When we lost our first pregnancy, Josiah, Concetta and I were have a tough time. I put a lot of time and energy into taking her out of New York, up to Saugerties, NY for a bed and breakfast. She was really depressed at the time. We rented a car, stayed at a B & B, went on a train ride in a restored, old time locomotive, and walked around the different shops in town. We ate at a nice, organic restaurant. Finally, we drove back through the foothills of the Adirondacks, and toured an old home, like the home they shot “Knives Out” in. We returned to the city. She was still withdrawn, we hadn’t slept together, and nothing had changed. I remember saying to myself, “I’m going to get in touch with Vail.”
It was like a hurt feelings contingency, like it had been in my mind, but I was holding back from doing it. She and I had made a connection in my master’s classes for Special Education. We were both book readers, both musical, and both open, vulnerable, prone to darkness, and looking to talk to someone.
Holy fuck. Have you ever stopped, and said to yourself, as memories flooded back, how did I forget about this?
It’s almost hard to write about. There’s so many memories, this could be its own entry. I had kept Vail in my mind as if it were an entirely one-side d relationship, but there’s more to it than that. She told me things, she sympathized with me, I sympathized with her.
I got in touch with her by Facebook message. I knew she liked the National, and she told me about Florence + the Machine and Adele. So I walked around with my iPod nano, listening to this music, and she got all caught up in my feelings with these songs. There was so much hurt and pain and damage in my heart, that I couldn’t even express it.
Before that, with Josiah. Concetta and I had been trying to get pregnant for a couple years. She was five months pregnant, and everything was fine, and then we went for the five month ultrasound exam, and the tech stopped talking during the exam. We had been joking about names, and then the doctor came in. I realize now he was a radiologist. He said the baby wasn’t going to be able to live, his arms, and legs, and head hadn’t formed, and that we were going to have to terminate the pregnancy.
We asked a couple questions, and he stormed out. Concetta asked if the legs were too short because she was short, and the doctor said “no, you’re short, but not like that.” And it was over. It was over.
I thought maybe I could do something. I called Cora, my sister in law, on the phone, because she was a doctor (pre-med school me). I told her the story, and she started crying. I asked her if she knew of any chance that there was a mistake, that a second opinion would be helpful, and she said maybe, I don’t know, and I called my parents, and everything crashed down around me.
I spent a lot of time online trying to come up with something about this condition. I was set to take the MCAT in a few months, and I had been studying science all that year. The closest I could come was a condition called Thantatophoric Dwarfism, with a bell shaped chest, frontal bossing (prominent forehead), telephone receiver femurs. We got a second opinion anatomy scan, and nothing had changed. We had to stop the pregnancy.
There were two pieces of evidence that I used to make this my fault, emotionally. One, I was masturbating off and on when Concetta conceived, and so maybe my sperm wasn’t that strong, and maybe a defective sperm had gotten through. Or, this was a curse from God because of my sin. Two, Concetta was taking Celexa at the time because I really had strongly pushed her to, and there were some reports that SSRIs in early pregnancy had been linked to limb defects.
I held this in the back of my mind, I wasn’t thinking about it. I was the husband, I was the dad, I was the one who had to take charge of the situation. Concetta’s aunt flew in to stay with us, and took her for an amniocentesis, which didn’t find any genetic abnormalities. When they were coming back, they couldn’t get a cab to take them back. Concetta’s aunt Maria, who had raised her after her stepmother had been abusive, made the comment that if Concetta miscarried because she walked too hard after the amniocentesis, maybe it would be the right thing. In so many words.
Maria and her husband, John, were conservative people. Concetta admired the hell out of John, and his contribution to the whole process was suggesting that if we waited, had the baby, and the baby died, then we wouldn’t have had to have an abortion, it would have been nature’s way of taking its course.
I was like, fuck that. I didn’t say that, but I said that I worried that it would be a risk for her, and a trauma for her to keep carrying the pregnancy. Eventually, we got the abortion scheduled, just under the deadline for when it would have been considered a late term abortion. My dad and stepmom, Carmen, came in, and stayed with us. I went in with Concetta, and I put on clips from “the Office” on my phone to comfort her while the procedure was started. They used seaweed sticks to dilate her cervix, gave her anesthesia, and took her back.
My dad and I stayed in the waiting room, and then I was called back. She hugged me and started crying, and I could see blood on the hospital panties she wore. We got a cab back to our apartment, and Concetta recovered.
We had the baby’s remains cremated. We had talked about the name Josiah, after the president on the West Wing, Josiah Bartlett. Concetta had a vision of a little boy walking with Jesus, his face turned away. We sketched it, and had a memorial service. “He was going to be ‘handsome like Daddy,’” she wrote to me in a letter. God, I’m crying just writing this.
A month or two later, we went to a restaurant in Union Square for my birthday. I started talking about the research I read about SSRIs, about the limb defects, and how I didn’t think they would match up with the baby’s birth defects. Concetta got really serious, and started questioning me, like, “What? You knew about this, and you didn’t tell me?”
I started sobbing, and had to leave the restaurant. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t stop crying. I had to walk around the corner to try and regain my composure. People were calling my phone to wish me a happy birthday, and I couldn’t talk.
Concetta made me go get a therapist. I wanted to see somebody that I could talk to about sex. It occupied my mind a lot, and it wasn’t something I could talk to anyone else about it. I got really obsessed about certain things. Sometimes it was creepy even to me. I started going to a therapist name Tara at the center which is specialized in LGBT clients. Tara also happened to be a lesbian.
I told her about everything, and she really took my side. She also liked to talk about shows like Game of Thrones sister Luther, and The Walking Dead, which were in their first few seasons at the time. I think she identified with me, and she recommended All About Love by bell hooks for me to read.
When I started talking to Vail, Tara approved. She thought I needed a friend, and somebody that I could talk to.
There is also a lot of myself that I kept in books and music; things I didn’t have words to express. When we started dating, I played Elliott Smith for her, and she said it was really depressing. Elliott Smith is depressing, but it hurts so good, to use a cliche. Concetta and I had a lot in common when we were both really involved in Christian activities, but I had been out of the loop since we moved to the city. I was angry for several reasons: first, because I got treated so bad as a teacher, second, because I didn’t get anything out of the churches that we went to, third, I had resumed my pursuit of Christian ministry in the year is leading up to our move, and I was going to go to seminary in California and become a Pastor in a non-denominational evangelical church. That all ended in flames, which is another story, but suffice to say, I didn’t identify with Christian books and music the way I had before. After what happened with Josiah, I was even more tangled up and lost. The Christian message seemed to be, “suck it up.”
Tara would coach me through how to be more assertive in interactions. Concetta would question if I was seeing a Christian therapist, and if what she was telling me it was God or Bible-based. I bristled at this, for the above reasons.
I still miss Tara a lot. I told her about the porn and masturbation, and my shame about it. I told her about how I was stuck on lesbians. I told her the buildup was what really got me going, the tension. She told me that one of the things about lesbian sex that she found interesting was that it was two sided. Anything that you’re doing to your partner, or doing with them, you switch roles, and then they do it to you. She was very open about talking about it, and I felt like less of a pervert.
Concetta and I had vacationed in the Cayman Islands that summer and she really felt good during that time. I was getting into this obsessive bent, trying to gently ask her about swinging, having an open marriage. About which of our friends she would want to trade with, or who I thought would be an OK guy for her to be with.
And eventually Concetta found some of the Facebook messages. I showed her everything. I told her about everything. I told her how I masturbated, I told her about the porn, I showed her some of it. I thought that when you bare yourself completely to your partner, that they would accept you, because that’s what I would’ve done for her.
She was getting more and more upset. There was something in the messages that was upsetting to her specifically. It was probably when I was talking about how Concetta didn’t really understand me and was only interested in getting to know certain parts of me. It was about how Concetta didn’t even know what my favorite books were and she didn’t know what my favorite music was. She never listened to any of that stuff.
Concetta got really upset, and she struggled with me at one point. I restrained her, and she ran out of the house. I called her phone, she didn’t answer. I called our pastor (who lived in the neighborhood), she wasn’t there.
Concetta ran to her friend Dolores‘s house, and she told her all these things. And she told Dolores that I had said that I would want to sleep with her. And Dolores atold her that she would never sleep with me in a million years. I still feel betrayed by this. It’s like, you tell your wife something that’s very personal and very compromising, and then they get you rejected by proxy.
I didn’t want to give up sending messages to Vail. I would go to different parts of the city that I knew she went sometimes and look for her, imagining seeing her. Concetta decided that she had to go and meet her in person. I was so humiliated. I asked her not to do it. I told him if it was something cold and twisted him, And that she was taking something from me that she shouldn’t.
They went and got lunch together. Vail told her she thought we were just friends. They talked; Vail brought a guy with her.
Tara didn’t think I should stop communicating with Vail. She said it was a valuable means of self expression, and not something to be discarded over misinterpreted sentiments. I treasured every message that Val sent to me. I read it again and again, and I would dream about it sometimes. It was something very precious and very personal and something that was only mine.
Concetta and I fought about it; I got the suitcase out, and started packing my clothes to go stay with my friend Justin. And she was crying. I told her if she was miserable all the time, she should take a leave of absence from work and go back to Pennsylvania, and be with her family. She asked if I wanted her to leave. I thought about it for several moments, and said, “no.” I felt like divorcing her would make me a cheat. Like, I promised her a baby and a house and a car, and I hadn’t given it to her, and that’s what a man was supposed to do.
But, I caved. I called Vail, and talked to her on the phone for the first time since we were in classes together. I told her that I shouldn’t write to her anymore, and that I was sorry.
Tara was disappointed, but I had to choose my marriage. I had to do it.
So Vail was on my mind for years. All through four years of med school. Then, in my intern year, I got in touch with her, under the auspices of sharing my writing. We talked; she had gotten married, and had a young baby. We exchanged a few messages, and gave each other feedback on our respective novels.
I stopped thinking about her. I had replaced my fantasy version with a real, contemporaneous woman that I talked to, and I could let her go.