happy anniversary

in december, we went out to dinner.
lee’s five year was coming up and we needed a brainstorm
to figure out where to have it.

so we sat in a little booth at this restaurant not too far from our house
where they make their own pasta, and thought and thought.

“how about here?” lee said.

of course.

the restaurant had changed. it was now split into a smaller restaurant and a bar
but we realized that we were sitting in the same physical spot
that we had been sitting at almost five years earlier…
the night after lee had found out she had cancer, but the night before
her big scan when we found out it was everywhere.

it was in that spot that we made a decision, in theory,
about the baby…about trying
to keep it or not, and a nice waiter who i had played
basketball with when i was in graduate school
had let us sit as long as we wanted, had brought our food out
real slow.

—–

the morning of the five year,
she cut her hair
after five years of growing it out
for the past five years
and donated it.
i cut my hair (what little of it i had left) too.
even the little boy, noah, who had shaved his head when leanne’s hair fell out,
took a day off school and shaved it all off again.

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and that night we all (lee, lydia and i)
read thank yous to everyone…

and by everyone, i want to include any of you who are still left.

for you were there too.
For the food on the doorstep.
For the prayers in a church in Chicago.
For the hat that says “fuck cancer”.
For the fairy house for Lydia.
For the bag of groceries.
For the foot massages.
For the basketball in the snow.
For the wife who refused to die.
For the park who gave her a place to walk every day.
For the woman who held Lydia when Leanne was too broken to take her home.
For the frost on our windows in the morning.
For the sound of the elevator dinging dinging up to the 12th floor.
For the views from the windows up there, that only the sick get to see.
For the nurse who took her lunch break off so that Leanne wouldn’t be alone.
For the doctor who listened instead of talking more.
For the pictures that someone took when we were too scared to see ourselves.
For the nights that wouldn’t let us sleep and the pills that told the night who was boss.
For the daughter who danced through it all, saying “if you die, you die”.
For the bosses and co-workers who picked up pieces of us.
For the woman in the line at the airport who hugged me.
For the two old ladies on the airplane home who fed me cheese and crackers and bad red wine and stories to sustain me.
For the father in law who got home before I did.
For not being silent, when silence was the easiest thing to do.
For the girl Leanne used to babysit who came out to babysit her right back.
For the friend who opened her door and offered a chest for me to cry on, after driving in the icy ruts.
For the neighbors who are experts in things we are not.
For the scientists who gave us a trial drug.
For the people who run and cycle and swim so that we could
For a restaurant who gave us a table and the waiter who left us alone at just theright time.
For the quilters.
For the sun that reminded us to keep getting up.
For the smudge sticks to cleanse the house of badness.
For the strangers on the blog who helped me not feel alone.
For the boy who cut his hair – twice – when he was five years old and today when he was 10, so that Leanne wouldn’t be the only one.
For the soundtrack of that time written by friends.
For the ruts of ice in the streets that almost never went away.
For the tumors that did.
For the baby girl that died so that Leanne could live.
For the anesthesiologists who heard me whisper – please, no pain.
For the woman who gave us her baby and the aunts who convinced her to do it.
For redemption, of sorts.
For stories that go and go.
For hanging on.
And for love.
For love.
For love.

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friday lunch

and so on a recent friday
rena’s birth family decided they would like to come over.

and so we said sure, thinking that it’d probably just be the two aunts
who helped rena’s birth mom during labor, helped her decide to
plan an adoption in the first place.

but we were wrong.

while rena’s birth mom was still in jail, and will be for what looks like the next year,
the two aunts came, one of them brought her daughter (whom she adopted 16 years ago
through open adoption) and the daughter brought her best friend (who was also adopted through
open adoption 16 years ago).

it’s weird when two miley cirus look-a-likes want to spend one of the last days of their
summer break coming to your house to eat sandwiches and see what maybe they
were like 15 years ago.

and then rena’s birth mom’s mother came.
and she brought rena’s two half-sisters,
who last had seen her in the hospital the day after
she was born.

and so, we ate sandwiches that i burned on the griddle
and tried to find some shade in the backyard.

all the while, lydia kept saying “rena rose weinshenker”
and calling her “sissie”,
as if to say “she’s MY sister” again and again,
lest rena’s two birth sisters forget it.

i asked rena’s birth grandma why she decided to come
and what it was like driving home from the hospital with the girls,
whom she’s caring for while rena’s birth mom is in jail.

and she said that the girls kept bringing rena up,
wondering how she was doing.

and they also wanted to know if they were going
to be given away next?
which, in essence, they were…by their mother to their grandmother.

and where would they go?
where was rena?
in a dungeon?
in an orphanage?

and she wanted them to see
where rena was.

and so they did.

—–

remember that we didn’t say anything
about leanne’s cancer during the adoption process.
it was bad enough being discriminated against for our religion,
we didn’t want to add prior health history to our list of peccadilloes.

and so when leanne was giving the family a tour of the house,
they all walked past the wall
with the pictures of her bald
and me with the “fuck cancer” hat on.

“that must be a strange way for you to find out,” leanne said.

“oh we knew,” said one of the aunts.

we saw you on the cover of the blood donation magazine:

a strange way to find out.

“we just hope you’re doing well,” said rena’s birth grandma.

and she is.

—–

ps – i’m riding another 100 miles for cancer.
if you care to donate, do it here:

http://pages.teamintraining.org/rm/moabtour10/dweinshenker

pps – rena is one, and she has the frosting to prove it:

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after-breakfast mint

and so yesterday
i tried to push the snow off the walkway
with a broom and we got into the car
and saw each other’s breath inside it
and drove to the courthouse.

—–

leanne hates me.

she hates that i’m so bad at things.

while i bring home pomelos for her from the grocery store
and tickle her back in the middle of the night
and remember to always get her red lentils at the
ethiopian restaurant…

i forget our anniversary.
or don’t think about her birthday until the afternoon of.

i forget everything i’m supposed to remember.

but i just realized that three weeks ago i forgot
the three-year mark of leanne getting cancer.

totally slipped my mind.

january 11th.

just another day.

a couple days after, the photographer who came when leanne was sick
showed up again.

i love this shot particularly:

us below the former versions of us.

—–

how are you physically?  mentally?  the judge asks….judge judith,
magistrate actually.

excellent, i say, and…..pretty good.

she laughs.

and what do you think makes you a good big sister, she asks lydia.

i like gymnastics, lydia says.

perfect.

and then asks leanne something about adopting rena
and leanne tears up.

i don’t remember what she says,
i just remember the leanne in the chair
at the PETscan facility, slumped,
with the cancer everywhere.

and the leanne in the chair now,
crying and happy and ready to hear
that rena is ours forever.

magistrate judith smiles and says
we have another daughter
three years after we had one taken away
and we hug and shake hands and take a picture
and walk out.

—–

later, after beignets and buttermilk biscuits
with rhubarb jam and chicory coffee
and a waitress who just happened to be adopted,

we go to the denver mint….
just one wafer-thin mint…

and see money being made
and think about making value
and copper and zinc and steel
and dies and scrap and conveyor belts

and go to the gift shop
because lydia is collecting the state quarters

and i see a commemorative silver spoon that i would’ve bought as a child,
but instead i want a sacajawea dollar now,
and my father buys it,
and gives it to me,
and later i will give it
to her.

rena.

the boat launcher,
the bird come back.

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halfway to what

there was a holiday party at our adoption agency,
so we went.

lydia ignored the carolers and ate caramel corn,
pushed buttons in the elevator.

leanne and i looked around the room at all the other
families with their adopted kids.

we met our caseworker in the hallway.

“i saw tina,” she said.

“where?”

“i took her out after she called me from the halfway house”

(she was in jail for a week or two and now is in the halfway house,
trying to get her life in order.)

“but when we were in the car, she said ‘guess what?’ and i said ‘no’.”

we waited.

“she’s pregnant,” said our caseworker.  “again.”

there was a big part of me that thought that maybe this decision,
to place rena in an adoption, was to be the first in a long line
of good, or at least better, decisions by her.

i thought that about her turning herself in too.

the first being an admittance of her inability to parent.

the second being an admittance of her inability to run forever or avoid or deny.

and yet here we are again.

or, here she is.

and soon, here another baby will be.

—–

but for now, i concentrate on rena.

carpetmonger

and she concentrates on trying not to puke

and on keeping our head up,

no matter what.

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signed, sealed, delivered

she’s ours.

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return to sender

when leanne was pregnant with our second child,
before the lumps on her neck and everywhere else and
before the dirty mri and before
before the winter with too much cold
leanne went out and bought one thing
for the baby, a pair of these:

boots

she put them in the closet or down in the basement
with all of lydia’s old baby clothes, just waiting
for life to happen.

but a different kind of life happened,
and they took the baby out.

some people don’t have the energy
to get out of bed during chemo,
but somehow leanne had the ability
to find them and put them in a box
and send them to our friend out in baltimore
who had just given birth to a daughter of her own,
and along with it, she slipped in a card that said:

“every girl needs a pair of red boots”.

and that was that.

—–

a few days ago there was a box on the porch.
it was from leanne’s friend in baltimore.
inside were the boots and a card that read:

“i think you said that every girl needed a pair of red boots”

—–

two weeks ago the phone rang.
i was away teaching.  it was rena’s birthmom.
she said she was homeless
and could we give her some money,
could she stay at our house?

leanne called the agency
and the owner picked up tina.

the owner said she spent the two hours driving
her to wherever she needed to go to remind her of a few things.

tina, listen to me and listen to me good, she said,
daniel and leanne adopted rena……not you.

still, it was hard for me to not open our door to her.
after all, she had given us her baby.
and to complicate things more, we still hadn’t had our court date.
technically, rena still wasn’t ours.

tomorrow is the court date.

we got a call tonight that tina won’t go.
she doesn’t want the baby back,
she just doesn’t want to get arrested.

and so we wait
or we ask people in her family to turn her in
or we do nothing
or we sit on the purple couch
and slip the red boots on rena’s feet.

first one,
then the other.

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at 3am, you can usually hear sprinklers

spinning themselves around and releasing water.
you can usually hear
the train and the crickets
and the hot water heater clicking on and off.

but last night i didn’t hear any of those things
because lydia was crying.

a nightmare.

what is it, leanne asked.

still half her body submerged in the dream,
lydia sobs –
you were supposed to not draw it that way.

leanne, it seems drew outside the lines.

and if i didn’t do it out loud,
at least i did it in my own dream:

i laughed.

i laughed because i was so overjoyed
that lydia wasn’t having nightmares
about her mother being sick or bald
or in the hospital
or dead.

i laughed that maybe the thing that lydia
is most afraid of right now in her life
is that someone isn’t drawing
inside the lines.

and as disturbing and perfectionistic as that may be,
it’s still a million times better
than worrying that you’ll be
alone in this world
forever.

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two arms

on saturday, i woke up at 5:30am.
leanne said i looked old.
i felt old.

i took a sharpie and wrote a name on each forearm.

pumped up my bike tires and ate three bananas
and slipped on my purple and green jersey
and sat on a hard, hard seat
and rode 100 miles
again.
for cancer.
or in hatred of cancer.

two-arms


with two women on my arms.
my wife, leanne, and my friend dan’s sister, suzy.

one alive and one not.

suzy died this summer
from a cancer, quickly, leaving
her husband and three young kids behind,
and a brother, who has always had a perfect
beard and a decent backhand, and
who is my friend.

(i wrote about him slipping and shattering himself
months ago on his way out to take care of her)

there’s a hill on the ride in moab called the big nasty.
3000 vertical feet in 7 miles.
not nice.  not nice at all.

every time i thought about getting off my bike and walking,
which was often,
i looked over at my arms.
i looked over at leanne and suzy.
and i kept pedaling.

on the drive from colorado with lydia
in the back of the minivan, we talked about canyons,
about how they used to not be there,
about how water and persistence
can eat through anything.

how water and persistence ate through thousands of feet of red rock
to sit at the bottom, finally, and be able to look up at what it had made,
the way we’ll look back at cancer someday.

and i just wanted suzy to know that she was with me for a day.
and that i took her to some beautiful places,
and that she kind of took me to some beautiful places too.

like the top.

like the top.

at the end of the ride, lydia was there blowing a noisemaker
so hard that she blew a hole in it.

rena was impossibly asleep.

and leanne was standing, cheering,
impossibly alive.

—–

it’s been two days

and i still can see the names,
fading a bit and purpling.

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so the last

comment on the last
post was this:

“Congrats on your new daughter. I am an adoptive mother. When my son came home to us we gave out very few details about his birth family and the circumstances surrounding his adoption. My husband and I felt very strongly that this is our son’s story to tell, not ours. He can share whatever information he likes with people he feels comfortable with but we did not feel it was our place to do so. I was also very uncomfortable with the thought that someone – friend, aunt, older cousin – might accidentally reveal something to him or within his earshot that we had not shared with him yet. I understand that when the adoption happening it is exciting and you want to share your story with everyone. But it is not your story alone, but your daughter’s as well. Not trying to be judgemental at all, hope it doesn’t come off that way. Just sharing one adoptive couple’s opinion.”

and it got me thinking about ownership, in a way.

when does lived experience not become ours?

and when does a story not become ours?

and what if it is shared, the ownership and the story itself?

just wondering where you all stand on this.

i think in the case of the comment above,
there would never be anything that a friend, uncle, cousin would know about our daughter
that we hadn’t already told her ourselves.
she’s going to know the story from day one.

there is never a reveal.
never the prestige.

at the same time, i could see if, hypothetically,
our daughter was born with three penises
and i had chosen to blog about it…
how she may at some point be angry that people know.

and i would have to deal with that anger and justify
my need for telling the story.

could i?

i think i could.

could you?

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leave the smiling

to the ladies:

grillgirls

leanne’s been sporting extra cleavage
to distract away from her chemo port scar.

it seems to be working.

rena is 13 days old today.

i fed her in a parking lot.
it was glorious.
a glorious parking lot
with a dad
and a baby
and spaces waiting
for cars.

—–

last week leanne took rena down
to meet tina for lunch.
mario came too.

she gave them a computer that a friend gave us
so that we could email them pictures.

she said it was nice….and strange.
(that pretty much sums up this whole experience).

at one point leanne handed rena over to her
and tina took her at the table.

the waitress came by and started asking tina
questions about the baby, and tina paused and then answered.

after the waitress left, she looked at leanne and said sorry.

what else was she supposed to do?

when rena started spitting up a bit, tina held her out.
take her, she said.  it was as if she didn’t know what to do.

her face and body has said this to us before.

—–

i don’t think i said this before,
but i felt great distance when rena was born.

tina and mario had asked me to videotape the birth
at the last minute.

i hate cameras.
would much rather take my journal in (which i also did),
but did it anyway.

and so…as she was pushing rena out of her
i stood there with this machine
in between me and everything that was happening.

it was enough that there were two aunts and mario
and tina and leanne and doctors and nurses and lights
and iv tubes….without sticking the camera in there too.

maybe that’s why i didn’t cry when she was born.

i just wasn’t there.

—–

liddy told me the other day that she’s never seen me cry.

it’s not true…but it feels that way to her.

i don’t want to be that father.

—–

last week we broke out the video that i took of the birth
so that i could put it on a dvd for tina.

and i forgot.

i forgot that after the birth, tina wanted to take the baby
back into her room for a bit.

and she wanted the camera,
so i gave it to her.

later she brought rena back to our room
and left the camera on the counter.

but i forgot.

i forgot until i started capturing the video
and came across some shots i didn’t remember
recording – first mario holding her and saying
that her lips looked like her mommy’s…

and tina saying that she has mario’s chin.

then tina sighing.  the biggest sigh.

they tell her that they love her.

and mario puts her hat back on.

and then tina holding her in a chair,
another sigh, her eyes shifting from looking down at rena
then back at the camera, the distance between them greater
than the distance i probably had felt
during the birth.

a weak, forced smile.
the video feels desaturated even though it’s in color.

she holds her,
says nothing for a long time,
then says i love you,
and rena opens her eyes a bit.

she heard you say that, momma.  says mario.

ok, tina says.

ok, in the way that ok can mean goodbye,
ok, in the way that ok can mean that it’s over.

bye, says mario from behind the camera.

tina’s blurry hand reaches towards the camera
and then nothing.

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