Saturday, August 06, 2005

my brothers' birthdays

Today is my brother's birthday. I think of him as my baby brother, but he is 39 years old today. I had just turned 11 when he was born. I remember going to the hospital with my dad--that word, "dad" sounds so friendly, doesn't it? But I was terrified of him--to pick up my mother and my new little brother, Thomas O'Connor Q. I remember smiling for the Polaroid photos my father was taking, but I was so afraid. I was afraid we'd lose the baby, because we had lost the last baby boy my mother had had, two summers before. That day--the fifth of July, 1964--my mother had started to hemhorrage unexpectedly. Badly. Placenta previa. They can see that, now, on ultrasound. Not in 1964, though.

My father screamed for me and my little sister Phyllis to run upstairs, to (a very surprised) Mrs. Collins. I was 9. Phyllis was 5. Noreen, 11, stayed in the apartment with Al, 7. Although I remember seeing my father carrying my mother, limbs floppy, unconscious, in his arms, to the elevator--we were told to run up the stairs, from the 9th floor to the 10th; I think I must have known that something was terribly wrong; I saw the blood on the floor--I didn't pray. Instead, we had mad fun all night with Maureen and Eileen Collins, who were, respectively, the same age as me and my sister. We had so much fun that Mrs. Collins, at whose door we had arrived, and to whom we were told to say: There's an emergency, had to scream at us repeatedly to go to sleep.

I knew it was an emergency, but I said not one decade of the holy rosary.

When my mother came home from the hospital a week later, I asked her, "Where's the baby?" She said, "Oh, Ellie, I'm so sorry. We lost the baby." I remember going away and coming back awhile later and saying, "But how did you lose him? Can we go find him? Maybe at the police station?" (I had been lost myself, once, and then found, at a police station.) My poor mother had to say these words to me, "No. He died. He's dead. Lost is just something people say when a baby dies."

I knew it was my fault. I knew I should have been down on my knees, praying all night, not jumping on the Collins' beds, not sneaking out of bed to greedily eat their sugary cereal, something not ever found in my house.

I know now that it was not my fault. I know now that this is simply the way a child thinks. It was just random bad luck; the same random bad luck that had left my brother Al's legs damaged by cerebral palsy; the same random bad-luck brickbats that've been hitting my family again, lately. Just random bad luck. Either that, or God hates us and wants us to suffer.

I still regret that I didn't pray all night, though.

I should have prayed all night.

I know it's my fault.

Andrew Thomas Q. Perfectly formed, with perfect little legs, and a full head of black hair. Nine pounds. Stillborn.

So two years later, I was afraid. This time, though, the doctors brought my mother in for an induced birth--they didn't wait for her to go into labor. All was calm as she left for the hospital--Westchester Square, where the last baby had died, and where my father's mother was also to die, much later--made up, hair done at the beauty parlor the day before, dressed up, wearing pretty high heels with the support stockings she was only allowed to take off for five minutes every day, because her skinny legs were black with veins. No blood, but this time I spent the day on my knees. I spent that entire summer on my knees.

When we all got home from the hospital, my mother put Tommy on the dining room table to show me how to change his diaper. As she unpinned his wet diaper, I saw erect maleness for the first time. As she stuffed the clean white cloth diaper beneath his bottom, a curve of gold with a rainbow in it cut through the air--an absolute, perfect inverted U of sparkling, iridescent pee; all of which landed neatly in the pure glittering whiteness of an open sugar bowl, at least three feet away.

Happy Birthday, Tommy. Happy Birthday, Andy.

what I wrote to my husband about the tomatoes (I write to him from time to time)


Kindly do not leave your produce by my door. This is what it makes me remember: me and Lala waving to you from the window, or the top of the hill, as you tilled your gargantuan zucchini. How can I have been so happy? But I was, we were…

I can only live at all if I live my life like an amnesia victim. I do very poorly on the days on which I remember anything at all… as on the morning of Lala's birthday.

Stay away from my door. I don’t want to see tomatoes from your garden or cherries in Stew Leonards' bags ever again. Don’t make me remember. It’s why I can’t bear your voice. Your voice makes me remember you.

Be sure to tell Emily how sad your tomatoes made me, so she can get herself off tonight.

It’s a curse to have a memory like mine—I wish I could be like you and remember nothing, feel nothing.

“Why couldn’t I have been made of stone, like them?”

end handwritten note

Her name is Emily.

My name is Eleanor.


Now I go on to criticize myself.

The above--or below, rather--is about the shortest thing I have ever written. This is a good thing, because I usually just go on and on and on. I can never just leave something I've written alone; I can never just toss something off. (I changed to "have ever written" from "ever wrote" above. Not sure why. Always checking, changing, going back.) But: It sounds too trying-hard-to-be-literary and, and is therefore pretentious. Phony. Also: I had to spell check "tomatoes".

I used to win every spelling bee in my grammar school. My brain is not what it once was. Wah, wah, wah. (This is my favorite sound bite from the Howard Stern show. Robin will report some hideous, appalling news story; there will be a few seconds of either respectful silence or tch-tching at the horribleness of said story; then, you hear Artie : " Wah Wah Wah. I have no legs", if, for example, the story was about a man losing his legs.)

I have one breast.

Wah, wah, wah.

tomatoes, among other things, make me sad

My once and future king--my erstwhile husband--left his home grown tomatoes outside my apartment door. They made me feel very sad, remembering.