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Monday, January 18, 2010

Knitting and crocheting for my many pregnant friends has been a real joy for me. I've scrolled through dozens of patterns before picking just the right one, then slowed myself down while stitching them up, consciously reflecting on my friendships and hopes for the future as the project grows larger and larger.

I've happily finished each off, adding a "handknit with love by carrie" label and bouncing over to the UPS Store to mail them off. I imagined the parents opening the packages and the little one cuddling up in the garment. All the blankets and cardigans have filled me with optimism and joy.

All but one.

I met my friend Jen G. on the first day of seventh grade. She sat in front of me in Mrs. Pripstein's earth science class, a stick of a girl in a matching denim shirt and skirt with crazy blond curls. She'd just transferred from parochial school, and I recognized her from church. She asked me what I thought of Jason, the guy she suddenly found herself "going with." I informed her that his oversized sweater, covered in a garrish brown and white pattern, was horrible beyond words. We've been friends ever since.

Jen never cared what people thought of her, and I was jealous of that. She loved George Michael when that wasn't really OK and wore frog clips designed for toddlers on her shoelaces. If someone stared at her, she'd pretend to pick her nose or make a kooky sneer. Throughout school, we had typical teen-age adventures. Stifling giggles when Carlo Ross's dad fell asleep during Mass. Saving up our dollars then walking downtown to Derby's for lunch, singing Wilson Philips songs. We went camping and canoeing and were both really mediocre at field hockey but played passionately anyways.

She's also just a really kind person. She befriended a black family at church because she was afraid they felt left out in our overly white, prejudice-filled town. She went into drug and alcohol counseling and chose about the hardest job I can imagine -- helping inmates in prison break their addictions.

We haven't lived in the same town for 15 years now, but Jen's mom jokes that when I come home, we seem to pick up the same conversation from months earlier. Just start right in like we'd seen each other for coffee the day before.

Even when Jen told me she was pregnant, she picked a peculiar way. "What are you doing for New Year's?" she asked me in June. "I have no idea. I might work, but I guess I might be off. Are you having a party?" I replied.

"Yes," she said. "At the hospital. Having my baby."

So by October, I hadn't even started a blanket for her son. I had bought the yarn, knowing for some reason that I wanted to make something white and angelic. When I got the shocking text message that she'd given birth in October, months early, I immediately started making the Little Star Afghan.

Cooper weighed only one pound, six ounces when he was born and endured many surgeries and close calls. I tried to crochet as fast as I could, desperately wanting to get the blanket to Jen. But at the same time, was hurrying a sign that I was losing faith? That I thought there might not be a miracle? Was crocheting a blanket for a baby that might die, for a baby who might never get the blanket, just morbid? Or was it a symbol of hope?

Some days, after getting a heartbreaking call from Jen, I couldn't look at it. Other days, when there was good news, I'd spend an hour working furiously.

I had just finished the blanket 18 days later when little Cooper lost his fight to live. It was a Friday morning, and I literally had just packaged it up. Jon and I would drop it off on our way to the gym, we'd decided. But after lacing up my sneakers, I heard the horrible news from Jen. As we cried, I angrily picked up the package with the blanket in it, hiding it under some magazines and a lower shelf of a coffee table. I couldn't look at it.

Later, I brought up the blanket with Jen. I told her that this probably sounded so silly and trivial, but that I felt horrible that I didn't finish it in time. I didn't want to believe there was a deadline, that I needed to hurry. She understood why I was sad and told me that it was OK, that he had been given a blanket from Project Linus. That's what he was buried with. I asked her if I could send the blanket anyway, that maybe she could just keep it somewhere, knowing it was made with love for Cooper. She said she'd like that.

I've found that people don't like to talk about infants dying. Who would? It's horrible, basically the worst thing that I can imagine. But little Cooper touched so many lives in his 18 days. I know that I'll never forget him.