It hurts to be nice.

stock-vector-broken-heart-with-a-band-aid-9820906Being nice can hurt. It’s been four weeks since I realized this, but I still can’t write it as a clever story. I’ll just tell what happened.

I donated the baby items that were in the closet in the spare bedroom. I’m compulsively organized, but I never labeled the boxes when I packed them up five years ago. I still remember what they contained: onesies folded into squares as small as coasters; little knit caps and booties with pom-poms; a pair of denim overalls with the Mets logo embroidered on the bib; and a collection of tiny tees meant to be worn on baby’s first Christmas, New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, and Halloween. There were the empty car seat, baby sling, tiny tub, and disassembled crib. So much stuff never used because John and I left the hospital that February in 2008 with a death certificate, not our new born. All stuff we would never use because it’s been confirmed I won’t have children again, and I don’t have the strength left to carry me through more attempts and losses. These events have left me broken, scared, and ashamed.

It shamed me even more that over those five years there were people who could have benefited from those baby items. The stuff that made me sad had the potential to make someone else happy, but I held on to all of it. It wasn’t selfish hoarding that motivated me: it was fear and denial. I had sealed those boxes and tucked them into the highest and farthest corners of that closet, then avoided that space like the bogeyman lived in there. I’d rebuilt so much of my life since losing Liam, and four weeks ago, I decided it was time to reclaim that closet.

The items were donated to The York Street Project, a local center that provides resources for women and children. I had volunteered my services there in the past, and always wished I could do more to support their mission. Letting go of those baby items allowed me to do that. The woman who helped me unload my truck said my delivery was well-timed as two young residents were due before the new year. The news was bittersweet. I told her I was glad someone would get good use of everything. She asked me how old my children were as I completed the donation form. I just said I didn’t have any. I wished her peace over the holidays and left.

In five years, I still haven’t learned how to answer when people ask if I have children. The only thing I know is that the world never stops spinning. Sometimes, though, there’s the smallest catch in its rotation, just enough to interrupt the pull of gravity. It’s slight, and no one else notices but me. I’m the only one who falls off the face of the earth. I float alone and watch the world continue to spin.

Donating those items to The York Street Project taught me something else: Being nice can hurt. I avoided the closet in the spare bedroom for five years because I was afraid. Those boxes held clothes and toys, but were really filled with everything that hurt too much to confront: pain, loss, grief, disappointment, anger, guilt, shame, envy, rage, despair. Keeping everything stowed away did the opposite of healing me. The hidden items and emotions caused a constant undercurrent of anxiety and pain that made me act in very not-nice ways, e.g., if I’m hurting, you should hurt too.

Sometimes doing the right thing requires making myself vulnerable, and I’m not always willing. Fear holds me back. Yet I didn’t gain anything by withholding those baby items from someone in need for the past five years. I lost a whole room and closet in my home because I was afraid of what was in there, just like I’d lost entire areas of my life and person because I was unwilling to “go there”, i.e., confront my ugly feelings.

I hope to be braver in 2013. I need courage to continue to reclaim my life, and strive to be a better person.

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