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First Place, 2004
Writing Center Awards
Completed for Marilyn Carder
by Aaron M. Griffith
Startled, I opened my eyes and swerved back into my lane narrowly avoiding a collision with a road sign. I breathed a sigh of relief and attempted to rub the exhaustion out of my eyes. I glanced over at her, sleeping there in her tiny seat, totally unaware of the catastrophe we had narrowly avoided. It was always hard to stay awake during the 20 minute drive from my parent’s home to my new house. Though taxing, the long drive was a small price to pay to have my daughter cared for by her grandparents instead of just anybody. She was already without her mother, and I wasn’t able to be any kind of father with the hours I was forced to work at the prison. I did everything I could think of to stay awake the remainder of the drive; I turned on the radio, I rolled down the window to feel the bitter cold of the January night, I even tried having an argument with myself. I pulled into my drive way frightened but feeling very blessed that we had made it home.
The night was cold and my breath froze instantly as it was carried away by the frigid breeze. I cringed as the sharp wind sliced through me and stung the exposed skin of my face. The pristine snow glowed illuminating my house with the pale blue light of the winter moon. My modest little house was nothing to marvel at, but with a fresh covering of white it donned a simple beauty even Rockwell would have trouble reproducing. The silence of the night was broken only by the sound of crunching snow beneath my boots as I carried my slumbering cherub up the crumbling concrete steps of my front porch. I paused at the front door attempting to will my frozen fingers to find the right key and deliver us into the glorious warmth waiting just inside the door. After a few minutes and many choice expletives, the door opened, and we were home.
Cautiously I made my way through the house, stepping over piles of clothes and stacks of books and other debris on my way to her bedroom. Once there, I carefully helped her out of her coat and shoes and gently laid her down into the safety of her white spindled cradle. Standing over her, I whispered a silent prayer and then bent down and kissed her soft warm cheek. I paused for a moment as I left her room and stood there in the doorway watching her sleep. I softly whispered, “Good night, my angel” and closed her door. Though I would love to say something honorable and poetic about myself and the rewards of being a single father, I can’t. At that moment all I thought of was how much I pitied her and how desperate our situation was. The fact of the matter was my wife had left us and life was very hard without her.
It was just past midnight, but there would be no sleep for me. My work week was over and I was determined to put that house in order. The house itself was in utter disarray with boxes strewn about and nothing where it should be. It had been just over a month since my daughter and I had moved out of the rusted old trailer we once considered home and into this house. The entire estate was basically a white painted cinderblock cube with an ancient roof over top of it. The living room was the biggest room in the house accounting for more than half of the total square footage. Besides the living room there were four other rooms; two tiny bedrooms, a small bathroom, and a space with a sink that I assumed was meant to be a kitchen. It wasn’t much, but it was shelter, and more importantly, it was ours.
I still had boxes I hadn’t unloaded since the day I ransacked the trailer, salvaging anything of value. So I put on a pot of coffee, turned on B. B. King, rolled up my sleeves and went to it. I soon was lost in the intoxicating blues that only B. B. can deliver and making quick work of the remaining boxes. Before I knew it the house was almost starting to look habitable. The night was rapidly becoming morning and the sun would be up soon but I wasn’t done yet. I continued to work until there was just one box remaining. I triumphantly approached it, but once I could see it more clearly a sick feeling came over me and I realized that there was something different about this one.
It was sitting lopsided and misshapen there in the corner. The aged cardboard looked weathered and showed signs of both water damage and infestation. All that appeared to be holding it together was a layer of brittle duck tape that looked as if it could disintegrate at any moment. On the side facing me was the word “FRAGILE” written in the very familiar, very feminine, handwriting of my wife. An epiphany struck, and I realized that this was not one of the boxes that I hurriedly packed and loaded on the truck. It must have been packed by my wife and somehow gotten mixed up with my boxes. Through a series of events, it had made the journey from the trailer to this very moment to stare me right in the face as the last box I had left to unpack. I carefully knelt down beside it and began to remove the dull silver ribbon holding it together. The surrounding cardboard walls wilted away without the support of the tape revealing the treasures they had held fast to protect. Within that one box were the answers to many of our family’s unsolved mysteries.
Spread on the floor before me were many infamous heirlooms; the lost home videos that she swore she had packed, the bronzed shoes from when I was an infant, and even a framed picture of us that was very dear to my heart. The picture, badly damaged, showed my wife and me at her childhood home before we left to go to our high school’s homecoming dance. We were so young then and so full of love. Looking at her, I remembered how she used to drive me wild. I couldn’t get enough of her. She was an angel, soft spoken and mysterious, she possessed a fragile and exquisite beauty that mesmerized me. She was the light that made every day worth living just for the breath of a chance to catch a glimpse of her radiant glow. God, I loved her then. I still loved her now. I grimaced as I whispered, “What happened to us?” I placed the picture off to the side and continued on into the pile of lost effects. I had rooted through most of the items when there under a forgotten sweatshirt I saw it, and instantly I was frozen.
Slowly, I moved the sweatshirt to reveal a familiar and terrifying face from my past. It’s once blue fur was now dull and dirty and its small black eyes seemed to be looking right into my soul. Around its neck it wore a gold chain with a sparkling gem hanging from it. The gem was embedded in a golden frame and though dirty from months of neglect it still reflected a hypnotic greenish blue light. I reached down and picked up the bear as my eyes welled up with tears. There I sat, in the middle of my living room floor, sobbing uncontrollably, embracing in my arms a little blue bear wearing a necklace displaying an aquamarine gem, the birthstone of the month of March. Suddenly it was happening all over again and I was there in the hospital; it was August, it was hot, and we were happy.
It wasn’t our first pregnancy, we had conceived before. Only then we were newlyweds, full of love and life. My wife loved being pregnant, and it suited her nicely. She was radiant. We couldn’t wait to be parents and meet our daughter. Then, before we knew it, our beautiful journey through pregnancy was over. The delivery, much like the entire term, went off without a hitch. There we sat in the delivery room holding our gorgeous baby girl. What had been moments before just man and wife was now father and mother. As we raised our baby, we learned quickly of the hardships and joys of parenting, and we soon evolved into excellent parents, life was good.
It’s no surprise then that when we found out we were expecting again it was a joyous occasion. We called everyone we could think of to share the good news, and every call was met with congratulations and celebration. As the weeks went on we began to fix up a nursery in the trailer we had just moved into. It wasn’t much but it was ours and that’s all that mattered. We began to decide on names. Isabella if it is a girl and Gabriel if it is a boy. We were so excited. One morning my wife woke up not feeling well and, fearing the flu or a cold, we went to the hospital. We were completely unprepared for the possibility of a miscarriage and even more unprepared for the emotional destruction left behind by the loss of a child.
Knowing that I was helpless to save my baby was the most painful part of the entire excruciating ordeal. The moment our doctor entered the room, time seemed to slow, and when I heard the words, “I’m very sorry” come from his mouth, it all together stopped. I remember becoming numb and nauseous as I watched his mouth continue to move speaking words of comfort that fell on deaf ears. No words could ease the ache now radiating from my chest. It wasn’t until I heard the agonizing sobs of my wife that I remember noticing the cold streak running down my face, the remnant of a lone tear shed for my child that was now gone. Though there were many more tears shed in the weeks that followed, I will always remember that one. I wanted to hold her and tell her it would be okay, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t feel. There was nothing I could do. We sat there in silence, the lifeless body of our unborn child still within the confines of her mother’s womb, her life now a memory in her parent’s broken hearts.
When tragedy strikes there is no logical explanation as to why, the fact is someone or something is taken from us and all we are left with are painful memories and the grueling task of survival. After my wife endured the operation to have the body of our child removed from her womb, we decided that we needed to have some sort of keepsake as a reminder of the life of our baby so that we would never forget our child. So we stopped by the hospital gift shop on our way out. Holding my wife’s fragile body in my arms, I led her through the store. There, on one of the racks, was a little blue birthstone bear for March, the month our child would have been born. She quietly picked up the bear, and with tears streaming down her pale face she held it close to her heart. It would be days later that she would finally put it down.
Survival, for me, meant taking on extra hours at work and self medicating with tobacco and alcohol. My wife became walled up emotionally and became cold and distant to me. The times I spent at home with my wife and daughter were uncomfortable at best, and in the weeks that followed the death, I watched helplessly as my marriage slowly fell apart. Neither of us knew how to deal with our grief, and both of us were unwilling to come out of our protective shells we had built in response to the loss. I knew my wife was aching, but I was unable to tend to her because of my own pain. I was hurting and had no one to talk to about my suffering. You see when a child that is born dies, there is mass mourning from family and friends, and there is a funeral ceremony that brings a sense of closure to the life. When your child dies in utero, an eerie silence surrounds you and no one really wants to talk about it. There is no funeral for which to mourn and find closure, there is nothing. It is as though the child never existed. One day your life is filled with the promise of a new life and then, the next it is ripped from you and you are left with nothing but the pieces of a broken dream and the fragments of your shattered soul.
Soon our feelings of loss and sorrow turned to bitterness and rage. We fought almost constantly about everything and anything imaginable. Our home, much like our marriage, that was once so full of joy and love was now a cold empty tomb devoid of all warmth. Then one day I came home from work to find a note on the refrigerator. The note said that our daughter was safe at my mother in law’s house and went on to say that my wife was leaving me. She offered no explanation or apology, and none was needed. In her greatest time of need I had failed her as a husband and as a man. I paced back and forth throughout the trailer reading the short note over and over again as if there was something I was missing. Though I was very hurt, deep down I understood why she had to do this.
The next day I went to an attorney and filed for divorce, citing spousal abandonment. I wouldn’t see my wife again until the pretrial arraignment nearly two months later. She sat there at the adjacent table with her face in her hands. The muffled sounds of her sobs echoed in the little courtroom. Ironically, it was very hard for me to sit by and watch her suffer alone, something that I had done everyday of the past couple months. She continued to cry as the judge awarded me primary temporary custody of our daughter and lectured her about getting her life together for her daughter’s sake. She was still sitting there in pieces as I stood and left the empty room without a word. That was nearly a month ago.
The first brilliant rays of light were piercing through the living room window as a new day dawned. The orange light fell over my tear soaked face warming my swollen eyes as I looked up and into the sun now rising just above the horizon. The iced limbs of the barren old oak tree that shaded my house glistened like crystal and the frozen landscape surrounding it sparkled like diamonds. I closed my eyes and the let the energy of the sun fill my soul. For the first time in months the dark clouds of depression, that had become so familiar to me, now seemed to be dissipating. I looked back down at the small figure I had been embracing, now soaked with tears, and it became clear to me what had to be done. I had failed her once when she was in need and I would not do it again, now more than ever she needed me. It was time for me to finally be her husband, it was time for us to grieve, and it was time for us to bury the past and get on with living. I packed up my daughter who was still sleeping, totally unaware of the enormity of the situation she was about to sleep through. I secured her in her little seat and we were off to see her mother.
When I arrived at the house where she had been living with friends, I left the truck running and my baby asleep within. I walked up to the dilapidated house and knocked on the door. An unfamiliar girl answered the knock, and I asked for my wife. The girl disappeared into the dark interior of the house and I waited in the chilly morning air. A few minutes later a familiar face appeared from the shadows. She looked so exhausted and her voice was raspy as she simply asked, “What?” I didn’t answer, but instead offered her my hand to follow me to my truck. I saw a light ignite in her eye as she looked out and saw our daughter sleeping in the truck. She hurriedly made it to the truck door but stopped short of opening it. Instead she just stood there and smiled. It was then that I took out the bear now stained with my tears and presented it to her. The sight of it nearly buckled her knees and she exploded into tears. I grabbed her and pulled her to me. There we stood, ankle deep in snow, on the side of the road, sobbing uncontrollably, embracing in each others arms and holding a little blue bear wearing a necklace with an aquamarine gem, the birthstone of the month of March.
Nearly six months after the death of our unborn child my wife and I cancelled our divorce proceedings and began our journey of healing with renewed commitment to loving each other. The blue bear has since been cleaned up and it now sits in our family room, a constant tribute to the life of our child and a symbol love renewed. When tragedy strikes there is no explanation as to why, only the grueling responsibility to love one another through.
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