Sunday Supper #10: Thank you!

My sweet, wonderful friends and followers:

Thank you so much for your kind words, for your outpouring of love, and for sharing your stories. They have been a source of strength and healing, and knowing that you’re thinking of us has helped us more than I can say.

We’re doing better, feeling better – though some days are better than others – and focusing on loving each other and moving forward the best that we can. No one can say what the future holds, but whatever that is, we know that we’ll be in it together, and we know that we are loved, supported, and surrounded by kindness.

Gratitude isn’t a strong enough word.

Just thank you. Thank you, thank you. Graham and I are everlastingly, infinitely grateful for all of you.

Ghost Light (A Short Story)

The last dress rehearsal did not go well. In fact, it went very, very poorly.

“You know what they say,” Mitch told me.

“You know I don’t,” I answered.

Why would I? Years of restaurant experience had led me down a dead-end path and straight into the wings of the Old River Theatre. Desperate times, Mitch had said. And anyway, I’d only be the assistant to the Stage Manager. He thought it was funny that I was going backwards.

“You’re supposed to wait tables while you try to make it,” he’d said. “You’re working the other way around.”

Now, as we closed up the final dress for the season opener, he clapped me on the back and said, “I forget sometimes. Feels like you’ve been here forever.”

“Is that a compliment, boss?”

“Frank’s been here forever, too, man.” And he pointed up towards the catwalk.

Frank managed lights, sound, and all other things technical and sundry. And he drank himself into a stupor every night. He was probably at it now, somewhere up there, taking swigs from his hip flask and tapping his foot to music only he could hear.

I rolled my eyes. “He’s a liability, Mitch,” I said. “Anyway, tell me, what do they say?”

“Bad dress, good opening. Should be a great show.”

I didn’t feel so confident.

“Don’t worry, kid,” he said. “We’re all professionals here.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Even Frank,” he added. “Let’s finish out and go grab a beer.”

This year, Old River decided to open its fiftieth season with The Sound of Music. The playbill proudly proclaimed it “America’s favorite musical!” Could have fooled me. Ticket sales moved fast enough, but the cast and crew came in every day looking like they’d rather be anywhere else.

“Twenty fucking minutes of ‘Do, re, mi,’” the director said, one evening, after a particularly grueling dance rehearsal. “What do you even do with that?”

The production so far honestly seemed sort of cursed. We’d been hit with a volley of issues starting on day one. Bolts of fabric that never arrived to the costume shop, a music director who lost hearing in one ear halfway through, three von Trapp kids coming down with the flu on the same night. Just one thing after another, culminating in a last dress rehearsal from hell.

“Is all of this normal?” I asked Mitch as we started on our second beer at the dive bar down the street.

“I’ve seen a lot,” Mitch told me, “but this one does feel sort of different.”

“Different how?”

Mitch sat for a moment, and then took a deep gulp of the rest of his lager. “Every show has a few issues,” he said. “I had a lead actress a few years back who used to get laryngitis during every tech week. But this cast, I don’t know. Normally, it starts to feel like a family, you know?”

I nodded. I did not know, but I thought it might be nice to see, one day. Lots of restaurant owners say that about their staff. It’s never true.

“This one just feels off. Maybe it’s just me. I’ve never liked this show.”

I hummed an agreement.

“Next up is Midsummer, and I’m looking forward to that one. Shakespeare’s wild.”

“I think I read that one in school,” I said.

“Trust me, it’s better on stage. Fucking funny.”

I did trust Mitch. I didn’t know what to think, at first, walking into this new world. Actors are a weird bunch, but I’d enjoyed this job so far a lot more than my last three. And the hours suited me fine. Servers get used to late nights and slow mornings.

“Isn’t one of his plays cursed?”

“Shakespeare’s? Oh, yeah,” Mitch said, and laughed. “The Scottish play. Don’t let anyone hear you say the name, ever.”

“MacBeth?”

Mitch bobbed his head. “I think it’s silly,” he said, “but lots of people believe it. I should give you a rundown of all that shit.”

“All what shit?”

“The legends. The bad luck and shit.”

“I don’t believe in that stuff either,” I said. “But I also don’t want a reason to get fired.”

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” Mitch said. “After things calm down. For now, we ought to get going. It’s late.”

I looked at my watch. Just after 2:00, and with an early call tomorrow. I left some cash on the table and stood up.

“I think I left my coat in the green room,” I said. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem,” Mitch said. “I need to run back and grab my notebook anyway.”

We walked back at a pretty slow pace. The weather had just started to turn. The days still felt summery, but in the evenings, the temperature and the humidity dropped. It was a relief, after the summer heat, to finally feel a bit of fall.  

“I bet September’s chilly this year,” I said.

We reached the stage door, and Mitch fumbled with the key.

“It always sticks,” he said, and shook his head. “It’s like the ghost doesn’t want us in there late at night.”

He pushed the door open and flipped the lights to the green room.

“The Old River’s haunted?”

“Every theatre has a ghost,” Mitch explained, a little like he was talking to a child. “That’s why we always leave a stage light on.”

We made our way into the left wing, where Mitch’s station was set up by a small podium.

“We do?”

“Geez, kid, I know you’ve seen me do it.”

I thought back and realized I had. I just hadn’t really thought about it before now.

“Or, at least, that’s what they say,” Mitch added. “Really, it’s for safety, but people love their ghost stories.”

“It’s not on right now,” I said. And sure enough, the stage was dark. The house was pitch black.

Mitch turned to check, and I think he actually gasped. We walked to center stage and I looked up.

“Maybe Frank turned it off,” I offered.

“Frank!” Mitch walked to the right wing, and called again. “Frank?”

“Or maybe he went home,” I said, quietly.

“Nah, he’s here somewhere. Go up and check the catwalk.”

“He’s not on the catwalk, boss,” I said. “He’s out in the auditorium. Er, house.” Now that my eyes had adjusted, I could clearly see someone out there, seated towards the middle, looking straight ahead. I pointed, “You can see him, right?”

Mitch shook his head. “Not Frank,” he said.

“What do you mean, not Frank?”

He didn’t answer.

“Who is it, then?”

Just then, the stage light flickered on. I looked out into the house again.

“He’s gone,” I said.

“Let’s go,” Mitch said. He turned on his heel and practically ran back to his station. He grabbed his notebook and stuffed it into his bag. “Come on,” he said.

We hurried toward the door. At the stairs to the catwalk, Frank met us, smelling like he’d swallowed a whole distillery’s worth of whiskey.

“You’re here late,” he wheezed. Poor Frank.

Mitch just nodded.

“Have you been up there this whole time?” I couldn’t help asking.

“Yeah,” Frank answered. “Just came down when I heard you on stage. Ghost light was out. Got it fixed.”

Mitch didn’t say a word, and the three of us walked out together as if nothing strange had happened at all.

************

Just as Mitch predicted, opening night went off without a hitch. The cast hit every beat, nailed every song, and the orchestra played like they’d practiced together for years. For all I knew, some of them probably had. Even the kids were perfect. It was exhilarating, being part of this kind of magic.

Mitch took us out for a drink after the show. “I’m buying,” he said. “You did a good job tonight.”

“Thanks,” I told him.

“So, are you hooked?”

I thought about it. I’d never been part of anything quite like this before. And so I answered, “I think I am.”

“Okay, then,” Mitch said. “Then there are definitely a few things you need to know, if you’re sticking around.”

“Okay,” I said.

“The first thing is, you never look directly at Mr. Holly.”

“Mr. who?”

“That’s who you saw last night,” he said. “You know I said every theatre has a ghost? Well, he belongs to the Old River.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. I put my beer down.  

“I’d never seen him before last night,” Mitch told me. His flat tone indicated to me that he was, in fact, completely serious. “And I’d like to never see him again.”

“Okay,” I said. “Okay.” I thought about it again, and nodded once. “Okay. Well, tell me the rest,” I said.

And Mitch smiled. “You’re one of the good ones, kid.”

************

Thank you for reading! This is the eighth of twelve stories I’ll write as part of my 2022 Short Story Challenge. Twelve months, twelve stories, and the theme this year is: Folklore

Here are the first six, if you’d like to read them:

The Winter Woman

The Lady in the Stars

Silly Superstitions

In Search

Sally’s Mill

Tabula Rasa

The Day My Grandfather Met the Devil

I hope you join me in the challenge! I think it’s going to be a very good year for stories. But just reading is good, too, and I’m glad you’re here.

The next story will be posted at the end of September.

Your Time Belongs to You (A Poem)

(…that I definitely didn’t write for myself, because I needed to hear it.)

Your time belongs to
only you.
So take it easy,
slow and steady,
and stop
and breathe
if you need to.
It’s okay to
just be
or to not
be okay.
The rest of the world –
it can wait.

Autumn Is Coming

I feel it in the cool morning air. I see it in the subtle turning of the leaves. I am ready.

*Also a quick note: If you commented on my last post, I wanted to say a very heartfelt thank you. I have been overwhelmed and so appreciative of the outpouring of love, support, and kindness, and once again at the number of women who have shared their own stories with me. Thank you, thank you. Your sweet words and caring thoughts have made this dark and painful time a little brighter. I am grateful for you.*

I Had a Miscarriage

Trigger Warning: Pregnancy Loss, Miscarriage. I invite you to read this story, and I hope if you’re seeking support or connection, you find it here. But please feel free to step away, if you need to. Healing looks different for everyone. I needed stories like this, but my world isn’t the world. I just hope that if you’ve had a similar experience, you know that you are not alone, that you are loved, that your feelings are valid, that your loss is real, that it is not your fault, that your pain matters, that you weren’t foolish to be hopeful and excited, and that you deserve to be happy and whole again.  

I’ve gone back and forth about whether to tell this story.

I was pregnant.

Our positive pregnancy test.

I’m not anymore.

I had a miscarriage.

Every time I say it, every time I think about it, it hurts all over again.

This is not the news I was hoping to share. But I write stories, and so I’ll write this one.

Something More

I don’t remember ever really wanting to be a mother. I do like children. I just never wanted my own. Until I did.

My husband and I have been together for close to fourteen years. We have a good life. And for about thirteen of our years together, we felt like nothing was missing. We’ve traveled together. We’ve made lots of friends, and we’re involved in our community. We own an amazing, if needy, old house in a beautiful historic village. And we’ve got the two strangest, most wonderful pets in the world. We are happy. We usually spend our weekend days exploring the countryside, driving down dirt roads and finding new places to visit. It was on one such weekend, back in February, when things changed.

We’d spent a lovely, warm Saturday with one of our best friends. We visited a local distillery, had a drink in the sunshine sitting by a little river, and ate dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.

A photo of me, taken on the day things changed.

It was a good day. A great day, even. But when we got home in the evening, we both sort of paused walking up the stairs to our bedroom and looked at each other. In that moment, we felt the shift.  

I said, “I think I’m ready for something more.”

My husband said he was, too.

And that was that. We didn’t know what the journey might look like, but we knew that we’d be in it together, and we hoped that by the end, we’d be parents.

Was This Too Easy?

Things didn’t take long. By June, we were pregnant. The day I took the test, I wasn’t expecting a positive result. I’d been having some stomach pain, which I attributed to a busy weekend and a temporarily poor diet, and I thought it would be wise just to rule out that I might be pregnant before I took medicine or called the doctor.

The result: Two little lines.

So much hope and joy sitting in that space between two little lines.

But there was also fear.

I knew that things would be harder and more risky, given my age – 35, at the time. I’d read the statistics about chromosomal disorders and early miscarriage rates. My husband shared my anxiety, but we tried to stay positive. We got through the long days and nights together, dreaming of what our baby might look like, sound like, which of our quirks baby might share, and who this new little human would be. I was certain we were having a girl. My husband wasn’t so sure, but he was excited at the idea of tea parties and learning to braid hair. He’s a good man, and he felt so ready to be a dad.

And somehow, days turned into weeks. I was nauseous and exhausted all the time. I figured that was a good sign. But I couldn’t help feeling like it was all a little too easy. I’ve had so many friends struggle to conceive, and I felt guilty that our road had been so short. And the fear never left me.

The day of our first ultrasound, when we saw a tiny flicker, I felt relief and joy and hope like I’ve never felt before.

Our first ultrasound.

Baby was measuring exactly where it should be, with a strong, steady heart rate of 159 beats per minute. We finally felt okay to be excited and eager. It finally felt really, truly, tangibly real.

We left for a two-week vacation shortly after that first ultrasound, feeling like we could enjoy it. And we did. We visited family – my parents and my husband’s – spent time on the beach, shopped for small baby things because we felt like we finally could. And we came home the day before my 11-week ultrasound. We promised to update everyone after the appointment. In my head, I was already planning our announcement, and I was so looking forward to sharing our happy news.

The Worst Day

I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was anxious. I was excited. I knew that we’d learn the gender soon, and that the blood test we’d scheduled would tell us more about our baby. I was hoping for good results.

The morning of the appointment, I woke up early, wrote a note to our baby, and took several deep breaths. We drove to the doctor’s office, signed in, I got blood drawn, and then we waited to see the doctor.

I knew something was wrong when she couldn’t find a heartbeat with the doppler. She told me not to worry, and sent us back for an ultrasound. But I knew. I just knew.

The baby was too small. It had stopped growing at 8 weeks and 6 days. There was no heartbeat. I had miscarried, and my body hadn’t gotten the memo. I never realized anything was wrong.

They call it a missed miscarriage.

I haven’t seen my husband cry in years. He cried that day. I cried, too. I’m crying now. All that hope, all the dreams, the life we’d started planning, all of it, just gone, in the span of an hour. You have lots of time to get used to being pregnant, and to wrap your mind around being a mother. When you miscarry, you have no time at all.

August 15th.

I will remember that day forever, because it was the worst day of my life.

What Happens Next?

I am so grateful for my doctor. She is kind, casual, and easy to talk to. She told us our choices. She sent me home to think about it. She talked with us again later in the day, to answer our questions and help us choose our next step.

Because my body hadn’t registered the miscarriage, I had two options: a pill to help things along at home, or a D&C. I won’t go into details about how either one actually works, because I am not a doctor and I don’t want to share inaccurate information. I chose the D&C. I couldn’t imagine sitting at home, in pain, bleeding out my pregnancy. I just wanted things to be over.

It was scheduled for August 18th.

I am grateful to live in a time and in a state where treatment options are available to me without judgment or interference. I am grateful for the medical team that cared for me. I am grateful that the procedure was quick, and that my physical recovery has been easy so far.

My heart hasn’t healed. I know that it will, with time.

I am grateful for my husband, who has supported me and held me and walked this path with me. I hope that I have supported him, too.

Moving Forward

The only way out is through.

There is no cure for this kind of pain.

The latter half of August has been a blur. We have good moments and bad moments. At our worst, we are angry, sad, and hopeless. We are deeply, relentlessly worried about trying again and losing another pregnancy. At our best, we are hopeful, and we’ve been able to smile and laugh and be happy. And then we feel bad all over again, because being momentarily happy makes us feel like this experience wasn’t real, like we’re not treating this tragedy like we should, like we’re forgetting the two months that we spent loving the new, growing life we’d created together, and like we were foolish to even think this might happen for us.

I haven’t blamed myself. I know nothing I did caused this, and nothing I could have done would have prevented it. But in my darkest moments, I have struggled to see the way out of this grief. Before, I could visualize a future with our child. Now, that future is hazy, foggy, and wrapped up in a trauma I know I’ll be processing for a long time.

But there is a future.

There is.

I know that if we are meant to be parents, it will happen.

We’re going to try again.

I know we can’t control the outcome. It’s a risk we’re both willing to take, and we’ll take it together. I don’t know when we’ll feel ready, but I know that day will come.

In the meantime, I’m focusing on being kind to myself, on supporting my husband, on getting back to normal, on writing and reading and creating, and on giving myself grace and forgiveness when I slip into that dark, angry, hopeless place.  

I will heal. We will heal. There is light and joy at the end of this. It’s there waiting for us. I don’t know exactly what our future looks like, but I know that we’ll be happy again.

Why Did I Write This?

I write when I’m happy, and when I’m angry, and when I’m sad. I write to process my emotions, and to share my thoughts, and because I love stories. I write because putting words together in just the right way is its own kind of magic.

I wrote this because I needed to. I needed to get this down on paper. And I wanted to do that now, when these feelings are still fresh – painfully fresh – because I wanted to be as honest and as open as possible. It’s not the most eloquent thing I’ve ever written. I don’t care.

I also wrote this because I sought out stories like mine, and reading them made me feel less alone. It’s an isolating, terrifying, traumatic experience, losing a pregnancy. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But it happened to me, and it’s happened to so many other women.

And I wrote this because we live in a time when the future of women’s reproductive care is frighteningly unclear, and I need people to understand that pregnancy is not health neutral, and it’s not certain, and positive outcomes are absolutely not guaranteed.

But more than anything, I wrote this because women deserve to tell our stories. What happened to me could happen to any woman. It’s not a shameful secret, though I don’t enjoy talking about it. I have been amazed at the number of women who’ve comforted me, and told me that they’ve gone through this, too, or worse, or that someone they love has had a similar experience. I had no idea there were so many of us. I hate that there are so many of us. But here we are, just taking one breath after another, living with this pain and not saying a word.

So, here are my words. I hope they help someone. I hope they reach you, if you need them.       

Annie is a beach dog???

Y’all, I just had to share one more picture from our beach getaway.

Now that we’ve been home for a week, Annie is up to her usual antics – barking, guarding the back window against deer and groundhogs, generally being sort of loud and energetic.

She was a different dog at the beach. As you can see.

Calm, sleepy, relaxed, easy-going. I’m beginning to think our country puppy who loves the snow and cold is actually A BEACH DOG! Who knew?

Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

There Is a Time (A Poem)

There is a time for
all things –
for grief,
love,
and change,
and for
the way forward.
There is space
enough
in this world to
feel,
to learn,
to see,
and to grow.
This, we know,
even in our worst moments,
and on our
saddest,
sweetest,
shortest,
longest days.
We don’t get to
choose
the minute
or the place,
but they belong to us.
We are
made
to live.