When I finally decided to jump in the deep end of the blog pool I went to Stirrup's List in search of a good title. The best were taken (shakes fist at Niobe) (I jest.). But how could my dark macabre self resist seeing what lay within something titled Deadbabyblog? I had to know just who had claimed this most outstanding title.
Of course the story wasn’t pretty – a baby who was “born and died on the same day,” and containing posts eerily similar to what I intended to philosophize about. A few entries in was a post devoted to the first birthday of a living, smiling, cherubic son. This seemingly celebratory event occurred a mere six or so weeks prior to what would have been her dead daughter’s third birthday. And Deadbabyblogger wrote a few days later:
"My regret is that his birthday was tinged with sadness simply because his sister doesn't get to live her life and have the same treatment. Her birthdays are quiet affairs with tears involved, and that sucks. It also sucks that O doesn't get unadulterated joy; no matter how hard I try and how much time passes there will always be pain and regret. I guess the task is to acknowledge it but not let it get in the way of his life, and all I can do is my best to see that that happens."
My heart sank. I, too, miss joy, and apparently it could take at least three years to get it back, despite the smiling happy babies that may come our way in the meantime.
I was a self-avowed cynic of the highest degree prior to having Maddy. And yet, I’m rather astounded now – looking back -- at how much joy my “oh yeah, right, like this’ll mean anything (eye roll)” hard heart allowed in. I am, for starts, an unabashed foodie, and loved to cook and especially to eat. I reveled in the complex, occasionally attempting to dissect restaurant sauces by smell. I’ve had the good fortune of a couple of meals – one involving a rabbit ragout – that I would have paid money for the olfactory privilege of simply hovering over. I also relished the simple: a perfect Ginger Gold apple, fresh berries on Greek yogurt, a steaming cup of good, fresh ground and brewed, strong coffee. Within the last few years Mr. ABF pulled me into his Italian wine fetish, and I grew to adore the berry-cherry velvety blends of Tuscany, while appreciating, yet not so much loving his preference of the barnyard smelling reds of Piedmont. I’m a lucky gal in that Mr. ABF cooks, and does so well. Just talking about preparing squid for stuffing on Christmas Eve made my mouth water.
And now? I know I should eat, so I do. I could care less if the coffee is Peet’s or 7-11, and my hope in the morning is that the humidity hasn’t congealed the Clifford Crunch, and the milk is still good even though it’s a few days past the due date. In short, I seem to have lost my joy of taste. Every summer I wait for the first brutally hot day, and then have my inaugural summer Gin and Tonic. This is usually a celebration of sorts, as I hold the cold, fizzing citrus bittersweet concoction up, hopefully catching some carbonation directly into my nasal passages, and this summer? Poured a good two-thirds of it down the drain. Mr. ABF promises me restaurant mecca in our new foodie location “when I’m ready” – and he doesn’t mean that from an emotionally-ready-to-out-in-public way, he means, when I can taste my food so we don’t throw out $250 for two for a reaction of “eh, ‘twas good.” I long for the return of my taste buds. How bad has it gotten, you wonder? People, I bought frosting in a can for cookies last weekend.
Taste is but one sense to go on recess during my grief. I have two enormous, stunning magnolia trees on my property that in April exploded into huge pink pompoms that literally stopped traffic. I took a few pictures, knowing consciously that these were considered impressive and striking, and yet, I personally felt nothing. I might as well have been observing two supermarket flats of wilted impatiens. Tiny little occurrences that should make my heart a bit lighter, or skip, or smile inwardly now pass before me like widgets on an assembly line. As cynical as I was, I now realize the endless list of small moments that I loved getting hit with: seeing my husband walk into the kitchen after a day at work; going for a run in a light rain; watching my dog leap in the air in an s-curve to snag a Frisbee from high in the air; arriving home after a particularly intense yoga session; getting some killer deals at Nordstrom Rack; pacing my living room while the Steelers pull a miraculous win out of their collective asses against the Colts in the playoffs. All of these things could make me weak in the knees, smile at the sky, hum to myself, giggle, and pump my fist.
And then there’s joy embodied, my daughter, Bella. I’m not going to sit here and wax that my life since Bella has been one big soft cooing marshmallow of love and harp-playing happiness; in her 3+ yrs of existence Bella has never, ever been a sleeper. I will never forget throwing Baby Whisperer across the room and into the wall, or the horrific first week of December ’04 when, at just 4 months old, Bella went 5 days straight without even a 30 minute midday collapse en route to “bedtime.” By two years of existence she no longer napped at all, and getting through a pregnancy last year with her to look after was brutal. But no matter how heavy my eyelids and how close to breaking into tears I may have been, she has been nothing short of a jolt to my system. You begin living for the smiles, the giggles, and your daughter’s ability to crack her own joke and make herself laugh. This year has been one moment after another: beginning to understand the connection between letters, sounds, and words; spelling her name, going to school, using the toilet, climbing a tree, riding a scooter. I used to revel in that joy that only a child can express: getting out of the car at my aunt’s farm, taking a look in the field, and screaming in her best “I just won the lottery” voice: “COWS!”
But for me, this year, Dullsville. I should be happy, I occasionally crack a smile, but there’s no joy. During that horrible week that Maddy was alive, I felt so torn between my daughters – I’d have to leave one in order to see the other. I felt terrible leaving the one, and guilty when I was with the other. I was literally split in two. And oddly, even though Maddy is no longer here and I no longer have to track down sitters so I can spend hours on end at the hospital, I still feel as though I’m shortchanging Bella. I’m still torn. I’m guilty that I’m thinking about one daughter to the detriment of enjoying the other.
A month or so after Maddy died someone asked me if anything made me feel good. I thought, and replied that nothing makes me feel good, but some things make me feel better. I do feel better after a jog. I feel better after watching Bella tuck our dog into her bed. I did discern that the 20-yr old wine I purchased as a surprise for Mr. ABF last week was pretty damn good, and certainly better than the $8 stuff I had at a party the week before. The apples are tasty enough this fall that when I was snack mom last week, I actually went in and cut them at the appointed time so they wouldn’t turn brown. Even toddlers deserve good food.
But I’m tired of just feeling better, I want joy again. Unadulterated, heart-skipping joy that I can float in -- for a few seconds -- without thinking about Maddy, without thinking that she should be here too, without missing her. I want to have the joy of watching my husband be a father without thinking he should have two children, and I want to have the joy of experiencing all that is Bella without wondering how she would be with a little sister. I want to see my yard with Maddy running across it, and I want to dress another little girl in Steelers jerseys on Sunday afternoons. And dammit, if I can’t enjoy a stuffed flank steak without thinking that I might as well have just grabbed a handful of stale Cheerios, I’m going to lose it. Anyone else who lost joy and then found it again, I’d love to know when. I’m hungry.