Part 3 of 5.
Deaths and (Re)births Part 3: The Landing
I was not going to graduate.
I was nearing the end of my final semester at BYU, approximately 14 or 15 months after the twins’ birth. Predicate logic. It was predicate logic that was finally going to close the lid on my academic coffin. To this point I had been able to skate by in my other classes; a “B” in a relatively easy Marriage and Family course, a “C” in a more difficult philosophy class; even a “D+” in Personal Finance, which I almost never attended—I probably should have failed that course outright. But Predicate Logic was a required course for my chosen Major, Philosophy, and you couldn’t get anything lower than a “C” for a Major class. Once you dropped below a “C” you would have to retake the class. I was well below a “C,” and scheduled to graduate the following month. If I didn’t produce that “C” I would not graduate.
That I even had a 3.0 GPA by the time of my final semester was nothing short of miraculous. I had a full load of classes at BYU, but I also worked a full time job in Midvale, about 45 minutes away. I would attend my classes in the morning (scheduling the first for the earliest time slot available) and by late morning be on the road to my job. I would arrive home every day around 7 or 7:30 pm. I could either do homework at that time or arise extra early in the morning. Either of these options proved to be essentially impossible from the moment we brought the twins home, dragging along a host of medical complications with them.
The problem (and all other problems associated with their entrance into the world—of which there were many—paled in comparison) was the babies’ sleep patterns. Or rather, their complete lack of any kind of sleep pattern. One of them was almost always awake. Neither of them slept for more than 40 minutes at a time. Try as we did (and oh how we tried!) we could not harmonize one with the other. We attempted everything in the book, read other books, sought advice from doctors, and then wrote our own book to replace the old, clearly flawed books, and that book was a failure as well. We would eventually discover some wheat and dairy allergies; Amanda spent some weeks tinkering with her diet until she at last found one compatible with nursing (she was determined—driven by an unseen force she would later say—to exclusively breastfeed them at all costs) but this only slightly improved the situation.
I recall one day/night, Ethan stayed awake (with intermittent short, fitful naps) for almost 20 hours straight. I recall placing him in his bouncy seat to play with some toys. It was around 3 a.m. I sat down on a kitchen chair and immediately nodded off. Amanda had gone to bed 30 minutes before with Mylyn, who had finally fallen asleep. I was awakened minutes later by his sudden screaming; the poor little guy had also nodded off and hit his mouth on a plastic protrusion on his seat. Amanda came running out from the bedroom, anxiously asking what had happened. My explanation angered her and we were now hysterically screaming at each other. Our nerves were shot, every physical and emotional reserve totally depleted.
The first 6 months we got at most an hour of sleep every night. Survival only came because it was so consistent: the body will eventually adapt to extreme situations, given enough repetition. Not that the mind necessarily follows it. By the time of their first birthday, that had gradually improved to 90 minutes. By their second birthday we could plan on about 4 to 5 hours every night. I would try to spell Amanda on weekends when I was around so she could get a nap, but it wouldn’t last long. When both babies would cry and I couldn’t console them she would inevitably get up to help.
Amanda’s mother had come to help for a couple days at the very beginning. But she and her family had recently moved to Idaho, and she still had several young children to care for herself (Amanda was the second oldest of several). Besides, things were…complicated with her. She would not be available to assist us. My own mother offered to fly out from Indiana to help. But there were issues on that front as well and Amanda felt at the time that it would be better if she didn’t come. Feelings were naturally hurt, and communication between myself and my parents dried to a trickle. Neither of us had any other family nearby. As for our ward, well, we lived in one of those “newlywed or nearly dead” wards. The “nearly dead” Relief Society president had sisters in the ward deliver two meals, and that was that. Looking back, I should have been more assertive in asking for help and pleading our cause. But as it was, no one wanted to hear about the hardships, they only wanted the stories that made having twins as romantic and adorable as they imagined it should be. And besides, do you know Sister Jones? She had two sets of twins, and then two more children besides. Now that’s tough.
Our home had become a prison cell, one whose walls closed in around us a little more each day. We rarely went anywhere with the babies. Even after the RSV danger had dissipated with the coming of Spring, it was mind-numbingly exhausting to go anywhere with them because they would never stop crying. I dimly recall one day, walking the paths of campus, feeling like I was surrounded by ghosts, pale, wispy imitations of immaterial beings who could not help me, could not even hear my cries. They weren’t real. But that’s why I liked them, why I craved their spectral, wraithlike presence. Because the only thing that was real was the hellish nightmare living inside my apartment, a nightmare that I sentenced my wife to every day while I feverishly escaped every morning out the front door. Sure I would dive in when I returned home and we staggered through the nights side by side. But I knew that the vast majority of the burden of their care fell on her. And the guilt would eat me alive that I was leaving her behind each morning, guilt at the relief that would wash over me as the howling of the babies and her piercing silence faded into the distance. I sometimes sobbed to myself in the car as I drove away, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” But I never turned around.
Oh, so many things to have done differently in hindsight! Take a semester off. Insist at gunpoint that a parent or two take up residence in our apartment, relational issues be damned. Switch to bottles. Tell my professors I was suicidal and take Incompletes in my classes. Funny thing about hindsight, though. By definition it only appears after–usually long after– the events it claims to be able to so clearly see. And it isn’t even 20/20. Far from it. Hindsight is completely reconstructive, more a way of protecting oneself from the horrors of the past than a way of seeing it truly. I remember my brain turning to mush, not being able to type a coherent sentence for the first time in my life, forgetting co-workers’ names, nearly driving into bridge pylons on the highway multiple times. No, those commonsense things simply would never have happened, not in this universe or any other one. We were kids having kids, unaided and scared, groping for the light, making it up as we went along.
I realized, distantly, at one point, that I had landed. I had reached some kind of bottom, some kind of ground floor, though in the hazy back of my mind, there was a voice telling me that all lowest points are only deceptively temporary. There is always further to fall, another low to collapse into. I marveled that my initial fall, so brutal and sudden, had become a gradual, seemingly never-ending descent, a descent so deep that I could no longer see the top, and one so gradual it hadn’t occurred to me that I was still falling. And then the landing, with this realization, a realization I had had long before but had not allowed full access to my mind: There would be no one to rescue us, to even give us a brief reprieve, no one to even to say that things would get better.
We were utterly alone.