VOICES FROM THE STREET: Thinking of U Baby Girl

By the time you read this I will have had my first fundraiser for my new project. Am I excited about it? Yes, but at the same time there is a sadness: I sorely wish that someone was here to share it with me. My daughter Jasmine would have been 21 in February.

You would think that after all this time I would be past this, but you never ever get over losing your child; you learn to live with it, and even that is a task I wish on no one. When my girlfriend, who was also a founding member of Spare Change News, told me she was pregnant I was on top of the world. A few months before that I had become the paper’s second managing editor and, after a rocky road that nearly saw us go belly up, we were slowly making a name for ourselves.

Spare Change News was having its 15 minutes and we were taking advantage of it. As we were coming up on our first year of existence, it seemed the sky was the limit. A couple of our writers had written a series of articles about the shelter system, which, depending who you talked to, was less than flattering. Our circulation, which had taken a nose dive, was trending upwards. We had over 50 vendors on the street; a board member once told me you couldn’t go two blocks without running into a vendor.

Media seemed to love us as we were on every major station in Boston at least once. We were making the rounds politically too. Not to name names but we were in some good company. We signed a contract to sell in T stations and were looking to start a youth project. Life was good. So having a child was personally for me, the icing on the cake.

I saw this as my second chance. My other children—well, let’s just say I was a homeless, drugged out, manic. So I missed out. I was getting another chance to be a father. I couldn’t wait. The pregnancy was troubled from the beginning but we held out hope. I wish I could say that Vicky and I had a strong relationship, but we did not, and in the final months of the pregnancy we were separated.

The night she went into labor I wasn’t there. I arrived at the hospital the next morning. Things didn’t look good and they had to give her a Cesarean. Within a few hours, the doctors came in and told us that Jasmine’s lungs hadn’t fully developed and that they had done all they could; Vicky was on so much morphine and was screaming. I went in to see my daughter: a machine was all that was keeping her alive. I went back and told Vicky that we had to let her go.

I held my daughter in my arms for the last few hours, and all I could think about was how I’d been able to help all these people but I couldn’t save her. Jasmine lived for 36 hours. Fighting till the end. I can’t describe the pain I felt. There is something unnatural about burying your child. Make no mistake about it, there is no greater pain. I didn’t handle it well. At first there was a sadness and nothing I did could shake it, not work, not talking to family or friends, nothing.

Vicky and I split up nearly six weeks later and I went to a dark place. I wasn’t grieving. I didn’t want to feel, so I tried to fix it: Drugs, money, even getting married to another woman nearly four months after my child’s death. But nothing worked and that sadness turned to anger and some of that turned violent. I lashed out at everyone and everything that I loved and cared about. I had long since left Spare Change News, feeling that I had been betrayed by a group of people who I considered family.

I wanted nothing more to do with homelessness, even though I was homeless myself. Only my older brother and an old friend kept me from killing someone or myself. I can’t tell you when or how but I began to pull myself up. I’d like to think my daughter asked God to look out for her father. It was hard. I stumbled, I fell, but I managed to keep going.

I started to do the things I would do if she were here. I healed. Today I’m here. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I’d like to believe that if she were here she’d be like her old man, standing beside me fighting for those less fortunate, but she is here: I see her in every child’s smile, I feel her presence on those days that can be frustrating, and yes, I talk to her, and when I take to the stage to talk about my project, she’ll be in the back smiling at me. I miss and love you always, baby girl.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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