Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Three Stories

Joan's Story

I don't blame him for leaving me.

But I do blame him for betraying me.

He had made his choice after stringing Jane and me along for the longest time. I had told him many times that he had to make his choice. He always promised that he would, but that he couldn't bear to hurt Jane. Finally Jane and I met up. I didn't hate her. Not then. Perhaps not even now. But if he had chosen her, I would probably have been devastated.

But not knowing for sure, not being able to move forward, was worse. So Jane and I met up, and told him he had to choose.

He took Jane aside and spoke quietly to her, his face serious, his brow furrowed, an anxious look on his face.

I could see Jane shrinking as he spoke. His words were hurting her. Her shoulders slumped with defeat. Her lips trembling as she controlled her tears.

She raised her head finally, defiantly, proudly. She said something that apparently surprised and startled John. But then she went on and I could see the tension flow out of John. His shoulders eased and relaxed.

I guess she was telling him that she accepted his decision. He was saying something else, when she leaned forward to hold him awkwardly as he tried not to return the hug. She kissed him on the cheek and let him go. Goodbye, her lips moved, then she turned and walked away without looking back.

I thought she carried herself rather well in this her time of defeat. I caught myself feeling sorry for her, and told myself, she wouldn't want my pity. Well, she had my respect, then.

John turned to me after watching her go. He looked up and smiled wryly at first. Then he allowed his smile to broadened. I smiled in return.

We got married soon after and just before our first anniversary, I got pregnant. He was so excited. It was the happiest time of our lives. Really. Because after that first year, I was never that happy again.

I miscarried in the 11th week. Miscarry. Yeah. My fault. I carried it wrong, it seem to say.

I felt so lost. Up till then the life growing in me had been a miracle. I could feel it. Could sense it. Could talk to it. Could almost believe that it understood me.

Then it was gone. Suddenly I felt so alone.

John tried to cheer me up. I did appreciate him trying, but it was not something I felt he understood. His attempts sometimes depressed me even more. It was not his fault. I doubt if anyone or anything could have made a difference.

It was months before I finished grieving. And a little longer before I gathered enough courage to try again. I remembered thinking that I appreciated John's patience in waiting for me to be ready. If only I knew...

I got pregnant again, but did not dare tell anyone for fear of jinxing the pregnancy. John and I had a quiet celebration and prayed for a safe delivery.

But again it was not to be. This second loss hit me harder. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. John tried to assure me. But this second loss drove doubts deep into my heart and it stayed there like a raw, sensitive, festering sore. The doctors’ consolation were medical and mechanical. I was probably just another unlucky woman to them.

The one good thing was that John learned from the first time and did not try too hard to console me. After a few days of grieving with me, he told me he had to go back to the office and promptly buried himself in work.

I guess men are better at dealing with loss. What is gone is gone for them. For me, perhaps for women in general, we feel more. It is not just a foetus. It was alive! It was part of me. It was my child. It lived only a short while. We didn't even know its sex. It never even had a name. But it was my child. I had to grieve because there was no one else to grieve for it.

John grieved for a while, but mostly he worried about me. Which was why he never realised it was not about me. He never really got that. Which was why I knew he couldn't really understand.

But bless him, he was persistent. He gave me space to grieve, but he would call from the office, call while on the road, call while having lunch just to see if I was alright. He would SMS when he thought I would be asleep. He kept trying and trying, that after a while I felt bad about shutting him out. So once in a while I would make it a point to get out of the house for dinner. I would try just to make him happy, let him know that he hadn't lost me completely. But I wasn't done with grieving for my two lost children. That would take time.

He was patient and persistent. And one morning, I realised that I had cried it out of my system. I had given enough recognition to my second child. Just as I had with my first. I could almost sense that they were telling me, yes, we know how much you loved us. Now go love yourself.

John and I went dancing that night. My idea, but in a sense, my children's idea. I danced with John, but I danced for my children as well. It was the most fun we've had for a long time.

I got pregnant again. We were hopeful again. And our hopes were dashed again.

This time, I wept not just for my child, but also for me and my husband.

I don't care how strong a person you are but after 3 miscarriages, you will have doubts. You will wonder what God's plan is for you. You will question your faith. And you will curse fate and destiny.

I so wanted to hear those comforting words that John had told me after the first and the second losses. But it seemed he had run out of words just when I most needed to hear them.

Tell me again how it is not my fault because I'm starting to believe that it is my fault. Tell me again that you love me because I'm starting to wonder if there's anything to love. Stay with me again, because I don't think I want to be alone this time.

But I couldn't bring myself to ask him.

The silence dragged on, and he finally asked, "will you be alright?"

I lied with my nod.

He seemed to want to believe my lie.

"I'll call you later. See if there's anything you need."

I NEED YOU! I telepathed to him. But I guess he's not telepathic.

He left. But I was not alone. Grief was there. So was Doubt. Uncertainty hung about. Self-recrimination paid a visit. Despair came by and stayed for a long while. Loneliness wrapped itself about me, selfishly.

But I was a good host and entertained all of them.

John started to withdraw from me. I guess I couldn't blame him. After three miscarriages, is there still anything left to say? That hadn't already been said with greater conviction at an earlier time.

He buried himself in work, and let himself be sent off on overseas assignments and conferences. It was good exposure and would stand him in good stead for promotion.

It was while he was away on one of these conferences that Jane came by. With his 12 month-old son.

His betrayal was complete.

He had told Jane of my miscarriages, and Jane had borne not just his son, but also his daughter previously. But his daughter had succumbed to a fever and died at the age of two.

I must say I admire Jane's courage and ability to read the situation and the people in the situation. She told me that John would never leave me of his own accord. He was a man of his word. He had chosen me all those years ago, and would not go back on his choice.

But he wasn't happy. Neither was I. Jane said she was not happy either.

She would like her son to grow up with his father, but that was up to me. It was up to me to let him go so that he could be a father to his son. I could choose not to do so. That was my right, and John would respect and uphold that right. But we would never be happy again.

She was right. I could hate her, wish her dead, scream, deny, and be stubborn about it, but she was right.

John may have chosen me all those years ago, but it was time for me to "un-choose" him.

I got a lawyer two days after Jane's visit, and when John came back, I gave him the papers to sign.

I could have confronted him, interrogated him, trip him up, see how he tried to lie his way out of it, but it wouldn't have changed a thing. He would still have a son with Jane, and I would still have lost 3 children.

Jane got to me at the right time. I was too tired to fight.

There was nothing left to fight for.


John's Story

Most people have one chance at happiness.

I guess I'm luckier than most.

I met Jane and Joan at about the same time. I had just started work, and Joan was a friend of a friend. I met her at my friend's housewarming. She was sweet and funny, attentive and delicate, and always calm and poised. At the housewarming, the house was in danger of overheating when the wok caught fire while my friend was cooking. While someone was rushing about trying to get a fire extinguisher, and another was planning to dump water into the wok, Joan took the wok cover, covered the fire, turned off the heat, and turned up the smoke ventilator. I think I fell in love with her then.

At about the same time Jane was my colleague and project work threw us together. We worked late, we worked long, and we worked very closely. I got to know her like I knew few other women. I saw her fight for the project, sell the idea to the client, and work hard to make it work. And I found myself respecting her for her strengths. Respect turned to admiration. And admiration to love. And when we celebrated the end of the project, one thing led to another, and well...

Which made my decision very hard.

I loved both of them, and both of them loved me. I had to make a decision, but it was a life changing decision. What if I made the wrong decision? I would have to live with the decision.

But the truth was, I was not thinking that I would make the wrong decision. With either of them, the decision cannot but be right. The problem in my mind, was how could I hurt either of them. Whatever I decide, one would be hurt.

Yes. I was weak. It took the two of them to present me with an ultimatum before I chose.

I chose Joan.

As I told Jane my decision I knew that she would be strong enough to take it. Did this perhaps influence my decision? I don't know.

I remember that day quite well. After I told Jane, she kept quiet for a while, composing herself. Then she told me she had missed her period last month. The doctors confirmed that she was pregnant. But she had taken care of it.

For a brief moment between her telling me that she was pregnant and that she had aborted the baby, I wanted to run to Joan and tell her that I had changed my mind. I was sorry, but I had made Jane pregnant and I had to do the honourable thing. For a moment I thought I glimpsed the light at the end of the tunnel, and I had an excuse to choose Jane.

Then she said she had "taken care of it".

I wanted to say, "you should've told me. We would have worked something out. We should have made the decision together!" But it was Jane. She was a strong independent woman. She would have hated me for interfering with her decision and she was strong enough to make her own decision and to stick to it.

I did not see her after that. She gave notice at the office and left the company and the country.

Joan and I got married and it was the happiest time of our lives.

About a year into the marriage. Joan told me she was pregnant. Impending parenthood was a time of excitement and anticipation. We planned our kid's future, what to call him or her, which school to go to, whether to migrate to spare our child the rigours of the local education system, care arrangements, whether to get a maid or not.

Then we lost the baby. It hit us both hard. But for women, the loss I can imagine is worse. She took time away from work. Lost her appetite for food and for life. Didn't seem to want to climb out of the depression she had sunk into.

I tried to get her out of the house, but she wasn't interested. I cooked her meals, but she just picked at the food, then said she was tired, and went back to bed.

All the while I was also in pain, both for the lost of baby, and what this loss was doing to Joan. I remembered thinking that before the pregnancy and after the miscarriage, we were objectively the same. Then why were we so happy before and so miserable after?

Logically, we should have been able to go back to being happy. But I couldn't. Joan couldn't.

Not for a while.

It was while Joan and I were separately dealing with our loss that Jane showed up. It was a surprise to me and I remembered telling myself: don't mention the miscarriage. The last thing I should be doing is to turn to Jane as a confidante when Joan was depressed. I couldn't betray Joan by telling Jane about how unhappy we were.

But I needn't have worried. Jane came with her own baggage and her own loss.

She told me that she lied when she said she had had an abortion. She kept the child and went away to start anew with her daughter. Our daughter, Jessica. She told me that Jessica was a beautiful child. A sweet little girl that was the joy of her mother.

Then she died.

We sat there quietly in grief. I had lost my daughter even before I knew I had one. And Jane had tried to raise the child alone without help or support. I should've been there for her but I wasn't. But now in her moment of loss, she needed to share that burden with the father of her child.

We sat together quietly. We said nothing because there was no words to say. Just holding each other. I took her back to her hotel, but I didn't want to just leave her there like that. I went up with her to stay awhile.

Well, awhile stretched out.

Over the next few days I saw her almost every day. Then she had to fly off again. I told her call if she ever needed to talk again. And I lied to myself that the last few days never happened, and my wife needn't know about it. My story with Jane needed closure and the last few days was just... closure.

Jane's visit gave me strength to try again to break Joan out of her depression. Perhaps my renewed efforts worked this time. Perhaps Joan was ready to end her mourning. Whatever it was, things became normal enough in the bedroom that soon after Joan told me not to get too excited, but that the doctor had confirmed she was pregnant again.

We agreed that it was best to keep it quiet for the moment, but we did have a quiet celebration and prayed for a healthy child.

We lost the baby just over a month later.

Joan was devastated and in shock. It seemed like she couldn't stop crying. I cried with her until I had no tears. But hers would well up again.

After three days, I told her I had to go back to work. She roused herself just enough to tell me not to worry about her. She just needed time to grief.

As I left that morning I thought about how this strong, assured woman had become so crippled by grief and tears again welled up in my eyes.

I was glad to be back in the office and buried myself in work. But at the end of the day, I once again faced the prospect of going back home and being unable to do anything for Joan.

I felt so helpless.

I don't know why, but I called Jane then.

She was happy to hear from me, but became silent when I told her my news.

I knew I shouldn't share my burden with her. It was not just mine to share.. And letting someone else know about our problems, our pain was a betrayal of Joan. But being strong for Joan all the time was taking a toll on me and I needed to unburden my pain as well. I tried to be there for her, but I seem to be having no effect. In the meantime, she had shut me out.

I guess I just needed someone to talk to. And Jane had shared her pain with me. We had shared a loss too. So I told her. And she listened.

It felt good telling someone. We talked for hours. Well, mostly I talked. I hung up feeling better, and if not stronger, at least re-energised to face and help Joan face our pain.

Over the next few weeks I was tempted to call Jane again whenever things were rough. But I knew if I went that way, it would lead to other things. As it was, I wasn't sure that I should have called her at all. But I felt like I was suffocating, claustrophobic, dealing with the pain of the loss and Joan's loss. Perhaps I was selfish but I couldn't spend day after day, hour after hour dwelling on the loss. Life goes on.

But it should go on with Joan. So whenever I felt like calling Jane, I made it a point to call Joan instead. It could just be to see how she was, or to make plans for the evening if she felt like going out. Slowly, we managed to pull through our grief. But now sex was coupled with anxiety. So we took it slow. She needed time, and frankly, I needed to... I don't know what I needed.

Things got better. She started to eat more, smile more, laugh more. Then one evening she dressed up and we went dancing.

I hadn't danced since we were dating, but I could sense she wanted to return to those happy times when we had not lost anything, and the future was full of promise. So we danced like we were younger and more innocent, and she became again the woman I married, strong, assured, and positive about the future.

But when she told me she was pregnant yet again, I found I had to fake a little of the excitement. A cold hard lump sat at the bottom of my heart. Logically, the doctors had said that miscarriage for the first pregnancy is not uncommon. 2 miscarriages in a row is less common but it happens. Still to re-assure us, the doctors had run tests and found that there was nothing wrong with Joan.

We were hopeful and fearful, but we didn't dare talk about our fears, as if talking about them would give them life. So we kept them locked inside, and put on brave fronts for each other.

Whatever it was, whatever was going on between us, in spite of it, regardless of it, or because of it, we lost the third pregnancy too.

I called Jane when the silence in the home became unbearable. When I had no more to give. When I did not know what else to say. When I had said everything previously, and repeating them just sounded so hollow.

I needed someone to share the pain, and Joan had more than enough pain and didn't seem to see me as a fellow sufferer.

So I called Jane.

I just told her that Joan had a third miscarriage. And that I was tired of being brave, of being strong, and I wished that Joan would let me in, let us cry together, and tell each other that we don't have to pretend to be brave for each other. That we could grieve together.

And Jane just listened. She knew exactly what she didn't have to say. I only remembered that she said that I could call again if I needed to talk.

I needed to talk about a month later when Joan had a particularly bad day. Then a week later. Then more often.

My need to talk became my want. I started to look forward to our talks and messages and emails. I was aware that after a time, I felt like I was burdening her, so I started to ask her how she was. And then we shared mundane things, then funny stories, then more personal stuff.

But I could feel that she was still guarded, not completely letting me in. There were times she started saying something, only to catch herself and then change the subject.

Then there was a conference I had to attend. It was where Jane had settled. I was anxious and excited when I emailed Jane the details of my visit. We arranged to meet at my hotel. I brought her a present.

She brought Josh and introduced me to our son.

As I held him, I found myself letting go of all the frustrations and denied hopes and just wondering what this boy would grow up to be, how I could teach him, guide him, be a father to him... and then I realised I had a problem.

I could not leave Joan. We had been through too much. But how do I be a father to my son?

I left my heart there with Jane and our son. I left without a plan or a purpose. I left hopeful and yet, hopeless.

Perhaps it was good that it was "conference" season. I had to go for another one a week later, so I didn't have to face Joan.

When I got back however, Joan was ready to face me.

Apparently Jane had been by to see Joan and told her about Josh. A part of me was furious with Jane for forcing the issue, but the issue at hand, the woman at present was Joan. Whatever had been said between the two had been settled. Now it was between Joan and me.

She had been betrayed and she was both furious and hurt. She called me quite a few things. I probably deserved most of it. I was sorry things turned out this way. I guess like every other man in a similar situation, I didn't intend to hurt her... but I did.

"So where do we go from here?"

She gave me the documents to sign.

"Is this what you want?"

Her silence spoke eloquently.


Jane's Story

He broke my heart when he chose Joan over me.

I thought then that it was probably for the best. It was not a situation that could have lasted. At least, I couldn't have accepted it.

Joan and I finally met after months of uncertainty. John was dating both of us. We knew of each other and we both told John he had to make a decision soon. “Soon” dragged on to “later”. Finally, Joan and I found each other and had a heart to heart.

We told John he had to choose.

A part of me was weak enough to tell John that I was pregnant. But in view of the uncertainty, I had had an abortion. Perhaps I shouldn't have told him that. Perhaps that was what made him decide against me.

He chose Joan.

I left the country after that. There were the usual reasons - getting over a heartbreak, starting anew. Hiding my growing pregnancy, and giving birth in a country with less stigma for a single mother.

Jessica was a joy. And for 2 years, she was my proud little secret. A part of John that would be with me forever.

It was not to be. She had a fever, an infection, and passed away just a month before her 2nd birthday.

For a time, I could not find the energy to get out of bed. I quit my job and stayed home.

I did not know what to do. There was no purpose anymore. No more joy. No more meaning.

Then I went back. Perhaps I was weak. I just wanted to let him know that he had a daughter and what a sweet little girl she was. What a joy she had been to me, and how he would have loved her.

I could see he took the news hard. First the shock of realising that he had a daughter after all, that I had not aborted her. Then the dashed hopes from her death.

Was I cruel? To give him the news all at once. To raise his hopes, and then to kill it all within moments?

Strangely, it seemed like it had all happened in just a while. That the past was not 3 years, but just the memory of three years.

I sobbed quietly, not wishing to make a scene. I felt him sit down beside me. Felt his arms around my shoulders. And let myself bury my face into his shoulders. It seemed so natural to let him comfort me. So natural to want to hold onto his comfort and ask him to take me up to my room. Just so natural...

I left a week later. A little happier and a little ashamed. But she had him for life, and all I wanted was just a few moments. I know I had no right, but... we had shared so much, and I had sacrificed so much. I had no right, but I too deserved a little happiness, don't I?

My little "happiness" grew. This time it was a boy.

When he called about 3 months after I left I wanted to tell him. But again I did not. I did not know why. I told him I had an abortion all those years ago because a part of me did not want him to do the honourable thing and choose me over Joan. I did not want that advantage. He had to choose me because he wanted me, not because I was pregnant.

This time around, perhaps a part of me was selfish and wanted this child for myself. But I realised that again I did not want him to choose me simply because I was pregnant.

Then he told me about his wife's second miscarriage. We spoke for 3 hours that night. Or rather, he spoke and I listened. He started out tentative. Not sure if I was on his side. Not sure if I still cared.

Of course I did!

He was exhausted. His wife had taken the first miscarriage quite hard. But he was there for her. The second time hit her even harder. He found the strength to be there for her, but he needed someone to share his sorrow too.

I understood now the look on his face when I told him I had little Jessica. It was such a look of longing and of pain. How it must hurt when he learned of her short life.

I told him to call again if he needed to talk. But I did not tell him about the child growing in me. At that point, it would have been cruel.

I did not hear from him till about a year later. The son he did not know about, Josh was about 6 mths old.

Joan had had another miscarriage. He was devastated, exhausted, grieving, and yet had to be strong for his wife who was full of doubt about her self-worth. His constant reassurance was wearing his patience down. He wanted so much to breakdown but he couldn't for his wife's sake.

My heart ached for him when he said he needed to talk to me. I wanted so much to catch the first flight back to be with him, but of course I couldn't.

I said we could talk again, if he needed a listening ear. Then we hung up.

I was surprised to hear from him just a month later. Joan was better physically, but emotionally, she was shakened and uncertain. He was still assuring her of his love and support, but he didn't have to tell me how mechanical it was starting to sound.

He called again two weeks later. And then the week after. Our conversations moved from his depression, to reminiscing about old times. He sent me SMS-es almost everyday.

I was looking forward to them and beginning to feel happy. All the while though, I worried about how to tell him about Josh.

Then, last November, he said he was coming to visit.

I met him at his hotel. And I introduced him to his 12 mth old son. I could read the awe on his face. He cleared his throat but never took his eyes off Josh's face. Josh was sleeping like an angel. Unaware that his father was taking him into his arms.

Most men would ask for permission and would be hesitant about carrying an infant, but John carried Josh without hesitation. I will always remember that look of joyful wonder on his face.

We spent just 3 days together. I apologised for not telling him about Josh. He accepted my explanation that I felt it was not right for me to tell him of his child when he and his wife had lost theirs.

When he left, he took a part of my heart with him. I could see that he would rather be with me, but he was a man of his word. He would not leave his wife. Even though the love was over, there was still the empty marriage.

He had broken my heart all those years ago. I had thought I had moved on. I could accept that it was not my fate to be with him if he would be happier with another, but I could see that he was no longer happy with her.

So the choice was for 3 people to be unhappy. He with her. She with herself. And I without him.

Or maybe 2 of us could be happy?

I flew back with Josh a month later.

John was on another business trip, but I wanted to speak to Joan anyway.

My meeting with Joan was... not pleasant. I hated myself for doing what I did to her, but I had to be honest to the situation, and to John, and I'd really like to have Josh have a father. I was sorry for Joan, but not so sorry that I would let her situation drag us all down.

To her credit, Joan took it as well as could be expected. Perhaps better than that.

When John came back, Joan... spoke to him. He signed the papers. It will be a while before it is final. She left their matrimonial home that same day.

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