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First Halloween

Published by Gregory Rabal

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Changing Colors

They say they grow up fast.

Amy turned 18 today. She said she didn’t feel any older but she guessed that was because she was pregnant. She noticed her belly had dropped and she was showing more signs of going into labor. She had a lot of swelling in her hands and feet; she couldn’t sleep and was going to the bathroom every five minutes. Tara remembered what a pain in the butt that was. Amy said she even had a few mild contractions every once in a while.

Tara had never had any contractions until the day she went into labor. Amy said it made her nervous knowing her due date was sneaking up on her.

Tara remembered how; when the residents would ride in the Gladney van how they would grab their bellies when the van went over the railroad tracks that were right by the center because it was such a jolt.

Residents used to banter over who would sit in the front of the van based on their due date. Whoever was due first would sit in the front so they wouldn’t get jolted. No one ever wanted to sit in the back and whoever did, would always complain when jolted. Every time the van
went over the tracks or hit a bump, you could hear all the residents groan and grab their bellies.

Amy said she was ready to have the baby. At night she dreamed she was in labor only to wake up to pre-labor contractions. Her sleep was so restless, which was normal. She couldn’t breathe.

She said sometimes she felt she was near fainting. Tara never had that fainting feeling. Amy’s feet were so swollen she could barely walk. Tara never got much swelling either although her feet swelled after the baby, which was weird to her.

Tara got an email from Veronica:

Mackenzie weighs exactly eight pounds, she wrote. “Still not a lot but she is now 21 inches long so it’s all in length versus weight! We’re keeping a close eye on her weight and will see the doctor in eight days after keeping a careful log of all feedings; i.e., amount and time.

Developmentally she’s right on target with all other seven-week-olds. I feel sure she will catch up soon in weight. She’ll laugh about this one day when I tell her how much we wanted her to gain weight. Ben has been pulling her in her well-padded wagon around the backyard. I took a few pics – hopefully they’ll turn out to send you. It’s so cute. She loves it – – so long as the sun doesn’t get in her face. So we do it in the late afternoon. She’s more beautiful every day as my sister commented after now seeing her for about five days. We agree! She looks just like her birth mom! Remember you’re well-loved and thought of often.”

October 5-6, 2016
Tara didn’t know how Amy was doing it but she was shaving horses to prepare for a horse show! Amy thought if she just sat in a chair just to shave their feet it’d be easier but she could barely bend over.

October 7-8, 2016
Amy won second place in her horse show in Arabian Purebred Mares and Geldings, which qualified her for the championship. The championship took the entire first and second place horses of each class and showed them together. Amy didn’t place but said she was proud and ran around the arena eight and a half months pregnant with her horses because she was so excited.

This was the story of a manic-depressive writer and a schizophrenic artist, Tara thought, when ruminating about her and Jamie’s new relationship (her new roommate/girlfriend). Tara could hear Jamie mocking her in her head by saying, “You would put yourself first.”

The irony in that statement was that Tara was full of self-hate and always had been. She oozed the feeling yet she was an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.

How she breathed to write and didn’t until so inspired she couldn’t fight it.

Sometimes she thought she loved Jamie and sometimes she felt like she must be a sociopath, like the character in the novel she was reading. She dreamed last night someone killed her dog. It was as real as her sex addiction that came through in the dream and she was left with the realization of who she really was.

Then she awoke.
She had seen an old friend the night before who’d asked her if the adoption was hard. She told her yes, of course. But her friend never wanted to talk about it and was raising her ten-year-old daughter on her own.

Jamie missed her bus to go to treatment for alcoholism by a hair, but Tara could’ve gotten her there if she’d really wanted to. They debated for weeks if it was fate, planned, or who was at fault.

Jamie called it fate. Tara called it her rotten luck.

In the end it didn’t matter because they would spend the rest of their days haunting each other with their similarities.

Their life together was like a tropical storm or the continuous threat of a California earthquake – at seconds calm like still water, in minutes a turmoil of tidal waves and scattered debris, the wind of their anger and paranoia wrecking their humble home as if it stood on stilts just waiting for the wrecking ball.

Now it was night and uncertainty loomed. Tara dared not think Jamie was in a good mood and everything was going to be okay. As soon as she did, the interrogation would jump out of nowhere like a tiger pouncing on Tara in the wild as Tara, unaware, bent to smell the flowers. And Jamie saw Tara as just a talented actress, a player, someone who was mean and abused others with her rage. And Jamie was right – to a degree. But only to a small degree.

It was only the tip of the iceberg as to who Tara was.

There was so much more about Tara that Jamie didn’t know and probably wouldn’t bother to find out because that would take too much work.

And work to Jamie was sketching, creating a massive masterpiece to show Tara at the end of the day as Tara mounted stairs, entering the apartment with her weary self after a day’s work in an office building where her creativity was temporarily put on hold till she could break free at 5:00 along with millions of other poor souls waiting to stretch their artistic legs.

At the end of the day, Veronica emailed Tara a “pick me up” email with some pics of Mackenzie.

Mackenzie now weighed in at eight pounds and climbing.

I took Mackenzie from Frank after getting in from work, Veronica wrote. “She’d been up since 4:45 a.m. She was in the best mood and just wanted to play and laugh. Of course, Frank was tired and just wanted to sleep. I got a new roll of pics and they’re good. I finally have a couple of her smiling. The one of Ben pulling her in the wagon makes me have a lump in my throat. I took them to work last night and everyone commented on how much Ben loves her and how attentive she is. He really thinks she’s HIS baby.”

Tara was kicking herself for moving in with Jamie.

It was Tara who’d made the agonizing decision to place her unborn child for adoption. While grieving her loss a month later she met Jamie and moved in with her.

Tara didn’t know to what extent Jamie was healing from an attack on her life one year ago when an unidentified assailant broke into Jamie’s kitchen window while she was sleeping and left her for dead.

But now Tara had to break free of Jamie before it killed Tara or Jamie killed her, which she’d already threatened to do twice in a rage. Jamie seemed to get a kick out of the night she hit Tara twice and Tara went to a women’s shelter to escape her.

As a girlfriend one day she wanted to be faithful, happily monogamous, respectful, gentle, kind, considerate, comforting, not self-motivated or driven, not abusive, clear, self-supporting, assertive, honest, not angry or passive/aggressive, independent, not codependent, not obsessed with things, not put her sobriety at risk, not make others her god, live in reality, not be fear-based, not give herself away, be happy, not regretful, be committed to someone, not stuck in the past or shamed-based, be peaceful, not manipulative or needy, not desperate or obvious, not a predator like her dad or neglectful, be attentive, not extreme, and not self-gratifying.

Her own concept of her own God was that he was a writer, an old hippie, laid-back, funny, wise, wore jeans, was calm, strong, liked Bob Dylan music, was loving, always with her in spirit, rode a motorcycle, liked the sun, wasn’t that interested in money, wanted Tara to reach her full potential, loyal, protective, saw all but didn’t judge, had compassion and a big heart, laughed and cried a lot, was resourceful, creative, imaginative, artistic, musical, got disappointed but not angry, gave a lot of people a lot of chances, a comedian, and a survivor.
The God that had been showed down her throat most of her life was judgmental, cowardly, critical, conservative, obsessed, ritualistic, traditional, sarcastic, teasing, manipulative, rageful, impatient, intolerant, on a schedule, poor, unimaginative, out of ideas, wicked, scornful, the police, Santa Claus, wishy-washy, inconsistent, unprotective, forgetful, unwilling, dishonest, a procrastinator, liar, thief, make believe, winging it, strict, rigid, boring, meaningless, punishing, clumsy, unclear, small, insignificant, selfish, shallow, keeping score, a referee, a step parent, a bad pilot and driver, deaf, blind, dumb, mute, crippled, concerned with looks and weight, hyper, old, uncooperative, materialistic, concerned with status and status symbols, a gambler, always happy, schizy, unaware, scheming, heartless, hungry, thirsty, cold, full of hot air, joyless, empty, broken, popular, concerned with fitting in and being popular, helpless, suspicious, paranoid, interrogating, wasteful, unnoticeable, unorganized, condescending, pessimistic, macabre, subtle, whimsical, thoughtless, careless, reckless, rude, insensitive, cynical, a chameleon, boring, bland, vengeful, unlikable, scared, weak, conceited, dishonorable, arrogant and belittling.

Tara lied to two of her co-workers and told them she had custody of Mackenzie when asked if she had kids.

It was just easier.

Veronica told Tara via email that she’d be sending Mackenzie’s Halloween pictures. She already had a full roll of film for Tara and she was taking more pictures. She was supposed to write her in the next two weeks to let her know how Mackenzie was doing after her doctor’s visit the next day.

Amy only gained 20 pounds in her pregnancy. She said she’d gained a few stretch marks, long lasting relationships, and a great respect for adoption relationships. She said she hoped to be an example for other girls who found themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy. She said the experience of adoption had changed her inside and out, not just the physical effects of pregnancy but also the emotional responsibility of planning for her daughter’s life and for her future. She was placing her child for adoption because she wanted her to have everything she wouldn’t be able to provide for her financially and emotionally. Her adoption plan also gave her a chance to go to college and make something of her life. She made this adoption promise to her little girl and if in 18 years from today when her daughter found her, Amy could show her that she accomplished everything because of her.

Kaitlin, another resident and friend of Tara’s, was due that day and she was very ready. To celebrate her due date, Kaitlin and Amy went to a restaurant and sang some karaoke. When it was Amy’s turn to sing, Kaitlin told her she thought she was in labor. After Amy finished singing, Kaitlin told her she WAS in labor so they went back to the dorm and timed her contractions.

Kaitlin went to the hospital around 1 a.m. and later that day had a nine-pound, six-ounce little boy who was 22 inches long. Kaitlin was doing great.

Amy went to the doctor for her sonogram. Her baby now weighed six pounds and ten ounces. She said she hoped she didn’t go on her due date in November because she’d have a ten-pound baby or something like that.

Amy had been rushing around trying to get Kaitlin’s baby blanket done before her Placement Day in a few days. She’d also tried to be there for her as much as possible to support her through the difficult time.

Kaitlin was really holding up well and Amy said she was very proud of her.

Amy and Kaitlin’s children were to grow up and know each other because their adoptive parents were close friends. Amy said that makes it even more special.

Amy went to the doctor that day and dilated to a two. She said it was almost a race to see who was going to deliver first.

Tara remembered those days. In April they’d had six births from the dorm, in May about five, and in June, six. In August when Mackenzie was born there were three or four others. Miraculously only one resident delivered in July.

There were also birth moms going through Gladney who were called “community girls” who lived off campus either at home or in their own place who drove themselves to their own doctor and caseworker appointments.

The residents usually bet on how much each baby would weigh and whoever won got to pick out something from the prize closet in the dorm that contained things like phone cards and cameras among other items. These were donated gifts.

Kaitlin had Placement that day. Amy finished her blanket on time and her adoptive parents loved it. Amy said she’d been keeping her mind on what was going to be happening in the next few weeks – her delivery, nursery visits, and Placement.

How am I going to handle this? she asked herself. “I know I’ll be happy and said, but how sad? And for how long? I don’t know. I know I’m strong enough to handle it and am ready for it. I know everything will go okay.”

Veronica wrote Tara:
Mackenzie and Ben are fine. He continues to love her very much. I love to hear him talk to her. Now he’s not perfect and occasionally does something not so cool, like putting a pie tin over her face and laughing at her or tying his daddy’s shoes on her tiny feet, then placing one of them on her belly. It must weigh two pounds. But she rarely cries and really is watching him as he talks to her. He wants me to bring Kenzie (as he calls her) into my room and play” or “bring her outside.” I usually do carry her to his room to sit in the beanbag chair and she watches he and I put puzzles together. Thank God she’s finally eating well. Yeah! I told Frank I didn’t care how much each can (of food) costs; I’d pay it, just so long as she drinks it.

We’re getting ready for her first Halloween and I know you also like Halloween. I have an Eeyore costume for Mackenzie and Ben is going to be his all-time favorite – Buzz Light-year. I’m going to try and have their pictures made together for Halloween and if I make it, I’ll send you one. I haven’t been as diligent with Mackenzie about professional pics as I was with Ben. But she’s been so tiny I haven’t wanted to stray far from home. In any case, her first shots are now “on board” and we’ll venture out more.

My nieces continue to be enamored with her. They’re so good with her. Of course, they have to play with Ben when they come over but they take turns playing with each of them. Thankfully there are two of them.

I think of you all the time and wonder how you’re doing.

Mackenzie is doing well, weight at eight pounds, four ounces. I’m looking forward to her weighing nine pounds next week. Hope you’re doing well. Have to go as she’s crying.”

Mackenzie shared a birthday with Veronica’s niece, who was 14.

Things with Jamie and Tara were getting increasingly worse.

The email from Veronica that day was just what Tara needed:

I just had to write you a letter and tell you how much I love you, Veronica wrote. “I had two recent events that happened that I want to share with you. The first: recently I worked in Triage.

That’s where all the patients come in and are �prioritized,’ i.e., cardiac arrest, respiratory, major bleeding, life threatening things, are taken to a treatment area first. I triaged a 31-year-old female who was obviously having a miscarriage – her third. She was devastated. With this most recent pregnancy she was seeing a high-risk obstetrician and thus far everything had gone well. Her husband and sister accompanied her and they also were devastated. I think I really saw myself in her eyes. She commented in Triage that �This is it. I’m not trying any more.’

Her sister told me later how guilty she felt that she had a one-year-old and she initially hadn’t wanted any more children. Her sister (the patient) had always, always wanted to be a mother and the sister felt guilty about the joy in her child.

Anyway I told her a little of my story and that there were other options to being a mother. I told her not everyone had a wonderful birth mother that we had but each case was different. When she left the ER several hours later minus her baby she was very tearful but stopped in Triage to talk to me and I feel sure that she’ll pursue adoption at some time in the future.

Secondly, I seem to be sitting down every day around 1-2 p.m. to feed Mackenzie and �The Baby Story’ is on the TLC network. Today’s show was about an infertile couple adopting a baby. They had a great relationship with the birth mom and were at delivery. Anyway, I cried throughout and thought of you and your precious gift. I love you so much and think of you several times each day and hope you’re doing okay. Mackenzie is up to nine pounds, five ounces and loving the new formula. Sure wish we’d been advised to try it earlier. Tomorrow is her first Halloween. I know you’re thinking of her and missing and loving her. Please take care.”

For Halloween Tara dressed up as the Statute of Liberty, something that came to her after leaving Gladney, to celebrate her freedom and a new life. Every year she rented a costume and went a party. She always dressed up in something extravagant and had gotten into it in college. She’d been a Jester (although a depressed one), a Playboy Bunny, a spider, a maid, Cleopatra, Raggedy Ann, a Queen of Hearts playing card, Scarlet O’Hara and very young version of Bette Davis. Everyone used to tell her when she was in her 20s that she looked like a young version of the famous star and it was uncanny when she saw the pictures.

Tara loved Halloween and wished she could dress up throughout the year. She always wished she were one of those rich people who got invited to masquerade parties. She loved wearing masks and pretending to be someone she wasn’t.

Kind of a metaphor for her life, only on Halloween it was okay and fun.



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