Too little, too late

Weekly Writing Challenge: Backward

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While I laid there staring up toward the ceiling on the cold operating table, the blinding surgical light overhead stabbed into my retinas like a thousand sharp needle jabs. The anesthesia had been administered, and it was just a matter of time before I lost consciousness. “Count backward from 10,” the nurse had said, and so I did.

Ten, nine; I was terrified. I felt cold, so very cold, inside and out. Eight, seven; the nurse smiled down at me. At least, I believe it was a smile. The corners of her eyes creased and her cheeks arched in a smiling manner, but her mouth was covered by a surgical mask. She held my trembling hand in hers as a calming gesture while she waited for me to drift off. It did nothing to steady my nerves. Six, five; tunnel vision had started to set in. A chilly darkness gnawed at the edges of my periphery. It wouldn’t be long now. Four, three; my eyes felt dry. I finally closed them as I let the effects of the anesthesia wash over me. Two. A deep, black void rolled in. One never came. My final thought as I drifted off into oblivion was:

Please stop. I’ve just made a terrible mistake.

I had never intended to get pregnant with my son. I had, however, stopped taking my birth control pills because my insurance wouldn’t cover the monthly cost of the drug, and I was convinced that I couldn’t keep up with the mounting financial strain it put on my wallet. I was intending to just ‘be careful’.  Use condoms and such. Great in theory, but we all know how well that works out in reality, right?

I was already a single mom. Well, sort of, anyway. It was in the respect that I wasn’t married at the time. The apartment was mine, and the boyfriend moved in with me, thus making the bills my problem. While maybe slipping me a few bucks here and there if he was feeling generous, he wasn’t a huge help when he would disappear on weekend long drinking binges every time he received a paycheck.

It was during a trip to Vegas that it happened.  Wait. What? Vegas? I thought you just said you couldn’t afford birth control. Why were you traipsing off to Vegas?

Well, the best answer I can give for that question is that I was young, stupid, and didn’t have my priorities in order. Tax time came, and when I got that check in my hot little hands, I just couldn’t wait to go off and spend it. Vegas seemed like the fitting place to do just that.

Thus, the trip was booked; for me, and the boyfriend. Okay, stop right there. You just said he wasn’t much help because he went off to drink away his paycheck, yet you decided to take him to Vegas? Where’s the logic in that?

Revert back to my comment about being young and stupid.

Off we went to sin city, and during a thoughtless night blurred by the effects of ingesting massive amounts of alcohol, and being enraptured by a buffet of wild, unbridled night life, careful didn’t happen, and Cameron did.

I knew the deed was done before I even urinated on the little white stick that would reveal my fate.  I had been overly tired for 2 weeks straight upon my return from the trip. I would drag my carcass home from work, flop on the couch in a drooling heap that would drift in and out of consciousness, and stay there until it was time to get up and do it all over again. Occasionally I would slither into bed when I bothered to stir. I don’t even recall now how my daughter got fed during those first couple of weeks. Either he did it, or I stumbled into the kitchen in a half dazed stupor and opened up a can of something that Chef Boyardee had been kind enough to cook up in advance.

Now, the first time I had gotten pregnant shortly after we started dating he had been happy about it, because we were okay then, but I miscarried about a month and a half later. Our relationship proceeded to turn to crap about a year after that. He started going out to bars and parties without me, often disappearing straight out of work without even coming home to change and clean up first. So I would either sit at home and stew, or I would get a sitter and do the same with a few of the girls from work, often hoping we would end up at the same bar so that he could see that I had decided to still go on with my life without his presence.

He wasn’t happy when he found out about this pregnancy. “How’d that happen when you just stopped taking your birth control pills last month? That stuff stays in your system for a while,” was his response. “Well, you know, a woman is more fertile the month after she goes off the pill,” was mine. He retorted with, “You’re full of sh*t, I aint never heard of that.” He had never heard this common knowledge bit of information; therefore it must not be true. Being a woman, I never knew what I was talking about and he never took anything I said seriously anyway. He’d never hesitate to tell me to shut up or call me stupid. Thinking back on it now, he had so many emotional issues and hang ups that he had to belittle me to bring me down to his same level of despair. It worked.

I don’t know what made us stay together when we were both clearly miserable. The sex wasn’t even that good anymore. It could have been fear of starting over, or maybe being alone. I really couldn’t say, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that our relationship was over long before it was officially over.

I remember the whole discussion scene over “what to do about it” vividly even now. We had taken his nephews and my daughter to Chuck E Cheese that day, and we discussed options over slices of greasy, barely warm peperoni as the kids toddled off with their buckets of tokens. Actually it was more like argued options, as arguing was all we ever did by then. The “a word” came up. It was an option, after all, and I had already done it twice by then.

The first time, I had gotten pregnant by a pothead that I knew from high school. We dated for about 3 weeks. I knew it wouldn’t be a lasting relationship after 2. I was not even fully divorced yet and was still hurting from the split. A second child was not something I was even willing to consider then. So I committed the unthinkable; I killed my unborn child and wailed face down on my living room floor most of that night, until head aching, eyes swollen shut, unable to breathe through my nose, I finally passed out from exhaustion. That scene played out exactly the same for several nights to follow.

The second time I did it, I was with him. I had already known by that time that I didn’t want to be saddled with him for the rest of my life, and I had caught the pregnancy so early that the clinic didn’t have to do an invasive procedure to end it; they simply gave me a shot in the rear end and a pill to stuff up there after I got home. I had convinced myself that because of the ease with which the termination occurred, I wasn’t actually committing murder. It wasn’t far enough along yet for it to be murder. I know better now, but back then, there was hardness in me. I don’t know if it was a hardness that was brought about as a response to his, or if life kicking me repeatedly when I was down was to blame. It was there nonetheless.

Was.

I can’t go back and change what I’ve done today, but I have changed my heart. I’ve become a Christian since, and have sought forgiveness. Though I try not to beat myself up over the past atrocities that I’ve committed, I’m still human, and the pain still creeps in from time to time.

Knowing the pain that stemmed from the aftermath of an abortion, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it a third time. My body had been through enough. My emotional state had been through enough. My fragile psyche had been through enough.

So my life went on with a growing belly. An undeniably growing belly. Undeniable for me, anyway. It took him a good 6 months before he would even acknowledge that I was pregnant. Then, slowly, he warmed up to the idea and started buying a few baby things here and there with the money that he didn’t go out and drink up. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

He was there for the birth, but he was drunk. I recall my father looking at him with disgust as he laughed, joked around, and stunk like a hobo. I also remember him telling me that I’d better not have to have a C-section, because then my stomach would “turn into oatmeal” and he wouldn’t want me anymore. Big loss there, right?

My squalling, red-faced, baby bobble head came into the world at 11:56 pm on October 18th, 2001. I call him my baby bobble head because when he was born, his head was enormous. I don’t just say that in gest. It caused quite a bit of concern with doctors for a good long while, and he had to go in for frequent checkups so that they could monitor his head growth. He also had to have extensive physical therapy because he couldn’t hold his massive head up or roll it from one side to the other while sleeping, so the side that he favored to sleep on was becoming flat and misshapen. He was also born with hypothyroidism, for which he was immediately put on medication, which resulted in frequent trips to an endocrinologist and more doctor bills.

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All of this was naturally my fault. He already had one son that was born perfectly healthy, so it had to be me. Several years of drinking and dabbling in every illegal substance known to man couldn’t possibly have led to any abnormalities in his child. No, it had to be my fault because I was on a low dose of Prozac during the last half of my pregnancy, since he just made me so very upset and depressed all the time, and my blood pressure was through the roof.

I had told my doctor during one of my regular checkups toward the end that I was done.  I had my girl from a failed relationship already, now I was having a boy with a man that I silently loathed a vast majority of the time, so that was good enough for me. One of each was perfect I thought. Why would I want to risk having another child in the future with yet another man? Imagine what people would think of me. Three kids, three different fathers. Slut, trash, tramp; those were just a few of the descriptive words that came to mind.

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I believe my exact words to the doctor were, “Snip it, burn it, rip it all out if you have to. Just break the baby making machine beyond repair, please.”

He scheduled me to have it done the following morning after delivery, since I would already be in the hospital. Then I would have time to heal from the birth and the surgery all at once. It was a done deal.

Never again. No more babies.

I realized that fact in a cold operating room just as black oblivion enveloped me. Never again would I get to experience the thrill of feeling a baby kick for the first time. Never again would I have the attention of people rubbing my belly and taking burdens from me out of care and concern. Never again would I bring a life into this world. Never again would I get to feel that first wave of overwhelming love wash over me as I stared down into the eyes of my newborn son or daughter.

Drifting off into unconsciousness as a surgeon readies his scalpel is a terrible time to reach the realization that you might have made a mistake. As the barely audible number two left my dry lips in a raspy whisper just before the darkness overtook me, that’s exactly what happened. Two. Too many bad decisions made to bring me to this point. Too much worry about what the future held. Too quick to act without thinking it through.

Too little, too late.

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Reflections of a Life Wasted

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I’m coming up on my 39th birthday here in…umm…

*Cue awkward silence as I count on my fingers and mumble under my breath, “Let’s see. Multiply by 5, subtract 96, carry the one and…*

5 days.

Now, there’s no big fuss made over a 39th birthday. It isn’t even a milestone event in one’s life. Next year, however, the big 4-0 will hop up and bite me in the backside like a snake that’s been hiding in the tall, overgrown grass of my life. I look toward this event with trepidation.

I guess the approach of what society has deemed to be the “over-the-hill” mark, rendering my last official year of youth as methodically ticking away, has caused me to really start reflecting back on my life. Replaying the mistakes that I’ve made. Weeding through the “what ifs”. Gritting my teeth against the “could-have-done-betters”.

I’m a dweller. I try not to be, and the Christian crowd will tell me that I shouldn’t be, but I’m just so very human. I think that mulling things over again and again and reworking them in my mind is probably in my blood. I can agree, though, that without God in my life now, I would have completely reverted back into my head and might otherwise be found drooling in a corner somewhere rocking and mumbling to myself. Clinging to faith and hope keeps me upright.

I didn’t always, though.

Fresh out of high school, I viewed the world as my playground and had very little determination to seize any kind of future for myself. I entered one scholarship contest to an art school that I was mildly interested in, but when I showed up with portfolio in hand, I took a look around at the other 300 applicants and their work, and was instantly discouraged. I packed up and left that day thinking much less of myself than I had when I woke up that morning. Afraid and unsure of my abilities from that point forward, the portfolio found its way into the back of my closet, thus closing the doors on any further attempts to try to be somebody and make a career stem from my talents. I never looked back again.

Instead I gave in to the calling of my social life, got a little apartment above a house lived in by the woman renting the place, and held killer parties. I figured maybe the parties were getting out of hand when people were vomiting out the windows onto her car below. She was understanding enough, though, and gave me the opportunity to stay as long as I toned it down.  Soon after, the roommate moved out, the boyfriend moved in, and I did behave; as much as a young single girl shacked up with her boyfriend possibly could, and for a while, at least.

I traded one boyfriend in for another when that one enlisted in the military. He was a good guy, but I was wild, free, and simply didn’t want to wait for him.  So out went the old, and in came the new. With the new, I fell instantly head over heels. Or so I thought. Reflecting on it now, I had no concept of what love really was back then.

Then the bad break-up happened and I ran from my hurt. I packed up my apartment, quit my job, stuffed anything that wouldn’t fit in my car into my parents’ basement, and took off to a place 8 hours north of home to escape seeing him. I had met some people there the summer before, and my grandpa had a cabin there that I broke into once I arrived. It was quickly discovered that I was staying there, though, and I was tossed out on my bad decision making backside.

After a month of living in my car because I had no other place to go, and a job that quickly went south because I either didn’t show up for my 12 hour shifts or came in hung over, I threw in the towel, pawned my entire CD collection for gas money, and went home.

I got my old job back. The boyfriend and I got back together. I became pregnant at 21, and we got married to the urgings of family members to “do the right thing.”

Well, the right thing essentially turned out to be the wrong thing.

At the ripe old age of 23 I was a divorcée that was looking for love in all the wrong places to try and ease my pain. I traveled in all the wrong circles and spent nights with forgettable men. Some of them so forgettable, in fact, that I couldn’t even be bothered to learn their names to begin with.

I had become your average barfly because I just couldn’t bear to sit home alone with my thoughts, wallowing in my self-pity, so I had sought out ways to drown them. Cheap alcohol and the attentions of the opposite sex became my crutch.

Until a long island iced tea bought for me by a dark haired stranger, and a one night stand, turned into ‘a regular thing’.

Age 26 then saw me stuck in a loveless relationship with an alcoholic compliments of my bar hopping habit, (and that long island) that thought nothing of disappearing on a drinking binge for an entire weekend, while I sat home wondering where he was with a 4 year old and another baby on the way. Well, what did I expect from a guy that I picked up in a bar?

I also had 2 abortions under my belt by this time. I wasn’t a Christian then, and in my panicked worldly ways and unwillingness to change, I did then what is now the unthinkable to me. Those uncaring and heartless murders have slowly gnawed away at me like a flesh eating disease for all of the years since. Anytime that word is even mentioned around me, it becomes a knife stabbing at my heart all over again.

So, age 27 found me deeply wounded by my own choices, with 2 different children by 2 different fathers, desperately trying to find a way out of the nightmare relationship that I was in. I tried the direct “get out” approach to no avail. He used the fact that I now had his child as an excuse to drag out the misery for both of us.

Once again I sought ways to drown my sorrows, this time settling on church and video games. I found God to the tune of the alcoholic’s snide, ridiculing comments, and I also found a virtual reality world where, for a while every night, I didn’t have to be me. I could forget how low my life had sunk.

It was through those online games that I finally found my current husband and rescuing hero, and how I coincidently was able to finally end the relationship I was in. He didn’t stick around long once I was finally able to profess my love for another. He then decided to deny our son out of his anger toward me. My husband has since stepped into the role as daddy, though, so my son’s biological father denying him hasn’t really affected him much. Yet.

My husband is one of the few things that I’ve done right in my life.

At 28 I married him on a cold January day to the joyous melody of everyone telling us that we were wrong. “It’s too soon. You barely even know each other,” they would say. The courtship started with his first pixelated words to me across my computer screen in September, ( ‘happy birthday’, coincidentally) and spanned over 4 months of nightly phone calls, webcam chats, and 2 visits in person. By the beginning of December, I was shopping for a wedding dress. Maybe we didn’t know each other completely yet, but we had the rest of our lives to get to that point. We knew it was right, and that’s all that mattered.

That marriage brought with it 3 young step-children. I admittedly haven’t always been the nicest person as far as they’ve been concerned. I couldn’t really pinpoint why, though. Likely petty jealousy over the attentions of my husband. I saw him as this treasure that I wanted to keep all to myself, and I didn’t realize for the first half of our marriage that I couldn’t. His youngest is very needy, too, when it comes to her father, so I’ve had to really struggle to work through my sharing issues.

I’ve tried to mend my relationships with them, with some success. They essentially tolerate me now, and the youngest one is even loving toward me, though she’ll argue with me ceaselessly over anything that I ask her to do. I think sometimes that it’s her way of showing animosity toward me brought about by past hurts, but then I realize that it just comes with the territory when you have teenagers.

Regardless, though, my husband was a package deal and it took me awhile to figure that out.

At age 35, I almost lost him. We were so heavy into our online gaming addiction that we had fallen away from church, and each other. In our emotional separation due to distraction, I regrettably strayed. He gave me a choice to leave or stay. I stayed, and it took hard work on both of our parts to make our marriage fully functional again. Counseling. Church. New friends that were good for us. Turning away from our addiction and turning to God.

I’ve made so many mistakes in my lifetime thus far. Lord knows I have. They weigh on me like chains draped across my shoulders at times.

Sometimes I think to myself, “You never went far. You never made a name for yourself. You really have nothing to show for your life but a barrage of bad choices. That’s your legacy.

Then I look at my daughter, who’s about to turn 17, and my son who’s about to turn 12, and it seems like only yesterday, but in another dimension entirely, that I spent 19 and 22 hours respectively in sweating, screeching labor to bring them into this world…

And now my daughter will sit and talk to me and confide in me like I’m her friend…

And my son will hug my waist and hang there like a boy-sized belt…

And my husband will wraps his arms around me and kiss my forehead…

And my step daughter will call me beautiful…

And I’m assured that they all love me in spite of me…

And I feel safe from not only the world, but my own tendencies toward destructive behavior…

And I’m reminded that I’ve made it this far…

And I know I did something right in the midst of my messes…

And everything is okay…

So that brings us to the here and now. Time isn’t stopping, and it certainly isn’t slowing down. I am older and I am wiser, but my life will likely never be mistake free. I’ll keep on making them, but they’ve at least been getting noticeably smaller over the years.

I’ll wish me a happy birthday this year, and my biggest gift will be the knowledge that I’m a survivor.

Of myself.