Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I am disheveled and a little crazed tonight. I was a manic gardener today, finally completing the last bed that I had hoped to raise and re-plant before leaving for the promised land of the lake. I am now moving into the mode of getting four people packed comfortably into a well-packed car for a ten hour car drive. Our departure looms, but it will be sweet.
I have gone to the cottage every year of my life, I went for the first time when I was four weeks old. My father has never missed a summer, and neither did his father, or his father, except when they were off fighting in the world wars. It has been a place of peace and family and friendship for almost a hundred years. The inside of the cottage has not changed very much since I was little. Each year, when we return, our transition time from being New Englanders cooped up in the car to being barefoot, carefree citizens of the point is about 7 minutes. Enough time to drag the bags in along the worn, dirt path up onto the back porch, thump up the stairs with the suitcases, dump the leftover car-trip food on the kitchen table, and get into our bathing suits. Then, we are there: everything is essentially exactly the same as it was the year before, as if we never left. The friends and family whose houses surround the common field and beach are the same, the toys on the sand are the same, the slide in the water. It is bliss.
It was terror, and torture, however, the year we went to the cottage without Charlotte. That homecoming was worse than coming home from the hospital without her. When we did that, I was so numb, so absolutely thunderstruck that the enormity of what had happened had hardly struck me. I walked into the house empty handed, but I didn't realize that my arms would always be empty. When we arrived at the cottage that August, about 11 weeks after Charlotte's death, I thought it might be difficult. I knew it would be sad. I was afraid of what people would say, or not say: they had not even seen me pregnant. How real could this all be to them? But what I had not realized was how empty that house would seem: I hadn't remembered how this arrival, this coming to the cottage had been worked over again and again in my head during my pregnancy: in essence, coming to the cottage was our only real plan after her birth. Here. we would lose her all over again.
When we arrived, and we walked through the house, our feet clanking on the wood floors and out onto the porch, I simply broke. My body broke, and wilted onto the swinging couch, and I'm sure my sobs were heard by most of our neighbors. I couldn't bear the sadness of being there without her. I couldn't bear the stigma of having failed to bring this baby home. Charlotte was the first baby in the sixth generation of descendants of my great-great grandfather who originally bought the point, and I was so proud for having had her. I could say that it was one of those incredibly cathartic cries where I just sobbed and wailed and so much came out, but the truth is that with every heave of breath the pain cut deeper, like walking with a shard of glass in your foot. It hurt so much to be there without her, suddenly it became so obvious to me: just as I had started to wrap my head around being without her at home, now I was going to have to learn how to be without her at the cottage. She would miss all of this, forever and always, nobody would say she was beautiful or congratulate me on her arrival, or teach her to paddle a canoe through the flat, still water in the early morning.
Two years earlier, Greg and I had been married at the cottage, between two, tall, stately pines in front of the house. When we decided to cremate Charlotte, I originally thought I would want to scatter her ashes there, where the roots of the pine tree grew down into the earth that had been walked on by four generations before me, the only place on earth that will always be home for me. And as you know, it was later our choice to keep her ashes with us. But those trees will always make me think of her.