Last week there was a dead squirrel in the road. We pulled into the driveway and my six year old ran to see it, eager to show his grandfather who had pulled up just behind us.
"Look!" he exclaimed, to which his grandfather replied, "that squirrel is pretty dead," or something to that effect.
My son shrugged. "That's life," he said.
And he's right, almost. I've heard it a thousand times at least. Death is a part of life, except for when it isn't.
My daughter died before she was born. One month before she was due to be born, to be exact. She died in what many consider the safest possible place. She died before any lesson she could have learned or any fault she might have owned. She died before ever seeing her father's face, or knowing what anyone's hand felt like in hers. She died before laughing, or crying, or smelling. Death was not a part of her life, death came before it.
I know that there are people who believe I should be normal now. Less distant perhaps, or happier, and believe me I'm trying. But I would urge those who feel that grieving a baby you've never known must certainly be overcome-able, to focus on the mere act of something I had to do when I was only 29.
The morning she arrived I was angry at her father because he was afraid to hold her. "I'm not sure I can," were his exact words. I rolled my eyes and I scoffed and I said, "You're going to have to," as if he were a five year old and I was telling him to fold the laundry. As if we were at home in our living room. As though he shouldn't have been scared.
What I didn't tell him then was that I was scared, too. Terrified. For twelve hours I stared at the belly I had grown beneath my hospital gown and I wondered if I could hold what was inside. Shaking and knowing but only half believing and nowhere near accepting that she was really gone.
What I couldn't know was what it would do to me.
Sometimes I cry in really happy places. Wedding receptions. Parades. Bachelorette parties. During a child's recital or a Pharrell Williams song. Group outings are overwhelming and isolating and exhausting. I have little patience for long lines and deadlines and spilled milk. I have trouble remembering things like play dates and half days. I rarely return phone calls. I used to be productive, motivated; now I snap, so quickly defeated. There is an argument about the dishes and I completely shut down, retreating to my room. My loving husband always follows, asks what many probably do and what I often ask myself, "What's wrong?" But they shouldn't have to ask and I shouldn't have to say it out loud, because it's actually pretty simple.
My baby died.
I watched as he held her first. How he cried for her, wailing and loud and haunting words I can barely type to this day without crying myself. "Oh, my girl. Oh, my little girl." How he pressed his head to her chest as his was heaving, and I looked out the window and I thought how? How will we ever leave this room?
I am not here today to tell you how that happened. How I somehow summoned the strength required to push my legs to the side of the bed and stumble onto the cold marble floor. Into the silent elevator and back to the house that would forever be the home she wouldn't know. Eventually, returning to work and making copies and assigning detentions. That is a logical sequence of events that can be proven and documented and are cemented in time. Instead, I am here today to explain how I'm still there.
Of course we physically left the hospital, the following day without her. It was two hundred steps to the parking lot and twenty minutes home. One month of awful reality television and choking down catered fruit. But in the two years since that morning there is something I have realized. When you hold your dead child in your arms, I'm not sure you ever really go. In many ways, we've never left that room.
The other day I came upon her ashes, the ones I'd saved when we buried her. We were unpacking and cleaning and dancing, I moved a box and there they were. Sticking out from beneath a manila envelope, digging claws into my chest like that morning. A love and a pain I will never forget.
Although it had been a good day, exciting even, and although it was two years later I could only cry. Lay down in my new house and cry, because she should still be here. Because my baby died.
I see death in the most peaceful things now. When their eyes are closed they resemble her most, to me, above all else. I wonder who she'd have been on the playground, what her footsteps would sound like on the hardwood. Sometimes, I can feel her waving from the backseat.
And no matter the days that pass I won't forget her. Can't pretend she didn't happen, because I held her. Because she was mine.
Sometimes I feel it's something I should disclose the moment I meet someone. Shake their hand and kick start the painful and awkward conversation that is typically avoided at all costs by many, and even sometimes by me.
How much simpler life might be if they knew I wasn't avoiding them because I was rude; that my distance wasn't hurtful, if that honesty were inherent. If I could always say and they could always understand to please, please be patient with me. I'm not mean. I'm not crazy.
My baby died.