I’m sure you are probably scratching your head right now and saying, huh? Am I on the right blog? Shouldn't D be DEATH like in that picture up there? I thought this was the death writer blog? No worries, you are in the right place. On the fourth day of the A to Z Challenge, I decided to include an excerpt from my book, "Death Becomes Us" and it involves my daughter. And don't worry, it's not sad.
I realized I was going to die on
August 17, 2000. I was not terminally ill with a respirator hissing by my bedside, nor was my body bruised and bloodied from a crippling car wreck. I wasn’t even in a hospital. It was my thirtieth birthday. A fairly monumental day in modern day American society if you ask me—a day for celebration, a surprise trip to France or at least a measly all day spa experience, but there I was in my living room at 6am, dressed in a 42 DD maternity bra, nasty old pajama bottoms, and a striped breastfeeding pillow strapped around my fleshy midsection.
My husband Erik entered our living room like a chipper, dutiful waiter setting a glass of water ornamented with a pink straw next to my new glider chair, as if this tiny gesture would somehow make the constant feeding, waking, changing diaper schedule easier for me to tolerate. It was the big 3-0, and I fully expected something big and magical to happen. Only now do I realize that the big magical thing was right there on that breastfeeding pillow.
“Do you want to listen to any music?” he said, digging through a stack of cds on the floor.
I nodded a bleary eyed whatever as he pressed play and left me to feed our daughter for what seemed like the millionth time.
James Taylor’s blanket warm voice filled the annoyingly bright room.
Goodnight you moonlight ladies
Rock-a-bye sweet baby James
I opened my eyes slowly and stared down at the wonder of my first child. She was dressed in an eco-friendly cloth diaper that in theory seemed like a wonderful idea. Her pale pink body wriggled in ecstasy as her tiny hands grasped towards the warmth of my body.
There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway
A song that they sing when they take to the sea
A song that they sing of their home in the sky
Maybe you can believe if it helps you to sleep.
Giant wet tears dropped from my eyes and landed on my daughter’s exposed skin. She remained oblivious, perfectly content with our soft, cushy, milk machine arrangement. But I was overwhelmed with feelings of uncontrollable panic. Where was the remote? I needed to hit the pause button on the new sound track of my life, but I was trapped in an extremely ugly glider chair that didn’t match any of my other furniture.
James Taylor melted into the syrupy timber of Mama Cass.
When I’m alone and blue as can be
Dream a little dream of me.
I lost it. Strange guttural sobs melded inharmoniously with the easy listening lullabies. Erik bolted into the room like I’d just dropped the baby and knelt by my side with a fixed, worried expression on his face. But unbeknownst to him, there was nothing he could do—no water, or wet washcloth or fluffy pillow was going to fix this.
It could have been any number of things that set me off into this panicked state: post-pregnancy hormones, lack of sleep, James Taylor, the size of my butt or the fact that it was the morning of my 30th birthday. Thirty was just a number, but I seriously thought that by the time I reached that age I would feel like I’d graduated into adulthood. I didn’t.
My unrecognizable reflection in the mirror didn’t help. In my mind, this was not how thirty was supposed to look. In the past nine months, I’d gained seventy pounds and now weighed twenty more than my extremely attractive husband, who I still can’t believe wanted to hook up with me in the first place. My once slender body had become soft, fleshy and foreign. I felt as ugly and ungainly as Jabba the Hutt. All I needed was a bikini-clad Carrie Fisher chained to my leg.
In addition to losing, or perhaps swallowing, my former physical self, I was now responsible for the health and happiness of someone whose needs were immediate and maddeningly indecipherable. Granted, I was prepared on the consumer level with the Boppy pillow, the glider chair, the crib, the pink clothes and the changing table, but no matter how many times I poured over the pages of the “What to Expect” books, there was nothing in those tip sections that emotionally prepared me for the overwhelming need of a newborn baby. My day-to-day temperament leaned towards avoiding and/or leaving when people or situations became too messy. But you can’t do this with your new baby. All the books say so.
And then there’s the whole tenderness thing. No one prepared me for that. It sounds cliché, but when I gazed down at my daughter and she was all snuggly and peaceful and I didn’t really know her and she didn’t really know me, it just didn’t matter—I loved her like I’d never loved before. I didn’t need fancy dinners, or flowers or chocolates to be wooed by her. I loved her without condition. At the moment of her birth, my primal instincts were awakened and sharpened with her first breath—I would do anything within my power to keep her happy and free from harm.
But the question that no new parent or really anybody wants to think about arose just days into my daughter’s beginning—what if something happened to me? What then? At some point, and I didn’t know when, I was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it. Surprisingly, I had never contemplated my own death prior to this day. To me, it was some abstract, ethereal ending that would happen way off in the future when I was geriatric, fast asleep, or too bored with life to care. I had never envisioned car crashes, slipping on a patch of ice, being stabbed by a psychotic serial killer or more realistically, suffering from some painful long drawn-out disease caused by my former smoking habit.
The world suddenly became a much scarier place. If memory serves, and often times it doesn’t, the highlight of my thirtieth birthday was a shower. The day ended just as it began—in the ugly glider chair. After cake, Erik presented me with my birthday gifts. Like my current state of disarray, his gifts to me were unwrapped without any sort of frivolous presentation; two books on parenting. Somehow, I managed to keep the sarcastic remarks to myself, while also managing not to clobber my clueless husband over the head. Lucky for him, motherhood, like life, is a terminal diagnosis that can suck the life out of a person both mentally and physically. I was too tired to make petty complaints about Dr. Spock or the lack of a Tiffany blue jewelry box. If I could die at any moment, I certainly didn’t want my last words on this earth to be “My vagina is now the size of the Lincoln Tunnel and all you got me was a book?”
In all fairness to my husband,
August 17, 2000 wasn’t all that bad. If anything, I learned a valuable lesson—I had someone to live for, someone who needed me, someone who would demand more from me than I’d ever demanded from myself, and most importantly, I didn’t want to let her down by doing something silly like dying when she hit puberty.