Here I Am
Today T returned to Arizona in the cold gray of late morning after a cheery breakfast and a weekend of terrific chats – literary, personal, and everything overlapping and in between. Yesterday we took Ronan shopping on the plaza, a bright and gorgeous day (although rain and snow were promised). T tried on a few pairs of luxurious shoes and we strolled into the church and then out again. Ronan snoozed in the front pack; this summer when I spent hours trooping around the streets of Brentwood and then along the arroyo path in Santa Fe, he used to make fists and press them against my shoulder blades; now his arms hang loose, and when I try to arrange his little hands against my chest they fall away again. More drooping: one of the small changes.
T told me that Rick and I are beautiful parents. The way we are with Ronan – relaxed, attentive, loving, interested. Peaceful. I was never sure I wanted to be a mother; Rick had trouble imagining himself as a father. It was a surprise to both of us when we were good at being parents. The Danish healer I Skyped with told me that Ronan had chosen us because he knew he would be safe with us. (He also told me that it was important for me to arrange for the healing of his astral body, which I still don’t quite understand.) He told me that Ronan knew (across lifetimes? I’m trying to imagine it) that we would be there for him.
When we were done shopping T did a final stroll through the yarn store, and I sat on a bench in the late afternoon sunlight, giving Ronan his bottle. The wind kicked up some of the reddish grit that had been scattered during the last snowstorm, and a few bits stuck to his face. I brushed them away. A dog yipped in a parked car nearby. Ronan fussed a little and I sat him up, pulled off his hat, and let the wind poke through his wavy hair. “Hey you,” I said. “Mama’s here.” When T crossed the street to join us with her new yarn (five skeins of delicate off-white softness), we talked about the way deep losses lurk just beneath the surface. You’d think something so devastating would lodge in a deeper place, but the opposite is true. Touch the surface and it shakes, gives way. Ronan babbled at me and grabbed my thumb. I certainly never expected to a mother in this way and yet here I am.
So is this my destiny? My fate? What do these words mean? Like luck, they are often only useful in retrospect, and occasionally in tales of sappy romantic intrigue. It’s also dinnertime chat as well: this or that person is destined for greatness, we might say; we might look at our beloved and tell him or her that we were always destined to meet. These are words to organize framing narratives for our lives, words of comfort, although they don’t initially seem so. Now I walk around the house wondering who I’ll be when I don’t have to pick toys up off the bed, or throw a load of onesies in the wash, or organize my day around naps and feedings. In the novel I just finished the main character carries her six-year-old granddaughter up the stairs, the girl asleep in her arms. She has not seen the little girl in four years, and all she can think about is the stories she’s missed. She sits on the edge of the girl’s bed, electric with anticipation, reasoning that everything she’s been through (her father’s suicide; the loss of a career; a daughter she never understood) will be worth it to hear those stories that she cannot stop imagining. She’s always believed that her destiny was linked with motherhood, and here is her second crack at it. She is euphoric.
A letter from B had me hauling out Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion for the first time in a decade. Calvin was always certain of God’s plans for him – in exile, and when he returned again to Geneva to give sermons that were often disrupted by barking dogs, protestors, and death threats. Pre-ordination was a comfort to him; it gave shape and meaning to his days (and to his theological understanding of course). He felt that God asserted a strong call upon his life – his version of “destiny.” Luther had a big bee up his bonnet as he famously hammered his theses to some old wooden Catholic door, sure, after a Pauline version of a lightning strike conversion, that he was on the “right” path, which suggests that there is only one.
Jesus was destined to die, and the Bible would have us believe that he walked into this fate willingly, and that God the Father gave him up easily. (Would the story be more difficult to believe from God the Mother?) Abraham, Moses, Jesus, the Prodigal Son and other Biblical figures all say a version of “here I am.” (There’s also a horribly cheesy song of this title that we used to sing at Bible camp, holding hands and swaying around the campfire.) These famous Biblical figures emphasize their presence and willingness to act, or to be asked to act, or simply to wait, even as they tremble with fear. They exhibit in these moments what Kierkegaard calls “a leap of faith.” Burrowing headlong into the unknown, believing that everything will work out. Believing in destiny? Maybe. The idea of parenting was always a leap for me (thus an entire novel about how difficult it is, and this before I became a mother), but is even more so now that I know (in part, at least) what we are facing. I see changes in Ronan: stiffness in his arms, more floppiness in his neck, a look in his face that seems increasingly distant. Fading. Rick and I remind one another all the time that he’s our little guy, and that our job is to do whatever we can for him. We never expected that to be neurology appointments and meetings with hospice care nurses, but here we are, doing it anyway.
Ronan was born in the afternoon, a baby with an almost perfect Apgar score, who passed all the tests they put babies through in the hospital, and who prompted the delivery of a roomful of floral bouquets and a flurry of congratulatory and often weepy phone calls. Our lives had changed. This was our new path. I was doped up and still sleepless on that first endless night. Rick, exhausted, lay huddled and snoring under a thin sheet on the cot next to my bed. I’ve always been comfortable in hospitals, so the rush of nurses past the door, the sounds of creaking wheels down the tile hallways, and the yellowish square of light through the door’s small window were oddly comforting to me. I carefully arranged the various tubes ribboning out of my wrist so I could drag the regulation Cedars-Sinai plastic crib closer to me. Somebody’s beeper went off in the hallway. A nurse hummed as she flipped through my chart on the door; it was not yet time for the next check of the incision, the various bags, my temperature, my pain.
That first night I stared at my son through snatches of sleep as he snoozed and stirred, wrapped in the “burrito wrap” shown to us by a favorite nurse and wearing the “covers all stereotypical color choices for the different genders” blue and pink hat. I chatted with the nurses; I learned a few different ways to burp a baby. I drank about three gallons of apple juice and almost convinced one particularly exhausted-looking nurse to give me one of the famous Cedars chocolate chip cookies although I was not allowed to eat for another few hours. I pressed my nose to the crib as if watching some exotic fish moving in the deep blue water of his tank at the aquarium, fascinated by every hiccup, each twitch of his mouth. All that time Tay-Sachs was at work in Ronan, working against him. His biology is his fate. His destiny is to die, and soon.
But I didn’t know that when I lifted him from his crib on that first blurry morning after his birth, or when I fed him for the first time. For months I didn’t know, for months I was like any other mother, planning for the future, thinking about play groups and preschool, sleepless and overwhelmed but still dreaming about the moment when he’d walk into our bedroom in the morning and speak to us. “It’s me,” we say to the people we know us when they pick up the phone; we don’t need to identify who we are.
Here I am, with a child I love. I will not have him with me for long. I watch and I wait. I don’t know how to proceed but I have to figure it out. I don’t know if the Danish healer was right about the narrative of his past lives (Ronan as a shaman in Peru? Really?), or if I believe that souls and astral bodies live on, but I do know that he was right about one thing: we are here. Here I am. I cannot make another choice. If it meant never having known Ronan I’m not sure I would.