Read an excerpt from Five Hours
To celebrate the release of Five Hours: How My Son’s Brief Life Changed Everything by Lucinda Weatherby, we’re pleased to present the first chapter in its entirety. Read below.
No one will ever know when or why the chromosome splits the wrong way. It could be the sperm, but more likely, because of my age, thirty-five, it is the egg that carries faulty information. I’ve traveled a lot this year, several round-trips to Costa Rica and England, the radiation from airport X-ray machines blasting my body. Not long before conception, I treated the boys for head lice, pouring noxious-smelling shampoo onto my hands to kill the bugs and their eggs. Later, I will darkly recall that I disregarded the instructions cautioning users to wear gloves.
However it happens, the embryo is doomed from the start.
As its first cells begin to split neatly into pairs, the thirteenth chromosome adds an extra chromosome to each new cell, over and over again, first two, then four, then eight, then scores, then hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions of cells. All with faulty instructions on how to construct a body.
It’s estimated that between 95 and 98 percent of such cases are miscarried early on. Many of the remaining embryos are detected by prenatal screening and aborted, or are miscarried or stillborn later. But against the odds, our embryo will grow to be a fetus, and the fetus will make it to full-term and survive the birth process.
We’d have better odds of being struck by lightning.
A baby girl is born with a lifetime supply of eggs, millions of them, a constellation of genetic universes waiting to mature. So the egg that would become half of Theo was already with me the day of my birth, October 24, 1969. I know a little about what was happening in the world and in my family around that time: The Apollo 11 moon landing had taken place a couple of months before. Sesame Street would debut that November. The very first message on what we now call the worldwide web would be sent in five days. My mother, neither Jewish nor much of a drinker, woke with a hangover that morning, the result of a few too many glasses of Manischewitz at a friend’s Yom Kippur celebration the night before. She also woke with painful cramps and told my father she thought she was getting her period. My father reminded her she was pregnant and past her due date, and drove her to the hospital, where I was born several hours later.
What I won’t learn for decades is that the celestial circumstances surrounding my birth are as notable as anything happening on the human plane. Though I consider myself open-minded and have explored various spiritual traditions, I’ve never been a big fan of astrology, finding horoscopes merely amusing and not to be taken seriously. But in early 2008, months and months after Theo has been and gone, I cave in to a friend’s strong recommendation that I see Jane, an astrologer who lives down the road from me. I’m not sure what I’m looking for exactly, but going through what I did has made me much more curious about the mysteries of the universe. I am willing to suspend judgment if there’s even an outside chance of getting some answers, of making sense of the things that have unfolded.
Jane opens the door for me. “You must be Lucinda.”
I nod, giving her a brief smile, and step into her bland town house.
I’ve decided not to tell her anything about myself; my way of testing her and her craft. She already knows my and my husband Dicken’s birth dates from our phone conversation.
Jane is in her fifties, I’d guess, pleasant-looking with almost translucent blue eyes that seem to stay fixed on me until I look at her directly. Then they dart away.
“Go ahead and have a seat,” she says, pointing to a round wooden table with papers spread over it. “If it’s okay with you, I’m going to record this session.”
Jane sits down and begins to look at the colorful diagrammed charts, twisting them this way and that, frowning as she studies the images from different angles.
“Well, the first significant thing I see is that you were born under Black Moon Lilith. You’ve probably been told that before. It’s very striking.”
“I’ve never been told that. I’ve never even heard of Black Lilith Moon.”
“Black Moon Lilith,” she corrects me. “It has to do with the power and the terror of the deep feminine. In other words, it’s a certain configuration that opens between the moon’s orbit and the earth—a paradox that creates a void, a vast, empty, black hole–like area. In your particular chart this moon is in the sign of Cancer, the sign of the mother, and is on the cusp of the eighth house, which represents death.”
I try not to look too interested, not wanting to encourage her in any direction, but the words black hole, motherhood, and death are achingly resonant.
“Motherhood and death, you say?”
“Yes, being born under Black Moon Lilith in this way would set the stage for motherhood and the unrelenting power of the feminine to play a hugely impactful role in your life, and it would somehow relate to death. Black Moon Lilith cycles throughout your lifetime. It takes a little under nine years to complete its course and begin again.”
I think back and calculate that Theo was born three months after I turned thirty-six, which would mean I had just returned to the beginning of this dark void-like cycle for the fourth time in my life.
The astrologer continues: “The year 2004 marked the commencement of a Pluto process in your chart, which would last until the beginning of 2008. Pluto represents death and rebirth, a purification on many levels. It would have been intense, taking you to your depths, to the core, bringing tremendous soul growth. You know, you really should consider work that deals with death and dying. I would say you have a very unusual capacity to tolerate and understand the depth of pain people go through.”
She doesn’t know I’m a grief counselor, that I organize and run support groups and talk with grieving people every day. And she couldn’t possibly have guessed that in 2004, months before Theo was conceived, I felt inexplicably drawn to the idea of death.
“Wow” is all I can say. I’m still trying not to give anything away, to stay neutral and not influence the course of the reading, but this is startling.
Jane shifts some papers around and says, “Your husband also went through this Pluto process at the exact same time, because your birthdays are pretty close. But it would have been more intense for you since you’re a Scorpio, and Scorpio is ruled by Pluto.”
This also rings true. Dicken lost Theo as well as his beloved brother-in-law that year, but I don’t think his grief journey has changed him as profoundly as mine has changed me.
“Dicken has a wonderful chart,” Jane continues, smiling. “It has the look of a very benevolent king, the kind of man who goes out of his way to take care of children. I imagine he’s marvelous with kids.”
Hearing these words, I feel a sense of gentle pride. Dicken and I met when we were twenty. I was depressed and lonely and heading off to spend my junior year of college in York, England. My father, who is Anglo-Irish, knew Dicken from an old family connection in Ireland and introduced us. We fell in love very quickly, and my life turned from black-and-white to color. Now, in Jane’s office, I sit there thinking of my ruggedly handsome husband shepherding our boys and the nieces and nephews he loves, organizing made-up adventure games that keep them all entertained for hours, staying up late into the night to hold our kids when they’re sick or scared. Having lost his own father at twelve, Dicken has enormous reserves of compassion and patience for children. I also feel sad, wondering why a man this wonderful with little ones has only one surviving birth child. My eyes fill with tears.
“You okay?” Jane asks.
I spill out the story of Theo, gushing about how everything she’s said so far feels true to me and is making me happy and sad all at once.
“Would you like me to take a look at your baby’s chart?” she asks. Before she’s even finished the sentence, I’m saying, “Yes.”
She types Theo’s birth details into her computer, then studies the screen for a few moments.
“Wow,” she says. “This is quite a chart, with a very stand-out feature. At the exact moment of his birth, the star Spica arrived on the eastern horizon. Spica is one of the brightest stars in the galaxy. The only other chart I know of that has this is Princess Diana’s.”
I think of Diana, who fascinated me as a child. She was radiant, the “Queen of Hearts.” She died much too young. My Theo, he moved hearts too, and he was doomed from the start.
I walk home, barely noticing the cold air and the late-afternoon traffic whizzing by, pondering the mysterious nature of life. I feel awed, amazed that the stars and some charts printed out by a computer could give Jane a language to describe what sounded very real to me. But I wonder if I am simply a desperate, bereft mother, grasping at any story that will give meaning to what happened. And does it really help to know any of this, whether it is true or not? It won’t bring him back. Yet I have a sense that he is with me right now, as I walk along in the darkening light, glowing at the thought of him, my star in the heavens.
I enter the warm house. Dicken is on his knees at the coffee table, playing the board game Risk with Jasper and Kevin. Tiny colored plastic pieces spread across a map of the world.
“Hi, love!” Dicken says.
“You wanna play, Mom?” Jasper asks.
“Mom doesn’t like games about war,” Dicken explains.
“But Mom, people get hurt without guns,” Jasper says. “’Member I broke my shoulder in ‘non-competitive’ games class?”
“Of course I do,” I say, thinking back to the trip to the emergency room a few months earlier, the first time I’d been back there since the night Theo was born.
“It’s ironic that an athlete like you would have your most significant injury in a cooperative games class,” Dicken says.
“I hate that class!” Jasper explodes. “It’s so boring and stupid. And I could kill Max for kicking me in the shoulder.”
“It was an accident,” I say. “He was in the middle of falling down himself.”
Jasper is ten and plays competitive ice hockey. It’s his greatest passion, but we send our boys to a Waldorf school that doesn’t have a sports program.
“Your turn, Kevin,” Jasper says. “Look, Mom, Kevin has Costa Rica.”
“I want to be president of Costa Rica when I grow up,” Kevin says. He is from Costa Rica and lived there until we adopted him three years ago at age eight.
“I love Costa Rica because it abolished its military,” I say. “I’ll play if I can have Costa Rica and Switzerland.”
“I have Australia because that’s where the fiercest rugby warriors are from,” Jasper says, holding up his fists and making a stern face.
“You mean New Zealand,” Kevin says.
Jasper’s face falls.
“That’s right, Kevin,” says Dicken. “The Maoris are the best rugby players in the world. But New Zealand is really close to Australia, so I can see why Jasper would get them confused.”
“I want to play rugby like you did, Daddy!” Jasper says. Dicken grew up in England and attended sporty boarding schools from the age of eight. Jasper has Dicken’s formal team photographs on his wall. “I want to be in the scrum, I’d be so fierce.”
“No rugby for you till we know how that shoulder is doing,” I say.
“Oh, Mom, you’re always against me!” Jasper complains. “Go away and leave us alone. I just want to be with my dad.”
I head into our room and lie down on the bed. A few minutes later, Dicken enters.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I answer, though I’m feeling a little stung by Jasper’s rebuff. Mostly, though, I’m thinking about Black Moon Lilith and Pluto and the brightest star rising on the eastern horizon. Part of me wants to tell Dicken all about the reading with Jane, but most of me wants to hold it inside for now, my own sweet secret, and digest it more fully before I share it with anyone.
“Jasper doesn’t mean to hurt you,” Dicken says. “He’s just riled up.”
“That game makes him more aggressive.”
“Jasper has always been aggressive,” Dicken points out, “and maybe that’s why he’s so attracted to war games.”
“You love that game and you’ve never been aggressive,” I say. I think about Jane’s description of him as a benevolent king.
“Daddy!” Jasper cries from the other room. “Come back, come see what I just did to one of your countries!”
Dicken kisses me on both cheeks, then goes back to the living room to rejoin the boys. I’m left to ponder what it would be like to mother a quiet, gentle child, and how children get to be the way they are, and whether the stars lining up a certain way really do predispose us to certain life experiences and qualities, and what kind of child Theo would have been had he lived.
I remember moments of my Black Moon Lilith/Pluto trajectory, this strange journey through motherhood and death, pain and truth.
LUCINDA WEATHERBY has a BA in English and an MA in psychology. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Sun andConnotation Press. She works as a grief counselor in Ashland, Oregon. Five Hours is her memoir.
Posted: Oct 14, 2015
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