Saturday, July 24, 2010

Seeking Sanctuary

When life becomes too much, I read. Cracking open a book has always been a respite. Turning the pages and becoming lost in a story provides the room to breathe and regroup. The last few days have not been good ones. I’ve regressed to retreat and hide mode. Historically, churches have provided sanctuary to those who request it, and lately I have spent a lot of time knocking on the covers of books and seeking sanctuary. I’m inching through the days and I’m pretty sure I’m teetering on the brink of depression, rocking back and forth on the edge, and doing my best not to tumble over.

I’m reading books as if consuming words as fast as I can, until I become stuffed and sick with stories, will rescue me. My head is so full of sorrow I cannot abide there anymore so I am packing up and moving into books. Right after Charlotte died I had a really hard time reading and I couldn’t focus on anything. I really wanted to read, to escape, but the text overwhelmed me.

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On May 26th I wrote this in my personal journal:

Where is the comfort, books? Why can’t I get lost in a good story, or even a stupid one? I start to read, my eyes lose focus and I go somewhere else for a while. Thirty seconds, two minutes, or five minutes later I snap back to reality and realize I’ve been reading the book, flipping pages, moving through chapters, but I haven’t processed anything. I find this spacing out completely disturbing. I don’t know where I go or what happens during the time I am there. Is my brain processing my horrific loss when I lose focus and stare into space? It happens when I am alone and when I am with people. No one has commented on it yet. I don’t know if they haven’t noticed or if they are too polite to say anything. I am never aware it is happening. Throughout the day I have moments where I will suddenly come to, as if I am awakening from a quick nap, and I’ll realize I have no recollection of the past few seconds or minutes.

Followed by this entry on June 26th

I can finally read again. I do lose track of the story, I do get confused about plot lines and characters, but if the books are simple I can usually muddle through. I keep trying to read literature, but before too long I find myself staring into space and realize I have no awareness of what I am reading.

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Now, in late July, words are holding me together. From text, mine and others, I am constructing a new life and building a path to an as yet unknown destination. I am limping along, and when the limping turns into crawling I give up and escape to a book. The past few days I haven’t even attempted to limp, or tried to pull myself to my feet. I am full out, no shame, crawling. In the weeks since Charlotte died I have learned that sometimes life is more manageable from the ground, and I will try anything to gain a little perspective. (Belly crawling may follow. I'll let you know).

The books I’m reading right now are not the type I usually gravitate to. The plots are easy, the ends concluded within the first few pages, but I can’t focus on complicated stories. I need the simple, the sitcom type of book where everything is stitched up nicely at the end even though life never pans out that way. In real life every hard time that comes along doesn’t conclude with a laugh track and everyone hugging happily. In my world babies die despite a normal pregnancy and labor. That doesn’t sit comfortably with me (or anyone, really) so I read stories where good things happen despite incredible odds. I read novels about grief and loss and mock the smooth transition from devastated wreck to pieced together individual in 250 pages.

Who are these fictional characters who can heal, even regenerate, in such a short time? Why can’t what has happened to me be fiction? Why did I get picked to narrate this particular story? It doesn’t seem fair, but then, right now, nothing seems fair, or sane. There is no sense to what has happened to me. And, yes, this happened to me. I did not anticipate it, or ask for it. There was no foreshadowing. There was ascent: anticipation, joy, labor; then climax: birth, the infant struggles, the world halts for a moment; then descent: an infant on a gurney, in a helicopter, in an incubator, then dead. The arc of story always ends with resolution, but from here, in these early days, resolution seems relegated to story alone.

I was worried my daughter would not like to read. I was worried about her love of books when I should’ve been worried about whether or not she would live. Stupid, na├»ve me. I won’t make that mistake again. I can’t even remember when I learned to read. Family legend places me at four years old. I know I learned around the same time as my older sister. I was mostly self taught because I was too eager to wait, so I still, to this day, cannot pronounce words correctly. My mother tried to go back and teach me how to sound out words, but it was too late. I’m hauling a BA in Writing/Literature around and I can’t pronounce philosophical; it trips me up every time so I have ceased to use it. Better to erase words from my vocabulary than stand perpetually blushing at a party while people stare and wait for me to finish a sentence, or try to puzzle out what exactly came out of my mouth, and how it fits with the context of what I was saying because it’s not a word they have heard before.

I can’t face the world right now. Looking ahead to August and September has left me feeling petrified. I’m staring down the anniversaries, the days when I went off birth control, conceived Charlotte, told my hairdresser (before I took the test or told anyone else) I thought I was pregnant, found my fabulous midwives, and announced to the world I was going to have a baby. In August I should have a three month old. In September I should have a four month old. None of this makes sense. I don’t understand what has happened to me. Everything was fine, and then it wasn’t, and it happened so quickly I just can’t catch up. Each time I relive her birth, her death, I start to grasp what happened and then something, some evil thing or person, picks me up and tosses me back to the beginning, and I have to start all over again.

I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted and I can’t cope and I need to get away for a little while. I’m retreating with books, because I’ve always considered reading a fundamental part of me, and it has helped me cope before. There were days, weeks, months even, when I didn’t think I would make it through high school. I read book after book, one, sometimes two a day, and I made it through. One day I woke up, high school was over, and I never had to go back. I know there is no waking from this. I know I will always be a bereft mama whose daughter died less than two hours after birth. Those words are forever etched into the massive stone I now carry on my shoulders. But books allow me hours without feeling the weight of that stone. Books give me the chance to step outside of my circumstances until I have the strength to stop crawling, pick myself up, and begin seeking resolution once more.

Where do you seek sanctuary?

5 comments:

  1. Holy frickin moley. If you wander on over to my blog I just wrote about my love for reading tonight. I even suggested a book some of you might be in to.

    Yes, reading is my sanctuary. I would be completely LOST with out it. I take a book almost everywhere I go. Reading is like food to me. I wouldn't make it very long without books. (magazines, newspapers, subway ads even, will do in a pinch).

    Seems you and I are on the *same page*. Get it??! Oh I'm so "punny" tonight.

    ReplyDelete
  2. 'Where is the comfort, books?'

    Oh Angela. I felt this too. As though my very oldest and dearest friends had deserted me when I needed them most. Because suddenly I couldn't read.

    But it did come back. I finally finished reading 'Vanity Fair' which is the book I picked out when I went in to labour with the girls. I knew there were going to be tough times ahead and I wanted Mr. Thackeray with me.

    I think I know what you mean about the 'sitcom' style book. Whilst J was still in hospital I read every word that Jilly Cooper has ever written, all of the Twilight books, anything that was on a best seller list with a pink and sparkly cover. Books where the good get rewarded and the bad get their punishments. Which at once reassured and angered me because I couldn't quite make recent events fit into either of those categories.

    Increasingly, I find that there is no sanctuary. My life seems to have become a process of being 'tossed back to the beginning', trying to drag sense and structure out of G's death, an event which, inherently, does not make sense. But, two years later, I do spend a lot less time belly crawling and a whole lot more time standing on my feet, I promise.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Getting lost in a good book is sometimes just we need...a nice break from reality. Reading only brings back some of the pain for me right now though. Pre-Bailey's death, it was "our" time...I read every night before going to bed when I was pregnant with her. Now, I just read my first book since her death, only yesterday.

    My sanctuary lately has been the treadmill at the gym. The hour to hour and a half that I spend at the gym, gives me my "me" time. It allows me to think...it allows me to push myself...and it allows me to do something that makes me feel good about myself, when other times I am so angry. It's the time that I have to make myself get up, dust myself off, and just go. And afterwards, I can keep "walking" or I can go back to the good ole "crawling" if I so choose.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think my sanctuary right now is writing out our lost babies names in magnets (I'll do it for Charlotte too). The only books I can concentrate on are ones about losing a baby or ones where something really terrible happens (like the holocaust). I haven't picked up the Lawrence Hill book I was reading when I found out that Jacob died. I want to, but haven't been able to yet. I was reading it in the waiting room before my appointment when my doctor couldn't find his heartbeat, carried it around waiting for the ultrasound and saw it on the windowsill of the room he was born. I'm just not ready for it yet. Who ever thought that reading one book could be such a major hurdle? I always used to get lost in books too and didn't/don't go anywhere without something to read in my purse.

    The part you wrote about drifting off into a day dream when reading or when talking to people...I can relate to that. I still do it quite often, especially if I am with a group of people. One on one conversations I can manage most of the time, but even then I constantly have to tell myself to focus on the conversation. It happens on "good" days (where I'm not constantly on the verge of tears) and bad days.

    I wish I could take your pain again, I wish Charlotte was in your arms right now. I wish, I wish, I wish.....

    ReplyDelete
  5. Getting lost in a good book is sometimes just we need...a nice break from reality. Reading only brings back some of the pain for me right now though. Pre-Bailey's death, it was "our" time...I read every night before going to bed when I was pregnant with her. Now, I just read my first book since her death, only yesterday.

    My sanctuary lately has been the treadmill at the gym. The hour to hour and a half that I spend at the gym, gives me my "me" time. It allows me to think...it allows me to push myself...and it allows me to do something that makes me feel good about myself, when other times I am so angry. It's the time that I have to make myself get up, dust myself off, and just go. And afterwards, I can keep "walking" or I can go back to the good ole "crawling" if I so choose.

    ReplyDelete

thank you!

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