Monday, March 15, 2010

I stare at people

March 30, 1987

ianthe woke me up at 6:45 this morning. I popped up happily - which is unusual. She was hungry. She had fallen asleep before having supper last night. I gave her Cheerios; she didn't eat them until I changed her diaper. She ate all of them and drank lots of apple juice. She was thirsty, so was I. We drank together and smiled. She was very sleepy. I gave her a bottle of milk and put her back to bed at 7:05. I did the dishes - well half of the dishes for Cris - happily - to make his day more enjoyable. He let me wear his purple sweater. He woke up to say goodbye. He asked why I was so chipper this morning. Well, I felt good - good to see ianthe before the afternoon, good that Aja and Harris were too wiped out to wake up with her crying at 6:45 and too tired to wake with me putting her back in bed.

In class later, they went to watch a video. I couldn't take it. No more sitting in dark rooms. I sat up on the third floor thinking about the movie I will make soon. I leaned my head against the glass, looking down into the gallery at a guy with two girls. They looked weird, all foreshortened. When another guy joined them, he looked straight up, not with any purpose and saw me. We stared at each other maybe 30 seconds. I did not want to look away. I was doing nothing wrong. I thought it was pretty weird, only head and shoulders.

Being alone with ianthe, my youngest child, always brought a sense of calm to me. I chose her over Cris's wishes. He had asked me to think about aborting her when I told him I was pregnant. Immediately - within a split-second - I thought about it and the decision was made, "No", but he didn't ask about my thoughts until days later. He was furious. That was the end of my marriage - that choice - the right choice. He soon was coming home from school with drawings on his pants, decorated by Char, a woman who was "just a friend" he assured me. I was so sure he would not stray, when I suspected an affair, it was one of his male friends that I expected him to have strayed with. 

He had no interest in my pregnancy. He painted a violent painting called "The Fetus". He had no interest in naming the child. I chose ianthe, naming her after Richard Braughtigan's daughter. He said he hated it. I chose Tristine, naming her after Peter Davidson, the blond Dr. Who. He played Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small. Tristine is the female version of Tristan = child of sadness. Cris hated that too. I was defiant. He hated everything.

ianthe rarely moved when she was a fetus. I often thought she had died. Once a week, or so, she would move her elbow or knee slowly across the surface of my belly, announcing her presence. She was precious to me. I chose her. She was mine. Cris said he would not take me to the hospital. He told me to take a bus. I did not know what to do. I was plunged into a deep depression. 

When she was born, she just looked around. She was a silent child. She never cried. She just made small sounds. I did not speak to her. I only stared at her. ianthe communicated with small sounds and grunts. I thought she was deaf. I asked my dad (he was a doctor). He reassured me that nothing was wrong. I wanted to believe him.

She was sitting at 4-1/2 months, crawling at 5 months, walking at 7 months. She was a wiry, thin, tall, spider-monkey baby. I was so very depressed raising her, that I forgot to feed her solid food. I breast fed her first, and then thought, "Oh, I should try to give her food", but she wasn't hungry by then. Eventually, she was referred to the University of Minnesota, "Failure to Thrive", they said. They gave me suggestions for diet. Yet, she only ate bananas: banana rice cereal, banana oatmeal cereal, banana barley cereal, and bananas. I lovingly called her the Banana Pan.

ianthe was close to 3 before my sister Cindy agreed with me that she might be suffering from hearing loss. Cindy provided daycare for me while I worked a temp job altering men's suits at Dayton's. She noticed that she had to make eye contact with ianthe to get her attention. She had a very limited vocabulary. She said a few simple words and phrases, notably calling both Aja and Harrison "Aya", "Stop it", and "Bye, see you later".  I took her to the doctor for a hearing test. She had a congenital defect - both of her middle ears were filled with gunk - had been that way since she was in utero. They cleaned out her ears and put in some tubes while they healed. When I took her home, an airplane flew overhead. "Loud mama," ianthe said, startled, covering her ears. Poor baby. She has permanent hearing loss of both high and low ends of the frequency, but human voices are mid-tones, so she does alright.

I always spoiled ianthe. She had only me. She needed extra love. Cris would threaten to fight for custody of the children after our divorce - but he never meant ianthe, he meant only Aja and Harrison. He made it apparent that he wanted nothing to do with her. I am so sad that she knew that. How hard would that be growing up?


  1. Was that "thank you for the story" or "thank you for choosing ianthe"?

    Either way, I love you kids more than anything, except maybe my cats, JUST KIDDING! Thanks for reading my blog Ash, I love you so very much <3

  2. I wish I had known about your struggles so I could have helped. Do you remember when your daughter came and stayed over night with my neices at my farm in Hastings, many years ago. She was an amazing child.

  3. I only vaguely remember that sleep over. My mother must have arranged it. I remember that ianthe enjoyed playing with Suzie.

    I do remember helping you one day on a photo shoot and being mortified that I had holes in my socks. You seemed embarrassed and I was so ashamed. I thought you didn't want to see me again after that.

    I suspect the incident stands out more cringe-worthy in my own mind than it does in your memory.

    I want you to know that you were my best friend at school, and I am sorry I fell into the wrong group of friends and drifted away from you.