Tonight she asked me to help her down off the stool. She’s big enough to climb up there and pick out her dress and climb down and lay out her clothes, like her dad taught her. At his house.

But tonight she called for me to help her get down. So I did. I held her tiny pelvis between my hands and felt the arch of the bones, the soft skin and squishy fat and strong, small muscles sink between my palms. I put my nose into her long hair, breathed in and then held my breathe there, just a split second, for my prayer: please don’t die.

I’ve held that baby. The one who suckled and grew. And I’ve held that baby. The one who died. Here, between these very palms.

Please don’t die. I pray to her, to Him, to anyone who will listen. Please don’t die.

We crawl into bed and we read the stories she has chosen. She is older and grown into snuggling. She runs her tiny hand along my forearm as I read and I am getting used to her touching me voluntarily. Trying not to be too greedy, too overexcited that she seeks it herself now. That she will hug me first and let me hold her when she is hurt, rather than tearing into her room and slamming the door. I close my eyes without closing them and inhale again. She’s here now and I try to memorize how her skin feels on mine, the particular wrinkles of her knuckles, the shape of each nail bed.

I held my boy and I did the same. That was all the time I had. Memorize. Learn him. And quickly. And so I studied and studied. In the haze of shock, I scrutinized. Slowly pulling the blanket away to reveal chest and nipples and ribs and belly and navel and how the diaper top lifted away from his skin and the rolls on his thighs and the slope of the shin and big, big feet, similar in shape to his dad’s and sister’s. I don’t remember any of it now, not one detail that isn’t in a pictutre, except that I tried. To memorize. To remember. My boy. The most important test of my life. And now, I look at his picture as I would a stranger.

And what if I forget her? Her touch, her arcs, her laugh, her voice, how exactly long her hair.

Tonight she stayed awake for each of the three books we have been reading every night for most of her life. Tonight, for the first time in months, she asked for songs. So I sang. I breathed deep and I sang the songs of my mother and my aunt and my grandmother. “Duermete, mi nina”. And I felt the ghost in my throat: the exact way my wind pipes vibrated as I sang to him but that time, it was “nino”. The first time. The last time. Shrill, as I realized. As I caught my breath and sang on anyway, aware but undeterred that the others in the room would have heard my voice crack, the plea in it. I thought tonight of the arc of helpless pain that must been have sent through my dearest ones at its sounding, all sitting in that NICU room, holding their heads, no words, no way. Helpless as we were, at the hand of God.

Like, tonight, as I lifted her 6 year old body off the stool. Her fragile, sturdy self. Will I remember her if she goes, too? Will I never not pray for her to stay? I hope not. I hope I am 82 and reaching for her hand and repeating my silent prayer: please don’t die.

Please let that be.

2 thoughts on “Tonight.

  1. There is always the possibility of loss, death, disappearance. The slip in the bathtub, the errant baseball to the head, the unforeseen complication of illness, so many opportunities for disaster. Every trip in a car is probably the highest risk each of us can take & we do it all the time!

    We maintain the illusion of control, but the best we can do is hedge our bets. There are no guarantees, no sure prevention (that isn’t draconian).. Precautions, consideration and planing. We hope. We pray. We strategize. We weep silently and alone with the fear. Most of the time we are lucky. But bad things do happen to good, cautious people. Unfairly. Unforgivably sometimes.

    I cannot imagine the horror the Lindbergh family, whose baby was kidnapped, went through or the families of the Nigerian girls taken 1 1/2 years ago – still wondering, clinging to a hope they might be alive and yet so afraid of what trauma they might be suffering if they ARE alive! What ultimate torture! How does one survive?? Parents whose small child went off to school at Sandy Hook and an hour later was dead. How do you reconcile that?

    My stubborn 2 year old, who was refusing to hold my hand, did not fall off the wet, slippery rock and over the cliff at Ausable Chasm. My 18 year old did not die from alcohol poisoning. Those type of events I am grateful for! Yet there are millions of just as life threatening events that could have happened – and didn’t – that I never noticed.

    Life is precarious. But we must also live on. And live with gusto! With commitment! With passion! We must take risks – knowingly or not! We want to look back at life and say it was worth living. We made a difference. We followed a dream.

    Sometimes the end is not the goal. it is the path & the process.

  2. Today while swimming, your Mom and I were talking about what we learned about impermanence from being mothers and a lot more understanding for our own mother when we were struck by the aweful (that is not a typo) responsibility that birthing and (if we are so lucky) a child brings with it.
    I am also struck by how much my mind and heart skitter away when I try to bring myself to some kind of understanding of your experience. I want desperately with some kind of mommy magic to keep my children safe and to keep them from being hurt any of the ways I have been hurt.
    So gently I keep bringing my awareness back to your story and through my story to seek understanding and healing. To love myself better, to forgive myself and others better.
    Monica I so want to connect with you.
    Tomorrow is the mourning ceremony I have been planning for weeks. Deb and Jackie are here and Eric is coming. 12 dear ones from my Yellow Springs circles are coming. I will be mourning the deaths I experienced around John: the separation and divorce, his physical death and the pain of exclusion from family when they gathered to mourn his loss in their lives.
    You are so dear to me, and your story is a powerful motivation to more deeply live my own story. Others say the same to me and so it goes.
    My blessings to you every day.

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