I will never, in my lifetime, forget December 2, 2010.
I was sleeping in bed alongside my “work-in-progress” boyfriend at the time, in my blue bedroom, in my new house in Hermitage, TN. I woke up to my phone vibrating on the nightstand. I picked it up and immediately saw a photo of a baby in an incubator, all 19 inches and 7 lbs 4 oz of him. The arrival of my first nephew, Nolan Robert was here. I immediately cried tears of pure joy as I admired this photo. That joy soon turned into tears of desperation and what felt like a hole in my heart the rest of the day/week. He was here, in the world, for me to hold, and I was 600 miles away looking at a photo on my phone.
I finally met and held this perfect baby roughly 2 weeks after his birth, when I was able to take off work/studio/girlfriend duty for Christmas and drive up to Michigan for the holidays. I cried again when I met him. In all honesty, I’ve been shedding tears for him/over him/because of him ever since.
It’s somewhat comical, really.
When I first met my boyfriend Jon and we started dating this time last year, he thought Nolan was secretly my child. I had so many photos of him on my phone and I proudly displayed them to anyone whose attention I had for more than 2 seconds. My friends laughed and said I was obsessed. I’m sure my Facebook and Instagram friends thought the same, with my endless photo/video uploads of him over the years. I was. And I am. But it’s not for reasons that are so obvious to the outside world.
I’m sure you’ve already heard me gush over him and the little person he’s becoming. So I’d like to take a different approach with this blog to acknowledge/celebrate/reminisce over his arrival into this world. I’d like to share with you the truest reason why I’ll love this child like he is my own forever and always. To put it bluntly…
Nolan saved my family.
He may never know that and I’ll never tell him. But I will always know. My sisters, my brother, and my parents will also always know, whether they’ll admit it publicly or not.
The loyalty within my family is ferocious. That is the only word I can use to describe it. It is protective. And just as it can be nurturing and safe, it can also tear you to shreds. No one can truly understand or appreciate our dynamic unless you’re within it’s folds. I’m not complaining about it whatsoever. I love it. It’s the only way I’ve known. It has also exhausted me plenty throughout my life.
I am the oldest of 4…2 sisters and a brother. When I first moved to Nashville, the youngest of the litter, my baby sister, took it the hardest. She was 11 or 12 years old when I moved. I remember her crying on the phone to me. I remember poems and photo collages she’d give to me when I’d come home to visit. I felt a very real responsibility to her. I wanted to show her that having big dreams is scary but beautiful and that she too could be brave enough to chase them…to risk the crash and burn, just like me. I’d drive and meet my dad halfway in Cincinnati, just to take her and my brother for a long weekend away with me in Nashville. I spent so much time trying to instill hope and confidence in her for a bigger life.
My baby sister got pregnant at 17. Out of nowhere. No warning. No sign of a boyfriend or partying or any type of rebellion in that sense. She was a senior in high school. She got impregnated by a “man” that I won’t dignify acknowledging except to say that he had the most minimal part in creating a baby…that, and my hatred for this person consumed me for years after the fact. Now? I still wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire, but I don’t wish him on fire anymore.
I wanted to save my sister from this. My heart was shattered that she didn’t want to be saved from this. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. The downward spiral of the situation was fast, severe, and plunged below any level I knew existed. Suddenly there were enemy lines drawn and part of the family stood on one side and part of us on another. Watching my parents go through it was even more torturous than my own hurt. I was driving up to Michigan on a whim a couple times a month to make sure everyone was still breathing.
She can’t have this baby.
It was a thought we all had. It makes me sick to my stomach to look back on that now, but at the time…we really didn’t think the family or my sister would ever recover from bringing a baby into this mess.
I love my sister. I loved her despite the whirlwind of hurt and brokenness we were all swept up in. All the skeletons were out of the closet so there was nothing more to do…but watch her belly grow. I remember Halloween of 2010, she was 8 months along. It was the first time I talked to the baby in her belly. It was the first time I whole-heartedly acknowledged that the baby was coming, ready or not. I went back for Thanksgiving, hoping she’d go into labor during my visit. She didn’t. So I drove the long and lonely 8 hours back to Nashville at the end of November. By December 2nd, a baby was here.
I remember I had driven all through the night. I was tired. I was wearing an orange hoodie & yoga pants with my greasy hair tied up in a bun. She walked into my parent’s house with the baby in his carrier and I lost it. There was hope. Everything dark had led us to this.
My family did recover over time. It wasn’t instant, but there was a new flag for this family now. It wasn’t chaos, it wasn’t hurt. It was Nolan.
Over the years, my love and adoration would never waiver. I’d drive up every other month for him. I’d take him to Nashville with me, all by myself, for a week or two at a time, every single year. He brought out the good in me, the uninhibited and yet nurturing spirit in me. For a long time, nothing else brought out the good except for him and my Granny. I could be a train wreck every other day out of the year. But the days with Nolan, I wasn’t. I was Auntie Ray Ray. And out of all the people I felt I “needed” to be, all the people I pretended to be…Auntie Ray Ray was the most natural, most effortless role I’ve ever taken on.
It would take me 5 very long years to realize that if I built upon who I was with Nolan (and my Granny), I would be a happier person. If I could show myself the same love, support, and forgiveness that I was showing a toddler… I’d probably be living a much different life. How could I be one person that loves/would move mountains/self-sacrifice for her family and then another who just didn’t give a flying @#$* about anything…but who was still fun and funny, carefree and incredibly careless, who controlled her conscience like a light switch. The answer is… I couldn’t be both and do either of them well. One Rachel has to outweigh the other.
So I let the scales tip. And I’ve been letting them tip for the past year. And I’m so thankful that for once, it feels like they’re tipping in the right direction.
So on Nolan’s 6th birthday…I am a puddle of gratitude.
He’s growing up. And so am I.
P.S. If you feel inclined to do so, you can check out the song I wrote for this little nugget a few years back at https://rachelwilliams.bandcamp.com/track/silenced