Life is better with you

We interrupt this blog for the sole purpose of wishing my beloved a very happy 20th anniversary.

I have only this to say:

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Bear feet and pregnant

Coming home from the post office yesterday morning, I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting a bear cub. Let me say that again. There was a bear. In the road. You know, those big furry lumbering things that live at the Bronx zoo? Turns out, most bears are not native New Yorkers. Turns out, they ARE native to our back yard. I suppose it’s their yard though, isn’t it..we’re just squatting.

Jen. You know I love you.
No good sentence has ever begun this way
But?
But you’re not thinking clearly. Do you really want this reminder everyday for the rest of your life? This is exactly why we HAVE abortions. No one will blame you.

Believe it or not, this decision is based on more than a fear of who might place blame where.

She tries again. Speaking slowly the way one might upon realizing they’re trying to rationalize with the utterly irrational. In case I’ve reached a level of crazy that might lend itself to homicide. She’s about to play her trump card and it’s one I’ll have laid before me more than once in the upcoming months.

You’ll never be able to forget.

No. No, I won’t. Baby or no baby, I don’t think that forgetting is very likely.

But I will be able to move on.

There is dark, and there is mountain dark. In mountain dark, you might be the only one in the world. It is a viscous velvet, rich. Standing outside, I’m enveloped in this cloak of invisibility and I disappear. I can find my way out but I cannot be found. I’m not scared.  I am safe. Even knowing about the bears doesn’t make me nervous, though it probably should.

The first thing you have to do is have an abortion. 

I’m walking in an aimless circle around our neighborhood in suburban North Carolina. It’s cold but sunny and the chill is tolerable. Young children are shrieking about everything that is happy shriek-worthy in their universe, teenagers have planted themselves in sullen clumps on the sidewalk shuffling around to keep warm, too cool for coats, and parents arriving home late from work overtaxed  and exhausted are ordering pizza from the locally owned “Michelangelo’s” (home of one amazing cannoli.)
It all appears very status quo..
For them.
For me? Well. I’ve been living far outside any semblance of a status quo for months. And now I’m on the phone telling my mother that I’m pregnant again. Only this time..

Jennifer. You need to get an abortion.
My silence is unnerving to her. She knows what it means.
Your body is not strong enough to sustain a pregnancy. You barely made it through last time. And that was almost a decade ago!

She’s not wrong about my physical limitations or the fraught with complications pregnancy nine years ago. The one from which my body hadn’t yet recovered. Between then and now there was another relapse into anorexia, a spring and summer of inpatient treatment. I know her concerns for me continuing with this pregnancy are not limited to the hardship on my body. Then:
“You do not need five children.”
It should be noted that she said the exact same thing when we told her about number four. And come to think of it, number three.
I’m my mother’s only. She doesn’t quite get the appeal of a large family. It’s all too…TOO. Noise and mess and activity. She can’t deal. It’s not for everybody.

“God will understand.”
I love my mom. I know at this moment just how scared she is for me. For her to bring deity into the conversation…

She is not a believer and simultaneously not NOT a believer. She says she has her own relationship with God and it’s none of anyone’s business especially bible-thumpers like me. This is said playfully although she isn’t really kidding.
How can I make her understand? I’m not keeping the baby out of some sense of religious obligation. Not fear of eternal repercussions. It isn’t about morality or politics or even trying to atone for past sins. How do I explain that there simply isn’t a choice to be made. Like breathing or blinking. There’s a baby on the way, herego, I am having a baby.

“Please..please think about it. You’ll have this reminder forever.

It’ll be okay, Mom.
This is something that I know. If nothing else.
It’ll be okay.

There is no neighborhood to walk about now. Our home is nestled amid several acres of wooded hillside. Every half mile , give or take, there are other homes. Now that spring has sprung, some afternoons I’ll strap Josh to my chest and we’ll go exploring. We both stare in wonder at the rolling hills and valleys and smoky mountain peaks that he will grow up calling home. He babbles and grins at the meadows dotted with languid, lowing cows or cantering horses. His chubby little legs kick when we stop to watch the baby goats buck and bounce against each other. Because the last thing we need are goats, there is serious talk about getting a few in the upcoming weeks. We see donkeys and alpacas and chickens and occasionally a truck rumbles by and we get a wave and a smile. Because it’s that kind of place.

I am moving on.
For better and for worse, nothing is as it was.
I have not forgotten. The reminders everyone was so concerned with, are everywhere.
Air so crisp and cool that even though it’s almost May, I light the fireplace in my bedroom most mornings.
A forty minute drive to the nearest grocery store every time we forget to pick up diapers or milk.
The sound of distant gunshots that aren’t cause for alarm for anyone not sporting antlers.

And there is Joshua.
His presence reminds me..of course it does.
When I scoop him up in my arms, I am reminded of how I triumphed over the evil that could have destroyed me.
When he puts his tiny hands on either side of my face and looks into my eyes, I am reminded of my terrific vulnerability and God’s protection.
When I see him sleeping, thumb in his mouth, bottom up in the air like a little stinkbug, I am so hopelessly in love and filled with such a physical yearning to keep him safe, that I am reminded of the One who loved me enough to lay it all down. To suffer and die so I might live.
I am , daily, reminded of who and whose I am. The depths from which I was pulled, the heights in my future that I never before imagined I could reach.

As was told to me so often, I will not forget, cannot forget, don’t want to ever forget, that one dark and blustery January afternoon last year, Someone found me worthy of saving. Worthy of another chance. Of a new life.

And that. That’s the reminder I have in my son.

Well, in him, and the occasional bear cub.

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Butterflies and a baby

Emailed from somewhere on the ocean on a ship on a bed of uncertainty on : February 21, 2014

“Dearest friend,

The past month I’ve been walking around thinking… I’ve been raped. I’m a woman who has been raped.. And it doesn’t feel real. Except when Jeff grabs me playfully into a hug, surprises me.. And I scream. Fold in half. Clench my fists. And suddenly I’m there. Fighting. Humiliated. For some reason, ashamed. I go over that day in my head…and over it and over it. I don’t want to. But it’s there.

I found out on board. We were leaving Aruba which I got to see from the porthole of the medical unit where I’d been since day two. Dysentery, they figured. Only the antibiotics weren’t helping. The pregnancy test was my idea. The doctor caring for me, one of two on the ship, wanted to put me on a stronger IV cocktail and something inside me cringed at this plan. What if.. I was sure I wasn’t but –

The doctor, Kat was her name, said it was too early. A pregnancy wouldn’t show up. But I had been the only patient for days and there was all kinds of time to humor me.

“See? Negative. Definitely negative.” That’s what she said. Definitely. Then right before she went to throw that little stick away, that life changing stick, she stopped. Held it up to the light. Squinted. Turned it in every direction. “After five minutes, you can’t read it anymore. You’ll get a false reading.” I know this. I also know she’s stalling. It hadn’t been anywhere close to five minutes. Thirty seconds.. Maybe forty. I asked to see it. “There are two lines.” My voice is flat and dispassionate. A voice announcing movie times or reading through coupons. “It’s positive.” I tell her, “That’s a positive.” “Maybe”, she hedges. Maybe? I look at her wondering where she got her medical degree. Online, maybe. I get it though. This is more than she has bargained for. She is unprepared. Yeah. Well. My world and welcome to it.

She dips another stick that I take from her immediately to watch that second line appear. Somehow I’m both shocked and not. Two days later, we dock in Cartagena, Colombia and a local missionary greets me off the ship. I wonder how much he knows. He’s all big toothy grins and full of historical tidbits about this city that he clearly loves. I’m so weary. I want to lay my head on his shoulder and cry and have him stroke my hair and call me sweetheart and tell me that everything will be all right. Like a daddy would. The way I’ve seen Jeff comfort Julia a hundred times. What would he do? I briefly toy with the idea in that nothing-left-to-lose way and consider the possibility that I’ve lost my mind. Out the window, the city looks no different from downtown San Diego from the weary palm trees, dingy from auto exhaust, to the colorful Spanish graffiti utilizing unconventional canvas to spread a message I don’t understand. This is comforting. Not hair stroking comforting, but it helps. I’m taken to what resembles a basement but I’m promised is a perfectly adequate hospital where no one speaks English. It doesn’t matter. Butterflies are slowly hatching in my belly when I see the dot on the internal ultrasound. And that’s the same in any language.

I smile at him/her.

I smile.

And just like that, I’m overwhelmed with love and a fierce defensiveness that would grow each time I’m told how “easy” it is to terminate at this stage.Terminate. What a horrible word. I pop a pill and within a day or two it’s done. But it wouldn’t be. No matter what road I take, there is no done.

The medical staff was adamant. I wasn’t angry exactly but I was bracing for a fight. Maybe that’s unfair. I know they were trying to comfort me. I was uncharacteristically quiet, wrapping my arms around my already slightly swollen middle (damn uterus muscle memory) telling myself it would reflect poorly on me were I to punch anyone in the head and just keep cool. All I know is that no one, and I mean no one.. is getting near my baby.

 It’s not the feeling you’d expect to have , that you’d expect anyone to have..How amazing is God…

My favorite nurse. She speaks in a lilting Irish brogue and has a face full of freckles. She held my hands in hers and told me I’ll be able to move on once I “take care” of this. A terribly sad mask washes over her face when she whispers, “this innocent little victim”, referring to the baby (who nobody calls a “baby” because then it’s real.) Innocent. Her way of preserving this innocence is through abortion. She sees it as a mercy killing and she is far from alone. I will need to prepare myself for the backlash. She asks about Jeff and the kids and swoons over my Facebook pictures and is everything I need.. But I know she won’t understand when I tell her.

Them. I asked to see the whole team. Both doctors, the nurses, and a few housekeepers who kept me occupied when they scrubbed their way down the halls at 3am and inevitably spotted me staring blankly at the ceiling.

Deep breath. There are those butterflies. Butterflies keeping my baby company. “Thank you for being so caring. You’ve made a really tough time a lot better than it could have been. I’ll remember you all. ” Here goes. “If…if you ever think about this again, if you ever wonder what happened to me..My husband and I had a beautiful baby in the fall.”

There was a moment of just..nothingness. Then the doctor, the one all the the nurses good naturedly fought over, the one nicknamed Dr.Clooney, smiled at me. A genuine smile. “Did you ever know you could be so strong?” There were murmurs of assent from the crew. They may not agree with my decision, but they did respect it.

Here’s something that will stay with me forever. Good old Kat? She of the zero bedside manner, Ukrainian, I think.. not cold exactly but very clinical. Unwilling to cross any professional lines and show herself human. She had tears in her eyes. She didn’t speak. Just nodded at me..her face soft. I realized something then.. The fact that it hit her in this way, hit ME. God did something. I don’t know what and I don’t need to. She was moved. He can use this. This nightmare. He can use me.

There are hugs all around but for one notable exception. My hand holding nurse from the emerald isle, had already left.

It’s almost 4:30am and I haven’t slept for days. I’m scared.

But

But this is a baby.

There can never be anything sad about a baby. They’re a beautiful reminder that God still works miracles. In all things. Right? I mean,..

I don’t know. I don’t know anything. Nothing is real. Nothing since before him. Surely nothing after.

There is only this.

I’m a woman who was raped. And I’m having a baby.

That’s a book. Or, at least a really good blog piece.

~ Jen ”

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I Will Be Whole (originally drafted May 2014)

“You’ve canceled a lot of appointments..”

Yeah…you know…work and kids..”  I trail off.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                “We need to talk about it. You need to talk about it.”

“I know. We will. I will.”

The contents of my bag are endlessly fascinating. My hair falls like a curtain across my cheeks as I rummage deeper.

“It was horrific and violating and..”

                                                                                                    “So, two weeks then?”

                                                                                                                         But I would cancel that one too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The first coherent thought that came to me when I heard her screams:

Why have I never learned Spanish?

Years of watching “Dora the Explorer” with my children when they were toddlers, two years of high school study, two entire decades of hearing my mother in law chattering with her Nicaraguan family.. these did nothing to solidify the fragments of a foreign tongue, words bereft of meaning floating around my head like fragile soap bubbles. Pop popping into nothingness. Gone.

My back hurt. I was lying in a strange, unnatural position. Almost upside down. A seizure. That was my first thought. Since my car accident two summers ago, seizures have been an oft present nuisance. I came to at the sound of a hollow thunk. A stairwell door opening, a bitter rush of January wind slapping me hard in the face. My head too. It hurt. The screamer, dressed in the drab camel colored jumper worn by the hotel’s housekeeping staff, bent over me now crooning gently. Shielding me with her body. I realize that I’m only partially clothed. Attempts to sit up, valiant…. are ultimately in vain, and it’s then I notice my hands. Nails torn. Palms bruised. Polka dots of blood.

I remembered.

Not everything. But that I fought. I remembered that I fought.

(“You should talk about it.”

                                                                                                                    “No. Really..I don’t need to.”)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Weeks later I am walking through a parking lot of sorts. Wooded and dark, I’m looking for my car. And it hits me. I’m going to die. I know it. I see the look that was in his eyes and those eyes are suddenly watching me from… from everywhere.

I’m on the phone, my husband’s voice a salve,

“I’m on my way.. breathe baby..”

But I am breathing. I’m breathing so my head spins and diamonds dance before me. Those eyes. From each tinted building window, in the headlights of passing traffic, through the branches of the dying trees, naked and brittle as I feel.

(“You need to talk about it.”

                                                                                                            “No! …No, I really don’t.”)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      My mind speaks plenty. To me. At me. Never silent. If, by chance, I ever visit the elusive state of slumber, it’s jarring to wake. For a moment I feel again the heft of his body, crushing and immovable. My face pressed hard against the floor.I taste the well-worn carpet pilling on my lips.

I’m silent. Then and now.

I surrendered after a minute. Or an hour. A lifetime.

As is the case with so many things, fighting made it worse.

Then and now.

(“You have to talk about it.”

                                                                                                                  “I don’t want…”)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      But that isn’t entirely true.

So I do. I talk. Some.

Winter passes,

the ice thaws,

new life strains at creation’s lettuced edge.

With the Sonshine beginning to brush away my bruises, the road ahead seems slightly less endless. Slightly less impossible to navigate.

I will talk about it.

I will tell.

I will be whole again.

The world has darkened, my world, but I don’t have to let it darken me.  I will not live as a victim. Not in fear and not in shame. I will survive. More than that. Thrive.

I will talk about it.

Need to. Have to.

As I write this, a child rolls lazily in my womb. A child whose soul came into being at the very moment I felt my own being ripped away. He is my son. An innocent as I was. The good come out of evil. The unexpected gift that reminds me that as life goes on, so must I.

I’ve never let pain define me.

Who I am is not a recovering eating disorder, a once abused child, or the crazy crosshatching of silver scars that adorn the body of every cutter, past or present.

And I am not a rape victim.

What I am is passionate and quick tempered and more than just a little off-center. I’m moody and introspective, impatient and stubborn. I speak when I should listen and I laugh too loudly and I love too recklessly. I am impulsive and loyal and fierce and altogether too much sometimes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         But

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I am not a victim.

I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a child of God. I’m a woman, again, standing. The ashes of yesterday cling stubbornly to my skin like melting snowflakes, but I am standing even so.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  And I will be whole.

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