She stood in the dark doorway of my bedroom, chatting with me. I’d been gone for a week and a half and although we had sent texts, we were catching up. She was dreading sleep, I was dreading the weekend.
“Want to hear something I’ve never told anyone before?” I asked. My heart raced. thumpthumpthumpthumpthump in my chest. I could always say something different if I needed to, right?
She said yes, so I told her. “Friday would be my baby’s birthday. Her 13th birthday.” And then I cried over it. Not loud, racking sobs, but quiet ones as I tried to control myself.
But still: for a girl who likes to be in control, I was most definitely not in control.
And then she, this wonderful friend, did what I wanted the most but was too afraid to ask for: she reached out and hugged me and even though my body tensed, I let her hold me. I let someone carry a piece of that burden for a few minutes.
– – – – – – – – – –
July 27, 2012
Balloons. There would be so many balloons, lots of colors. She would have wanted them, floating all around the house. And bright candles, too, 13 of them waiting on the cake, covered with stripes and polka dots, the fire flickering as the wax melted slowly onto the sweetness of sugar. She would be a child just like me, a child from my body, one who shared my love of color and bright boldness and life.
And in the bags I had for her as gifts, she would find books, the ones written by her favorite authors and the ones I loved when I was her age. Nancy Drew maybe, although I could only hope that she would be ready for more at thirteen. Maybe I would have bought her a nook and her friends would have gotten her gift cards for books and catchy clothing. Or maybe their bags and boxes would be filled with trinkets and lotion, nail polish and purses. I remember being thirteen. I remember. And two years later, I was fifteen, and there was her, my secret life. My color and my world hidden in the darkest place.
I’ll never know her, at least not on earth. I can only wonder – red curls? Blonde, straight hair? Or something in between? She would be tall as me, maybe taller, and her eyes would be blue. That’s one thing I know for sure. Her father had blue eyes so it has always been easy to picture those eyes looking at me throughout the years of her life, as I rocked her and bandaged her knees and held her in my arms in later years when her heart was broken and mended again. We’d fight about homework and parties and clothes and nail polish choices and it would be so hard, but I cannot imagine it being as hard as it is now.
Today my girl would be thirteen.
Today she’d be preparing for her party this weekend, or maybe since it’s a Friday we would celebrate tonight with a sleepover where we watched the Olympic opening ceremonies. And of course there would be more craziness in the morning, with pancakes and bacon and lots of whipped cream. There would be laughter and girls staying up too late and maybe some drama – after all, she’d be thirteen. But I’d help them settle their disputes, and more than any fighting there would be joy, such great joy. But she isn’t here and we don’t get to celebrate this momentous day. We’ve never celebrated any birthdays together, not her first or her fifth or her tenth. And we never will, none of those celebrations that every mom longs for and hopes for. No first loves and last loves or weddings and babies of her own.
All I want on this day is the chance to grieve my loss openly and let the pain carry me and move through me so I can move forward.
But I can’t grieve the way others can. I’m not given that choice because of a choice I made more than thirteen years ago. When I was 15, I chose to end my pregnancy, not counting the cost and looking down the road to what the future would hold. All I knew in those hours and days between the positive pregnancy test and the end of the life growing inside of my was fear: uncontrollable, breath-stealing fear. It’s not fear that I feel today, all these years later, but the emotions that make my heart ache are still alive and brewing deep inside of me. I don’t get to confess those feelings, though, at least not in a way that is accepted by people. Most people want me to say that I don’t regret it and that it was the right decision at that time, but how can I say that now? I will forever regret those weeks in my life leading up to that horrible day.
Tonight I am so unspeakably angry, and I don’t know who to direct my anger toward. Every time I process it, my mind settles on myself as the only recipient of my anger and hurt. I am one of those women whose abortion wasn’t forced on her by the people around her. My family didn’t know, and my friends who did know that I might possibly be pregnant were so amazingly supportive of me keeping my baby. But I was afraid of what would happen if I told my family and it felt like, at the time, that it was the only thing I could possibly do. So that’s who it boils down to: I made this choice. I did this to myself. And in the end, it’s myself I need to forgive – I wish it were as easy to do that in reality as it was to type it. A few strokes of the keyboard and I wrote it. It takes so much more to do that in reality.
The funny thing is, the community where I have found the most support has been my church community. Two close friends who are both still relatively new friends have heard my story and have loved me in spite of it, and have prayed with and for me. That means so much to me. It really does.
But even still – tonight I want balloons and giggles and hushing teenage girls who won’t settle down. My heart would give almost anything to have those moments and all of the moments in the future.
Happy birthday, sweet girl. We will celebrate together in eternity.
– – – – – – – – –
A few days later, I bought myself a necklace. It was the most tangible way for me to believe this was real. I ordered it online and then waited for it to come. The website said it might take up to three weeks to receive it and I waited. I wanted it. Anxiety gripped me as I waited for those 21 slow says to pass. I needed it. I wanted my grief to be real to me in a way I could wear on my neck, grief I could touch and hold in the way I couldn’t hold my daughter on her first day in this world or on her 4749th day.
When the necklace came a week later, so much earlier than I anticipated, I raced home from work to take it out of the mail. I wore the chain under my shirt or with a hoodie zipped up so no one could see the red ruby July birthstone that sat next to the diamond birthstone with my name on it. I wasn’t ready to share that pain out loud, but I wanted it close to my heart, where I knew it would mean something to me.
A few days later, we were standing in the kitchen when she noticed the necklace for the first time. “Is that a ruby? Krista, I have been looking for a ruby necklace. I was going to buy it for you!”
In that moment, I was both thankful and completely overwhelmed. I’m so glad she didn’t get me that, I thought. I would cry. I imagined someone handing that necklace to me and just the thought nearly brought me to tears.
Almost two weeks ago, I came home after a long day. She had been out shopping for jeans and had a friend over after her excursion. As I was coming in, she said, “I have the best present ever for you!” I sat at the table with them, chatting, when she brought it over. It hung in her hands, glittering and simple and heartbreaking.
A red stone.
My eyes filled up. In all of the books I’ve read, I’ve never understood when someone says their breath caught in the back of their throat.
I get it now.
It was as though the wind had nearly been knocked out of me. And yet again I cried. I struggled to hold in the tears. It was that or run from the room. She held me, her face pressed to mine. I was hot and sweaty and my skin was sticky, not much different than the evening when I first whispered my secret to her, and my chest was shaking from the tears and she just held me while I held my necklace, this unexpected gift.
After a minute I slipped off the necklace I’d bought and put hers on.
“It’s a little fancier and people might not ask as many questions,” she said. I nodded.
It was perfect.
– – – – – – – – –
This is the mending. These broken pieces, being picked up and sewn back together? There’s a rawness to them still. I’ve only ever had a single stitch in my life, but I remember that when the skin was healed enough to have the stitch removed, the edges were still new and tender, and one day, as I was changing my shirt, the new skin caught on something on my shirt and ripped the scab off, opening what had been a nearly-healed wound. I cleaned it and bandaged it as best I could, but ten years later, there’s a scar and a story.
But oh, the story.
That’s what I reminded myself. He has mended me and is mending me and His has given me words and a story to tell. This life I have lived, and the small life that only had those few weeks inside of me — those stories matter and they will be told. This is the hardest story of my own to tell, but I’m reminded that there is a harder story and a harder battle that was fought and it was fought for not just me but for you and for His Kingdom.
Red running down His hands and feet, He bled and died for me. For us. For all of the moments in our lives where we feel so broken and beaten down. For the little girl whose life on this earth is symbolized in two necklaces, red stones pressed against the warm skin of my chest, my heart beating and still connected to hers.
In His story, so much greater than my own, He was mended and in His mending He knew — He knew that Krista would need some of what He gives so freely. So I move forward through this pain and feel it. My friend prayed for me one day and she thanked God for the pain because it meant He was doing His work. It was only a few weeks ago and while I am still engulfed by the ache of loss, I was consumed with it then. I am certain I will still be consumed with it in the weeks and months and years to come, but as she prayed, I wanted anything but the pain.
But now? I get it.
You see, the pain is a gift.
God never intended for me to suffer. But humanity is sinful, and I am human. In the suffering, I have made regrettable decisions, ones that have lost lives, but through the grief and the pain my friend was thankful for, I began to see that He was doing what I could never do on my own.
Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Certainly God didn’t cause the bad things in my life. But He who is God works all things together for His purpose.
This story, our stories, are not lost and are not in vain. I still see what He is doing.
Stitching these pieces together, tender edges against tender edges, until I am mended.