On many mornings I grab a cup of coffee on Larchmont before I head over to Cedars to see Charlie. Are you familiar with Larchmont Village in Los Angeles? It’s not far from our inner city home but it’s light years away in terms of demographics. Butting up against historic Hancock Park, houses near Larchmont average in the millions, or at least they used to. And yet, the little business district, a two-block stretch of Larchmont Blvd., retains the feel of a Main Street in a small Midwestern town. The area may be loaded with rich people, but they’re very different from the Beverly Hills crowd (oy, forgive my gross generalizations!). These are mostly post-hippie Baby Boom compost-lovin’ liberals who dress casually, wear less makeup, and are less likely to go under the plastic surgeon’s knife. The Larchmont regulars appreciate their local businesses even though more and more of the mom n’pop shops are being forced out by rising prices and the recession. Some don’t go without a huge fight, though, and others even find a reprieve thanks to strong community action.
Leah and I have a Sunday ritual where we come to Larchmont, get the best bagels in town at Sam’s, and visit the local farmer’s market that sets up on Sundays in the public parking lot. We often stop at Chevalier’s, one of the few independent bookstores left in Los Angeles, and a great one at that. It’s even dog friendly! In addition to dogs, Larchmont Boulevard is teeming with kids of every age. And let’s just say the average age of the parents that I see is…um…above the national norm. There are so many sets of twins that I often wonder if there’s a 24-hour fertility clinic up the street near Paramount Studios. I wish I could say that seeing all the twins, especially twin boys, didn’t bother me, but the sight often catches me off-guard and makes me tear up and look away.
I do NOT want to be that wounded guy who has to look away when he sees healthy children, and I’m usually not, but lately it’s been hitting me more unexpectedly. Especially on Larchmont. Because, for some reason, almost unbeknownst to me until we lost Oliver, I had this fantasy brewing in my head of walking down Larchmont Boulevard with my two boys, holding each one by the hand, stopping into Peet’s for some coffee and Sam’s for bagels. They were always about three or four in the fantasy and blond and blue-eyed. The freakish thing is that they looked a lot like the real Oliver and Charles, making me think sometimes that I was peering into some kind of parallel universe, a blip on the time/space continuum à la “Lost” in which we had two healthy twin boys. Oliver actually was blond, a fact I only remember because the nurse handed a lock of his hair to Kendall on her gurney shortly after he died and then took it away for the memory box we still haven’t had the courage to look at. The jury is still out on Charlie’s hair color—lately it looks dark blond with a little red thrown in, but these days he’s usually wearing his cap to help keep his CPAP device in place.
Sometimes I feel like I can visit this parallel universe if I find the right portal on Larchmont Boulevard and hang out there for a while with my sons, like Alice going through the Looking Glass. But then I remember flashes of that horrible day seven weeks ago and it all comes rushing back. Except the real Oliver is starting to go fuzzy on me. Apart from seeing his mouth that was black from lack of oxygen, the unexplained bruises on his arms and legs, and his lock of blond hair, the actual physical memory of Oliver's face is growing dimmer by the day, a fact that makes me so very sad. There are a bunch of photographs taken of him by the nurses after he died that are in the memory box so at least we know we’ll have those. I vividly remember holding Oliver in my arms after he was gone and bringing him over to see his brother, I have a very strong sense memory of how his light-as-a-feather body felt in my arms, but his face keeps morphing into the healthy little boy holding my hand on Larchmont. Which makes me think maybe it really IS him, or at least a version of him. Today as I walked down Larchmont it was almost ridiculous the number of twin boys I saw every step of the way. Unless I’m hallucinating which isn’t entirely out of the question.
A few minor setbacks with Charlie today which I’m trying not to blame on the Evil Eye for my giddy post marking his 50th day of life. He definitely does have an infection in the fluid they tapped from his brain, which makes it meningitis, but they assure me they’ll knock it out with the new three-week course of antibiotics he started today. His “sprinting” off the CPAP was put on hold for a few days until he gets stronger and bigger. Kendall was going to hold him this afternoon outside of the isolette but when they tried to get him ready for it he started bradying and desatting like a madman, turning a rather dusky color, as they call it, and it took them a while to get him back up which was terrifying to watch so no trips outside the isolette. Up and down, up and down. Overall he’s doing well but he’s going to get another EEG tomorrow to check on possible seizure activity. When I was there last night I saw blood come up when they drew fluid out of his feeding tube which scared the bejeesus out of me since the formula they give him usually comes out a milky white but it turns out he had just swallowed some mucus and a bit of blood that came out of his nose after an aggressive suctioning (which he hates). Life on the NICU roller coaster. And another doctor’s meeting tomorrow along with an eye test to look for signs of retinopathy that they advised us not to watch since they way they keep the baby’s eyes open is pretty gruesome to see.
I’m sitting at the Beverly Hills Public Library for the first time in seven weeks, starting a new chapter on that California history textbook for 4th graders I was writing when all of this happened. The chapters I was going to write about the time periods that interested me the most had to be assigned to other writers because of my absence but at least I get one more crack at the book.
To end on a more positive note, I wanted to relay what just happened at the checkout counter. When Kendall went into labor with the twins I was in the middle of one of the chapters for this book (which I eventually had to return unfinished) and had about 25 library books stuffed into my trunk. Those first few weeks were so traumatic that I never even thought to renew or return them, I just couldn’t get over here even though the library is a very short drive from Cedars-Sinai. When I finally dropped off the books, my library fines were well over $100. Today when I came in I went to the supervisor and told her what had happened, explaining why I was so late returning the books. She immediately started crying, grabbed my arm from across the counter, and told me the sad story of the recent death of her son who was only 17. He was her only child. She went into the computer and erased all my charges as we discussed the pain of such a loss. So much for my earlier diss of the Beverly Hills crowd. One thing I’ve learned during the past month and a half is that you can find both tragedy and compassion where you least expect it.