June 29, 2011

I lay in bed and stare upwards. My hands are folded across my chest, my legs outstretched on the bed. There is a flicker of light coming in through the heavy curtains, enough for me to imagine cosmic shapes in our outdated popcorn style ceiling. My eyes are blank. My breathing is slow. I have things to say to Kari, who lies next to me, but before I can move my lips, my blank stare takes over, paralyzing me as it does from time to time.

My demons named fear and irrationality and anger have burst forth, taking advantage of my tired state of mind and heart.

I think of the accident. It replays over and over, almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. Where I was, where she was and all the calculated changes in our day that could have prevented it. I think of Stella in the next room over, sound asleep, and this new fear of death makes me want to sneak into her room and double check that she is still breathing. Scratch that. It makes me want to sleep right next to her on the floor every night until she leaves the house for good one day. I think of Kari’s broken body. I think of how unfair it is that she suffered so much and got nothing out of it. I think of how lucky everyone around me seems to be, with all of their kids and all of their hearts still intact. I think of quitting my job. I think of moving away, to some far off place, where every family has lost a child. I think of how impossible tomorrow seems, facing people and our new reality and my job.

There is a reason my lips can’t seem to form words. Kari doesn’t need to wrestle with my demons tonight. I shift under the sheets and turn on my side towards the wall, my back pushing up against Kari’s side, as if she is my grounding force, the only energy keeping my mind from drifting off into hopeless skies.

I’m scared. The inevitable death that is somewhere in my future, in my families future, seems so real and possible and close. I plead with the universe. Give me five years. Five years before something else happens.

I can hear Kari dozing peacefully and I hope her dreams aren’t too awful. I crawl out of bed and head to the bathroom for some perspective. I have learned over these long three months to not trust a single thought I have while laying in bed. I find my phone near the sink and turn it on without much thought. I see Angry Birds, an app that filled my sleepless nights at the hospital, and open it up. I start chucking tiny colorful birds, with all different special powers, at little egg stealing green things that hide in structures. Before I know it, twenty minutes has gone by and my demons have receded.

I clamber back into our loft bed, phone in hand, and continue flinging birds through the air in a frenzied, pathetic attempt to get three stars on each level. And somewhere between one level and the next, I’m sound asleep.

June 24, 2011

I remember when Stella turned three months old. My best friends were in town and it was the last time I used weeks to describe how old she was to the world, just as I stopped counting in days when she hit number seven. On 5.21.09, she was no longer twelve weeks old. She was three months old and it blew our minds at the time. And it kind of felt monumental, a milestone in her little life.

Even though only ninety some days had passed, the three of us had already been through so much together. Her birth was a thirty-six hour saga that left us in a state of blissful exhaustion. We parented with total abandonment and lots of sleep deprivation. We kept a detailed diary of her feeding and sleeping and pooping and watched her change from day to day. We saw her first smiles and coos and watched television during her three am feedings. I bathed with her in the tub every single day, studying her little limbs as I gently cleaned her on a nightly basis. When she spent a week straight in collicky hell, I had to hold her like a football, her face down in my hands, her legs straddled around my forearm, and take her on long walks around the city. I would sing You Are My Sunshine on repeat until she finally fell asleep, somewhere between our loft and Pershing Square. The camera lived around my neck in those three months and we constantly found ourselves repeating to one another, look at her, look at her, look at her.

We took this photo on her three month mark and quietly congratulated ourselves for making it that far. She was so big and mohawky and full of independence. This was the only way she would let us hold her those days. Girl needed some space.

If it is possible to miss Margot more than yesterday, I miss her even more today, three months to the day since she was here and then wasn't.

June 23, 2011

While I have three grief posts brewing and one big Still Life art project in the works, I figured a post of some kind was do.

Stella and I finished this piece last week for our porch. There aren't many days that go by without the two of us getting her blocks out so we can play dominoes and build tall buildings. Or as Stella puts it, "build city dad?" She loves one particular design that we came up with because we can see each other through the building and play little games of hide and seek. So when K and I decided it would be nice to have a porch table for wine glasses and feet to rest on, Stella's favorite block design won out. I used reclaimed scrap wood from the shop and Stella helped as much as she could with handing me wood and adding the finish.

June 11, 2011

I finished building our new reclaimed wood dining table in the shop last week. I cut and ripped and planed and cried while listening to Margot's mix, my tears and sawdust coming together to form something of a tribute. Going along with our desperate desire for our lives to be different now, in some small way to honor Margot, we decided to build a new table for our family and friends to sit around. I engraved the bottom with the date and our initials. K. J. S. M.

June 8, 2011

[march 25, 2011]

It was 2am and everything was a blur. My face was soaked with tears, my eyes were red and blotchy, my heart felt relieved and broken all at once. Kari lived, Margot died.

A nurse waited outside our door with a baby cart from labor and delivery. Her eyes were kind and her smile dripped with empathy, the raised corners of her thin lips said everything that needed to be said. I’m so sorry.

We took some pictures with Margot. We said things to her. We kissed her cheeks. And then it was time. I picked up her swaddled body, pressed her against my chest and walked out to the nurse. She stood off to the side as I gingerly placed my daughter in the cart.

As Margot rolled away, I turned back towards our room, towards my wife who was pushing her morphine button with one hand and waiting for my hand with the other. And that was that. She was gone.

There was little sleep that night. I could physically feel the brokenness of my heart, rapid beats interspersed with slow, monotonous pumping. It felt like it was fragmented into three parts and spread throughout the city. One piece was at home with Stella, who was sleeping peacefully, innocence still intact. One piece with my Kari, the first to get my heart a decade earlier. And one piece went rolling away with Margot, slowly cracking as it followed her down the halls toward the morgue.

As a father to Stella, I have been there, with her, almost every step of the way from the very first ultrasound to last night, when we sang row your boat in our funny voices before bedtime. We took baths together when she was a baby and we went to the doctor together for shots. I was there for her first words and first steps and first friendships. She is simply always in our care, or in the hands of our family or housemates or friends. She has never been alone in her life, she has never felt a moment of being lost.

But there Margot went, off without us, alone for the first time after only nine hours in the world. Her father was missing and she was alone and this still pains me to no end.

I wish I could have rolled away with her that night, my hands on her cheek and chest. I wish I could have sat by her in the morgue. I wish I could have held her as she rode to the clinic for surgery. I wish I could have watched over her as they opened her heart and removed her valves. I wish I could have told the coroner her tragic story as he tried to make sense of her death. I wish I could have been on the freeways with her, roaming around Los Angeles, from clinic to hospital to funeral home to cremation center. I wish I could have been there when she was cremated and I wish her sacred ashes were never in the hands of impassive strangers.

The irony in all these wishes is that she has always been here with me. For somewhere that night, perhaps after I finally fell asleep, her presence filled that cracked piece of my heart that followed her down the hall and made it’s way back to me.

June 1, 2011

We walk along the trail at a leisurely place. The winding path is dusty in most places and wet in some places, mostly down near the creek that moves rapidly over boulders and the roots of swollen palm trees. Jagged rocks tower over the north side of the gorge. They take the oppressive heat in stride and have an air of intimidation about them, as if they are keeping watch over the miraculous water that helped form their very existence. A dry, mountainous desert borders the south side and seems to go on forever, ridge after tiresome ridge. Lizards run over rocks and around trees and seem to be anxious about everything. This is Indian territory and we tread solemnly, with regard for the sacred land. A half mile in, we find a nice smooth rock near the edge of the creek and take our shoes and socks off. Sitting down, I wrap my arms around my knees and dip my feet into the cold, cold water.

I can already feel my daughter, running over my toes and around my ankles.

Looking back, I don’t think there was ever much of a choice about what we would do with Margot’s little body. A casket and burial seemed like too much in those early hours after her death, as we held her in a state of shock. It felt like too many details and too unnatural, her body slowly decomposing away in a sealed casket underneath the ground somewhere in a city that we have just started calling home. Besides, what if we moved one day? How would we access her then? Instead, we opted for cremation. We wanted to spread her ashes into the earth.

We placed most of her ashes into a seasonal creek that runs out of the rocky and formidable San Gabriel Mountains. Once out of the foothills, the creek joins forces with the LA River and eventually makes it’s way out to the Pacific, the largest puzzle piece our earth possesses, connecting continents and bodies of water to one another. I didn’t know how important this one act would be until I started sensing Margot’s presence every time I entered into the ocean or river or stream, as if her ashes multiplied a million times over to cover every body of water I find myself in.

I slide my feet deeper into the water until the coldness hits my knees, the hair on my calves swooshing back and forth in unison. Margot rolls past, over and over until I lose myself in the symbolic water. I want to tear off my shirt and submerge my whole body under the surface. I want to swim with her, downstream, as far as she will take me.

I wearily immerse my hands into the water and collect as much of her in my cupped hands as possible. I miss you, I whisper, and then bring the water up to my face and let it wash over me.