Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer


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This place will become our Bardo, our place of death and transition, for the next 48 hours. Our daughter is in a room on the left wing, but Dr. Lee guides us down the right wing instead, to a small room with a fake houseplant in the corner, and some granola bars on a coffee table surrounded by three chairs. She sits and beholds us. Her eyes are grave, attentive, compassionate.

You should know that before going in to see her. Her face is yellow and glistening with IV fluid, her skull swollen and blue, with obscene steel staples running down the center. We flank the bed, each holding on to a hand. The staff, gathered at the edge of the bed, watches us quietly.

I can feel their tenderness toward us creeping into the room as our family shifts into focus: Greta is no longer a body they have spent fruitless hours trying to stabilize. She is ours, and we are hers.


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We sing her lullabies as nurses tend to tubes. I almost snap a photo of her — I am a father, after all, and there is a certain logic to it. We had documented every new phase of her life, every outfit, every new playground or walk around the block, to preserve it, and in the haze of my grief, this feels no different. A nurse gently discourages me.

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My parents are boarding a plane. In her first months of life, we had a nervous habit of checking to make sure she was still breathing. Sometimes, Stacy would pull her out of her bassinet at night to lay her on her chest, where their breathing would fall in sync. The first time we took her outside, wrapped snug against Stacy in her baby carrier, we paused at a stoplight so Stacy could lift the flap and count breaths.

A neighbor, a mother of a 3- and a 5-year-old, walked past: Stacy made a nervous joke, and the woman smiled in acknowledgment.

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Over the next months, we began to adjust to that reality. Their future begins to take shape in your mind, and you fret over particulars. Will she make friends easily at preschool? Does she run around enough? Life remains precarious, full of illnesses that swoop in and level the whole family like a field of salted crops.

There are beds to tumble from, chairs to run into, small chokeable toys to mind. But you no longer see death at every corner, merely challenges, an obstacle course you and your child are running, sometimes together and often at odds with each other. By the age of 2, your child is a person — she has opinions and fixed beliefs, preferences and tendencies, a group of friends and favorite foods. The three of you have inside jokes and shared understandings, and you speak in family shorthand.

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It is no longer useful to you; it was never useful to the child; and there is so much in front of you to do. What happens to this sense when your child is swiftly killed by a runaway piece of your everyday environment, at the exact moment you had given up thinking that something could take all of this away at any moment? What lesson do your nerve endings learn? But I will, soon. Some riverlike coursing of hours slips past, in the time that is no time. Eventually, Dr. Lee calls us back into the other room to discuss next steps. Heart, liver, kidneys — all of them untouched, in perfect condition.

Lee says.

Lee keeps talking for a moment, as I sit back and allow the idea to wash over me. She stands up. Stacy and I sit alone. I am the writer, the overexplainer who strains to shut up so that others can avail themselves of oxygen. I nod. I do not know from what clear water source she is drawing, but I know that she has found her way directly to our truth for both of us. We send immediately for Dr. Lee and tell her: We want to pursue organ donation.

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It is the only simple decision we make. My parents arrive that evening and take their places with us. Together, we fan out like figures in a religious painting. My mother sits behind me on a windowsill. I am on the floor, my head resting on her knees in an echo of my childhood. It should have been no one. Stacy and I take turns sleeping at the foot of her bed. There are no dreams in trauma sleep: Exhaustion and shock are reliable copilots, seizing the controls when you most need them. I hear my own howls of grief in the bathroom, the gray tiling covering the floor and the walls like a hyperbaric chamber, and think they must belong to someone else.

I avoid my gaze in the mirror; I have no interest in learning what it feels like to meet my eyes.

No matter where I walk, I see empty hallways — no one in the waiting rooms, no other planned surgeries, no one in sight. This first night is the beginning of my reeducation: Earth is now an alien planet, and I am a visitor treading its surface. The Lord Jesus, after all, works miracles. In the morning I shower in the bathroom, changing into a pair of track pants and a T-shirt my mother has bought me from a nearby Gap.

My brother arrives, haggard from a red-eye flight from Colorado. Liz looks at her and begins laughing, her voice reassuringly vinegary through tears. We catch everyone up as best we can.

The doctors will arrive in a few hours to declare Greta brain dead. They will disconnect her briefly from the ventilator, monitoring closely for any signs of independent respiratory movement. They will test her brain-stem reflexes, the kind that register life at its most primitive.

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We emphasize, dully, that they do not expect to find anything. We are both restless souls, my mother and I, and we need some relief. I order a steam-flattened egg-and-cheese croissant and a cup of weak, bitter coffee with a red plastic stirrer. I place the croissant in the middle of the unfolded wrapper and pick the melted corners of the cheese off the edges.

I wonder aloud what I will do after she is truly gone, once her body has been opened up, once we are out of the hospital without her. There were days when I would drop off Greta at day care and feel myself glance longingly down the little hallway into the playroom; some part of me wanted to squat on the floor with her little friends all day, to abscond from the world of adults. Maybe I can volunteer at a co-op preschool for a while. Something to help fill the hole. I sip my coffee and feel the hollow of my stomach contract as it hits bottom.

My mother goes back upstairs without me, and I venture outside to the courtyard, gazing up at a stale gray sky. I call my dear friend Anna, a dancer who left the city for Ohio. Ever since the accident, I have avoided going to the park. Even within my cocoon of shock, I am sure going there would pierce my defenses, flooding me the way my first trip outside did after she died. And then, one day, just as the summer light is beginning to change, I wake up with a familiar itch. I need to go running in the park. I step outside and feel only the warmth of the sun. The street is wide, quiet, shaded.

Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer
Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer
Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer
Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer
Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer Lost in the Crowd: Memoir of the First Baby Boomer

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