August 2, 2011

The Day I Lied

I could sense the question coming as soon as the woman started in on Stella’s eyes.

“Oh my God, them are the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen,” she pronounced with an oomph.

Stella dismisses her casually, as if she has been here before. I say thank-you, as if I’ve been here before.

“What color are yer eyes, boy? Let me see them eyes!”

“Hazel.” I say, without giving her a chance to see the pain.

“Oh, she must get them pretty things from her Momma then.”

“Yep,” I add, hoping my dismissive tone will be picked up on, ending our brief exchange as soon as it’s started. I’m weary of these kind of conversations now because I know where they lead. I avoid them at the park and the grocery store and just about anywhere else I go alone with Stella, even willing to act a fool, or a jerk, just to skirt around them. It’s not as if I mind going there, of answering the question, but I don’t want to put them through it. I don’t want to see their face. I don’t want to be what they think about for the next thirty minutes or two hours or the rest of the day. I don’t want to burst their bubble of innocence.

I look at her, pleading with my eyes for her to simply finish ringing our lunch through the checkout. My face contorts this way and that in a hapless attempt to express my misfortune without opening my mouth. Surely, I think to myself, after months or years in her profession, she has learned to evaluate the mood of customers and then act accordingly.

“Girl, come look at the eyes on this little girl.” The cashier calls for her friend, the barista, to come over for a peek.

“Oh, sweetheart, just look at you!” her friend says with almost the same sense of urgency and pizazz as her co-worker. These two are a match made in sanguine, extroverted heaven.

Stella can no longer shrug it off or resist this persistence. She has taken the bait and all but forgotten about her pizza and juice and one promised chocolate covered peanut. She laughs as big as ever, showing her teeth and puffy cheeks, giving them everything they asked for and more.

“Oh lordy!” the women shout in near unison as they raise their arms and sway their hips to Stella’s reaction. The main culprit’s big hoop earrings flail about, shooting in one direction and then another, signaling the climax of her blue eyed obsession.

I can visually see this scene unfolding before me. I can hear it. But I’m already drifting, wondering how I’ll answer the question that is inevitably about to rise forth out of this woman.

Just as she finally settles back into ringing the last of our lunch items through, she finally comes out with it.

“Is she your only one?”

My mind races, my mouth freezes.

“Is she your only one? You got any other beauties with blue eyes?” she asks again, laughing this time as she clarifies her question.

Under normal circumstances, with my family and friends and acquaintances, Margot is all I want to talk about. There have even been times when I want to talk about her to strangers, as if spreading her story around the city might keep her spirit alive a little longer.

I could be straightforward. Actually, no, my second child died three months ago and her eyes were as blue as the Mediterranean, I could say. I could just come out with my sadness and deal with her face and the possibility of a sweet or frustrating response and then eat my food a few steps away and walk out of the store.

Or I could tell her more gently, in a more removed, it’s in the past sort of way. I could tell that I have two kids, but only one who is living. And I could try and conjure up some sort of contentment in my face, as if I have made peace with the fact that my second daughter died.

But, as it happened, neither of these responses came to my lips.

“She’s my only one.” I say quietly.

As my lips utter this lie, I have this unexpected moment with Margot. It’s just her and I together, looking at one another playfully as if she is my little secret. I know you’re there baby girl, I say to her. I know Dad, she says with a wink. And before I can tell her how much I miss her, she is gone. Just like that.


Jess said...

Gut wrenching post. So sorry you have to even have that inner dialogue. Thinking of you all often.

still life angie said...

Man, I have had the same conversations. About blue eyes too. Ooof. It is all so fucking complicated. I wish it weren't.

Jeanette said...

Those conversations are just so bloody hard. I've had two today, I should just stay at home. x

My New Normal said...

I do it all the time. Whenever a stranger asks if I have children I say no. But I don't feel like a liar, I just feel like I'm protecting myself. Depending on the day I can be a bit fragile and would rather not get into it with someone who doesn't really care and I most likely won't see again. Go easy on yourself, it's a difficult path we are all walking. We all just do the best we can.

Brooke said...

It's such a battle, I find, between protecting my hear and feeling disloyal to my baby. But, like you, when I've told people no, I don't have kids, I sometimes get a glimpse of something else--the way Eliza was a gift, even though this sorrow is a burden. I can't hold on to it, but maybe someday it will feel more accessible.

Mary Beth said...

It's like trying to stop a train with your bare hands when you can feel the question coming, isn't it? No matter how much you will the person not to ask, they always do.

I like your private smile with Margot--that's a really beautiful way of picturing it. I'm going to use that, if you don't mind. I think it would be helpful.

I've kind of gotten to the point that I share her only with people I believe are worthy of knowing--there aren't too very many, I'm afraid.

Angie said...

I don't know what's worse, the anticipation of the question that you know is coming or actually having to answer it. At 24 weeks pregnant, it's become a daily routine. "No, I had a son who died last year. This is his little brother." Then walk away or change the subject, because no one wants to know that babies actually die.

It never gets easier.

Catherine W said...

Such an impossible question to answer. Glad you felt Margot's presence, as a co-conspirator.

Rachel said...

I just lied the other day too. I really like the image of you sharing a moment with Margot.

Hope's Mama said...

Beautiful, heartbreaking post. Had many moments like this myself, especially once I got pregnant again (like Angie has mentioned). There has only ever been a very small handful of people who have been able to handle my answers with grace and compassion (when I've indeed spoken her name). I try not to lie about her presence, but sometimes it is just easier. Easier for me and easier for the chump on the other side of the conversation.

Missy said...

I'm so sorry you had to go through it. I think it must be a rite of passage in this baby loss world. Thinking of you and Margot~

Devin The PoetWarrior said...

Brother. I am so sad for you... as a daddy I know how the sun rises and sets on my kids. I cannot imagine your pain and sorrow, I appreciate you writing about it though. You and your family are in our prayers.

brianna said...

It is always the ladies with the big hoop earrings. Or, as it is often with my patients, little older ladies with clip-on earrings. All on the same spectrum though.

It does get easier. Not sure if that is reassuring or frightening.

michelle said...

"Do you have any children?" We have been asked that so many times, our response is always a long pause and then either I ignore them or Codie responds with "its a sad story" then we get the hell away from the asker.

Beck said...

I didn't know how to respond when I read this the first time, and I guess I don't know any more now. These are situations and on-going heartbreaks that I (and I have to believe many others) never think to consider. The way you share your experience helps me to be gentler with the people I encounter, and more aware of unseen burdens. Thinking of your family, Josh.

Lori said...

it's such an innocent question, isn't it? one i'm sure i've asked other people before, well, before i knew better than to not ask. it's a space filler, a way to totter along a conversation. and now: it's like being rear ended, and watching it happen in your rear view mirror. you can see it coming and there's nothing you can do about it and then WHAM! there you are. i haven't lied yet. i stop and take a deep breath and look in their eyes and tell them the truth in a short one sentence answer. i feel defiant when i do it; i'm not sure that's right either.

i'm so sorry about the loss of your little margot. i'm so sorry that you have these lies and these truths and that you have to decide which is less painful at any given moment.

Josh Jackson said...

I meant to respond as these comments were coming in. Thanks for the love and concern and shared experiences. Grace and peace to you all.

Margot was a co-conspirator...I like that.

surfjams said...

Oh my gosh, this touched me so deeply! This sacred space she lives in, in your heart, this secret garden that you meet her at... it was painful to read what you had to go through, but so redeeming to see that you still found her in that moment. Much love to you and Kari.

Matushka Anna said...

Oh, that question. I am careful to never ask anyone if they have children, to never ask if they have more children, to never ask when they're going to have children, if they're going to have more, etc. If people volunteer it, fine, if not, it's none of my business. I've given both answers and wasn't happy either time. When people ask, "is that your youngest?" I want to say, "No, he has a baby brother who died before he was born," but usually I just say


crystal theresa said...

yes, gut wrenching. but i love that you had that moment with Margot, painfully brief as it was.

Anonymous said...

So far I lie about it and say that I don't have children when asked. I feel terribly disloyal though, it kills me. The other day though I was out with my mother and she was asked if she had any grandchildren. She straight out said, "I have one granddaughter that died from my daughter here and one grandson coming soon from my son." I was shocked and felt an overwhelming amount of gratitude that she could just say it as it is. The other person looked very uncomfortable though and generally speaking I still don't feel it's worth hard.

Em said...

I too have been there, have told that lie. And I think you're right - our babies are okay with it. They get it. And then we get that little moment with their memory.

Post a Comment