Chris, my deceased ex-husband, comes to me in dreams. Always in dreams – daily, weekly, monthly. Sometimes he holds a baby boy with dark brown locks that fall thick from his head in curls. He brings with him my daughters, young. We marvel at this boy, singing and laughing and celebrating. He is my son. He is my children’s brother. I strain to take a longer look, but before I can he is gone. The dream is over and I wake and wonder.
I told my now-grown children about these dreams.
“I didn’t know you were pregnant a third time,” my oldest said, almost a question.
“I had forgotten,” I answered.
In truth I did. That is until the dreams came vivid, full of joy and mystery.
It was the eyes that got to me. Sunken. Ashened yellow. Fixed on the ceiling, but not really the ceiling. They were the eyes of a woman approaching death. She feared it.
The woman’s face was soft like snow after a winter storm, ripples of snow across her face. Gentle slopes smoothed by wind. It was framed by long, sparse wisps of uncombed gray. Her mouth, thin lines of faded red, lacked moisture.
Her eyes again. Glazed. Pupils big and black, death black, floating in a yellow bloodshot sea. She was searching for something. Not here.
There. Death was now coming into focus. She was trapped between two worlds and I wondered what she saw.
She jerked. Grinding sounds came from her throat, the air now like poison to her lungs. Her stomach heaved from the stretcher; her eyes rolled. She lifted her bony, naked arm to grasp the sterile white sleeve beside her, but her failing body was too weak to hold on. Her arm slid from the sleeve, floating recklessly, landing off the stretcher. It dangled, rocking back and forth like a limp pendulum swinging irregularly from an unexpected jolt.
They raced into a nearby room, doctors scrambled on both sides of her. Their frantic, muffled voices and the equipment’s shrieks tore through the walls. I said a prayer for her, but the storm was over. She was gone.
The waiting room, which had quieted since she was wheeled through the big double doors, remained without sound. Even the children sat still.
“Debbie,” a nurse said. I followed her into a clean, white (always white) room and watched as snow, misguided by the wind, hit the warm window, turning from a light flake into a heavy drop of water. It was another Alaska November, still early enough into winter I welcomed the snow, wanted it.
“Have a seat,” she said. “The doctor will be with you shortly.”
He wasn’t, but I was glad as I needed time to think. It was the first time I ever witnessed death. I was told it would be peaceful. White lights. Tunnels. But for her it wasn’t. Her eyes screamed at what she saw, but she couldn’t run, escape it. I didn’t understand – one moment she was there, frightened, alive, feeling, breathing, thinking. The next minute an empty shell. I cried.
I wondered where her family was and thought of my grandma who died in a nursing home, also with no family beside her. My grandma’s mind went first, and I assumed death was a friend to her. For months before she died she saw gypsies hiding watches in the curtain by her bed. She saw my mother when she looked at me. She didn’t always recognize her son. We went to her funeral, my Mom, Dad and I, but were the only ones there because we were the only ones who could make the trip from Arizona to Salt Lake City where she would be buried next to my grandpa. The grandpa I never knew, who died before my birth, my father still a child.
The three of us stood in an empty graveyard watching her coffin being lowered into the ground, falling leaves circling in slow motion around it. I was sorry no one lived nearby to check her grave, bring flowers.
I now realized that I felt sorrier for her after death than at death. I wondered how horrible it had been, to die alone. I wished someone had been there for her, to hold her hand, love her. I wished I’d sat by her bed, stroked her fevered head, whispered some kind of assurance. But instead she faced death, whatever that means, alone.
“Sorry you had to wait so long,” the doctor said coming into the room. “We had an emergency. A woman just died.”
“I know. I saw her as she was being wheeled off the ambulance. It must be very hard on you,” I said, wiping my tears. “It must be hard to keep working.”
“No, she was old,” the young doctor said. “There was nothing we could do to save her. Now if it was someone young like you with a whole life ahead of her – then I might cry. But she’d lived a long life. It was her time.”
He looked at my records, businesslike, putting on his glasses, turning page after page of my medical history. He reminded me of my then-husband, Chris, when he read the morning paper. He had the same intense look of someone deep in concentration – the furrowed brow, the unblinking gaze. I knew if I stood on my head and waved my arms he wouldn’t see me. Instead, I stared out the window, now streaked from melted snow. I thought about death and wondered if it was like the melting snowflake, just a change in form, a continuous cycle of different lives. I hoped so.
The doctor set down the papers and cleared his throat.
“I see you’re having menstrual problems,” he said taking off his black-rimmed glasses, staring at my face. “How long has this been going on?”
I told him about three weeks. At first it wasn’t heavy. Then it stopped, started again. Stopped. “Two days ago, it became so thick I had to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes and was passing clots, some the size of peas, some looked more like golf balls.” I was getting weak, dizzy.
“When people talk to me, sometimes I hear the words and understand what they mean, but I can’t link them together,” I explained. “Yesterday in class I couldn’t understand anything the instructor was saying. I left and nearly passed out while walking to my car. I don’t know how I got home, but I did.”
“Why didn’t you come in yesterday?” he asked.
“I just thought I was having a really weird period and was weakened by the heavy flow,” I said. “I just thought it would get better.”
I didn’t tell him Chris and I had plans and I was afraid if I came “yesterday” it would ruin them. I didn’t tell him I’d bought a $100 dress, spent a fortune on tickets to a dinner and had a sitter coming. I didn’t tell him I thought time away from the kids for an evening might save our dying marriage. I didn’t tell him the flow thickened throughout dinner, that I got sloppy drunk on two glasses of wine and embarrassed Chris by alternating between drunken slurs and high-pitched giggles. I didn’t tell him Chris had to take me home before the evening barely started. That I woke with a hangover and bloodstained sheets. It was easier to just say that I thought it would get better.
“Could you be pregnant?” he asked.
“No.” I was horrified at the thought. “I’m very careful.”
He didn’t believe me.
“I want to do a blood test just in case. It sounds like you either have fibroid tumors or are miscarrying.” He explained about fibroids while he filled out a lab slip and sent me to another part of the hospital where a woman took my blood. More blood. I sat in another room, this one empty, waiting for the results.
“Dear God, please don’t let me be pregnant,” I said softly. But I knew I was. I felt stupid for not realizing it sooner.
And I knew, right there, right then, my baby, what was left of it, was dying and I couldn’t do anything about it. “If you let my baby live, I’ll go to church. I’ll do anything. Please don’t let my baby die,” I cried.
I got up and paced the room. I didn’t even want a baby. Both girls were in school and, now, finally, so was I. I stayed home for eight years so I could raise a family, be there for them when they were toddlers. That part of my life was over. A baby was the last thing I wanted. But still, I didn’t wish my child’s death.
“I know I didn’t want a baby, but I want this one,” I said. “God, if you let me keep it I’ll do anything. I’ll quit school. Don’t give me a baby only to take it away. Don’t be so cruel.” I knew, however, it was already too late.
I raced to the bathroom wanting to look at the clots, wanting to see what would have been my child, say goodbye. I gasped in shock. The flow had stopped. It was over.
My baby was gone and I thought it my fault. They might have been able to stop it if I’d gone in sooner. And I hadn’t been eating right, and was drinking and giggling while it was dying. ALONE. I felt as though I murdered my child.
I remembered my friend, Kendra, who lost her baby a year earlier. I thought about how she must have felt as she carried hers for months before it died and she wanted it, really wanted it. I wondered if she blamed herself. But she had no reason to. It was the cat …
It clawed at her, tearing the flesh on her arms, hissing, arching, drawing blood and screams before running back to wherever it came from. She had to have about half a dozen shots in case it was rabid. “I don’t think it will hurt the fetus,” the doctor told her. A few weeks later she miscarried. She called me from the hospital. Then she never spoke of it again. It was too painful.
“I’m sorry,” I told my unborn child and wondered if it could hear me.
“Are you here?” I asked. I felt nothing. “Could you give me a sign that you hear, that you understand?” Nothing. Maybe I wasn’t pregnant, I thought. I decided it was best not to know, at least not now. I decided to make a run for it. But as I tore out of the bathroom, the nurse approached me.
“You may take this back to the doctor,” she said, handing me the lab results. I paused before looking at it. It read, “negative.”
“I think you already lost the baby,” the doctor told me. “You waited a long time before coming in. That’s why the test came back negative. You probably weren’t very far along, just a month or so. I want you to go to a gynecologist first thing in the morning.”
I went to the waiting room by the lab to grab my jacket and thought about the doctor. I wondered if he cried when a woman lost a developing child. Probably not. Not for a fetus. Where does he draw the line? When is a person too old, or too young, not to merit tears? I knew death was an everyday event to him. But, still, I didn’t like him. What did he know about losing a child, even one that was never wanted?
Walking back through the emergency room, I was shocked to see the covered corpse of the woman being wheeled to the elevator. People who were once chatting, waiting to be seen by a doctor, now stopped their conversations and stared at the form of the now-cold body. They were all new faces, not the ones that had witnessed her arrival.
A woman, middle-aged, stood nearby, her eyes swollen red, her face puffy. She boarded the elevator, too, and I wondered if it was the old woman’s daughter. I was glad she was there, glad she was crying. I watched as the doors closed, then turned to walk away.
“Look at the faces on those people,” the receptionist whispered to a nurse as I passed the station. “They’ve never seen a stiff before.” She laughed. I wanted to slap her, but instead ran out the door and into the parking lot, just glad to be out of the cold, medicinal atmosphere of the hospital.
Driving home, I watched as falling snow struck my truck’s window and wondered what I would tell Chris, and tears flowed at the thought of it. As I left for the hospital, I asked him to come, but he was watching a game on TV, still mad at me for ruining his evening.
I turned on my wipers, which beat the thickening snow from my windshield. The blades thumped as they raced back and forth thrashing at the snow.
They moved with ease, a strong and steady pendulum, sounding harsh compared to my irregular, soft sobs.