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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Other Mother's Day

When your child dies, so many things change.

Of course there is the obvious, immense absence from all things.  Breakfasts and graduation ceremonies and grocery trips.  Family reunions and spontaneous kickball games and Christmas dinners.  You are always acutely aware of the absence, even when it doesn't look like it.  Even when you partake in the smile or the dance or the conversation, you always feel it.. As though it were a part of you, consistent as any fleshy appendage.

Then there is the wonder.  Who would they be now, in this moment?  What would they look like?  What favorite snacks would line your pantry and which songs would calm them most?  Would she prefer red to pink and soccer to ballet and mushrooms to applesauce?  There are moments when you'd swear this isn't your life, and there are nights when you wake and wonder if she'd be lying next to you now, stubby pink toenails peaking through fleece-lined bottoms, were she here. 

This is not to mention the changes that occur in your every relationship, profession, interaction, and marriage.  Or the ones that take place within you, physically.  The involuntary adrenaline flood and subsequent respiratory distress that kicks in when you receive a shower invitation in the mail, or when your niece asks you to hold her purse, or when the flight attendant mentions her daughter. 

I'm sure many just assume I've gone off the deep end, and in many ways this is certainly true.  How else can one explain bursting into hysterics watching Sesame Street or the general, noncommittal apathy towards all remaining life decisions?  Only in most ways, I am certain these new personality traits are within the normal boundaries of any parent whose child's heart stopped beating, were there boundaries for that sort of thing.

Recently, I was selected to attend a senior soccer game. One of the players referenced me in her speech, as her most influential person.  Her words brought me to tears, but I was already crying.

You see there, in the stands, stammering and hamming around was this little girl, maybe three, maybe less.  She was wearing rainbow Nike shorts and pink tennis shoes, her hair in disarray amid a sea of curls and a scalloped pink bow.  She ran from mom to aunt to unsuspecting crowd member, broken flower in hand.  During the halftime presentation she joined her sister on the field, beaming as she held the lone, red balloon.

When this kind of thing happens now I can mostly hold it together; erase the tear from my cheek in the bleachers, as my vital organs pause.

But I'm no less sad than I was the day she died.   It's no less unfair and despite what my generally upbeat stature might suggest, I feel no less exactly like some gaping, seeping wound for which there is no cover.  No cure.  Only time.

The last three years have altered me.  Many of these alterations I can run from and point to and apologize for, and many I could never hope to explain or survive.   I remember holding her in my arms, her skin growing colder by the second and feeling so far from prepared; already so far from the person I'd been.  But even then I couldn't know how much she would change me. 

I received several messages last week, wishing me a Happy Mother's Day.  The complexity of these words never escapes me.  This day is confusing at least, and debilitating at most because the truth is, I am no longer a happy mother.

I cannot say this will ever change, because when I buried my daughter I buried a part of me, too.  And there they lay for all eternity, together beneath the ground.  And I could go back with my shovel; an attempt to  resurrect what used to be but it's such a fruitless labor.  Because both of them are gone, and because it just leaves dirt on my hands. 

I prefer to  live in the acknowledgement of both, and alongside those who allow me such an existence.  The ones who still care about girl whose heart stopped one unassuming Saturday afternoon, shortly after her daughter's did the same. 

I prefer to acknowledge the beauty that becomes in carrying on.  Even when it hurts, and even when it barely leaves the bed.  Her brothers,  hand in hand on the path to her tree; sharing crackers on the bench.  The oldest, sprinting the moment his feet hit the gravel and the youngest, squealing at the geese and losing sight of his ankles in the grass. 

Pooling laughter in the backseat. Half naked, public baths in muddy fountain water.  Sloppy toddler serenades and chasing dragonflies and snow cones before dinner. 

I am most alive in these moments with them.   I see the parts of her I could feel then; the parts that only my heart was privy to.  And in these moments I am grateful for such a time with her, and for such a time as this. 












Thursday, May 4, 2017

I Am Not A Teacher.

In honor of "Teacher Appreciation Month", I would like to express my gratitude for the many amazing teachers, colleagues, and students in my life (past and present).  In case no one tells you tomorrow, or the day after, THANK YOU for ALL that you do, every day.



I am not a teacher.

I am a judge; an auctioneer; a comedian. 

I am a banker.  And a chef.  And a doctor.   All by nine am. 

I am a stealer of time; a slayer of falsehoods; I am a voice in their heads.


I am not a teacher; I am a shield. 

A steady hand in a lockdown drill. 

I make them feel safe in a world that is never so.  I surround, like a calm in the night; like velvet to a sacred scroll. 

 
I am not a teacher; I am a chorus, and a circus, and a magician. 

I make stars from paper and grit from hands and diplomas from brick walls. 

I bring life to rainy mornings and Pythagorean Theorems.  I tell them to lift their heads, dry their eyes, and then I show them why the leaves change. 


I am not a teacher; I am a madman.

I turn rage into sonnets; reservation to center stage. 

I step into wars; flying fists, lost innocence, and scars.  I take the bullet; every hit, all the blame, and then I return in the morning.


I am not a teacher; I am a mother.

I hold band aids to bloodied knees, and hands across the street.  I feed and I clothe and I protect, with all of me, every day. 

I dream in sloppy cursive and college rule.  I extrapolate and interrogate and allocate, and when they curse me for it I remain.  In their corner always. 


I am not a teacher; I am a limb.

I am a shoulder, and a locked knee, and a heart that bleeds and bleeds. 

I am an ear to greet their wounds; a backbone on a playground, and a brain on a whiteboard on three hours' sleep.


I am not a teacher; I am a rock star, and a jester, and a broken record. 

I show them lines on paper and in hallways, and then I tell them to never stay inside.


I am an torch, and an umbrella, and a first line.

I am a nag, and a punching bag, and a friend.

I am intelligent and intrusive and inadequate.  I am the least revered and the highest of stakes. 


I am determined and ill-prepared and willing, but I am not a teacher, because what I do cannot be held in a word, or a book, or a classroom. 


I am the work that spans lifetimes.

I am the love that waits with a smile,
who cries when they leave me single file.

I am not a teacher. 

I am everything, and everyone else. 



















Thursday, April 27, 2017

Rush Hour.

Last month I awoke to our oldest telling his father about the tears my sunglasses (apparently) hadn't hidden the day before.  We were sitting in traffic and I'd started to cry.

He tried to make a joke then; an attempt to shield our six year old from something we never could have. "Must have been some jam!"

His voice became a whisper.  "Daddy, it's not the cars."

What is there to say about March 31st anymore?  If her birthday is the day we said goodbye, her due date is the stark reminder of the contrast; the life we never got to see.  The one that was close enough to touch, inside a day that passes without pause.  Every year I write the date on the board and pray some unassuming adolescent doesn't enter before I can catch my breath.  I'm aware that this is someone's birthday; someone's anniversary.  I'm aware the absurdity that is to hold your two healthy, beautiful children in your arms and still declare that the world owes you something.  It's just that on this day, it's so very clear to me that it does. 

I've seen exactly one therapist face-to-face since my daughter died.  Four months after her death on a borderline suicidal day in May, I Googled some names and made a list on a paper towel.  The following week  I showered and put on lipstick and straightened my hair and wore pointed flats.  Back then I was desperate to look like the person who inhabited this body before her daughter died inside it. 

She asked why I was there and let me ramble for twenty minutes.  I told her how my daughter's heart stopped beating one Saturday between breakfast and nap time.  I told her that I was finding it increasingly difficult to relate to those around me; that it felt like people thought I was okay because I was smiling or replying to emails or keeping my lunch down.  I explained how the thoughts in my head didn't match my disposition; how I smiled through the department meeting and then wondered about the most painless ways to die at bedtime.  I told her about the friend who sent the shower invitation, and the one who stopped calling, and the one who invited me to the concert.   I told her it felt like the world had already forgotten her; how that hurt more than delivering her lifeless body into a silent hospital room. 

My therapist offered some solid advice.  She told me  that I was at the epicenter of what happened to me, and that no one stands with me there---not my friends, not my sisters, not my husband.  She said it wasn't realistic of me to expect anyone to understand, because they couldn't possibly.  Because no one experienced my daughter's death like I had. 

In the weeks that followed I would see her twice more.  During our last visit she asked me to tell her about that morning. 

"It was bad," I offered, suddenly wanting to be anywhere else.

Her eyes pushed me from across the room and my words became a question.

"Really bad?" 

She told me that my struggles were certainly normal, but especially persistent since I spent the majority of my time trying to make those around me feel more comfortable with the trauma I'd experienced, rather than attempting to process any of it for myself.  She suggested that even if it cost me some friends, I should focus on honesty:  a daily effort to confront the pain and emotional scar that becomes one's life, after holding her dead baby in her arms. 

"I don't think that's accurate," I said, annoyed.

We stared at each other a minute, and then she got up and walked towards me.  She knelt at my feet and looked directly into my eyes, covered my fingers with hers.  It was then that I noticed my knuckles had turned white.  I could feel my stomach in my fists, like knots in my lap.

For nearly five minutes I wept into her shoulder.   I felt found, as if this were some sick game of Hide and Seek and she'd just discovered me, crouched inside the armoire.

Metaphorically, (and cheaply) grief is a weight.  In the wake of immense loss, grief is what follows you home, sits on your chest.  Grief is the unwelcome guest who makes death seem a friend, and then allows the breath anyway.

But the grief is never all you carry. 

People used to tell me it wouldn't be so bad forever.  I would nod but in my mind I grew angry.  My arms would forever be emptier; my smile always kinked.   She would never be here, with me and so nothing could ever be "better", by definition.   Of course it would always be so bad.  I owed her that much. 

The pain never lessens, as some say.  But you do learn to carry it in such a way that in time, you can carry other things too.

Sometimes it seems so perfect here, that I have to remind myself that it isn't.  Perfect.  Here. 

Sometimes, I find myself feeling so nearly complete that I almost forget that I will never be that. 

Sometimes, after his bath he pulls his face close to mine and says "Mommy, Nose!"  And our foreheads touch and he laughs in that infectious way babies do, and I find myself wondering how there could have ever been a version of my life, that exists without him in it.  

And sometimes, when it's seventy two and sunny, or when a smile lasts a second too long, or when there's a standstill and I catch both of them in the mirror behind me I say it out loud, and I pretend it's her voice in my ear. 


It was never up to you.
It's not wrong to be grateful for this.  
It's okay to be happy here.















  






Thursday, April 6, 2017

My Life As Happiness Thief.

Recently I was accused of taking away from someone's happiness.  I'd like to talk about it.

The other day I was joking with my friend,  Christine.  We were discussing the struggle that is receiving baby-related propaganda in the mail after losing a baby, and I said there are things us loss moms should be granted.  Some of these things are certainly impossible:  the guarantee that the rest of your children will outlive you,  the ability to use the word "complete" in reference to your family, friends who (when you leave a difficult conversation) don't talk behind your back like self-absorbed seventh graders.

But some of these things could and SHOULD be a thing.  Like for real. 

For instance, there should be someone standing guard at every loss mom's mailbox.  His assignment would begin whenever a child dies, and he stands there and reviews all communication prior to its entrance into each respective home.  BuyBuyBaby coupons?  Return to sender.  Pediatric appointment reminder?  Gone.  Christmas card with adorable baby in pastel crocheted hat?  Nope. 

If it sounds bitter that's because it is.  And that's because we get to be.  We've buried our children and we get to be bitter; every one of us, to some extent, forever. 

As a society, we can do much better by the bereaved.  I accept that the world didn't stop when mine did.  Trust me, I feel every turn but why the expectation to return to who I was before?    Believe me when I say that a newborn baby is a happy thing.  The happiest.  Beyond most others, I appreciate and am grateful for each and every time a healthy, breathing baby is placed in someone's arms.  But I am no longer the person you should ask about gender reveals or baby girl clothes or shower d├ęcor or birth plan ambiance.   I wish I were still that person.  I have tried to be her, for me and for you---it isn't possible.  My daughter's baby shower was exactly one week ( perhaps to the minute) before her death.  My concerns are less connected to what is worn home from the hospital and more tied to acronyms like BETA and AFP and NST and BPP.  You don't want me in that discussion anymore.  There are perfectly nice gifts that can be sent through the mail and besides, nobody likes a guest of the "drunk uncle" variety, snorting and rolling her eyes and hyperventilating next to the gingham printed napkins. 

Frankly, I have earned my crazy.   Did you know that I can't buy seasonal clothes for my six year-old more than four months in advance because it feels like a jinx?  Do you feel the catch in my breath at the dinner reservation? The Census survey?  How many will be attending?  What happened to me, and to her, is horrific.   It's as real as a panic attack mid-Target aisle.  Her death is tragic and life-altering and forever, and while I would love to go back to the friend you knew, I make no apologies for who I am today because she made me this person.  Denying that some words still feel like blades is to deny that she happened, and I will do that for no one. 

Your life may not look like mine anymore, and that's okay.   You don't have to visit memorial trees mid-Mother's Day.  You don't have to cherish twelve dollar necklaces or stained sports bras. You don't have to fundraise for CuddleCots or meet the newly bereaved mom for coffee Saturday morning or fall to pieces writing the date on the whiteboard. You don't have to lean in but if we're going to remain friends you don't get to turn away. When I say my daughter's name, you don't get to imply that I'm taking ONE thing, from you. 


I don't get to have her.  I don't get to touch her or see her or hear her laugh.  I don't get to braid her hair for the first day of school or tell her the music's too loud or toast her on her wedding day.  I'll never tuck her in or make her cinnamon toast or sing to her at long stoplights, but I am allowed to love her.  I'm allowed to talk about her, even when it warrants pause and even when it's sometimes uncomfortable.  I make no apologies for telling you it hurts because it does. When I'm honest with you I am extending an olive branch; an opportunity for you to say I see you.  I see you still loving her and missing her and I'm going to let you; even better, I'm going to do it with you.

So to those who see my honesty as a way to literally steal from their happiness, perhaps you should look less at what I'm doing with regards to what pleases you and more at what is actually making you happy.  Is it the beautiful, healthy, kicking baby beneath your shirt or is it the recognition of that beautiful, healthy, kicking baby from the rest of the world? 

Take it from someone who has learned that lesson the hard way:  nothing trumps a heartbeat.  And if it ever feels like something could, let me serve as the lone, devastating reminder that a pulse can be ripped from your hands as quickly as it appeared.   So please, do not mock that lesson by implying that my daughter's name could ever take away from yours. Doing so is almost comical, but it's closer to disgusting.   I cannot take your happiness.  I can barely hold my own.   Can you hear me?   I can barely hold my own.


Kthanksbye!






Thursday, March 2, 2017

The S Word.

This piece was written and performed for Hazelwood West Writers Week, 3/2/17


In the three years since she died I've been called strong more times that I could count on twenty hands.  Most of the time strong is good.  And I know they mean it to be, but what does one say when strong feels like a consolation prize?  She died and I grew stronger.

I would rather be weak.

All three of my children close enough to touch weak.
I would die if my baby died weak.

Weak in the knees, as I watch them all breathe
Just beside me and think how
"I'm glad that wasn't me"

Weak.

I don't feel strong exactly, but I'll tell you what I am if you'll listen
Of this there isn't a question.

I am brave.

Brave as the mother who places dirt atop her grave and walks away
Who taps her blinker, changes lanes
On the way home. 

Brave is tire tracks on roads you never wanted to know.
Brave is go.

Brave is not being allowed to love someone over bones. 
Brave is loving them anyway.  Loudly.  Publicly.  Uncomfortably. 

Brave is, every day, stepping foot into a world that will hurt you. Mock you.  Fail you.
Brave is telling those who ran "no thank you"
Brave is straightening your coat; locking all the doors behind you

Brave is a claw in a hole.

Brave is weakness.
The kind that catches in your throat with her name, the kind that slays you. 
Pink and blue and pacifies
All you thought you knew

Brave is forgiveness. 
And holding on and letting go.

Brave is an oxymoronic existence.
Brave is persistence. 

Brave is the heart that betrays you.
The one that beats when you beg it not to.
Brave is weakness given voice.

Brave is a choice.

Brave is a courage grown from ashes. 
Dares to risk it all again
For something so fragile, so fleeting, so often unkind
As love can be

Brave is me. 

Brave is now.
This body who gives life after death.
Brave is his every breath.

Brave is a stone's throw from crazy
Memories hazy
The kind that haunt you from dreams

Brave is a scream

And a silence in the night
The perpetual waking to a life that isn't right
Brave is loss.

The black and blue and bleeding kind.  The open, ugly, fester kind
The kind that makes them turn
Brave is a moment, and a silence, earned.

Brave is her.

She is gone and I remain.
Brave is pain.

The kind that swallows and drowns you, and follows and surrounds you

Brave is the hand that swells,
Longs to hold her

Brave is bolder.

Than a life you thought done.
Brave is a fist and tongue, when being brave isn't fun
Brave is a spark in the absence of sun.

Brave is not wanting to stay.
Brave is love.  Brave is yes.  Brave is life
Anyway.

Brave is upright, brave is a heap in corners of rooms
Brave is every moment life resumes.

It is tragic, and tugging, and leaching
It is holding death in your hands and still reaching


Call me dramatic, call me scary, call me sad
I will own them but I won't run

And so you can add just the one.


I am the face of every parent's worst nightmare, for a lifetime

I am her mother.

I am the pulse in the ruins.

I am brave. 


 

Friday, February 3, 2017

All My Friends Are Healing, Take It Slow

The other day I couldn't breathe.   I was standing in front of a room of teenagers, eyes glazed over and fixed on the window.  One of them said something silly and mildly inappropriate and everyone laughed and I thought, she'll never get this.

Of course I know all of the things she'll never do, but I'm not always aware of them as they happen.  In a lifetime no single awareness overtakes me, but some moments are so visceral and so clear and so cruel.  Some moments I'm lucky to make it out alive. 



Recently I met a newly bereaved mother.  She was crying into her coffee as I held my hand to her shoulder; heaving, falling. 

I wanted to fix her, to reach back in time and save her.  I wished there were a way to place her baby into her arms now; alive and eyes squinting into the florescent light.  I wanted to warn her.  Sometimes a statistic is a comfort and sometimes it is a blindfold, and sometimes you learn the difference too late.

In truth there was nothing I could offer her, beyond a common understanding.  I drove home frustrated, stumbling over words in my head that might have been better.  Six weeks after she died, what was it I needed to hear?

She would be three this month, and for some reason it feels big.  Bigger than one and all the firsts without her.  Bigger than two and what felt like acceptance but wasn't close.  Three is a resolve to what normal looks like now.  Three is three years since I felt her skin on mine.  Three feels like hope but also like betrayal.   

I told this woman that I have a list in my head of all the things I never wanted to know.  At the top is the weight of her ashes in my hands and at the bottom is the utter disappointment life becomes afterwards; the knowledge that if I live another fifty years and desire to be happy for any one second of them,  I must settle.  Every day.  For the rest of my life.  But there are all kinds of things in between. 

What it's like to fear the color pink, polka dots, and pony tail holders. 
How it feels to harbor death, to push and labor and writhe and force it from your insides and realize that it will never be so. 
What it's like to cry in front of your boss, your students, the gas station attendant.  Well-intentioned wedding guests and the mailman.  Your real estate agent and your new neighbors and your son's soccer coach.  Cousins, student teachers, and yoga instructors.  Computer repairmen and photographers.  Waitresses and colleagues and  taxi drivers and the neighborhood boy scout. 
How bone fragments feel  through thick, sealed plastic and what Vodka tastes like on your due date. 
How it feels to pray you'll die by morning.  Which friends you can (and should) do without. 

I told her I never asked for this list; how I curse it and how it curses me.  What it's done to me, this knowledge I'd have run from if given the choice, but we weren't.

There is no going back.  I am no longer the girl who drove herself to the hospital that night.  The one who parked near the front entrance and who struggled with the zipper over her belly as she told herself the truth:  The best thing that happens is you leave here with your baby.  The worst is that you don't. 

This is a sadness one does not move through or over, no matter the days that pass. This is a pain with a marrow.  This is a love that becomes you. 

And not in such a way that you can shut it off or on, and not in such a way that makes anything remotely easier, and not in such a way that you will often have many who will validate what you feel, no matter how you wish they would, no matter how you wish they would. 

But in such a way as a limb would, over time and with practice and care and a blood supply, grow and mature and evolve.  And improve. 
 
I told her you're not done.  Everything that you've ever known to be true is telling you that you are done, but you are not.  You will walk out of here today and you will breathe heavy and your vision will fray but you will walk, still and upright, and you will add to your list.  Every day until your last.

And one day, maybe five years from now or maybe fifteen, you'll notice that the paper feels less like a filter and more like a lens.  A clarity you never asked for, and one not everyone gets, and one you've been using all this time against your will. And of course you'd trade it back if you could but you can't, and so you take another step as it folds in your pocket, towards the possibility of another day like that. 

She asked me how then, between sobs.  How do I do that?  So I told her the truth.


We do it together. 











Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Shook.

Last week I handed back a test. A class full of teenage eyes stared up at me as I scoffed, pacing back and forth in my confusion as to how they could possibly have done so poorly on a topic we'd covered for over a month. 

They began laughing, calling across the room. Loud proclamations as to who studied and who didn't and who did worse.  Back and forth until I had heard enough, and I told them as much.  I stopped pacing and I asked them what I've wondered more than once in my nine years teaching, "When will it be cool to be smart?"

Their faces changed.  They assured me that their jeering, their laughter and their calls to one another from across the room had all been a farce.  "Ms. LaFata," one student said.  "We're laughing but we  care.  We're still shook."


In the three years since my daughter died I've come to realize that I no longer exude vulnerability.  To many, I'm sure that I embody resilience, strength even.  I am no longer the crying, shaking, puddled version of myself in the corner of a darkened room, clinging to threads of herself and threads of the monogrammed rompers made for the baby who will never wear them.   I can drive myself to holiday parties and smile and nod and converse without feeling like my insides have been shredded.  Billboards and commercials and all things baby don't always send me into retreat, veering towards the shoulder, desperate for the comfort of my couch.  Words don't always blur together to fit my agenda, and I no longer read the channel guides with baby (loss) brain.  (Disclaimer:  There is no show entitled "Miscarriage With Children")

Most of the time this is a good thing.  Okay so I still "hide" pregnant friends on Facebook and okay so I still haven't gone back to my favorite hairdresser, but I can answer lecture questions about fetal development sans heart palpitations, and my morning commute no longer requires the five exit pep talk:  "If you stop crying now, your eyes won't be puffy for first hour."  I can say her name on the heels of a smile and I have held three newborns since mine died, without losing my shit.

So what's the issue?  Most days anymore, there isn't one.  I contribute.  I function.  I'm good. 
But there are days where I'm not okay; more than many would assume, I assume.  And on these days she permeates every ounce of me, and in these days it's hard to believe there exists a moment where I don't wish I'd died with her.  Because although I am no longer shaking, I am far from composed--steady hand and all. 

The holidays are tricky.  It seems that during these times of lights and trees and music, I feel both her presence and her absence more intensely.  Day after day after agonizing, joyful day she warms my heart and she breaks it.  This month we will celebrate our third Christmas without her, and although there are new faces and many, many smiles, there are still so many times where I cannot get close enough; where my world can't shake enough in thoughts of her and who she would be.  Three is favorite shows and clicker shoes and full sentences.   Three is tattling and a specific laugh and asking to stay up later.  Three is no longer fits in your hand but will still hold it on purpose. Three is a closet full of dresses I hadn't bought yet. 

Last week I came upon the sweatshirt.  The same one I'd thrown my coat over it in haste that night before leaving for the hospital.  He'd yelled from the hallway to tell me it was cold, and I'd returned with something smart about it being February. He followed me to the porch and he asked if I'd be okay and I didn't look back with my response, already halfway to the car.  "If she is."

It's innocuous enough, gray and plain block letters in maroon.  No fancy font.  No mascot.  It was supposed to be a night like that.  It was supposed to be a life like that. 

The first day of winter break I wore it to the post office.  It sat heavy on my shoulders in line, absorbing all the red and green from the walls.  The music must have been loud but I couldn't hear it, I could only see the clothes in a pile on the floor as they searched for any trace of her.  I focused on it there, like they say to when you're doing something scary.  Find a focal point, and my eyes fixed on the gray. 

When we returned home that day I packed away all the hard.  Every cotton onesie and personalized gingham print and every version of pink were carefully folded by loving hands, sealed beneath thick plastic in the garage.  I've met so many mothers who left their rooms untouched, pristine and pastel for months and years but I packed away everything that housed her, and then I painted the walls gray. 

Lately I've been wanting to open them.  Every box.  Sometimes I wait until everyone is asleep, and I creep around quietly and I run my fingers across hospital plastic and baby hair beneath one single piece of scotch tape.  I pick up the clothes and I turn the pages and I read the cards, and I whisper to her with all the time and none of the sounds in the world.  Sometimes I am near, rushed and preoccupied but the boxes open just the same, as if to simply say hello in reminder, as if to wake me just so.
 
Sometimes this is all very messy.  Sometimes there are loved ones who don't understand, and sometimes there are strangers who pat your shoulder as you quietly sob in the post office line.  But although it may look wrong, it feels like the farthest thing from the wrong thing, because it feels like I am letting her in.

This life, this version of good that exists for me is so good that I think it's easy for many to forget the other one.  The life that exists just beside this one, the life that lay parallel to my every step; the life that was so close I could touch it, almost take it home.  Almost.

I can't forget that life because it's mine now--this one beside the other.  Happiness and gratitude, alongside the pain forever.  The luckiest parents in the whole world and the absolute unluckiest.  The most unlivably livable existence.  The cutest family portrait that will never be complete.

Please don't be fooled by my steady hand, because although I'm a survivor I am also forever shaken.  Beneath this smile I'm still so very broken.  I'm a girl who hides from sweatshirts.  I'm a girl, forever one girl down.