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Just You and Me, Kid

The day after Matt Logelin welcomed his daughter into the world, he lost his wife. The suddenly single father began documenting his trials—and triumphs—on his blog, which has gained followers from Singapore to South America

Photograph by Ethan Pines

Matt Logelin was still a teenager when he met his future wife, Liz, at a Minnesota gas station in 1996. Sweet yet cynical, he was a fan of thrift store clothes and obscure bands. She was bubbly and optimistic, with enough confidence to carry them through their college years, career beginnings, and the move to L.A. They married in 2005 and two years later learned that they were expecting a baby girl. The pregnancy was difficult. Amniotic fluid levels were low, the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, and the baby’s heart rate was erratic. Liz, a 30-year-old management executive with Disney, went on five weeks of bed rest, while Matt divided his time between the hospital and work as a project manager at Yahoo!. On March 24, 2008, their daughter, Madeline Elizabeth Logelin, was delivered prematurely by C-section—she came in at 3 pounds, 13.5 ounces and was in good health. Twenty-seven hours later, Liz got up to enjoy her first visit with Madeline in the neonatal intensive care unit. She never made it out of her hospital room, collapsing from a fatal blood clot, unrelated to the birth, that had traveled to one of her lungs. Begun years before as a forum for everyday preoccupations, Matt’s blog became a chronicle of a new father’s struggle. The site—Matt, Liz and Madeline (mattlogelin.com)—is now a destination for 40,000 visitors a day, drawn in by Matt’s blend of humor, frankness, and lyricism.

In the following excerpt from Two Kisses for Maddy, his memoir published this month, Matt writes about how he came to build an online testament to his late wife.

 

I’m so excited to finally hold her,” Liz said. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this.”

Our personal care assistant, Pat, arrived with another nurse to help Liz up. One of them swung her legs to the side of the bed, while the other stood near the head. I watched from the foot, waiting for instructions. Pat looked at me and said, “She needs to get her legs back. Would you like to walk with her?” Grinning, I moved toward Liz, her smiling face following me the entire way to her side. As Pat held her left arm, I grabbed onto her right, and we worked together to lower her to the ground.

Liz’s feet hadn’t touched a floor in almost three weeks, and it was apparent. She stood there for a few seconds, wobbling, as if these were the first steps she was ever taking. I could feel her determination in the grip she had on my arms, and so could Pat, who slowly let go of Liz, leaving me as her only means of support. She took one step, and then another, and then another. She moved tentatively, careful not to take on too much too soon. Slightly hunched at the back, Liz looked down at her feet, letting her eyes control each step. She held her left hand close to the spot from which Madeline had emerged during the C-section, as if that could keep the contents of her stomach from spilling out in case they suddenly began to do so. The way she was moving made me feel as though we had been transported 50 years into the future: my old lady and me, our feet slowly shuffling on the sidewalk as we strolled down a tree-lined boulevard on a Sunday afternoon, holding hands, both of us silently reflecting on a lifetime of happiness.

We rounded the corner of her bed and made our way to the window. She stopped at the sink to check out the mirror, seeing her face for the first time in a few days. “Jesus. My hair looks like shit.”

I laughed at her. “Liz, it looks great.”

Still staring into the mirror, she ran her fingers through her part and said, “Look at my roots!”

“OK. You’ve got a point with the roots. But what do you expect? You’ve been on bed rest for five weeks.”

“I’ve gotta see Jeannette and Jennifer as soon as I get outta here,” she said, referring to the team of sisters who cut and colored her hair.

“Perfect,” I responded. “That means I’ll get more alone time with Maddy. We’re going to have such a tight bond. She’s gonna like me way better than you.”

Liz suddenly looked away from the mirror and directly at me. “Jerk,” she said in the way she always did, mimicking how my little brother used to say it when he was ten.

The second PCA left the room, and Pat stood in the doorway holding a wheelchair. I was thankful that Liz was going to get a ride to the neonatal intensive-care unit, because at the rate she was moving it would have taken us the rest of the day to get there. “One more lap and then we’ll go,” Pat said. We made our way back to the head of Liz’s bed, then toward the door. We reached it, and Liz turned her back to the wheelchair. Still holding my arm, she started to lower herself into the chair. Before she sat down, she uttered, “I feel light-headed.”

With those words Liz went limp and slumped toward the floor, and with all of my strength I tried to keep her from hitting it. Pat frantically pulled the wheelchair out into the hall and yelled for a colleague. Liz couldn’t have weighed more than 130 pounds during her pregnancy, and now she was probably closer to her prepregnancy weight of 110. I’m not the strongest guy in the world, but I’d lifted her many times and kept thinking that I shouldn’t have had that much trouble holding her up. Rather than fight it, I decided to lower her to the floor until I could get some help. Holding on to both her wrists, I set her body on the ground, putting her head on my left foot and creating a pillow with my shoe. Both PCAs were now in the room, and they tried to help me lift Liz from the floor.

I  looked at Pat, my eyes saying what my mouth couldn’t: What the fuck is going on here? “This is completely normal,” she said. “This happens all the time to women on bed rest.” And I believed her. I mean, what else could it be? Even with three of us, the struggle was mighty. I felt a small bit of relief when we finally got her back to bed. At least she can’t hurt herself, I thought. I backed away from my wife, knowing that I would only be in the way. I watched as they shook her, slapping her face, yelling her name, telling her to wake up. I watched as she convulsed, her eyes rolling back in her head. I heard her gasping, saw her whole body shaking as if it was struggling to get the last bit of oxygen out of the air.

I saw Pat hit a button on the wall above Liz’s bed. Then over the loudspeakers I heard a cryptic hospital code, but even after having spent the past few weeks there I had no idea what the fuck any of them meant. I didn’t immediately connect the two events.

Suddenly a bunch of hospital staff members rushed into Liz’s room, one of whom instructed me to get out. I complied with the orders and stood just outside the doorway, trying to make some sense of the situation. Wait. Why am I being ushered out? More and more people brushed past me. It seemed like hundreds of people were in that room, but I knew Liz was still behind them. They were all shouting, but I couldn’t understand a thing. As I stood in the hall, the rational part of my brain kept trying to tell me that something was seriously wrong, but my illogical thoughts kept repeating, Normal. Normal. Normal.

A short woman, maybe in her midfifties, appeared by my side and introduced herself, but I wasn’t paying attention. We’d been in this hospital for three weeks, and I felt like I knew most of the staff at this point, but I had never seen this woman before. “Mr. Logelin. I think you need to sit down.” I thought, Who the fuck are you, and why the fuck are you telling me to sit down? “Why?” I asked.

“Please, sir, sit down. I don’t want you to faint.”

Faint? I thought. “I feel fine. Can you please tell me what’s going on?”

“Sir, I don’t know. They’re working on your wife.”

My mind was racing. What the hell was that supposed to mean? I saw someone run into the room with those heart paddles they use in the movies. I guess they have to use them on her. Fuck. I bet that means she has to stay in the hospital for a few extra days to recover. Does that mean I’m going to have to go home alone with Madeline? I don’t know if I can handle that.

I tried to get the attention of everyone who ran past me—I needed to know what was going on with my wife—but the only person speaking to me was that damn woman I didn’t recognize, and she was speaking in euphemisms I couldn’t comprehend. I just wanted some straight answers. My questions were simple enough: How long until I can see her again? When can I tell her about the commotion she caused? When can she hold her baby?

The woman was still talking. “Mr. Logelin. Please sit down.”

I swear I’m gonna punch her in the face if she says that to me again. Rather than giving her the fist I thought she deserved, I sat down against the wall so she would leave me the hell alone. The woman walked away victorious, and I sat there with my knees pulled up to my chest, my arms holding them in place, my head shaking away the awful thoughts rationality was trying to get me to come to terms with.

A doctor in a white coat walked out of Liz’s room and in my direction. She had dark hair, looked friendly, and was pretty, like the doctors on television. I stood up, leaning against the wall. I asked, “Who is that short lady who keeps telling me to sit down?”

“She’s a grief counselor.” 

*****

Two weeks after Liz died of a pulmonary embolism, Madeline was released from the hospital. She was barely bigger than she’d been at birth: just over four pounds. I pulled out of the driveway and headed toward the freeway, alone with my daughter for the first time. No doctors, no nurses, no friends, no family. I thought about how this moment should have gone. Liz should have been in the back—one hand on the car seat, the other hand making sure Madeline’s head wasn’t bouncing around—telling me to be gentler as I downshifted. She should have been here, cooing at our daughter and relaying her every reaction to me. But my wife isn’t here.

There were several other routes home I could have chosen, but I felt compelled to drive past where Liz’s funeral had been held—I don’t know if I was delusional or feeling masochistic. As soon as I saw the parking lot, I began crying and shaking uncontrollably. If this wasn’t a kick to the nuts, I don’t know what would have been. Driving under the influence of irrepressible grief was a lot like what it must feel like to drive drunk. I was dizzy and couldn’t see straight. I struggled to regain my composure, gripping the wheel as tightly as I could, trying to keep my car headed in a straight line, and doing my best not to get pulled over.

I managed to make it into our neighborhood without incident, and as I drove up the big hill leading to our house, there it was: Liz’s car, parked in its usual spot. Just like every time I had pulled up to the house in the last two weeks, I felt the excitement in my chest that came when I realized Liz was home before me. And every time it took a second for my brain to catch up with my heart, and then the feeling disappeared as quickly as the exhale from her last breath. I backed my car up to park and felt the resistance of an object behind me.

Fuck. I hit Liz’s car. I’d parked here hundreds of times, and I’d never hit it before. My heart started racing immediately, and with one quick movement I unbuckled my seat belt and lifted myself out of my seat, arching my back to assess the damage I’d done to my child. She was expressionless and in no obvious pain; relief blanketed my body. I knew I was being ridiculous—the impact was negligible—but I was convinced that the slightest misstep would forever damage Madeline. And I would be the only one to blame if something went wrong.

I carried Madeline to the front door, and the instant we walked into the house it felt different—it felt better. It was less lonely now with Madeline. I’d been in and out of my house several times in the past two weeks, and no matter how many people stood in the living room or the office or the kitchen with me, and no matter who the people were, the house seemed empty. I could feel Liz’s absence, the gravity of her death weighing heavily on my mind and in my heart. But with Madeline next to me, the house felt alive. So did I, because now that she was home with me it was time to start living life with my beautiful baby girl. When I walked down the street with Madeline in my arms, it seemed like everyone was looking at me as if I’d stolen her. When I walked into a kid’s clothing store, I felt like everyone thought I was using her as a prop in order to kidnap their children and turn them into lamp shades. The people I came across on a daily basis could jump to any number of conclusions: To some I might be a deadbeat dad, baby-sitting my child on weekends; to others, maybe I was a child predator. But as is the case in all encounters with strangers, the only way for them to really know what was going on in my life was to ask questions. And it was always the same one: “Where’s her mother?” No one ever asked where my wife was.

It wasn’t just the sad look on my face or the baby in my arms. I know I brought some of this attention on myself by continuing to wear Liz’s rings, but I couldn’t take them off. They had been on my left pinkie ever since I put them on in the hospital, and I was too afraid to leave them unattended in the house. Besides, with my unexpected weight loss, they fit perfectly. What dude doesn’t need a few diamonds on his finger? Still I needed that physical reminder of our closeness; I wanted Liz’s most prized possessions to become a part of me, just as they were a part of her.

When Liz’s best friend, Anya, and I took Maddy to the pediatrician, the assumption in the waiting room must have been that we were a happy family—mother, father, and daughter. But I could sense the other patients’ puzzled looks: Why was he doing all the caregiving? Why was he holding their baby up and pointing at the fish in the tank? Why was he carrying the diaper bag?

A woman sitting next to us noticed the rings on my finger. She was there with her two children, an infant and a girl about eight years old. “Those are lovely,” she said, then cast her gaze in Anya’s direction. “Why isn’t your wife wearing them?” When I gave her the truthful answer, she couldn’t deal with it; overwhelmed, she left her daughter in charge of the baby and fled the waiting room in tears.

*****

I hadn’t thought that blogging was something I would continue after Liz died. On March 28 my friend A.J. had posted the obituary that his wife had written about Liz, the one that I still have trouble getting through. I believed at the time that it might be the blog’s final post, but a few weeks later I found myself turning back to it in hopes of some kind of emotional release.

At first I figured there would be nothing much to say, but with Maddy home, something in me wanted, or maybe needed, to record everything. Were my posts revelatory? Not exactly. But having an outlet where I could say whatever I wanted and work through my constantly shifting emotional state was invaluable. I knew it when I wrote that first post after Liz’s death, I knew it again the next day when I wrote a post about how the better of Madeline’s parents had died, and I knew it every day thereafter as I rambled on about life with my daughter. As I wrote I realized that the blog was becoming Madeline’s baby book. No, it wouldn’t contain locks of hair or tiny impressions of her handprints and footprints, like my mom has of me. Instead it would be a chronicle of our day-to-day lives.

Early on all I wanted was to give Maddy something tangible to refer back to someday. The blog was 80 percent for her and 20 percent for my friends and family—well, mostly for my family, because my friends don’t read that kind of shit. In the weeks and months following Liz’s death, it was important for me to let everyone close to me know that I was surviving and that our baby was doing well. I was writing down the things we did to prove to them—and eventually to Maddy, too—that after Liz died I didn’t simply curl up into a ball while my kid jammed forks into the light socket in the living room.

Writing my own blog made me look at other blogs, and I soon discovered that my hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, had a Web site with an excellent parenting blog. It was run by two women, but they didn’t just write about mothers. They also wrote about fathers and their relationships to their children. I got in touch via e-mail: 

Hello…

I just came across your blog…

I’m a proud new father (originally from MPLS, now in Los Angeles) who is definitely in the process of managing changing priorities. I’m doing it on my own (my wife passed away the day after our baby was born).

I’ll be reading your blog often (while the baby sleeps). I’m finding much of the content very helpful.

I’m writing a bit about my experiences. Some of the language is a bit blue, but I can’t help it.

It’s been tough.

Matt 

The next morning they wrote back, asking if they could put my story on their site. It ended up there and on the front page of the paper. The reaction was amazing: That same day my blog picked up tons of new readers, and after that it continued to grow.

I was grateful. I’d made a connection with a whole community of caring people online. I was lucky to have a great group of friends nearby who did their best to make our lives easier, but most of our family was in Minnesota, and it was impossible for them to help us on a daily basis. And because I didn’t belong to a church or any neighborhood group, there was no organized effort to assist us. Nevertheless I’d stumbled onto these sympathetic individuals online and expanded my circle far beyond what would have been possible before the Internet age. I received e-mails from Indonesia, Thailand, England, South America. I had built my own virtual support system. 

*****

While some parents claimed allegiance to Dr. Spock, I was more from the MacGyver school of parenting, which was less about having an arsenal of baby equipment and more about troubleshooting with whatever was available. Early on I took Maddy to a Dodgers game. This was something Liz and I had imagined doing with our future child from the moment we put the down payment on our first year of season tickets—way before Liz was even pregnant. And like in our dream, Maddy was dressed in a pink-and-white pin-striped Dodgers onesie and wrapped in a blanket we had been given on one of the team’s many promotional nights. Of course, the dream included the two of us there with our baby, but in reality Liz was dead and I was at the stadium with her friend Diane. Madeline was still so small that she was only drinking formula. I had remembered the diapers, I had remembered the wipes, I had remembered the formula, but I had forgotten the bottle.

What does a guy do for a kid who doesn’t have a bottle to drink from? I felt like an asshole. She needed to eat, but I didn’t want to leave the game, defeated by my forgetfulness and ruining my daughter’s first Dodgers experience. I sat there for a couple of minutes thinking that there had to be a solution.

I bought a bottle of water from the concession stand, which I needed for the formula anyway, and I asked for one of the lapel pins behind the glass case—the kind they sell with the Dodgers logo. I removed the pin from the packaging and sterilized it with a lighter borrowed from a man behind me in line and then jammed it through the water bottle cap. I mixed the water with the formula and squirted it into Maddy’s mouth, just a little bit at a time. I felt as victorious as when I beat Liz at a game of Scattergories.

After more than 12 years together, it would be impossible to steer clear of all the places that held memories of my life with Liz. The gas station where we had met, the restaurant where we had our first date, the spot where we had our rehearsal dinner, and the countless stores, streets, and restaurants that had been a stage for so much of our lives. And it wasn’t only Minnesota—I felt this way in Los Angeles as well. I wasn’t going to the Farmers Market or the Oinkster or Whole Foods anymore.

Just thinking about setting foot in a produce aisle brought me back to a memory of the last New Year’s Eve Liz and I had spent together. That night Liz, her pregnant belly not showing quite yet, spotted one of her many celebrity crushes, Joel McHale, at the Glendale Whole Foods. Being a well-trained  L.A. girl, Liz never said a word to him; she just trailed him like a puppy. While we waited to check out only one line over from the object of her stalking, I said, “Liz, it’s pretty creepy that you followed him around the entire store.”

“He’s so hot. And a lot taller than I expected.”

“Jesus.”

“I wished you dressed more like him.”

“That is my child in your womb, right?”

“I think so.”

I smiled thinking about that moment, realizing how much I missed her sarcastic sense of humor. I wanted so badly to talk to her.

But if I went to these places, embraced them instead of avoided them, maybe I could recall other tiny, long-forgotten moments that illuminated how amazing both my wife and our time together had been. I could share these memories with our daughter and hopefully create some damn good new ones, too—in Minnesota, Los Angeles, and around the world. 

*****

Even when Maddy was a blurry picture on an ultrasound screen, Liz had started fantasizing about taking our baby girl to the spa and dressing her up. I didn’t care about that stuff—I wanted to teach her to appreciate music. I could practically see her on my shoulders, a mini Liz chirping excitedly, helping me pick out records as I walked through the aisles of Amoeba, my favorite record store.

Tuesdays had always been the best day of the week—the day the new releases arrived. But Liz had died on a Tuesday, and now it was the designated day every week for me to torture myself again and again with thoughts of how many weeks she had been gone. And I was still living from Tuesday to Tuesday. I felt that by counting them, by anchoring the scurry of time into weeks, I was somehow tethering Liz to me, keeping a line to the last time I saw her alive.

These weekly trips to Amoeba helped me escape the awfulness that came with realizing another week had gone by without Liz. I knew that no matter how shitty the day had started, I’d at least be able to escape some of it with a bag full of new records. As I had most other weeks, on what happened to be the 33rd Tuesday without Liz, I left work early and picked up Madeline from day care.

You should have seen the looks the hipsters gave me as I squeezed through the vinyl aisles, digging for records by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Swearing at Motorists. They believed what I had believed before Liz was pregnant: that all people become lame when they become parents. But lame is one thing I am not, and I dreamed of a confrontation that would end with my inviting some asshole to my house for a look at my record collection and a couple of beers. As Maddy and I wandered the store, I explained my selections to her carefully, even though I knew she wasn’t old enough to understand the difference between Bon Iver and Bon Jovi.

I rolled up to the counter to check out with the reissue of Pavement’s Brighten the Corners and Mark Kozelek’s The Finally LP, but before we left Amoeba there was one stop for us to make—for a photo I had been meaning to take. Near the shop’s entrance is an elevator that nobody ever uses. There are fewer than 20 steps between the store and the parking lot, so I had never even looked inside it until I had to get a baby and a stroller up the stairs. I felt as though I had discovered some secret art space. The elevator was filled with graffiti. I mean, literally, floor to ceiling. I grew up in Minnesota. I didn’t go to record stores with my parents. We didn’t really go anywhere that had graffiti. The elevator was so cool looking, and I thought it would make a great photo, just a little baby in this room full of the scrawls of thousands of unidentified people. I took her out of her stroller, placed her on the floor, and backed into the opposite corner to click the shutter a few times. The photos were great. Madeline looked like she was alone in a place where a child shouldn’t be at all. I knew she was going to love seeing them someday. 

*****

It was like almost every other day in Los Angeles—sunny and hot—and people were standing or sitting wherever they could find some shade. The kids old enough to walk made their way along the short trails that wound around my yard, turning over rocks to find lizards and throwing stones into my koi pond whenever their parents weren’t paying attention. The older guests sipped beer and wine while my dad flipped burgers and pineapple sausages on the grill. I played the good host, walking from group to group and stopping to make a few jokes or hold a baby. When everyone had had their fill of grilled meat and conversation, it was time for the cake. Madeline was celebrating her first birthday.

Madeline had already begun taking on her mother’s physical characteristics. From her deep blue eyes to the blond hair that was starting to grow in tufts around her head, I knew that if I wanted a preview of what Maddy would someday look like, all I’d have to do is look at a photo of her mother. I expected (or should I say, hoped) to see Madeline looking more like her mom than me, but what blew me away was that I could see elements of her mother’s personality shining through. There was the stubbornness that made Liz the strong woman she was, the huge smile that she rarely seemed to be without, and the almost uncontrollable excitement that shook through her body when presented with something sweet to eat.

My daughter sat atop the table in her pretty denim dress, waiting patiently as the guests sang “Happy Birthday.” She had no idea what she was waiting for, but she knew she had everyone’s undivided attention, and that was enough to keep her from making any sudden moves.

Many of the faces surrounding me had been here just a year ago—but now they were here for a far different purpose, not dressed in dark funeral clothes, not crying. As I brought myself back to the present, a few tears flowed from my eyes.

I was crying for Liz, who would never see this birthday or any that would follow; I was crying for Madeline, who would never meet the woman I loved, the mother who had wanted to meet her so badly.

When it came time to blow out the candle in the middle of the cake, Maddy stared at the flame, not sure what to do. She reached out, aiming her little fingers at the flickering light, and I quickly blew it out before she had a chance to learn what a second-degree burn felt like. Everyone clapped and cheered, eliciting a huge, largely toothless smile from Maddy.

It began slowly. Madeline grabbed the candle, getting a little frosting on her arm. OK, I thought, maybe she’ll be satisfied with that. But she tossed it aside and started grabbing fistfuls of cake, like a bank robber trying to pick up the cash spilling from his bag as he flees the scene of the crime. She was squealing with delight as the frosting gushed through her fingers and flew in every direction while she waved her hands in excitement. Within seconds we were both absolutely covered in cake. And for a few minutes I forgot about everything except Madeline and her happiness.

The food and the drinks disappeared and the sun began to set, signaling bedtime for the littlest guests at the party. After everyone was gone, the grandparents were back in their hotel rooms, and Madeline was fast asleep in her crib, I flopped down on the couch. We had made it through the worst fucking year of our lives. I took comfort in the fact that Madeline wouldn’t really remember a goddamned thing about it. I wish I could say the same for myself. I knew I would remember every second of it. But with a year now behind us, maybe—just maybe—we could begin to look to the future.

Restlessness got the best of me, so I walked back outside, the lights directly below the pitch of the roof illuminating the entire area. I stood in the wet grass, looking at the disaster that was my backyard. Only one thing had been missing from this party.