Published on October 5th, 2015 | by Sophie Wyndam1
Road Trip: SOPHIE WYNDAM on Healing
Driving to Yosemite. It’s Saturday early morning. We left in the middle of the night because how can you sleep when your heart aches like this? I doze in the car while J drives. Here’s Bishop. A restaurant famous for its bread. Mix flour, yeast, water; basic recipe for comfort in the past, the endless variations with blueberries and apples or streusels. But now, it does nothing for me. Just paper. It’s all just dry paper. There’s Mount Whitney. The sun will be coming up soon on the mountains. I hate sleep. Four mornings ago I woke up and I was pregnant. Three mornings ago I woke up in the hospital and my heart broke when I remembered what happened the night before. Two mornings ago I woke up at home, convinced I was still pregnant. And yesterday morning I woke up after dreaming that he was there in real life, that they could save him, that he was alive in a NICU somewhere.
We get breakfast at McDonald’s because it’s all that’s open at 6am. We are driving up the back way. The 395. A road in California is always labeled “the” first. It sounds right. The 10. The 210. When I go home to the east coast and say that I’m going to the mall on “the 30” it doesn’t sound right. Putting a definite article in front gives it a certain power. The power, for our ancestors at least, to take us out of crowded industrializing cities to new fertile verdant valleys. Salinas. Monterey. Santa Monica. Ventura. Havens and oases after the treacherous crossing through a hostile and unknown country.
This road is a beautiful scenic road. Mountains, Sierra Nevada’s, snowy peaks all around as we meander through the valley, little towns along the way with two or three stop lights, and then more dark empty. All around us is mountains, he says, pointing out the dark shadows. I can’t wait for it to be light and you to see it. It’s so beautiful. He used to come here as a kid. He knows this road, and these mountains. The first light shining on the snow, shimmering blissful beams of shiny light. Then turning west, past Mammoth and the mountains and the entry into Yosemite. But we keep going to Mono Lake. Let’s look at Mono Lake, he says. Ancient stalactite rocks popping up out of the water. They look like ghosts. Let’s go look at it, he says. And so we do. We watch the sun come up over the towering rock columns.
I get out to pee in the park bathroom, which is really just a port a potty with a cement wall and running water in the sink. I am still walking funny. Uneasy. Sore. Stiff. Achy. It’s cold outside and I’m shivering as I limp.
I am bleeding a lot, but nothing to be afraid of, they say. I sit down to pee, and he comes in with me. I can’t bear to be alone at all, not even long enough to pee. He takes a random picture of me sitting in the port a potty with my pants down, the hood of my jacket up hiding my face, just for laughs. That picture does makes us laugh now when we look at it. Then, I was just annoyed. But actually, I was too sad to be annoyed. I wasn’t anything. Just empty.
Nice lake. Look at those rocks. Crazy. Let’s go to Yosemite now. We drive through the back of the park, down into the Valley, the ancient Yosemite Valley that was formed by glaciers millions of years ago, and has some of the best rock climbing in the world, slick flat surfaces a mile high jutting straight out of the ground. Our friend had just scaled Half Dome and was training for El Capitan. Crazy, those tiny little climbers like ants on the slick side of the mountain, camping on the side of the mountain because it takes three days to climb up, literally hanging off the vertical face, each side of the tiny tent hooked in teeny crevices. You see them from the floor, little dots moving so slowly. One false move, I think. One knot that didn’t get tied properly. And boom, splat. You’re landing on the floor and being eaten by bears. I’m always aware of Death now. Hovering around every corner. I text our friend who is training for El Cap. I want to make sure he’s safe.
I want to make sure everyone around me is safe now. The world is so risky. Just being alive is a guarantee of death.
Later on I would be diagnosed with PTSD but it was still too early that weekend in Yosemite. Only four mornings removed. I was still in the trauma. Weeks away from being post trauma.
We pull over at the Bridal Veil falls. Such a beautiful waterfall, just flowing off the side of the mountain and disappearing into mist. I am walking slowly. J runs ahead to take some pictures. I’m cold, and anyway, I can’t walk that far. This is taking all my energy. There aren’t many tourists. It’s October. Not peak season. But enough. I avoid looking at people.
I talk to him. The baby. Baby, are you ok, I ask. Baby, do you know how much I love you. Baby, please give me a sign that you’re with me. Baby, I don’t want to be alone. Baby, I don’t want to have lost you. I want my son. I want my son back. Please baby boy come back. Please give me a sign. I am sitting by the side of a brook as J comes bounding back down. He walks with me, his arm around me. It’s been three minutes of being alone, but it’s too much. Don’t leave me alone like that again. I won’t, I’m sorry. I asked him for a sign, so look out for signs today.
Sign: A wedding party in one meadow. New beginnings. Celebrations. Happiness. They are just starting out on their journey.
We walk through the graveyard of the early Yosemite settlers after lunch at the cafe by the main souvenir shop. I buy a mug and a bag, though why I want a record of this is beyond me. We look at graves of children. Please take care of the baby, we beg them. Please. He’s so little. He’s so tiny. Please watch out for him. I am getting achy and sore. I need to sit down. I’m tired. I’m recovering from childbirth after all. Just don’t have a child with me.
You’re shining, he says. You were glowing before, but now you’re shining. It’s the baby, shining on you.
Sign: A stag that doesn’t move when we take pictures of him, except to blink. Lying there about a hundred feet off the road, looking majestic. So beautiful. So serene. I want to be like him. Do you know the baby, we ask him. Have you heard? Please take care of him if you see him. We’ll take your picture now, thank you.
Sign: An adopt a highway sign, a literal sign, on the way out in the afternoon. This highway was adopted by Butterflies and Rainbows. This means nothing to many people, but I know now that in babyloss parlance lost babies are called Butterfly Babies and babies that come after a lost baby are called Rainbow Babies. This highway was adopted by Butterflies and Rainbows. It’s a sign. My boy is literal. I asked for a sign, and he gave me a sign.
We are comforted by the sign. He’s with us. We know he’s with us.
We get a hotel in Mammoth. The hotel clerk is too chipper. So you’re up from Southern California. Yep, needed to get away. Oh don’t we all, ha ha. So funny. Well, it’s supposed to snow tonight, so enjoy.
Dinner at a restaurant. Chinese? Mexican? Who knows. Looking at the women around us. I now know from the websites that 1 in 4 women have suffered from a miscarriage or stillbirth. There are about 20 women in here. So 5 including me. I want to know who the other 4 are, these members of my new tribe. I want to wear a button or a t-shirt so that we can recognize each other. Hey, you too? I’m sorry. How far along? Boy or girl? Did you name her? Funeral? New initiates would get a special party hat so everyone could be extra gentle with them and give them an even warmer welcome to the worst sorority on earth. The initiation ritual is hell. I laugh at my stupid joke.
That night I take drugs they gave me to help me sleep, and I sleep sleep sleep. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night. I fear the night. I fear the loneliness of the night. When I get old, if I am alone, I am going to have the TV on all night so that the loneliness monsters, who only come out between 2 and 5am won’t come and haunt me. I wake up at 7 and I take a shower. I haven’t showered yet, except for once in the hospital. I’m afraid the warm water is going to stimulate my milk production. I live in fear of waking up with milk coming out of my breasts and no baby to feed.
That day, Sunday, driving around Mammoth Lakes, the weather damp from the light snow overnight. The trees are yellow and green. Yellow and green surrounds us. Fall colors, the yellow, with green hanging on, not yet ready to give up. We said we would decorate his room with yellow and green, and the universe has given us hills and valleys and yellow and green blankets covering everything. We take a picture of ourselves and the yellow and the green.
We talk to him more. We walk in the yellow and green and the damp leaves under our feet, and we talk. Baby, we miss you. Baby, we love you.
The weather in Southern California is shit when we get home. Rain, cloud, more rain. Normally I’d be grateful for rain, but now it’s just like God is crying with me. I want sun. Here comes the sun. That’s a joke. The sun is nowhere. The sun is gone. My son and the sun: both just disappeared.
Excerpted from Fragile and Perfectly Cracked: A Memoir of Loss and Infertility, by Sophie Wyndham