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Punk Rock Girls, Cabbies, and Ghost Strollers

Updated at the bottom

Yesterday, I was waiting outside for the library to open, sweating in the almost 100 degree air, and the twins were chattering on about things.  We were standing next to a punk rock teenager who had no concept of personal space and kept sliding herself so our arms could rest against one another even though we were standing outside, in a somewhat infinite space, with only one or two other people.  And did I mention that it was 100 degrees?

The punk rock girl kept laughing at everything the twins said; not the light snicker of a stranger overhearing a conversation about the best way to lure mermaids from the ocean, but a deep laugh that conjures tears to the person’s eyes.  She kept saying, “they are so funny!  They are just so damn funny!” and then appraising me with her eyes, looking me up and down from my grey hairs to my flip flops, as if wondering how a woman like me could parent such kick-ass amusing and sassy children like them.

I wanted to tuck my sweaty arm around her (our arms were already touching so it wouldn’t have been that big a deal to exchange a little more sweat) and said, “sweetie, once upon a time, I was just like you.  I went to DC hardcore concerts and danced in the mosh pit and painted my nails black and wore blue lipstick.  And this just might happen to you too — the nerdy jeans from LL Bean and the frizzy hair.  Even little punk rock girls can turn into this down the line.”

But she was having such a good time listening to their musings about mermaids that I didn’t want to burst her little Manic Panic bubble.

*******

Because I am now old and grey, I decided to give in to my middle-agedness and take a cab when I got off the train in New York for the reading.  Up until this point, I’ve always taken the subway, but this time, I went out to the cab stand and blew the ten bucks.

While stopped at a red light, the cab driver rolled down the window and had an excited conversation with the cab driver in the car next to ours; a series of excited exclamations in Amharic.  He rolled back up the window as the car started again and apologized for the conversation.

“Why are you apologizing?” I asked.

“I didn’t mean to do that, but I was so excited to see him,” he explained.  “I never see him, and suddenly he was right there at the red light.”

The cab driver informed me that this was unusual.  That in a city as large as New York, while cab drivers knew other cab drivers, it was unlikely that two people would pull up to the same red light at the same time and get to have one of those moments.  I witnessed something incredibly rare, something that only occurs (at least for this cab driver) once every few months.

It made my day perhaps as much as it made his.

*******

While I sat in Starbucks, waiting for my brother to be done with meetings so I could work in his office, Josh sent me an article from the New York Times about a ghost stroller.

Sometimes the passers-by look curious; sometimes they are distraught, concerned by the three plastic roses — peach, pink and red — tucked behind the straps, which give the stroller the distinct look of a memorial commemorating some grim accident … Who went to the effort of painting the stroller that uncomfortably chalky Mylanta white — taking a paint brush to the cup holder, the bag zipped in back, the mesh basket below, even the chain and padlock attaching it to the parking sign.  People at the New York City Street Memorial Project, which installs most of the “ghost bikes” — white-painted bikes throughout the city that commemorate sites where cyclists have been killed — said they had no idea who had installed the stroller. And a police spokesman could find no record of a fatal car accident this summer in the area.

It’s impossible to read the article and not think of our blogs in the same vein — infertility blogs (especially loss blogs) as the white painted strollers of the Internet.  The ones people would rather rush past without noticing, that make people wonder, that make people a tad uncomfortable.

This past weekend, we were with people who don’t know us at all and they questioned if twins run in the family.  “No,” I said in the same matter-of-fact voice I always use, the same one I use to give directions to the nearest Starbucks or say hello to people at the food store.  “The twins are the product of fertility treatments.”

The woman looked as if I had just taken an enormous dump on her plate of pasta and proclaimed it a meatball.  She sputtered around for a moment and then said, “I see,” even though she wasn’t even looking at them or me anymore.  And then she changed the subject.

I’ve never seen the stroller, but I’ll be in Park Slope tonight, and I’m going to take a pilgrimage out there if it isn’t a pain in the ass.  Someone made it, someone placed it out there, it’s on someone else’s mind.  The very least I can do is look at it.  Abide with it.  Learn something from it.

Update:

After dinner, we walked back to my brother’s apartment, crossing through 6th and Union.  We searched all four street corners, walking down each block a bit, but the stroller was gone.  A film crew was speaking outside the bar mentioned in the article.  But that was the only hint that something had once been there.

When we got back to my brother’s apartment, he looked it up online and apparently, someone cut the padlock and threw the stroller in a dumpster on Monday night.  A crossing guard saved the stroller and moved it in front of a school on Berkeley Place.  We didn’t see it when we were walking around last night.

I know it’s silly, but I wanted to see it.

33 comments

1 sas { 08.17.10 at 3:36 pm }

hi there.
what you said about how our blogs are like the mysterious white strollers on the internet, making people uncomfortable, is so so true.
some friends struggle to know what to do when i tell them i have a blog they can tell their other friends about if they are dealing with IF. they tell me it is kinda ‘intense’ and i think they secretly hope i snap out of it eventually.

2 Jackie { 08.17.10 at 3:58 pm }

Hmm…what an odd reaction to your answer about the twins. If one asks such questions, one should expect an honest response. And, what with the general public’s less-than-accurate view that fertility treatments *always* end in multiple pregnancies, I wonder why she was even surprised at all.
I find blogs all the time that make me uncomfortable to read. But the good thing about blogs is that I can prepare myself and go back to them at a later date when I’m feeling more ready to handle the information that’s written there. I’ve recently been making an effort to include more of these blogs in my reader… I find that getting out of my comfort zone can often be an experience I’m glad I had. And I don’t want to be that previously mentioned lady, who has to sputter and change the subject every time a new topic of conversation comes up.

3 Searching for Serenity { 08.17.10 at 4:08 pm }

I am strangely fascinated by the story of the mysterious ghost stroller. Immediately my mind assumed that it represents the loss of 3 babies. Mostly likely unborn. My mind took be there, before I even read your tie back to the ALI community. I guess that’s what “this place’ has done to me. For me. My reactions to such stories have changed. I get it because of the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve read. And ironically (or not) I think it ties back into your interaction with the women who asked about the twins. Her reaction didn’t surprise me. Perhaps whomever placed the ghost stroller was trying to speak to people just like her.

4 Searching for Serenity { 08.17.10 at 4:09 pm }

one more thing. if the mysterious ghost stroller story has an end, I’d love to hear about it.

5 Longtime Lurker { 08.17.10 at 4:22 pm }

Great post. Thank you!

6 Dora { 08.17.10 at 4:38 pm }

Good for you for responding so matter of factly. Just this morning one of the moms at daycare asked about Sunshine’s hair color. I didn’t feel like or have time for explaining donor conception, so I fumbled a bit. It didn’t feel good.

Was hoping to make it tonight, but couldn’t arrange childcare. Will be thinking of you.

7 Marianne { 08.17.10 at 4:48 pm }

Please take a picture of the stroller for us!

8 Kristin { 08.17.10 at 5:00 pm }

I wish I could see the stroller too. It sounds weird but can you abide with it for a moment for me too?

And, good for you for answering so openly.

9 Briar { 08.17.10 at 5:16 pm }

Guess what story was on when I switched on evening news just now.

TV news reporters don’t have ghost stroller answers, either.

10 jill { 08.17.10 at 5:21 pm }

It’s so weird how people respond to the cliche twin question. They must just be expecting a happy “yep! I am a twin, and my mom’s a twin…” and so on. IVF people… learn about it. I always want to ask people with twins if they were a product of IVF :) I haven’t yet since I think that could be taken to be rude but I always think about it!

I’d never heard about the ghost bikes… I’m going to have to read about that. The idea of a ghost stroller kind of gives me shivers. Your association of it and this community is very apt.

And haha @ your experience with the punk teen – you are too funny :)

11 dana { 08.17.10 at 5:38 pm }

this was a delicious read — i loved each vignette

12 TexasRed { 08.17.10 at 5:40 pm }

I’ve already had the question about twins running in the family asked and been struggling to deal with it, even though we’re just barely pregnant. To some extent, I think this is a space-filler question and people don’t think of how inappropriate it can be. If the answer is anything other than “yes,” the chances of making everyone uncomfortable seem really high. And if this was the 3rd set of twins in your family, wouldn’t you have mentioned that?

(Reminds me of people asking if my haircolor is real. Really? You’re asking me about my pubic hair color? How is that appropriate.)

13 Toni { 08.17.10 at 5:57 pm }

Wonderful little snippets. Thoroughly enjoyed each one.

14 JenJen { 08.17.10 at 6:15 pm }

Loved reading this. My blog is a secret from my day to day life. Only shared with those who can understand what I am going through..but I have learned to say some very important words that in the past I had a hard time with…”I am very sorry that happened to you” and “How are you doing?” I never used to do that because I was afraid of the answer but now I ask it and listen and sometimes cry for those who are honest about how they are feeling because at times I wished it were asked of me.

15 Annacyclopedia { 08.17.10 at 7:05 pm }

Beautiful post, Mel. Your words are going to stay with me for a while, I think. Thank you.

16 HereWeGoAJen { 08.17.10 at 7:53 pm }

I really liked this post and I’ve come back to it a couple of times today. :)

17 Megan { 08.17.10 at 8:21 pm }

I was a punk rock girl, too, dressed in black and hanging out at Rites of Spring and Fugazi shows. I am sure me then would not want to recognize me now. Me now would just pat me then on the head. Silly girl. I love the connection in all your stories here – the growing up, the chance meeting, the mystery.

18 meghan { 08.17.10 at 9:48 pm }

I’ve read this 3 different times today already. I love each little story. And my head went immediately to pregnancy loss as soon as you started to describe the stroller. I hope you got a chance to see it and spend some time there tonight. I think it would be very touching

19 Battynurse { 08.18.10 at 12:05 am }

Wow. That is a strange reaction to the mention of fertility treatments.

20 Annie { 08.18.10 at 12:15 am }

You’re such a wonderful writer! I hope you’ll post more about the ghost stroller. And I loved your honest answer to the twin question. Usually I dodge questions with uncomfortable answers, but sometimes I really enjoy making people uncomfortable with an honest answer!

21 Soosee { 08.18.10 at 7:38 am }

It’s hard not to think about our blogs when I hear a story of loss or IF or adoption. It always makes me wonder if the person that provokes the thoughts are ‘here’ or if they’re feeling all alone b/c they think no one else gets it, and I just want to tell them, WE do, WE’re here. Hope you night was wonderful in all possible ways!! I was thinking of you!

And is there anyway I can see you at the punk rock girl stage? I think I’d like that. ;)

And btw, I sent a girl thisaway, in case you get an email.

22 Amel { 08.18.10 at 11:10 am }

I feel sentimental about reading this post…ahhhh…

23 katie { 08.18.10 at 11:21 am }

Oh my. I now want to make my own ghost stroller.

24 Kristi { 08.18.10 at 11:37 am }

First I tried imagining you as a punk rocker. Then I laughed out loud at “The woman looked as if I had just taken an enormous dump on her plate of pasta and proclaimed it a meatball” then laughed some more. Finally I googled the ghost stroller story and saw a picture of it in all it’s glory. Thank you Mel for inspiring me to laugh, think, and imagine today.

25 serenity { 08.18.10 at 11:47 am }

Oh man. I wish you had gotten a chance to see the stroller. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

And we would have been AWESOME punk goth chicks together.
xxx

26 Quiet Dreams { 08.18.10 at 12:07 pm }

Not silly. Not at all.

27 Another Dreamer { 08.18.10 at 2:37 pm }

The ghost stroller really struck me- how incredibly sad that someone threw it in the dumpster, I’m glad someone else saved it. That stroller must have meant something to someone, I am with the others in guessing it was three lost babies. I would have wanted to see it too.

28 Kir { 08.18.10 at 2:48 pm }

you know what I love about you??? the way you can take three *almost* totally unrelated stories and make them feel good together, make me think and feel things in the middle of a day.

the story of the stroller really touched me, I would have liked to have seen it too…to be in it’s presence.

Hugs

29 a { 08.18.10 at 10:31 pm }

I don’t know if I would have liked to see the ghost stroller, but it definitely captured my interest…

30 B { 08.19.10 at 3:11 am }

I feel like a kinda wish it was me who did it.

The experience of others becoming parents when your child has died is really confronting. People do rush by, because we represent their greatest fear, and there was a part of me that wanted to shove the death of my child in front of people who refused to look at me and say “SEE. DEAD. BABY. It could happen to you”. I can assure you, as confronting as this sounds, it is no-where near as confronting as experiencing the death of your child, holding your daughter as she dies.

I hated how quickly people wanted to draw a line, make a distinction between me and them, give an explanation that would provide an assurance to themself, that they were different to me, therfore it could not possibly happen to them. But the truth is, I am no different and it could easily happen……. it did happen……… and please pay me the respect of looking at that for a moment and feeling the absolute horror of it shake you to core, and realise that I live that horror, not in a moment walking down the side walk, but in each minute of each day.

I get it totally. It’s not there because it’s the space where the tragedy occurred…. it’s there because it’s where other mummies, who refuse to imagine something else, will see it.

I feel gratitude for the security guard who got it out of the bin and found it a new home.

31 B { 08.19.10 at 3:17 am }

mmmmm – that was a bit of a rant.

I’m glad someone found a more eloquent way to say those things than I.

The absence of markers, of symbols means we hold things on our own. I’m glad this mother found a voice.

32 Cheryl { 08.19.10 at 10:20 am }

I answer the question of twins running in the family with a cheerful “no”. It doesn’t leave much room for a tactful followup question (though occasionally someone else with infertility experience will find an appropriate response that can actually start a nice conversation). A non-tactful followup is easy to meet with a query as to whether the person is really asking for intimate details about your children’s conception.

33 Bea { 08.19.10 at 6:45 pm }

I know people don’t know what to say, but it drives me a bit crazy when they plain don’t respond. Even a nod and a moment of thoughtful silence would be something. Given that they were the ones who asked the question and all.

I’m sorry you didn’t get to see the ghost stroller. I would have liked to see it, too.

Bea

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