The World is Upside Down

“For some moments in life, there are no words.”
— Willy Wonka, in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

That’s what I posted on Twitter earlier today:  “The world is upside down.”  It was in response to the news that my very good friend’s son died this morning; he was 11 days old.

Eleven days.  Fucking Wimbeldon lasts longer than baby Christopher got to live.

He was ten weeks early, and he was in the NICU, but he was breathing on his own and my friend and Christopher’s father had been able to hold him and everything. Just last night my friend reported that she was trying to keep up her pumping schedule so Christopher could eat as much as he needed to.  I thought the road would be tough, but that he would ultimately be just fine. In the first days, I told her I knew it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that I knew it was there.  I promised her it was.

I don’t know the details of what happened this morning, but a friend told me this afternoon that when things go wrong in NICU, they go wrong fast and often without warning.

My heart breaks for my girl and her family, and everything I said to her in my message this morning seems ridiculously inadequate.  How can there be any words for this?  There is nothing anyone can say that can ease her pain, take away her sadness, relieve the anger she must feel.  Nothing.

I was looking for quotes to head this post and googled “quotes about the loss of a child.”  So many of them say, essentially, “God needed him more.”  Fuck that.  I know it’s just people trying to make sense out of something unfathomable, but I think it would be unbelievably insensitive to say that to a grieving parent.  I cannot imagine looking my friend in the eye and telling her someone — even God — needed Christopher more than she did.  What a shitty thing to say.

Because there are no words, this post is not coming out the way I meant it.  It turns out I’m nearly as angry as I am sad.  Eleven days?  He didn’t even get to BE.  And now my funny, amazing, beautiful friend will never be the same, and there’s nothing anyone can do to fix it.  No one can even make it easier for her.

A mother losing her 11-day-old baby?  The world is upside down.


My Girls

[You] are the . . . women who are tied to my heart by a cord which can never be broken and which really pulls me continually.  My love for you rests on a past which no future can reverse, and offensive as the words seem to have been to you, I must repeat, that I can feel no bitterness towards you, however you may act towards me.  If you remain to me what you have ever been, my life will be all the happier, and I will try not to be unworthy of your love so far as faithfulness to my own conscience can make me worthy of it . . . . Interpret my whole letter so as to make it accord with this plain statement — I love [you] with unchanged and unchangeable affection, and while I retain your friendship, I retain the best that life has given me.
— excerpted from a letter by Marian Evans (aka George Eliot) in Friend to Friend, by Lois Wise

In college, I met two women who became my very best friends.  They had grown up together and came to my small east coast college the year after me; they were roommates.  I met them through music: LH had auditioned to be in the a cappella group I was in, and one night shortly thereafter, she and LB were sitting outside their dorm smoking.  I went over to LH and said quietly, “Be in your room tomorrow night around 7.”  Our group had a tradition of “singing in” the new members – knocking on their doors and singing our theme song to welcome them to our group.  I had been out of my room the night they came for me the year before, and I always regretted it, so I didn’t want LH to miss out.

She and I became friends because most of the others in our group were too staid for our tastes – lovely girls, and fun in their own ways, but the two of us were decidedly different.  LB was too.  After a rocky beginning (LB says she didn’t like me right away because she was scared of me – I get that a lot, which I think is weird), we were pretty soon inseparable.  We laughed all the time – we had the same crazy sense of humor, we said things everyone else thought but wouldn’t say, we judged EVeryone from our little misfit tower, we could finish each others’ sentences and knew what each other were thinking with just a look; we even had our own language.  And we drank.  Lord, how we drank.  And smoked cigarettes.  And talked about boys, constantly.  Occasionally, as groups of three are wont to do, two would get angry at one, or two would fight and the third would have to take a side or try desperately to stay neutral.  The fights never lasted long – you need your friends, man.  Above all else, though, we were fiercely loyal to each other.

I wish I had the words to tell you what these two women were to me.  I wish I could explain all the crazy antics we got up to and have you get it – the karaoke nights,the road trips to their homes in Westchester, the gyroscope, the gazebo, GIG, Lobster Luau, Phi Delta Sexy.  I wish you could have seen us back then: the three of us against the world, living our lives balls-out, making mistakes, learning about life and love and heartbreak all together.  We were really something.

It would take too long to get into details, but suffice it to say, we are not the same kind of friends now that we were back then, and even for several years after college.  There’s a lot to blame for that – geography, jobs, life changes – but much of it is my fault, though I didn’t know it when it was happening.  In the years between college and losing my hearing, I was really a very unhappy person.  I took that unhappiness out in a variety of ways, none of them very healthy, and the people closest to me took the brunt of  it – ask Aimee.  What I thought at the time was me telling LH honestly what I thought about the decision she had made several years earlier to drop out of school was really me, drunk in the Sheraton parking lot in the middle of the night, judging her and yelling at her (in front of LB) for making decisions that I thought were wrong for her, without once considering where she was coming from.  And that, I learned later, was the beginning of the end.  I didn’t know it then because I apologized in a hungover haze the next morning, she accepted, we laughed over breakfast, and she and LB headed back to NY and I went back to Richmond.  When I look back at my life, that night is my single biggest regret.

It wasn’t until after I lost my hearing and LB promised and promised to come down and never did and never called that I discovered what I had really done.  I wrote her a long letter lamenting the state of our friendship and telling her how let down I was that she wasn’t there when I needed her.  In return I got a letter that broke my heart and opened my eyes.  LB said she was sorry for not coming down and not calling (“I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything.”) but that my letter made her realize she needed to be honest with me, too.  She told me that ever since the scene with LH in the parking lot (which was probably two years earlier), she hadn’t thought of me the same way.  She told me that on the way home that day, LH was not herself, was clearly still so upset over the night before.  LB said she knew that I judged her for not finishing school, either (she dropped out after her junior year), and that what I had  done to LH made her wonder when I would turn on her, too.  There was more, but the gist was that I had done serious damage to my friendships with them and LB didn’t know how to get past it.

Call me naive, but I’d had no idea that either of them felt that way.  We’d talked on the phone plenty since then, and even visited, and things had seemed fine.  I was devastated to hear how badly I’d hurt them.  I cried for a long time after finishing LB’s letter.  I took the letter with me to my next counseling appointment and read it to my counselor and cried some more.  I just could not stand that these women who I adored, these amazing, beautiful women, had been so hurt by something I’d done.  Thinking about it even now makes my heart ache.

I wrote to LH.  I told her all of this – that LB had told me how hurt they both were, that I’d had no idea, and that above all, I was sorry beyond words for what I’d done.  I told her that, though it was no excuse, I was angry at the world back then, and that I took it out in all the wrong ways.  I said, “The person I am now can see what the person I was then couldn’t: that you were struggling with your own demons, too, and I was wildly out of line to assume that I knew what was best for you.”  I asked her to forgive me, even though I knew I didn’t deserve it.  She called me as soon as she got the letter.

Things were great after that.  The two of them road-tripped down for my cochlear implant surgery in August 2003 and brought me a bag full of silly stuff from the dollar store and one of those gigantic greeting cards.  On the inside of the card, LH had written the crazy narrative of their trip, and on the outside of the envelope, LB had illustrated the story for me.  To this day, it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever received.

I don’t think I saw either of them after that until my third year of law school almost 4 years later.  In between, we’d kept in touch by email and MySpace (before we discovered Facebook).  Mostly it was LB and me; LH kind of went off the grid for a bit. I made plans to visit LB in Connecticut where she was now living and working, and when I got there, LH was there as a surprise to me!  We had so much fun that weekend; if you didn’t know any better, you’d have thought we’d never been apart.

I don’t want to go into explicit detail about the rest, really, and I don’t know that it’s necessary.  I should tell you though, that at least twice since I moved down to DC, I’ve innocently commented on something LB posted on MySpace or Facebook and gotten responses along the lines of “I guess I never was good enough for you.”  The first time it happened, I got mad and emailed her, asking what in the world she was talking about, explaining that I hadn’t intended to hurt her feelings, and saying that I didn’t think I’d done anything to make her feel she wasn’t good enough, at least not in a very long time, like years.  She responded, “You’re right.  My problem, not yours.”  Later it came out that she was going through a rough time personally, which she had opted not to share with me, and was very unhappy generally.  The second time it happened, about a year and a half later, I cried, telling David I didn’t know how many more ways I could apologize, or how else to show her that I’m a different person now. I hate that I ever did anything that made her feel less than, but I can’t change the past, and I don’t know how long I’m supposed to be punished for that.  I didn’t tell her she hurt my feelings; I let it go because I didn’t want another email like she’d sent before.  Now, I always hesitate to comment on anything she posts on Facebook, and when I do, I re-read it before I post it, trying to see any way that she might take it the wrong way, trying to avoid a repeat of the other incidents.  I hate that.

LH up and moved to Texas a while ago.  We are in touch through Facebook, but that’s it.  Her leaving school when she did – after her and LB’s sophomore year – meant LB and I were always closer, since we had a year together when it was just us.  I think she’s always been a little sad about that, and our relationship is really mostly superficial.

I’ve heard it said that some friendships have an expiration date.  Maybe that’s true, and maybe these friendships have run their course, but that makes me terribly sad.  I don’t know much of anything that’s going on in their lives, except what they post online.  They’ve both got other best friends now – they aren’t even each others best friend anymore – and we’re scattered across the country.  Losing them – and that’s really how I look at it, although it only just occurred to me that that’s what’s really happened – is heartbreaking for me.  I never had a sister; the two of them (and Aimee, of course) were the closest I ever came. I don’t even have the words to adequately explain how the change in our relationship makes me feel; I can only tell you that I’ve written nearly this entire post with tears running down my face.  I miss them more than I can say.

Selfishly, one of the hardest things for me is wondering if we’d have ended up this far apart even if that night had never happened.  I don’t know, but I can’t help but think things would be different.  And knowing that I’m mostly to blame for my estrangement from the two women I felt connected to on a level I’ve never felt before is a hard thing to take.  I can’t fix it.  I tried my best and it only put a band-aid on it.  I can’t unring the bell, and I will forever be sorry.

I read the book the opening quote comes from about a year after I lost my hearing, probably right around the time I sent LB that letter.  It’s perfect, and perfectly heartbreaking:

[You] are the . . . women who are tied to my heart by a cord which can never be broken and which really pulls me continually.  My love for you rests on a past which no future can reverse, and offensive as the words seem to have been to you, I must repeat, that I can feel no bitterness towards you, however you may act towards me.  If you remain to me what you have ever been, my life will be all the happier, and I will try not to be unworthy of your love so far as faithfulness to my own conscience can make me worthy of it . . . . Interpret my whole letter so as to make it accord with this plain statement — I love [you] with unchanged and unchangeable affection, and while I retain your friendship, I retain the best that life has given me.

My life is better and funnier and happier for having had them in it.  My love for them rests on our past; I love them still, whatever their feelings towards me; and whatever happens in the future, I will love them always.

Three Things Thursday #46

“To the people of Haiti, we say clearly, and with conviction, you will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten. In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you. The world stands with you. We know that you are a strong and resilient people. You have endured a history of slavery and struggle, of natural disaster and recovery. And through it all, your spirit has been unbroken and your faith has been unwavering. So today, you must know that help is arriving — much, much more help is on the way.”
— President Obama, January 14, 2010

This is definitely a week when I have no trouble at all recognizing how lucky I am, in so many ways.  My thoughts are, and have been – like so many others – with the people of Haiti.  The more I read and see, the more my heart breaks for them.  The devastation is incomprehensible to those of us who are surrounded by the everyday things that we never think about but that keep our lives running smoothly and safely: sewer lines, building codes, police presence, basic infrastructure.  In light of what’s happening, here are the things I’m grateful for this week:

1. the sheer outpouring of support from all over the world – everyone wants to help

2. that people like Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh, who have said some truly heartless, despicable things about why this happened and what the United States is “getting” out of it, have been roundly and unanimously shouted down by everyone I’ve come across, both personally and in the media

3. that I can do something to help, even in a very small way

The Red Cross has raised 5 MILLION dollars, just from it’s text campaign – you can donate $10 to Haiti relief by texting “Haiti” to 90999.   Through Yele Haiti, you can donate $5 by texting “Yele” to 501501.  You can check out a list of legitimate charities organizing relief by clicking here.  Whatever you can give is enough.


Her full nature . . . spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth.  But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half doing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
— from Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Some of you have asked after the woman I wrote the last Three Things post about, and I appreciate that.  I’m more sorry than I can say to tell you that it’s my best friend Aimee’s mother.

Jeanette was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer this past March.  She underwent surgery to remove most of the tumor and then received both radiation and chemotherapy.  She had ups and downs, and the prognosis was never great, but we all so hoped for a miracle, or at least more time than we got.  She began declining steadily towards the end of August, and by the end, she was bedridden and often unable to respond, though she usually knew when people were with her.

I have known Jeanette since I was 14 years old.  It wouldn’t be exaggerating at all to say that she was like a second mother to me.  In high school, Aimee’s house was the place all the kids wanted to be because Jeanette and Bill, Aimee’s step-dad, were totally laid back.  They were great fun to be around, but they also knew when to make themselves scarce, and as long as we weren’t out of control, they left us to our own devices.  They took all of us in and loved us and counseled us and fed us and, in my case (and in the case of her sister’s friends), sheltered us for a time.

As we grew and went off and had lives of our own, they still asked after us and greeted us with hugs and kisses and questions about what we were up to.  They always encouraged us in whatever endeavor we took on and supported us and shared their wisdom, which was vast, freely.  I loved them dearly.

Bill died in November 2005.  The minister at Jeanette’s memorial service said it best: She was a widow, but she never stopped being married to him.  Aimee told me that it was Jeanette’s great hope that, after she died, she would be reunited with Bill.  I don’t know what I believe, really, about what happens to you after you die, but I hope with all my heart that they are together again.

Three weeks before Jeanette died, I went to Richmond to say goodbye.  It was a difficult thing to do; she was bedridden, nearly bald, and able to communicate very little.   She knew we were there, though, and we had some good laughs and a few tears.  Aimee and her sister were gracious enough to give me a few minutes alone with Jeanette, and I was able to tell her how much she meant to me and how grateful I was to have her in my life.  I know that she understood; she cried a little when she realized that what I was really saying was goodbye.  She grew sleepy, so we decided to go.  I was the last one out, and before I left her side, I kissed her forehead and said, “Goodbye, Jeanette; I love you.”  And that was the last time I saw her.

Aimee asked me to share Jeanette’s obituary with you; you can find it here.

J & quilt

Jeanette with the quilt she made for Ben's 1st birthday