today, 1/31

My sister calls to tell me being an adult sucks. She says, You’d think things like addiction, losing your job, and babies dying were rare events. But they’re not. They happen all the fucking time.

Her dog is dying. Died. Today.

Today, your due date, Little One.

Due date, shmoo date, my brain retorts. It shouldn’t mean anything. This date was always hypothetical. My sentences cycle into the conditional tense of some parallel life that I can barely imagine. Yet I try. You would have been two, if you’d been born today. We would have already experienced these firsts I have with your sister. I would have been a different kind of mother. I might have—maybe, probably—been pregnant again, or you might have even had a brother or sister that could not now possibly exist.

It feels as far away from now as a distant star. Something incomprehensible, like how we see its light even if it died millions of years ago.

Two years ago today we drove ourselves to the butterfly house and stood, fragile creatures that we were, among them and saw your paper kite butterfly for the first time.

This morning as I am getting dressed your sister fingers the black lacy lines of your butterfly tattoo on my shoulder. But it just feels like skin and she quickly turns her attention to the more interesting bumps and moles on my chest.

Your new cousin was born this morning. Another little girl. We get the news at lunch, and a picture. I search her face for you.

I will always be doing this. Looking for you. Wondering. The way expectant parents do, only your gestation has become my whole life.

It could just be a day, A says. I think she is trying to say today doesn’t have to mean anything.

But it’s too late.

Today, already, a birth, a death. When two years ago there was nothing. It was all over by then, your birth, your death. Our lives, already derailed onto those parallel tracks, and us, already hurtling here, away from you.

I realized last night I no longer relive your death every day.

But I do say good morning to you every day, and you and I, we say goodnight to your sister each night. I think of you, not so much as you would have been, but as you were, so briefly.

A faint glimmer of starlight still reaching me.

The ground I walk on

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I meant to upload this when I posted my last poem. They don’t really go together, they were done at different times, but they feel similar. This walking on eggshells. It’s pretty abstract, but I see the eggshells as the ground I walk on, and underneath that thin layer of eggshells is darkness. I have to be really careful walking so I don’t fall through.

© Burning Eye

 

Right Where I Am: 22 weeks, 6 days

Angie of Still Life with Circles has started another “Right Where I Am.” You can read about the project on her blog.

Impatience swells in me. When will my period come? When will school let out? When will I be pregnant again? When will I get the tattoo? Will when my life start?

As if someone has pressed the pause button and the display is blinking. Only the reel keeps turning and it ends up I am living—a life that is eerily familiar to what my own once was. I have stepped through a mirror and walked into an almost identical house but for the slant of light and an immense echoing emptiness. Everything is still in its place, but I walk by and touch the furniture as if I don’t know this place I inhabit.

Everything is still and heavy here. The slide of the dining room chair under my weight. The rough corduroy of the couch. My heart is made of the same glazed yellow pine as our cool, hard floors.

Impatience makes the clock tick slower. I know this but still I tap my foot, pick at my cuticles, pace from room to room. Screw this living-in-the-moment crap, I tell A when I come home. One-day-at-a-time is too hard. I don’t like this day. I don’t like this moment. I am living for later.

That’s okay, I tell myself. That has to be okay. They say anything is okay, any feeling, any manifestation of grief. Accept where you are.

Where I am: holding my breath.

It’s okay to hold my breath. To watch the display blinking, blinking. To wait for the future.

© Burning Eye

Accidents

I don’t believe in fate.

 

I don’t believe in omens, or signs, or that our night dreams come true, or that if I pick up a penny showing tails I’ll have bad luck. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason. Not everything is “meant to be” and a coincidence is just a coincidence.

 

Accidents happen.

 

This is what I have to tell myself in order to make sense of life and death. Of my life and our baby’s death. Mother Nature’s laws dictate that everything dies, and sometimes accidents happen that bring that death sooner than expected.

I first learned this truth when my friend Hans died three years ago. He fell off a roof while installing solar panels. God did not take Hans for any reason—Hans was one of the most gentle, caring souls I have ever met. His smile made thousands of friends. Hans died in a tragic accident. Accidents happen. End of story.

I tucked that story away in my heart and didn’t let myself search for further meaning. I severed those neural pathways in my brain so that each question dead-ended in that one word: accident.

It’s one half of our baby’s cause of death, too. Cord accident.

 

But I’m still trying to read the events of my life as some sort of sign. When I get sick and have to cancel my trip to Asheville one weekend, I wonder reflexively if this is the universe’s way of telling me I wasn’t ready to go back there. That maybe I wasn’t ready to face sitting on my sister’s couch, where I last felt our baby move. Maybe I wasn’t ready to walk into my parents’ guest room where we waited an agonizing hour to count his kicks that never came. You’re sick, the universe must be saying, to spare yourself the pain of physical place triggering memory.

            I’m still looking for reasons.

 

            And how can I not believe in omens?

Two nights before our baby died, my father had a dream that Death was knocking at his window. He woke himself up with a roar and a violent shove as he lunged up in bed to try to keep Death from coming in.

How can I not believe that sometimes dreams are prophetic?

 

I catch myself still in this old way of thinking. Reaching out to touch A’s face, to squeeze her shoulder, search for her smile, a hug. She is my light in this darkness. Surely we were meant to be. Surely every moment of our lives led up to our joining, finally, when the time was right.

I want to look back and see meaning. I want to be able to follow one thread in the tapestry woven by the Fates and see how it all fits together. I want to find the reasons and see what was meant to be.

But I want to pick and choose. If A and I were meant to be, then our baby was meant to die, and I cannot accept that. I cannot exist in a world with such logic.

 

We talk of Schrodinger’s cat, of this alternate reality we have been thrust into. In some other world, maybe, we brought our baby home from the hospital and are living the happy life we’d planned. But we cannot exist consciously in both places at once. That other life is gone, and here we are with empty arms and broken hearts and so many questions that have no satisfactory answers.

Accidents happen.

This is not satisfactory, either.

There is little comfort in it. There is a world of comfort there, too.

 

“How are you doing spiritually?” the grief counselor asks.

My whole sense of the world is turned upside down, shaken up like a snow globe. In the swirl and clouds, I can’t see yet where things settle out. I can’t see what is still fixed firmly to the base and what has come loose or where it will land.

I used to believe in a God who acts in our lives. Not a capricious puppet master who moves us around on life’s stage for entertainment or revenge, but one who does move us sometimes, who can intervene through the power of prayer. A force for good who will come if you call.

I’m not sure what to pray for anymore. I’m not sure if I should keep wishing on eyelashes, railroad tracks, shooting stars. None of them did any good while I was pregnant. None of them saved my baby’s life. There’s not even any point in worry—and I was raised to believe there is moral virtue in worrying. Anxiety is futile. Accidents can still happen.

Knowing that doesn’t make life any less terrifying.

 

I don’t see this as a crisis of faith. I still have faith—what else is there left for me to possess? I still believe in God.

I believe in a God who weeps.

I believe in a God who loves.

I still pray veni sancte spiritus and God be with us, even when I don’t feel God’s presence.

But it feels more like momentum, this belief I have. A giant wave that I’ve been riding since Joseph’s death. Its roots are in the deep ocean of my past, when I could summon a Living God’s presence whenever I needed. The wave is still rolling because that’s what waves do, the time and place of their breaking determined by the physics of ocean depth and current and the geographic position of the shore. The water gets more and more shallow, an echo of the way I feel God.

 

“Two or three things I know for sure,” Dorothy Allison writes in her book of the same name, “and one of them is…”

I know that all living things die.

Babies sometimes die.

And there are accidents.

Beyond that, I cannot say.

© Burning Eye