He was between lunch and dinner shifts when I blurted out that I had taken a positive pregnancy test the afternoon I went to the pharmacy for strawberry Twizzlers and a box of hair dye. I knew him to be an honorable man; one that would step up, but his unlived dreams in the crosshairs of this news was a sacrifice I could not bare. “I’m sorry I ruined your life,” I remember the twenty-two-year-old me crying, wondering how the hell we were going to support another person. But he wore a smile that I think about to this day, his happiness radiating over me. “I want to marry you,” he confessed, “I’ve been thinking this for a long time.” And though there were so many more questions and fears, we committed to each other, me in the nook of his shoulder, hugging there on the carpet floor.
It seemed as though anything we tried to build in our first months together collapsed inside a whirlwind of unexpected. We tried not to lose ourselves when we lost the baby. Every night was a tear-soaked departure from the life we weren’t granted the chance to know. The only breath that being would lay claim to was the collective sigh of relief from family and friends who deemed it better that our lives together didn’t have to begin with Baby. It felt like a series of blows, those outings afterward with congratulations masked as condolences, but match for match we looked up to find each other leaning- two battered two-by-fours in the lot that wouldn’t build, propped up by the weight of one another. And though our loss was never met with any sort of dignity, we chose to stay together anyway; to love the lost baby anyway; our mutual pain unwittingly the splint that grafted us together, stronger. There was something valuable in all that rubble- that once-lived life had left us a family.
When I am thirty, my long distance mother&father-in-law solicit a family vacation. After a few short hours of sleeping next to the man I love the night before travel, it occurs to me that my husband and I haven’t slept in the same room for two years. He suffers from a long line of intolerable snorers- not one Uncle or Aunt I can think of that sleeps in the same room without proper machinery. When we were finally able to afford one of these magnificent marvels of technology ourselves with help from insurance, the second baby was born, and in a swift six months of ‘sporadic, abnormal use’ the insurance company sent a repo man knocking at our door, crushing my pipe dreams of the family bed. Following fourteen hours of travel by van, I’m delivered to the east coast as a wandering, zapped-out zombie. He camps without question on the couch of a shared villa condo like he does back home. Even in some fantasy of vacation, we’d have to sleep together ‘someday.’
The next morning, my children soon discover my in-laws are nowhere within shouting distance. It seems the roadtrip reacquainted them with the uncompromising needs of small children, in which, overnight a radical philosophy that children should not be seen OR heard had been adopted. On the beach, I find myself amongst a whole generation of some fucked up, New Age, Carpe Diem that plays out before my eyes about as gracefully as the smashing of a beer can to the forehead. Breast lifts & Botox, Viagra & Detox… every senseless departure from human vulnerability that’s uncomfortable to bare witness to. The Ageless strut, they’re proud, and they deserve to live well, they tell me. Why wouldn’t you renounce your age, situation, marriage or anything else that displeases you in the moment? Life is about You. “You only live once!” they shout; their sacred acronym printed out across brightly colored beach towels.
It’s not long before I’m feeling like the oldest person for miles, run ragged chasing children without boundaries or buffers, lathering pasty bodies in lotion, crossing white-hot sand to reach the ocean with all of our crap and at least one child in my arms, and then showers. nursing. naptimes and dinner… having only spent an hour on the beach, I’m feeling burned. Burned by a trip that was supposed to bring my children closer to their only set of grandparents, unapologetically living their Once. That I would take the brunt of the childcare myself was something I had accepted with the invitation to join them, but they are our new teenagers: selfish, greedy, and willfully naive. An inquisitive text from my husband’s brother to his parents about this ‘family trip’ has the two red lobsters taking up residence one family dinner griping for more beachtime as if they were about to be thrown into the pot. As my husband tries to communicate with them, and I try to communicate with him, all lines begin to cross. I start to see unbecoming similarities festering throughout his family, and of course I grow especially spiteful for the snoring. It all gets piled between, keeping us at a distance.
One evening we’re walking to the beach, both children in tow, one strapped down in the stroller, when my mother-in-law finally offers, “I’ll take the baby, and you guys can go out on the sand.” I want to stick my nose up at the very tiny, barely there gesture of kindness or awareness that still has us chasing one child to the beach front. But I follow my boys. The sun is about to set, and I realize the coveted solstice is not on my birthday this year. Summer has been ordained out of my keeping by an ancient rose-colored full moon said to signal to the natives when the fruit is ripe- gorge tomorrow. I watch it rise like the sun of some other planet. When I look down, suddenly the beach has changed and the tide has closed us in.
If we step away from one another we’re in the ocean, high tide. I feel as though my husband and I have never been forced closer or farther apart. As my child plays at our feet in the sand, I come around to face him, my once in a lifetime Strawberry Moon; everything ripe enough to pick that can’t yet be tasted or cherished. He takes me in. I look up and bury my head deep into his shoulder. It’s a shared space now, one that calls out to the souls of our children in the pivotal moments a tantrum beacons; a spiritual place we’ve each repented the worst of ourselves that dares lash out. But for a moment it’s my shoulder; I have him, it’s my place of absolution. I decide standing there to love what’s been lost anyway: the time we’ve lost not sleeping next to or with one another, the dates we never had childcare to go on, and the times we’ve found ourselves in our relationship but by ourselves. And I bless every coming to God moment that never slid in beside us through the backdoor of our church house, telling us our service to one another was over. Because, I want to know him. He only lives once.
In some other life, we are only dreams resting on the shoulder of someone who loves us. We live in our fifties, wrinkly, walking naked in the backyard, having at it again. Or we dream of grandbabies to slather with lotion, having the honor to change out puffy swim diapers, that we carrying back safely, wiped out from the beach. And then there’s that baby we dream to life once in a red moon, eight years old now, playing on the shores of some planet that has the power to bring worlds together; where we can see them at once, in our one life; with us. The older I get in my Once, the more I see that dreams manifest in time, whole people can only be born by maturity and full lives together rest in the arms of being faithful- that there’s room for us to have everything that we want- not now, but someday.