Loss A large, dark-colored bird soaring in a cloudy blue sky

Published on June 11th, 2024 | by Sydney Kopp-Richardson



We used to live near Raccoon Alley. It is actually 37th Street in Brooklyn, but it is where raccoons often wander out of the cemetery fence with distemper, confused and sick and sitting on their laurels. It follows the train yard and Jackie Gleason bus depot. When I first met Colin, I would leave the bar and walk the length of Raccoon Alley to his apartment, tipsy and swoony, threatening via text to climb the fence into the night still of Greenwood Cemetery. I show off when I feel vulnerable. I climbed a factory fence in Beloit, Wisconsin, twenty years ago, sliced my hand open, and spilled blood everywhere. Here, Colin warned me that there are guard dogs. This is flirting. 

After my miscarriage, I wandered up and down Raccoon Alley and cried to Phoebe Bridgers. The street is littered with dumped tires and garbage bags and broken-down cars amidst overgrown weeds. I would stop where the road curves over the train yard and look at the wide river sunset or a bird in the sky. We had experienced loss before. Colin’s first trip back to Ohio in twelve years was to visit his ill mother.

After this unplanned homecoming, Colin lost his mother, his sister, his father, his cat, and his dog consecutively over the course of five years. Trauma is not THE trans experience. But there is a specific type of mourning, struggling with losing people whose love is complicated and already connected to grief. Friends say the wrong things or nothing. Grief is universal and the loneliest experience. It is hard to know how to hold the person you love the most amidst a devastation you can never specifically know. You are powerless and grasping at the rawness, deflecting towards joy or hope when you really needed to sit in the empty with them.

A light rail platform with a train approaching beneath leafless trees

I was nine weeks pregnant when we had our first OB appointment, excited and in disbelief. I had struggled, wondered if pregnancy would always feel so lonely. We had been deep in the IVF process, needles and bruises and blood draws and daily medical visits and staring at follicles on screens. The alienation as queer people in the fancy medical setting was jarring. We’d both done a lot of work to feel more fully embodied with ourselves, with each other, in public, in sex, in relationships, in communication. The erasure of who you are in a clinical space can feel like a regression. I wanted to tell this to people I love. I wanted to feel held. Isn’t that what every person wants? 

Dr. Jin was so excited for us. We had been in this process for over four months, and we felt so near the second trimester. She put the wand on my belly and there was no heartbeat. I thought there had to be some mechanical malfunction. If I had imagined the worst-case scenario enough times, it couldn’t be true. She said she was very sorry. She sent us up the street in Manhattan to confirm with a sonogram. While we waited, we sat on a brick ledge near Central Park and the Cooper Hewitt Museum. I called my mom at Trader Joe’s. She wasn’t on her lunch break, but I told her that there was no heartbeat. She cried. 

We went to our appointment and there was no heartbeat. I asked if they were absolutely sure, and they were. I asked if I could have a drink today. They said of course. We scheduled a D&C procedure, but we couldn’t get in for over a week. 

That afternoon, we went to the outdoor-bus-lane-COVID-seating of Freddy’s, our local haunt that reminds me of the watering hole of my people back home: the bar sponsor of Aunt Sue’s softball teams and Miller Lite horses and free popcorn and dank booth smells where I was allowed Kiddy Cocktails. Where Dad put up numerous satellite dishes, later-year relics. I dreamt last night of Papa’s house, 644 Willow Road. He was alive and in his daily navy Sears Roebuck fishing khakis, in the house where he raised five kids, buried his young wife, weathered wild young adults on cocaine and hippie weed. I’d sit on his lap in his rocking chair, hoping I could make him less lonely. The house has since been bulldozed.

There, we would eat feasts and hang out in the driveway on vinyl-padded lawn furniture or big blankets on the front lawn. There, Uncle Louis built us the best snow fort of my life and Dad shoveled blizzard feet of snow off the roof his first winter in America. There, I picked cherry tomatoes Papa grew on the vine, and burrowed my fingers in the grass, and ran to the river and the forest with my brother to the looming old pine tree with perfect dead branches for a ladder. 

There, I’d bake pies with Aunt Joanie and hate smelling her whiskey skin. But she ran away from a violent man in Mississippi, and she was never the same. I’m glad Papa died before she shot herself in the heart. I’m glad he died before Louis went off the rails and opened up about the Catholic Church and attempted sobriety for many years until his death, when he stopped breathing during COVID. Uncle Will died a few months later, but he never attended or held funerals, even for his beloved wife, Aunt Betty. Aunt Sue has breast cancer, and Mama has taken care of each one of them since she was a kid herself. But they all told wild and raucous bellylaugh stories, and prepared tables of grilled and baked and sauteed and roux’ed banquets, feeding everyone. I sucked on Aunt Sue’s whiskey ice cubes on Papa’s concrete driveway stoop, and Mama always said, life was a bowl full of cherries at 644 Willow Road. 

A statue of an angel holding flowers atop a gravestone, against a backdrop of real, bright pink flowers

I don’t remember a lot after we found out the fetus had died. I knew I was lost and needed to wail. I drank myself numb for a month. Phoebe kept me company. I walked the streets and cried. These Brooklyn streets hosted makeshift trailer morgues because the pandemic body counts were overfilling. I cried while I worked, a wall separating me from Colin in our tight Brooklyn pandemic quarters. I cried in the long grass on a Greenwood hill and listened to Dolly tell me it was going to be a brand-new day. 

Colin quietly grieved and worried desperately. It is hard to know how to hold the person you love the most amidst a devastation you can never specifically know. But it is also hard to be invisible in your own devastation. Colin was devastated. 

People tell you to reach out and tell people what you need. People tell you to name needs. I tried. We canceled our trip to Maine, a camping expedition we’d been planning for a year with close friends to fight pandemic isolation. I tried to tell friends that I was struggling and couldn’t travel. I said the words, I’m really struggling. A familial friend responded by telling me, everyone is really struggling. 

I shut down. I fawned. I had just aborted a dead fetus, without a heartbeat for over a week. They told me it was a genetic error the clinic missed. They told me it was a girl. I didn’t believe in assigned gender, but it somehow still stunned me. I thought about the little egg in there. Resting. Withering. Trapped inside. I couldn’t use my words. I tried to, and it didn’t seem to work. That friend hasn’t spoken to me since. Grief pushes some people away. Grief is antithetical. 

When we went to have the D&C, I was probably a bit numb. I was scared and looking forward to sedation. Before they wheeled me away on the gurney, I handed Colin my glasses and my wedding ring. He stayed strong for me, as Colin does. But he crumbled a bit, quietly, I know. He thought about his father holding his mother’s glasses and wedding ring when she was sick. He worried about me coming back in one piece. Afterwards, I was anesthesia-grateful, hugging Dr. Jin and thanking her. She said, I’ll see you next time, and it’s gonna happen. 

A forlorn stuffed rabbit or dog leans against a tree stump in a wintry forest

I tried on my wedding dress for Merle the other day. The friend-who-is-no-longer helped me pick it out at Saks 5th Avenue. I had never been to Saks 5th Avenue and wasn’t quite sure what the store offered. The dress is sparkling gold, for a 1940s Hollywood fingerwave queen. Merle enjoyed the back and also adores my rainbow sequined heels. He crawled to the closet and promptly put one in his mouth. 

For the first time in my life, I had been ready for a wedding party, ready to brazenly celebrate our love. In May 2020, we were going to do it on a stage under twinkling lights in a dark Chicago bar, and I was going to sing a favorite love song to Colin while my dad played guitar and I riffed on the bar’s honkeytonk piano in my shimmering gold. My dad has had chronic illness for years. When we sing together, I always wonder, will this will be the last time we sing a song? But he says you can’t keep a Kiwi down. 

Dad was in a dance band in New Zealand, but never played guitar when we were kids because he worked seven days a week and had just enough time to read us books at bedtime. He was committed, because I had sleep problems and needed to stroke someone’s hair in bed. Hair strokes still comfort me. Sleep terrified me, especially when Mom was working nights. Her late-night angry dishes were a semi-comfort because at least she got home okay. Mom was electric, in laughter and in rage. She doesn’t always know her own strength, but I wish she knew that her laughter is a song. She always told us, I love you 20,000 Sears Towers in the sky, words coined by my little brother. Papa called my mom Sassafras.

Colin says to me that your mother is your first, most intimate relationship. How can it not shake you? 

Dad started playing guitar again when he first got sick, almost twenty years ago. This year, Dad learned all the words to “Puff the Magic Dragon” for Merle. When he started singing it in my parents’ family room, Colin had to walk away—his mom sang him that song offkey. He says she sang in church offkey, and after she died we went to a Manhattan Catholic mass on Christmas Eve. I was resistant because I will never love a church and the Catholics destroyed my family. My mom had visions until she didn’t but then let us take funeral communion in her own private rebellion. 

But I need to remember that in church, Colin felt like his mom’s hand on his shoulder. Colin went to Catholic school, which his brother seems to begrudge, despite the fact that the cops were called to his house all the time. The youngest of six, Colin lived with the neighbors after he was born because his mom was hospitalized after childbirth, and his brother too. A traumatic brain injury, drunk driver. Colin learned to self-soothe from the jump. It is lonely surviving violence, but also damn. Colin is so vibrant and full. I think this about people I love the most: What a beauty, to weather storms and still choose to be generous and kind in your love. And what a gift to the world it is to live your true and full and authentic trans life. 

A cross-shaped grave marker atop a hill overlooking Brooklyn

The day I found out Uncle Louis died, Colin and I sat outside on a street in Brooklyn and noticed a big crow on the building above. Crows are messengers, they are fiercely loyal, they are communicators. They are fabulous and loud and love shiny objects. We named our baby Merle, a blackbird, a crow. The bird who sings. 

A baby can be the power to transform, to disrupt, to liberate, to claim ferocity. Pregnancy was an invitation to myself, an allowance to heal and grow. I didn’t have any other choice. There was a calm for the first time in my life. We walked by the ocean, lonely and connected and devastated and hopeful. Deeply. The day our baby decided to dance himself out of me, I walked through Greenwood Cemetery singing Thompson Twins and Fleetwood Mac and James, crying for Uncle Louis and the unknown of impending life changes. As I was leaving, a hawk flew overhead, low. “I must be prepared,” I said. I went to the store dazed and bought string cheese and yogurt. I took a warm bath and read my murder story and listened to Music for Plants. I stood up and brown water came gushing out of me. 

Twenty-three hours later, when the doctor handed Merle to me, the sky split open and lightning cracked with one pound of thunder over the East River. The baby had arrived. We were all here. Now, my mother’s words and electricity could not be clearer. Now, Merle stares at us and smiles like we are the sun. I wonder if he will know these things someday. I am shaken. I am the chasm between poles. I am alive. 

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