Friday, April 18, 2008

On Thursday nights Greg leaves right from the dinner table to go to his furniture making class. This is how it has been for our children's whole lives. While we sit there idly making conversation, Greg inhales his dinner, kisses us swiftly, and slips out the door to make the 15 minute drive and arrive there by six o'clock. He is usually late.

Last night, he was making his rounds of hugs and kisses, and there was this moment, it was one of these moments where I just inhale deeply and cry a little bit. He kissed me, and he kissed Aoife, who tipped her head back and gave him a juicy, omelette kiss on his lips. When he came around to Liam's side of the table, Liam got out of his chair. He was wearing his blue and white striped oshkosh overalls, with a plain white t-shirt underneath. His hair is freshly cut and he was dirty from playing outside all day. Greg crouched down, and Liam folded himself into his body, wrapping his arms around Greg's neck, and leaning his head right down into that little crook where it fits so nicely.

And he stayed there, squeezing Greg ever so gently around his neck. Then he says, in such a soft, gentle voice, "Daddy. My Daddy."

This scene could be adorable in any family. But here is what I see.

My mind spins backwards. I see this man, this tall, sinewy, strong man, holding his tiny, newborn daughter. His tears are falling onto her skin, and as we are saying our goodbyes I am realizing that this is his destiny, this role of the father. While I am feeling my own grief for losing my daughter, my heart is simultaneously breaking for my dearest friend and mostly companion, who is in more pain than I can bear to realize. I see him in the weeks that followed, broken and hollow. I see him out on the porch, face ashen and tear stained, writing letters to his daughter that she would never read. I see him signing them, "Love, Daddy".


This name, this identity that my true love tried on for six hours and then was forced to relinquish. This prestigious position of fatherhood that he has always aspired to.

And here, his little boy, hanging from around his neck, softly nuzzling him, saying those words, "My Daddy."
I can see Greg's eyes fill, though he is looking down. I know we are thinking the same thing.

I don't know how to explain this without sounding holier-than-thou. But the meaning of being a mama, or a daddy, or whatever it is that you want to be called, is different when you have tried it on, and then lost the privilege. When we had Charlotte, it was this bitter candy-- this beautiful, sweet thing, that we couldn't have. It seemed so cruel to finally realize, with absolute clarity, what it actually meant to be somebody's mother-- all in the moment while we had to say goodbye. So then having the privilege to have this relationship to someone else, it's just so obviously amazing.

I do believe that had Charlotte lived, I would have been awestruck at this privilege of motherhood. I do know that her sweet voice calling, "Mama!" would have made my heart sing. But there is a part of me that remains convinced that I never could have realized the deepest level of how fine the balance is, and how truly, painstakingly amazing this role is, this ability to parent in the here and now.

And so, last night, I watched my son and my husband, locked in an embrace, Greg tearing up into Liam's fine blond hair. And once again I was left with this thunderstruck feeling of how random the universe is, that we had the amazing good fortune to be right there, around our long, cherry table with our beautiful son and daughter. With that particular son and daughter. Because if we went back five years in the choose-your-own-adventure book, and it was April 18, 2003, and maybe I got in a minor car accident or something and the baby came early, there would be none of this. None. And she might be here. And that would have been good fortune, too.

On another topic altogether, I finally took the negatives from Charlotte's pictures to our local photo shop and had them make digital files of all her photographs.

There are 12. Just 12. I had 4 rolls of film in my bag, and I have 12 pictures. Only 12. Only 12. I try very, very hard not to have regret, knowing that we did the best we could under the circumstances, but it remains that I only have 12 pictures of my daughter. I don't think I fully realized that I would never see her again.

So finally I have done this, and so now the pictures are saved once again in some other places, in case of fire or other disaster, and now I can work with the pictures, and maybe crop them or color them and somehow try to see my baby in a new way, five years later.
As I was looking at them, I kept zooming in on different parts of her, from different angles. I could see, for example, quite suddenly upon zooming in on a particular shot, that her lips are just like Aoife's. I never noticed this before, because the photos I have in my room are very small and because Aoife didn't exist when I was actually seeing Charlotte with my own eyes.
What a treat to have been able to make a new observation about Charlotte. I don't get to do that very often.

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