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.

Washa Neeba Zow

(Lyrics & story)

Quick Update

It’s amazing how, despite the fact this is my tenth post in nine days, I’m still behind on my blogging. Several things recently that I’ve wanted to write about, and just haven’t. Some of those are idea stuff, but some of it’s just mundane Dave-life stuff. Last Friday was big enough, with the launch and the concert, that it sort of overshadowed other stuff that I wanted to write about but haven’t.

As per the picture above, I went to Theater Huntsville‘s presentation last night of To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, assistant-directed by a friend of mine. Good stuff. Sad, but sweet.

My brother graduated from college Saturday. This makes me feel old, for a couple of reasons. Matthew had just turned four when I went off to Ole Miss, and now has graduated himself. Also, at the rehearsal, there was a speaker that I wondered whether he was one of the people they had talked about talking not that long ago, only to realize that the “not that long ago” I was thinking of was when Matthew matriculated four years ago. Sad that I’m old enough that four years is not that long ago. On the plus side, I was stuck with making sure that the most amazing niece in the world was entertained during the ceremony, which I assure you was an incredibly onerous burden. And, oh, yeah, I’m proud of Matthew, too. In all seriousness, very proud. He just earned his bachelor’s in aerospace engineering; he’s going to actually DO the stuff I just write about people doing.

I taught kids at church again on Sunday. It went pretty well. I had to swallow my pride, admit I’d made a mistake, and fix it. When I started doing this, they said they wanted us to pick a costume and character we would use for the storytelling, and I did. I went with a character that I do quite well in improv shows. By the third month, I realized that I’d made a very bad character choice — it worked great in improv, not so great teaching kids — but wanted to figure out how to redeem it. Last month, there were hardly any kids there, and the ones that were were all very young, so I didn’t even worry about it. That seemed to go a bit better, but it was hard to tell, so Sunday, with everyone back, I bit the bullet and just stopped trying to use the character any more. I got called on it — one of the kids was like, your voice is different. “Yeah, I’m happy.” Basically, I ended up just being a little more me, and apparently a little more me worked. I could feel the difference, and that was good, because that’s been my biggest frustration up until now. When I’m playing to an audience, I generally have a good feel for them, and it’s really disconcerting for me when I don’t. With the kids, I had no feel for them at all until this past Sunday. And that makes me happy.

I’ve been involved in some National Space Society policy discussions recently. We’re living in interesting times, human space exploration-wise. I don’t know what the future holds, or even when we’ll begin to find out what the future holds, but it won’t be boring.

Improv Tuesday, And Friday, And Tuesday

So, the show I blogged about the other day? Awesome.

We ended up with a great crowd, and the players I had working with me that night did an amazing job. I was hosting the show, and pulled out stuff that we had never done before, not even in rehearsal, and they stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. It was a pleasure for me just getting to see the incredible energy they brought to the stage, to say nothing of the fact that they were hilarious.

And, hey, there was a song about zombie cats. How do you go wrong with that?

I’ll be back on stage tomorrow night in the show at Ars Nova in south Huntsville. You can buy tickets online for a discount today. There’s also a show on Saturday at Kenny Mango’s in Madison that I shan’t be in, if you prefer your improv comedy to feature actors funnier than I.

I’ll also be playing in next Tuesday’s show at Sam & Greg’s in downtown Huntsville. If you’ve never been to one of our shows before, the Tuesday night shows are really a great introduction, with tickets at only $5 per person.

Come check us out!

Godspeed, Atlantis

The flagpoles in the picture above are outside of the Payload Operations Control Center at Marshall Space Flight Center. There’s a row of several flagpoles — flying the U.S. flag, the NASA flag, the space station flag, flags for NASA’s international partner agencies. And then, there’s the flagpole at the end.

After I’d been working here for half a year, the flagpole on the end sat empty for two and a half years. Each of the orbiters has a flag, and the flagpole is used only to fly those flags when an orbiter is in space. Right now, the Atlantis flag is flying on the flagpole on the end.

Just days from now, that flag will be taken down. And will never fly again.

I’ve been debating what to say in this blog post. I watched the launch Friday, and wanted to write about it. But doing so requires addressing the elephant in the room. This is the final flight of the space shuttle Atlantis. Or, it’s not. There’s still talk of another flight of Atlantis next June, but the decision won’t be made until next month, after the current flight is over. Too late to pay respects to Atlantis timely to her last mission, if that’s what STS-132 is.

And doing it now is just being honest. When I watched Atlantis launch on Friday, it was very much on my mind that it could be for the last time.

Launch was an interesting experience. I went down and watched the last two in person, and had thought I might finish out the program that way. But my brother’s graduation precluded a Florida trip this past weekend, so I watched from work. And I was glad that’s how it worked out.

Seeing a launch in person is an amazing experience, and I recommend everyone go down for one of the last two (or three). But the way I saw it Friday really wasn’t so much a better or worse thing as an entirely different thing. Watching it on a big screen meant that you get to see detail that you just don’t from the Causeway at Kennedy. But the best part was watching it in a roomful of Marshall team members. For many of these people, this is their life’s work. It’s not simply powerful, it’s personal. And it’s an honor stand amongst them for that moment. I’ve said it before, but it’s a huge huge privilege to be even a tiny tiny part of this team. I’m blessed.

And it was a beautiful launch.

But the thing that made the biggest impression was just a tiny detail. They had small versions of the Atlantis flag decorating the tables. And those flags bear a weird association for me — my friend and coworker Heather received a flown Endeavour flag for a story she did about the student contest that named that orbiter. Since, obviously, Endeavour didn’t have a name when the naming contest started, it was the OV-105 naming project, referring to the Orbiter Vehicle designation. As a result, even though the flags have the names on them, when I see them, the number pops into my head instead. I see the flag at the top, and think not Atlantis, but OV-104.

I did a quick mental calculation — is that right? 104? Yeah, ’cause OV-103 is Discovery, and OV-102 is …

OV-102. That designation was used a lot seven years ago, after she was lost on re-entry over Texas. A good bit of the official investigation work referred to her by that officlal designation, instead of the better known name, Columbia.

OV-102 didn’t get to retire. Her career ended tragically and abruptly on February 1, 2003. And she wasn’t the first. OV-099 met an untimely end as well, on January 28, 1986.

Each of those flew for a last time. Not by choice, not in the way anyone would have wanted or dreamed. But utterly final nonetheless. And in the line of duty, doing what they were built for.

If STS-132 is in fact Atlantis’ last mission, she will be only the third orbiter to have a final flight. And unlike her sisters, it will be planned, it will be because she survived until the end.

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

Godspeed, Atlantis! Come home to us safely. As sad as it is to see your career come to an end, it is a far, far better rest that you go to than you have ever known.

The Roar of a Crowd on a Friday Night

OK, you know, initially this was going to be another “Hey, it’s weird I like country music now” post. But since I’ve liked country for most of the time I’ve written this blog, and have been listening to it regularly since before I started “Stories,” that’s really probably not that weird to a lot of my readers. Heck, how many of you are left out there that even knew me back then? I should figure out how to do a poll to figure that out.

It is still weird to me, though. Back in August I wrote a post about spiritual implications of Lady Antebellum’s “I Run To You”, and embedded the official video from YouTube. Cool to be able to come back now and do a post with video of them doing the song that I shot on my iPhone. At that point in time, I’d been to a country concert, with Sugarland (awesome) and Billy Currington (totally not my thing at the time, though I now really like “People Are Crazy”). Since then, I’ve seen Ralph Stanley and Sammy Kershaw and Trace Adkins and Sara Evans and Heidi Newfield and probably a few others I’m forgetting, and I’m going to the Opry next week.

Friday, I saw Lady Antebellum and Tim McGraw.

When my friend pitched the concert tour me, I think it was pitched as a Lady A concert; I’m not sure I even knew McGraw was also playing when I committed to go. And that was fine, I was going to see Lady Antebellum; I really didn’t have much interest in Tim McGraw.

I enjoyed their single “I Run To You” greatly; enough that when I saw Best Buy had the CD on sale for like $8 last year I figured it was worth picking up. Their second CD, I bought twice in the first week it was out. And there’s some good stuff on there. And, yeah, sure, “Need You Now” and “Love This Pain” were kinda very much where I was when the album came out. But, yeah, to summarize, I loves me some Lady Antebellum.

And they were awesome; I loved their performance, and it was a great opportunity getting to see them live.

Tim McGraw, on the other hand? To be honest, when I heard about the concert, the main thing I knew about Tim McGraw was the Taylor Swift song: “When you think Tim McGraw / Hope you think my favorite song.” I knew I must have heard some of his songs, but none of them had made much of an impression. To prepare for the concert, I put some of his music on my iPod, but never quite got around to taking a serious stab at listening to it. The radio station we were listening to was playing his music before the concert, and that was a pretty good chunk of all the prep I got.

For a bit, I figured he’d peaked before he started. Without even visibly coming on stage, he and the band did Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” Since that was a song that I actually know and like, I thought that might well be the high point.

But, I have to say, he did a good job. I was entertained. He was a very good performer, put on a good show, and I recognized more of his songs than I thought I would. I went back afterwards and rated several of them higher so they’d show up in my iTunes more often.

Even so, they highpoint still wasn’t one of his songs. He brought out a couple of songwriters, and said they were going to do one of his favorite songs. They start singing: “‘When you think Tim McGraw, I hope you think my favorite song …’ Oh, sorry, we thought you said one of your favorite subjects.”

I even bought my first concert tour t-shirt. I’ve bought shirts from an independent artist or two that I like at their shows, but I’ve never gotten an official tour shirt before. I really wish I’d gotten one when B.B. King was in town in January, so that regret nudged me into getting a Lady A shirt. I wore it to work Monday and everything.

On the way out, there were people handing out coupons to concert sponsor Outback Steakhouse, and an ad for McGraw, the fragrance by Tim McGraw, and McGraw Southern Blend (which really isn’t that different, but I guess Tim McGraw’s pretty southern already). I’ve been working on my own little song to go with it:

“When you smell Tim McGraw / Hope the smell is not too strong … “

Tuesday Night Improv Club

Tomorrow night, I will be in a Face2Face Improv show at Sam & Greg’s Pizza and Gelato Cafe on the square in downtown Huntsville at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are only $5, so it’s really an incredible deal! Come, get some excellent pizza and/or gelato (or other food offering of your choice) and get ready to laugh at a great comedy show! We’d love to see you there!!