A Worn-Out Lullaby


This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the next year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This week’s topic is “Your Children.”

OK, wow, yeah, what a topic, huh? Fair enough, then. Here we go.

I considered making this a three-part series.

The first part would be about nieces and nephews. For all intents and purposes, my brother’s children, Bethany and Nathan, are “my children.” I have no kids of my own now, and love them very much.

The first part would also talk about the fact that earlier this month, Lila Grace Lara and Madison Brooks both had birthdays on two consecutive days. For the first six years of her life, Lila Grace was my niece; the daughter of my then-wife’s sister. And I loved her. A lot. The tragedy is, Lila Grace and I were closer than Bethany and I have been. That’s getting better, but it’s still sad to me. Madison would have been my niece, in a different world. She was the only of Susanna’s nieces that I hadn’t met when the engagement was called off; to some of the nieces and nephews I was already “Uncle David,” which made me very happy at the time and made the outcome hurt all that much more.

The second part would talk about the future. I don’t have children now, but that could change. I had reached a point during my marriage to Nicole that I had accepted that it was never going to happen, that it wasn’t an option. Today, that’s no longer the case. And that’s something I have to consider. And I could easily write an entire post about that.

But, instead, I’m only writing the third part, the one part that I, for myself, need to write.

I’m going to tell the story of Katelyn.

I had learned to recognize Nicole’s “I’m in the hospital” voice. I would say that I frequently knew something was wrong even before I answered the phone, but the truth is probably more just that the phone ringing often filled me with dread. But the voice? Unmistakable. Even just from “hello,” I would know she was in the hospital.

Point being, there was nothing unusual about the call; the fact that it was routine was exactly how I was able to recognize that tone. I’d learned to take it in stride. Calm, cool and collected. It took a lot to shake that. Things had to be pretty bad.

Monday, January 30, 2006 was one of the days that shook that. It still makes no sense what all went through my head in what must have been no time at all when Nicole mentioned the tubal pregnancy. I knew there was no good outcome; it was just a question of how bad it was going to be. I remember the dread at the idea that we would have to give the order, to make the “decision” to terminate a pregnancy that couldn’t be saved. I remember the relief, as sick as this is, at learning that our child, my child, was already dead. There was no happy ending; I just consider myself blessed that I don’t have to carry the burden of having had to tell someone to do it.

It sucked, and neither one of us knew how to deal with it. To some extent, it was another medical issue that had been survived, another trip to the hospital. (I still have the wristband from that hospital stay, kept on the desk in my computer room.) I tried to be supportive of Nicole, but, in retrospect probably failed completely to support her where she must have been emotionally. I cried on the phone with my mom that night as the reality of it overwhelmed me, not only of that day, but of that part of my life I had never dealt with. Nicole and I didn’t have the option of having children; I simply accepted the fact that was the case since there was no point in thinking about it. That day forced me to confront the reality of what that meant, to be aware of what might have been. The next day, I wrote about all of that in my journal, as if it had been resolved. It happened, I cried, it was over. Except it wasn’t. Not really.

The pregnancy, they estimated, was about eight to 10 weeks in at the time, as I recall. We never knew if it was a boy or a girl; I don’t know why we both just knew it was a daughter. We named her Katelyn. It made it easier to talk about, having a name to use instead of the cold “tubal pregnancy” terminology. And it made it a little easier to grieve. In earlier times, when the future was still wide open, we had picked out names, for a boy and a girl, if we ever had kids. We both liked the name Katelyn, a slight homage to my mother. We never dreamed that was how we would use it.

On a good day, I count it as a blessing. I believe life begins at conception. Which means I had a child. A human being, with a soul. Before that day, I’d never really understood the concept of heaven, never really understood the appeal. Eternity seems like it would get very boring, very quickly, relatively speaking. But the knowledge that in the next world I’ll be able to experience what I hadn’t in this world? That I will be able, finally, to hold my daughter in my arms? OK, I would be willing to call that heaven.

And, the truth is, it’s better that way. Nicole and I did not need a child in this world. What would it have been like, to have to deal with the things we had to deal with, but with a child? I can’t imagine having to take care of both of them. I can’t imagine having to tell my daughter that mommy was spending the night in jail, or figuring out how to explain other things to her. I can’t imagine. And where would things have gone? What would the dissolution of our marriage have looked like then. So it’s a blessing; a blessing that we will see our child only when we can love her the way she deserves.

In my head, I mark that day, January 30, like it was a birthday; it’s the day I remember her most. I posted lyrics to a song on this blog that day this year, but with no explanation. I’ve told a handful of people this story, but I’ve never really told it publicly before right now. But it’s part of who I am. But that song is hers for me. Not all of it works, but so much of it speaks to me.

She can run free forever
Still our blood runs us together

Sleep, baby, don’t you cry
Daddy’s got a worn-out lullaby
And I’d live forever dark and damned
To see you spend one minute
In wonderland

That last bit? Yeah, what would I give for a minute, for five minutes, of holding her in this life? To be able to look her in the eyes, to be seen by her? But it’s OK. That day will come.

I treat that day like a birthday, but, of course, it wouldn’t have been. The truth is, her birthday would have been very close to mine, in early August. This summer, when I turn 35, she would have turned four. My niece Bethany was born in November before this happened, so it’s very easy to picture where Katelyn would be — she in August would be the age Bethany was in November. It’s very fresh in my mind what a four-year-old girl is like; look at Bethany a few months ago and that’s kind of what Katelyn would be like today.

But she wouldn’t, really. She would look differently. She would act differently. She would be interested in different things. She would care about different things. Partially because all children are different. But partially because she would be mine. Who she is would have been influenced by who I am. Heh. Can you imagine?

And I wonder about that. What would she be like. If. But I wonder something else sometimes. What would I be like, if. In another happier moment, Susanna, who, of course, knew the story, and I were at church one Sunday last June, and she told me she wanted to tell me something, but hoped it wasn’t bad and that I took it the way she meant. Um, OK. “Happy Father’s Day, David.” And, yeah, it meant a lot to have that validated, to have someone recognize that, as silly as it probably is, it does mean something to me. But what if things were different? Who would I be? How would I be different because of the last four years? And I have no idea. None.

When I do see her, what will that be like? Will she still be an infant when I see her? Will she have “aged” correspondingly to how I have? I hope it doesn’t matter. I hope I can be 31 and hold her in my arms as if things had been different. I hope we can both be adults, and have long rambling conversations and get to know each other. I hope we can both be 6 together and play tag on the streets of gold, play hide-and-seek in our heavenly mansions. I hope I can be middle aged, and proud of the young woman my daughter is.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.

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