Bang!! 6:30 am. Raw sandpaper FEAR woke me up running to Terra, who had disappeared to lay down in Mason’s room.
“I finally felt her kick about an hour ago,” she said, sleepily.
“Oh, thank god. Oh my god. Holy shit that was scary.”
“I’m still going to make an appointment for today, as soon as the office opens.”
“Okay, good. Let me know what time it is, and I’ll meet you there. I’m going to go ahead to work now. I can’t go back to sleep. God, I’m glad everything is okay.”
I kissed her on the forehead and told her to get some sleep. I showered and left.
Three hours later, I was standing at the entrance to the parking lot of Terra’s OB when she pulled up in her ’02 Blue Hyundai Elantra. She waved and smiled at me. I realized I was pacing. I waved back. We walked in through the doors, checked in and waited in the office lobby.
“So is she still moving around in there?” I asked.
Terra didn't look at me.
“No, and now I’m starting to get worried that I didn’t really feel her this morning.”
“No, you would know,” I said.
“Well, I would hope so.”
“Who has Mason?” I asked.
She got up to use the restroom and I flipped, absently, through a 3-month-old copy of Sports Illustrated. She returned and the receptionist finally called her name.
A nurse weighed Terra—I don’t understand why—and led us into one of the colorless rooms.
“Dr. St will be in here in a few minutes,” the nurse sang.
I tried to breathe deeply, repeating to myself that everything was going to be okay. Moments passed. And passed. And passed.
“What is taking him so long?” Terra wondered aloud.
I was suddenly aware of muzak being pumped into the room. It was not loud enough for me to place the song.
The door finally swung open. It was the doctor, too busy for chitchat.
“So you haven’t really felt any movement today, is that right?” he asked, bored.
“No movement yesterday, but I think I felt her this morning. We just wanted to be safe.” Terra forced a laugh, apologetically.
“Well, let’s listen to the baby’s heartbeat.” He began fidgeting with the familiar sonogram machine. It crackled like an AM radio station. He lathered it with lubricant and placed it on Terra’s belly. It crackled, empty. I felt... suspended. I could not breathe. He searched. He pressed harder into Terra’s abdomen. Nothing. I looked at the side of Terra’s face. Tears were streaming down. I covered my face. I reached for Terra’s arm. Dr. St was silently searching, whispering “come on, come on…”
Then, we heard a faint, faint heartbeat. Everyone exhaled.
“Is that it?!” I yelled, voice shaking.
Dr. St nodded, “I think so” but looked at Terra, concerned. “I want to go ahead and have an ultra sound just to make sure that it’s not your heartbeat I was hearing, just ‘cause your heart’s beating kind of fast.”
We were led into the ultra sound room, and Terra was eased down into what resembled a dentist’s chair. She was again lathered up with lubricant. Squirt.
The ultra sound device was dragged slowly over Terra’s abdomen. We saw Roxy up on the screen. Our breaths were, again, suspended. She wasn't moving. The ultra sound technician silently snapped pictures of different parts of Roxy. We again heard the empty crackle.
Time stops. The whole world inhales.
“I’m sorry hon, there’s no heartbeat,” the technician said, her voice dead.
Terra’s head turned violently to the left and she opened her mouth to scream. I could see her teeth, but no sound, not at first.
The world exhaled.
Then “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” I knew it was my voice, but it did not sound like me.
“Oh my god…” I was choking.
“I’m so sorry… oh my god…” I was choking.
Then the entire scene happened again and again, beginning with the technician’s sentence and ending with Terra’s face etched into me: Eyes open, mouth screaming, no sound.
From another room it seemed, I heard a voice: “why are YOU sorry? You don’t have anything to be sorry about.” I knew the voice was Terra’s but it didn't sound like her.
Dr. St walked in.
“I’m really sorry. What you need to know is that this just happens sometimes. It’s nothing you did, or anything like that, and that’s something you need to remember,” he said stumbling, looking at the door.
“What now?” I asked. I was shivering.
“Well, we’ll still need to go ahead with the scheduled C-section we were going to do next week. I think we might be able to do this tomorrow morning. I think we have an opening at 10 AM… or if you want to wait, there’s nothing that’s going to hurt, at this point.”
I gasped and lurched.
“Tomorrow,” Terra said. The word was an icicle stabbed into the fumbling doctor's throat.
“Okay, now you’ll not want to eat or drink anything after midnight…” he droned on.
The sun on the sidewalk outside the OB was terrible. We climbed helplessly into Terra’s car together, our hands were clasped, cold and sweating.
“You better call people,” Terra whispered, staring out the passenger side window.
The world felt empty, blanked out.
The cell phone was in my hand and I could see it shaking. If I had been holding a maraca, it would have been fast enough to keep time with dragon fly wings. I was driving somewhere. Where? Completely outside of myself, I watched the car fly.
I dialed my mother’s cell phone number. I had to say it out loud.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Mom,” I choked.
“What, Kenny?” Her voice was shaking, afraid. She had known about our appointment.
“It’s the worst mom.” I was bawling now.
“Oh no, Kenny, what?”
“There’s no heartbeat, Mom.”
“Oh Kenny, no.” She sounded like she was collapsing. “No… where are you?! I’m coming there. Are you going home? I’m coming there.”
“Yeah, we’re going home…”
I hung up.
I dialed Ka’s number.
“Hello.” She sounded bored.
“What?!” I could sense her steadying herself. She had also known about our appointment.
“There’s no heartbeat,” I heard myself saying again.
“Oh my god oh my god oh my god… I can’t… oh my god… okay, I have to keep it together… where are you? Should I keep Mason here with me?”
“Maybe for a couple of hours, but I need to see him soon.” I had gone all black and empty inside. “Can you call Jo?”
Tears, tears, tears. Two good-byes.
Terra took the phone. Dialed. No answer. Dialed again. No answer. Dialed again…
“Je,” she wept weakly. “Je, we went to the doctor today. There was no heartbeat…”
I heard the sound of Je’s voice from the receiver. She didn’t understand.
“There was no HEARTBEAT Je,” Terra repeated.
I heard Je scream something… maybe “you mean she’s DEAD?”
“I can’t get a hold of Dad,” Terra whispered through tears. “Can you get a hold of him?” She closed the cell phone. She had her hand over her mouth. Her eyes were wild. Her bottom lip twitched. She was, otherwise, completely, bone-chillingly still.
The cell phone rang. Terra answered. Her Dad.
“I know,” I heard her say, and she began to let out a long high cry. It was so soft, the way it separated itself from her breath.
(Terra’s father is a man I’ve always admired. Very quiet, non-judgmental and sweet, he reminds me of my own father. He is a bit of a hermit, who spends his post-work days clearing brush and mowing his 37 acres. He is a man of slight build, but a quiet toughness, evidenced by the fact that he came to Indiana University in the late sixties on a wrestling scholarship.)
Terra continued to nod and cry, holding the phone to her ear… “will you let mom know?”
Then, with the quickness of a chainsaw starting up, the sound of everything turned up and mixed together like water colors and whirled around me. Was I passing out? Was I dying? I had to concentrate. I was driving. Why was I driving? Because, we have a son.
Terra handed the phone to me.
“Kenny?” her dad, said, sniffling.
“Yeah, I’m here.”
“I’m so sorry Kenny. It’s in God’s hands now. It’s all in God’s hands.”
I couldn't tell him what I thought of God right then. “I know,” I cried. I wailed. I shifted and shook. I had to concentrate. I was driving. Why was I driving? Because we have a son.
When I pulled into my driveway my mom was crouched on the front porch. She hugged me. Hugged Terra. We walked into the living room, all three of us in silence, weeping. I sat holding Terra’s head in my lap.
Quickly or slowly (who knows, time had stopped) our family members began to file in, all trying not to break down. First, Terra’s dad. He hugged us one at a time, and continued to repeat “it’s in God’s hands.” Then, My dad. He walked straight to Terra and hugged her. I saw the force of his shaking causing her body to shake. It occurred to me that they might fall and I rose to steady them. Je tiptoed in. More hugs. More silence.
Then BANG the door exploded. Mason was home. Just the sight of him improved my posture. My life raft. My only one. Ka and cousin Jo (also my best friend) walked in behind him, and Ja too. Mason shook the room alive, and we all attempted to greet him with a smile. It was easier than what seemed to make sense. What power he has over us that love him. He had a thoughtful look as I approached him, picked him up, kissed him and said, “Mason I need you to come with me for a second so I can talk to you.” How would I do this? How the fuck are you supposed to do this?! I walked him into our bedroom so that we could be alone.
“Mason,” I gulped. I had to... HAD TO GET THIS OVER WITH. “Mason, I just wanted to tell you… Mason, I wanted to tell you that, um, something happened and Mama and I had to go to the Doctor today. Roxy, um, Roxy… You know how we talked about Roxy, and her getting ready to be born and everything? Well, Mason, um, she, she died.”
“Yes she did. That is why we are all very sad, but I want you to know that we will be alright. You know, it’s okay to be sad...” I heard myself saying things I’ve read in books or seen on Lifetime movies (not that I watch Lifetime). How, oh HOW do you do this?
“Oh," Mason said. "Dad, you know what?”
“Do you want to watch me play my game?”
“Sure… do you have any questions though? About Roxy, or about what’s going on?”
“No.” (What DID I expect a 4-year-old to say?!)
“Well, Mama is going to have to have an operation tomorrow, and you are going to stay all night with Mimi. Is that okay?” He looked at me cautiously. “She’s going to be okay. Mama’s going to be okay. Everything is going to be fine,” I said, knowing it was a lie.
“Yeah, it’s okay if I stay at Mimi’s.” With this, he was off and running to the small play room off the back of our kitchen. I followed him. How...?
I spent most of the remaining day alternately lying down and standing outside, smoking. After having quit for years, I had, in a 3-hour period, become a full-time smoker again. I don't even know where the cigarettes came from, but I was grateful.
I checked on Terra frequently, but she was surrounded and I couldn't get to her. Sometimes I reached for her hand as I walked by or managed to push her hair back behind her ears. I knew she must be right where I was: Tomorrow morning.
My mind was a wind of panic.
How, how, how could we go through what we were getting ready to go through? How could we walk into the hospital OB area? Our baby is dead. Roxy is dead. How could we go there, check in, go to the operating room... How could we even be awake?
I mean, we would SEE her.
How could I survive looking down at my own dead child?
The fear gripped me, not once, but over and over again. It mauled and scratched me from the inside. It, THE FEAR, was LIVING. I had to lie down, and when I did the pictures and panic played out on my eyelids. I opened my eyes. I needed to run maybe? I walked into Mason’s playroom where he was sitting on the floor. I layed down beside him. My breathing was heavy. I stood back up, walked outside.
Death, death, death. What is it?
Someone spoke to me… “Are you okay? I mean, physically… you’re pale. Have you eaten anything?”
I escaped the conversation and rushed back into our bedroom. Back down on the bed. My heartbeat was thunderous and violent. I tried to breathe steadily. The sound of my breath wiggled staccato. Even my lungs were literally shaking. I was having my first panic attack. And "attack" is the perfect word to describe it. (In all the books, songs and movies, I don't remember seeing it mentioned exactly how PHYSICAL grief is.)
I tried not to move. I tried to focus my breathing. My eyes rolled back into my head, and there were images there, flashing. I closed my eyes again. Why were the lights flashing? My eyes were closed, opened, closed, opened, closed.
“Kenny, do you know if, um, Terra has any breast pads? I didn’t want to bother her about it, but we’re going to the store for you guys.” Ni, a friend of Terra’s, was standing over me.
“What?” I looked at her, scared. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I think it’s okay if you ask her though.”
“Do you need anything from the store?”
“No. No.” I was staring into a closet. No one was there.
The next 45 minutes extended into the horizon endlessly. I tried to concentrate on breathing. I tried not to move. I sat up and tried to look at a book of crossword puzzles. On my back. On my side. On my stomach. Head up. Head down. Feet up. Standing up. Sitting down. I considered screaming for help, but my peasant-like inability to inconvenience people prevents me. (I swear, one day I could quietly die of hypothermia sitting next to a guy with three winter coats in his lap because I don't want to interrupt his newspaper-reading.)
Finally, finally, finally, the white plaster ceiling came into focus. My stomach muscles throbbed like hell and my head-ache was unlike anything I had known. It felt like my brain had been taken out, frozen solid, and put back in my head upside down. But I was finally breathing without needing to tell myself to breathe.
Slowly, people began to trickle out of our house. Long hugs goodbye. If it weren’t for burning stomach muscles and my throbbing temples, I might have wondered if I were dead. The world suddenly seemed that empty.
Mason waved at me while walking out with my mom and dad. I waved back, instinctively.
In eleven hours we would be leaving for the hospital.
Je spent the night, and she, Terra and I stared blankly at the TV for most of it. We were all in the same place: Tomorrow morning.