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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The Friendship Pill in the Hate-Proof Bottle

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Gather around, folks, and let me tell you a story…

It’s a story of love. It’s a story of heartbreak. It’s a story of healing. Best of all, though; it’s a story of how the cosmos aligned to bring 2 people together in a way that would ultimately form a bond that should, with any luck, last for a lifetime.

Once upon a time…

There it is. Trite, I know, but in retrospect, the strange turn of events that created the dynamic duo that would come to be known as… us…we…partners in crime…’S squared’… seems so far in the past that life before then is a hazy memory at best and impossible to recall at worst.

I was merely trying to get through each day without breaking back then. I was recently divorced, and it had hit me hard. When I say hard, I mean sledgehammered heart in so many jagged shards that all the king’s horses and all the king’s men would not dare attempt to reassemble it hard. I mean soggy puddle of continuously sobbing mess that was just trying to do what seemed impossible at the time; scrape myself up off the ground and move in a forward direction hard.

He and I had a child together that we traded parenting time with week to week, and she was ALL that kept my head above water as I bobbed along in my lake of despair. It was hard enough to trudge through my hurt even with her there, but the weeks that she spent with her father made it all the more difficult to bear because I was left hopelessly and stiflingly alone. Sure, I tried “dating”, which often meant jumping into bed with men I barely even knew, because in my grief, I saw physical contact as a salve to rub into my emotional wounds. In truth, though, I was more alone while tangled in some forgettable set of masculine limbs than I would have been if left to curl up and cry myself to sleep with nothing but my pillow to wrap my arms around. Try not to judge; I was a different person back then.

The worst part of it all, the part that made it impossible to move past the pain and misery of the whole ordeal and actually start the restoration process, was the fact that we worked in the same building. In fact, that’s how we’d met. I now had to punch a time clock every day just to see his smugly handsome face wearing its cold, hard expression of extreme…indifference. Okay, in all honesty maybe that wasn’t quite the worst part. The real punch in the face, kick in the teeth, knife to the kidneys came when he got a new girlfriend, and insisted upon parading her around the lunch room at our place of employ for everyone to see. Everyone that knew our history. Everyone that watched me gradually fall apart every day between the hours of 7am and 3pm. Everyone that looked at me with pitying eyes as I hunched over whatever vending machine fodder I had been trying to nonchalantly choke down.

She was a cute little thing, I have to admit; prancing around the cafeteria in her miniskirts and talking in her ‘straight off the boat from England’ accent, which he, of course, raved about and made sure to play up in front of everyone present, including…me.

I can scarcely recall my hatred for this woman now, but I do know that I did indeed hate her. She had everything that I didn’t, everything that I had lost… his devotion, his attention, his desire, his embrace…his heart. I didn’t even truly know her, but I wanted to be her, and for that, I despised her.

They eventually moved into a quaint little upstairs apartment a few streets over from my own humble abode, and even though I was in a relationship of my own by that time, I found myself always looking over my shoulder in public places, hoping that I wouldn’t bump into them …at the bank…at the grocery store… at a stoplight. The time I spent away from work where they couldn’t flaunt their cutesy, giggly, sickening bliss was MINE, and the thought that my glorious oblivion could be ripped out from under me at any given moment seemed so… unfair. I was unreasonably and unrealistically angry for this egregious affront to my fragile state of mind.

So angry, in fact, that I remember storming over to their apartment one day and confronting her with hackles and voice raised because I had found out that she had taken my child to her parent teacher conference, since he was out of town on a hunting trip. I was livid. How dare she? That wasn’t her child. Why didn’t someone tell me about this conference? I would have happily done my parental duty and taken her myself. Oh no, no, no, no …no. I was going over there, and I was giving this woman, this usurper, this replacement for me… a rage-fueled and not so well thought out piece of my mind. In hindsight, I looked like an idiot. It wasn’t her fault; she was just doing what he had asked of her. You couldn’t have convinced me at the time, though. She had become my arch nemesis in my pain distorted mind, and I had declared war.

Eventually, he was let go from our place of employ, and without his ever-existing presence around to remind me that I now had a failed marriage complete with child under my belt, I started to do an amazing thing; I started to heal. After a few weeks without his larger than life shadow looming over me, sucking away my emotional stability like a vampiric cloud, I could get through my days without breaking down. After a few months, the bitterness started to melt away like an ice cube on blacktop. After a few years, well…enter the man that currently holds my now fully restored heart in the palm of his loving, giving, and slightly callused hand.

It was a short courtship for my beloved and I, but as I’ve mentioned before, when you just know, you know. You know? I fell head over heels, hook, line, and sinker almost immediately. He whisked me away like a knight in blue jean and cotton blend armor; 1,200 miles from the place I was born and raised, to be exact. We said ‘I do’ in a small, intimate ceremony on a Florida beach in the freezing cold month of January. We said ‘I do’ surrounded by close friends and loved ones. Sadly, though, we said ‘I do’…without the presence of my child.

I had tried. Lord help me, I had really tried. In the end, though, a judge ruled that my little red haired ray of sunshine was best left in familiar surroundings, with familiar people, and the measure of stability that she had come to know… right where she was. At that point, I had to make quite possibly the hardest decision I have ever faced in my entire life; follow my heart vs. motherly duty. I opted for the purely selfish, but what I knew would be a better life for me, and for the son that I had given birth to between divorce and recourse. I left my old life behind me to the tune of  ‘how could you?’ … ‘what kind of mother are you?’…’what kind of person are you?’ It was hard, of course….so very hard to walk away, especially with a mind full of ‘what ifs’. What if she thinks I don’t love her because I made this decision? What if she grows to resent me? What if we lose touch completely? In my mind, though, I knew that even amid the hurt of walking away from her, she’d be in good hands with her father. He was a good daddy, and he loved her. Time heals all wounds, and it would heal hers.

I went off to my new life, and the world still turned. It turned for me…it turned for him…and it turned for my baby girl. We kept in contact as often as possible. We’d webcam, draw pictures together on our favorite online chat program, and I’d sometimes read her bedtime stories over the phone. She’d come to see me for several weeks every summer, and I’d go back to see her at Christmas time.

My relationship with my arch nemesis had turned to civility in the time that followed my departure. Actually, truth be told, she had become the biggest supporter of my relationship with my child. She’d email me pictures, encourage my daughter to write me letters and create cards and pictures for me which she would send along with some really lovely scrapbook pages that they’d put together with photos of my growing baby girl…and her life without mom. She would make sure my daughter called me regularly, and she would even allow her to use her own computer when we wanted to spend our virtual time together. She had become a Godsend, and I found myself truly thankful that she was part of my daughter’s life in my absence.

Let’s fast forward a few years, to a fateful day set in motion by a distressed phone call. On the other end of the line was a very upset little girl that I would do anything in the world for if it if it was within my power, and if it meant that I could take away her hurt. I wished that I could comfort her in her grief, wrap my arms around her and hold her tight, but the distance between us made it impossible to do anything but listen, and assure her that everything would be alright.

Cue tragic breakup scene. The scene that I had found myself wishing for years earlier but now felt guilty for willing into existence, considering our newfound respect for one another on the common ground that was the role we both played as mother to a sassy little ball of freckles and French braids. I felt bad for her, I really did. I had been her , once, and I thought back to the time when I had walked in her shoes through a world of emotional turmoil with nothing and no one to lean on except my own  convoluted thoughts.

I decided to make a move that would change both of our lives from that moment forward…I reached out to her. It was online that I reached out, but it was probably easier for both of us not to have to speak in person at that point. That way she could feel me out and make sure that I didn’t have ulterior motives other than sheer concern, and I could gauge whether or not she even wanted my help. I asked her if she was alright, to which she admitted that no, she in fact, wasn’t. She had devoted seven years to a relationship that was seemingly gone in the blink of an eye. “Alright” was the farthest thing from what she was.

She moved out of their home and in with the first in a long string of bad attempts at friendship with women that would do her wrong and further beat her down emotionally. Our online chats turned into frequent phone calls. I was giving her what no one was able to give me when I needed it most; a shoulder to cry on from someone that had been exactly where she was now. I was getting to know the woman that she really was without jealousy clouding my vision, and I found that we had a lot in common.  A scary amount in common, in fact.

Things quickly went south for her in her new living situation and I received a call one day from a very upset ex enemy whose psychotic roommate was having what could only be surmised as a bipolar meltdown aimed in her direction. I told her I was on my way without even having to think twice. I gathered my resources, packed a bag, and began the 1,200 mile pilgrimage to retrieve my broken new friend.

I arrived just in time the next day as the frenzied she-devil that she had previously shared a dwelling with was pitching the remainder of her personal, and in some cases extremely breakable belongings out the door and down the long flight of unforgiving cement steps.  I hugged her, gathered up what was salvageable, loaded it into the van, and off into the sunset we went toward home…my home, and toward a new life that included each other.

I’d like to say that the rest is just history, but it’s been a pretty rich history. She stayed with us for a few months and in that time we grew as close as any sisters could ever be. We talked together, cried together… had a few too many one night and fell out of our desk chairs laughing together. With me by her side, she started the long trek down that same path that I had to walk many years before her…the road to restoration.

She eventually got a job offer through an acquaintance of hers in Minnesota, loaded up her car and left a very sad me behind missing her, but we always stayed in touch. That adventure ended in another crazy roommate, and another trip back to Florida, this time to live with her father a few hours south of where I reside. She still lives in Florida today. We find a way to visit each other as often as possible, and we talk almost every night.

She admitted to me when we were reminiscing several weeks ago that she wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for me “saving” her. I never realized how far down the rabbit hole she had actually fallen back then, but to me, the decision that I had made was a no-brainer, especially now. Being an only child, she’s the closest thing to a sister I have, and even though she likes to give me undue credit for picking her up and dusting her off, her friendship has saved me from time to time over the years, too.

Our ex doesn’t come up much anymore in conversation except in a random, “haha, remember when?” moment. I know that they haven’t spoken since, and they really have no reason too. There’s nothing tying them together, they can lead separate lives. She gets to see the child that she helped raise for seven years and remain a part of her life, and my daughter enjoys that fact tremendously.  I think that we’re all doing just fine.

As for my relationship with him, I can now call him friend, and completely mean it. I love him in a healthy way. The way that we should all love our friends and neighbors. As a matter of fact, our relationship is the best it’s ever been. He’s found someone that he cares about, and I have my special someone, and though we may not talk often, we can talk, and it’s always good. He supports me in decisions I make regarding our daughter, who has lived with me now for the past 4 years after he fell prey to economic crisis for a short time.

As a fitting ending to this story, I’m taking my ‘bestie’ on a cruise in 90 days. Call it a tribute to sisterhood. Call it a reward for being survivors of heartache. Call it whatever you like, just don’t call us. We’ll be living it up ocean style, and loving life…together.

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