Monday, May 19, 2008

Vows belated^2

Yes, that's an exponent in the subject line, because that's how I roll. Nerdy.

So awhile back, my beloved S posted her belated marriage vows to me on our wedding anniversary. Pretty much what she said was true (about the circumstances - her appraisal of me? I dunno. I try), and it made me choke up a little to read them. I mean, I know she loves me, and I know she knows I love her. And she knows that I know that she knows I love her, and she knows that I know she loves me, y'know? But on our wedding day, she wasn't her usual articulate self, and more than ever, I need to know what I'm doing right or what I'm good at, because dead babies provide plenty of evidence to the contrary. I especially thought it was generous of her to omit the fact that the rabbi read my vows from a piece of hotel stationery, hastily scribbled on the way to the ceremony, using the dashboard as a desk.

(Our officiant really was great - how often do you hear Hebrew prayers sung in a gospel style? That shit was amazing.)

She also failed to mention how amazing she is, and that should also be rectified.

I have yet to meet anyone warmer or with a more generous spirit than S. She is, under normal circumstances, one of the most caring, compassionate, sensitive people I have ever met. Her ability to find joy and pleasure in the simplest things - a drive on a beautiful day, ice cream, a bed full of dogs and cats, a lazy Sunday morning with tea, the New York Times crossword and some music - makes it easy to enjoy spending time with her.

She's incredibly smart - sometimes I think smarter than she gives herself credit for - and that, combined with her dry and clever sense of humor, makes for the perfect package for me. We're like Nick and Nora Charles, except less with the drinking and the crime-solving and the money. So maybe not so much like them.

What's more, these values are infectious. When we met, I wasn't exactly what you'd call a ray of sunshine. I was coming up on the end of three years of working two jobs (one full-time) and going to school full-time. I'd get up at 6:30, go to school, go to work straight from school, get home at 12:30, stay up for an hour, go to bed, and do it all again the next day. I'd come out of a relationship that had ended badly, and although I was a better, more mature, stronger person for the experience, I was also angry, bitter, cynical, and very guarded.

S. saw through that to the person I was - the person I am - underneath. She understood where the anger came from, and made it safe for me to not have to be so guarded anymore. She provided a healthy correction to my generally pessimistic outlook. Just by having her in my life, I am a better, more compassionate, more thoughtful person. She lifts me up.

Plus, she's cute as hell. That doesn't hurt.

I remember the first time I said "I love you" to her. We were at one of our favorite restaurants in Boston (the S&S Deli, for those of you playing along in the Boston area), and she ordered a hamburger. When the food came, she promptly took the hamburger apart, removed the fresh tomato, and replaced it with ketchup...

Me: "You just took the tomato off."
S: "Yeah..?"
Me: "And replaced it with ketchup."
S: "Yes."
Me: "You do know that ketchup is made with tomatoes, right?"
S: "Yeah, but it's a different experience. It's all about the texture."
Me: (laughing) "I love you."

That was it. No violins or candles, no huge buildup, no "tonight's the night he's going to say it" or any of that other romantic-comedy bullshit. Nope, just her and me, sitting in a booth, laughing and me spontaneously expressing what I was feeling at that moment, which was tremendous respect and affection, and joy at being in her company. You know, love.

And that's how we go through life: Next to each other, facing what's ahead, laughing and taking joy in the simple pleasures when we can, holding on to each other when we can't.

I love you, S.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Damaged goods

Awhile back, Tash pointed out that along with the inescapable portrayals of mothers and babies in the media comes a tendency to portray those who have lost children as crazy or otherwise permanently damaged. Apparently, Glenn Close's character on Damages lost a child (and it's not like Close has ever played someone driven mad by loss or rejection before), and although I've never watched the show, her character doesn't strike me as being all that balanced from the commercials I've seen.

I am also reminded of The Accidental Tourist and Ordinary People, both of which feature relationships irreparably damaged by the death of a child. And then a couple of nights ago, I'm watching an episode of the Masters of Horror series entitled "Sounds Like." I looked forward to this episode because it was directed by Brad Anderson, who is, in my opinion, masterful. The premise of the episode is that the protagonist - a man with exceptional hearing - has recently suffered the death of his young son from an undiscovered heart ailment. He and his wife are trying to conceive again, but his sense of guilt and loss, combined with an inability to let go of his son (indicated by an insistence that his sons' bedroom be left exactly as it was and that nobody enter it) is causing him to become imbalanced, His exceptional hearing becomes painfully acute, and his inability to escape a world of magnified sound drives him to do Bad Things.

It was a well-done episode, but again, the death of a child drives the father homicidally insane (I guess I should be happy someone's paying attention to Dad, I guess), and the mother isn't treated much better - something about her seems off throughout the episode, her desire to conceive couched in unrealistic fantasies and almost infantile, fairy-tale wish fulfillment. If childbirth and motherhood are portrayed as perfecting the woman and legitimizing the marriage, then the death of children apparently ruin the woman and destroy the marriage.

I have no doubt that relationships are destroyed by the death of a child - we hear it from our grief counselor, we read about it in blogs, we see it every day and S and I are constantly grateful for what we have. I have no doubt that women (and men for that matter) who have lost children feel ruined or broken or like they have failed. I don't need to read or hear anything to know that. I know that all too well. But to me it seems like more support for this idea that the culture mandates babies and motherhood - not only is it the state to which we are expected to aspire, but the alternative is presented as inescapably destructive. What kind of message does this send to those of us who have lost children? What hope of recovery do we have?

Tangential but related: Evolutionary theory posits attractiveness as a function of reproductive viability - facial symmetry indicates absence of disease, waist-to-hip ratio indicates feasibility of childbearing for women, physical size indicates health and strength for men. Maybe, then, the social difficulties many of us seem to have - the inappropriate comments, the distance, the awkwardness, the sympathy that seems to dry up around the 6-month mark - may be sort of a hindbrain response. Evidence bears out that we cannot consistently reproduce successfully, and this knowledge thus makes us less attractive as people. Less attractive people get the short end of the stick all the time. What is beautiful is good. What is fit is beautiful. And so the world keeps telling us, like the toll of a bell: Damaged goods, damaged goods, damaged goods.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

6 x 6 (Or: My First Meme)

This comes courtesy of Glow In The Woods - go check it out.

1) In a word, how would you characterize yourself before your loss, and then after?

Before: Full of joy and anticipation.

After: Empty and hard.

2) How do you feel around pregnant women?

Generally okay. It's just when people start talking about their pregnancies and/or children and all of the wonderful (and not-wonderful) stuff that comes with being pregnant and/or having kids that I start to lose it a little. The reminders of what I don't have, of things on which I'm missing out.

3) How do you answer the 'how many children' question?

Haven't had to yet, but if/when I do, I'll just say none. Not exactly true, but it's parsimonious - if they're insensitive enough to follow up with something like "well why not?" then I'll tell them without being especially genteel about it. Otherwise, the people with whom I'd want to talk about it already know.

4) How did you explain what happened to your lost babies to your living children? Or, if this was your first pregnancy, will you tell future children about your first?

We don't have any other children, and at this point, thinking about what we'd tell any children we're able to have what happened to their brothers seems like the height of arrogance. Right now, I'd just be grateful to have a child to tell.

5) What would another pregnancy mean to you, and how would you get through it—or are you done with babymaking?

It took us two years of IUIs, procedures, tests and medication to get as far as we did. The two boys we lost were the first pregnancy to get beyond the chemical pregnancy stage. We're starting to think about trying again, but it seems like so much for little to no guarantee. I have no idea how I'd get through it. I can't imagine that we're done, but I can't imagine how we'd do it either. Like everything else about this whole thing, there are no good options. Everything is bad.

6) Imagine being able to step back in time and whisper into the ear of your past self the day after your babies died. What would you say?

I don't know. I think part of me is still back there. Maybe just tell myself that when I feel like I can survive it, that I'm strong enough, that we'll both get through this somehow, that I'm right.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Some weekend levity

One of the unexpected side effects of the grief S and I feel is a renewed appreciation for all the crappy, horrible, guilty-pleasure snacks we'd normally enjoy in moderation. We have become connoisseurs of junk food. Our tortilla-chip-and-queso capacity will be the stuff of Viking legend. Bards will sing sagas for our ability to put Ruffles and ranch dip away.

To that end, over our last few trips to the grocery store, I've been picking up bags of exotically flavored potato chips. Once I'd gathered 6 different flavors, I decided that we'd have a potato-chip tasting. Absurd? Sure. But we damn well know our chips. Time to expose these fancy-schmancy gourmet flavors to the white heat of our critical palates. So, without further adieu, I present the first annual Once In A Lifetime/So Dear, Yet So Far joint gourmet potato chip tasting.

Some ground rules:

1) Chips were selected for novelty of flavoring. The same company also made "mesquite" and "yogurt and green onion" flavors which, while exotic-sounding, seemed more like pretentious variations of the standard barbecue and sour-cream-and-onion flavors. Which? Boring. If you're going to come to this show, you'd better come with the new, son.

2) Tastings consisted of 3 chips each, which allowed for an initial taste and taste over time.

3) Between tastings, a preferred beverage was used as a palate-cleanser. (Diet Coke for S, iced tea for me).

4) Ratings and criteria are completely subjective, and our judgment is questionable.

So let's get started...

#1: Honey Dijon

Honestly, I would have never thought to make a mustard-flavored potato chip, let alone one that uses a sweet dijon mustard. So I went into this one having little to no preconceptions, and maybe just a little fear. Turns out that that fear was wildly unfounded.

C: "I was expecting a much stronger, more mustardy taste."

S: "I can taste the honey dijon, but that's only for chicken."

C: "As it is, it tastes like somebody waved mustard near the chip, or like I was eating regular chips from a paper plate with mustard stains on it from a recently eaten hot dog."

S: "It's like I'm eating a chicken. Although, there is something to the sweet and salty combination."

C: 2 chips out of 5 ("Sort of bland, inoffensive. Not bad, but not a go-to flavor.")
S: 3 chips out of 5 ("I can see myself eating it when there's nothing else to eat.")

#2: New York Cheddar with Herbs

You don't see cheddar-flavored potato chips too often, so I wasn't sure how this was going to work either. Is it a mild cheddar, a sharp cheddar? An extra-sharp cheddar? What herbs? Oregano? Or something wacky like coriander? Well, turns out we had another whimper, instead of a bang.

S: "I didn't know New York made cheddar."

C: "I am reminded of cheese-flavored Pringles, without the regrettable aftertaste."

S: "Enh. I'm not really a cheese-and-potato-chip person."

C: "Again, not as bold a taste as I would have expected."

C: 2.5 chips out of 5 ("Sort of underwhelming.")
S: 2 chips out of 5 ("Not really doing it for me.")

#3: Island Jerk

It's been years and years since I had jerk chicken, but I remember really liking it, and thinking that this particular approach to seasoning could be quite the upsetter to more conventional barbecue chips or the Doritos X-treme Habanero Ranch Bleu Cheese Spice Explosion flavors. At this point, I was a little worried, though. None of the other flavors had lived up to the wild rollercoaster of flavor I'd been anticipating. Until this one...

C: "Mmmm. I like this."

S: "This is kind of interesting."

C: "Here, the flavor is assertive without burning my mouth. Very good, and probably hard to scarf an entire bag without injuring yourself."

S: "There's kind of a brown-sugary thing, sort of sweet and spicy."

C: 3.5 chips out of 5 ("This is the first one I've really liked")
S: 3.5/4 chips out of 5 ("Yeah.")

#4: Tuscan Three Cheese

The New York Cheddar was weak sauce, the Honey Dijon didn't really do anything either. Was this going to be the chip to stand up for the non-spicy contingent? Would I really be taken on a trip to Tuscany, afloat on a raft of potato-chip goodness? I wouldn't. S, on the other hand, would.

S: "Initially better than I thought it was going to be."

C: "Not getting anything especially Mediterranean from this."

S: "Less cheesy and Do you know what I mean?"

C: "It's a pleasant, slightly cheesy chip, but I'm not sure Tuscany figures into it at all. And are there really three cheeses here? I'm getting sort of a general cheese thing, but not three cheeses."

S: 4 chips out of 5 ("I like these - can you get me some that aren't burnt?")
C: 2.5/3 chips out of 5 ("Meh. Not bad, but nothing special.")

#5: Buffalo Bleu

This is a bold move against the conventional barbecue flavor. I think there's a buffalo-flavored Doritos product as well, but they've probably added Citrus Burst or something to it. This should be one loud, clear note of buffalo spice with a cool, almost-sweet bleu undertone. And it almost was.

S: "I'm scared - these look spicy."

C: "Ahh, now this is what I was expecting."

S: "Oof - that's a little too spicy. A little too much going on with this one."

C: "Something with some bite, and it actually tastes like buffalo wing sauce. Not really getting the bleu cheese taste, but I'm liking these."

S: 1/2 chips out of 5 ("I would rather not eat those")
C: 3/4 chips out of 5 ("nom nom nom nom nom")

#6: Spicy Thai

S and I both love Thai food. But for the purposes of this chip, we were pretty sure this wasn't going to mean "peanut sauce." I was afraid that it was going to be some red-pepper monstrosity. Which, mercifully, it wasn't. Now I sort of wonder what a lemongrass chip would be like...

C: "Mmm. Reminds me of the Island Jerk - starts off sweet, then burns a little. "

S: "Again, a little sweet, a little spicy. But I don't like this as much as the other one."

C:"I definitely taste the ginger here. I could eat these, especially when I feel a little masochistic."

S:"It's a little spicier - this would be good with a bleu cheese or ranch dip."

S: 3.5 chips out of 5 ("I think it needs something to cool it off")
C: 3.5 chips out of 5 ("Maybe I can eat the rest of these while she's asleep...I didn't say that out loud, did I?")

So, to recap:

S's top three: Tuscan Three Cheese, Island Jerk, , Spicy Thai ("These would all be better if they weren't BURNT!")

C's top three: Island Jerk, Buffalo Bleu, Spicy Thai ("I don' t know what your problem is. I like burnt chips.")

I'm sure we'll be able to divide the remainder of the chips up equitably for snacking purposes. Those Tuscan chips are all S, I'm going to be the only one going near the Buffalo Bleu chips. I suspect, however, that negotiations for the Island Jerk and Spicy Thai will be strained. There may be open warfare. And, as is always the case, it is the innocent, harmless Honey Dijon and New York Cheddar caught in the middle. But these are the wages of snack food.

Friday, May 2, 2008

What's mine is mine, unless it's also yours.

I'm beginning to develop kind of a weird relationship with my grief. It's a part of me - settled in and camped out for the duration - but it's also the product of outside events, of the death of my sons. So it's both part of me and something that happened to me. This isn't the weird part, this is just bullshit intellectualizing of something really painful and exhausting. The weird part is that I feel like I'm becoming almost protective of my grief sometimes. Other times, I want to share it with the world, much like a new strain of plague.

My situation has been pretty typical, apparently, for a grieving man - which is to say that nobody says shit about it to me. I can understand people's discomfort, and I can understand them not wanting all the gory details and everything. I'd probably be more concerned if they wanted to revel in my misery along with me. But in the face of good news and excitement and celebration and stuff like that, it sort of feels like my grief may be forgotten or lost. I mean, sure, why dwell on things that bum you out if you don't have to? But I have to. I have no choice, my grief is always there. So sometimes I want to be up in everyone's face, scream that my sons are dead and I wake up every morning with this, go to bed every night with this, the knowledge of what I do not and will not have.

At other times, though, I feel like my grief is something so profound and so personal, so rooted in myself, that I become selective about those with whom I will share it. I don't want to give that part of myself away to just anybody. It hurts, it sucks the light and life out of me, it makes navigating the world a minefield. And the same contrarian, confrontational side of me that wants to rub everyone's nose in my pain also wants to shut people out, deny them access to the part of me that hurts so much. Not because they could hurt me more, but because they haven't earned the right. They don't get to know me that well yet.

Which all just seems to indicate that grief or no grief, I'm pretty much completely fucked up in the head.