I knew something was wrong when Vanessa started to be sick pretty much all the time. At first I didn’t suspect pregnancy because it wasn’t really “morning” sickness but more of a general nausea all the time.
Though she was ill, it didn’t really change anything about our lives at first. I bought a bubble machine for parties at our house so that we wouldn’t always have to go out for a good time. I missed going out to the clubs, but now that I was married, I preferred to entertain at home.
Eventually, we did know for sure that Vanessa was pregnant. She started feeling better soon after that, too. So again, nothing really changed in our lives. We still went out at night or partied in. Vanessa felt fine enough to go dancing and to hang out.
“I’m getting fatter, but I’m not going to let being pregnant stop me from having fun,” she told me when I asked if she’d rather not go dancing. Vanessa liked dancing, though, so she didn’t want to stop doing it unless she had to.
Maybe I shouldn’t have indulged in the bubbles while Vanessa was pregnant. I admit that I probably made a bad judgment there. But Vanessa didn’t have any. She knew it would be bad for the baby.
Still, maybe I should have laid off, too. I always get a little over eager when I am on the bubbles. I couldn’t resist taking Vanessa into the hot tub in the back room of the Prosper Lounge. I don’t think anyone saw anything, but we did get a little carried away back there.
I actually blame the public woohoo on Vanessa, even though I’m the one who was drunk enough to actually go through with it. The pregnancy was really messing with her hormones. I read in the baby books that sometimes that happens.
“I’m so horny right now,” Vanessa whispered to me. I thought we were just going to fool around a little under the water, but one thing led to another and she said, “Now, please, now,” so I obliged her. What’s a man to do when his hot, pregnant wife is begging?
I never got to go through the entire pregnancy and birth with Jeri, so I was really excited about the birth of our son, Orrin. When Vanessa started feeling labor pains, I tried really hard not to panic like most new dads do. Labor actually takes a long time. I helped Vanessa walk around and rubbed her back until we were ready to go to the hospital for the actual delivery. We were there for a few hours until finally Orrin arrived.
I’ve never felt anything like the love I felt when the nurses placed him in my arms. Both of us were overcome by him, I think. I held him until the nurses took him away and gave him to Vanessa. After that, I hardly ever got to hold him because she couldn’t keep her hands off of him.
At home it was the same. I pretty much had to wait until Vanessa was asleep to get my hands on my son. When I did get the chance to hold him, I loved making him coo and giggle. I know that I had messed up when my daughter was a baby, so I was determined to do things better this time.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance. Vanessa and I only had a short time with Orrin. At only 3 months of age, we came into his room one morning to find him not breathing. Of course we called for help, but it was too late. He was pronounced dead before they even took him to the hospital. After many tests, it was determined that he died of Sudden Unexplained Death in Infancy (SUDI) which basically means that they could find no reason why he died.
Both Vanessa and I were grateful for the support of my brothers and sisters during that time. Danny helped arrange the funeral and Sherona and the girls came over each day to make sure that we had food to eat and that Jeri was taken care of.
I don’t remember very much about that time except that I cried a lot. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Vanessa wasn’t much better.
I know Jeri was grieving, too, but I’m afraid that neither Vanessa nor I was as aware of her grief as we should have been. It took Lakesha’s reminding me about her, to remember that it was Jeri’s birthday soon, and I should think about throwing her a party.
The last thing I wanted to do was throw a party, but I knew that I couldn’t neglect my daughter just because I had lost my son.
When asked Jeri what she wanted to do for her party, I realized how selfish I was being.
“We don’t have to have a party, Daddy,” she said. She looked sad about it, which was something no child should feel about their birthday. “I know you and Vanessa don’t want to plan a party right now.”
My heart broke. “Oh sweetie! Of course we want to throw you a party. It’s your birthday.”
“But what about…” her voice trailed off instead of saying her brother’s name. That’s how it was in our house now. We never spoke his name.
I couldn’t hide my wince at just the thought of my son. “We’ll throw you the biggest birthday bash a teen could have!” I said brightly, trying to cover my emotions so that Jeri wouldn’t feel badly.
Vanessa wasn’t as easy to convince that a party was a good idea as I had been. She didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
“No. We’re in mourning,” she said.
“But it’s Jeri’s birthday. We should celebrate it.”
“How can I celebrate a birthday when my son is dead?!” Vanessa screamed at me. Her emotions were always volatile now that Orrin was gone. “Why should anyone get to celebrate a birthday when my son will never have one!” Tears streamed down her face as she screamed at the unfairness of it all. I knew exactly how she felt.
What could I do? I did the only thing I knew how. I pulled Vanessa, struggling, into an embrace. I soothed her with whispers that it would be ok. I told her that I understood. My tears mixed with hers as I kissed her. I focused my anguish at the loss of our son into passion which Vanessa returned. It was a desperate release of grief rather than love making that followed. There really was no love in it all. Just physical release.
I didn’t bring up the party again, just planned it without Vanessa’s help. She, for her part, didn’t object to the planning and tried to be a little enthusiastic for Jeri’s sake.
It was actually me who had the hardest time at Jeri’s party. I found myself standing in the background as my daughter went from being a little girl to being a teenager. I congratulated her, of course, but had to excuse myself more than once when my emotions got the best of me. My daughter was getting older and my son never would. The thought was unbearable.
The only thing that saved me from becoming swamped by my grief was the balm of alcohol. During the party I fixed myself a stiff drink and used it to numb my emotions. Then, as weeks passed, I found myself going back to my wet-bar more and more often so that I could stay numb.
Vanessa did the same, and I didn’t blame her one bit.
The two of us also hit the bubbles quite a bit. Anything to keep from having to feel the wrenching pain of the loss of our child.
The problem was that we were only dulling the pain. It still had to be dealt with. Pain just doesn’t disappear no matter how often you try to forget.
Eventually, I used my music to pull me out of the deep depression I was in. I started playing drums more heavily. I found that beating on them helped me deal with my anger and stress. When I needed to cry, I would turn to the bass. The mournful sounds it made suited my melancholy, and I always felt better when I was finished playing and crying.
Vanessa didn’t come out of her depression so easily. She continued to drink and hit the bubbles all the time. We were all really concerned about her. Danny saw her getting wasted at one of the parties I threw for work.
“Is Vanessa doing ok?” he asked me. “She was pretty messed up.”
“She’s fine,” I assured him, though I knew I was lying. Vanessa was not doing ok. She hadn’t gone to work in months. The only reason she hadn’t been fired was that her boss was sympathetic to what she was going through. She was on an extended maternity leave despite the fact that Orrin was gone.
I tried to confront Vanessa about going back to work so that she could find the same solace in music as I had, but she did not react well to my suggestion that it would help her move on with her life.
“Move on! Move on! I don’t have any music left in me to move on to. How would going back to my job help me get over the loss of my son?”
“Our son. He was my son, too,” I said.
“But I was his mother!”
I’m afraid we argued a lot that night. Vanessa accused me of not loving Orrin because I wasn’t feeling as depressed and angry as she was. She alternated between being angry with me to trying to get me to understand that she felt things more because she’d carried Orrin for nine months.
I didn’t think it was fair that she thought I hadn’t loved him just because I was trying to get on with my life.
I didn’t know how bad things had gotten for Vanessa until I came home from work one night pretty late, and I found Vanessa collapsed in front of Orrin’s empty crib. She was soaking wet and barely breathing.
Later, I found out that she’d taken some sleeping pills and tried to drown herself in the bath tub. Failing to do that, she’d come up the stairs and into Orrin’s room, where she’d laid on the ground and hoped to never wake up again.
After her suicide attempt, I made sure that Vanessa got some help. She stayed at the hospital for a few weeks and then joined a grief counseling group. When she finally came home, she apologized to me and to Jeri.
“I’m so sorry,” she said over and over. Both Jeri and I comforted her the best we could.
The people in her grief counseling group helped Vanessa channel her grief into other things. She took up exercising on Danny’s old equipment. I hoped that it would do for her what music had for me. But it wasn’t working as well as I had hoped it would.
I came home one night and found broken glass over near the bar. Jeri wasn’t home, and I couldn’t find Vanessa.
I ran upstairs, hoping that my worst fears weren’t coming true. I searched every room except Orrin’s, desperate to find Vanessa, but she wasn’t in any of them. Then I reluctantly opened his door, but the room was empty. My panic dropped a little when I heard music coming from the balcony.
“She must be exercising,” I said to myself, relieved. But when I went out there, I saw that she hadn’t dressed that morning. She was stumbling around, sort of like dancing, to the music coming from the stereo. It was children’s music and Vanessa was crying.
“What are you doing?” I turned the music off.
“Danshing. Wassit look like?”
“You’re drunk.” It was obvious from her slurred words and the way she swayed even when the music was off.
“Why are you doing this Vanessa? I thought things were better.”
“Obvi’ssly not,” she sneered at me.
I have no idea what had set this off or why, after she said that, she started shouting at me again. I felt bad that I couldn’t stop myself from venting some of my frustration with Vanessa’s depression on her in anger. I don’t even know what I said to her. Something stupid that I regret, I know for sure.
Somehow, our argument went too far. We were both yelling and then Vanessa was saying that she wanted a divorce.
“…Can’t stand being with you anymore!”
“What? What are you talking about?” All of my anger and frustration melted and I was left with confusion and hurt.
“I just can’t take it! This house! You! That room with that goddamned crib! I hate it. I hate you!”
“You don’t mean it, Vanessa.”
“Yes, yes I do.” She was no longer shouting. The tears that were silent when she was dancing to the kids music were now coming in great waves of heaving breaths. She held herself and rocked back and forth right there on the balcony. I tried to sooth her, but she would shove me away and tell me how much she hated me between sobs.
Finally, I left her there. I didn’t know what to do.
I don’t know when Vanessa came into the house after our fight. I fell asleep and when I woke up the next day, she was laying in bed next to me. I figured that she must have cried herself out and we’d be able to figure out how to get passed our problems. We could go to couples therapy. I could join her in her grief counseling. I’d do anything she needed.
But when I got home from work that night, she was gone. All of her stuff was gone.
I found Jeri out in the garage playing the drums. She wasn’t really trying to play a tune, just banging on them as hard as she could. She’d been crying. Seeing my daughter like that, I knew that I hadn’t been mistaken. Vanessa had left me. Us. She’d been serious the night before when she said she hated me and wanted a divorce.
“Vanessa left,” I said when Jeri stopped playing and looked at me. It wasn’t a question. We stared at each other for a long time, her breath heaving from her exertions on the drums.
“I tried to stop her,” Jeri hiccupped as she started to sob.
“Oh sweetie!” I went and did the only thing I could. I gathered her up, and we cried in each other’s arms.
“I tried, Daddy. I tried,” My daughter repeated over and over. “She wouldn’t stay. I tried to stop her.”