I swear to God I won’t write all 30 of my posts about my social struggles, but tonight was a few parts brutal combined with maybe one part hopeful.
One of Mark’s co-workers had a rather large social gathering at his house for one of the groups in which Mark works, and, for the two years prior Mark has declined this annual invite, but this year he decided he must accept and bring his family, which is the normal thing to do.
Due to the potential composition of the guest list, I knew this event could be challenging for me, but, a few days prior Mark showed me a list of the supposed confirmed attendees so I could mentally prepare, and I decided I might be able to handle it.
“Timothy has five kids, but four of them are really old, and one of them is Joel’s age. Most of Jim’s kids are older as well. His youngest just turned three, but she’s a girl. Joshua just got married – no kids yet. Christopher’s single – he just went on a long vacation with his sister. Colby’s single. Daniel’s single.”
“Okay, fine…” I agreed.
Mark’s mom gave me a pep talk as well, “Just talk about me, or focus on Joel!”
I decided I’d focus on Joel. Sometimes this strategy helps me – to let go of any expectations of concepts past like small talk or friendships. Instead of thinking about others, I keep my attention steady on Joel, and if he has fun interacting with someone, I can appreciate said someone as nothing other than an important part of Joel’s world, and this alone keeps me sane and brings me joy, even if only for a few moments. It might sound self-centered, but it helps me cope.
I actually thought about this all day – this concept of focusing on Joel. I contemplated the fun he might have to the point that I, surprisingly, became the slightest bit excited to attend this party, and I actually decided I’d give social interactions a stronger effort than in months past.
However, from almost the moment we arrived this concept almost completely disintegrated…
(NOTE: I once worked at Mark’s firm, so some references to co-workers refer to not only his current co-workers but my former co-workers as well.)
I walked into the party carrying Joel as well as a large purse so no one would immediately notice my baby bump. The first person we bumped into was someone I hadn’t seen in five years. He hadn’t been on the list. “Hey – it’s good to see you! It’s been so long. Anything new in your life?” he asked.
“Ummmmm… Uhhhhh… No,” I replied, “Nothing. What’s new with you?” I almost choked on my saliva.
Next we ran into another former co-worker and his wife. The last time I saw them was one month before I found out I was pregnant with Matthew. Also not on the list. “Heyyyyy,” he greeted us, “Is this your little guy?! Can I take anything off your hands?” he gestured to my large purse.
“Oh no I’m fine,” I replied, almost defensively.
Another co-worker greeted us, “Hey guys! How are you?” The last time I saw him was at my son’s memorial service, two days after he died.
His wife saw through the purse and asked, “So when are you due?”
“Mid-January,” I explained, “But we’re taking him out in December… Of course we hope everything goes according to plan and we make it this far.” (I feel this need to remind people that pregnancy isn’t a sure thing. This baby’s survival, any baby’s survival isn’t a foregone conclusion.)
I surveyed the area a bit more and realized there were more kids than I had expected – lots of people with lots of kids. Kids Matthew’s age or younger who I didn’t even know were born. (Mark doesn’t keep me updated on kid-related firm happenings, thankfully.) Families with many kids. All these surviving kids. “My kid is the only kid who is dead,” I thought to myself.
“You can’t keep this purse in front of you,” Mark gently reminded me, “You aren’t able to hide it anymore. You look silly.”
At this point tears filled my eyes and I walked outside to catch a breather. It’s like, in a very short time period, everything became too much, and my mind/body just shut down. The conversations and events of the few minutes prior spun in my head.
“What’s new with you over these past several years?”
“Can I take your purse so everyone will see you’re pregnant?”
“Last time I saw you was at Matthew’s memorial service.”
“When are you having this baby?”
“You look silly trying to hide your pregnancy.”
“Everyone else’s kids survive.”
“Has Finch even moved in the past hour?”
I decided to flee the party, telling Mark that it was too much for me, “Just tell them I’m sick – I’ll take an Uber home,” I suggested.
“You can take the car,” he countered, “And you can come back and pick Joel and me up later.”
But then I looked around some more and realized I was trapped on this expansive private property, where a group of co-workers drinking beer outside the garage could see me jump into an Uber or drive away only to come back later, which could potentially be even more embarrassing for Mark than the breakdown I was having.
So I took a few moments, and then I walked back into the house with Mark and Joel, and we quickly grabbed some food so we could eat it on the back porch, and one of Mark’s co-worker’s wives was super nice to us, so I just talked to her and a couple of other people for most of the night, and I was very thankful for these kindred spirits.
The only hard question from this point on was, “Do you work or stay at home with Joel?” And I kind of answered, “Both – it’s sort of complicated right now,” and then I changed the subject.
Joel was hesitant around all of the people at first, but he eventually warmed up to his surroundings, and he stole this two-year-old girl’s cracker right out of her hand and ate it, so I’m hoping this little girl wasn’t sick or anything. Joel fell asleep on our way home from the party, so he must have worn himself out, but he hardly ate anything for dinner, so I’m hoping he doesn’t wake up at 4:00am hungry.
On our way home, Mark told me he was proud of how I rebounded from my rocky start. And I suppose I’m proud of myself too. But I’m also so sad. Even when I try really, really hard, which tonight I did, I feel like I completely fail and have such a long way to go. I’m not even on the spectrum of “normal” any longer, and although I don’t necessarily even want to return to “normal,” nor do I think this is entirely possible, it would be nice if I could function in these types of situations again someday…. Not just for Mark’s benefit, but also for my own.
My therapist once asked me if I could be preventing myself from having “fun” in these settings as a punishment to myself – like I think, because my son is dead, I don’t deserve to enjoy anything in life.
I suppose this could be part of it… Or perhaps still not enough time has passed, and I need to continue to spend my time primarily among highly-vetted, smaller groups for a few more years…
I’m not sure whether to call tonight a success or a failure. It went to hell in a handbasket quickly with me almost having a full-on PTSD episode in the front yard, but I was able to ride it out and ultimately didn’t flee in an Uber. Seems like a neutral experience based on this.