Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sexual Tension Grows Between Ex-lovers

Erik folded his hands beneath his black sweater, his thumbs fidgeting with the wool.

“I know we' re supposed to go to dinner,” he said, “But I don't know if I can even eat right now.”

I laughed. “What? Am I making you sick?”

“No, no, not at all, it's that . . . it's just a lot, being with you.”

Our break-up three years ago was the farthest thing from civil, and I knew, after not seeing eachother for all of that time, we were both uncertain of what we should do with the palpable sexual tension that now filled the two-foot gap between us on the couch.

“I was just teasing. I know exactly what you mean. I didn't think I would be so happy to be with you. Oh, wait, that came out wrong. It's not that I didn't want to see you, but something feels different. We really should plan to see eachother more often.”

Erik scooted towards me, speaking softly. “Hyla, I would really like that, but, you know, after being with you this past hour, well, I don't really know how to say this, but I don't think I can be your friend.”


“This might come out sounding crazy, but, um, I am still in love with you.”

I grabbed a burgundy pillow and held it to my chest. “Oh, wow, that is amazing that you would just come out and say that.”

How could he still be in love with me?

“It is what it is. I guess I can't help it. For the past three years, my friends have been telling me to forget about you, and, even though we weren't in touch, well, I just couldn't let go. I tried dating. I really tried.”

“I am sure you did. You're a total catch.”

“But, everytime I went out with someone, all I could do was compare them to you. You have to understand that I really meant those words when I proposed to you in college. There is something about you, about us, that has always made sense to me.”

“I don't know what to say. I feel honored.”

Erik took off his glasses and exhaled. “Having essentially poured my heart out to you, what I am trying to say is that I need you to feel more than honored. I need to you to feel like there is a chance for us again. Otherwise, it would be too painful for me to see eachother as friends.”

Each word he spoke brought me closer to him, each truth he revealed seduced me deeper into his heart. He wasn't playing games like so many men I had been dating. Erik was real. Erik was unbelievably masculine and also willing to share his soul. That, to me, was the definition of sexy.

I got up from the couch, stood directly in front of him, and then climbed into his lap, wrapping one leg at a time around his waist, so I could align our bodies. “Does this feel like friends?”

“Yeah, uh, no, this definitely does not feel like friends.”

“Listen, I may have some catching up to do on the love front because I just got out of pretty bad relationship, but, no, I do not want to be your friend.”

My pelvis pressed against his and I let out a moan, grabbing his jaw with both of my hands, pulling his lips close to mine.

“Watcha doin?” he said impishly.

I knew I was already being devious enough by straddling his lap, but I smiled. “You don't mind if I kiss you, do you?”

“Hmm...I'm guessing you can probably feel how hard I am beneath you right now, so I think you can figure the answer to that question out on your own.”

We kissed, and then we kissed some more, our bodies merging into eachother. We were fully clothed, but my back arched again and again. His fingers tugged at my long brown hair.

Oh, it felt so good to be with him. A comforting distant memory given a new life. A chance. He had grown up. I had grown up. We were both established in our careers, in our selves. Was it possible that he was the one after all?

We could not contain our sounds of pleasure, nor did we want to.

I whispered, “You make me feel, oh, uh, mmmmm, incredible . . .”

“That's because you are . . . and I am going to show you.”

Erik forcefully grabbed my hips and slid our still-clothed pelvises up and down, harder and harder, rubbing his jeans on me in all the right ways, until both of submitted to the wet euphoria and orgasmed with sheer ecstacy, as one.

We collapsed into the scent of our sweat, our breath, the sex-tainted musk of my perfume.

For several minutes, we remained in eachother's arms, both of us quiet, gratefully consuming the moment.

“I certainly wasn't expecting that,” I said.

“Are you alright with what just happened?”

“Hmmm....let me think about that. Silly! I'm just thinking we need to do it again. Like, right now.”

And so, we did it another time, and another time after that, melting into the familiarity of what once was and what was yet to become.

Friday, November 27, 2009

God Inflicts Anger

I walk out of the closet, my arms full of Erik’s shirts, all still on hangers. My 8-month-pregnant belly acts as a shelf, enabling me to carry more.

“I hope you’re alright with this,” I say to my brother, Troy. “That you don’t think it’s weird I’m giving you Erik’s stuff.”

I pile the shirts on top of my bed, the white plastic hangers clinking together like falling dominoes.

“No, I don’t think it’s weird, as long as you’re fine, as long as you feel ready,” Troy holds up a navy blue button-down. “This one will definitely fit.”

“Erik would be really happy you had these, I’m sure of it.”

It hasn’t even been three weeks since the blood trickled down the side of my husband’s mouth on Easter Sunday, but I have to give some of his things away.

His clothes keep calling to me. The soothing vanilla scent of Erik draws me into the closet again and again. I embrace his sweaters, his white t-shirts, inhaling the last remnants of his physical body. I imagine Erik following me into the walk-in to grab my ass, to tickle me, to tell me that none of this really happened, but I have to stop pretending he will reappear.

“I’ll be honored to wear them,” Troy says.

We have not spoken much about that night that my brother worked to resuscitate Erik, but I hope that Troy has let go of his guilt. There was nothing he could have done. Nothing any of us could have done to save him.

“I kept the things I know I will wear . . . or that his family may want.” It felt right to keep his underwear—all 23 pairs—for whatever reason, and I put Erik’s shoes in a box until I can figure out who will fit into them.

His mom, Jeanette, wants Erik's silver-framed eyeglasses because she said he got on her case all of the time about hers not being cool enough. How ironic that she also lost her first husband when she was 29. Then her second husband when Erik was 11. And now Erik, her youngest and most beloved child. The pain she has endured in one lifetime is unfathomable.

Jeanette is probably the only person I know who can understand what I am feeling—what it’s like to be a young widow with babies.

Later that day, after Troy has left with several bags of Erik’s clothes, Jeannette calls to say she will be flying out next month for Keira’s birth. “I’ll stay as long as you need me, or until you kick me out. I want to be there for you, to take care of Tatiana, to help you with Keira.”

Our phone call is filled with recollections of Erik and tears.

“I miss him so much,” I tell her.

“Me too, sweetheart. I know exactly what you mean. But, you know, every time I think about how much I miss him, it occurs to me that, maybe, I am being selfish. I know he’s in a much better place. I know he’s with his daddy and I know he’s with God. It was his time. God brought him to a better place.”

What did she just say?

Her words infuriate me. I grip the portable black phone tighter, doing my best not to chuck it against the wall.

I restrain myself from screaming, “What a crock of shit!”

What a major crock of shit!

My face burns as if it had been shoved into a lit fireplace.

I take a breath, slowly, intentionally, and say, “I know everyone has their different opinions on this, on God, on an afterlife, and, well, right now I am just too upset with what I once thought was a higher power—call it God, call it whatever you want—for taking him from me, from us. Why would a higher power do that? Why would God do that? Quite honestly, I know there was no better place for Erik. This was it. He was happiest here. So, forgive me for saying this, but I’m having a hard time believing that this God wouldn’t have known how happy Erik was, that this God would have ripped him away from everything he loved.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Pregnant Widow Shutting Down

Tatiana clings to me, her legs wrapped beneath my 9-month pregnant belly, while the other Marin Day School toddlers push balls, rakes, miniature vacuums, and each other around in the outdoor play area of the preschool.

Primary colored toys are scattered everywhere—many of which Erik had cleaned only two months before, when he donated his time to Tatiana’s school to make some “minor repairs.”

Erik was supposed to fix a couple of loose locks over a weekend, but the teachers returned to a new garden of potted flowers, re-stained benches and sandbox, and a large rainbow play-structure that had been flipped and scrubbed from bottom to top.

When he walked through the metal gate to bring Tatiana there the next day, the entire staff gave him a standing ovation. "Look, Honey!" he said, as he showed me the thank you card made out of red construction paper and a dozen one-year-old hand-prints. "Can you believe they did this for me?"

And now, at Marin Day School, there is still story time, singing circle time, and “tick-tocking” clean-up time, but something has changed. Now there is a solemn understanding between all of us.

It could have been any one of those toddlers' daddies. Any one of those daddies could have dropped dead on the kitchen floor, but it was Tatiana's daddy, the man whose flowers continue to grow, who had his life cut short.

The teachers huddle around me and Tatiana, their tears bringing tears to my eyes.

“I don’t know how I’d survive any of this without you,” I say, as I pass a resistant Tatiana to her primary care-giver, Dani.

Dani’s long, straight blond hair reaches to the bottom of her back. “Whatever I can do. Whatever any of us can do,” she says. “You know how much we love Tatiana. Let me take her after school, over-night if you want.”

Still trying to sort out the details of Erik's death, I could use the break, but the thought of being away from Tatiana too long is unfathomable to me.

“I think she’d freak. But I am so grateful to you. This is the one place she seems happy, unless she’s with me. The routine is good for her.”

When I leave, Tatiana reaches through the gate, smashes her face against the black bars, and screams, “Mama, Mama, Mama.” Her screams are like pin-pricks, sharply threading their way down through my swollen ankles. I hear her wails, again and again, as I pull away in my dark grey VW station wagon.

Sometimes when she cries, it’s like watching Erik fall in a graphic flashback—like I am right there, feeling everything. The blood on the side of his mouth. The pain of his un-medicated amputation from our lives.

Just one month after he died, Tatiana lay on her back, on the kitchen floor, in her purple butterfly dress, and started to shake. She looked all around the room. Then she let out a choking sound. She flipped her head from side to side, the back of her curly blond hair sliding against the white tile.

It took me a minute to realize what she was doing—that she was reenacting what she had watched happen. My 18-month-old daughter was sorting out her daddy’s death.

And now, anytime I lie down, Tatiana says, “Up,up, up,” in a panicky tone, as if she thinks I am going to die, too.

I am not getting sleep because the doctor won’t give me anymore sleeping pills and, at night, my feet itch like I’ve stepped into a huge mound of fire ants—an itching like none I’ve ever felt before. Nothing can stop this itching. Not scratching with my nails, not the pumice stone. I even tried one of those special callous shavers, so I could remove the top layer of the skin. I scrapped and scrapped at my feet until I bled and, still, the itching remains.

So, after I drop Tatiana off at her school, I drive to Diane’s house. Diane is my friend and incredibly gifted massage therapist, who I have been seeing once a week since Erik's death. The grief counselor helps, but Diane gives me something different, something that I can’t get from talking. She gives me her calming touch.

Touch is what I yearn for. I yearn for Erik’s touch. I yearn for him to hold me, for him to curl up behind me in our bed and spoon me one more time. That is what I miss the most. I miss his touch.

Diane knows things about me, about what is going on inside of me, even before I do. She is trained in intuitive therapy and, as long as I stay open to her insight, she has a way of revealing things of which I am not yet aware.

I curl up on my left side, on her massage table, and look up at her wavy brown hair, her green eyes. She has such a presence about her, a universal connection, and I aspire to be as aware as Diane throughout my grief process. I hope to manifest the strength to be a good mother to this unborn child of mine and to continue helping Tatiana through her loss.

I tell Diane about the itching in my feet, about how I can’t sleep.

She stands at the end of the table, holds onto my feet with her soft, powerful hands, and says, “I’m getting that the itching is from your nervous system. Your nervous system is on overload, understandably, and it wants to shut down. Your organs are fighting too hard to stay functional.”

“And that’s making my feet itch?”

“Yes, this is a really hard time. You need to be very gentle with yourself. Your body wants to give up . . . but I know . . . I know you won’t let it.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Do you mind if I take a minute to re-balance your energy?”

“I’m open to anything, if you think it will help.”

“Just close your eyes, now, and feel only love and healing.”

Her hands grow warmer as they make their way, without hurry, from my calves, to my ripe stomach, to my temples, and then, finally, to my chest.

I can feel my heart beneath her touch. The blood pulsating. An echo bouncing within her palms, as if there are things being said, things being resolved.

My breathing slows. My muscles relax.

Tears come. A release.

I am safe right now.

The itching. It isn’t there.

How did she do that?

I stay in that healing state, not a word spoken, for at least five minutes. I feel like I am swimming under clear blue water, tropical fish caressing my naked skin. We circle one another—angel, rainbow, and clown fish—as they effortlessly guide me to the surface.

My eyes open. I notice Diane’s dangling, multi-colored earrings. “I can’t believe how much better I feel,” I say.

We share a respect for the healing, in silence, while a nurturing energy floats between us.

Then Diane says, “Good. Good.” Her hands hover near my belly button. “And, well, the baby . . . Keira . . . she . . .” Diane hesitates.

“What about Keira?”

Is she alright?

“I’m getting the sense that she wants me to check in with her.”

I look into Diane’s eyes. “You can do that?”

“Yes, well, I can connect with her energy, and see how she’s doing, if you don’t mind.”

I feel more peaceful than I’ve felt since Erik died, amazed at my friend’s ethereal powers. “No, I don’t mind. I really want you to. Anything you can sense into would be very helpful to me.”

Diane stretches her arms to her sides, palms up, fingers spread, as if asking for wisdom.

Then she places her hands carefully on my womb.

She speaks in a whisper. “It’s alright, you know. It’s alright that you don't feel connected to the baby right now.”

How does she know?

Tears push themselves down the sides of my face, seeping into the lavender-scented towel.

I want to feel connected to her. I do.

I listen intently, knowing that, somehow, Diane can feel what is going on between this grieving mother and fatherless child.

She continues. “Keira is an understanding, compassionate soul, who will be just fine.”

Guilt overcomes me. During my pregnancy with Tatiana, I always felt close to her, but, now, with Keira, I just feel like an emotional collision.

Diane lets out a slight laugh. A laugh of realization. “Erik is here. Erik is giving her enough love for both of you. I can feel him here, right now, loving her. It’s amazing. Truly exquisite. He is loving her all the time. And loving you . . . and Tatiana.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

11-Year-Old Boy Tries to Save his Father

Erik told me about his dad, Hayden, when we first started dating. We were both 20, both students at Florida State University. Erik majored in computer science while I studied creative writing. Within days of knowing one another, it was obvious that Erik's rational, organized side would compliment the artist in me.

Erik spoke slowly, with quiet intensity. “We were on vacation.”

I sat cross-legged, on Erik's bedroom floor, soaking in the masculine whisper of his words. My attention was focused entirely on him.

He stretched out on his back and put his head in my lap, his eyes directed at the circulating ceiling fan. “We were on vacation, at the beach . . . I was eleven. It was just me, my mom, and my dad. My dad had brought me out windsurfing for the first time. I kept falling off the board.”

He laughed, more to himself than me. “It was a really great day.”

“Sounds like it.” I kissed Erik’s forehead where the peach-colored candelight reflected off of his skin.

“They had just come back from a walk . . . my mom and dad . . . and I was digging a big hole in the sand.”

Erik closed his eyes, pausing for a few seconds, like he was there, like he was re-living that day. “My dad sat down in his chair and then he . . . he just . . . he just fell over in his chair. He just fell over in his chair. Out of nowhere. He just fell over . . . right near the hole I was digging. He wasn’t breathing.”

“I can’t even imagine.” I ran my fingers through Erik’s thick black hair. “I can’t even imagine.”

“My mom lost it . . . she told me to run for help . . . so I did. I ran as fast as I could. My legs were burning."

I saw Erik in my mind—this innocent, dark-haired little boy running as fast as he can, fine grains of white spitting up all over everyone’s beach blankets. He’s running and screaming, looking for help, not knowing what else to do.

"My mom was hysterical. She already had one husband die of a heart attack, but I . . . I did the best I could. I couldn't have run any faster."

"Of course not."

"It was Miami, you know, so I was able to find a doctor right away, but it didn't matter."

"You did everything you could do."

"My dad was turning blue. Nothing worked. They were pounding on his chest."

I wanted to help that little, out-of-breath, 11-year-old Erik. I wanted him to know he had run fast enough. That it wasn't his fault.

Erik started to cry. "It was supposed to be our vacation. I just wanted him to sit back up in his chair."

But his dad never did sit back up in that chair, and Erik spent the rest of his life wondering if his father would still be alive if he had just run a little faster.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Father and Son's Ashes Scattered Together

I give Troy the burgundy velvet bag that contains Erik’s ashes. “Do you mind holding them? I may need to run down to the beach by myself.”

“I’ll put them in my back pack.” Troy rests the gray sack by his feet and slides the ashes in. He starts to zip up the backpack, but pauses. “Jeanette, I might be able to fit yours in, too.”

Jeanette hugs her pine box closer to her chest. “No, I want to hold him. Hayden’s fine right here.”

My mother-in-law, Jeanette, has held on to her husband’s ashes for 17 years now.

When we talked about scattering Erik’s ashes, she said, “We’ll scatter them together. It’s never felt right to do it before, but it feels right now. Erik can be with his daddy. They can finally be together.”

And now Jeanette’s eyes are glossy with the tears she has been unwilling to release for decades.

I think of my pain—this pain from losing Erik—and know it cannot compare to hers. Two husbands and her youngest son, all dead. If a heart is broken into pieces, how can she have anything left?

Jeanette has never been to therapy, never gone to spousal loss support, never been willing to talk about her losses. Maybe she thinks some things are inexpressible. I imagine all of that grief stuck in her body, crawling through her limbs like a poisonous snake, and I want to reach inside of her and pull it out.

I look at her and vow, to myself, that I will deal with my pain. I will take hold of my sadness, wrestle it if I have to, letting its wild head hiss at me, so that I can come out on the other side more capable of being an example for my baby girls.

I do not want to be broken into pieces. I want to be broken open. I want to find love again.

“It’s a two mile hike, you know,” I tell Jeanette.

“Don’t you worry about me, sweetheart. I’ll be fine.” She nods down at Hayden's box. “It’s not like he weighs very much.”

We all begin to walk.

Jen says, “I brought hot tea for afterward. Gonna be even colder by the water.”

“That was thoughtful of you,” I say, but I don't really care about hot tea. I don't care about anything other than making sense out of things. But, how do I make sense out of Erik's death? Out of the fact that I am here to scatter his ashes? How? Why?

The pressure in my chest is unbearable--a grief-filled hammer repeatedly pounding against my ribcage.

There is so much to figure out. Do I stay in California, amongst my memories of Erik, or do I move back to Florida to be closer to my family?

Everyone has an opinion, but I need to silence their words. Silence everything. I need quiet so that I can let the answers come to me, but I am afraid. Afraid of trusting myself. Afraid of messing up Tatiana and Keira. How can I be a good mother when I feel too damaged to take care of myself?

Erik would know what to do. Erik could fix anything. He had a way of holding me, of comforting me, of taking care of me, and now, now there is no Erik. Now I must do this without him.

I do not want to feel the clawing of my emotions, so I quicken my pace into a slow run.

I run ahead of Troy, Jen, and Jeanette at Tennessee Valley, my feet pounding out aggression on the orange dirt trail. I turn back to them, for a brief moment, and yell, “I’ll meet you there.”

Troy shouts, “We’ll see you soon.”

"Do your thing, girl,” Jen says.

Jeanette says nothing, but I know she understands the feeling of needing to be alone.

Running is my way of coping, a form of meditation without sitting still. Sitting still means feeling the entirety of my emotions and that I am not ready to do. So I run and move my body to shed the angst. Without exercise, I want to rip off my skin.

Not even three weeks after my c-section with Keira, I started doing this hilly two-mile run again. My five-inch incision was red, but without stitches—the healing showing signs, but not nearly there. Throbbing pain and all, I had to push my way, ever so slowly, through the valley and down to the beach.

And, now, Keira is two months-old and my pace has quickened. My body is getting stronger from running, from lifting weights with a trainer, from lifting babies. I am determined to get healthier everyday and, already, want to rid my body of its excess baby weight so that I may attract men.

But, who will want me? Who, at the age of 29, wants a woman with two babies? I feel insecure. Fat. Ugly. Unworthy. Erik is not here to tell me I am beautiful. Erik is not here to say that I am an amazing photographer or the best mother in the world.

This was not the plan. This was not the way things were supposed to be.

Or maybe it is the way things are supposed to be.

Maybe I have somehow manifested it all.

I look back at the trail. I am alone, running, and no one is in sight.

I need you, Erik. Help me find my way.

The wind tosses my hair in all directions, slapping the brown strands against the front of my neck. Every few strides, I stoop down to scoop up rocks, and slip them into my waist pack.

This is where it all started. Tennessee Valley.

The day after Erik and I moved from Florida to California, we visited Tennessee Valley, and I was immediately filled up with the power of a universal force that I had never experienced before.

I will never forget that first time I spread my arms out to the powerful Pacific Ocean. Such a sense of clarity and euphoria. My soul was consumed by a spirit much greater than mine, and I felt, without a doubt, that my life had deeper purpose.

Never could I have imagined then that Erik's death would be a part of this universal plan. That I would be here, just eight years later, asking the Ocean for answers to such unfathomable questions.

Today, Tennessee Valley is veiled by thick fog. There is no sun shining on my face.

On my way up the mountainside, I want know why. Why did this happen to me? To us? To Erik? He was so happy and had it all taken away. Why?

I bend down to pick yellow and purple wildflowers. Flowers for my Erik. This is one time, I am certain, I will be forgiven for taking from the earth.

Drops of sweat slide down my neck, into the crease between my breasts. The sounds of ten-foot waves slam against protruding boulders.

I hike up to the old army bunker in the side of the hill that I have visited many times before. It is dark in the cement bunker and there are no people around, but I assume it is safe, as I normally do, and decide to step in.

Pathetic streams of foggy daylight illuminate the graffiti-like words that have been written in chalk, crayon, and lipstick on the gray walls. I walk to the corner, where my favorite words are written in red, and squint to read them.

And we will find that wherever we step, the path appears beneath our feet

Now, more than ever, these words speak to me. Wherever we step, the path appears beneath our feet.

From the opening of the bunker, I look down to see Jeannette, Troy, and Jen beginning their trek up the mountainside.

I am grateful for the few minutes I still have by myself.

The rocks slip underneath me as I climb up the rest of the way, where we have all agreed to meet. I get to the top of the mountain and sit crossed legged next to the edge of the cliff.

I toss a piece of wood, watching it fall eight-stories down to a deserted beach.

This is it.

This is where we will scatter the ashes, where I envision Erik and Hayden will soar off the mountainside, into the Pacific Ocean. They will swim with the kelp, the sea lions, and the occasional whale.

I hear a rustling sound in the bushes and turn around, suddenly worried about the rumored mountain lion.

Instead, two deer spring down the hillside ten feet away.

I plant my palms in the red dirt, the jagged rocks making indentations in my skin.

Probably too close to the edge

Not the most stable person these days, I scoot back six inches, ever aware of orphaning my girls.

My waist pack feels tight and heavy around my belly, so I unhook it and take out the rocks I have collected along the way.

Be with me, Erik.

Now a foot away from the edge of the cliff, I lay the yellow and purple wildflowers down with a handful of rocks on their stems.

I imagine myself on our wedding day, holding two dozen tightly wrapped white roses as I walk towards Erik, down the grand marble staircase. He stares at me with certainty.

Erik's fingertips connect with mine, beneath my bouquet. He is a handsome vision in his black tuxedo. This is the beginning of submitting to happiness, of letting myself be loved in a way most people will never experience.

I hear Eriks' voice. Deep, soothing, authentic. His wedding vows surround me:

I believe that I know love because I have known you. There is nothing more complete than the thought of you as my wife, as the mother to my children, as my best friend.

I set the rest of the rocks down, one by one, in deliberate formation. The experience of forming these words is surreal. Slow. It’s as if I am removed from my own body, hovering above it all. Instead of being in it, I am watching myself.

Floating above, I take in this scene of a young woman who is leaving flowers and a message to her dead husband. It isn't me. It can't be me.

The widow forms her words in black and orange rocks.


This is my way of coping, so that I can do what I am here to do.

I am here to scatter Erik’s ashes.

Another pushing through.

I hunch over, crying for this widow and her two babies. I mourn for the 29 year-old man who was yanked away from everything he had ever wanted.

But, again, I am numb.

My tears are on automatic.

I am detached. Staring at nothing and everything, all at the same time.

The words are blurry, the wind and the waves are white noise.

“How ya doing?” Jen says.

I am startled back into my body when I realize that Troy, Jen and Jeanette stand only steps away. “Oh, um, you made it.”

Jen squats down next to me. “You need a sweatshirt?”

I use my index finger to wipe beneath my eyes. “No, I’m alright.” I don’t really want to look at her.

“We don’t have to do this today, if you’re not ready, you know.” She strokes my hair.

“Jeanette will still be here for another week. We can come back another day.”

“No, today is the day. It’s just . . .”

“Fucked up?”

“Yeah, any way you look at it.”

“You just tell me what you need, and I’ll make sure you get it.”

“You’ve already done too much, Jen.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

“I do wish it wasn’t so, um, foggy out. I was hoping for a sunny day.”

“Now, that I can’t help you with

I stand up and wave to Troy and Jeanette to come over to us. “I was thinking we could do it here. What do you think? Look like a good . . . scattering spot?”

“It’s beautiful,” Jeanette says. “They’d like it here.”

“I thought we could toss them off the side so they can be in the ocean.”

“Hayden loved the ocean.” She starts to cry, too.

I hold Jeanette in my arms, Hayden’s scatter-box pressed between both of our chests. I want to take care of her the way she has taken care of me and the girls the past few months.

Jeanette pulls away, determined. “Well, I think 17 years is long enough to hang on to your ashes, Hayden.” She sits down and undoes the twist-tie around the protective plastic bag.

“Troy, can I have Erik’s?”

He hands me the burgundy bag. “Already got them out for you.”

I sit next to Jeanette and take Erik’s dark brown scatter-box from its velvet cover.

Flipping up the wooden lid, I peek inside. I haven’t looked at his ashes before. They are in a clear, plastic bag, inside the wooden box. They look like fine white sand.

For a moment, I wonder how I would really know if these were Erik’s ashes. I didn’t see him get cremated. Last I saw of him, he was in his casket, and then the funeral home gave me this box full of sand.

No, it must be Erik. Why would the funeral home do that to me?

I pull the plastic bag out of the box and set everything else aside.

Jeanette now has her hand inside of her bag. “Mine don’t look like yours.”

“No, they must have cremated differently back then.”

“It’s almost like I can feel some bones in there.”

“Yeah, it looks like they only put the fine particles in Erik’s.”

Jeanette and I stare at each other for a while, both of us knowing the unspoken impact of this situation.

“Well, are you ready?” she asks.

“Do you mind if I take some of Hayden’s, too? I want to scatter some of them together first.”

“That’s a beautiful idea.” She holds Hayden’s bag out to me. “I’m not ready yet. You go first.”


“Now, sweetheart.”

I reach deep into her bag with my right hand and pull out a fistful of Hayden’s ashes.

Jeanette is correct. Hayden's ashes are much coarser than Erik's. It makes me a little sick to my stomach, holding what I know are nickel and dime sized pieces of my father-in-law.

I keep my right fist tight around them while I let my left fingers wrap around Erik’s soft ashes. Some of Erik’s ashes slip through the cracks, into the wind.

“Here we go.” I step to the edge of the cliff, peering over my running shoes, at the Pacific Ocean.

My hands are filled with father and son, two generations that are now together in some other world.

I tuck my fists into my chest, my elbows pushing at my belly.

“We love you, Erik,” Jen says.

“You’ll always be with us,” Troy says.

I raise both of my hands to the sky, making a ‘V’ with my arms. “I’m sorry I never got to meet you, Hayden. I know I would have . . loved you. And, Erik, I don’t even know what to say. You have given me so much . . . and I can’t believe you’re gone. But it makes me feel good to know you’re . . . you’re with your dad. And . . . I love you. I wish I could tell you how much I love you, but I hope you know. And the girls love you. We will always . . . love you.”

I clasp both of my hands together, mixing their ashes, and fling them off of the cliff side.

The wind blows hard, a massive gust with purpose. The ashes are lifted away from the direction of the ocean.

They do not soar down to the sea lions. Instead, they whip right back into my face.

What remains of Erik and Hayden is all over me--in my hair, on my clothes—and I cannot help but laugh. I laugh and cry, and then laugh some more.

“Whoa, that was intense.” I breathe in the cool air.

“They’re all over you.” Jen dusts off my face.

“Take some.” I shake my whole body out. “Everybody take some.”

I feel exhilarated.

“Maybe you want to try scattering towards the valley,” Troy says.

“I don’t mind them on me.” I laugh more deeply. “You know it’s Erik playing tricks on me. Jeanette, you first. It feels really good to let go.”

“If you say so.” Jeanette digs both of her hands into Hayden’s scatter bag. “But I’m not getting them in my face.” She turns towards the Valley, careful not to fight the wind. “Be free, my love. Be with our son.”

Jeanette's ashes saunter down the hill, settling near the spot where I had just seen those deer, and a sliver of light pierces the fog.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Birth of a Fatherless Child

My body is as still as a corpse while my obstetrician shaves the rest of my pubic hair, so that she can neatly slice my womb open.

I stare at my right hand, into the dark eyes of the black and white photograph I am holding of my husband, Erik. I study his black hair, his defined jaw, his young 29-year-old skin, probing his face for answers, but the picture has no reply.

He should be here. How can he not be here for Keira's birth?

Instead, my mom positions herself to the right of the steel operating table, a piece of her curly black hair straying from her cap.

Mom speaks in a whisper. “I am going to be next to you the whole time.” She lightly intertwines her fingers with mine, leaving enough space for Erik's photograph.

I strain my neck backwards, peeking at the door to the operating room.

Please be here, Erik. I need you.

I imagine Erik walking through the door, perspiration on his brow from running late. We kiss as if it is our first kiss, slow, with exploring connection. I feel relief, forgiveness, elation, immense gratitude that he is back in my arms.

But Erik is not in my arms. Erik is no where to be seen, and the thought of my life as a 29-year-old single mom with two babies makes me want to throw up all over the cold cement floor.

“I don't . . . feel so good.”

My insides twist around and around, filling with dusty angst. The agitation pounds at my abdomen, scrapping at the deep layers of my skin. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. Hopelessness. I have no idea how I will raise these girls without him.

The tall, male anesthesiologist leans in to comfort me, his green eyes peering over his surgical mask. “Let me know what you need.”

Every one of the hospital staff knows Erik is gone and no one can believe it. Just 19 months before, the same doctors and nurses had witnessed Erik's tears of joy at our first daughter's birth.

Now the room is somber, filled by the presence of educated individuals who have no explanations.

I nod to the anesthesiologist. “I need, uh, something else. Feeling . . . very upset.”

Lizellen, my obstetrician, says, “Give her the works. She has had to go without medication for far too long, but you did good, kid. You’re going to have another healthy baby girl here in just a few minutes.”

Mom squeezes my hand. “I can’t wait to see her.”

“I just hope . . . Keira is OK.” I'm worried that my new daughter will be born feeling the same sense of abandonment, or, even worse, wrought with illness or deformity from being housed in her mother's grief.

Please let her be alright.

I am entirely numb from the chest down—the epidural takes care of that, but the real relief comes when the extra IV drugs start to work.

My consciousness enters an altered state. Eyelids fall. Breathing releases. Everything and everyone in the room seems out of focus. Disoriented. Floating.

Feels incredible not to feel . . . anything.

Stay here forever.

“Hyla, you still with me?”

Dry mouth. Lick lips.

Where am I?

Muffled sounds. Shuffling feet. Clanking metal.


Erik’s face. Penetrating. Eyes connected.

I’m here.

Tears. So many tears.

Tissue on my cheek. Mom wiping my face. “I’m right here, honey. It's OK.”

How could you leave us?

Mom stroking my hair.

I didn't want to go, Hyla. You know I didn't want to go.

Soothing voice. My Erik.

“Hang in there now.”

I can't see you.

“Almost there.”

Feel me. Let yourself feel me.

“I see a hand.”

But, I'm so sad. We didn't get to say goodbye.

“Here she comes.”

My love is around you . . . and the girls.

“Erik, our baby, she's coming.”

The photograph. Blurry.

“Oh, honey.” Mom cries. “I know this is so hard.” Speckled water stains on her surgical mask.

Our baby.

“I see that little cutie in there.”

I am always here.

“There she is. She’s out, Hyla.”

No sounds.

No first breath.

She should be crying by now.

“Mom? Mom, is she alright?”

I can't lose her, too.

“Just give her a second.”

Words between the doctors.

She has to be alright.

And then, finally, a scream.

“That's a good set of lungs there.”

A powerful wail.

The proclamation of life from our new baby girl.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Death Caused by Thoughts?

I folded our warm white towels while Tatiana, only twelve months old then, napped in her bedroom. Erik and I had been married just over two years and, already, I was four months pregnant with our second daughter, Keira.

Erik and I both felt the same intense love for Tatiana and were excited to have another baby right away.

But there was no excitement in the house that day.

The house was quiet, except for the annoyed thoughts I could hear myself thinking about Erik.

Sick of his crap.

We had not been speaking to each other for hours.

I stacked the towels neatly into the closet, passing Erik in the hall. I did not look at his brown eyes or admire his thick black hair. Instead, I grabbed a new set of sheets and I walked away from him, into our bedroom.

Erik followed me, past our black and white wedding photos, but still, we did not speak.

He began helping me stretch the black fitted sheet so that it hugged our king-sized mattress.

Why is he helping me? Doesn’t he have somewhere else to be?

We stood on opposite sides of the king-sized mattress, doing our best not to make eye contact as we tucked in the corners.

I spoke, finally, with repressed force. “I can’t stand when you accuse me of things.”

Erik came around to my side of the bed and smoothed out the part of the sheet that I had already tucked in. “It’s all about you, isn’t it?”

I stomped past him, got the three black pillowcases, and flung them on top of our red comforter.

My tone deepened, anger rising. “Don’t give me that, Erik. You’re the one who has to go off and sleep in the guestroom.”

“Why would I sleep in the same bed as you when you act like this? It’s like I can’t even reach you.”

I felt a hint of guilt, knowing that Erik was constantly sex-deprived during my pregnancies, but I was standing firm. “Don’t you think my feelings should be hurt when you jump to conclusions? You immediately assumed that I was the one who lost the video camera.”

“Of course I thought you lost it. You don’t keep anything organized.”

“Some people don’t need to be obsessive compulsive to know where things are. You act as if I don’t run a successful business.”

“It still amazes me how.”

Erik shoved the white, down pillow into its black cover. The cotton made a flapping sound as he shook the case in front of him.

A sheet of Bounce fell from the pillowcase, its fresh scent a contrast to my rising irritation.

"You know, you can really be a jerk sometimes. I’m tired, I’m pregnant, and I already have enough on my plate.”

I kept my mouth shut, but my mind was loud.

I don’t need you anymore. You can just disappear. I have Tatiana and another baby on the way. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I have my two babies. What do I need you for?

We glared at eachother with obvious contempt.


Later, we made up, as we always did, and laughed at our ridiculous behavior. We apologized for the hurtful words, acknowledged that the nasty thoughts had come from an insecure place. We were both tired, both stressed from working too much so that we could save enough money for our first house.

We did not know Erik would drop dead on our kitchen floor just three months later. We were both 29. We thought we had another fifty years of fighting and making up.

The grief process has led me back to this argument again and again. Did I somehow cause Erik’s death with the awful thoughts I had that day?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Erik Grieve 1973 - 2003, Life is Not About the Dates on Either Side, But the Hyphen in Between

I walked in slow-motion towards Erik’s closed, mahogany casket.

The old stone chapel was filled with familiar faces. There were faces from Skywalker Ranch and other Lucas parties, faces I had photographed in my studio, faces from my bridal shower, my wedding, and Tatiana’s birth.

I kept my head down.

As the pregnant widow, all eyes were on me, but I did not want to be seen. Direct eye contact would break me open in a way that I would not be ready to be broken open for years.

Dressed in an ankle-length maternity skirt, long-sleeve black shirt, and the comfortable three-inch heels that had taken me hours to find just the day before, I sat in the front pew.

My brother, Troy, and his wife, Jen, sat next to me. Only ten feet separated us from the blanket of red roses that crawled down the sides of Erik’s casket.

The four days since his death had swarmed me. There were so many things to do and I couldn’t believe I was doing any of them.

I had not been prepared to spend hours on the phone with Organ Donations while we figured out which organs Erik would want me to give away. Nor had I been prepared to think about a lawsuit against his cardiologist.

Then there were the service arrangements.

The trips to the florist, the funeral home. The careful selection of the perfect casket, the stainless steel urns that Erik would have liked the best.

Going through all of our music. Listening to every lyric. I wanted the songs for the funeral service to have meaning. I wanted the words to make sense. But how could anything make sense?

The endless sorting out of photos from our Florida State days. Photographs from our first months in California. The two of us stepping in dog poop in Paris. Erik’s tearful joy while holding Tatiana for the first time. Our days as a family. At the beach. Tatiana, dressed as a Halloween kitty cat, in her little wagon. Bundled up hikes to Tennessee Valley.

I wanted the photo collages to show us as we were: silly, in love, blessed. And they did.

All of the running around had paid off. Everyone had rallied. The generosity and support from hundreds of people was overwhelming.

The chapel looked beautiful. Erik would have been pleased.

My grandfather’s cousin, Stephanie, stood on the chapel’s stage, behind a podium, in a long black robe. A tall powerful presence, with brown and grey hair, she was a minister in the Church of the Healing Light. She was a believer in the continuation of spirit. A believer that we could talk to spirits.

Was it possible that I could talk to Erik? That he was there?

I didn’t know what I believed.

Stephanie fiddled behind the podium, arranging the tape recorder.

I had asked her to make sure that everything was recorded for the girls so that, when they were old enough, I could let them hear each word that was spoken about their father.

The chapel hushed as Stephanie cleared her throat.

She began to speak. “Many of us are saying how can this be? I was just with him. I just waved to him, down the hall, at the office. Just gave him a hug. Just kissed him goodnight . . . and yet, here we are.”

There were sniffles all around.

I was thankful that my obstetrician had let me take a Xanax, to calm me down. I knew it wasn’t good for the baby if I took medication, but that morning, as I brushed my hair and applied my burgundy non-smudge lipstick, I knew I would not be able to make it through the service without something.

“Death is a tragedy,” Stephanie continued. “This death is a great tragedy. But we cannot say that Erik’s life was a tragedy. It was a joy. It was beautiful. It was love. And you all, who are here today, are the living proof of that.”

Our “first dance” wedding song played softly on the overhead system. Mariah Carey’s voice sang up to the chapel’s red and orange stained glass:

“I will never be too far away to feel you. I won’t hesitate at all, whenever you call.”

She leaned into the podium, her hair swaying from side to side. “The thing about Erik was the intensity in which he lived his life. His intense love for his family. For his friends. For his wife. For his child . . . and his child to come.”

I felt a hand squeeze my shoulder from the pew behind mine and I turned to see my grandmother’s 81 year-old face flushed with redness.

Erik, Tatiana and I had just been to visit her in Tucson two weeks before. We had just been in my grandparents’ swimming pool, splashing around. Erik had just bought her that exquisite purple orchid and written them a thank you note for being the grandparents that he’d never had.

I cried, quietly.

Stephanie went on. “There are so many things to say about Erik, so many wonderful things, and we’d love to hear now, from those of you who would like to speak.”

There was silence all around.

“Come on up,” Stephanie said. “Don’t be shy.”

Jen stood up first. She walked up the steps, her small frame coveted by a black dress. She held the podium with both hands.

"I’m Jen. Erik’s sister- in-law. The minute I first met Erik, we hit it off. It didn’t take long for him to become a brother to me. He was, is, and always will be . . . a beautiful man, inside and out . . . and I am honored to have spent so much time with him.”

She shifted her weight back and forth, trying to keep her composure. “At the hospital, I could feel him all around us . . . and I could feel him looking into my eyes . . . and saying ‘you have to take care of my family now.’”

Jen’s voice shook. She looked right at me. “And I will, Hyla. You know I will.”

I gripped my belly and sobbed.

I thought of Tatiana, how she looked that morning when I dropped her off at daycare. She pressed herself against the metal gate, clenched her little hands around the bars, and screamed, “Ma-ma, Ma-ma, Ma-ma,” through the two inch openings.

I did not want her to be at the funeral, to have to see Erik made-up and stiff when we opened the casket.

I hadn’t been able to tell her about her daddy’s death yet. What could I say?

The night before, I had rocked her, in the dark, while I cried on the shoulder of her soft purple pajamas. She knew I was sad. She knew the house was full of people and chaos. But I had to tell her something. I wanted to pretend that Erik was away, on a trip. That he’d be back any time.

And Keira, our unborn child, how would I tell her that I felt too overwhelmed to take care of her? That I had thoughts of not wanting her?

This was the beginning of a guilt that would hover over my life. The guilt from not being able to handle my own children. Guilt from not being able to handle myself.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Erik Grieve's Easter Sunday Request

I admired Erik in the shower that Easter Sunday morning. Salt and pepper hair. Deep brown eyes. Broad masculine shoulders covered by smooth olive skin.

Steam had filled the bathroom, like the fog that frequently hovered over the Golden Gate Bridge.

I could only see parts of his body through the hazy, glass shower doors. He sat against the corner of the tub, as he always did, carefully scraping the skin off of his well-manicured feet.

I pulled out an assortment of maternity clothes from the closet and set them on the bathroom counter. Knowing we’d be taking tons of family photos during Tatiana’s first real Easter egg hunt, I wanted to look better than I felt at seven months pregnant.

“Ugh!” I groaned.

Erik turned off the shower, dried himself, and then wrapped a plush white towel around his waist. “Need some help with that?”

“These damn jeans!” I wiped the perspiration from my forehead. “Yeah, you can help. Help me not be such a house every time you knock me up.”

He put some gel in his hair. “Oh, honey, you know I think you look beautiful.”

I struggled to squeeze into a pair of dark-blue jeans. “How is it that you get better looking with age and I get big and all tired-looking?”

“At least we got to sleep in this morning. How nice is it having your mom here to wake up with Tatiana?”

“I can’t remember the last time I actually had a minute to get dressed and put on some make-up, but, ugh, nothing fits!” I peeled the jeans off my swollen legs and threw them across the room. “Nothing!”

Erik wrapped his arms around me, and I felt his hands slide down the back of my black, thong panties.

“Honey, what are you doing?” I giggled.

He whispered in my ear. “We don’t have to worry about Tati right now, and it is Easter, and I was thinking . . . don’t you think I deserve an Easter blow-job?”

“Are you crazy?” I pushed him away, laughing, and pointed at my enormous belly.

“Do I look like I want to give you an Easter blow-job?”

“Well, uh, no, not really, but it seemed worth a try.”

Grabbing a white t-shirt, I covered my engorged breasts. “I have absolutely no energy. You know that.”

“Alright, well, then how about no blow-job and we just make love?”

I looked at his face and felt deep affection for him. Then I felt deep pity. Some women get especially horny during pregnancy, but I was not one of them.

“Fine. Let’s have sex.” I grinned. “But I don’t want to have to do anything. I can hardly bend over.”

Erik stepped closer, knelt down, and began kissing my popped-out belly button. “You just let me worship the baby-making goddess.”

"If you say so."

He slid my panties to the side.

Erik and I started making love—me with my widened hips and over-lubricated femininity.

We were slow. Intentional. Comfortable with our awkward movements.

We manuvered down to the beige carpeted floor.

“Oh, that’s squishing the baby.”

“Let’s turn over.”

We laughed at ourselves.

“Yeah, right, like that will work.”

“Maybe on my side?”

“Not sure this is going to happen.”

Being on my back too long decreased the flow of oxygen to the baby. Being on top made us worry about poking her in the head.

And so, after a while, we gave up, knowing Erik could find no friction on his sexual quest.
There were no orgasms, but we were both completely satisfied. Both amused by the situation.

We laughed at our valiant effort and then kissed for the longest time.

Erik stared at me and, even though it was difficult to let him see all of me, I looked back into his eyes.

“Do you think about how lucky we are?” I said.

“Yeah, I think about it at least five times a day.”

Erik Grieve was only 29, but he knew how to live. He knew, firsthand, the fragility of life. He knew our kind of love and happiness was not to be taken for granted.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Erik Grieve's Death Leaves Questions about His Unborn Child

I heaved my pregnant body onto the exam table.

“What about the baby?” I asked Lizellen.

She leaned against a small wooden desk, arms folded in front of her pink blouse. “What about her? She’ll be fine. Better than fine. Babies are resilient.”

It had only been twelve hours since my husband's death. My mom had called Lizellen to give her the news.

“Lizellen wants you to come in as soon as you’re able,” she said. “You don’t need an appointment. She said she’ll make herself available when we get there.”

As my obstetrician, I knew Lizellen needed to stay in the loop. She needed to make sure things with my pregnancy continued normally.

And I needed more medication. Much more medication. The five sleeping pills I was given the night before just weren’t going to cut it.

I needed Lizellen to dope me up. Dope me up good, so that I could float far away. Float far away to the place where Erik had gone, the place where I could pretend my husband was still alive.

She squirted the clear Gel across my exposed, potruding belly.

Since Tatiana's birth, Lizellen had become more than my obstetrician. At least 15 large photographs of mine hung on display throughout her exam rooms. She loved my hand-tinted black and whites of babies. And she loved spreading my name, bringing me more business.

Lizellen was always grateful when Erik sent her cool Harry Potter hats, Star Wars posters, and other movie gear that could only be gotten from Lucasdigital.

“That’s why we’re taking this peek,” Lizellen said. “To put Mommy at ease. But, you’re going to be just fine. You’re a strong cookie.”

I hiked my black cotton maternity dress further up beneath my bra.

It had seemed only appropriate to choose black that morning. That slow-motion morning just nine hours after I finished donating his organs, when I stood in the closet—our closet—and felt disoriented over the simple task of getting dressed.

Erik’s clothes hung neatly to the right, as if he would walk into our over-sized closet in a pair of jeans and no shirt, hold out his black sweater in one hand and his burgundy button-down in the other, and ask me, “which one?”

But he didn’t come into the closet that morning because he was dead.

My Erik was dead.

I looked up at my mom, who stood to the left of the exam table on which I was stretched out. Our eyes reached to touch one another, a life-line to survival that I would grasp for over and over in the year to come.

She put her hand on my shin. “Yes, she is. She has always been very strong.”

I imagined my mom in Tatiana’s room, in the dark, lifting Tatiana into her crib and waiting for us to call from the hospital. The waiting. How awful to wait.

How awful to get the call from me saying, “He’s gone. He’s gone.” To feel the disintegration of what defined her daughter’s life.

I had no idea then how much my mom would be affected by her need to care for me, by the realization that there was nothing she could do to take away her daughter's pain.

The sonogram device was like a cold, wet snake slithering across my taut skin.

“Not that I want to be strong,” I said. “But there are really only two choices here. No, really only one. I have to be strong. I’m a Mommy.”

“That’s the way it works. You betcha.” Lizellen’s freckled hand moved in quick circular motions. She was a vessel of fiery, intelligent energy—one of those people who spoke rapidly to keep up with her brain. “Now, let’s find this little cutie in here. Where are ya, ya little cutie? Ah, there you are. Yeah, look at that heart beat, strong. And how bout that? See that sweet little face? Right there.”

Lizellen pointed to the viewing monitor. “Look, look. She’s looking right at us.”

I watched the baby’s arms and legs move around. Tiny hands curling their fingers. The rhythmic pump of her heart. A skeletal video of the baby who would be born in two months.

“Look at her honey,” my mom said, “Look at her. She’s beautiful.”

“Yep. She certainly is,” Lizellen said.

I studied the sonogram screen and felt nothing.

Worse than nothing, I didn’t want her.

I didn’t want my baby.

Erik wasn’t there to watch with me. Erik wasn’t there to video the sonogram or make excited comments over her movement, and he wouldn’t be there. He wouldn’t be there for her birth. He wouldn’t be there to see Tatiana hold her baby sister for the first time.

Oh my God, I don’t want her.

I didn’t want the baby that Erik and I had conceived in my studio, on my seamless white backdrop roll.

Just a few minutes before, I had been eager to check on the baby. Eager to make sure that everything was alright. And now, now I didn’t want her.

I said nothing.

How am I going to do this without him?

I didn’t want this new baby without him. I needed to take care of Tatiana. To hide her and hold her and make sure that nothing ever happened to her. There wasn’t space for this baby.

There wasn’t space for another being who needed something from me. How was I going to take care of two babies when I couldn’t take care of myself?

I didn't even know how to tell Tatiana that her daddy had died.

“Everything looks perfect,” Lizellen said. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Ouch.” I felt a kick inside of me.

“Oh, yeah, you felt that one, didn’t you?”


“She’s a fiesty one, alright.”

Tears wet my face.

“You’re going to be OK. I know it. Erik will make sure of it." Lizellen said.

She wiped the gel off of my belly. "Oh, that Erik. I’ll never forget his expression, the utter joy, when Tatiana was born. When I handed him the baby. Crying. Never seen a grown man cry so hard. He’ll be there for this one. He’ll be watching out for you. You betcha.”

My mom squeezed my hand.

I let myself cry, really cry. “I can’t. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, but . . . I don’t want her. How can I? How can I have her? How can I bring her into . . . this? It’s not right. None of this. None of this is right.”

Lizellen spoke after a moment of silence. “This is a very natural feeling. You’ll get past it. You’ll see.”

I took a deep breath to calm myself down. “Just the idea. Just the idea . . . of having this baby . . . without him. I’m sure I’ll love her, but it doesn’t seem fair.”

“Hey, listen,” Lizellen said. “There are plenty of mothers who give birth to their babies and take a look at them and say, 'What is THIS?' No attachment whatsoever. You didn’t have that problem with Tatiana and you won’t have that problem with this one.”

I rubbed on the side of my belly. “This poor baby.”

My mom stroked my hair, tucking it behind my ear with her index finger, like she used to when I was a child. “Can you give her anything? Any medication?”

“Didn’t they give you something last night?” Lizellen asked.

I sat up. “Sleeping pills. Five sleeping pills.”

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing else that’s safe for the baby. And those aren’t safe for the baby. So, I want you to take only one of those the next couple of nights, and then a half and then none. Only if you absolutely have to.”

My mom handed me a tissue. “Can she drink?”

“Oh, sure. She can drink.”

We all laughed.

“A glass of red wine here and there is no big deal.”

“That’ll make me even more depressed.”

Lizellen moved the sonogram equipment away. “About not wanting the baby, trust me that this will pass. I tell you, I had a patient, same kind of situation, except she already had two other children, and her husband died. She was right at the cutoff for late-term abortion and she wanted to abort the child. I said, no way. I wouldn’t do it. There was no way I thought she had the ability to make that kind of decision under those circumstances, aside from the fact that I don’t do abortions that late in the pregnancies. I don’t agree with it."

"Of course not," I whispered.

"Anyway, she thought she couldn’t handle that baby. She had it set in her mind that she didn’t want it, so she got one of the other doctors to do it. She aborted that baby. And you know what? Twenty years later, she still lives here in Marin, and I run into her downtown and she tells me that, after all these years, she has the biggest hole . . . not from the death of her husband, but from her decision to abort that child. She wishes she had kept that baby. She regrets it beyond belief. Not that you even have that option.”

“And I wouldn’t do it if I did have the option. How could I not love this baby? She’s a part of him. Of us.”

Confronting the Lion (Prologue)

Have yet to figure out the descent from these mountains I have climbed.

Two butterflies, burnt orange in shade, dance frantically around me, only an inch away from each other. Bells in the distance, buoys navigate the way, and the fog horn blows on this clear sun-filled day.

There are no whales to be seen down below. No seals doing somersaults. No deer hopping their way through the golden summer bushes.

I turn off my music so that I may hear the mountain lion preying on me for her morning feast. I figure if she eats me, it was meant to be my day.

Beneath my breasts is now a belly which is softer than it was—a capsule recycling souls who have been here before. The power of this womb.

What meaning lies ahead for this heart I will reveal one day? A grand mission, for certain, helping others to remain awake.

On this mountain, I am nothing, an unimportant obstacle for the wind.

I imagine the lion crawling nearer, her claws clutching the dusty rocks. She raises her head, sniffing me out. Invisibility is my ally, as my only defense is this black ball-point pen stabbing precisely in her eye.

Two groups of two climb up my mountainside. Do they know they are walking on my husband’s ashes, on this sacred grave?

Tomorrow marks five months since his chosen day. I hold back the vomit that has yet been able to regurgitate.

There is profound wisdom in this place, a spirit more grand than me or my dead husband. It is difficult to deny your place in this place.

The edge of the cliff calls to me, but I turn away, still unaware how I will get down from this mountaintop.

The scrapes and bruises will not matter if I slide on my ass, only that I have been here and been unafraid.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Love After All?

Three years had passed since the last time I had seen Erik. This would be interesting, I thought, as I finished drawing the black eyeliner on my upper lids.

I slid into a just-tight-enough pair of black pants and declared the matching violet sweater set winner of the “I want to look good, but not too good” contest. My bed was made for the first time in weeks, its inviting purple and red chenille covers setting a serene and sensual mood.

It was time to present myself as the successful baby photographer. Time to show that I was a together 26 year-old woman, someone who learned from her mistakes, someone willing to take responsibility for her actions. Time to apologize for all of the crap I put on Erik when we broke up.

I gathered the clothes that were habitually flung across the room and piled them in my closet. Out of sight, out of mind.

I had just gotten out of a rather rocky relationship with someone Erik had never met, and I was ashamed of it, ashamed of telling Erik that I had been with someone who was so emotionally dysfunctional. I lifted the bangs out of my eyes with a crystal butterfly clip. Nothing like having dinner with damaged goods.

The doorbell rang and I ran down the stairs, more nervous than I had expected to be.

Sure, Erik and I had once been engaged, but it had been three years since I had seen him. I figured it was about time we finally became friends.

“Coming,” I yelled. I re-adjusted my push-up bra and downed the last drops of Merlot in my glass. Shit, shit. OK, everything’s fine, no big deal, calm down, check yourself in the mirror. Better yet, check yourself in. 6:58pm. Good old Erik. Right on time.

“Hi,” I said, as I opened the door. “Come in.”

“It’s great to see you. How are you?” Erik asked with an open smile. Deep brown eyes, small glasses, clean cut black hair speckled with hints of gray, defined jaw with the beginning of a five o’clock shadow, fitted black wool sweater and loose jeans. He reached to give me a hug and it seemed a natural thing to do. I wanted to hug him, but I couldn't believe how hard my heart was struggling to get out of my chest.

“Guess this is what happens when you don’t plan,” I mumbled. I had no idea I would be this attracted to him. Seeing Erik in a romantic way again had seemed impossible, a closed chapter in my book.

“What?” he asked, as he closed his arms around me.

We held each other for the first time in three years, his face nestled in my neck.

“Never mind,” I whispered. I felt his back with my hands, rubbed it slowly, letting him know this was exactly where I wanted to be. His shoulders were strong under his soft black wool, more filled out, more like a man than a young college student. I was comforted by his smell—a clean subtle scent—something I didn’t know I had missed.

We severed our perfect alignment after what seemed like a ten minute embrace. Three years was longer than I had thought. So much had happened. So many difficult experiences, all holding secrets I had not been privy to when Erik and I were a couple.

I brought him into the living room and pointed to the wall. “These are my friends.”
Erik studied the black and white photographs, all women, all nude.

“Well, most of them are my friends, some are me.” I giggled uncomfortably.

“You took these. They’re unbelievable,” He sounded impressed and genuinely interested.

“Yeah. Except for the ones of me. That one and that one.” I stopped my foot from tapping and pointed to the photo of me sprawled out, face down, on a large rock. Just me and that rock on a cold, rainy February day. My first time bare in front of a camera. “Pretty extreme from shooting babies.”

“They’re amazing. Incredible works of art.” Erik engaged each photograph with his full attention. “They’re more than amazing. I don’t even know how to articulate how beautiful they are. This one.”

He pointed to the photo of my pregnant friend dancing on the beach. “The contrast of the cliff next to her curvaceous body. And the way her hands are up, still in motion. What a way to document a pregnancy.”

I had forgotten how supportive he was of my passions. He wanted to be so helpful when I first started my business and I resented him for it.

“It’s a really intense experience,” I said, hoping I sounded more relaxed than I felt. “None of these women have ever been photographed nude. They all have to go through their own thing, feeling fat, not feeling free. There’s this thing in all of us that makes us think we should some how pose or suck in. I try to relax them enough on our hike down to the beach and figure out what’s going on in their lives, you know, where they’re at, what they’re ready for, what they need to work through. I like to think of the shoots as a sort of rite of passage, at least they have been for me.”

Our eyes fixed on each other for an extended moment. Were we both thinking the same things? He stepped closer to me so he could get a better look at a photograph of my friend lying on her back in the sand. Her face was shadowed, her right nipple stroked by the light. He seemed drawn to this one. I was aroused by his appreciation and his smell.

“You’ve always had this way of putting people at ease,” he said. “I remember watching you photograph that little girl when you first started your business. That little blond two-year-old who wouldn’t take her thumb out of her mouth.

“I remember. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.”

“You had her fooled. She came in all shy. It didn’t look like you were going to get any good shots. And I’m thinking, how the hell is Hyla going to pull this off? She wouldn’t even get in front of the lights. And the little girl started crying—a sure sign that you were going to have to re-shoot her, as far as I was concerned. Then you pulled out this multi-colored bubble gun, and that was it. You started blowing bubbles over the backdrop, popping them with your nose. She was intrigued just enough to walk in front of the lights.”

Erik removed his titanium rimmed glasses, looked at me, and then put the glasses back over his dark, sincere eyes. “I imagine you’re one of the few people I know who has the ability to make a woman feel comfortable enough to run around naked on the beach. That requires tremendous trust.”

“Oh, that picture there . . . see that big rock to the right? That’s Tennessee Valley beach. Remember when we went there when we first came to California? I’ve always had such a connection with that place. I go there all the time.”

“I wasn’t in the best mindset then.” Erik put his hands in his jeans pockets and looked down at the carpet. “I feel badly about the way things ended with us. I just want to say that, while I have this opportunity.”

“I do, too. I’m sorry it got so ugly.”

“I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, what I did wrong. Over three years. I didn’t want to break up. I should have left our apartment way before I did. I was freaked out about having moved across the country. I felt alone. I just want to say that I am really sorry about any destructive part I played in our break-up. ”

I thought about our drive across country together, just after graduation from Florida State University. Erik was good to me and I pushed him away. And here he was now, being so vulnerable and open.

I walked toward my plush, green velvet couch. “Let’s sit down for a minute.”
We sat at opposite ends of the couch, our knees facing each other. I was tempted to move closer.

“It was a lot to just pick up and move across country," I said. "Not having any family out here. I appreciate you being so open about it—the world would be a better place if everyone were as open as you—but I’m the one who made it really hard. That, I know now. I mean, I know it takes two. I know our dynamic was off there for a while, but it was so easy for me to blame you for everything. I was just dumping all my insecurities on you. I wasn’t ready to be loved the way you loved me. I had so many things to prove to myself.”

I recalled my mindset when we moved to California. I had all of these issues. Feeling unstable, unworthy of success, undeserving of happiness. I wanted to blame everyone but myself.

Erik stretched his left arm towards me and rested it along the back of the couch. "Some of the ways I tried to help you weren't the best."

“I still can’t believe you didn’t move back to Miami,” I said.

“When we first broke up, I sort of flipped out. I put all my stuff in storage and drove back to Miami. I was only there for two weeks, when I realized that Miami wasn’t home anymore. I got back in my car, drove back across the country, and I’ve been here ever since. Where else can you find mountains like this? The views are spectacular. The people have something to say. And the city . . . there is so much to do in San Francisco. I’m not going anywhere. This is my home. I love California.”

I had been completely wrapped up in my own little world since Erik and I parted. Wouldn’t have cared where he was. I didn’t even return his phone calls after I met the last train wreck relationship. But, in that moment, I knew that I wanted to see him again. I was relieved to hear him claim Northern California as his home.

“Me too,” I told him. “It’s taken me a long time to make a name for myself as a good baby photographer out here. It’s expensive, but it’s worth it.”

“How come there are no baby pictures on this wall?”

I laughed. “Somehow I don’t see Hyla Molander, Marin County’s premier child pornographer, as a title that’s going to boost my portrait business. I tell only a select few, very cool clients that my living room wall is smothered with nudes of their baby photographer and friends. Most people don't see the art in tasteful nude photography. Besides, I try to keep work and home separate.”

“So, where are you shooting now?” he asked.

“God, this is so weird. I’ve had a studio now for like two years and you’ve never even seen it.”

“Really? I guess I should have known, but I’d love to see it. Your talent already more than impresses me. You started your business, what, like three weeks after you learned how to load a camera, and now your name is all over the place. I’ve seen some of your hand-tinted pictures at that photo shop in San Rafael. I never doubted you, but what can I say? I am filled with pride when I look around and see how your work has developed. You are a talented woman.”

“And I hear you’re working for Industrial Light and Magic. That is so cool.”

“It’s an amazing place. I’m fortunate that I love my job. I get to be a part of all the special effects in the movies. I just got my first credit line. I think that’s the first time I actually sat through all the credits. The words came rolling up, “Erik Grieve . . . Computer Production Support.”

“I am so proud of you. I always knew you were a computer genius.”

Erik and I were quiet for a moment and I remembered how it was when we had sex—somehow different every time. Making love with Erik was like exploring new parts of my self. I could be who ever I needed to be, feel whatever I wanted to feel. Erik was the only man I had ever been with who could get another hard-on within 2 minutes of ejaculation.

Erik nodded towards the coffee table, at a photograph of my grandparents.

Watching his face while he studied them, I thought about a future with Erik. Was I really having these feelings? He was so sweet and sensitive and I was attracted to him after all this time. Could we possibly be right for each other now?

I picked up the gold frame. “I took that picture in the Bahamas, on their 55th wedding anniversary. Sweet, huh?”

“I’ve thought about your grandparents quite a bit over the past three years. Lamby and Granddad, what a couple. They adore you—not that they have any reason not to. Remember our trip to New York, when we went to stay with them, and your Granddad gave us his map so we could find our way around Manhattan. And then he waited for the train with us to make sure we got off safely. They made me feel like part of the family. And they really cared about me, just because you cared about me. I had the best conversations with your Granddad about his inventions. To have that many scientific accomplishments and be such an open, loving man. I could spend weeks talking to him.”

I was reminded of Erik as a little boy, running for help, when his father died on Miami Beach. “They really liked you.” I gently caressed the glass of the frame, over my Grandparents’ faces.

I could finally tell by the way he kept putting his finger on his chin, that he was as nervous as me.