We spotted the owl in our backyard a few days after my surgery, perched on a palm tree branch of all things. In our yard we also have mature spruce and pine, even redwood trees, but maybe he just liked the feel of palm. Maybe he was on vacation. His talons were so long they wrapped fully around the thickest part of the branch, the sharp tips shining on the other side. He had great yellow eyes that blinked slowly as we sat on the edge of the pool, waving our feet in the chlorinated blue water and watched the owl through binoculars. He was still and silent, waiting for dusk and the fall of night to hunt. I sat there for a long time staring at the owl, even as my incisions started to ache and twinge and I knew I needed my next dose of medication. He ruffled his feathers. He blinked slowly. I tried to take breaths in the same way; in and out. Slow and easy. Preparing for the night to come.
I had gone into the hospital a few days earlier when the shooting pain in my abdomen wouldn’t relent and insisted on localizing on one side. I lay on my bed with my face in a pillow but I could not be still; I writhed and moved my fingers and toes in any effort to find a painless space and could not. At five weeks pregnant, abdominal pain bad enough to drive you to the emergency room at eleven at night is never a good sign. I sat in the passenger seat of the silent car, biting my lip with every turn and curve. My wife softly sang “All Too Well,” by Taylor Swift, because neither of us wanted to turn on music. I don’t know why. The silence was just as charged with fear as music would have been. I think we were afraid that even a moment of distraction would be too painful to return from. Music would soothe the wound and we didn’t yet know how deep that wound was.
It could have been a lot of things but it was not appendicitis, which is what they took me to surgery for only to open an abdomen filled with blood, my blood. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. She had to go, she couldn’t stay where she was, lodged in my spaghetti-noodle Fallopian tube, but I didn’t know that’s where she’d landed until they’d already taken her. I didn’t know I needed to say goodbye until she was gone. I didn’t know. There’s so much I didn’t know. Now what remains of increasing HCG levels and darkening pregnancy tests are bruised incisions in livid shades of green and yellow and the feeling it may have all been a dream. I remember holding the pregnancy tests up to the light early on, squinting to see that second line, then later when the line was dark instantly and I didn’t need to hold the test to the light anymore to see the proof. I can’t believe I held those positive tests in my hands. It feels like it happened to someone else. Not a different person, just a different version of the person I am now. I am not the same person now as I was when I held those tests to the light. She was so sure and so scared. Now I’m sure in a different way, and the fear is gone. What I feared has already happened and I was forced to hold it to the light when I wanted to lose it in the dark.
After the owl, I am making coffee in the morning when I see a hummingbird nest on the branch of my redwood tree. I can barely spot the nest through my front window; it is the size of a quarter and built of white fluff and moss and it makes me cry. So fragile and woven with so much hope. She is brave, that fierce winged mother, driven to try the impossible and lay the breakable pieces of a wish outside her own body. I know what it is like to weave that nest and lay your dreams inside it, knowing they might shatter. I cradle the pieces of myself that remain. I was born with all the eggs I will ever have. All my life I have been losing them.
Shannon Layne is a mess. Occasionally she writes about it.
image: John Bottomley