Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Near Miss

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On September 21, 2012, Russian scientists discovered Comet ISON, or C/2012 S1. The comet itself was projected to be over 4.5 billion years old and was labeled a “dinosaur bone,” a relic of the formation of our solar system. But recently, it had been pulled in by our sun’s gravity and was projected to fly close to Earth. It made news headlines. The scientific community anxiously watched and waited, hoping to catch a glimpse of the comet slide pass the earth in the twilight of 2013. I hoped to take pictures of it for you.

A few evenings before Comet ISON was due to pass by Earth’s surface, the music of Benjamin Britten flowed out and up into the opera’s mezzanine. As I sat there, hypnotized, a feeling of wetness sprouted between my legs. In the bathroom I stared down at the blood. Is it dark red or bright red? One was bad and one was worse, but I couldn’t remember the difference. And then it didn’t matter, because I thought I lost, or rather, found, you. No longer were you floating in the abstract ethereal space, in the space I had tried to conceive of you in. You were here, in between the creases of the tissue I held with a shaking hand. Staring down at a little red blob, I thought, there you are.

That next morning Cheerios were scattered in the Emergency Room parking lot. I remember walking, looking down at my feet and noticing the trail. One here, two or three there. Later on, in the curtained-off room under florescent light, the nurse said I looked skinny, but I felt fat. I ordered a piece of pumpkin pie anyway while we waited. It was November after all, I told David. In between bites of crusty ER Cool Whip, I was summoned into a dark room where a nurse put a probe between my thighs. I saw on the screen a night full of blurry stars, a black and white silent film. You a starlet, me a bewildered viewer, lost without the subtitles. David watched. We all watched in the dark.

I could still taste the nutmeg from the pie when they said you weren’t dead.

As the scientists started to worry that Comet ISON was headed too close to our massive sun, the doctor drew a picture of a deformed, heart-shaped uterus on a dry erase board back in the ER room. Instead of the brilliant symmetrical bubble of a regular uterus, mine was divided right down the middle. The doctor called it “bicornuate,” and called each of the corners coming off of it “horns.” In one horn, I had blood clots, which had fallen out of me last night and had made me think I had held you in my hand. But in the other horn—the left horn—you. You with a tiny little beating heart. You still alive somehow, in a devilled uterus.

We left the ER suspicious, concerned. The Cheerios were still in the parking lot, and a strange song from my childhood started playing in my head: Got nothing but high hopes, hiiiggghhh hopes.

The comet disappeared, and that night I dreamt I was on a high-speed train. I was elevated but lying down somehow, while some nurse on the train attended to me, showing me scans, pictures of my baby. Peering over scans in 2D and in 3D, I started to see that the baby’s left eye was drooping, and I wondered if it stayed that way if I could love it. I told David to look at the pictures. I came up with a plan to cover the droopy eye, but then the scans became scans of other people’s babies, and I couldn’t find mine. I feared I lost my baby because I had been ashamed. I was.

It was supposed to light up the night, brighter than the light of the moon. I was going to take pictures of it for you. But it ducked behind the sun, and they couldn’t find it, like they couldn’t find you. A week later, as a precaution, for 40 minutes straight I watched another ultrasound, a starry sky of blurred, shattered light. The technician and I kept trying to find you, and the scientists kept trying to find ISON, but you and the comet were playing hide-and-seek and even with all the space telescopes and ultrasounds, you both hid too well. It was that moment in the game where the fun leaks out, and you are left quivering in a niche of the darkened room.

Then the nurse eventually said, “I think I see the spot where the embryo was.”

You, in past tense.

I wanted to ask, “Well, where is it now?”

I didn’t.

And that was that. Somewhere in the span of the week, a week after the Cheerios and nutmeg and the devil uterus and the missing comet, you had died, for real this time.

Before they cleaned you out of me, they handed me a consent form. I oddly held the pen to sign off on what to do with you, “the remains.” I glanced at David. Option 1 was to send you to a funeral home, to let them bury or cremate you. (Don’t they only do that to people?) Option 2 was to take you home. I’m not sure in what, but I thought of formaldehyde jars, the ones you would find baby ducks or Einstein’s brain in. Option 3 was to let the hospital throw you away.

You were a cold bit, a drifting dot. You slid, fluid, out and away. You ran and hid, a child’s game. You moved across the sky, a satellite, a piece of driftwood, a random line of code. You disappeared behind a sun. You were intangible. And because I couldn’t see you, I couldn’t believe in you.

I let them throw you away.

The comet didn’t make it either. It disappeared, reappeared, and then our sun swallowed it. A giant ball of dust and ice formed billions of years ago, and our sun ate it whole. We were all going to shine brighter than the moon, but instead the hot sky burned us up. And this was the reason it hurt. It was the near miss, and then the hit. It was the high hopes.

Amber M. Rogers’s creative nonfiction has also appeared in the Examined Life Journal. She is an English instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she currently teaches composition and short story. Please visit her page at the the UNO Faculty website for more information.

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