By: Sica Schmitz
Image: The Writing Cabin
It all started because I had another vivid dream, which I sometimes do. In it, my son’s father was talking to his employees as I stood aside, politely waiting my turn for his attention, as I always did. He told them that he had something new coming up. Then he turned to me, whispering that he was planning to kill himself the following Sunday. He gave me a look, his eyes filled with the most desperate sorrow, a look I’d only seen on him twice before. He asked me not to tell anyone.
I awoke, shaken.
Suicide was not an uncommon topic between us. It was something he had secretly struggled with long before I knew him and even after I knew him, especially after the death of our son Jon Daniel, after that harrowing night in the hospital when I’d first seen that look in his eyes.
It was just one of the many complications in our complicated relationship, or lack of relationship. In the almost two years since we’d met, through our most intimate nights and most intimate experiences including a pregnancy, a birth, and a baby’s death, he had always referred to me as just a “friend”.
He and I have very different definitions of friendship.
Unlike my other friends, he had chosen not to be there during our son’s life and refused to accept or participate in our unplanned pregnancy. It had been incredibly hard and hurtful, yet I still wasn’t going to do the same thing to him, wasn’t going to abandon him after our son’s death. In fact, in our grief, we had grown closer than ever. I had forgiven the past and became fixated on the future, on trying to save him in all the ways I hadn’t been able to save our son, going to great lengths to ensure that at least one of us survived. I even begged him to go across the country to Maine to try a trauma technique with a specialist we’d read about online. He agreed to go if I went too.
I was also in a deep depression though I wasn’t suicidal, but only because I believe in reincarnation. The only thing that sounds worse than living a life without my son is living a potentially less privileged life without my son. At least in this timeline, I have a healthy body, access to clean water, plentiful food, and two really cute cats to accompany my PTSD. But even with these creature comforts, I was still struggling immensely from my son’s traumatic birth and unexpected death. These feelings of helplessness and aloneness were perpetually triggered by his father’s relationships – “friendships” – with other women. In such a vulnerable time of navigating both postpartum and postmortem, I had needed someone safe and secure to hold my body and heart, and I had somehow convinced myself that he could be that. Which he was, sometimes, for a little while, at least when he wasn’t too busy with his other “friends”.
We both needed healing in general and with each other, needed help with the flashbacks, those perpetual nightmares of our son’s long and lifeless body in our arms. I needed this time together and needed this trip away. We booked our flights and our appointments with the specialist, but right before we were set to leave I found out about yet another of his friendships, a secret he had been intentionally keeping from me. I was frustrated, furious, and tried to cancel our travel plans but then I had another vivid dream, as I sometimes do.
In it, he and I were talking and video chatting. I could see him sitting in the backseat of a car when suddenly it plunged into a body of water. As he sank, I started yelling for him to break the window and swim to shore but instead he just sat there, giving up. I was frustrated, furious… I mean, if he would just cooperate with me for once. Suddenly the trauma specialist appeared, tanned and toned, wearing only a bikini. She grabbed him and dragged him to safety. I was so relieved.
I told him about this dream and how I thought she was meant to rescue him. He remarked, “She has a great body, huh?” My frustration deepened. I believed the dream and wanted him to be saved, but I didn’t want to be part of his salvation any longer. I didn’t want to be part of a trip where he could add yet another friend to his extensive list, but he said he wouldn’t go unless I did and I needed desperately for him to be okay, for at least one of us to be okay, and so we got on the plane together.
It was fall in New England and the leaves were in their final brilliance before letting go. It was beautiful, peaceful, and I was briefly content. The crushing grief of our son’s absence was almost bearable as we shared some of the best meals and best nights either of us had had in a very long time. And almost like a miracle, the technique had worked on both of us. Afterwards, he was happy, lighter, hopeful about his future, and I was too. The trauma specialist had saved his life and changed mine, even if later he told me that her body was not what he had expected.
We held hands on the flight home, and I wondered if I was pregnant again. He told me if I were that this time we would do it right, do it together. But once back amongst his friends, it became quickly clear that there was no right, no together in our future and I was unwilling to be part of his extensive list of friends any longer.
I decided to head East for a few months, to get away, to attempt a fresh start at life, alone. I didn’t want to leave him, but I knew he was going to be okay, that he was going to survive, and I wasn’t sure about my own survival if I kept this complicated and confusing relationship going. In the depths of our grief we had promised we would always be there for each other, but I could now see that neither of us could be there in the way the other needed. I asked him to let me go, like the leaves we had seen not too long before. He gave me a look, the one I’d only seen once before, and said, “Ok.” We spent one last night together, one final burst of brilliance before our own season ended and our own winter began.
I miscarried almost as soon as I left the state. It was painful and emotional and when it started happening I texted him and then called him, needed him, but he ignored me because he was already too busy with another new friend.
This became a perfect summary and appropriate ending to our painful and emotional friendship.
I didn’t hear from him after that. Weeks went by and then months. We’d never gone that long without speaking before. I started dating really sweet men, somehow still believing in love and hoping to find it, and in this new city, new space, with some time and distance, the ache of his absence was beginning to ease. As winter started to wane and my trip came to an end, I headed home. I began to feel happy, lighter, and hopeful about my future.
That is, until the next vivid dream, that premonition of suicide as Sunday quickly approached. The thought of his death was intensely upsetting, and I wondered what to do.
Should I call him?
Should I see if he was okay?
Should I reach out to our mutual connections and ask them to help?
Actually, I didn’t know who that would be; none of the people I knew -including much of his family- wanted anything to do with him anymore.
I talked to friends, meditated, prayed, and ultimately decided to do nothing. I had already done everything I could for him, had already given him every part of me, and I had lost so much of myself in the process. I needed to hold onto whatever fragments still remained. I needed to accept that what he does with his life is not up to me. He’s always made that abundantly clear.
I spent the next few days contemplating closure.
If he died, would I be okay with how things had ended between us?
Was there anything I needed to say to him?
Anything I needed to hear from him?
There are no good answers for such questions, but I decided that I had as much peace around him as I ever would. Which isn’t to say I had much peace around him at all, only that I would never understand many of his words or his choices and perhaps I didn’t need to. Perhaps, some experiences are not meant to be understood and some wounds are not meant to be healed.
I accepted that, like the leaves, I had to let him go.
That Saturday night, I found myself up late messaging with one of the sweet men back east. He said, “I really like you,” and I smiled, realizing I really liked him too. This sentiment was still hanging in the air – the thought as if a bubble above my head – when suddenly my phone started ringing, almost as if on cue. I had deleted the contact but I still recognized the number from its many previous deletions: it was my son’s father.
I looked at the clock, it was almost midnight, which meant it was almost Sunday. My heart sped up, wondering if that dream was about to become a nightmare. I paused, hesitated, and then I answered.
I don’t know the actual intention of the call, though that’s probably true for every interaction I’ve ever had with him. It was worrisome and sweet, and one thing led to another, as is probably also true for most interactions I’ve ever had with him. Next thing I knew, he was outside of my door, uninvited. Then he was inside my bed, also uninvited.
He took my hand and told me that he loved me, words he doesn’t share easily or often with anyone. I suggested that he should probably leave before we ended up having any more babies, before we ended up losing any more babies; but instead, he pulled me tightly to him, wrapping himself around me, asking me what I would want to name another child if we made one that night.
I said the first word to pop into my mind: Grace. He said he liked it, whispering into the nape of my neck, “Grace is what comes after the storm.”
He felt so familiar, so comfortable, but also so new. We’d been here countless times before but something was different this time, and even though my mind was racing that this was a mistake, I still wanted this, this baby, this chance for us to do things correctly this time. It would never replace our son or our miscarriage, but he had once told me, “A life for a life” and the thought of creating a life amidst so much death, welcoming grace admist so much heartache, had seemed fair, seemed right.
When I eventually fell asleep, entwined and enmeshed, I felt happy, lighter, hopeful about the future. Maybe that’s what grace feels like.
Even though we both usually work on Sundays, we both skipped it. We instead spent the day in bed, talking, laughing, him trying to make Grace, and me trying to resist, though not very well. I never had been able to resist him, one of our many problems, a mutual attraction that kept drawing us back together over and over again. And again and again and again, if you know what I mean.
The day ended and he left, texting me about how deeply he cared about me. I smiled and I sighed with relief, realizing that my dream hadn’t come true but maybe a new one was starting.
But no, not this time.
Just as quickly, we went back to our old patterns and all the boundaries, the healing, the distance I had created in our months apart was now gone. I was back in love with him, thinking about him, wanting him, wanting a baby with him. He was thinking about me too, just as long as he wasn’t busy with another friend that night. And I absolutely wasn’t going to do that anymore, especially after everything we’d been through, after navigating birth and death and travel and trauma and love. Especially after our most recent night, the night he had actually wanted a baby with me too.
I told him that I couldn’t be just a friend anymore. I needed more, but he said he couldn’t give that to me and so I said goodbye and let him go, again.
My therapist was proud of me. I was proud of me too. But I was also really sad, again. And then nervous, because my period was late. Again. Soon followed by nausea, that uniquely pregnant headache, and an intense craving for vinegar. Again. Then followed by horrifying cramping and rancid bleeding that was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.
Whatever love and whatever grace we had created together that night was replaced by something painful, ugly, and heavy. Though I suppose that’s always what’s left in the absence of grace.
I reached out to him and told him I thought I was having another miscarriage, but I never heard back from him. Again. I still haven’t, our final painful and emotional ending.
Afterwards I had another vivid dream, which I sometimes do. I was told, “Grace is still there, even when you can’t tell.” At first I thought it meant, somehow, that I was going to have a baby from this after all.
But no, not this time.
I came to realize I was being promised that I would have a grace of the heart, not of the womb.
I often don’t know how I’ve survived this past year, this darkest night of my body and heart and soul. But I’ve realized that even in my deepest, most unimaginable pain, I’ve always somehow managed to find the most unexpected slivers of light and hope, the tiniest moments to live for, no matter how small or slight. I’ve somehow managed to discover sparks of grace, and she’s managed to find me, to fill in my cracks, my voids, a grace that somehow endures even after our most beloveds die, or let go. A grace that quietly sits with us when we can barely sit with ourselves and our sufferings.
A grace that comes even after our most catastrophic storms.
And so, when I look down at my empty arms and empty womb, when I feel my most alone, when my God and my men and my babies are gone, and when I have nothing left to hold onto, I reach for – grasp for – the wisp of grace that I know is still there, even when I can’t tell.