Right now, my living room is the perfect metaphor for my life.
The Christmas tree, the presents beneath it. The stockings and the baby toys strewn across the floor. The commemorative wedding ornament and the mantle for the dead daughter.
Sometimes I catch myself in such a normalcy about you. Like it's so mundane now. Like you're gone and when I look at the living room it's almost too fitting. Too okay.
I read something once. A woman whose son was stillborn describing the keepsakes, the only things she has to remember him. In her case there were no pictures taken, only a box. Some footies and a blanket. She said she wished there were pictures, because the other stuff seemed too sanitized. Inauthentic.
Sometimes I look at my life and it seems too clean. I look at my living room and I can almost smell the ethanol.
There's a part of me that realizes, of course, that it's necessary to sanitize. For the sake of ever becoming a productive member of society again, it is necessary to tidy the memory of you to some degree. In my mind and in conversation. My daughter was born sleeping sounds better than my daughter was born dead. She is always in our hearts is more comfortable than she isn't here and it isn't fair. There are edited pictures to be shown and blankets to fold and things to say, but sometimes it all seems too comfortable. And let's be clear, what happened to you, what happened to me, is not comfortable.
And that memory, the real, raw uncomfortable memory of you is faded. Blurred now; a defense mechanism to be sure, and I can only assume it's some evolutionary thing. To be able think about you. If I had to relive those exact moments again, smell those same smells and feel those same things, every moment of every day I couldn't function. I couldn't breathe.
But it bothers me. Because I'm your mother, and if anyone should be thinking about the unsanitized, uncomfortable version of you, it's me.
So I try to, every now and then. I push all the platitudes and the edited images aside and I think of you, just you on my chest that morning. I close my eyes and I feel your delicate, peeling skin and I run my fingers through your hair. I feel your weight and I notice how still you are, and I see your gray fingernails and I feel all of it. The primal longing in that room. There were no talks of "better places" or guardian angels or what the future held, there was only death. Death and love and two wailing parents. It was, absolutely, the single most honest hour of my life.
The other day I was leaving the grocery store. A slightly disheveled man passed me in the parking lot, mumbling something as we made eye contact. I stopped for clarification. "I'm sorry?"
"Merry Fucking Christmas."
And I wasn't sure why but it made me smile. I smiled the entire way home.
I don't want to forget it. I don't want to forget that version of you, or the impact of that day. It would hardly be socially acceptable, but sometimes when I'm smiling or when I'm saying "Merry Christmas" I'm thinking how it would feel so much better to be screaming, still. Or that maybe the "F" word would be more appropriate.
The social graces are necessary, but they make me feel so far from you. From the real you in that room that morning. Even these letters seem too informal. As if I'm okay that you died. As if I accept, wholeheartedly, that these are the only conversations we'll ever have. The ones where you don't talk back. I'll never hear your response and I'm not okay with that. It's not okay that your heart stopped beating and that I have a snowman candle in place of a living, bouncing two year old. It's not okay that your brothers will never pull your hair. I'm not okay that I had to deliver you after you died, and I'm not okay with what it did to me.
But although these diluted portrayals of you have somehow, necessarily become the norm, I will always have the real thing too. I will always know the real you. We will always have that morning and those eight months together. You and me. It is something that hurts more than anything else ever will, but it is a love that only I am privy to. And so I curse it but I also cherish it. I carry it with me wherever I go. Into pristine living rooms and calendar-worthy photographs, there is a part of me that will never be clean. No matter the packaging. No matter the song.
A more honest part of me, yearning to hug the vulgar stranger.
Longing to be with you again.