It's three days after you died and there's a knock at the door.
My eyes open. Swollen and crusted from tears that never fell and tears that wanted to, drying in pools on the lids, seeping out the sides.
It's bright. Too bright for my grief hangover. I swing my legs over the side of the bed and stumble down the hallway. The front door feels light and I'm confused. Everything is heavy now.
A man holding flowers beams down at me, "Wow! Someone just left the hospital, huh?!" I look down through cracks of matted hair, unwashed for days. Three days. It's been three days without you.
He nods at my arm. I follow to the bruising on my elbow and wrist. Plastic bracelets over crusted blood where the IV entered and left, as you did. Track marks from a high I'll never reach again.
"Here," he hands me the flowers. They feel heavy.
"You should see the other guy!" He jokes. I set the flowers at his feet.
"She's dead," I say.
I turn to shut the door and I realize, it's no longer clear who I'm referring to.
It's eight weeks since you died, and it's my first day back to work. I'm standing in front of my seventh hour in a skirt and tennis shoes. Comfort takes precedence these days.
I'm in awe of the words as they leave my mouth, how they flow so freely with your face in my mind. Can they tell I'm shaking in my Sauconys? Can they tell it hurts to return to this room? This room where we talked of you, hoped for you. Can they tell I'm not the same?
I'm using words like "it" and "these things" and "passed". It will be months before I can say you died out loud.
I'm brushing it off because I want them to. I don't want to acknowledge the horror of what's happened.
I'll be okay, I tell them. These things occur.
I show them pictures of your tree.
We've met some people who know what this is like. It's helped us very much.
I've missed you all, I loved your cards.
I'll be okay. Thank you. I'm okay.
There's a girl crying in the back row. Softly, then louder, shoulders heaving.
I try to ignore her. Has this happened to someone she knows? A family member? I haven't thought this through...clearly.
The bell rings and I call her over. All the other students leave. She's sobbing now, chasing breaths.
"I'm sorry, Christina," I say. "I'm so sorry I didn't know."
She looks at me confused.
"Mrs. LaFata," she says. "I'm crying for your baby."
This weekend was the SHARE walk for 'Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness'. We walked for you and held signs and decorated t shirts with your name on the back, and I dressed your little brother in rainbow leggings. As the names were read I got to thinking.
I'm sure most people think I'm used to this life by now, but I'm not used to this life. I wish there were an answer for how long it will take for me to accept that you died. Have I accepted it? Is it acceptable? In the literal sense and the figurative one. What kind of a mother accepts the death of her child? I imagine one day far from now, I'm hiking up some picturesque mountainside and I reach this level of clarity at the top, and it feels like you're telling me it's okay. It's okay to let it happen. And my hands are up in one final, desperate surrender. "Okay," I say to no one. "You win."
But I think it's probably more like a slow, incremental acceptance. And so maybe I'm already partially there, and then everyone is kind of right. Or maybe it isn't acceptance at all. Maybe it's something else entirely. Maybe I'll go to my grave in defiance, having never accepted a lick of it. Even if it brought me joy. Even if it's beautiful.
Yesterday at a red light I googled "How many days since February 23, 2014?" Someone made a website that figures this out, and so now I know.
It's 967 days since you died and your little brother is learning to speak. He'll point to a truck and give it his best.
Today he pointed to your bear. I had taken it from the armoire for a picture and it was there on the nightstand. He reached for it and I said "Josie Bear". It was the first time he has ever tried to say your name. It wasn't remotely close but I broke down. Your father entered the room then, surprised by the tears. He asked what happened but for nearly five minutes I couldn't speak.
Last week your brother asked me when he was going to get another baby. I laughed. Then he asked me if I was scared. "Are you scared the next baby will die, mommy?"
At this point there's no sense in lying. I'm scared all the time. The thought of being pregnant sends me into a panic attack. If I'd known how hard it would be I'm not sure I could have done it. I'm not sure I could do it again.
Just then I catch a glimpse of your little brother's feet in the rearview. Perfectly bare, chubby, baby toes. And he's kicking them up and he's grabbing them, and he's babbling something out the window. And his voice is something beautiful, intoxicating, coaxing even. I smile. Then I realize I'm veering.