REAL SIMPLE (almost entry….)
When did you first understand the meaning of love?
I was 41 years old, beginning peri-menopause and the mother of three sons ages 4, 8, and 11. Because I was concerned that I might be ill, I secretly took a pregnancy test and when that pink plus sign popped up I was shocked. We lived in the exclusive community of Southampton, Long Island, and though we were far from exclusive ourselves, we built the first “non-toxic” home in the area and were featured in several newspapers. When at long last it was built, it was a thrill to move into our beautiful, healthy, fragrant home that smelled like freshly squeezed lemons. At the time, my husband, Shep was a successful realtor, earning enough income to allow me to be a happy stay at home mom.
That was of course, until the bottom fell out of the real estate market on Black Monday, 1987. The first thing to sink was real estate, particularly the second home market in a resort area. We were essentially without an income overnight. We argued, we cried, we scrambled and we became very creative. Shep took a job as a school bus driver and in doing so, earned a bit of money but most importantly received the same healthcare coverage as the teachers did. By night he waited tables for the rich and famous at the Hampton’s hottest restaurant at the time, Sapore di Mare. There, he learned culinary skills that remain with him today and a great appreciation for well-prepared, quality food. On Wednesdays we distributed organic fruits and vegetables to our affluent customers, which we purchased in bulk and resold at a profit. Carefully wrapping the heads of butter lettuce and rinsing each tart cherry we placed the orders in the refrigerators of our celebrity customers. A benefit was that our family got to eat well for little investment. On Friday afternoons we would pack clothes for the weekend and move in with our kids. We shared their beds so that we could rent out two bedrooms as a Bed and Breakfast. Often, we netted about $500 minus the cost of scones and jam. On many Friday nights, I helped cater some of the Hamptons coolest parties. This is how we survived from week to week.
Although I really was happy being home, I was also glad to see the light at the end of the tunnel of babyhood and the possibility of getting involved in things other than La Leche League and playgroups. So, finding myself pregnant by surprise was not only an obstacle but also a deep disappointment. I phoned my long time friend, Joan, sobbing on the phone and asked her to meet me for lunch at The Driver’s Seat. She met me with much trepidation, fearing that I was about to tell her that either I was in the midst of a torrid affair, or had a life threatening illness. When I told her why I was crying, she stared at me in disbelief as if she wanted to break into song “Is That All There Is?” I lamented how broke we were, that I already had enough kids, that I needed to work now ad nauseum. I also had this shameful feeling that I was too old and now too poor to have another child, anticipating the disapproval of others.
Because I have always been in awe of childbearing and because I am a huge breastfeeding advocate, the actual pregnancy was comfortably woven into my life. However, I did ruminate over sending bad vibes to this baby with thoughts of being unwanted throughout the nine months. On an icy evening on January 17, 1993, some 42 weeks pregnant, I began laboring at home with two kind midwives. It was my most difficult birth and labor never seemed to end. I struggled, finally actually screaming that baby out into my soft bedroom chair at 1 am. Once he was born, we all understood the struggle as he weighed in at 10 ½ pounds! Sweetly, in my arms, we melted into bed together. He tenderly came to my breast and I began to cry from sheer, unbridled joy, exhilaration and the sight of my now four sons surrounding me, along with the loving eyes of Shep. We named our newest bald, little son, Gregory, after a dear friend. Now my stand up and shout song needed to be, “I am Woman, Hear me Roar.”
During the next few months, we put our cherished, green home on the market and made plans to move to a more affordable home in North Carolina. I spent many hours in my lovely, peach bedroom, nursing my precious, squishy baby always whispering into his head, “I am so glad you are here. I love you. I am so blessed that you are mine.” We sang “Blue Eyes” along with Elton John to him since he was our only non-brown eyed child and I danced with him to Louis Armstrong’s “It’s a Wonderful World.” Once settled in North Carolina, Gregory and I went to Whole Foods every Tuesday while we took one of my sons to a homeschool group and we strolled in the afternoons to pick the younger boys up from their new school. We rocked in Shep’s grandmothers old rocker at naptime, watching the latest developments on the OJ Simpson case. I felt grateful for the joyful life I had with the hopes for more of the same, when I would lie in bed nursing Gregory to sleep staring out at the North Carolina pine trees
In May of 1995, we decided to take a trip to visit our old Hamptons friends. Gregory was two years old and always unhappy in his car seat so he and I flew to New York while Shep drove the minivan with the other three boys. Once in the Hamptons, we listed all the friends to visit but made one stop first. This was just an “acquaintance” as one says when one is classifying levels of friendship, but a La Leche League mom who had just given birth to a new baby she wanted me to meet. Shep and I disliked her husband, intensely for his infidelities, false bravado, and reputation for being an extremely dishonest politician, so we went when he was not home. However, he did come home while we were still there and monopolized the conversation. We were attempting to leave but, the rest as they say, is indeed, “history” and for us, life-changing history at that.
Two of my boys were playing outside, while Gregory followed them around. He tended to “shoot baskets” by throwing the oversized basketball down to the ground and then looking up at the hoop to see if it had miraculously gone in! Early May in New York is not yet time for swimming but, Gregory found his way into the still cold swimming pool. The shocking sight of him floating in his yellow sweat suit remains engraved in my mind forever. An ambulance rushed him to a local hospital, followed by airlifting him to a huge medical center. Bathed in complete and utter terror, I sat next to his soft, naked body as the doctors administered bolus after bolus of Lasix, breathed for him, and tried all things humanly and medically possible to keep his heart beating. We prayed and begged incessantly. We watched the lines on the monitor. We listened to the beeps. Never in my life, did I realize the depths of desperate, yearning love that one could feel for another. I wanted my beloved son in any form, in any condition, but I wanted him alive and present and at my breast so that I could nourish him back to health. My heart pounded with continuously outpouring, searing love. My begging tears fell onto his small chest. Occasionally, I would look up into my frantic husband’s eyes and say, “What should we do?” My 11 year old son wandered in the hospital hallways, imploring, “Mommy, do something.” Despite all the love in the world, Gregory drew his last supported breath at 6 am the next morning.
Suffice to say, as a family we spent the next several years in deep grief, continuous counseling and the vital support of church, family and Compassionate Friends. We were and remain today, five humans, changed forever. For me, navigating my way through deep connections of an unexpected love followed by a violent, tragic loss, taught me a previously unknown meaning of real love. We each carry with us that love, manifesting itself in different ways, some productive, some not so helpful but real and honest, nonetheless. We learned that no matter how much we love and how much we want to hold onto the one who we love, sometimes, we are left with only the understanding.
On Tuesday, May 3, 1995, Shep and I woke up in the lovely, Southampton home of a friend of ours, Stephanie. She had invited us to use her weekend house while she was away and we were visiting. Nicholas was 13 and wanted to spend the day at a friend’s house. Peter was 11 and had been stung by a bee on his leg, the day before and was still pretty sick from the allergic reaction he had had. Oliver was seven and up for whatever we planned. Gregory was two and had slept without me and without nursing through the night, for the first time, totally randomly and without coaxing. He had made his way through this strange house in the night to the bed his dad was sleeping in a room with the other boys and snuggled up beside him to sleep. I had a glorious and peaceful night where I actually got to sleep through and when I woke up, was shocked to find that Gregory was not next to me as he usually was. I felt good in the morning, but edgy as now it seemed, I wanted even more alone time. I wanted to lay on the couch and read The Southampton Press from cover to cover, undisturbed. Having lived in the Hamptons for 12 years, I still knew many of the people mentioned in the paper. Reading a paper and being the mother of 4 young boys is simply not possible.
We decided to go into town and walk Jobs Lane and then Main Street checking out changes in Lillywhite’s toy store, the boutiques, the restaurants, and to drool over what we had left behind by moving to plain vanilla land in Raleigh, North Carolina, two years prior. In walking, we ran into a few familiar old friends and stopped to chat about old Little League teams, schools our kids had gone to and the like. We ate some lunch in The Driver’s Seat restaurant which was always so enjoyable and then moved on. Peter’s leg still hurt and so he wound up sitting in Gregory’s stroller, while Gregory attempted to push him. It was a hilarious site that entertained many strollers in town that day.
We came back to Stephanie’s house and made some spaghetti for dinner. I was irritable when Gregory kept climbing on the deck bench and leaning over. I was still lusting after alone time, or at least mommy-off-duty time and resented the interruptions. I kept pulling him back each time he leaned over and in retrospect, I only wish I had let him fall. He would have broken bones and that sounds horrific, I know, but read on and you will understand more. Gregory was covered with spaghetti sauce on his blue and white outfit so I changed him into a cute yellow sweatsuit and his multi colored shoes that matched. For reasons I will never understand, we chose to visit a woman I knew from La Leche League who had just given birth to her third child. This was not a close friend of mine, but rather a co-dependent, weak yet radical earth mama who was married to one of the most despicable men I ever met. George was at the time, County Legislator for Suffolk County and when he wasn’t busy cheating on his wife, neglecting his children, or being a total egocentric asshole, he was making derogatory racist or anti-gay comments for those very populations he bragged about defending. Sleazy and repulsive is the only word I can still use to describe this unattractive being.
The truth of the matter is that we could have visited several other people on our first evening back in Southampton to see friends. My best friend, Joan wanted us to come, as did so many others. Who can ever say why we made the choice we did. It will haunt me forever. When we visited, the two older boys played with mine and went in and out of the house shooting basketballs. Anne and I sat admiring her baby, and as was typical for her she referred to astrological charts of each newborn as they came into the world. She had left George more than once and showed up crying, with kids in tow at my home for refuge. I always wondered why she chose our home, since we were not particularly close friends. I tried to figure out now, if that was over or if George was still up to his same slimey tricks. Her newborn nursed on and off as she and I sat in the living room. Shep was in the kitchen talking to Anne’s visiting mom and then, George arrived bragging about the TV show he had just been interviewed for. Gregory wandered in at one point, noticed the baby nursing and so climbed into my lap and nursed as well. It was sweet and more poignant then I could ever know.
For some reason, we all wandered into the kitchen which was where the back door was. George who continued to be unbearably full of himself, showed off his parrot on his shoulder. He told us that it was not easy to determine whether the bird was male or female. “Just my luck,” he said, “that I would end up with a ‘faggot’ parrot!” I remember feeling so confused that this man was such a complete fraud, deriding the very population he claimed to publicly defend. It is hard for me to look at parrots, still.
Minutes later, Shep asked me, “Where is Gregory?” I responded that he was following the boys in and out to the basketball hoop. “No, he responded, I don’t see him.” In that second the entire world changed for six of us and it would never return to how it was one second before. Gregory was indeed floating face down in his yellow sweatsuit, multi colored shoes, in the swimming pool. Shep and George grabbed him and pulled him out. The open gate (The Hamptons had very strict laws about this, but of course, George was completely above the law) had gained him entrance and what happened next, I will never know. I do know that there was running and screaming and sirens and chaos and me jumping up and down in the air in a maniacal, frantic, desperate fashion. I would flip from kneeling and begging God for help to leaping in the air over and over. There were hours in emergency rooms, helicopter airlifting, racing to a larger medical facility and sustained hysteria by us all. There were my kids coming and going, being brought, being removed, being calmed, being lied to, being supposedly — protected. There was no way to protect, no way to calm.
I have written of all the details many times, so I will not repeat. But, in ten hours time, we watched a medical team desperately try to infuse life back into the lifeless body of my darling, chubby child. It crossed my mind that if they would let me nurse him, he would be okay. Truth was that when we pulled him out of that pool, he was already dead even though medical efforts made his heart beat again. We let him go forever at 6:00 am and stepped into the cesspool of our new lives, that would take us years to learn to navigate. If only we had known that the day before would have been the last day. We could have done things differently, I suppose.
Today is that day again, only it is now 15 years later. We have survived without my darling son and we have been given the blessing of two more sons, twins in fact who really are solely responsible for pulling us out of the black hole we lived in following Gregory’s death. As you know, I live each day in search of “the normal day” always consciously pleading and praying that it is not the last one.