Monday, February 27, 2012

Tidal Wave

Author’s note: this is a fictional story based on my real experiences.  I wrote it for Good Housekeeping but it was not accepted.  I thought it was a story worth sharing so I am posting it on Snippets.  
Gwen sat at her computer amidst the familiar clutter of her desk.  The overflowing piles of papers; half eaten sandwich; and the half full cup of orange juice, with green mold scumming the surface, escaped her notice.  Her pink, threadbare robe hung from her slumped shoulders as if on a wire hanger collapsing from the cumbersome weight.  Her unwashed, bed-head hair obscured her furrowed brow as she struggled to anchor the thoughts running rampant through her brain.  This was her world; her mess; her well-worn keyboard that fit her fingers as comfortably as her soft leather gloves.  Yet, she couldn’t type anything today.  Her mind was as blank as the white paper waiting anxiously for the text to spill from the ink cartridge. She just couldn’t shake the melancholy that filled this morning with a sorrow she has struggled to keep buried.  
She kept thinking: I should be over it; it’s been eight months. 
Other people expect you be “over it” right away.  They say things like, “Gwen, how are you doing?  It’s been two months or six weeks (just fill in the blank).  Are you and Joe going to try again?”  
For the most part, she has moved on.  She carries on mundane conversations, and completes humdrum jobs and chores with perfunctory ease.   On the surface, her life appears to be back to normal.  
Most days she is able to hide the veiled sadness percolating just below the surface, but this morning was different.  Last night, she dreamt the recurring dream where she is walking on the beach searching desperately for a shell she can’t find. In her dream, she has to find the shell before a looming tidal wave crashes to shore.  Frantically searching, she can see the ominous tidal wave in the distance threatening to swallow her and wash her out to sea.   She always wakes up, having never found the shell, just as the tidal wave comes roaring to shore.  Whenever she has this dream, which has been quite frequent lately, she wakes up feeling empty; as if the lost shell represents a significant part of her that is somehow missing.  The dream always throws her into a paralyzing gloom. 
This morning, try as she might, she could not put together a coherent sentence, let alone an entire story.  
Who really cares if I write another story anyway? Gwen was thinking when the shrill ring of the phone startled her out of her comatose state. 
“Hey are you writing?” she heard her friend, Carol’s, voice crackling through the line.  
“Yeah.” She lied.  
“Good, I’m glad you are getting back into something you love,” Carol continued.  “I can’t wait to read you next story.  It’s good for you to write.  I’ll let you get back to it.”  
“Right,” Gwen lied again, “I’m almost done with the story.”  
Gwen hung up the phone and returned to her blank computer screen with the same lackluster, mind-numbing intensity with which she began her day.  
Earlier today, I was anxiously . . . She began typing.  Then, abruptly, she hung her head and wept.  She couldn’t repress the sorrow any longer.  Her pitiful sobs echoed through the empty house.
“I want my baby!” she wailed into the emptiness as if and angel would miraculously appear and hand her her swaddled infant.  
Gwen wrapped her arms around herself rocking back and forth as she tried to hug away her grief.  When her sobbing finally ebbed, she felt as if she had just cleansed her soul of a deep festering wound.  Wiping the mixture of snot and tears from her face, she succumbed to the little voice that had begun as a tickle in the back of her brain.  Now, it was screaming at her to write like she used to write; in the old days when her writing poured from her soul; inspired by her spirit.
She began typing blindly, recklessly, impetuously:  
Writing. Writing. That is what I do. I am a writer. I am, I am, am I? Am I?  I am a writer, or am I a writer?  Is writing who I am, or is who I am a writer? Does writing define me, or do I define it? What a paradox. I don’t know if my writing finds me, or if I find my writing.  Where do I find my writing? Is it in me? Is it outside of me? Where does it come from: A babbling brook, or a bbbabbbling brain, or bbbabbbling blood flowing from within the veins of my being; within the pores of my skin?  Does it pour into me, or does it pour out of me like tears of sadness, joy, and frustration? 
Where does it come from; my fingers that keep typing away at nothing, or typing away at everything? Fingers eating away at the thoughts running, skipping, racing through my brain like a freight train with no destiny; no itinerary; no journey too far or too near or too crazy. Is my writing taking me on the crazy thought train; racing unhindered through my limitless, fertile mind?
The train could derail at any time. It does derail, and skips rails, and tumbles into the train wreck; into the train yard of rusty old memories. Where is my writing going?  What is its destiny? Is it destined to die in the heap of wrecked trains? Or, is it destined to ride the rails of greatness? Does it really matter where the writing takes me? Does it matter where my writing takes you? Do you want to ride the rambling freight of runaway thoughts? Do I want to ride the train?  
I have no choice because my fingers insist on typing; click, click, clicking away at the keys: Frantic fingers; dancing fingers; fingers that have no boundaries. They’re my fingers that won’t tire; typing purposefully; nonsensically - and still they type.  Still they type beyond the cramping beyond the call to stop this silliness. 
“I can’t write!” I shout to the fingers. 
“Yes, yes you can!” they say. “You are a writer because you belong to us and we belong to you and we will not stop typing. Typing is what we do. It is what we love. It is what we live for. We live to type meaningless words, worthy words, funny words, and sad words - any words. That is what we fingers do and that is what we love.”  
“So, fingers, the typers of great and wonderful words, the typers of powerful and silly words, like Horace Hobbersnipple and dancing squirrels; what say you?”
“We are the writers” they punch back. “We’re just getting warmed up.  We are happy fingers.  Happy to be pecking.”  
Peck. Peck. Peck.  
“STOP!”  I scream. “I have to write about something that makes sense!” 
“I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.” They mock me.  
“What do you want to say? Say it! Say it! Say it!!!!”  
“You had a real baby!” They peck, “A baby growing inside of you.  Honor your baby!”
Then, as her wild, typing tirade slowed, Gwen knew in her heart what her soul was pleading for her to write. She had to write about the gaping sink hole; the bottomless pit of sorrow and longing for something lost, but not forgotten.  She never had closure; no funeral to mourn her loss; no friends and family surrounding her in her time of sorrow – “it” was not a “real baby” after all.  “It” wasn’t born; “it” was just lost. 
Gwen hated when people referred to her child as “it.”  Her baby was not an “it.” Her baby was a child in her womb; growing and waiting to enter the world.  Her baby had a heartbeat and a soul and a future.  Her baby was a unique human being; a one of a kind person that God created and she couldn’t wait to bring this glorious child into the world. Then, inexplicably, her baby was “lost.”
“I didn’t ‘lose the baby,’” she wanted to scream.  “The baby is still with me,” she wanted to shout to the unheeding world.  
Yet, she didn’t shout, she didn’t scream; she quietly mourned alone.  
She still longed to release her baby; to openly mourn her sudden loss.  She knew that she had to give birth to her baby’s story if she was going to fill the void.  She had to allow her baby’s soul to be set free.  
Writing has always been her catharsis; her release.  
So, after eight months of heartache, Gwen finally allowed her fingers to play the rhythm of the story, her story; her baby’s story: The story that yearned to be born; the story that poured from the salty ocean of her tears; the story of the tidal wave:
Life is like the ocean’s waves. Most times, the waves are predictable like clockwork; ebbing and flowing in a steady rhythm. Then, there are the times of restless choppiness; when the rhythm is interrupted and the waves crash to shore in angry bursts.
Finally, there is the tidal wave which sweeps in and changes the entire landscape in one fell swoop.  
The longer we live, the more we come to realize that the steady rhythm of our lives can become choppy in an instant. Then, there are the times when the tidal wave comes out of nowhere and changes the entire way you look at the terrain of your life.  As the waves etch their presence into the sandy shore, so do the waves of our lives etch our faces.  
Our wrinkles are life’s roadmap. Each one has a story and a memory attached to it.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just touch a “smile” wrinkle and relive the moment that etched it into our face? Sometimes, we do touch a wrinkle - in a roundabout way. That is what happened to me recently. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a smile wrinkle; it was a tidal wave wrinkle.  
I was going through my medical records when I reached into the folder and pulled out a pile of papers.  I was placing the papers on my desk when a small ultrasound image fell to the floor.  I stooped to pick it up and stopped dead in my tracks.  I felt as though the image had suddenly thrown me into a cruel time warp; sending me back to a heartbreaking time and place that I didn’t want to revisit. I bent in slow motion willing myself to pick it up. Lovingly, I retrieved the small image and hugged it close to my heart. I slid to the floor and started rocking it as if I were holding a real baby in my arms. 

But, it was a real baby, I heard my mind screaming as the tears streamed down my face and flowed over the crevices that were formed eight months ago; April 20, 2007.  
On that day, the landscape of my face changed forever.
It was a beautiful, sunny weekend. My husband, Joe and I planned to have a picnic with our daughter, Ava.  We had some projects planned as well, so I decided to get a head start on one of them - refinishing a coffee table. I began sanding the table when, without warning, I felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. I was five months pregnant, so the pain concerned me more than usual. Shortly after feeling the pain, I started spotting. I called the doctor who did not seem to be too alarmed. He tried to reassure me as he told me to rest over the weekend.  He said I could wait until Monday to make an appointment.  I wasn’t reassured.  I was terrified.
Needless to say, it was the longest weekend of my life! We did not go on our picnic. I stayed off my feet trying to read or watch TV, but nothing was penetrating my paralyzed brain. Joe, Ava and I spent many hours praying that our baby was going to be okay. As the weekend dragged out, I kept second guessing my decision to start refinishing the coffee table: Did I do something wrong that hurt the baby? Did I move the wrong way? Did I breathe some toxic dust?
By the time Monday rolled around, I was a basket case. Joe asked if I wanted him to go to the appointment with me. I told him to go to work even though my heart was screaming, “I need you to go with me!”  On some level I resented the fact that he even had to ask, so I dug in my stubborn heels and pretended that I could handle this alone.
I drove to the doctor’s office in a fog. I kept telling myself that everything was fine. I had just had an ultrasound a month earlier and I was able to see the baby’s heart beating.  It was so amazing! I was so excited to show Ava and her father that I had the technician print out the ultrasound: The very same ultrasound that I kept as the one reminder of my precious child.  
When I arrived at my doctor’s office, his ultrasound machine wasn’t working, so he sent me down the street for the ultrasound. He wouldn’t reveal any concerns until he had the results. So, off I went to the radiology department just two blocks away, but it felt like I was driving for an eternity. 
“Please, God!”  I wailed as my fists pounded the steering wheel, “Let this baby be okay! I can’t lose another one! We already have names picked out! Do you hear me God! Michael! Gabrielle! My child had a name, God!  A name!  This baby was going to make it!”  
I cried and cried between rants because I knew in my heart; down deep in my soul that something was terribly wrong. If I was right, this would be our fourth miscarriage - but the first of a baby so far along.
When I arrived, the technician quickly discerned my state of mind and was as pleasant as she could be under the circumstances. She held my hand as she placed the probe on my abdomen and rubbed it all around. I could see the shape of the baby outlined on the screen. I watched as she measured the baby’s length. I noticed she was avoiding looking at me, and knew why. Finally, I broke the silence with the truth that hung like thick rancid air in the room; “My baby’s heart isn’t beating.”  
The technician looked at me with tears of her own streaming down her face. She didn’t need to say anything. As she rubbed the gel from my abdomen, I thanked her and got up from the exam table. Then, I walked, zombie-like, out of the office and into my car.  
By the time I reached the doctor’s office, he had the report. He ushered me into his private office and unceremoniously delivered the news.  
“Your baby is dead.” He said as if he were delivering the weather report. 
I didn’t think his callousness could get any worse until he said, “We’ll have to perform a D&C in case you don’t spontaneously abort the entire fetus. In any case we most likely will have to remove the skull cap.”  
His insensitive words cut through me like a dull saw blade; each saw tooth leaving a gaping wound in my soul. I stared blankly at him until he broke the silence.  
“Are you okay to drive home? Do you want me to call your husband?”  
I didn’t answer him. Instead, I quickly escaped his stifling office, slamming the door in my wake.  
I don’t know how long I sat bawling in my car, or how long I drove aimlessly pondering all the questions bouncing in my head like dodge balls. The question balls pummeled me over and over again:
“Why did you go swimming! Why didn’t you take better care of yourself!” they pounded. “Why did you sand that table!”  
As I drove on autopilot, I questioned every moment of this pregnancy; just as I had three times before. I don’t know where I went, how long I drove, or even how I found my way back home.  All I remember is that the sun had set by the time I willed my numb body to park the car outside of our apartment. 
I walked down the cobblestone path leading to my front door, but I didn’t want to open the door because I didn’t want to face my husband.  In my present state of mind, I ranked him right behind the heartless doctor.  
How could my husband not even take the day off to be with me!  My mind was rattling even though I had told him to go to work.  
I guess I thought I could handle this one just like I had “handled” the others; although, I didn’t “handle” any of them.  I beat myself up after each miscarriage. It’s no wonder I’m not black and blue inside and out.  
When I finally got up the courage to open the door, Joe was anxiously waiting for me.  In my haste to get to the doctor’s office, I had forgotten my cell phone.  Joe had no idea where I was.  I could see the worry and concern on his face as his eyes met mine and I knew that he knew.  The anger I felt toward him dissipated as he took me in his arms and held me.  I buried my face on his shoulder and I drenched his shirt with fresh tears as his embrace offered reassuring comfort.  Joe wasn’t one to express his emotions, but I knew that on some level he was feeling this loss too.  
Later, I had to tell Ava that the baby wasn’t going to be born. I explained that the doctor was going to take the baby out early so that he or she could go to heaven.  Ava listened intently to what I was telling her then; she lifted my blouse, revealing my still swollen belly. I stared at it as it cruelly mocked me.  
No baby!  Dead baby!  Lost baby!  Gone baby, gone!
My taunting mind was interrupted by Ava’s little voice, “Mommy, can I kiss the baby goodbye?”
If I had to point to a moment that defined this profound loss; it was when my three year old curled up next to me on my bed and quietly bent and kissed my belly.   Then, she waved “bye bye” to our baby.  
“Mommy,” she smiled, “I saw him fly to heaven.”  
I believe with all my heart that she did see our baby “fly to heaven”.  I know that God gave me that moment to help ease the pain.  Even now, eight months later, every nuance of the still frame moment is etched in my memory; the rumpled bedspread, the flowered curtains fluttering in the breeze, the patch of sun spilling over the bed; it still evokes tears of sadness and loss.  Yet, it also gives me great hope that one day I will hold that blessed little soul. 
Now, the tidal wave has passed leaving the sorrow crevices forever carved in my face. Yet, without those crevices, my face would lose its authenticity. I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anyone, but I also know that such experiences make us stronger and define us. I would be lying if I said I no longer yearn to hold all my babies in my arms, but these miscarriages have taught me how precious and valuable each and every life is.  
Just a few days ago, I overheard a young lady say that if she got pregnant no one would know because that baby would be gone in the blink of an eye. She has no idea what it is like to have a baby “gone in the blink of an eye”.  I hope and pray that she never does.