I do everything bass ackward when it comes to love. It seems like maybe I’m the same with loss. We’ll come back to that later. When I was 25 years old, I fell in love with one of those tragicomedy guys. Maybe you aren’t familiar with that particular animal. He’s usually handsome and very intense. He might have permed his hair in the 1980s. He drinks too much, does amusing impressions of current celebrities, gets more than his fair share of feminine attention, and recently suffered a loss. You are somewhat sheltered and naïve, but super pretty. You feel some pity because he is clearly in pain and maybe you can brighten his life. You aren’t really thinking that sex is the way to do it, but he certainly responds well when you kiss him on a whim. Suddenly, your life is intense, and you think you are his confidante. He thinks you are easy to manipulate. Before you know it, you are head over heels and in other interesting positions after the bars close. You might have been called a hood ornament because of an emotional incident involving a Mustang, another girl, and a desperate attempt to keep him from leaving with her. Be that as it may. I fell in love with that guy, but at least my sense of humor improved.
After almost a year of hot and colding, I began to wake up sick to my stomach every day. It was the natural consequence of loving a tragicomedy guy, so get your judging out of the way. I was raised to be a good Catholic girl, and even though I had a rebellious streak a mile wide, I wasn’t keen on abortion. I’m still not, to be honest. But I have pretty complicated views on that topic, and I don’t want them to get in the way of the issue at hand. Eventually, we can have that conversation but not right now. Judge me some more before I continue, as I expect to be judged harshly by either side of the debate. If you are finished for the moment with your internal aspersions cast in my general direction, I will carry on. I remained pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. I had always loved children but was surprised by the pure joy I found as a mother. I named him Daniel and I loved him fiercely.
I had been attending University but dropped out after I found that for me, pregnancy brain was incompatible with academic learning. I was fortunate to have been employed at a job which was easily converted to full-time. I was mature enough to care for a child emotionally, financially, and physically. Daniel was adorable. My family was supportive. Tragicomedy guy was still in the picture, but way out at the edges of the frame. He decided he needed to get help with his drinking, and he went to rehab. I found a good babysitter for Daniel during the hours I needed to be at work. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was sweet.
I was working as a keypunch operator in an office room with perhaps 8 others. Our desks were arranged in two rows, and we faced the opposite operator. We had worked together a little over a year and I felt part of the team. I felt particularly close to one woman named Patty, who had always been helpful and kind. It was not the most stimulating occupation, but it was a good job with benefits. I got pretty fast, although not up to the speed of those who had been keypunching for many years. We talked while our fingers were flying over the numeric pad on the right side of the keyboard. Sometimes we listened to music or made jokes. It wasn’t a perfect job, but it was solid.
One day while I was at work, the phone rang. The lead keypunch operator picked up the phone and seemed a little tense when she softly said it was for me. I was a bit confused to receive a phone call at work but got up from my desk and walked over to the phone. The babysitter’s husband was on the other end and he said that “something had happened to Daniel” and that I needed to come to the house right away. I asked what had happened and he said he couldn’t tell me over the phone and to come to their house. I was alarmed by the call but thought I was probably over-reacting. Patty suggested she could drive me over. We logged off our workstations and walked to her car a few blocks away from the office.
It was a short drive from the office to the babysitter’s house. When we approached the home, we saw a small firetruck parked by the curb in front. There was a police car behind it. People were standing outside the front door. Patty parked the car and we walked up the driveway. The babysitter’s husband appeared in the driveway. I don’t remember how he got there. Patty took one look at his face and yelled, “No!” I think she started swatting him with her purse but can’t be sure. He must have told us that Daniel was in the house and he was dead because the next thing I knew I was leaning against the porch post. It was the kind of ranch house that has a bit of roof extending over the front door to shield visitors from rain and it had a plain square post off to the side to support the extension. I don’t know if I made any external noise, but at least in my head the echoes of Patty’s “No!” were reverberating. My throat was tight and felt sore from screaming. I just don’t think I really screamed but it’s possible.
I found myself in a quiet bedroom in the babysitter’s house, sitting on the bed and facing away from the crib. I think Daniel was in the crib. People asked me if I wanted to hold him, encouraged me to hold him, told me I should hold him because it would help me to understand what had happened. I refused. I did not want to hold the empty body of my beautiful child who had been so full of life. I couldn’t think of anything more cruel than to feel that sweet child’s form devoid of his spirit. I refused and I feel no regret for the refusal even all these years later. I know that it is often helpful, maybe even critical, for parents to hold their children after they have died. It just wasn’t helpful to me at that time.
I cried snotty tears for loves I had lost before. I had been in the vicinity of hysterics over one small thing or another. But until that time, I hadn’t tasted the tears of grief. They seem to trickle down the nasal cavities directly to the back of the throat. And oh, how long they last. It seems like they will never stop. The throat is sore from the drainage and the tightness of trying to maintain some smidgen of control. I mean, you can go on a crying jag from time to time. That’s one thing, and you expect to taste the tears and choke on them. But even when you are doing something mundane like eating what tastes like cardboard or keeping your cool to listen to your father or getting a drink of water, they lurk in the back of the throat somehow. They remind you that you are no longer who you have been.