My heart has been heavy today. In fact, in the midst of a meeting at work this morning I broke into an embarrassing sob fest. The more I tried to hold it in, the more the tears overwhelmed me. The only thing that broke the cycle of tears was a phone call home as I stood in the hall at work, Noah and Avry trying to eat the phone on their end while I emphatically said “Hi” between heavy breaths. To say I am sad would be a simplification of an emotional landscape that should probably come with a map. But I’m without a map, navigating through the terrain by my overwrought senses.
I woke this morning knowing today is the day that Gail Dobson, the woman who shook Trevor Ulrich to death in September of 2009, would finally learn her sentence after being convicted in August. I’d been preparing for this day for some time. Rarely does a day go by when I don’t think of Trevor and his mother Kelly, one of the strongest – and funniest – women I have ever met. She is also a gorgeous writer. (See a link to her blog under our links).
I went to the first day of the trial back in August. I made a road trip out of it. I wanted to go as a friend to Kelly, as the mother of a shaken baby, as a fighter against child abusers, and to show Gail Dobson that Trevor has more people watching over his family than she could ever dream of. I sat in the back of the courtroom, miffed at myself for forgetting a pen and notepad and then furious at myself for forgetting tissues. I wound up using an old receipt to wipe my eyes and my nose. I was sequestered for our trial, so I didn’t have to relive all those moments I fought to forget. I am stronger than I often think, but as I am ever learning, I am also weaker than I often pretend to be. During our trial I watched as our family members emerged after gruelling days of testimony. They heard 911 tapes, saw MRIs of Noah’s brain, images of the daycare room where he was shaken and our life forever altered. Their faces were flat and pale.
What I heard that day in a small country courtroom in August will haunt me forever. It has scarred my soul. I hold onto that pain to an extent that surprises me. Maybe it’s because Trevor represents what could have been. I spent the first couple nights in the hospital after Noah was shaken wondering if I had lost my child forever. In some ways I did. I look at early infant pictures of him and know that the baby who came home from that 18-day hospital stay was not entirely the same boy I had dropped off at Trudy’s house on Monday, April 20th. But there is something about Trevor’s smile, something about that little boy that has taken ahold of me. I love him though I never knew him. I miss him though I never met him. I wonder if it’s me projecting emotions I’ve failed to adequately address with Noah. It is easier to grieve for another baby than my own? Or is it because I came so close to that loss that I possess the curse – or maybe a blessing – of a person rich with empathy?
I know Mike wonders sometimes about me, the way my emotions manifest themselves. I nearly had a nervous breakdown on Christmas day when I thought Noah had gotten a hold of a piece of salami (which would have destroyed his diet). There I was standing in my parent’s kitchen with dear friends and family as an audience to my display of frantic questions and a torrent of tears. Or today in a meeting. When I should have been working. And instead I cried. The darkness envelopes me when I least expect it – and always when I’ve taken the time to put on mascara!
I am still utterly susceptible to why us? moments. I subscribe to them often when I’ve had too little sleep, or Noah’s making the diet nearly impossible and I’m terrified a seizure will rear his ugly head, or when Noah’s limping for days on end because he has tightened heel cords as a result of his brain injury. Sometimes I stand in the corner of our kitchen, the gram scale at my side, and I think aloud: this is bullshit. But as my best friend of 22 years said to me last week, when I was stuck in a why us? moment: “We all have our crosses to bear.” She’s right. Isn’t it obvious? One moment I’m whining about how unfair our life is, the next I’m crying about how unfair life has been to baby Trevor and to his mom Kelly. Then I turn on the news. Sheesh. That’s enough to make me climb into the crawl space of our house where the stink bugs congregate.
We all have our crosses to bear.
For Gail Dobson it is 20 years behind bars. It is shamefully too little when she should have served 55. It is shockingly too little when you look at Trevor’s sweet smile and you melt, just before you cry. We’ll take what we can get, I guess, and then we’ll all move forward, one step in front of the other, using our heart to guide us. Because really, none of us was given a map.