Infertility 

Ellis Island hospital

Graciously bestowing 
You spilled your precious seed
Upon my barren ground
Ignorant and unknowing
An unfulfilled wanton need
Your attempt at marking 
A territory unfound
Traversing the open sea

The ownership unclaimed
My body left untamed
Believing you were deceived
I’m naked beneath the gown
Empty loss echoes down 
Long abandoned corridors
Infertility finally decreed
By the sterile orators 

Devoid of progeny 
The solemn sodomy
Repeats itself again
Another painful bleed
An unwelcome visitor
Testifing silently
Before the Inquisitor
Sounding the final amen

A viscous self loathing
Clogs the rusted plumbing
Magnified through your eyes
Value is forever drowned
Held down by a flood of lies
I’m merely something to breed
A conduit for birthing
Your immortality 

Worn

Interior, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Every year around this date I especially find myself marveling at love…

Love that is gained and lost, and found again. Love that is unrequited and unrewarded and yet still persists. Love that claws its way through the heart and lodges itself there against all logic and stays regardless of physical presence or absence. Love that endures despite being utterly spent, never quite reaching the point where it simply cannot love anymore. 

Lonely love.

Brilliant love.

Eternal love.

For over twenty years I have loved this love. At times gingerly, even tentatively, and at other times fiercely and with conviction. Is it more valuable for bearing all of the scars and scuff marks, the wear and tear of time and hurt? Is it more precious for simply surviving?

Perhaps….

But then, all love is precious. 

Getting the Worm

Flowers in the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Mommy? Can I go potty?” 

Her voice pulled me out of a deep sleep in the midst of a nightmare about a movie set with Nicole Kidman and a patient who ran a telephone ministry dial-a-prophetess line. The movie was to be a psychological thriller. The prophetess had just robbed me of money and souvenirs I had pilfered from the set. I am not sure what a dream like that says about my life right now…

“Sure, baby. You don’t even have to ask, you know.” I have lost count of how many I times I’ve said this to her. 

“Ok!” 

I heard her skip down the hall to the bathroom. I glanced over at the clock. 3AM. I would have groaned out loud but that would have taken too much energy.

A minute or two later…

“Mommy, I wiped but I didn’t flush because I didn’t want to wake anyone up.”

“Thanks, sweetie. Go on back to bed.”

“Ok!”

And I heard her skip back down the hall to her bedroom.

Sleep? For me, it was gone. Just like that I was turned into the early bird. Too bad I don’t like worms.

Split 

Room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

Shadows watched from the corners of the room… ever present, ever vigilant. 

She waited.

Footsteps in the hallway. Raucous laughter. 

The door flung open and he stumbled in, drunk, clinging to the arm of a woman.

Who was it this time? 

It was hard to see clearly in the dim light. 

Her.

Their eyes met for a long moment. Silent words passing between them. Then she turned her attention back to him, allowing him to undress her. He fumbled. The process took much longer than it should have. 

Naked.

She glanced at the mirror again, seeing the other woman once more, the one who looked like her but was more charming, the one whose laughter came more easily. She was the one who was not ashamed of being naked, the one who demanded love and attention from everyone.

The drugs made her beautiful and charismatic. She knew the flame could not burn this high for very long. It would go out soon, extinguishing her in the process.

But it was worth it. 

Every day was worth the price to avoid the loneliness again.

A Supporting Role

Bridge in NYC

“She just won’t eat healthy stuff! If I give her a cupcake and some broccoli she always eats the cupcake.”

“Think back to when you were eleven. If you have a cupcake and some broccoli in front of you, what do you pick?”

He shrugged. “The cupcake.”

“Right? Me, too. We’re not idiots. We pick what tastes best to us. As kids that’s the sugar. So you cannot put them both in front of her and expect her to pick the broccoli. That’s just cruel. She’s eleven. YOU have to make that decision for her until she is able to make it on her own and that is not going to be for a great many years. Get the cupcakes and junk out of the house. She is beautiful no matter what size she is but you and mom both have diabetes so she is at higher risk herself. Be the parent. Don’t sabotage her. Help her learn healthy habits that will last the rest of her life.”

We had this conversation every summer for five years running. Each year the same thing, like it was her fault. But this time? This time, somehow, was different….

This time he listened.

What made the difference? I don’t know.

It gets discouraging, saying the same things over and over again. There are days when I open my mouth to say, “Stop smoking!” for the millionth time and wonder if there really is any point. You never know, though, when the seeds you sow will fall on fertile ground and take hold. 

The First Lady

Liberty's torch

I put the baby to my breast. She ate greedily. 

So tiny for such a strong suck.

He had not come home yet. He did not know that she was a she and not a he. He would be angry, I knew. Would he let me keep her or would he kill her as he had the other three? Would he beat me as he had before?

Look, she is so beautiful, so perfect! Why can’t you love her?

Why can’t you love me?

The midwife busied herself quietly putting the room back in order. 

He would never pay for a doctor or a hospital. Not for me, he said. I was not worth it. 

A woman. 

A girl.

Someday I would leave him. I would run away. Far, far away. But to where? And they would find me, wouldn’t they? They always did. If I was lucky, they would shoot me where they found me. If not, he would be allowed to stone me to death. He’d like that. Then he could take a new wife. Someone who would give him boys. He never listened to the logic of genetics, that the determining X or Y chromosome actually came from him and from not me. My education, my past… it meant nothing to him. 

Neither did my future. 

No. I will outlive him. I will NOT give him the satisfaction.

The little one scrunched up her tiny baby face and yawned. Enough eating for now, she seemed to say as she looked directly into my eyes and grinned a lopsided baby grin. Then she drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

Born on Independence Day. If I were going to name her I would name her Liberty after the giant statue they tore down decades ago. No woman will stand as a national symbol, they said.  

Now she was gone.

Just like my own Liberty. 

Retrograde Amnesia

Interior of Ellis Island hospital

Here I am still trapped within

The walls of your memory.

Neither one of us is free.

This, our original sin,

Sinned again and still again.

Damned hearts bleeding from afar,

Ever tracing their faded scar…

True love never broken

————

I refuse to wake beside you;

For I no longer want to.

No longer will I wait, open

In the morning sun’s shadow,

Simply because you remembered me so…

Your final hold now broken.

*****************************************

Photo taken at the Ellis Island hospital ruins a few weeks ago.

To The Rock Star…

Radio City Music Hall in New York City

“Don’t tell Dad I broke the plate, OK?”

“But it was an accident, sweetheart.”

“I know he won’t be mad but I still don’t want him to know.”

He cares what you think about him.

“Mom, I miss dad.”

“He’ll be back before you know it.”

“Can we set a place for him at the table even though he isn’t here?”

“Sure!”

Your presence is missed when you are away.

“Mom, I let her have the rest of my Gatorade even though I really wanted it.”

“Because she wanted it, too?”

“Yeah. It was the right thing to do.”

He is paying attention to the example you set.

So… thank you. Thank you for being such a great dad!

With a Prayer

St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City

I have prayed out loud with a few patients over the years at their request. I will admit, however, that I am personally very uncomfortable with public displays of my faith. I am not sure my prayers carry the weight and power that some people believe that they should. I feel somewhat hypocritical for that reason, as if I am selling a faulty product. 

That being said, I do pray privately for patients on a regular basis:

Please, God, protect my patients from my mistakes. Help your love for them to show through me…

When I pray for others, do I believe I am swaying God in any way? Not really. Prayer is not so much about others as it is about me, a sort of mindfulness. I need a reminder that I am a fallible human being and that I must demonstrate compassion to those who are vulnerable. I struggle with that from time to time, just like the next person. 

I could write a book on the various things people do to bargain with their God when they are desperate and in that respect I am just like them. I have my own rituals and my superstitions, my own pleading bargains that I have made. Some may mock me for that. 

Faith, though, keeps me sane. 

And that is good.

Ruined

Ruins of hospital on Ellis Island

He came with her to all of her doctor’s appointments, more than an observer he was involved, concerned, present. He came off as her protector. I thought we were on the same team.

The alcohol was getting worse, though. So was her liver failure.

“Who buys all of the beer she drinks?”

“I do,” she spoke up. “And he does.” 

I glanced over at him.

“Sometimes she makes me.”

“Makes you how exactly?”

“She can get really ugly.” He looked away sheepishly, unable to meet my eye.

“You mean to tell me that all of this time that she has been going to her liver specialist appointments, all of this time that we have been talking about how she needs a complete and immediate cessation of alcohol, all of this time that you have sat in that chair and nodded your head in agreement, you have actually been providing her with the substance that is killing her?”

I wanted to scream at him. What the hell are you doing? Sabotaging her? Murdering her? WTH?

But I don’t know what their life together has been like. Is he the equivalent to a battered woman in an abusive relationship? 

I just don’t know.

So I suggest counseling, giving them contact information for treatment centers, and usher them out the door wondering all the while if I have somehow failed them both.