The Should-Have-Been

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ode on a Grecian Urn – John Keats


In Boyne City, Michigan on the shore of Lake Charlevoix, there is a grassy park where visitors can watch 10 p.m. sunsets in August. Where people can hear the waters of Lake Michigan called by a different name lap against rocks. Where boats stroll by a football field’s distance away like they’re barely moving. Where an hour before midnight, the curfew siren echos over the water, more out of tradition than any need to cut a summer evening short. That park is lined with carefully curated native plants, meant to display purposefully what would have happened naturally a hundred years ago. A few yards back from the water’s edge there is a bench. As benches in tourism towns often are, it is dedicated to someone with a plaque. In carved letters, that bench reads something like: “To Linda, my fiancée. I’ll always think of you here in this spot, especially every year on August 6th.”

I bastardized that man’s tribute but the point is that Linda’s birth year and death year weren’t far apart enough. And that man didn’t get to say “wife,” he said “fiancée.” So my mind went walking. I leapt to their planned wedding day and how Linda must have chosen the details for this park to be the sight of their vows so they could start forever here. With the geese and the tide and the native plants. But Linda and her bench author didn’t get to have that perfect August 6th. For him, that day will remain suspended in air because even though it passed years ago, it also never happened.

Monday, August 12th was my due date. I remember hearing it and thinking it and imagining my big belly all summer. I dreamt about it and planned it and thought about the likely zodiac sign. We stared at those ultrasound pictures, as if they looked any different than anyone else’s set. I thought, “Who are you?” and “How will we help you become that person?” We’d wait to find out. We’d wait until August 12th.

When we found out that I wasn’t pregnant anymore, at seven weeks, after we’d heard the heartbeat and then didn’t and Chas started reading the baby book out loud and then stopped and I hid it in the back of the basement, I still thought about August 12th. I thought about what it would feel like to reach that date and to feel nothing, or worse, to feel everything. I imagine that moment of not finding the heartbeat and 12:00 a.m. on August 12th as being so connected. Because the first completely changed the second.

Monday, August 12th is almost here. And while I’m not who I thought I’d be on August 12th, I am a stronger me. I am a woman who knows how to mourn and grieve and come out on the other side ready to try something again, if even that means risking the same mourning and grief.

August 12th takes on a new identity. It’s the very day that Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School will open for day 1 of school in a new space. I didn’t give birth to the school or even the idea of it. But I have been there from the start. I’ve been integral in the incubation, the forming, the mistakes, the bounce backs. Maybe in my heart August 12th will take on a new identity. Or maybe it will remain suspended, printed on a tiny bench in my soul as a day that should-have-been.


My friend Anastasia sent this to me at the perfect moment a few weeks ago. I hope I don’t come off as a victim here but this is a reminder to all the IVF warriors out there…and the people who work with us, who may not understand why we are fine one moment and then angry, sad, confused, stoic, crying, weeping, the very next.