Sunday, September 19, 2010

Welcome To Fight Club.

Fight Club might have had a point.

Not the obvious one - that underground bare-knuckle fighting is awesome - because that's retarded machismo.

But the idea that you can't know yourself unless you've been in a fight? There might be something there.

Getting beaten is a direct, specific experience. It isn't another thing, it is what it is.  It is the most basic form of an intensely personal crisis. There's something about the implacability of it - whether or not you want to be, you are getting hurt. Losing the boys was happening, whether we wanted it to or not. It had its own momentum, and we were caught in its center. Begging for it stop would do nothing. So, as a man, I had to stand up in the middle of it. Like a beating, I had to withstand it. This is the lesson we learn from childhood - that we have to learn to take it, to push through crisis and chaos and grief and continue to function. To man up.

At one point in the film, Tyler Durden gives the narrator a chemical burn and prevents him from doing anything but experience it. No going to a serene place, no blocking it out, no mediation. Feel the agony. Be present as you are hurt by something you cannot stop. Think through it. It is an unstoppable force, and in everything - communicating with doctors, calling family and friends, taking care of S., paying attention, weighing costs and benefits, pros and cons, probabilities, having to think even as I could do nothing but scream inside - I had to become an immovable object.

And now, in many things, I continue to be immovable. As bad as it was, never say it couldn't get worse. But the stakes were higher than anything that came before. Life and death, and decisions, and raw suffering I couldn't avoid. It's hard to get really upset or anxious or freaked out about little things anymore. I've seen an abyss. The cold, unblinking eye of circumstance. I don't get as anxious as easily as I used to. I was called upon to do what men are expected to do, and I did it. I grew up that day. Ironically, it was the loss of my sons that made me the sort of man truly suitable to be a father.

I became a man. Like Richard Pryor said, you aren't a man until you've had your damn heart broken. I had my heart broken. This is what it means to be a man who suffers this loss. Toughen up. Withstand it.  This is the moment that defines you and puts everything into perspective. You are in this, you have to be here and still be clearheaded enough to make one of the worst decisions of your life. And for us, that's where our story ends. We go back to work, we continue with life. We soldier on.

The first rule is you don't talk about it.

The second rule is you don't talk about it.

If this is your first night, you have to fight.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


My dreams are full of dread.

This is the earliest I've been up on a Sunday in some time, and it's because despite the comfortable bed, the snoozing dog, the proximity of S, and the decongestant/cough suppressant that I take to reduce my snoring (mostly the cough suppressant part because that shit knocks me out), my eyes snapped open. I don't remember my dreams very well - I think last night there was something about the ghosts of some cult members, possession, and the importance of bell-shaped objects, all taking place in what I think was supposed to be a brand-new Apple Store - and although many of the dream's features would normally push it over into nightmare territory for me, I was just left with the same lingering sense of unease that I'm also getting from my more innocuous dreams lately. Not really sure what's that about.

It might be my medication. I'm on what seems to be a pretty optimal combination of happy pills, and my waking life is on a pretty even keel right now. I've also had some pretty nice experiences lately, just affirming, validating things, and that helps too. S. is doing a lot better, and that helps quite a bit. She's still grappling with a lot of issues, but she's actually dealing with them. It's hard sometimes, and it's painful, but she seems less stuck than she used to.  She laughs and smiles more. I see more of the woman I love every day, and it's good. Besides the fertility drugs, we also took all of the maternity clothes and books on motherhood we'd stashed in my home office after we lost the boys and donated them to a community resource center, a place that exists to provide the needy with necessities for free. A hand up. Even though it's tough to remember it in our pain, there are young women out there who are pregnant and are going to have a healthy child even though they aren't ready, and I have to know, even if I can't actually empathize with them, that that is fucking terrifying. Getting rid of that stuff made me feel lighter, less burdened somehow.

I'm still pretty angry, but it's at a narrower range of people. I'm at the point now where I wish Discovery Health would just subdivide itself into Discovery Gruesome Medical Stuff and Discovery Holy Shit Babies Everywhere so I could just avoid all of the pregnancy shows altogether and focus on the gross E.R. and autopsy shows. I've always had an easier time dealing with the wreckage of injury than the miracle of birth on a visceral (ha-ha) level - even before we were trying, we used to watch the show "Maternity Ward" (back when a healthy, typical person having one baby was considered interesting enough for TV), and the births always looked like bad monster effects to me - rubbery-looking babies covered in slime squicked me out way more than a guy whose legs were pointed at impossible angles.

So if I was grossed out before, I'm ruined for it now. Even above and beyond shows like "Paralyzed Dwarf With Autistic Quadruplets" or "I'm Not Middle-Class And White, And Yet I'm Pregnant" or "Is The Next Baby Going To Actually Kill Michelle Duggar And What Does This Say About Our Value System", the whole miracle of birth thing is ruined for me. My only experience of it is a dark, horrible parody, a nightmare-dimension version of blood and screaming and sharp, expressionistic shadows and fading in and out of consciousness. I think I know why I'm so fascinated with horror movies now - half the most useful tropes of the last forty years were there in that delivery room. That's where my trauma lives.

But I was talking about anger. I think finally being able to articulate my biggest gripe with modern parenting in the U.S. has helped some of the free-floating rage. Just being able to express that it seems like there's something about parenting that makes some people develop a blind spot for civil behavior around their kids - as if being a parent gives you license to be ignorant, irrational, rude and shitty about issues around parenting, and makes some people consumed with the most trivial shit all of a sudden - seems to have made that easier to deal with. Some of the stuff I say to the TV would still turn most people's hair white, but fuck'em.

I still don't know what the dread means, though. Maybe it's because S. is doing much better - the last time she was doing well (which was when we still thought we had a chance at having our own kids biologically), I started feeling my own grief more because I wasn't looking over her. That might be it, it's like an ache. Dull, diffuse, but still an ache. The throb of an old wound or injury when the weather turns. I'll live, I'll be happy, but this may be my legacy - the quiet ache when I see fathers holding their children, living alongside them. Whether this is okay with me or not is immaterial - it just is, whether I want it to be or not. I think we'll be okay. We'll probably never be whole, but we'll be okay.

The sun is out, and the sky is a cloudless blue. It's a quiet Sunday morning, and the cats are asleep on the couch, S. and the dog are sleeping upstairs. I'm glad for this moment, and I'm glad that I have what I have. If my dreams have to be laced with quiet dread, that's okay. Because at least right now, the world when I am awake is not.