I should be crying.
There was a pulse. 122 beats per minute.
But it wasn't yours. It was mine.
The doctor turned the screen my way. I thought of all the ultrasounds I had seen before, of all the beautiful movements in blurred gray. But this time was different. You were still, like a portrait. The flicker that had once burned so brightly in your chest was gone, and I knew that you were too.
The nurse set some Kleenex on my lap and began to rub my shoulder, tears in her eyes. And all I could think was, "Oh right."
"I should be crying."
It's how I feel most days now. I'm having breakfast, changing the channel. I'm folding the laundry or picking out shoes. But I should be crying. Shouldn't I?
I liken this process to that of watching one's brother recover from a traumatic brain injury. Some days you find that you can smile quite easily. Some days you are tracing pools of blood on the concrete with the dull sharpie from the backseat of your car. It's hit or miss.
There is a distinct difference in the two scenarios. Or so I once thought.
In the initial days after you left me I couldn't. Suffice it to say that I just couldn't. Do. Anything.
With a brain injury there is hope. Sometimes there isn't much of it, but it's there. You can cling to a doctor's words or a research study, and you can put one foot in front of the other.
With you there was none of that. There were no detectives on the case, no giant mystery to solve. There would be no finding out your quirks or favorite colors. I would never know if you'd have been a bookworm or an athlete, if you would love applesauce and ghost stories. You were simply a memory now, abruptly and finally. And forever.
I felt it when we first came home without you. I felt it when we gathered your things, gently placing your tiny clothes into Rubbermaid tubs full of lost potential, a lifetime of "what ifs." I felt it in every guttural sob and nightmare, in direct sunlight and complete darkness. I felt it alone and when surrounded in rooms of smiling faces.
Apathy. Nothing. Hopeless.
I was drowning in it, love. Eagerly circling every drain I could find.
One night I found myself alone in your room. I was staring at the wall quite eerily, tracing its freshly painted contours in the shadows with tired eyes. I wondered what these walls could have seen you achieve, and all that would happen inside of them without you.
I remembered something your father said to me shortly after you left us. I was awake in the hospital, hunched over and holding my stomach. I was missing you so deeply that it was hard to breathe.
He climbed into the bed next to me, and he reminded me of your purpose.
Your father welcomed the saddness, assuring me that we would never fear your memory, never shutter to speak of you. Instead, we would be better. A better parent. A better teacher. Better people in your name.
In my longing, I had forgotten that the time you spent in our lives was not in vain. Not for nothing.
I think of the person I used to be. To her, brain damage is just a really good Pink Floyd song. In her world, all babies are born alive. I used to miss that girl. The blissful unawareness, the guaranteed results. But now I shake my head as I watch her rush the bedtime story, check the clock. Occasionally I catch her naive gaze as she hurries by, leaving the faint scent of sixty dollar perfume as she passes.
Since you left I have been trying to catch up to her, trying to get back to that place she felt safe. Only that place doesn't exist anymore, and that girl is gone. In her place, a statue strong as stone. This girl can stand still. She can appreciate. This girl will make you proud.
And there inside the walls you would never see, hope arrived with the thunder at 4am on a Tuesday morning.
We planted a tree for you. The White Fringe. Its flowers are a beautiful frost color, but its bark is scaly and imperfect. Like your mother, broken and uneven with a red tinge.
I read somewhere that once upon a time, people would crush its bark for use in the treatment of wounds.
Truthfully, there is always hope. One just has to know where to look.
And I have found that most often, in some capacity,
there is a wall involved.