Day 4: October 15th

I was twenty-five years old and had been married for almost three years when I found out I was pregnant for the second time. This time everything had been planned out. My daughter was old enough, and we were ready to add a second baby. I desperately wanted her to have a little sister.

One Saturday afternoon while our husbands were working, I sat on a friend’s back porch while we watched our kids play in the yard. She knew we’d been trying and asked for an update. My face betrayed the somersaults my stomach had been doing all morning. I was pretty sure but hadn’t taken a test yet. She rushed inside to get a test she happened to have on hand, and I tried my best to temper my excitement. This wasn’t like last time, I wouldn’t fall apart when I saw those two pink lines, I would be ecstatic.

I held my breath as we made small talk waiting for the test to be ready. I lost my breath when I picked it up and saw the faintest little lines telling me that what I’d been dreaming was now a reality. We laughed about the fact that she knew before my husband, and on the way home I stopped at Target to buy a tiny pair of newborn sweatpants to surprise him with. I was only a few weeks along, but I’d spent so my of my first pregnancy consumed by anxiety that I was determined to wholly embrace this one.

My husband figured it out as soon as he saw the tiny sweatpants covered in navy blue foxes. We spent the rest of the evening chattering about being a family of four and suggesting ridiculous baby names. There was no talk of loss or fear or worry that we’d made a mistake. There was only the perfect sense that another part of or family had slid into place.

The nausea started almost right away. We laughed remembering how I’d made my husband eat in a different room during the last pregnancy. I knew all the sickness and discomfort that was ahead, but I was so in love with this tiny baby that none of it mattered. It had taken me so long to give my heart over to my daughter; I didn’t want to make that mistake again. I wrapped my dreams for this baby up tightly and held them close.

Then I woke up one morning ten days later, and I immediately felt the blood. I called my husband to come home from work so we could go to the emergency room. I already knew the truth, but they said we should confirm. As I waited for him to make the half hour drive home, I held my daughter and silently cried while she watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

I only knew my second baby for ten days, but those ten days were filled with love and laughter and joy. I wear a stack of rings every day, three of them have names engraved on them in the tiniest little letters: Lana, Avery, Jude. My three babies may never be able to build forts or eat Goldfish or watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse all together, but my dreams for them all are wrapped up together in my heart.

Day 3: Fifteen Tests Later

I was twenty-two years old and had been married for nine months when I found out I was pregnant for the first time.

It was my first week at a new job with the local newspaper. I was finally using the writing degree I’d spent so much time and money on. The paper was run out of a historical house in our quaint downtown. My desk looked out the front window onto the yard shaded by massive trees. I had a brand new computer and a coffee cup filled with pens and highlighters. I took breaks to walk to the coffee shop around the corner for a latte and muffin. It was all very grown up.

I’ve always been able to trust my gut, and by Friday afternoon my gut was certain that something was up. On my lunch break I sped to Target, searched the aisles frantically, paid as discreetly as possible, and rushed into the bathroom to do something I’d never imagined I’d be doing. While I waited for the results I picked up the box to re-read the directions. That’s when I realized my mistake. I’d just taken a test to find out whether I was ovulating. I threw the entire box away, marched back to the aisle, and this time carefully selected exactly what I needed. My lunch break was almost over so I paid quickly and shoved the tests in my purse.

An hour later I was alone in a quiet office and knew that I couldn’t wait any longer. Five minutes later I was back at my desk, and I was pregnant. It was something I’d never wanted to be. It was certainly something I never expected to be at this age or stage in my marriage. I spent the rest of the afternoon scouring Google for someone that would tell me that false positives were extremely common. No luck there. On the way home I bought another box of tests. All three positive. I, of course, went out to buy more. A different brand this time, surely that was the problem. Fifteen tests later, I was still very much pregnant.

Certain there could have been a mix up, I decided I’d take one the next morning before I really believed it. Somehow even in my deep denial I wasn’t surprised when that test too affirmed my delicate state. Suddenly all the inexplicable crying of the previous few weeks made sense. I didn’t know it then, but a lot more inexplicable crying was in my future.

In a daze I got myself ready and made it to work on time. I lasted ten minutes before breaking down into hysterical tears and begging my one female manager to let me go home. I spent the rest of the day watching movies about women whose lives were upended by unexpected pregnancies. That night our pastor and his family came over for dinner and asked if we wanted kids. Through all of the sickness and excitement and stress and anticipation of the next nine months, that question that would borrow its way deep into my heart.

Day 2: More Than the Pain

When I started planning for this project I sat down to make a list. I wrote out every story idea that popped into my head, and I told myself I would work my way down the list in order. I’m going to stick to that promise, even though this is one of those stories I’d rather not write.

I honestly don’t remember when it started…at some point early in my senior year, maybe the summer before. It was a time when things were supposed to be exciting. A time when I should have been dreaming of the future. Instead, there I was, holed up in my room, gripping the razor I’d snuck out of the bathroom. It was pink and white. The blade was dull. Like most decisions I make, it didn’t take me long to commit. I pulled up my shirt, exposing the stomach I’d been taught to hate, and pinched a bit of flesh between my thumb and index finger. I ran the dull blade across my skin until just a little bit of red spilled out. Relief immediately flooded my body.

Over the next six months my stomach, thighs, and arms became covered in tiny cuts. Never big enough to do any harm. Just enough to feel the burn, to see the blood. Just enough to experience that relief, to let the calmness wash over me. At a time in my life when my depression and anxiety were stealing everything away, cutting became something I could accomplish. Before long it was the only thing I believed I could do right.

It was never about punishing myself. It was about proving that I had the strength, the resolve, to do something, anything. I’d always been driven, successful, but suddenly I couldn’t get out of bed. I was missing school, failing tests, slipping away from all of my friends. I was losing myself, and cutting became my way back.

For months I wore long sleeves in Florida’s summer heat. I carried razors around in my purse, just in case. I kept rolls of toilet paper in my room to catch the tiny droplets of blood. I protected my secret from anyone who might try and take it away from me. Then my grandma died.

The next morning I walked downstairs in a t-shirt. I knew my scars were showing. Maybe I didn’t have the energy to hide them, maybe I needed them to be seen. I was standing in the kitchen when my dad noticed the maroon marks covering my arms. I don’t think there was any yelling or fighting. I guess we were all too exhausted for that. It was decided that I would start seeing a counselor.

For the rest of my senior year I spent an hour a week with Marty. Her office was directly above the dance studio where I’d taken ballet in fifth grade. The first thing she asked me: “Do you want to stop?”. My honest answer: “I don’t think so.” Marty said I had to want to stop before anything she could say would help me. So she had me make a pros and cons list. The pros side, the side with all the reasons I should continue cutting, filled the entire column. The cons side was just a single bullet point.

By the time I started college that fall I was no longer cutting, but Marty had been wrong. I didn’t have to want to stop. I just had to know that there was something better out there. Almost ten years later it’s hard for me to think about that part of my life, because the allure of that burn is still strong. I never stopped wanting that feeling, I just learned to believe that I am worth more than the pain I can inflict on myself.

Day 1: My First Memory

I decided to participate in the 100 Days Project this year. Over the next 100 days I will write 100 stories about my life. One of the things I’ve always struggled with is not reflecting well on all the stories that have been woven together to create the life that I’m currently living. Part of that is wanting to avoid the painful parts of my past, part of it is being so caught up in the day to day that I don’t build in the space to breath and reflect. So that’s just what I’m going to do in these 100 days–pause, reflect, tackle the hard stuff, celebrate the good stuff, honor my story by telling it. There won’t normally be any rhyme or reason to what story I tell when, but I will start with my very first memory.

I don’t remember a lot about that night, but I do remember the darkness. My brother and I shared a room back then. It was a small house, so it must have been a small room. I don’t have any other memories of it, so I can’t picture what the furniture looked like or what might have been on the walls. All I can see is the darkness.

I’m too young to make out any words in all the commotion outside our locked door. I can hear sounds…muffled, frantic. I don’t know what they mean, but I feel the terror slowly filling my body and tying my stomach into knots so tight that even now, more than twenty years later, they still aren’t completely untied. As I sit there, the darkness and the sounds paralyze me. I don’t cry, I don’t move, I just sit. Even as a toddler I knew that what was happening outside those doors was the kind of evil that can destroy you.

Later on, too late to help any of us, red and blue lights would spill onto the front of our house, declaring to the world “something horrible happened here”.

It probably started as a normal night. A mother and father hurrying around to get themselves ready for a night out and the kids ready for a night in. The relief washing over them when the babysitter finally rang the doorbell. Kissing their two kids goodbye before scooting out the door. I don’t remember it all, but I’m sure nothing seemed out of the ordinary when my parents closed the door behind them. There was certainly no way for them to know the devastation they would return to.

At some points things shifted. Before the darkness I only have hazy memories of the night. The front door opening. A group of boys coming in. The clanking of bottles. Just fractured pieces of a picture that a toddler should never have to fit together. I’ve often wondered, which moment that night did she know what was about to happen? What was the first sign that these boys, her friends, were not the people she thought they were? If the horror I sensed in the house that night has lived with me so long, how did she manage to get up, walk out our front door, and live any semblance of a life?

It was just a few blurry snapshots of a night I didn’t understand, a few moments in the darkness, a few splashes of colored light outside my bedroom window, but that night will live with me forever. It’s the reason that as a kid I was terrified of teenage boys. It’s the reason I can’t walk my car alone at night. It’s the reason I slept with mace next my pillow when I had my own apartment in college. The thick fog of terror filled every corner of our house that night. It consumed me as I sat in the darkness, a child far too young to understand but absolutely certain that none of us would ever be the same.