Today, with Ronan, another walk at sunset. Peas and carrots in the evening. A new book from a friend in Los Angeles. Earlier, phone calls to various doctors while I sat parked in my warm car, wishing I’d stopped at the swanky Kakawa “chocolate house” for a “chocolate elixir” (it’s difficult to feel badly about ingesting a ridiculously sugary drink if it was once given to Mayan princes in order to give them strength! That’s why they cost five bucks a pop!) I experienced a brief concussion of panic, scribbling down notes on an old receipt I had to smooth out over the steering wheel because I hadn’t been prepared with my notebook when the doctor called (finally!) unexpectedly. Sun on my face. I opened the car door. (“I cried driving home today, wishing I could hug you,” my friend K wrote in an email.) I accidentally honked the horn. “Hey honey,” said a man walking past – as if that honk had been intentional – before ducking into the nail salon (?) Bells were ringing from the church on the plaza, where I had once taken Ronan. We lit a candle, admired the altar. He let out an enormous fart, which echoed. People laughed. He laughed too, and realizing that his voice carried in that old, damp place he shouted and shouted until I finally took him outside. (I thought of the bells of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Tremont Street in Boston; the brothers walked past our apartment each morning in the raw dawn of winter and the sweaty mist of early summer mornings, their blue robes sweeping back and forth like silenced bells over their sneakered feet, heavy crosses bouncing hip to hip).
Gene sequencing, a spit cup, yet another procedure. I’ve grown to despise the word “rare” and would like to reclaim it. A flower, a breed of dog, a connection, an eye color.
On my way to the doctor I stumbled through the wrong doorway and found myself in a strange office; bewildered, thinking I’d gotten the date or time of my appointment wrong (did I head to the wrong end of the “faux-dobe” medical strip mall, every doorway the same?), on the verge of tears, my brain scattered, my thoughts wild, I flipped through the pamphlets arranged on a small side table and realized I was in an office for “the healing arts.” (For some reason I thought of Seamus Heaney: “All I know is a door into the dark.”) I heard a woman’s voice in the other room — husky and calm — and when she stepped into the lobby, I blurted out, “Can you help my son?” “Yes,” she answered calmly. Would you believe that the acupuncturist whose office I’d happened upon had just studied pediatric acupuncture in Japan? She had a swipe of intentional white through her hair. A glittering nose ring. “My baby is dying,” I said. “I can help you,” she responded. She looked resilient and extraordinary. I babbled at her, made an appointment for Ronan, checked my watch, and shook her hand frantically. “I’ll be doing research,” she said soberly. She put a hand on my shoulder. “Thank you,” I said over and over again, and then walked next door to my appointment.
Last night I attended a reading that featured the suicide rate in a major U.S. city and a Norwegian forest full of the souls of dead, abandoned babies. I felt lonely, sitting there, wondering how many people in that audience had lost a child. I made a mental list of everything my son will never do. Ronan will never:
-look in the mirror and feel too fat, too skinny, too smart, not smart enough, worthless or heartbroken
-tell me he hates me
-be rejected by a boy or a girl
-be a wallflower
-succeed but fail to realize it
-be abandoned in a forest, a city, or even a room in a house
-watch his child have blood drawn from a vein in his head, a rubber band stretched tight across his forehead like a mean-spirited halo
-feel the way I do now
Last night at dinner, I talked about the bird sanctuary south of Albuquerque, the weather in Florida, Ayurvedic dietary principles and their possible effects on cholesterol, the horror of Los Angeles traffic, writing and art and family (Question: how do you tell someone you’ve just met that your baby is dying? Answer: you don’t). I thought of the dream I’d had this summer when I was walking through rain that became ropes and then rubber and then steel, asking people who passed by, “is he dead yet?” I woke up hearing a dream voice that was mine but unrecognizable. Rick and I drove home to relieve J, our babysitter, two absurdly normal parents returning home in fancy dinner party clothes like some posh couple from the nineteenth century.
Motherhood didn’t make me a better person; it made me a different person. (I always did feel suspicious of that “I never knew what love was until I had a child” mumbo jumbo. Really? Or is it just that it’s a love that’s new to you and in that way a kind of novelty?) Losing my child is unlikely to make me more empathetic, sweeter, or more tolerant. (Today in my Pilates session, when the instructor called out across the room, “So was it a birth defect or a disease or what Miss One Leg?” Miss One Leg? Do I get a cross-body sash for that and a stab at the swimsuit competition? “READ MY BOOK!” I shouted back in a little fit of euphoric rage.) Sometimes I think I’m just about to wake up, that I’m trembling, paralyzed, between sleep and wakefulness. But the spasm subsides. I blink my eyes against the new day, wondering who I am and what the day might possibly bring. I see those brothers float past my window; hear the bells at the bottom of the hill; watch the window curtain in the room across the alley shift to the left and the blinds lift. I can do nothing but see. I can do nothing but wait for what comes next.
From Louis Gluck:
When I woke up, I was in a forest. The dark
seemed natural, the sky through the pine trees
thick with many lights.
I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see.
And as I watched, all the lights of heaven
faded to make a single thing, a fire
burning through the cool firs..
Then it wasn’t possible any longer
to stare at heaven and not be destroyed.
Are there souls that need
death’s presence, as I require protection?
I think if I speak long enough
I will answer that question, I will see
whatever they see, a ladder
reaching through the firs, whatever
calls them to exchange their lives-
Think what I understand already.
I woke up ignorant in a forest;
only a moment ago, I didn’t know my voice
if one were given me
would be so full of grief, my sentences
like cries strung together.
I didn’t even know I felt grief
until that word came, until I felt
rain streaming from me.