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.