Fireworks – Day 34

Dare to Tell – Day 34 

Merle’s Story


I was very, very young.

I had been married for a year and got pregnant right away.

We didn’t discuss it, there was never any planning, it just happened.

We met in college; I had known him for 3 years.  He was a friend of a friend of my brothers.

He was studying to be a doctor.  We didn’t have any money though he came from a pretty wealthy family.  His father was a doctor too.

He was an alcoholic though at first I didn’t realize.   My ability to recognize it was impaired, my mother was an alcoholic.  I thought that when people sat down to have a drink they drank like that.

I was having trouble with the pregnancy. I had been bleeding.  It was pretty scary. I was living a thousand miles away from my family, my parents never visited.  I didn’t feel like I could call my mother and I wasn’t close to his.

I went into labor on July 4th.  I got up to go to the bathroom; there was a splash of blood on the floor just like fireworks exploding in the heavens.  “Get back to bed!” they yelled. They said there was nothing to dull the pain.  It would hurt the baby.

There was a tiny purple foot first.  She was without oxygen for quite a while.  She was so small.

I couldn’t see what was happening.  I was cold, shaking.  They forgot to cover me up.

“She lived for an hour,” they told me later and then asked “What do you want to do with the body?” I heard my voice say from some hollow place “The body.  Give her to the medical school.  My husband is a student there”.

There were fireworks outside of my window; I was alone.  My husband showed up after it was all over.  He looked down at me and said “It’s OK.  I didn’t really want a baby this soon anyway”.

His family came to visit.  Someone had knitted items for the baby so they brought them to me, but there was no baby.

We decided to go up north.  By the second day my breasts began to fill up.  It was so painful and there was nothing I could do about it, it was rural country and I didn’t know any doctors.  We stayed a night or two and then came home.  I went back to work, I put it away.  We never talked about it.

There wasn’t anybody to talk to.  My family was a New England family; you don’t tell anyone your problems because no one really cares.

My mother wasn’t reachable at that time.  She would never call or write. Early on I learned to write her letters to talk about what I needed, without any expectation of a response.  Yet I was close to her when she was older and not drinking anymore.

Years later, I left him.

The same week that I left all I had known, moved away with 3 children, no job, anew home; I travelled to be part of an intervention with my mother.

Supported by a counselor, we were the people closest to her that were willing to do this.  We told her how her drinking had affected our lives.  We told her that we wanted her to make the choice to do something about it.  She went to the hospital, got detoxed and dried out and never drank again.

On July 4th I always think about my baby.  I call her Gwendolyn.  I say hello to her and tell her that I haven’t forgotten.

I was with both of my parents in the last weeks of their lives.  I was with my mother in the week before they moved her from the hospital to the hospice.   It was so very special private time with my mom.  I was there to catch the words as they were coming from her.

The words were –

“I don’t know how to cry”

“I’ve never known why I’m supposed to cry”

“If I’m good people will like me”

I thought, if you have no expression for sadness where does it go?  If you have to be good and agreeable all the time; it was the piece of her life that I finally understood.  She couldn’t get close enough, it would be too sad for her; she wouldn’t know what to do with it.   I felt like I was holding my hands out and catching her words.

I feel such sadness for the young woman that was me.  Now I understand why I just went back to work and found a place to stuff it.  It was all I knew.  So, I stayed married to him for 15 years and I went on to have children when he was drinking.  The cost was in not understanding the danger of being with someone like that; and keeping my kids in that situation for too long.

The pain and sadness had no way to be set free but it had to come out somehow.  So it came out in being super mom and super wife.  If I kept myself engaged in the community, read all those books, thought everything would be okay.  It took me so long to realize that his drinking and his behavior had nothing to do with me.

When we have an opportunity to understand our own parents we get to make some choices about how we see them.  I can think about her differently.  I always had great compassion for her around her drinking, though I didn’t understand the driver.  She was beautiful, she never had to work, I was always very proud of her.  I figured out all of that wasn’t enough in my marriage, I guess she never figured that out.

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