Small toy a symbol of love, loss, life

 To lose is a part of life. It’s a way to test how you carry on without.

It’s an annoyance when the loss is trivial, like with a favorite pen. It’s painful when you lose a loved one, whether into the afterlife or simply out of your life.

But nothing alters one’s foundation as much as the loss of a loved one you never let exist.

***

I moved to Tucson after graduating from high school in 2006, enrolling at the University of Arizona as a creative writing major.

My high-school sweetheart went north for college, a decision she made long before we began dating.

We rarely saw each other, but spoke often by phone and the Web. When we were together, we hardly left each other’s sight, leaving each other only to visit the families we left behind.

Of course, we snuck out at night, stealing away to the desert or into each other’s homes to feel the warmth that’s a part of young, stupid, careless love.

Months into 2007, she began talking about odd symptoms. Aches. Swelling. Fatigue. Nausea.

Then one day, as I stood at the corner of Park Avenue and Second Street, my phone rang.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

***

It’s an odd sensation, getting a call that changes your life. Your heart stops. You finally understand what it means to say that your head is swimming as you lose all feeling below your neck.

You later realize that the only reason you’re still standing is because your legs decided to act independently of your brain.

We were 19 years old. We were too young, too scared and too stupid to know what to do next. All we knew was that we couldn’t tell anyone.

For weeks, we agonized over our future, our options. I kept everything inside, shambling around campus in a daze. She struggled with her changing body and the isolation of pregnancy without loved ones nearby.

Winter was becoming spring. Reluctantly, we made our decision.

We met back home and stayed at my parents’ house. They had decided to leave for the weekend, giving us privacy they had no idea we needed.

From there, my memories blur. The drive to a clinic fades into protesters waving signs on the corner. Squeezing her hand before she left the waiting room becomes nauseating silence.

But burned into my mind is the trauma in her eyes on her return, dulled by shock and medication.

I don’t know how we got back in one piece.

Once we did, neither of us could stop crying. We agonized over our choice and made the mistake of discussing a future for a little girl who would never be, even naming her.

After that, I could never speak of it again. Instead I curled up, choosing to suffer in silence. I didn’t realize I was destroying the person I loved. Not talking about the loss only caused more pain.

Through some miracle, we stayed together for two more years. In that time, she decided to move to Tucson, to share an apartment and, ultimately, to leave when her feelings for me could no longer bear the weight she felt she carried alone.

***

During our first year together in Tucson, we topped our Christmas tree with a teddy bear from a Happy Meal. I decided that bear would be our angel, a memory of the girl we never had.

When my now-ex left, the bear stayed with me.

To this day, I keep that little toy in plain sight as a symbol of love, of loss and of life.

Not only of the life I constantly mourn, but of the one that I must make worthy to honor the memory of a child that never was.

To lose is part of life. It’s how you carry on without, that’s the test.

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