I don’t do “empty.”  Never could.   I like a full schedule.  God knows I like a full belly.  Full womb was incredible (along with incredibly uncomfortable).

Empty is hard because it scares me a lot.  I spent a lot of my life figuring out all the things I could stuff into the empty.  It all works… for a minute.  Empty feels full, full resembles happy, or not scared, or loved / included / needed.  Pretty soon (if not really soon) the heavy social calendar, the overeating, the striving and pushing and banging too hard on the wrong door for too long… is just exhausting, and there’s that empty again.  Emptier than ever.  Even in good times, I feared the empty.

Sometimes “empty” meant “unloved.”  I thought that activities and gigs and commitments proved that I was liked and needed.  And in the commitments that I cultivated, I tried to prove that I had value.  I was like those people who think it’s rude to show up at a party without a gift or a bottle of wine.  Like just their company isn’t enough.

Since I got to be really good at filling up the empty, I rarely had to face it.  Today, empty is a deep black hole and it has swallowed me.

It doesn’t take decades of therapy to know that “empty” means “available to feel unpleasant emotions” or, more succinctly, “drowned.”  I knew it the minute we got off the plane from Chicago.  The first thing I did (after buying a chocolate milk shake) was start looking for clinics and thinking about what we’d do differently for IVF#8.  But after a few days, I knew that IVF #8 wasn’t going to fill the empty left by IVF #7, and then thinking and planning didn’t comfort me any more.  Didn’t fill me.

One of the things that does “fill me” is music and theatre.  I performed professionally most of the time we lived in Chicago; along with teaching and writing it is my official occupation.  The vague plan was that here in this smaller market I would be able to start all over again, find a gig or two, start a band, write some things, whatever.  I was going to do that after the baby came… after the depression… after I lost the 40 pounds I gained in the 4th trimester… but once I got home from Chicago, filling the empty became an emergency.

I saw an opportunity and went to the audition.  I knew that just reading at the audition would be a mini-performance in itself, and thus would be fun, a whiff of the airplane glue high that I get from performing.  It wouldn’t amount to anything, and I would shrug it off, and maybe meet some new people.  But by the time I got home, knowing that I had done well,  the play was no longer an irrelevant piece of candy but had turned into something big and essential.

To fill the empty.

Obviously, in the way that these things go, I didn’t get the part.  The cameraderie, the juice of being chosen, the time so deliciously full, the important way I would say “I have to go to rehearsal...”  dried up and blew away, and into the whistling darkness of the empty poured all that delayed, denied grief and sadness and fear and anger from our loss.

The empty stretches before me for the rest of my life, because even as I drown in it, I know that I’ll never get away from it.  Some of what defines the empty for me is my slippery hold on my purpose.  What is my purpose, beyond overcoming it all, finding marriage, becoming a mother, becoming a mother again?  What am I for, when that’s all over?  Suddenly nobody’s pulling on the other end of the rope and I fall into the empty.

I’m a religious person, and apparently not a very good one, because God 101 is that He fills me.  This is the “God shaped hole” writ large, and I should fall into the empty and wait for Him there.  I know this.  I also should know that when the empty fills with grief and sorrow, I won’t drown.  But I don’t feel like I know these things today.  The knowing of them in a solid way is stuck on a shelf somewhere and not comforting me.

I felt relief when we found out all five died… it was the worst thing I could think of, and I didn’t have to dread it anymore.  I felt relief when I found out that I am not cast in this stupid play.  I hate the empty and I probably always will, but that panicky moment of standing on the edge and wheeling my arms, grabbing for something, trying not to fall…  is worse.

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