Torn Between Two Years

This year is almost over, already. Is it ridiculous to say that I don't want it to end? But that would also be a lie, when all I want is to jump into next year and find something happier, something easier, something less painful than this year has been.

I've come to the end of my journal as well. Usually it's enlightening and rather amusing to go back and read through it, and see how far I've come and what all has happened. I tend to write some ridiculous things that should never be seen or read aloud! But this time... this time my hands shake and my eyes blur and sometimes I can't get through half an entry before dropping the little spiral bound notebook and holding my head.

"May 24, 2011
...I want you to know beautiful music. I want you to be familiar with all of the great classical composers and their many thousands upon thousands of works. I want you to fall asleep to Andrea Boccelli, Sarah Brightman, Celtic Women. I want to dance with you to the music of my heritage - fiddling! In all of it's glorious forms from Jerry Holland, Jennifer Roland, Winston Fitzgerald... Oh, I can't even think of all the music I want you to know!
Lovely child of mind, I'm so looking forward to getting to know you. Learning your language, personality, characteristics... you're a whole new person, yet made up of your daddy and I. I want to be the best mother on earth, even though I know that's impossible. I want you to love us as much as we're going to love you."

I couldn't even fathom my own joy. Yes, I was hellishly exhausted, but I felt as if we'd been chosen out of all the humans in existence to do something special, something big; to change the world with this baby. We were, at the same time, terrified. Everything was going to change, our lives would always be different. We would never be just David and Charisa again, but that was okay. We'd have a little Christmas baby all our own, to gush over and love and screw up in our own perfect way.

"June 18, 2011
I've carried you in my body for 14 weeks. Fourteen weeks today. I've never felt you move... never heard your heart beating... but I have loved you. Oh! how I love you! I knew you were there by the soft swell of my belly, the heightened sense of smell because there were two of us now, the exhaustion I felt as my body gave all of it's energy to you. You, my baby, needed it to be strong and healthy, to grow and develop. I knew I loved you by the dreams which filled my heart. Dreams of your tiny hands around my fingers, dreams of your perfect little body in your daddy's arms... I love you because you are made of both your daddy and me. You are the perfect combination of our love together... My first baby; full of every potential and every good thing. I love you so!

But yesterday the doctor told us that your heart was not beating; your life is not there. He was so cold and abrupt that it made me disbelieve him. He can't be right - I know you're inside me, wiggling and swimming and growing. As David and I just stared at him, stunned beyond words, he let a flurry of medical terms fly at us and eventually made some form of a condolence. And that was it.

I saw you in the ultrasound. You looked so tiny and lost and still, your little chest dark and vacant where a heartbeat should be radiating off the screen. I wanted to hold you and shake life into your barely-formed body. I could see your perfect head and tiny spine connecting with wee little arms and legs. How could you look so complete, and yet be missing so much?"

As I died in the face of the harshest loss I've ever known, I knew that nothing would ever be the same after this. I knew that this grief was cutting an eternal gash in my soul, and all kinds of buried issues would come to light. I knew that David and I were changed, and that the bliss we'd had for two years had come to an abrupt and violent end.
I was unprepared for the immense feeling of failure, the doubts that I would never be a good mother. How could I be, when my baby was inches from my fingertips and I had no idea - no premonition, no instinct that he was in trouble? The agonizing helplessness as I waited for nature to finish the process. The anger at needing medical intervention after 3 weeks of waiting; I couldn't even end the damn process on my own. Looking back, I know it's because we were both too stubborn. I wasn't ready in the slightest to let go of my child.

Hell sucks. Grieving sucks. Grieving while going through hell sucks.The depth of insanity I fell into cannot be described, and I couldn't escape it. Healing has been slow, so slow in coming. Every relationship in my life has suffered, especially my marriage. It's unfair that in the midst of grieving when you should be leaning on each other for strength, you're both too shattered to even sit on your own.

But though healing is slow, it has come. Quietly, carefully, almost invisibly at times. We've lost everything, been stripped down to skeletal framework, and lived somewhere below rock bottom. Yet, as the Psalmist cries "You, who have shown me great and severe troubles, shall revive me again, and bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side." Ps. 71:20,21

I don't want to face Christmas without a newborn baby. I want to be terrified that next year wont be better. I don't want to leave this year - the year that we became parents. But none of that really matters, because time wont stop for the grieving. And in a way that's a good thing. If we stopped here, we could never find the beautiful things up ahead.


The Colors and Characters of Coffee

Saying that I love my job is like saying that Prada makes decent shoes. The understatement is appalling. Inserting about fourteen 'really's between the 'I' and the 'love' brings it slightly closer to the truth.
There is hardly anything that I dislike about it. Well, okay; I could totally get on board with hiring someone strictly to sweep and mop the floors. (But I'd want to include my own house in that deal as well, so it probably isn't going to happen.) However, everything else holds an element of pure excitement, magic, beauty, or an entertaining inside joke with myself. The waffle cones in their great, octagonal jar with just a tint of sea-green to the glass makes me exquisitely satisfied and I really kind of resent the other cones when a customer orders them instead.
We have the teeniest, tiniest, sample spoons for the ice cream, and I'm always tempted to hold them and pretend I'm Glumdalglitch from Gulliver's Travels (“Eleven. But I'm growing very fast!”). I can't even get started on the unnatural addiction I have for pulling perfect espresso shots – the rich, reddish-caramel liquid streaming into portly shot glasses like pulled taffy; the intoxicating aroma of crème and grounds permeating my skin and hair and clothing; the brief, wild urge to pour shots between my lips instead of the customer's cup; the feeling of indulgent generosity when I hand over the drink finished with a startling rosette as I think “You have no idea how close you came to losing this”.
The names of coffee are either intriguing – Caffe Del Sol – or unimaginative (Guatemala. Where is this from?). My favorite is the Novacella Decaf. I say this to myself in the worst possible, sing-song, masculine Italian accent - “NOvahCELla DEcaf” while doing a Godfather-esque gesticulation. I am embarrassed to admit that this affords me endless amusement.

And then there are the People. It's really like my very own, unscripted Reality Show, featuring regular stars and many special guests. Some of them very 'special' indeed, like the teenage couple from this morning. She seemed bright, though shy in newly fixed braces, smiling and running her tongue tentatively over the metal as she ordered a Venti Mocha.
“Would you like whipped cream?” I asked. She hesitated and looked at her boyfriend for his opinion. This was a fruitless endeavor because all he was capable of was wiggling both his eyebrows and protruding tongue at her in what he obviously thought was a manner irresistibly sexy, but really resembled a demented snake. “Do we want whipped cream?” she asked him, deeming words necessary. He leaned in and bit her nose. “Um. No whipped cream” she said to me, rolling her eyes.

Sometimes the cuteness of my customers is nearly too much to bear. A group of four little girls – two sets of sisters – came to get ice cream and hot chocolate, peppering their requests and conversation with 'please' and 'thank you' at adorably regular intervals. The smallest one, perhaps six years old, was dressed in a wee red sweater vest, little red skirt, and the teeniest penny loafers possible. “I would like to please sample the chocolate, please” she chirped, standing on her very tip-toes to look into the ice cream case. I scooped as much chocolate as the sample spoon could hold and handed it to her. “Thank you! Did you know something?” she said gravely.
“No. What?” I answered just as solemnly.
“I am Mother Nature!” Her eyes sparkled mischievously.
“Are you serious? I had no idea that Mother Nature was so tiny!” My response sent her into gales of laughter.
“I know! People step on me ALL the time!” she huffed amid giggles.

It seems that any town, no matter what the size, is full of characters. Remind me to tell you about the small town elitists sometime.


The Transformation of the Coffee Scrooge

I have cracked his crusty facade.

Apparently all it took was giving him a free coffee, in spite of the fact that he doesn't have - and is adamantly against - a stamp card. Up until now all he's given me is a brief moment of obligatory eye contact, phrases of 4 words or less, and a crumpled $5 bill out of which a grudging 30 cent tip was tossed into the jar.
Today he came in behind two reserved and awkward teenage girls. The shorter one was all plump dimples, obviously feeling under-dressed in her blue PAHS hoodie next to her tall friend, who wore heels and a string of costume pearls. I could see him holding a tight breath of impatience as they ordered elaborate drinks with specific amounts of white chocolate, particular milk combination's, and repeated cautions against whipped cream.

"Are you having your usual?" I asked him as I pulled the shots for the mocha's. He nodded curtly.
 "Don't worry about it. I'll put it on the counter behind me." I waved vaguely above my head in what was hopefully the general direction of the counter. He left without a word. I indulged in a familiar twinge of annoyance. For God's sake, why was it impossible for his face to form even a pretense of a pleasant expression?  In the face of the very large chip on his shoulder, my resolve to be obnoxiously chipper was dwindling.

I pulled his triple short decaf americano and placed it alongside a jug of 1/2 & 1/2. A minute and a half after I called it out he arrived to doctor it to his satisfaction, pushing a dirty five dollar bill towards me.
 "No, don't worry about it. I heard you get a free one now and then." I waved it away and turned to rinse milk pitchers. His eyebrows rose in what began as a sardonic stare but ended in surprised smirk.
"So something exciting is happening in my life. Is anything exciting happening in yours?" he suddenly asked me. I turned to him in shock: Never had so many syllables left his mouth in succession. I told him about my birthday, and he went on about how he'd found this rooftop tent for a car for camping, the hints of an unpracticed smile parenthesizing his words.

I cannot go so far as to say that we are friends. But now that he has shown me that an amiable side of his character exists, I'm not going to let him forget it.


Breaking Character

I do this thing sometimes when confronted with a person or situation that hurts me and makes me uncomfortable, where I put on a completely different face than what I feel inside which allows me to say and do the socially correct things. I started when I was a young girl to help me deal with people in my parents ministry that I had a bad feeling about. You  know, those people who are big and loud and claim some wild connection with God therefore they have rights to every thought and private memory you have? I would switch off my emotions and pretend that I was a famous, benevolent person and they were simply hoards of desperate, abrasive paparazzi. Smile and wave.

I did it to maintain a polite demeanor around the families we socialized with, simply because they home-schooled or home-churched or had a garden like we did. There was this one woman who took it upon herself to physically discipline one of my brothers, and the rage that filled me was a volcanic force I had never felt before. But anything a ten year old could do to express such anger would have been disrespectful and impolite. So I ran across the field and pretended that I was an orphan, singing on a corner for pennies. The injustices of the world battered me and sought to eliminate me, but I was resilient and strong! This little orphan girl could beat anything with her song.

When I began acting I realized that I had been stepping into character all these years. At first I wondered how a little tiny girl knows how to do that, but as I looked into it a little deeper I understood that it had been a reflexive action. We're raised to have manners, to be polite. Don't put your elbows on the table, don't talk back, don't scream in public, don't put your skirt over your head. Somewhere along the way though it becomes less about simple manners and more about maintaining a socially correct image. We're trained to ignore our instincts about people, because disliking or not trusting them for no apparent reason is impolite. Being excessively happy about something disrupts the general calm that we strive for, so for heaven's sake don't express so much excitement!

As I got older it became evident to me that my flashes of emotion had less to do with simply being a child, and more to do with the passionate nature of my character. This presented a problem. How was I supposed to fit in to the mild, un-opinionated, ladylike mold I seemed to see around me? How could I disguise my anger at the hypocrisy I saw in adults and leaders around me? Or the fact that some things were so beautiful, they physically hurt me? Or that music could transport me to such a euphoric place, I couldn't interact with people around me?  I stepped into the character of the young woman that society would be pleased with. I carried it on for years, ignoring the nights that I would wake up in a cold panic wondering who the hell I was, and why I felt this jagged tearing inside me.

My first step in dropping the character came when I broke off my first relationship. It came as an epiphany: The girl underneath this sweet, submissive guise was far too passionate, colorful, and opinionated to flourish, let alone survive, in that family. I was being slowly, determinedly suffocated and if I didn't get out then, I would never really be alive.
In the last several months I've been opening the door for my family and I to really feel things. When people hurt us (not just 'us' personally but you, anyone), the socially correct response is to justify them - to make excuses for their behavior. We gamely try to withhold blame, acutely aware of how impolite it would be to acknowledge that they were at fault. The problem is that pain is hard enough to work through. It's already such a big burden, and taking on all the responsibility for being hurt is nearly deadly.

I hold an extremely biased viewpoint on several circumstances in my past. But it's time to be biased. It's all a part of breaking character now.


Promise me? Wish for me?

When I was a little girl I used to Promise everything. It was the closest I could get to Swearing a Solemn Oath - Swearing being strictly forbidden, and therefore incredibly alluring. I'm still not sure where a 5 year old got the concept of Swearing a Solemn Oath, unless it came from Robin Hood, who was basically my hero for the majority of my adolescent life. Promises seemed much more binding, more romantic, more tragic than simply saying 'Yes, I can do that'. Promises were the perfect method for creating a Profound Moment, and even as a child I craved that.
I remember when I was about 6 years old, my dad started a business handcrafting bent willow furniture. This was a glorious endeavor in my eyes, and oh how I wanted to be a part of it! I tried to help, but my long hair got caught in the drill and scared the bejeezus out of me. The shame of having interrupted his noble work overwhelmed me, and I crept away to ponder how I could make it up to him. Suddenly a thought seized me - I would carry on his work when he no longer could! As I grew up, I would watch and learn, and ensure that his legacy would never be forgotten! Back to the work bench I ran, pulling a little ribbon out of my hair. I cut it into three parts and braided it, attaching it to the work bench with a tack nail.
 "Daddy" I said solemnly, pointing out the braid. "That is a sign of my Promise to always make bent willow furniture when you're old and can't do it anymore. I will do it forever."
I don't remember his response, but the moment had a huge impact on me. This was something that would be written down! My descendants would read it and marvel at my staunch courage and maturity at such a young age!

Wishes are another thing entirely. The world runs on Promises; businesses exist on promises from employees, friendships grow around promises, marriages work and exist on promises. But Wishes...ah wishes, what are they? Merely a futile expression of desire to see improvement, whether it be as vast as world peace, or as small as a tooth under your pillow?
 December 23, 2005. I'm standing on the deck of a ferry boat with a bunch of people around my age. Two families are headed to the ski slopes to celebrate Christmas together - a ridiculous, very, very stupid plan that I was not in the least happy about. Several of us happened to have pennies in our pockets, enough to share with those who didn't, and we all decided to throw them in the water and make a wish. I closed my eyes really tight and wished for an amazing Christmas. Not the best Christmas ever, but just a really happy one.

That night my sister was killed.

I've become rather jaded regarding wishes. To this day I refuse to throw pennies in wishing wells, or any other kind of water for that matter. Maybe it's this lingering doubt that my personal wish-genie has a twisted sense of humor and will grant me exactly the opposite of what I wish for. A sneaking suspicion that God hates when you ask anything else but Him for something. A weird feeling that maybe in a past life I must have been an axe murderer and Karma really is vindictive.

In my sane mind, I know that's all ridiculous. But it wasn't until last week that I was able to make a little, teensy, tentative wish when I saw a shooting star.


The Twenties

I'm going to turning twenty-five in two months. It's kind of strange to be approaching my mid-twenties when I often feel like a teenager still.

When I turned 20, it was a horribly emotional event. It was our first birthday without you - without a shared party, without a ridiculous number of happy birthday cards to each other. It was a bitter realization that we would never be in our twenties together and I felt horribly alone.

21 didn't mean anything. I didn't do anything. I didn't feel anything. I hadn't come back to life yet, and I was largely in denial that I had survived another year without you.

Turning twenty-two was terrifying. I couldn't possibly be your age. Had I really caught up to you? I'd spent my entire life wanting to be where you were...grown up, sophisticated, wise, beautiful. And here I was, standing on what felt like a steep, deadly precipice, about to fall into a world beyond you. You must have been laughing a little, because deep down I wondered if maybe we were cursed and all sentenced to die at 22. I held my breath all year, expecting the next car to slam into me and send me flying to meet you.

And then I made it to twenty-three. A vast black space where you'd never been. Until now I could still pretend to follow you. I grew up like you did, met a boy like you did, fell madly in love like you did. But from here on out I would be the ground breaker. It brought on a whole new world of grief because I felt like you'd truly gone. It was just me with no one to follow.

I feel cheated because I don't know what our relationship would be like now. People tell me to be thankful that we had time together - of course I am; that goes without saying. But losing something so incredible just makes you long for it even more. I know that I wouldn't be the woman I am now if you'd stayed, but sometimes I think that the price of finding myself was far too great.