I read this piece and felt the scrappiness of my words. My full throttle effort to tell my story. I have gotten feedback over the years to slow the story down. Write each scene. Write each moment. Flesh out characters. Add authentic dialogue. And I agree. And when I read my words I see the story unfolding over and over. It is exhausting and so draining. I sure hope Oprah or the dreaded Reese Witherspoon finds me soon. Publish this story. I have more to write and more to share. This story is my limbo. Holding me here so that it won’t disappear. These words aren’t castaways.
I used to have sex. (“Used to” is that a Southern phrase? Well, Southerners don’t usually talk about sex. Or at least I don’t. Maybe I don’t have that kind of friends. I use “used to” too much. What does it even mean.) I went to yoga last night and yoga reminds me of sex. You have to be aware that you have a body in both activities. I think I avoid this idea most of my adult life. Well, not when I was pregnant. Which was a lot. Pretty much from March 1996 through November 2003. I birthed 5 kids in a row. Almost all on purpose. And I liked the way I looked pregnant. I was proud of my body being so great at being functional and doing what i had dreamed it would do since I was about 5. I had sex when I was pregnant. I had sex with Chad when I was married a lot. I try not to speak for Chad. I mean, if I could be married to a person and think I know him so well and think that we had a true marriage and that we would always be married and have it turn out that I was so totally mistaken then I cannot speak for him. I can’t pretend to know what he is thinking or feeling. I can’t. I know nothing. Maybe I have misjudged all of humanity. Maybe the world is upside down. Maybe the country that I grew up in, The united States of AMerica can elect Donald Trump. Everything I thought may be wrong. All that certainty I had is out the window with the baby and the bathwater. Given that I know nothing, I think Chad would say that he wanted to have sex more often. But one hears stories of married couples that never sleep together. That didn’t have sex for years. I mean, they started out their marriage having sex and then when the years passed, they quit. And at the time of their separation or divorce, they could say we hadn’t had sex in 3 years. Or 5 years. That wasn’t us. We had sex. Chad traveled a lot. But when he was in town we had sex. Twice a week. Not every week. Once a week. Three times a week. Less. More. I don’t know exactly. We had breaks like after babies were born. But I remember sex in walk in closets. In an empty dining room after moving into a new house and we didn’t have furniture yet. In tents. In hotels. I loved hotel sex. Clean white sheets. Fresher and thicker than the ones at home. Hotels when we were alone. Not worrying if kids would hear. Waking up and having sex. Having sex and then taking a hot shower and then having sex after a hot shower. I don’t know. It is now after the fact. Chad had affairs and I didn’t know. So I know nothing and yet I know or I thought that he loved me and there were times, years, days, that he loved my body and me. Given my flaws. He loved me unconditionally and that is how I have sex with someone. Unconditional love. He loved me and it was unconditional and yet, there is a separate story. The sex in unconditional love with complete openness to vulnerability is beautiful. It feels like a jacuzzi full of champagne. Fizzy, warm, deep purple, supernatural, solidifying love. We had this sex. We had this love. We had this comfort and wide open giving and the love that people write songs about and make movies about and dream about. The kind of love in a Nanci Griffith song or a movie Sleepless in Seattle or a book called A Man called Ove. (Audrey Hepburn pops into my mind. I don’t want her there. I fight to erase her but people post her fucking picture on facebook or I see her picture on a t shirt of a middle schooler. She haunts me. Friends have named their daughters after her. I used to think she was lovely. Her pearls. Her long neck. Her upswept hairdo. Her Uncief work. Her hair being brown instead of Barbieish. But now, she fills me with rage. When I read Chad’s emails last January, I was looking for evidence of the affair that I feared. I found it. He compared her to Audrey Hepburn. He fawned over their voices being similar. He said when he missed her he would watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s, so that he could be close to her. It does not escape me that Audrey Hepburn is skinny. Not a little skinny but a lot skinny. And I am not. Hailey is her name. The one who he likens to Audrey Hepburn. The one he slept with. They had sex in hotels.) On the nights I doubted his unconditional love, I didn’t feel wide open. I avoided vulnerability. When my breasts were kissed, I didn’t feel a champagne hot tub. My breasts felt like a tooth with a cavity scared that the cold might ignite a flash of pain that makes one even avoid ice cream. My body felt fear. My body wanted a shield. I wanted to ignore the doubts and trust the love that gave me peace and 6 children and painted houses and redid floors and worked crazy hard hours to provide for us. I trusted that love. I trusted that man. And yet, there were nights when I curled up in a ball and pretended to sleep when he came in late from the airport and a week in Portland or New york or Laguna. I must have known something. He let me think there was something not right with my level of desire. He let me think that my reluctance to be vulnerable was a personal problem not a consequence of his actions. But we will never know. Which came first. My grandmother was a royal bitch. She delighted in her unhappiness and possibly others unhappiness. My Big Daddy drank too much until the whites next to his blue eyes flooded yellow and his skin went from olive to sallow. My grandmother ended up having Alzheimers and that is probably why she was angry and mean and unhappy but at the time we didn’t know. Was she awful because he drank? Did he drink because she was awful? Did her mind go because she had filled it with so many negative thoughts that it finally gave up? Was she mean because she couldn’t think? We just don’t know. And it is probably a combination. Chicken or egg?
Did the sex change when I faintly remembered him whispering someone else’s name as we fell asleep after sex. When I was drifting off I thought I heard Courtney. When I woke up I wondered if that was possible. When I found an extra sock in his hotel laundry. A woman’s sock. Was that when I starting fearing vulnerability? I was angry at him then. I was angry because he was wrong about how to keep Addy alive. He thought I was giving her too much attention. That her disease was getting attention and in his behaviorist leaning mind, he decided that the disease grew stronger when I paid attention to Addy. I held her by the fire in my lap. She read thick paperback after thick paperback of the Twilight series. And I held her frail body. Her own body was so starved it was eating her heart and she was dying right in our own tv room. Right there by the fire in the yellow house on Barry Street. While Mim was learning to crawl and Dolly was learning to read and George was playing rec soccer with long flowing curls and BeBe was perfecting her handstand and Tuck was navigating his first year in middle school in Decatur, Addy was dying in our den. And I was having fear that I had never experienced in my life. Fear of the death of my child. She didn’t die. We found the right hospitals and we with UCSD saved her. But in this moment, my marriage license got a rip in it. January of 2009. I found the sock in the dryer. I thought I heard him say Courtney in my ear. And the sex changed. There was less tenderness. I remember the bedroom in that house. It was painted a deep blue. The fireplace where Addy warmed her frozen 12 year old bones in the tv room, the fireplace was two sided and the other side was in our bedroom. We had a king size bed. Mim slept with us. The room was large for us and had french doors that led to a deck. The bathroom was large and this part of the house was an addition. We rented the house on Barry Street from a guy named Kelly. He claimed to be traveling but he might have been in jail some for hitting his girlfriend. He wasn’t paying his mortgage. Our rent money was going to him but he wasn’t paying his house payments so the bank foreclosed. We needed to find a new house asap. We needed a house where 6 kids would fit and money was so fucking tight and Addy needed a hospital and Mim needed to be held and the other kids needed a mom who could be present and the oven broke right before Christmas and three of the girls got lice. Mim had lead poisoning from an unknown source. The doctors hypothesized it was from the soil being tracked in on kids shoes. I cleaned. I held Mim so no particle of dirt could touch her. I held her because the vision specialist said to wear her in a front pack so that she could experience as much as possible visually and not isolate herself. I cleaned the hard wood floors so that she could be on the floor for tummy time or crawling or creeping because the physical therapist said she needed more practice so that she could learn to walk. She was one and not hitting any milestones yet. I did everything they said. The doctors, the physical therapist, the elementary school teachers, the neighbors, the psychologists, the nutritionists, the psychiatrists. I fed Addy religiously. More heavy cream in everything. I held Mim. I was her eyes and her voice and her legs. I combed lice out of beautiful heads of thick long hair. I washed particles of invisible lead filled dirt off hardwood floors. I cooked homemade food so that Addy couldn’t look up calorie content. I walked the kids to school and prayed that Addy didn’t disappear for a run while I said good morning to the crosswalk lady. She ran off the heavy cream in her cheese grits. I tried not to worry like the neighbors said. You should be happy. She looks as beautiful as a model. I washed stuffed animals and put them in trash bags for weeks to kill the lice. I found a sock that wasn’t ours in the wash. I questioned Chad. He innocently said that he had no idea. Maybe it was my cousin’s socks. They had visited for xmas. Maybe it was a visiting friend of the girls. Maybe it was my mom’s. But it wasn’t. And I felt crazy for creating a whole scenario from a sock in the dryer. Can you leave your husband when your child is dying over a sock? Is this how life works? 12 years of bliss and now a sock and anorexia and it all over. I must be crazy. I decided the sock was my mom’s. I decided he didn’t say Courtney as he fell asleep after sex. I decided to find Addy the best hospital in the world to get her better. To keep our baby alive. And in between I found another house to rent. I would rush the kids into the van. At least the younger ones. Tuck and BeBe could stay home alone. We would drive around and look for Addy who we would eventually find running down the street with a limp. Her hip was fractured because of bone weakness due to the starving. She was almost 13. It was unreal. I didn’t know this happened to people. Especially with a parent like myself. I was great with kids. I had a masters in special education. I was incredibly sensitive to my children’s needs. I read parenting books. I read how not to turn your beautiful child into a Barbie, how to avoid screen time, how to thrive in nature with your children. I knew about the moms who were crazy with their young teens and pushed diets and fitting in and push up bras. I avoided all the pitfalls. And I still fell down the rabbit hole. I wondered incessantly, how did this happen to us? Chad and I were awesome parents. Breastfeeding. Co sleeping. Tackling every problem with consistent redirection and love. We were like rock star parents and rockstar husband and wife. We didn’t fight. We didn’t need to. We worked things out calmly and lovingly because we were both sensitive empathetic lovers. And now this. Of all the people we knew this was so unfair and uncalled for. What about the mom we knew that slapped their kids hands when they went to get a snack. Or the moms who spent hours at the gym instead of playing in parks and reading aloud. It just didn’t make any sense. Why do bad things happen to good people? How did my sweet baby get a disease that was killing her and no one cared like they would if had she had cancer. No dinners were brought to the house. No one visited her in the hospital. No teddy bears. No balloons. I was supposed to hide this disease. I was supposed to keep secrets. My child was dying and I was heartbroken. And Chad thought I was paying her too much attention.
He didn’t want me to sleep with her in the hospital. He thought I should be home for the other 5 kids.
He stopped reassuring me.
The yoga makes me have this epiphany. Oh here you are. On this mat, it is you. This body is you. You are more than your body and yet yep. This is you. You have been here all along. This body that miraculously made babies and carried them and growed them and nursed them. I remember Addy getting to be about 9 months old and close to 20 pounds and she didn’t ever like baby food and she had just drank my milk and it occurred to me my milk has nourished this human. I did this. What a feeling of power and powerlessness. (Don’t worry I don’t look down on mothers who can’t or don’t nurse. I lasted 6 weeks with Dolly. This motherhood thing is incredible and I have been humbled way too many times to espouse opinions and truths and condemnations.) But that feeling or realization that this sweet baby girl came from a body and was fed by my body and carried and adored by this skin and bones. I was amazed. I had cursed this body. Your stomach needs sucking in. Your breasts need to be lifted by a miracle bra. Your legs lack length and what are legs without length. And these stretch marks are marking you as no longer worthy of desire. How will the overlap of skin and pudge on your lower belly ever retreat? I have dreaded my own appearance and envied others worthiness of popular worship. And yet I know a secret. I have power. This body is fucking spectacular. If judged by function, I see my body did exactly what I dreamed it could. And I couldn’t be more flushed with pride and strength. I can’t do a plank. My arms won’t rise behind my back. I hate running even the idea of it makes me cramp. And the world sees me and a runner and sees the power and beauty of the sleek. But I know my body is fucking wicked awesome at mothering. Not just pregnancy and birthing but the raising of children. This body has cushioned so many heads. My shoulders have lifted sleeping children past toddlerhood out of car seats in the way back of a 12 passenger van so swiftly and steadily that the child woke up in my bed hours later none the wiser. These legs have wrapped around frozen feet and warmed those piggies. These breasts that were unremarkable soothed colicky babies in the witching hour and through endless nights. These hands have braided hair and fed mouths and filled out a million duplicate forms with ever careful handwriting and wiped bums and buckled shoes and carseats. But during yoga, I get overwhelmed with the fact that my body is mine and longs for touch. The waking up of each tiny vertebrae and muscle arouses my heart, mind and soul into wanting. And I feel so lost. What did Chad not see? How did someone else meet him where I didn’t? He made me doubt my body. I doubted that my body was appreciated by my lover. This was before I knew that he had cheated. Or maybe I did know. Right? I mean I saw the sock. I hear him say Courtney. (Actually, he called out Hailey. But I have a name obsession and in the morning when I woke up from my slumber induced by warm sex, I remembered the name Courtney. Same generationl and genre of a name. Courtney, Hailey. My brain switched the two. I tried over the years to explain that if Chad wanted sex or vulnerability, his way in was conversation. Flying in late at night and falling into bed smelling of alcohol after a week or two of travel wasn’t the warming up I was looking for. Now, I know that he spent the trips distracted and lying. And I assume some of my hesitation was that my underneath knew that vulnerability was dangerous. Unlocking this body that had mothered and rushed and nourished 6 children alone during the week, felt so risky. I wanted tenderness of word and subtle pulling in toward him after a week of being on separate coasts. I thought about movies where couples were reunited and passion exploded. I thought I should be that girl in a movie pulling off his buttondown with disregard to the buttons. But more and more I hoped I was asleep when he got home at midnight on Friday. I had just gotten to bed and I had carpooled middle schoolers and patted Mim for hours (I’m not exaggerating. Her disability makes falling asleep difficult and I pat her across my legs until she releases her death hold on alertness.) I had listened to the latest injustice of grades or coaches or rumors and I had fed brownies and pizza to more than my own tribe. Because that is what I like to do and that is what mothering requires. Throw in a high school football game and soothing a darting screaming Mim from metal bleachers and full throttle high school fans. And by the end of Friday night, I lay on my side under a down comforter and a heavy wool afghan and I curl up tight. I lock my legs and hope that the quiet hums of our small condo envelope me with a little nothing. No soothing. No talking. No monitoring for beer on high schoolers breath and no anxiety from highly sensitive kids. Just nothing. So when midnight comes and Chad has ubered home, I’m hoping for nothing. And my legs tense, as he lifts the covers to join me. And by the end, he fell asleep. He stopped asking on those return trips. He passed out from cocktails served in first class and possibly sleepless nights with people with names like Courtney. I have to remind me not to guess what he did or what he thought or what he no longer wanted from me. But we still had sex. That is one of the things that nags me. Why did he not just walk away? Why did he bother taunting my self confidence? I got nothing and I came to want nothing but there were years where I longed for tenderness for reassurance. That had changed since the sock and the Twilight book nights and the first hospitalization. He stopped reassuring me. When I panicked about lice and the foreclosure forcing us to find a new rental in a tight market and Mim’s lead poisoning, he stopped saying it will be ok. We will do it together. We can do anything together. Loneliness started creeping in in the corners of our blue bedroom, on either side of the fireplace. Love lived in our house. Love for our children and our family oozed love and yet the security was evaporating. We had 12 years of deliciousness and when things go well, it made me feel like a success. I was a good wife and good mother, and partner, a confidant, a lover. But once Addy’s life was tenuous, security became tenuous. Our confidence started unraveling. Maybe he couldn’t reassure because he no longer knew if it was all going to be ok.
When I had Addy at 24 and not quite married, I was bolstered by what a damn easy and good baby she was. We were on cloud 9. Living in Santa Barbara. We referred to it as paradise. Walking a sweet little sunkissed baby girl in a drop dead gorgeous carriage of navy and white gingham, I felt higher than a princess. I had my dreams coming true and I was sure of my talent as a mother and my worth as a love to Chad. And when Tuck came and had colic some of my pride and security was questioned. Are you sure you are an outrageously awesome mom if your little baby boy cries a lot? I faltered a tiny bit. But Tuck outgrew the colic and we handled his intensity with lots of consistency and BeBe came and that sweet little brown haired girl was like a baby from a text book. When she was hungry or tired she cried and when she wasn’t she was a spunky little dreamboat of joy. And Tuck started reading at two and George came in like a chubby little cherub and he rivaled Addy’s easiness. Dolly followed right away and her colic matched her feathery fiery red baby hair. But by then, I was a champ of motherhood and marriage. We were such a picture of the revelry of joy that comes with young children and true love. I never had a doubt that it would end. I felt confident that Chad and I would grow old together in rocking chairs with grandbabies and sweet iced tea. I had no idea that challenges more than preschool waiting lists and tight budgets awaited me. I had a solid rock foundation in my little growing family and I was over the moon. We bought small houses in fabulous neighborhoods outside of DC and we decorated with tiny budgets and dressed our babies from trunk shows and Gap clearance. I can’t explain the glory I felt. The sheer happiness. This had been my dream since kindergarten. Babies and little houses and a doting husband. We even had a picket fence with a climbing rose bush and a bursting hydrangea. We had a dutch door.
I loved it. I thought Chad did, too.
Time flew and we decided to move to Hilton Head South Carolina to be by my parents. My dad had prostate cancer and we missed the ocean that had made our first days of parenthood so glorious. South Carolina wasn’t California. The Atlantic isn’t the Pacific. We moved there and lived with my parents for 9 months to save money and buy a house. Dolly dogs and my parents being incredibly generous welcomed us. It was a hard year. Chad and I were swallowing pride and starting over. He helped my dad who was a contractor and taught school and bartended. Soon he got a professor job at USC Columbia. And we bought a cookie cutter house to get out of my parents house and then we found a fishing cottage right next to the May River and it felt like we were back on track. We bumped right over that rough spot.
Later the same day
I skipped a part about Addy and mental illness or facing death or supervising a suicidal child or watching her starve to death. My experience at this point is deep. It started in 2009. August. We are in Disney renting some crazy three story home with a pool enclosed in a huge humid bubble and a disenchanting version of Nemo and Dory are painted on the walls. The famous fish never turn out exactly like the movie characters because wall muralists for suburban homes aren’t Disney animators. And I had frozen grapes. Frozen grapes for my 12 year old on vacation at Disney. What do 12 year olds eat on vacation- Ding Dongs and Doritos? Well, I had zeroed in on the fact that she would eat frozen grapes. The foods she wasn’t restricting were dwindling rapidly. I was feeling scared, weird and alone. No one else on the planet seemed worried about my drop dead gorgeous 12 year old who was looking more like a SUPER MODEL AND LESS LIKE A MIDDLE SCHOOLER. Michelle Obama was rolling out how to get your obese child moving and I was freezing grapes hoping that I wouldn’t wake up and see her pajama pants gape at her hips which had appeared the year before and disappeared over the summer. All I heard was about her beauty.
I was used to that. She was a beautiful infant. Her head was perfectly round. People asked if she had been a c section because her newborn head was so sweetly un cone like. And I was scolded in grocery stores to put sunscreen on my blond haired blue eyed daughter because her skin tanned like an Italian. I had put sunscreen all over my new pure baby. Her skin just turned golden on her own. She was a Gerber baby. A sweep of curl. Cheeks lifted with her quiet smile and wide spread eyes to rival Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. She was just gorgeous and we knew it. She didn’t cry. Hardly at all. We held her constantly and followed Dr. Sears and attachment parenting advice. Her mama baby group was called mamatoto and we met on actual cliffs covered in green grass planted by rich gardeners. The cliffs were back yards to houses belonging to new mothers in Santa Barbara where she was born. The house and cliff I remember best was Carrie Ann’s. She had named her daughter Brenna. Her husband was an orthodontist but they didn’t get this house by putting on braces. She had modeled and he had created an online service for rich parents seeking the most well respected cosmetic dentists and orthodontists. At the time, this online directory did not meet my understanding. Why would anyone need this or use this? I was 24 and barely out of braces myself and it made no sense that the world wide web would find you an orthodontist. In Nashville, where I grew up, you got orthodontists from your next door neighbor or a fellow high school student. How an amazing luxurious cream colored stucco house- a casita on the grandest scale- could be bought with a maker of a website was beyond me. Dark wood and fireplaces and Mission porch furniture framing the Pacific. We overlooked a pristine swath of difficult to access beach hidden from Highway 1 and tourists. When their request for an addition or renovation was denied by the county building commission, the beautiful home mysteriously burned to the ground. All of us new moms gossipped over breastmilk. I guess orthodontists and models get what they want when they want it. They were always nice to me. I got into this group by appearing at a prenatal yoga class by Frida up by the Mission in Santa Barbara. I showed up at maybe three months pregnant. I wasn’t showing but I thought I was. I wore a huge t shirt to fool them into thinking I needed maternity clothes. It was the time that maternity clothes were still worn but it was becoming more chic to squeeze into your old clothes. Tighter was better. Oh my goodness, I had this short belly shirt that was a fake cashmere sweater and i wore it once with a big huge baby tummy with maternity leggings that were burgundy velour. I felt like a touchable beauty overflowing with child. I felt good. It was also cool to dress in your husband’s oxford cloths but those weren’t meant to be tight. Those were supposed to billow gracefully and only pull slightly around the growing bosoms. I could pull that off. Chad was big enough to have a size of oxford cloth that worked for the first three pregnancies. I joined this exercise class. I wasn’t married and I wanted to be a part of a club and in my eyes, this was the coolest club ever. I mean, I wanted to make the cheerleading team in 8th grade at St. Henry’s and I wanted to make the glee club in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade and never got in. I auditioned three times with religious hymns or once a song from Mary Poppins and Ms. Voltz still didn’t let me in that fucking glee club. After auditioning three times, you would think that she would have given me a mercy admission and a floor length red and white checkered tablecloth skirt, but no. That Catholic school music teaching hussy- She wore these flowy seventies dresses and neglected to cut her long hair when it was the eighties already not the seventies. Did she have no heart? But now, I was in. I was drinking chlorophyll colored evergreen water and rolling my babymaking hips on a yoga mat and hearing birth stories and reading books about non medicated 87 hour labors and home births and vbacs and clogged ducts or chapped nipples. And it felt like redemption. I was redeemed. I was cool. I was living my dream. I was pregnant and in California. And I was loved. I wasn’t married but I was loved. I was walking on air and Chad was blowing a little invisible raft under my swollen feet so that no little pebbles hurt his love or our love child. We did it on purpose. We got pregnant on purpose. He and I agreed it was a great plan. Make love or have sex and grow a sweet little cherub and see where it goes. Just love each other and love that baby and what could be better. Best plan I ever made. What could be more important in this great big world? Just love and make babies and walk on the beach in between. We were 24 year old teachers with fancy but solid educations and good heads on our shoulders and bleeding hearts and sun in our eyes. It was paradise.
But now I am freezing grapes in Orlando Florida. The mother of 6. And not understanding my husband was a common happenstance. We couldn’t remember our great plans and Swiper from Dora had come and swiped our ability to dran (our word for a dream and a plan put together). Our hopes were backpedaling. Something was wrong with our blue eyed blond hair first born. “Grapes have too much sugar.” She said as she brushed on by me at a breakfast bar counter of a rental house. My twelve year old said grapes have too much sugar. She probably didn’t eat anything that day walking around Disney all day while the other kids begged for fries and strangely large hotdogs. Her brain had fallen off a cliff. This cliff was higher than the one outside of Carrie Ann’s brand new mansion above the Pacific. There was no water as a safety net. Nothing but death under this cliff.
Later Addy would be admitted to UCSD eating disorder recovery program and we would gather on plush brown sofas to learn how to assist the team in keeping our children alive. Doctor Kaye at UCSD explained to me and a group of desperate God forsaken parents with the use of a wipe board that our kids had fallen off a cliff. And food was their lifeline. And we were to walk this tightrope alongside them. Once a person with the genes to become anorexic falls below their individual set point, their chemistry has gone off a cliff. From this point forward, Addy will feel a rush of fight or flight hormones when presented with food or the idea of food or anything triggering like a body conscious ad or a sibling on the beach in a bikini. Or a runner on the sidewalk. And Chad and I want to get this disease away from her. I make a plan. I will get her eating and I will rid the world of triggers. I will eat, sleep and breathe eating disorder treatment. Watch me. I can do this and she will live. I will post billboards. Addy is sick. Stop talking about skinny. Stop dieting. Stop cleansing. Stop preaching healthy because it is killing my child. But Chad is vegetarian and he is losing weight. The weight is running off his body and leaving puddles on the sidewalks as he and Addy bond over endorphins and shared experience. And I am feeling alone in my war on society and the skinny ones and anorexia. I am waging a war to keep my child alive and Chad is coping differently. He is running and losing weight and eating salads. Twelve years earlier, when I met up with him in Ca, he and his friends ate roasted sweet potatoes for snacks. They may have called them yams. They would sit in cleanly decorated living rooms with oversized white couches and chair and a halfs and eat whole sweet potatoes fresh out of the oven wrapped in aluminum foil. His vegetarianism wasn’t new or extreme. But Addy’s recommended diet was extreme. Heavy whipping cream hidden in everything. Trips to the grocery store were scavenger hunts. What yogurt still has fat? Which cream cheese can be hidden in her grits? Which ice cream has the most calories in the smallest serving? I was going up the down escalator. I was swimming upstream. I was sitting in first class on the airplane and I was fighting the aisles to get back to the restroom in the rear of the plane right after the seatbelt sign is turned off at landing. Bags are being removed from bins. People are crowding the aisles while they call love ones and I am forcing myself past each body in between chairs nailed to the ground. My life was opposite day and I was the only one in it and if I didn’t succeed, I would forever know that Addy had died because I didn’t do enough. It was that grim. Keep Addy alive was my mantra.
(Now, I know parents that have lost their precious babies to anorexia and suicide and drugs either all at once or separately. Some of you will put this book down and go back to Kumon or tennis or the mall because you don’t live in this world of real tragedy. Of the waking up and flying to your child’s room afraid that you fell asleep and you aren’t sure if you hid all the sharp objects well enough. You are too busy filling out your baby’s college application to slowly heal and scar. Ms. Voltz probably picked you for glee club and you stood on the risers singing in harmony “ He will raise you up on Eagle’s Wings” while I sat on the bleachers with the siblings and teachers and parents feeling shame. You think cheerleading is a worthwhile sport. Put this book down and run. You don’t need to be here. And if you do read it will just be to gawk or spread rumours which you had already decided are truth. I don’t want you to read my story. You only bought my book to view. Not empathize. ) When I say that if Addy had died I would have felt the guilt of a hundred mothers I don’t mean that I should I just mean that that is my crazy. I was sure as I saw her going down the rabbit hole, that if Addy died, I wouldn’t live to raise the other kids. I’m not sure I can explain the fear. But I knew I had to do anything and everything to protect her from death so that I could still be me. The mom. I’m well aware that I am lucky that Addy is alive when so many others have died. In complete and utter sadness and pure unfairness. Life is way too hard and we know it. We aren’t on the risers. We aren’t in the land of normal. We are crawling through the hell of childhood disease. And Chad and I didn’t see eye to eye. My healthy vegetarian running behaviorist husband was on one path and I was trudging on and we intersected like bumper cars. Bam. shocking disagreement and no practice at arguing or differing. Bam. Who was that? Keep Addy alive. Avoid the other cars. Just duck and jerk the steering wheel and feed her. Don’t let her die. Chad worked more and traveled more or maybe it was the same amount but it felt like more. The world thought he was right. They let me know in tiny ways. “Chad looks great. How much weight has he lost?” “Don’t worry so much about Addy. She looks like a supermodel.” “I see Addy and Chad running all the way over by my house. They look so cute running together.” “Why can’t Addy be on the cross country team anymore?” Even Michelle Obama was plotting against me. I fucking voted for her and now she was out there contributing to the downfall of my family and the sickness of my child.
I get that this is not reality. Michelle Obama and the executives at Yoplait aren’t out to get me. But I was entrenched in keeping Addy alive and raising the other babies that I love so much. I wasn’t sure if I was doing all this on my own or if Chad and I were together. I was clear on being old with him in rocking chairs overlooking oceans or sailing on a little boat he made. But I was angry that he was part of the world and I was a part of the disease. He had a job that involved hotels in New York and my job involved looking in her sleeves for half chewed food that desperately needed to be in her gut. Or berating pediatricians who didn’t even know that she hid screws in her training bra to add weight onto their scale, while he effortlessly charmed flight attendants. I was crazy. So crazy I decided that a sock in my dryer was an affair and then I decided it wasn’t a sign.