Sunday, November 29, 2009

I am not funny.

I received this email the other day. 
hi i was reading your blog...   
the one about krishnamurti and shame
i am sharing my advice because i have the same problem
i think that you use humor and analogies and other avoidance mechanisms? to avoid facing the emotional pain
you dont have to make others laugh or entertain them
it is okay to be sad and depressed and cry in front of others and obviously alone
you dont have to cope for others
i think coping starts a vicious cycle of denying
the emotional pain if looked at directly is not as bad as you think it is
it is the fear of the emotional pain that is overwhelming
then once you have felt the pain you can be humorous but it will have a different tone
a tone that is facing the pain

My immediate response, of course, was:

"So, you don't think I'm funny?" 

I'm fairly certain that my On Levity piece was the front blog post of my blog, and he found the Krishnamurti one, clicked over...I'm really not that funny, you know. I am painfully aware of this fact. I have always been the one that resorted to physical violence when I couldn't keep up with the insulting Irish banter of my family. I composed so many responses to this email. Many resorted to the "No, I'm not. You are." argument, which IS in fact one of the oldest, most emotionally mature arguments in the history of debate. Others were long rambling explanations of how, in fact, I do face my emotions. But mostly, I just thought a series of one-liners.

No, I don't.

Lighten up, dude.

My kid died, cut me some fucking slack.

In the end, I didn't respond directly to the person. Mainly, because I don't feel like justifying my existence, or explaining the daily occurrence of my breaking into tears in the market. All in all, he's right. I do use humor to deal with this stifling, overwhelming sadness and hysterical anxiety that has taken over my life. It helps. But I do not use humor instead of dealing. I, sadly, am not in denial. I get it. I fucking get it. My kid died. BELIEVE ME, I understand that. But I hope I use humor in conjunction with all the other shit I have to do to function. I think what is ironic about the entire email is that I received it when I posted On Levity, which in part is about how people on the outside of this grief just think our humor is bitter and pathetic, which I think is the metatext of his email. A litany of shittiness resonated in my brain after reading that email:

Your humor is bitter and pathetic. 
You aren't dealing with your depression and grief. 
You are avoiding real life.
You need to be fixed, Grieving Mother. 
You need to get better. 
You need to heal and get over it.
You aren't crying enough, Woman. Just cry. 
Feel the abyss. 
Just feel the sucking dark Black Hole created when your child died. 
Here feel the shitty horrible reality that your life is.
Goodbye forever, signed Anonymous Internet Fixer.


Let me just preface this by saying: your words, support, emails, love and comments on and about my last blog post have meant a great deal to me. I posted it and drove to my mother's house, which while it is only two hours away, might as well be the moon in terms of internet connection and computer access. OH, they have a computer, but through the last decade of abusive rejection of any technological learning, stands as a testament to how incredibly impatient I am. Wednesday evening I sat at my mother's laptop, cussing and repeatedly clicking my gmail log-in. "What the fuck, Mom?"
"You have to let it load, Ang. I mean, just wait."
"Wait?!?! This is 2009. I don't have time to wait."

Even my blackberry was dodgy at best. I sometimes felt like Carol Anne in Poltergeist typing, "Where are you? I can't find you." Floating away, some cellphone is Sweden the only recipient of my lost Thanksgiving messages. Honestly, it was good to have some distance and just focus on being holiday-y, even if that didn't much work either. I stress ate, and watched shitty television. I still feel bad and now have a food baby as well as a baby baby, but you know, it got me through the holiday.

As I sporadically received the beautiful comments filtering in from the blog, I realized that I mainly talk about my abyss after I have safely and successfully walked through it. Not in the midst of the darkness. At least, not in a while. I have actually been using storytelling and humor to deflect the stress for the past couple of months. Denial. Avoidance. Cheap laughs. For me, it actually works. I actually feel better when I lighten the hell up a little. But somedays, last Wednesday for example, I simply could not. That was my dark place. Welcome.

The truth of it is that my life is exactly the same as it was two weeks ago, before receiving a call from the genetic counselor telling me I had to make a decision now, before I saw that I was having a little boy. (There I go. Burying the lede again.) And yet everything feels so completely different. To be honest, I thought that the dark irony of this pregnancy was that I would be a nervous wreck at a completely normal, uneventful pregnancy. And well, it hasn't been. It seems like I keep facing obstacles and stresses, and I just want to be nervous about invented fears, not real ones.

As we passed the 72 hour mark (the danger of miscarriage lessened), I felt better about making this decision to have the amniocentesis. Knowing everything has become very important to me. I want no fucking surprises at week 37. Just making that decision felt impossible. I hate statistics. When you are a one, no other number of the other side looks big enough. And still when I weighed the statistics of amnio miscarriage rates versus the Down's rate, I was still reminded over and over again in my head that those are less than the one in 115 rate for stillbirth. Even if this baby is cleared of every chromosonal disorder the amniocentesis tests for, he could still just die of nothing in particular.


I said something I regret on my last post. I don't read post after post about how babylost mamas hate pregnant women, but rather how they resent them for not appreciating their pregnancy. And that is why I rarely talk about my anxiety and depression regarding this pregnancy, because despite it all, I fully appreciate that being pregnant is the luck of the draw that I do not take for granted. I am amazed every day that our species somehow managed to survive.

All of this anxiety, fear and sadness comes with pregnancy, and mostly, I have swallowed it as part of the package of having a child after loss. I actually resent pregnant women (and non-pregnant women) who think they are spared the possibility of stillbirth or loss, when they don't recognize the preciousness of these months with their children, and they tell invented horror stories of their pregnancy. In as much as I do not wish this kind of anxiety on anyone, I also do not think it is the worst case scenario, or even a bad case scenario. My kid is still alive in me. He is moving. He looks fine on his anatomy scan. The anxiety is part of the package of testing. I will find out, one way or the other, about his chromosomes. And we will deal with it. Shit happens. To me. To other people. Even when other shit has happened before. Just trying to breathe through this dark place and laugh in some light, even if I am not all that funny.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On baking

I am pretty overwhelmed with self-consciousness, anxiety and fear right now. It was not surprising that this week the thread of my thoughts have been about alien abduction, probing and long needles. Yesterday, I had an amniocentesis based on the results of my sequential screening. This baby's risks are higher than normal for Down's Syndrome. I cannot say I was thrilled; in fact, internally shrieking in horror was the more apt emotion. It felt like an impossible decision. I admit this weekend, while amazing to be surrounded by women who get it, was also an exercise in self-control. Controlling my freak-outs. Controlling my fear. Not much being able to, or wanting to, talk about this pregnancy made for a good distraction, but I have been fairly paralyzed with anxiety.

I struggled a great deal with my decision to get pregnant. It was not something I ever ever imagined would be easy. I prepared physically for a few months before we abandoned protection, even before I was sure that I would abandon protection. So much of why I resisted having another baby after Lucy's death is the shame of her dying in me. I failed her. I failed my husband. I failed my daughter. How could I put them through this again, or put my body through this again? If I lose another baby, I thought, I'm not sure I can handle that. I'm not sure I could ever parent effectively. I, in fact, knew pregnancy was going to be a painful, anxiety-ridden and difficult period. It was part of the reason I didn't want to be pregnant again. I couldn't bear willingly walking into the abyss.

"Were you even trying to get pregnant?" I felt the judgment cut deep within me. I didn't know where or who it came from, honestly, just that it was suddenly there. The air left my lungs and I probably said something inappropriate, or worse, dismissive. I recognize how fortunate I am. I do not deal with infertility. I do not deal with childless parenting. We set a month to try again. We did it. It worked. I have never felt so ashamed of having something come easily. Mainly, because most of my life, nothing has come that easily. All our work was done making the decision about whether or not to have a child. I have worked my ass off for every little thing in my life, you know, except getting knocked up. That was actually quite fun. It was a perfect day with the breeze coming in the window, and I knew we conceived this child. I whispered it to Sam. My finger bandaged from almost getting cut off in a blender the previous night. "Blood had been shed," I breathed into his neck. "We must have conceived a boy."

As we sat together as a family to decide if we wanted another child, we first weighed our worst case scenarios. What if this baby dies too? How will we handle it? Simply, we just will. The loss of Lucia was a crises of such epic proportions to our family, and yet here we are. We wanted another child, not on a necklace, but in our arms. I cry every day now. I think of that question every day as well, "What if this baby dies too?" I have faced obstacle after obstacle this pregnancy. Bleeding. Diagnosis of disease. Exhaustion. Depression. Now, wonky test results that may mean this child will face a life of struggle. And I think, we didn't weigh that option. "What if you are diagnosed with a condition that may affect the development of your child? What if you bleed for three weeks straight unsure whether or not you are miscarrying? What if you don't feel the baby move until after the twentieth week? What if your child is born with a disability?" I need to be strong for my girl, for my husband, for this life created, for myself. I jog through my days to survive, and run marathons to thrive and make a happy home for the girl. And yet, I also recognize that people resent my pregnancy. That this all appears so easy from the outside. I am a brat for feeling anxious, sad, overwhelmed...I should just suck it up and deal.

I have felt so fucking impotent on this blog. I do not much talk of my pregnancy. I have been prone to magical thinking in the same breath that I reject fatalism and superstitions. I have amassed a pile of unpublished posts about how horribly I am doing. I sometimes think that is an indication that my blog has reached the end of its usefulness. They just sit there. I never publish them because I know how very fortunate I am, because I read post after post about people who hate pregnant women. And yet, I am still compelled to write in small vignettes of emotional waste and daily indulgences. They are my unheard tree felled in the forest.

I found myself driving home on Sunday in a mad rush of exhaustion. I was so tired. I just wanted to be in my own space to cry and deal with this whole reality of possibly parenting a child with special needs. I wanted to hold my husband, and talk about it. What are we going to do now? Luckily, in the same way that I felt uncomfortable talking about this testing this weekend, I also had moments stolen away from the large group where I could sit with someone who comforted me, who explained what I was about to face. That was invaluable. I couldn't have been more appreciative of having some facts. I felt like I went into the exam room armed with reality.

And so I am now waiting each day to see if I will miscarry, and then I will be waiting for another two weeks to hear the results of all the testing.

"Can I bake tomorrow?" I asked the genetic counselor when going through the extensive list of everything I can and cannot do after the amnio.
"Please do," she said.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Long probing needles and the Lost Weekend (babylost, that is)

I had the beginning of a HI-larious blog post completely written in my head while driving to my father yesterday. I mean, it was comedy gold. Very very chuckle worthy. And I was looking in the rear view, "Beatrice, take this down." Really, she can't take notes. Well, not well. It ends up all swirly circles and puppy dogs. And so, as soon as I wrote it, I bid it adieu. I am old now. Unable to remember shit. Literally, I really don't remember shit. Not when I took one. Not when I changed one (on the girl). And so, much like an elaborate sand mandala, I allowed the blog post, of which I cannot even remember the subject, to drift away on I-95 and be crushed by an incredibly staid Guaranteed Overnight Delivery truck. For that is when I lost it, the thread of blog post, when I saw it pass me at 85 mph. "There is something you need to learn about being smoked by the G.O.D., Inc. truck," I thought. "Something profound and terrifying."

Many moons ago, in my first incarnation as a university student, I took a class called UFOs in American Society. It is the only class about UFOs and abduction taught at an accredited university. I shit you not. I sat in a lecture hall in 1993, listened to a man lecture, and watched 150 people taking notes about the definitive signs of abduction. It was fascinating. There is a very very fine line between the shit research and the shittier research of abduction, mainly because the entire evidence basis relies on hypnotherapy sessions with individuals who suspect, or desire, alien abduction. But there is some common threads of alien abduction, and all of it centers around fertility and making hybrid babies. Once it got to the hybrid baby part of the semester, I admit, I stopped showing up for class. And so in the most embarrassing  part of my university transcript, I received a 'C' in UFOs in American Society.

I have used a ridiculous amount of my learning in that class in my everyday life, especially when I moved to Arizona where I met quite a few people who were abductees, or you know, said they were. I had common ground to at least understand their experience and why they believed it. And sometimes, in those moments of eye contact and drinking heavily, I believed it too. And so some mornings, when I read blogs, I wonder how many of these women writing are abductees.  Much like I look around in regular life and think, how many of these people lost babies? What is your secret story? And that is just it, we all have some secret history of which we do not reveal during our first date, or even our twentieth, but somewhere between a letting down of the guard and an opening up of the trust.

This past weekend, some East Coast (and a Texas) mama got together for the Babylost Retreat Weekend and we, in our way of simply showing up, revealed part of our secret history. I admit, there were a lot of things I could have calling this weekend, but Baby-Lost Weekend sort of reminds me of John Lennon and has this air of debaucherous revelry. I sort of delighted in telling my normal friends. "Yeah, I'm going on a Baby Lost Weekend. See you in 18 months."

I have so much to say, and yet, I can't really say anything: What happens in Ocean City stays in Ocean City. I met some incredible women, sharing stories, food, love and time. There were ten of us in all: Sarah, m, Lani, TracyOC, Tash, Niobe, Julia, Molly, Laura, and of course, me. I had no idea what my expectations of the weekend were. Admitedly, awkwardness dominated my imagination. Self-consciousness, maybe. But it was the exact opposite of that. There was a beautiful ease and comfort being around women who wanted to connect, talk and relax. And each of us contributed our own piece of what made the weekend amazing.

At some point, I was sitting in room with Lani, m, Sarah and Tracy knitting, Niobe and Julia editting the photos of the creepiness surrounding and amidst our rented Victorian home (why are blinking dolls an acceptable decor in ANY time period? HOLY FUCK!), and playing Scrabble with Molly while Laura and Tash sat and talked with us all, and I felt this sense of peaceful energy and calm. See, I can have this laughing, rolling ease of conversation. I can connect with people. It both reminded me of what I have lost, and gave me hope of what I can have. I think out of the entire weekend, my favorite moments were the flurry of kitchen meal activity. In my family, the kitchen is where the bochinche happens. While drying dishes, or chopping vegetables, we learn of the latest gossip, the old stories of the family and the laughing until you cannot breathe. It wasn't any different with the other mamas, and that what defined this weekend--it was like hanging out with family. We are all different, and certainly approach our losses in different way, but there was a kind of unconditional love and acceptance, unlike many of our own families in some ways. What we want our families to be, perhaps. It was beautiful, serene and magical. Good medicine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

As I approach December.

This summer, Lucy, you became the color green. You were everywhere.Thousands of shades of you in each backdrop of my day. Greens which show in their most basic form the range of beauty from birth to death. Greens that no eyes rest upon for more than the time to sigh. Greens that vanish minutes after they begin, the shades in the deepest parts of the rainforest, transitioning from alive to something nourishing the smallest wonder of creation. I rubbed mossy reminders in my brick. I looked in rainbows and the long afternoon shadows for even the smallest hint of you edging into blues and greys.

Lucy, I have raked up oranges, yellows and red that used to stand like malachite statues to you. Autumn was always the time when I fell madly in love. I wished for a place in the world that was perpetually in a state of change, leaves turning, sky bluest of blues, football every Sunday and the air crisp as it hits the lungs during long early morning walks. When your color faded, love, I had no idea that winter solstice would settle into my heart so quickly. Purple again has cooled my soul. I cannot feel the weight of you in the dense humid air anymore. Green was heavy in my lungs this August, but now the thin cool air stings my lungs. I can only paint the sky green in made-up scenes of sarcastic contentment. 

Last year, when autumn changed to winter, I fell in love with you in the same breath that I began to miss you. Not even gravity can account for falling in love. I hit the ground in anguish and desperation. I wished to capture you in a vial, Lucy. Dab you into my neck each morning. Uncork you and take a bit of you into me again, filling me with a sense of innocence and awe again. You are like the willow, bendable and perfect, leaning over the water. I have made you into my lost youth. I have twisted you into my dreams. Autumn aches in me now, takes me on a journey I resist. I relive this landscape again, changing from possibility to tundra.

I thought of Eliot this morning. I argued. "No, December. Summer kept us warm, covering us in a forgetful green. But December, December is the cruelest month."

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Levity*

“Now, I will always be the woman whose baby died.” I stared into the red, desperate eyes of my husband after the ultrasound tech, the doctors, the midwife, and the nurses left us a minute to catch our breath and process the fact that they just told us our baby was dead. We howled for minutes, held on to each other, stared at each other and began crying again. But then, as though marking off a checklist of realizations, I laid my head on his shoulder and murmured in his ear, “People will whisper about me when I walk in the room. Nobody will tell jokes in front of me. I’ll always be that woman people pity. I will be a walking bummer.”

There is absolutely nothing funny about grieving your baby. Believe me, I have tried to make light about my current state of being. Noting that most of my friends haven’t called, or the majority of my own family has not even mustered an “I’m sorry for your loss,” I mentioned to a friend, “Yeah, being a pariah is not all its cracked up to be.” Ha, ha, yeah. No response. Everything meant to bring levity just sounds pathetic and bitter. I am that woman laughing at her own feeble existence, while younger, half-full type people pityingly clench their teeth in an almost smile. “If we laugh, we will just encourage her.”

The only thing remotely funny about my grief is that sometimes I cry so much I hiccup. It is hard not to laugh at inappropriate hiccupping. “Sometimes hiccups make me want to shove an ice pick into my diaphragm,” my sister said once during a pause in an especially frustrating cry/rant about Lucy’s death. I giggled a little, and then it took hold of me. The laughs rolled in, gaining momentum, and then we really lost it, like we were crazy or drunk. Inappropriately guffawing at body noises was about the only buoyancy we got in the early days. But it wasn’t the kind of levity I craved.

The death of my daughter meant my personality suddenly gained the kind of gravitas that made me feel like someone’s shell-shocked great uncle. It’s all about the Great War now. Being in babyloss world feels a lot like what I imagine it feels like to hang out in the VFW, though we are veterans of a different kind of war. You don’t have to speak of your trauma to have it understood. You can really only joke about the Nam if you have been there and lived through it. We all were in the shit together, and that is why when one of us makes inappropriate jokes about our dead babies, we are the only ones who get it. Anytime you begin a statement, “See, that was funny because…” you have completely nullified any possibility of humor. And, well, I’ll admit I have said that more than once this past year as I tried to describe a funny dead baby blog post to someone outside of this community.

In the in-between time of finding out via ultrasound that my daughter’s heart had stopped and giving birth, I spent twenty-four excruciating hours in the labor and delivery wing of a hospital that births over five thousand babies a year. At some point, during the pitocin drip, I begged for television’s mindless comfort to drown out the occasional scream of newborn baby. “If there is any justice in the world, Raising Arizona will be somewhere on cable today.” It was three days before Christmas. It was all touching welcome home stories, angels, Christmas trees, and gift-giving. Bloody hell. Reminiscing less than a year later, what was I thinking? I was literally hanging all my hope on a comedy about infertility, baby kidnapping and loss. But maybe I was searching those channels for something to remind me of what I was twelve hours earlier, what I could be again—someone irreverent, goofy and light. Somewhere someone was making light of the shit life has to offer a young couple. I wanted to memorialize the visage of who I once was. And yet, isn’t that part of what we lose? You know, besides our babies, some of our friends, our safety, our belief in a just universe, our semblance of normalcy, our joie de vivre—we lose our levity.

The truth of it is I lived months of torture—grieving my child, keening into the abyss, swirling in dead seriousness, literally. I must have laughed in those early weeks, but I cannot remember doing so. I stopped searching out humor. Every priest walking into a bar no longer indicates the beginning of a joke, but everyone’s inherent need for a stiff drink. I just surrounded myself with the heaviness of my life. I read memoirs of grief and loss, watched movies with maudlin titles and sadder endings. Even small talk had the power to floor me. An off-the-cuff joke or light comment had the weight to disable me for days on end. Flippant comments about how hard it is to parent two stung like someone called me fat and stupid in the same breath. I used to be able to make small talk, participate and blab on about nothing in particular. Suddenly, small talk felt like daggers on every inch of my bruised soul. I couldn’t fake or conjure levity; it just remained an unattainable goal.

Upon reflection, what I was really saying in the first minutes after finding out my daughter was dead, what I was immediately beginning to miss about my personality, was my lightness of being. Would I ever be funny again? Could I crack a joke at my own expense? I have a sacred cow now. Something I will never think is funny. There are no such thing as a funny dead baby joke to me, just cruelty by people who have no idea. I have one thing now that no one, no matter what kind of shocking comedian they are, will mention at my roast in forty years.

Now more than eleven months later, I am finding room in my grief for humor—not humor in my daughter’s death, but humor in my life. When people say time heals, I absolutely disagree. Time doesn’t heal. Time changes grief. It allows for space. Time allows for levity. And that brings its own kind of comfort.

* Monica asked me to contribute a column for Exhale Magazine under the issue theme of levity. Exhale is going through some internal changes and the next issue will come out in January. I have been thinking about this topic so much since I wrote it, I wanted to share it here first and find out what you think about levity.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


A few months ago, Sam's uncle visited. I had never met this particular uncle, but I had heard many stories about him from many different perspectives. He was the wrestling uncle, the basketball uncle, the chummy kid-at-heart uncle. Sam hadn't quite made it home from work in time for formal introductions. I had just kicked off my shoes for nap time next to Beatrice, when the bell rang. It was an hour before they were due to arrive, but there they stood. I welcomed them into our home. Offered them drinks and kept my voice low. "There is a sleeping child in the house," my demeanor said. And so we retired to the lounge with our fuzzy water. We sat back for a moment in the uncomfortable silence of not knowing how to break the ice after questions of travel.

"So, Angie," the uncle looked at me very intensely, "how did you bounce back from your stillbirth?"

If I were Danny Thomas, there would have been a spit-take. Covered with water, Uncle would have looked at his wife and said, "Whaaaaaaa?" And the laugh track would have faded into commercial. But since this is New Jersey and 2009 and I have not unwittingly spat out liquids onto my conversational partner in decades, I just said, "I haven't quite."

He nodded and asked me about the Embran and Woonan baskets displayed on a floating shelf six inches above my head.


My mother-in-law is visiting right now, and it is lovely to have her here. Beatrice is finally at the age where she wants to show off for her, say her name over and over again, crawl on her lap and make her laugh. I realize after her last visit less than two months after Lucy's death that her seeing me in such a vulnerable space and at such a vulnerable time has given me a kind of ease with her. I let down my walls, and conversely, let her into my fortress of solitude. It has been a good lesson.

Yesterday, we left town and drove to the area in Pennsylvania where I grew up. It felt strange to tell stories of my childhood, because they are different, I imagine, than what others think about a half-Panamanian and half-Irish-German woman. One half of my family, the one surrounding me in my youth, was very American. I sang "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go" when we were indeed going to my grandmother's house. I was given half lemons with peppermint stick straws in the summer, and played Canasta until all hours of the night. I was taught to appreciate Glen Miller and jitterbug by my Nan. I grew up hearing German in town and Spanish at home. It is sort of strange to feel a nostalgic longing for Moravian stars, potato candy, and traditional bratwurst and sauerkraut when I am so brown, and yet, this is also who I am. Explaining our very German rituals amidst the also Panamanian ones felt like opening up a window into my happy place. My identity and tradition is a conglomerate of loving comfort. The best of all worlds, I like to think.

I have had house guests of the familial variety a few times this year, and it has been a mixed bag. I crave the distraction. I love hosting and cooking for others. I love my family, and love spending time with my in-laws. And yet, I need alone time. I would be a great bed and breakfast owner if it wasn't for all those damn strangers in my house. I crave the cry and regroup. I want to be grumpy in my own space. I want to kick my own shoes across the room without appearing immature. I have a deep need to sulk and obsess about my email.  Or simply, I need the space some moments to sing and play instruments with Beatrice in a cacophony of un-self-consciousness.


My mother showed up to share lunch with us at the Moravian bookstore, and rub my fuzzy head.

"You look so cool, Angie," my mother beamed.

People are nicer to me with short hair, even my mother. There I said it. I'm not sure I am going back to the grow-out cycle. My mother thinks it makes me more confident and smile more, which is probably true in some regards. I am not the sad person covering up for months of bad hair days, and months of even worse baby-yearning days. I am the sad person who is no longer battling stray hairs, which takes a level of frustration out of my day. I actually got HIT ON by a phlebotomist with a tail. Not an actual tail out of her ass, but a rattail, like Anakin or like your seventh grade hair experiment. It was exciting, especially as I am fat, pregnant and married to a man. It wasn't at all aggressive, just an innuendo and some compliments. When I told Sam my theory about my short hair, being hit on and people being nicer, he said, "Maybe they want you to be their token lesbian friend."  Yes, maybe I should attribute the positive images of lesbians in the media for my recent flooding of good vibes from strangers.

"I am lucky to have a token lesbian wife," he mused. And then I felt lucky. So lucky.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Crazy Hair

I made a nice half-day of it. I kissed Beatrice and Sam good-bye, headed out the door. It was three hours before my quickly made hair appointment, so I filled the car with gas, hit the container store for some much needed containers, ran an errand or two about town, then drove into the city. I parked in my old neighborhood and just wandered, reliving the memories of my pre-Bea and Lucy life. Sam and I used to ride our bikes this way to work. There is the sagging porch on our old apartment where we used to drink many wines, which incidentally was the only redeeming quality of the apartment. Well, that and the cheap ass rent. There is the fabric store I had to pay rent in every month. I roamed small handmade boutiques and new vintage stores, and ate lunch at Philly's oldest natural food grocer/restaurant (Yep, still bland and tasteless, but healthy--how I have missed you.)

Still, I had this nauseated, excited, conspiratorial feeling about me. I was hacking off all of my hair in a matter of minutes. And as I passed young grungy anarchist kids with their choppy dos and one pant leg rolled up, I stared at their hair. I want that, only less...mental patient-y. I don't want to look middle-aged, and yet I do not want to look like an aging punk rocker. Or someone grasping at a lost youth. I am rejecting the soccer mom bob at this moment, but am I embracing experimental Japanese pop artist?

I like the salon. It is the only organic salon in Philadelphia, or so they say. The stylists are young and nice with very cool haircuts. Haircuts that are much cooler than I could work at age 35. Most of them aren't exactly the mullet I grew up with in Hickville, Pennsylvania, but sort of squint your eyes, and back up, and yes, one of them could be driving a Camaro. The cut should really be called the Ironic Mullet. Still, I love Tegan and Sara, and if my husband hadn't just warned me against the Tegan and/or Sara cut, it would have happened.

No one batted an eye when I walked in. They smiled and led me to the random stylist assigned to me. Holy schnickeys, she was very pregnant. "Woah, boy." I breathed deeply. I thought, "This is all about the hairs, Baby. Not about the babies, Hair." Still, I had somehow managed to sort of live in this world before my loss for a few hours. A respite from grief and loss. Reminiscing about a time in my relationship with my husband when it was all future. Imaging a haircut that represented who I was before the babies. And here I was facing me three years ago.

"So, what are you thinking today?" She pulled out my itty bitty paintbrush ponytails, and fluffed my gigantically puffy mushroom head, smiled at me in the mirror.  And I had an impulse to begin therapy, but I knew what she meant.
"I want it all off. I mean, scalped. I can't stand this anymore." And I gave her the hair de-evolution story, and told her that I want it short, really short. And she pointed out that it is quite short already. "Well," I said, "Pixie-ish, but cool."
"Ah, okay, so let's look through a magazine for some cuts." And we did. We paged through a magazine with absolutely no pictures of women with short hair. Finally, I just said, "Alright, I just want something short, that doesn't get into my face. Think Katharine Moening in the L-Word. Think Joan Jett. Think Ellen. Cool and androgynous. A little shaggy, but not in my face."
"Alright, let's do it! YAY, I love cutting hair. I mean, when someone just wants it all off, and not just a little off the end."

As the funkified shampoo girl massaged my head, I closed my eyes and remembered the days after I left my ex-husband. I cut off all my hair. And at the time, the stylist said, "Ah, the divorce do." And she explained how people in transitional times in their life, traumatic and sad times, let go of their old life by letting go of their hair. She said it was an important, cathartic, healing ritual. And as this shampoo girl chatted about this and that, I felt a kind of lightness of being. All of this. All of this crap, I am letting go of it. I am going to leave it on the floor of the salon for other people to clean. My grey hairs and my mangled hairs, the hairs that watched Lucy be born, the ones that hid my face in the depth of my grief, the ones I plaited like I imagined folding my dark haired baby's hair one day into long braids, the hairs that poked my husband's face as we held each other sobbing, the hairs the looked sad and drab, the hairs that matted onto my face as I howled into my pillow, the hairs that made me feel fat and useless...all of them. Transition. I am in transition.

Of course, the stylist asked about my pregnancy and I about hers. Her belly kept bumping my back when she cut, which sent a jolt of intimacy through my body. But you know, it was okay. She was 36 weeks, and about to birth her first child. I just didn't tell her about Lucy. I couldn't, you know, break her heart and scare the bejeebus out of her in the same moment, but more importantly, I didn't feel a need to talk about Lucy. She never asked me how many children I had, so we talked about Beatrice and this new baby as they came up. If she has asked me that question, which seems to mostly be the first question out of everyone's mouth, I would have answered two children with a third on the way. We just talked as it came up, which is exactly what I want in a talking partner right now. Usually haircuts feel like an interview. The stylist asks you a list of standard questions, nodding and giving her opinion like some kind of Dime Store guru. But for an early twenties stylist, she was unusally wise in her listening and reflecting. She told me the awesomeness that was her name choices (CASH for goodness sake). There was no arrogant pregnant lady posturing. She just laughed and asked and shared and was really quite kind.

By the time I realized it, I had no hair. And I giggled nervously. It wasn't the shaggy sort of funkiness I imagined in my mind's eye, but it was man-ish and pixie-ish, and I can only hope that my burgeoning bump sort of cancels out the masculine qualities of the haircut. I mean, never do you look as feminine as when you are pregnant, so I go with the supposition that it means I can have a haircut that is more, you know, man-like. I cockily sauntered out into the street. I felt some of my lost bravado. The shampoo girl was walking back from lunch. "WOW! You look awesome." There is nothing like hearing that from a twenty year old punk rocker to make your day.

It's been fun to have short hair again. At ten in the morning, I sort of realize that I haven't even looked in a mirror to evaluate the state of my head, or said one tiny bitch about "this fucking hair," or heard my daughter say the words "You have crazy hair*, Mami" once, or used fifteen bobby pins, two rubber bands, a headband and superglue to keep my hair from stabbing my eyeball. I feel faster, lighter, more streamlined, in all aspects of my being.

*for the mamas out there looking for a fun book, we just got this one out of the library to recognize my insane hair situation called Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman. Really fun and funny for Bea.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Random hairy bits

All week, I have been editing and tweaking three blog posts. They are shit. They don't capture what I am feeling, it is like one long string of blah blah blah poor me. Other people suck. I want Lucy back. Blah blah.

Sure, there is a place for that. It's in my brain.

I just feel so impotent right now. I feel like my Mercury is eclipsing my moon, or whatever makes your communication skills lousy. This time of year used to be my favorite--the smell of burning leaves, the red hue cast in our house from our fiery red Japanese Maple,the crispness of the air, the holidays approaching. I actually checked the website of le crappy radio station that plays twenty-four seven Christmas music to see when, OH WHEN, does the merrymerryjoyjoy begin. I have my Christmas cards addressed and enveloped. And my Christmas shopping mostly done. I am trying to raise my spirits. But even a hundred times more UP is still me floundering. I am in a funk that you cannot dance to.


I have received a series of rather unfortunate haircuts these past two weeks. It began with a tremendously horrible bang trim. I tried "shaping my hair." Let me just say that I have no fucking idea what I am doing with scissors near my head. When I was pregnant with Beatrice, we bought the house in which my ass is currently sitting. We were moving, and it was November. I was, coincidentally, exactly the same weeks pregnant as I am right at this moment. I had a haircut that was too short for a pony tail, and too long to not get in my face constantly when I was packing. I could not handle it anymore. I lived right in Queen's Village, Philly. So, I called all the nearby salons. "Do you have an appointment, like now? Like this afternoon sometime?" They all said no. At the last attempt, I just said, "FINE. You are now responsible for what happens to my hair." And with that, I went into the bathroom and buzzed my head. Well, most of it. I did attempt to style it. With clippers. And I sat in the hallway whimpering,waiting to see if Sam would be disappointed that he married me. Sam walked in the house after his long rotation of the day, and said, "Ah, Ang, you look so sexy. Let's go fix it."

Scissors + Angie pregnant = Bad idea. I decided after my recent failure with the bangs to just go somewhere respectable and get a cut. I stupidly said, "Sure, sounds good. Whatever you think will look good." to the straight man deciding to give me some "movement." I did specify one thing, which is that I want it long enough to put up, or short enough that it isn't in my way.

I always grow my hair long. It is sort of on perpetual growth circuit. It gets long, and then I look in the mirror and think: Why the hell am I doing this? I a. never wear it down, b. look like a disheveled farm lady, c. spend an hour blowdrying it to resemble Roseanna Roseannadanna, d.don't really care for long hair on myself, and e. get annoyed by the ever-present hair on my face. Still, I persist.

Movement is code for layering. I looked middle-aged. This is a haircut for someone else. This is a haircut for someone who gives a shit. This is a haircut for someone who actually understands and uses product. I gotto my car and put it up in a pony tail. Whoosh. The entire front of my hair fell out. "What the hell?" Grabbed the hair again, tightly, and rebanded it. Whoosh, there it is, blocking my view of the salon. I went home and cut it to the length of the shortest layer. Yeah. How is that working for ya, Ang?

Yo, Eraserhead.

I am back to square one--pixie cut or grow it out? Only my violent mood swings can tell.


This is one of my favorite random stories usually told after some drinks, but since I am not drinking these days and I am in a funkity funk, I am sharing it to brighten up my morning.

Many many many moons ago, I lived in Tucson, Arizona. My ex was from Nogales, and so we often went there to hang out with his friends. I became quite close to one couple. They are both Mexican with relatives on both sides of the border, much like my ex. When they decided to get hitched, I was asked to be in the wedding party. What a strange series of events the whole wedding debacle became. Also because of hair issues, the entire wedding was an hour and half delayed, much to the chagrin of the now-drunk bride, who spent that time drinking champagne after champagne nervously pacing the floor of her bridal suite. When she confronted her sister and mother after they admitted they decided to hit a beauty school for their styles instead of the salon she booked, her sister classicly said, "Ay, but my hair looked like a Q-Tip." Today, I say that every time my husband is standing at the door, keys in hand, tapping his foot as he waits on me.

Back to the point of this rambling...the bachelorette party. Yes, in the middle of the desert. Literally in the middle. No other houses around, somewhere between Tucson and Nogales, a bachelorette party happened. It was me and fifteen other shy Mexican girls. And one of the women, either a wicked horrible little person or someone with a great sense of irony, hired a stripper. Now, I had never been around a male stripper but when the man walked through the front door in chaps, I definitely thought he had arrived at the wrong type of party. "Hello, ladies. I am Jim, your dirty cowboy." Good lord, giddiup.

So, the girls sat, hands folded on their laps or covering their mouth as they giggled nervously. Mexicans are modest people. It was painful. I heard someone say in Spanish that he had horrible tan lines. So, I assessed the situation. This is not going well.  To bring a little perspective from my half-Panamanian/East Coast punk rock girl corner of the party, I whooped, "TAKE IT OFF, Cowboy!"

"Ay, Angie, you are soooo funny." The girls ended up loosening up and letting go a bit. Teasing him. Hooting. Someone grabbed his ass. It was fun, even if at the time, he was old enough to be my father and not in the slightest bit attractive. After the shenanigans, I retired to the kitchen with the bride to commence the tequila shots. The stripper comes in to the room. "I know you," he said pointing at me. Considering I was the only lady in the entire room to give him any attention, I cynically saw through this ploy. "No, you don't."
"Yes, I do. Where do you live? In Tucson?"
"Near the university? On Cherry Street?"
Oh, shit, maybe he did know me..."Uh, yeah?"
"NO WAY! I'm your mailman."

Now, there are a thousand things that run through your mind when your mailman has just stripped for you in front of fifteen Mexican girls, but what is your name is not really one of them. That is, until he said, "It is nice to meet you. I'm Bob."

"So, Bob," I quipped, "You changed your name to Jim to strip to a bunch of women in the middle of the desert?"
"Yeah, I don't like to use my real name."


And yesterday, when Beatrice and I had just grown tired of staring at each other, our current mailman delivered a package of heART goodies. Yes, Mother Henna's package of Dia de los Muertos art arrived and we unwrapped every piece carefully, and oooohed, and aaaahed. Then we grabbed her freshly painted orange table, and began arranging everything. Beatrice grabbed the camera and started taking pictures of me placing the bits here and there.

There were twenty pieces, including one of my own. Bea took about twenty photos of her dog's ass, which I am not including here. There were paintings, and prints, Jess' lovely piece of paperwork, and Ines' amazing driftwood painting. Mother Henna included an actual henna'ed sugar skull. Beatrice was begging to wear the calavera pin. It was an impressive box of goodies...I am in love.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


When my grandfather turned seventy-five, I took him out to dinner and asked him, "What piece of advice do you have to share after seventy-five years?" And he didn't hesitate. "Never trust a naked bus driver. I saw that on a book once, Ang, and I just thought,'Now there is a good piece of advice.'"

Here is one piece of wisdom I wish my thirty-five year old self could tell my sixteen year old self: If someone says they are an asshole, believe them.

I am in the mood to listen to some of the best advice, cliches, one-liners and general wisdom that you can dish out. So, tell me, what general piece of wisdom would the you of today share with the you at age 16?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Stamps

I was married once.

Young and impetus, we married on a whim. Oh, we were in love. We thought we were different, you know. We were going to beat the odds. We endured a lot of life in a short amount of time. Difficult battles. Long dramas. Adventure and excitement. Wrapped in years, it reminds me sometimes of a novel I once read where I identified with the narrator. When it all inevitably ended, I remember saying, "I will never love anyone that way again. Thank God."

I don't compare my loves. Each is its own entity, its own being, and I have mourned their deaths as well as celebrated their lives. I married at age 20, divorced at age 25. Afterward, I felt like I had this large red stamp on my forehead. DIVORCED! And helpful, well-meaning friends said, "You don't have to tell anyone. The guy you are dating does not really need to know that you are divorced." And yes, that thought occurred to me. I didn't have to mention it.I only figuratively had a stamp on my forehead.

I went through a phase where I tried to sort of keep my sordid past to myself. My marriage did not end well. There was infidelity and lack of trust throughout the entire marriage, and it came to a head. I became even more than more than jaded. No, really. Men. Harumph. I didn't even think I could date them again, which left me to become a sort of cat person. "But I am allergic to cats," I would cry into my bourbon. "I can't even become a proper old maid." I sort of channeled the Princess Bride, "I will never love again." I thought every man was going to treat me in the way I had just been treated for the last four years. Though I look back now and see myself as impossibly young, I felt so old, so bitter, so weathered and so very pissed off. I became very good at pool, cut my hair short, and pierced various body parts that no one was seeing. And though I have remained friends with the ex-husband, at the time, I thought it was an impossibility. About every knuckleheaded, stupid, young, arrogant guy thing you could possibly think of, he did. And yet, I didn't want to divorce. It meant I couldn't practice the religion in which I was raised, even though to be honest, I wasn't really practicing it anyway. It meant I admitted that everyone in my life was right to say we were too young. It meant I learned a lot of humility very quickly. It meant I lost this person in my life that I vowed to love for better or for worse. And yet, I couldn't live in this impossible marriage and more importantly, I couldn't raise children with the sort of anger I felt towards this person I was supposed to love.

I tried. Once. To keep my secret. And it worked for a few months. I didn't mention it. I didn't mention my past at all really. Only vague allusions to another life in another city. But it became this thing. You know, the proverbial 800 lb. gorilla in the room. It ate me up. I had to tell him. I met with girlfriends for cocktails to discuss what I should do. I began thinking--here is this person falling in love with a lie.

These days, I have that same feeling. That feeling of being stamped: DEAD BABY! Marked as damaged goods. Sent back to manufacturer. And I have those same voices in my head saying, "But you don't have to say anything about Lucy. No one needs to know." I mean, sometimes bringing up Lucy's death is forced and I have to leave her existence to my own knowing. But I remember those words: here is a stranger befriending a lie.

We had neighbors come over for a Halloween party yesterday. One couple with an adult adopted son stopped by our house. We have known them from around the neigborhood for a couple of years, but this past summer, we really began stopping and talking, getting to know more about them, and realizing that we have a great deal in common with them. Except, you know, we never mentioned Lucy. I mean, I sort of thought when people were saying hello to Bea and I on walks last year, they noticed my belly. I was 38 weeks when Lucia died. It wasn't exactly as though I were hiding it. I was ignorant and blissful, and probably mentioned it in the way pregnant people mention it. "Oh, sure, my garden looks fine now, but who knows what it will be like after the baby comes." But they never mentioned it, and we never mentioned it. And sometimes Sam and I would walk off after chatting with them and whisper to each other, "Do you think they remember my pregnancy? Do you think they are confused too?" When they told us about their son's adoption, we wondered if perhaps, maybe, they too had experienced loss. But what could we say, "Do you have a dead baby too?"

Last night, at this get together, I came out of the closet. My growing belly popping out, and conversation moved into the realm of animals eating other animal's regurgitation. Actually, a newborn on someone's lap spit up on the floor, and Jack got interested. "Oh, Mother of Pearl," I thought. "I cannot see this." I am a puker. Let's just get that out there, blog friends. I vomit. In pregnancy. Not in pregnancy. If there is a norovirus, I will contract it. The other night, Jack the dog had an "accident" in the house. And by accident, of course, I mean, he purposefully shat  on the floor. When I noted the pile of crap in my dining room at 6 am, I promptly walked to the bathroom, gagging the entire way. Mind you, I had not actually smelled the shit. I just saw it. Sam woke ten minutes later to the sounds of my vomiting, and cleaned it up. Point being, talk of anything remotely disgusting can dramatically send me to the toilet. Here was a group of people, who didn't know I was pregnant, starting a conversation about one animal puking while another eats it. Dear Lord. "OKAY OKAY, Stop! I am pregnant, and if I hear puking stories, I am not quick enough to get around y'all to the toilet, and I'm sitting in front of the brownies." And the room stopped. Not exactly the quiet conversation where I introduce our new pregnancy and talk about the difficulties of pregnancy after loss I was expecting to have. And in the midst of crying neighbors, (They cried. Be still my heart at their compassion.) we explained to our other neighbors that Lucy died ten months ago. We explained why everyone was speaking in hushed tones, and asking about what kind of care I am now getting. And they teared up and understood the last year.

Last night, I felt okay about my stamp. I felt like it explained my strengths rather than my weaknesses. Illustrating how different this pregnancy is compared to Beatrice and Lucy, I remembered what I said after my marriage, "I will never love anyone that way again. Thank God." I will never take pregnancy for granted again, or be ignorant and arrogant about my ability to birth babies. Thank God.