It had been a pretty uneventful pregnancy--my first. Now fully dilated, and in my second hour of hard labor, I screamed out as another contraction washed over me. Jakob and I had waited until we had our careers firmly established before starting our family. Jakob now owned his own construction firm, and had just landed a major contract--building townhouses in a gated community on the up-and-coming east side of Silver Creek. I, on the other hand, had just published my first novel--a semi-autobiographical mystery romance. The timing could not have been more perfect to begin our family.
I could feel the baby crowning between my legs. The strain only amplified and intensified the anguish I endured. My stomach muscles burned, and my back ached with soreness. The nurses tried--in vain--to make my ragged breathing more rhythmic, but I couldn't think clearly enough to actually do the exercises I had been taught in Lamaze. My abdomen contracted almost involuntarily, causing intense jolts of agony to course throughout my entire body. Exhausted, I cried out out for the one person I desperately needed to comfort me--my beloved Jakob. Sweat poured from my body and rolled down my back, soaking my gown and the bed. The intense, searing heat radiating from my body helped to moderate the chill of my sweat. Each contraction darkened the peripheries of my vision with pain. Jakob pleaded with me to keep pushing. With Herculean strength, I took in as much air as I could. Bearing down as hard as I could, I gave one final push. Screaming like a banshee, I felt her slide out of my birth canal at last.
"It's a girl!" the doctor announced.
My baby. My Stephanie!
Relief washed over me. Jakob smiled, his eyes dancing merrily.
I felt faint and weak from the ordeal.
I need to see her. Hold her. Bond with her.
I heard the water spray as they cleansed her. I heard her first cries--albeit weakly--then nothing. Time passed, and the silence became deafening.
"Stephanie?" I cried out weakly. "Where's my little girl?"
I could see the doctors huddled in the corner, mutely whispering to Jakob. What's happening?!?
"Jakob?" I called. "JAKOB!"
I drew in another breath, my heart pounding hard in my chest.
"Where's Stephanie? I WANT MY BABY!!"
Jakob slowly moved towards me, his eyes narrow and glazed with shock--and sorrow--or did I see terror??
"What's wrong? Jakob? TELL ME, DAMMIT! I WANT TO SEE STEPHANIE. NOW!!"
He just held my hand, trembling and crying as the doctors wheeled Stephanie out of the room, towards the neonatal unit.
The pain of delivery, and of having my precious child torn from me so abruptly became unbearable. I passed out from exhaustion and shock.
Hours later, I came to in the intensive care unit. I had hemorrhaged during the ejection of the placenta, and had almost bled out. Jakob shared my rare blood type, and had quickly volunteered to give me enough of his own blood that, combined with fluids and donated plasma, stabilized me. Although still weakened by the ordeal, he somehow managed to be by my side when I awoke. The intense sadness in his eyes frightened me. I had seen that sadness just one time before.
"Stephanie's sick, 'Lice," he began in a deadpan monotone, his voice flat and devoid of any emotion. "She's dying. She's undergoing surgery right now to fix a heart defect, but the doctors aren't very optimistic. She has two pinholes in her heart, and the leaking blood has put a lot of strain on the sac surrounding it."
Why was I being cursed again? I questioned. I had lost my first love, Stephen (Jakob's older brother), tragically ten years ago. I wasn't there in his hour of need, and before I could get back to him, he had ended his life. Now, I felt like I was being punished all over again. Please, God, I prayed silently. I've suffered enough heartache. You took Steven away from me. Don't take Stephanie too...
The nurse came in then, and saw me wracked in sobs. "I'm sorry, Mr. Steele," she said, "but your wife's been through quite an ordeal already, and we need to sedate her, and shield her from any further shocks. You'll have to leave now."
For only the second time in my life, I saw my soulmate, Jakob, cry. He slowly released my hand, and kissed me gently on the forehead. "I'll always love you", he whispered, as the fluid from the IV coursed through my veins, leading me to a hollow slumber, devoid of dreams.
They kept me in a coma for two weeks. When I finally awoke, Jakob grabbed my hand, tenderly caressing it. He had obviously been crying, as the reddened streaks and puffiness belied his attempts to comfort me. His sallow face only renewed my fears. The worst has happened, I realized, to my horror.
"No!" I screamed, pushing Jakob away--hard. As the tears welled up within me, I heard a silent "I'm so sorry". Darkness entombed me again as the sedatives once again took effect.
When I awoke the next morning, the doctor cleared me to leave the hospital. "But first," he cautioned, "I want to to talk with Ms. Sanchez, our resident grief counselor. She can help you learn to cope with your tragic loss, and make the necessary arrangements for the funeral."
FUNERAL. The word sounded so final. I never held my precious Stephanie Anne. I never bonded with her, as only a mother and child could.
I'm a sky the Sun has forever abandoned.
I had so much pent up rage and guilt that I couldn't even concentrate on the task at hand. I just idly flipped through the books, blankly staring at caskets. I allowed Ms. Sanchez to make all the decisions on my behalf, too numb to even focus. She picked out a basic pine coffin--nondescript--and a lovely pale yellow-orange--ZELANGA, the designer called it--burial gown.
They buried Stephanie the next day, in a small plot next to her uncle and namesake, Steven. I felt my heart break for the second time...
~~~ === o.0.O.0.o === ~~~
After the funeral, I grew more and more withdrawn and depressed. I rarely left the house, unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. I completely shut down--mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, and sexually. Life became a chore--a chore I aimlessly plodded through.
As I lay awake one night contemplating just why I even bothered any more, I began to doze off. As I drifted into the realm of twilight, I heard a soft, angelic voice call out to me.
"Why are you...HERE?" it asked.
I turned to see where from whence the voice came, and beheld HER. Her glow lit up the night sky, and her pale yellow-orange gown glistened, accentuating her radiant beauty.
Like the voice of a thousand robins in the spring, she began again. "Why are you...HERE?"
She pointed, and I found myself at Stephanie's grave, tears streaming down my face.
"You have to MOVE. You can't just stay HERE, grieving forever. Even if it's only sideways--or sometimes backward--MOVE, Mom."
The last word echoed in my mind and permeated the very core of my heart. She had called me MOM. "Stephanie?" I cried, as the angel began to fade.
"MOVE!" echoed the whispered reply, as she faded from view.
~~~ === o.0.O.0.o === ~~~
I totally lost it then, as the emotions I had withheld for too long overwhelmed me. A monsoon had come to the Sahara, and a deep and utter blackness swept over me, enveloping me like Death's shroud. I felt such unending pain and sorrow--I couldn't fathom the depths of my grief and loss. Had Stephanie REALLY come in my twilight dream to comfort me?
Jakob--Bless him!--tried--hard--to help pull me back from my pit of despair, but I remained inconsolable. Finally, in desperation, he did the only thing he could think of--contact Ms. Sanchez. In a matter of hours, she arranged a nice homeopathic crisis intervention facility for me to attend as an inpatient.
At first, I attended group counseling sessions. I couldn't bring myself to participate--the pain felt too fresh--to RAW and REAL. I just sat in a corner, catatonic, crying.
After about twenty minutes, I felt a gentle, warm, comforting hand brush my shoulder. "It's OK to grieve," she soothed. "Everyone here has suffered some kind of tragedy. The pain, eventually, lessens."
I looked up from my crying fit to see a rather pixieish woman in her early thirties handing me a box of tissues. "Hi," she smiled, extending her hand while introducing herself. "I'm Dawn. Dawn Summers. Care to talk about it? While I don't know, EXACTLY, what you're going through, I'm willing to listen, and give you a shoulder to shed your tears on..."
I don't know why, but I felt a kindred spirit with her--a connection--like I could trust her and open up. I reached up and took the proffered hand. Once steady on my feet, she embraced me with one of the warmest hugs I had felt in a VERY LONG time. As she held me there, gently cooing in my ear and softly stroking my back, I felt my sobs subside.
"Alicia," I stuttered, still choked up. "Alicia Steele. Sorry about my breakdown. Thanks."
"Don't mention it," she replied warmly. "We've ALL been there at one point or another. While you will never FORGET your loss, I--no WE--," she said, indicating the entire group, "Can help you move forward and learn to cope with your grief and sadness."
Dawn quickly became my ally, support, and sounding board. Over the next few weeks, I told her everything about Stephanie--including her twilight visit. As I opened up to her, I felt my pain diminish and my mood change. My appetite returned--slowly--and I began to heal.
After four weeks, I got word of my impending released. I rushed to the cafeteria to tell Dawn the good news. I found her sitting alone at a corner table, reading a newspaper. I glanced briefly at the headline, and read the first paragraph:
Pirates attack Big Closet, steal authors' works
*** This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any persons, real or imagined, is purely coincidental. This story is a COPYRIGHTED work under United States law, and permission is hereby granted by the author, Ronald Heyward Bailey, Jr., known to readers as HAYLEE V, for Big Closet, and ONLY BIG CLOSET, to host it IN ITS ENTIRETY. If you are reading it anywhere else, then the site has pirated it, and you are urged to report this to either Erin or Piper at https://bigclosetr.us/topshelf/ ***
She motioned for me to sit. Taking the chair closest to her, I excitedly told her my news. When I had finished, she handed me a business card. Dawn Summers, LCSW, it read.
"You LIED to me?" I accused. "After I opened up to you? I told you EVERYTHING. I feel betrayed. Used. How could you?"
"I never lied to you, Alicia," she stated. "Just because I didn't tell you who I really am doesn't mean I betrayed you. You needed a FRIEND--someone to open up to--to share your pain with. Someone to help you begin to heal."
"You still betrayed my trust!"
"How? Would you have opened up yo me so freely if you had known? I offered you friendship openly, honestly, and without reservation or deception. I still intend to be that friend. In that regard, I didn't lie. As to betraying you--look how far you've come since we first met. You're no longer in a catatonic stupor, crying endless tears. You've opened up and blossomed. Yo no longer simply exist, but have actually begun to live--LIVE--again. Stephanie would be proud at how you are, only now, just beginning to honor her memory."
Unfortunately, I couldn't find a flaw in her logic. "OK, then, where do we go from here?" I questioned.
"You'll still attend group sessions on an outpatient basis, twice a week. I'll meet with you every Friday, to monitor your progress and discuss any problems you might face."
~~~ === o.0.O.0.o === ~~~
It took me almost a year, but I eventually recovered enough from my loss to begin writing again. It hadn't been easy, but my bi-weekly support group had helped me cope. I researched Stephanie's condition, and learned quite a bit. Jakob began noticing my change for the better, and praised me often. Normalcy had returned in my life.
Being so caught up in my own little world, I failed to notice that I had completely forgotten our anniversary. I had been at a session with Dawn, and when I returned, Jakob had decked out the dining room with all our finery. A silk cloth draped the table, and he had laid out the Swarovski wine goblets, the Princess Gold china, and the silver candlesticks Mom had given us as a wedding gift. Why, he had even spread saffron crocus petals from the front door to my chair in the dining room!
I smiled in awe, impressed by his thoughtfulness.
Being a gourmand and former sous chef, Jakob had created an exquisite dinner for us--canard a l'orange and haricots verts. A bottle of Pinot Noir sat chilling in a silver ice bucket to the side. Since he had gone through so much trouble to make dinner special, I decided then and there to make dessert equally enjoyable for him...
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