, and called his home phone number to arrange the meeting.  He’d included it in the long letter he’d sent me a few weeks ago at school, in response to my cry for help sent a few weeks before that.  By now, everything was different than it had been when I’d first contacted him.  Worse.  Much worse.

Joe and I still lived in the same dorm, but we were finished with our winter term classes.  He wouldn’t look at me for the last few weeks after our disastrous breakup at the concert.  I pretended he wasn’t there, sitting far away from me in the lecture halls or across the room in the tiny room we shared for Honors English.  I’d played the ultimate game of running off to see if the guy would come after me, and so far, he hadn’t.  He wasn’t rethinking his anger, and I was far too proud to go crawling back to see if he’d renege on his promise to never see me (and our child growing quickly in my belly) again.

We still had spring term ahead of us.  I was hoping by June, when it would be obvious to the world what I’d hidden all winter, Joe and I would figure out some sort of way to work it all out and not throw away our nearly year long relationship.

These were the kinds of things I told Mr. H as I ordered a hamburger and fries, filling up my always ravenous appetite.   I wondered aloud, told him of the few plans I already had in place, and he looked warmly and sadly at me with the eyes of an older person who sees a younger person making a very big mistake.

“Don’t rule anything out yet, Amy.  I really think that you need to think about the long term here; I know someone who was where you are now.  I asked her about it after I got your letter.   She would like to meet with you if you want.  You know her.”

“I do?”   I racked my brains; he had to be talking about a teacher.  Which teacher had I had at school that had a kid that was impossibly old for how old the teacher was?  I couldn’t place it.

“Yes, you do.  And she told me that if she had to go back and do it all again, as awful as it sounds, she would not have the baby.  Or she would have it and adopt it out. ”

Ah, adults.  You could always count on them to see the negative, I thought.  I kept trying to look like I was at least open to his words.  “Why did she say that?”  I offered.

“Because it was hard.  And eventually, she didn’t want to be a single mother alone, so she got married.  The guy she married was not the right guy; she only married him because she was tired of being a single mother all by herself, and thought getting married would make everything easier.  And for a while it did.  But then, as it usually does, the fact that they weren’t right for each other started making everything much harder and they fought all of the time.  But by then she now has another child with this guy, and she now has lost ten more years of her life not having a real relationship with a partner who she truly loves.”

Ouch.  OK, I needed to listen to this.  But I couldn’t imagine making the same stupid choice.  I was independent, I was going to school, I wasn’t going to *need* a man to help me get through my chosen path.  I’d only choose the right man to do so, I was sure of it.

“Well, that might not be the case here.   Joe and I might work this all out and get back together.  You never know,” I sidestepped.

“You really think that is going to happen?”

I sighed.  He knew me too well.  No, I didn’t.  If I did, I wouldn’t be here now, sharing my fears with my former teacher.  I’d be sitting with Joe, figuring out what came next.

Promises in the Dark

This post will post on my fortieth birthday.  How appropriate.  The biggest game changer in my life, and my thoughts about it will be laid bare on my fortieth birthday.  Oh, there’s so much to say about it, looking back nearly 22 years later.  Getting back there, getting back to that place in my head when I learned that I was 18 and pregnant.  I watched an episode of Boston Legal last night that said you need adrenalin to make a memory imprint in your brain; the more adrenalin, the more vivid your memory will be.

I guess there was a lot of adrenalin involved in those days and weeks, because so much of it is very, very clear.

The first emotion I felt was not fear, or anger, or worry, or any of those kinds of things.  Honestly, a warmth came over me and I think I smiled.  If I had to pick a word for how I felt in that moment, it would probably have to be “happy”.  Which is crazy.  And weird.  But I felt a contentment and an assuredness that I would figure this out, make it work, and go against the odds.  I remember thinking, “well, this is bad, but I’m a smart girl.  If it had to happen to anyone, it was a good thing it happened to me.”  I also thought a lot of cliches, like “everything happens for a reason.”

I crawled back into bed, and like a bad afterschool movie, put my hand to my nearly flat belly.   I was pregnant, and I was going to have the baby.

I knew it from the moment I looked at the stick, that there would be no hesitation, no discussion, no decision to be made.  The decision felt made for me.  I was going to have the baby.  Abortion didn’t even enter my head as an option.    I knew there was a life inside of me and I knew I was going to protect it and keep it safe.  In the quiet discussions with myself in the dark before anyone else knew my news, everything seemed clear and possible.   It would be OK, I told myself, and whoever else was sharing my body with me.  I will make it be OK.

Late

“I think I might be late.”

I uttered the words nervously to Joe one cold January morning in a practice room.  We were both furiously practicing for this term’s auditions.  I was disappointed with my placement last trimester, and so I wanted to prepare as much as possible for the one performance that would determine my position for the entire winter term.

Joe looked at me.  “Really?  How can that be?”  I knew what he meant.  We were religious about using protection.  We were very careful, always using condoms, always well before any contact was made.

“Well, I know that nothing is 100 % reliable.  It’s probably nothing, though.  I do feel like it is coming any minute.  But it’s just so odd, because I’m never late.”  I didn’t mention all of the other things that were nervously adding up in my head:  the insane amount of tiredness that had suddenly been hitting me, the nausea that overtook me on the way up to his mom’s place, the urgent need to use the bathroom that had also hit me then.

He was quiet for a minute.   “What would you think we should do…you know…if you were?”  It was the unthinkable.  I couldn’t even let my head go there.

“I don’t know.  I really, really don’t know.  I mean, maybe I could get an abortion?   I’m not sure if I could.  I just don’t know how I’d feel…hypothetical is totally different than reality.”

I’d always considered myself pro choice.  My high school position papers were always firmly on the right to choose.  That being said, when I converted to Catholicism the year before, I knew very well the Church’s position on abortion.  It gave me pause.  I’d seen friends of my sisters go both ways; one who gave her baby away, and one who aborted.  I knew my mother had given a child up for adoption.  That was the one avenue I was sure I couldn’t take.

Joe looked at me, uncharacteristically filled with tension.  “Well, we don’t know yet.”

“No.  I suppose if it doesn’t show up soon, I’ll have to take a test.”  God, I hated the thought of having to go to the slightly off campus but not nearly far enough for my taste drugstore to buy a home pregnancy test.

“When were you due?”

I thought back.  I never kept very good track, because I was always so regular.  But I certainly knew it should have been here before now.  “Um, I remember thinking that it should have been here around Christmas, maybe a few days afterwards.”

His eyes grew wide.  That meant I was a whole week late.

I gulped.  “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” I responded, nervously.  He took my hand and squeezed, and got up to go back to his practice room.  He smiled that smile that he knew would erase my fear and closed the door behind him.

July 14

I was working at Burger King that summer.

I had ditched my mall job at the Children’s Place earlier in the spring.  They were unhappy with my constant need to have this day off or that as my senior year schedule heated up.  I needed a lot of Fridays off, a lot of evenings for various awards assemblies and graduation activities.  My manager started complaining, and it didn’t take me long to look for something else.

My friend Karen was working at Burger King.  She told me that I could work whenever I wanted; they wouldn’t complain.  And I’d likely be able to work a ton in the summer to save up for college, when I hoped to not have to work.   A few other kids from school worked there, and nearly everyone we knew hung out there.  I’d been trying to avoid working fast food for years, but I wanted something that would fit better with my schedule.  It was a perfect fit.

Since I was also one of the few teenagers whose parents didn’t mind them out past midnight, I’d often find myself getting assigned the late shift.   The place closed at 2 in the mornings on the weekends.  By the time we got everything cleaned up, it would be three or so.  Who would sign up for that?

I did.  Our young, twenty something manager loved the hardworking crew of older teens he had working for him.  He would take us often out to breakfast afterwards, or he’d buy us beers and we would drink behind the restaurant after it closed.   There were many nights that summer when I would come home as my mother was getting up for work; she never said a word about my late hours.  She had to have known that Burger King wasn’t open quite that late.  But she never gave me any grief about it.

It was on one such morning, as I brushed my teeth while she curled her hair, that she was unusually bitchy.  I of course was unused to her saying anything about my crazy hours that summer, and so I finally said, “Gee, what is your problem today?”

“Today?  Today is my problem,” she answered curtly.  “Today is his birthday.”

It took only a second for me to know who she was talking about.  The baby she’d had and given up, the one that she’d told me about years ago.  I’d never known his birthday before, only the year.

The date was July 14, Bastille Day.  Now I knew:  my half brother was born on July 14, 1962.  He was, somewhere, celebrating his 26th birthday.

“I’m so sorry, Mom,” I told her and reached to hug her.

She didn’t have tears in her eyes, but she held on tight and returned the hug for longer than was usual for her.

We never mentioned that date again.

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