My first daughter, Charlotte Amelia, was born silently into the world on May 13, 2003. Since her birth and death our family has welcomed four living children. Joy and gratitude prevail in our life together, yet my sadness is always with me, tucked alongside the beauty of every day.
Friday, February 27, 2009
This is Home
In the summer of 2003, I was housebound and paralyzed. I almost was truly paralyzed, my body did not want to go on, to go anywhere. I remember that I would sit at the kitchen table in the early morning, with a bowl of cheerios in front of me, and that I would just weep as I ate them, my tears falling into the milk as I cried without being able to stop, and for some reason also continued to eat, to try to keep myself alive. I can remember the taste of slightly soggy cheerios, warm strawberries which were in season, and the saltwater of my tears which were so abundant that they could be tasted distinctly. This was what my life was, it was stopped completely, it was silent, and still, and sad. I ate and slept and wept and thought about the ruin that was my life and there was nothing but blind faith to indicate that it would ever be any different. I know that I truly believed that I could never again be truly happy.
But we did make a decision that was somewhat odd, we elected to continue our summer tradition of going to the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival with our dear friend Gina, and we did get in the car and go, our arms hanging heavy as lead by our sides, the sling hung in the closet instead of wrapped, full of baby, around my belly as we walked across the hayfields to get to the music. Like most of what happened that summer, I don't really remember what we did there, who we saw, what we heard, or what we said. I remember feeling absolutely weighted with the grief, just huge and obvious and empty, and I wanted the sign so badly, the sign that said, baby should be here, so that the people who looked at Greg and I and saw this handsome young couple, this childless couple, would know that we weren't.
The only memory I have of the day we spent there was later in the evening when one of our favorite artists, Lucy Kaplansky, got on the stage to play. Well, it turned out that Lucy herself had just adopted a baby girl from China, and her show was the highlights from her new album entitled "The Red Thread" and was fraught with imagery of birth, abandonment, and the truest love. It is true that when you are grieving the words of most love songs sometimes appear to be applicable to your life, but these songs wrenched our hearts on a deeper level, pulling us down and up at the same time, validating our life and our grief and everything else surrounding it. Gina and Greg and I sat on a blanket, and it was actually raining a little bit at this point, so we were wet, and warm, and the tears just poured and poured as this beautiful music surrounded us and the darkness fell over the rolling hills of eastern New York and the crowd sat together, hushed, and listened to the music. It was very, very sad, but also very beautiful.
And so it was a very poignant coincidence when, two years and eight months later, I pushed one Aoife Charlotte out into the world to the sound of that very same music, and there was something that felt full circle about this, to have once sat in the drizzle and rain and been so incredibly empty and alone, even while surrounded by so much, and to now be in a warm, dry room with a brand new, tiny little life on my belly, this was the most beautiful of the beautiful, and it turned some of the sadness of the song back into beauty and that made me happy. (if you're curious to hear the song, if you go to Lucy's website to listen, it is called This is Home)
I ended up a few Sundays ago in the Iron Horse Music Hall, one of my favorite venues in the world to hear music, at a little table for two with Gina to hear Lucy Kaplansky again. It was a whim to go, but we couldn't turn down the chance to see her. I arrived late, flustered, fighting guilt having left Greg alone to put the kids to bed and clean up from dinner while I enjoyed the music that I loved in a place that we had once frequented together.
This is the thing I have been creeping towards for this entire post, it is this moment in the Iron Horse, as Lucy begins to sing, and weaves again tales of life, and loss, and beauty with her magical voice, and the lights are dim, and I am moved so much. Perhaps thirty minutes into the show she begins a song she explains is new, written by her last spring when she was away from her daughter, now six, for Mother's Day. In the song, she juxtaposes images of Molly's birth mother giving her up with the imagery and emotion of her own mothering journey. The image in the song is ripe for me: the (birth) mother wraps up her baby and says goodbye, she wraps up her baby and says goodbye.
Just like me.
There is something about darkness, and the lateness of the hour, and the power of beautiful singing, and these words that simply pushed me over the edge, sent me tumbling back to where I was taking my own baby girl, and looking down at her on my lap and wrapping her gently in her little blankets. I was swaddling her left side first, then up the middle, then right side to wrap her into a sweet little baby burrito, and picking her up to kiss her tiny nose for the last time, and to feel my heart being pulled, wrenched, yanked out of me as she left us. I could see her for real, and this is so important, because after all these years I am sometimes horrified to realize how many of the times I think of Charlotte I am seeing the photographs that surround me, and that those images have replaced many of the actual memories. But this night while the music swirled around me I could see her again, the elfin face, I could smell that newborn, fresh-birth smell and feel the fuzzy softness of the side of her head that I have never felt since.
I have moments like this every so often, where I am overcome by something, and it hits me like I am being broadsided by a mack truck, HOW can you be sitting here out in the world, when this was you five years and nine months ago, when you have a dead baby on your conscience and in your memory and in your heart? Suddenly she rushes to the forefront, way in front of my present life, looming over the happiness that I have created for myself, and I am right there again, crying into my cheerios, bereft and lonely, with a saggy, stretchmarked stomach, leaking breasts, and a broken heart.
So I was there, in the Iron Horse, and this truck slams me, and I wanted to cry forever, right there. I didn't want to go to the bathroom and cry, I didn't want to go outside or go home, I just wanted to sit in my little wooden chair at my table and cry and cry and cry. The sadness swirled around me and wrapped me like a blanket, warm and heavy, and I didn't want to let it go. It felt so authentic to be in this place, to be sitting just quietly listening to this woman sing, and to feel the true being of me and to let it slide.
But it always happens, that the tears at times like this seem sweet and so perfect for a while, and then I feel as if I am maybe slipping out of control, and I begin to panic that I may begin to appear slightly pathalogical if I am actually going through several packets of kleenex, no matter how moving the music might be. So I do the trick that I learned many moons ago, which is to take a deep breath and blow my nose hard, and somehow I am always able to make myself stop crying by doing this, no matter how sad I am feeling.
So I stopped crying that night, but in my heart I wept and wept, because she's still there, isn't she? I move so freely through this life now, surprising myself every day with happiness and success and friendship, but she is still there. There is still that half of the choose-your-own-adventure book that was torn out, torn apart, thrown far, far, out of my reach, its protagonist a little girl who would be edging her way towards six right now. She is the life I didn't have, the life I now cannot beg back because it would be without my two that I now have, but still I call to her, I call to her.