When Juliet and I first fell in love back in 1985, motherhood was not the foremost thing on her mind. She was just turning 23 at the time — a year out of college, not certain what she really wanted to do for a career, and probably wondering if I was going to turn out to be a nicer man than the men she had known before. It's not that we didn't discuss children. We did. But the thought of children was distant and whimsical. I didn't know anything about them. And Juliet, looking at her parents' rocky marriage and recent divorce, wondered if she had it in her to be a good mother. "You'll be a great mom," I told her. "Convince me," she replied.
I don't think I actively tried to convince Juliet that she would make a great mom. Perhaps she simply felt it more as she got older and we grew more settled. I did turn out to be a nice guy after all. And we figured out a way not to have her parents' or my parents' marriages. We were happy and wanted to share that with a child.
The year we waited while I was trying to be an artist was very tough on Juliet. She wanted to have a baby so badly that it hurt. Everywhere she looked, someone was pregnant. But we stuck to the plan. Soon the year was almost over. I found a job again; we bought a house; we started trying to get pregnant.
And then the bomb fell. And no sooner had we picked up the pieces, it fell again. First the cancer and hysterectomy. Then the return of the cancer and the six months of chemotherapy and the bone marrow transplant. Through it all, Juliet just wanted to get back to her "little life" — to be with me, to have a kid or three, to someday go to PTSA meetings and silly little second-grade plays where our son or daughter plays a duck.
After the bone marrow transplant and months of clear x-rays, we thought the cancer was actually gone. We decided to adopt a baby. In December of 1993, we got the call from the agency saying that they would like for us to come meet our birthmother. Juliet was beside herself happy and I was happy to see her so happy. A month later, there we were in the hospital room when Abby was born. Three days later, we brought Abby home. I never saw Juliet happier than she was that day.
What I really want to say is that for the next two years — six months of not knowing the cancer was coming back, another 18 months of fighting it night and day — Juliet was truly a wonderful mother. No doubts, no hesitation. She was a natural. I have these memories of Juliet singing to Abby in the middle of the night. Not lullabies. Things like "Union Maid" and "Imagine." There are the touching, but funny memories, like Juliet bursting into tears during Abby's first bath because Abby was crying so hard, or Juliet apologizing to the pediatrician when we called her in the middle of the night for Abby's first fever. No one ever loved a baby more. No one ever fought harder to keep being a mother.
I'm remarried now. My new wife, Amy, and I are expecting a baby in August. Abby calls Amy "Mommy" and has for over a year. We have a nice, happy family. And while Abby knows who Juliet was, hears her talked about all the time, sees her pictures, her voice, her image on video... she admits that she doesn't remember Juliet. It's been three years in the life of a five year old. I can't make her remember something that happened when she was less than two. But it still breaks my heart. I remember holding Juliet late at night, her crying that she was going to die and Abby wouldn't remember her.
I can't make a memory. But, Abby... and everyone else... this is who Juliet was. I remember.
"The one conversation I remember clearly, aside from the Abigail vs. Chloe name discussions, is one in which Juliet was talking to you about getting ready to get handed yucky things. She said kids just did that all the time. She said that you should expect to be handed squished bananas, snotty kleenex, slimed fruit of all types, runny chocolate, and various natural objects picked up on walks. I've giggled every time I've seen Abby hand you nasty things!"
"i didn't get back to you about the motherhood stuff because i've been thinking about it... nothing struck me at first. little things came back, but nothing that seemed profound enough. and then i read marj's note about the 'icky things' and it sparked the weirdest memories... but i guess if they're the ones that you remember, then the weird things are the most important after all.
juliet and i were in her car driving to bertucci's in newton. i remember we didn't park in the bertucci's lot, but the one across the street next to the covered parking garage. there was snow or slush on the ground. it was the middle of the day. she was always wisking me out of school when i had study halls. ahh, the beauty of having friends on the faculty. we were talking about barney (the big purple dinosaur). no, actually, we were really talking about what it would be like when she had a child. i asked, completely seriously, if she'd let the kid watch barney. i thought barney was terrible. it was just after the guy in the barney suit got assaulted at some public event. and she said, 'of course' her child could watch barney. if it made the kid happy, then s/he (this was pre-Abby) could watch barney. and i was just amazed at the amount of self-sacrifice there. then juliet went on to say, 'but i don't have to like it...'
that, and the famous 'hide the drugs' story. she told me about this compulsive oh-no-what-do-we-do-now moment when the [adoption agency] social worker was coming to see the house [again, pre-Abby] and there was some leftover pot that hadn't successfully eased her through chemotherapy and had been lying around for months and suddenly one or the other of you started worrying that the social worker would start going through drawers and stumble upon it... i'm not sure if you actually threw it in the trees behind the house or if i made that part up...
but then when i asked if you had put plastic protector cap things in the electric sockets before the social worker came, juliet gave me the strangest look. she said something along the lines of, 'how do you think a social worker would react to two grown-ups who feel the need to protect themselves from their own light sockets?' i guess what i'm trying to say is, she never got obsessive. she always had a level head about it.
but there's really no way to describe the one moment i remember best... i can relay it, but it won't get across exactly right. then again, anyone who saw the look in her eye would understand. she left abby at my house one morning during february vacation in 1994. i don't think abby was even a month old yet. my mom and i babysat while juliet went to the doctor. when she got back to my house, abby was in the kitchen with my mom, and i answered the door. i said 'hi' or 'how'd it go?' or some other pointless formality and she gave me an anxious look, with this sharp inhale like she was out of breath, and said 'Baby?' while making the sign with her hands at the same time. she said it like she'd been separated from abby for days and she didn't know why, like she'd been wandering around suburbia going door to door. she said it like it hurt her — like it scared her — to be away from her child. it was the only time i can remember that she was the slightest bit irrational about motherhood. but not in a bad way.
the night before abby was born, juliet and i went out to dinner at a really bad restaurant and everything was funny. she was giddy. she couldn't sit still. she wanted to order the dessert before the dinner. that's how i remember her being about motherhood. all these things. she was excited and practical and in love all at once."
"I have lots to say about Juliet and her being a mother. I know that it was the most important thing to her in the world, and that she waited with great excitement for Abby to arrive. In fact, what I remember most about Juliet was her sense of family and her just wanting to have a good life with you and Abby. Her determination to be a mother matched her determination in all aspects of her life. She was not going to give up.
Her one fear was that Abby would not remember much about her. I made a promise to her that I would be there for Abby (and you)... but especially to remind Abby about Juliet, what she was like, her love for life, her love for Abby, her warmth, her laughter and sense of humor, her lovely singing voice, how much she loved teaching and her students, but most of all how much she loved you and how much she wanted Abby. I remember her gentle voice with Abby and her marvelling in each of the developmental steps that Abby took while she was alive.
I hope that when and if Abby has questions about Juliet, that you will let Abby talk to me so I can live up to my promise to Juliet. She was a loving, caring, and wonderful mother....who should never be forgotten. I miss her...."