Thursday, October 30, 2008

An ending, a beginning

Strange to be no more of Earth,
To quite half learned habits.
To view roses and their kind
No more in human terms.
To be no more a babe in arms
That ever fear to drop you.
To leave the name you are known by like a child leaves
A broken toy.

Children who have gone do not require us.
Weaned, they need no mother’s breast.
Our joys and sorrows don’t concern them.
But we, for whom the mysteries are golden,
Still unsolved, our very sustenance –
Can we exist without them?
Grief is our spirit’s fodder.

- Rainer Marie Rilke
We all know life has its twists and turns, and unexpected events. My life has had so many – in the younger years – that to write about this part of it feels like I’m writing about a different person…

She had always wanted to be a mom.

Like most little girls growing up in the 60’s she assumed she would be a wife and mom, just like her mother. She had no way of knowing that loss and grief and addiction would take over so much of her life, which started out (to all appearances) in a normal middle class suburban home.

During school she was a well-behaved, quiet girl, In high school she found a group of friends, and involvement in what was to her a fantastical world. The darkened theatre, with it’s prominent stage, and the lights, the actors, the smell of freshly sawed wood, and the satisfaction of being a part of creating something behind the scenes. Add to this the silliness of a teenager, parties with lava lamps and incense, listening to Bread, Jethro Tull, and Jesus Christ Superstar (no drugs yet), walks in the park, swinging on swings beneath the Summer Tree with her best friend, singing and talking, and the feeling of learning to be independent from her parents. It was a fine time in her short life, for the most part, in spite of having major surgery, insecurities, and some dark thoughts.

When this time was over, life for Rose became a serious of misadventures and rebellion as she tried to find her own way, punctuated by increasing amounts of alcohol and the use of many types of drugs – marijuana and hallucinogens being in the forefront. She tried college, and various jobs, but was carried away by the events and connection she had with some younger adolescents. During the course of these experiences – driving around, getting high, and “partying” - she met Don. He was nineteen, lived on his own, with a roommate, in the apartment complex behind the high school, and primarily sold drugs for a living. One day Rose realized one day she was living there with him.

After months of taking acid, PCP, speed, mescaline, and other drugs -- along with a constant supply of alcohol and marijuana; after some episodes of violence and police searches; after losing her savings to a bad drug deal, Rose realized she was pregnant. This made her and Don very happy, and they took this as a sign they needed to change their ways. In fact they decided to change everything, and went to Wisconsin to live in the country and start anew. Neither had drivers’ licenses by then, they were driving a car with illegal plates, and had no real plan. But, oh, it was thrilling, driving so fast on those back roads!

In a short time they were broke, homeless and hungry. While exploring a small lake area the young couple met a man who was temporarily living at the campground, and he took them out for drinks. There was Rose, pregnant and hungry, drinking beer – she was close to passing out. Finally the man bought them some food. He let them stay in his tent over the weekend while he was gone, then introduced them to his girlfriend. This woman had a nice house and some small children; she let the couple stay with her while Don, who had found a construction job, went to work and Rose cleaned, cooked, and took care of the kids.

One day, riding in the back of a pickup truck on the way to visit someone’s farm, she saw graffiti written on the side of an old train car in large letters: TEENAGE WASTELAND. She was nineteen.

Not long after, the idea of having a life with Don and trying to survive seemed empty and wrong. She wanted to go home. She called her best friend who came and took her back to her Illinois suburb. But Rose’s parents didn’t want a baby in the house; at least one of them was against it, she did not know which one. They fought over the situation while she slept on the couch, since her bedroom had been given to her brother. Her mother found a place for her to go. It was a “home” for unwed pregnant ladies in the city, run by Catholic Charities. It was, in fact, in a building that used to be a convent.

Living with other pregnant young women was not easy. To cope, she still had a few drinks now and then, and smoked some pot when she got the chance. It seemed like she went through a hundred indescribable emotions daily. Everything was new and strange, being in the city, and once she had an episode of fear and disorientation that left her standing on the sidewalk while others walked around her. She saw the garbage, grey skies and brick walls, and was frozen in abhorrence of the time and place. Pregnancy, however, agreed with her physically since the morning sickness had passed, and she was healthy and strong. She was hired to work in an office at the catholic hospital affiliated with the “convent”.

The months went by in an odd sort of haze, in spite of the need for a decision -- to keep the baby or give it up for adoption. She wanted to be a mother very badly but she also knew she would be on her own, and possibly on welfare; although there was still communication with Don, she did not trust him to help raise a child. She would never know what the final decision would have been.

A week or so after acting as partner for another woman’s delivery, holding her friend’s hand while giving birth and then watching her hand the baby over for adoption, Rose felt some odd cramping. Earlier that day she had been out with her mother and had come very close to being hit by a bus, so when back in her room she smoked some pot she'd hidden. It was more than a month too early to go into labor, and the pains were not strong. However when they did not abate she went to her friend’s room for advice, and they called the doctor. He advised her to walk around and if it was false labor the cramps would go away. They did not go away. The two women took a taxi to the hospital, and in no time at all the birth was over, and the baby boy was taken away. Rose saw him twice – once when was first born and once in the incubator. He had red hair like his father. She and Don had decided if it was a boy he would be named Daniel Christopher – a long name for a tiny baby.
Because a lung had collapsed little Daniel was taken to the children’s hospital. It appeared that Rose had been only about six months along, rather than seven as she originally thought. Sometime during the next day she was told the other lung collapsed and she had to make a decision. Let him go, she said.

Her mother brought wine for them to drink -- the usual family response to any event. Later that evening they went downstairs to the cafeteria. The lights were dim, there were strange decorations hanging down and some people were wearing costumes. Rose felt like she was in some odd kind of half nightmare world. It was only then she realized it was Halloween.

After, there were more troubles: with people, with depression, pain involving a good deal of dental work, finding a job she could walk to (back at home in the suburb again), and a grief that defined her for many, many years. (Which she poured alcohol and drugs on top of, but did not numb it). Rose believed she was supposed to be a mother. Oh, there were other chances to have children, but none of them were the right time, or place, or with the right person. And underneath, always the fear – fear of hope, fear of loss.

It wasn’t until around the age of forty when I began to accept that it was OK not to have children, and that it didn’t mean I was a failure as a woman. Around that same time, having finally obtained a bachelor’s degree, I began working with teenagers. Inappropriate though some thought it was, I was able to put nearly all of my energy into being there for those kids for a number of years. I don’t regret it because I know I made a difference, and because of all I learned. They say everything happens for a reason; what they don’t tell you is it can take a long, long time to find out what those reasons are.