Caitlin died 31 years ago on Monday, November 7 at 2:42 pm. I still remember the exact time. I still remember how sound suddenly came back and assaulted my senses after not being able to hear anything except for my heart and the beep of monitor to which she was still connected. I still remember walking to the car and running into two of her doctors in the hallway, Petra and Jaime.
Weird the details that your mind stores away, only to bring to the forefront without warning.
I heard this song in an episode of Bosch, which I’ve been binging. Bittersweet serendipity.
“the soft-aired Tennessee night Gathers it children in its cupped hands. Time has its covenant, and who’s to say that it is unjust. We make our sad arrangements. The sky clears, the sun sets. No matter the words, we never forget our own song. ~ Charles Wright, from “Arrivederci Kingsport”
Sunday afternoon. Partly cloudy and cool, 60 degrees.
A very quiet afternoon, alone in the house, just the dogs and me. Sometimes the quiet is too dense, as if it is filling all of the spaces around me, removing the oxygen and replacing it with something unnameable but palatable.
It’s this first week in November that does me in, causes my heart to collapse, makes my mind travel to dark places. This week—it is too much with me. “The world is too much with me” . . . Wordsworth? Yes, Wordsworth. For a moment almost said Eliot, but it is not cynical enough. Wordsworth still had hope, I think.
Don’t worry if you cannot follow along. I cannot either. Heavily immersed in stream of consciousness, easier than linear thought—at times, this is so.
If you want to know how little you matter in the grand scheme, Google your name. Grandeur is quickly extinguished. Who does this?
“There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought.” ~ Zora Neale Hurston, from Their Eyes Were Watching God
In memory, the days from that Halloween until the seventh of November all collapse upon each other, like white-dotted dominoes laid out in a row. Unable to halt the tide, unable to hold at bay the hours. Nothing could have stopped what happened.
Alexis, small and innocent, a fairy princess, a silver magic wand, a plastic crown. Standing on the front porch, posing for her last picture as a sister until years later.
There was a nurse in a clown costume, or was it a rag doll costume(?). I remember only the bright colors, the two red circles on her cheeks. I wondered then how anyone who worked amidst such perpetual sadness could muster the mettle to come to work in costume, to tend the grievously ill for 12 hours dressed as a doll? Who does this?
Now it makes perfect sense. The costumes provided an escape, albeit temporary, from the monitors, the beeps, the sterile white noise that is the backdrop to everything in an intensive care unit.
“If you have endured a great despair, then, you did it alone; getting a transfusion from the fire, picking the scabs off your heart, then wringing it out like a sock.” ~ Anne Sexton, from Courage
From that night forward, it was as if we were propelled by adrenaline and sadness. Ineffable sadness. The six days between were anomalous to the twenty-four-hour cycle, having only two or three hours a day. I’m certain of it. Time was different then. Supernormal with its sunrises and sunsets heaped upon one another, not enough minutes between sleeping and waking, perpetually exhausted.
Did I eat? I don’t remember. I do remember many cups of coffee.
Approximately one hundred and forty-four hours between Alexis’s fairy princess smile and Caitlin’s pale countenance. Everything about the two was opposite: Alexis’s fair skin and hair, and Caitlin’s olive skin and dark dark hair—as if fate sought to heighten the differences between the two.
Of course we will never know what kind of personality Caitlin might have had, whether she would have been a reader, or perhaps a writer, what she would have liked to do with her time, what paths she might have chosen. All such speculation is pointless. How much can you know of a person in seven months? How much of a person can seven months reveal?
“I don’t know. I just feel stuck, like I’m afraid to take any steps, in case they’re the wrong ones.” ~ Rebecca Stead, from When You Reach Me
Long before Google could tell me of my irrelevance, I met it first-hand on a November afternoon. It only took a few minutes to break my heart irreparably, to harden me with a cold cynicism bred from loss.
I think that I laughed more easily before that day, found more joy in the ordinary nothingness. I know that I smiled more, or at least, I think so. But it would be a lie to say that I knew how to be happy then because I don’t think that I’ve ever quite known how to do that.
I will not lie to you: I do not remember what Caitlin looked like. I mean, I know from the pictures, but I cannot, simply am quite unable to conjure her image in my mind. She has become two-dimensional.
I never thought I would find the day in which I could no longer smell her, so long did I carry her belongings with me wherever I went.
It this all too much for you? Perhaps I should have warned you sooner of my propensity to crash so completely, should have placed a label somewhere to shield you from my carefully guarded obsession with those days in early November, the ones that I hoard like first editions and garage-sale masterpieces.
“But I understand how light works. . . . . . . . . . .
Later I will go out in a leopard-coat of light with you: just me and the trees baring themselves for winter, and the marbled paving stones, and my empty hand shining” ~ Henry Shukman, from “The Call”
I am never quite sure how much to say when my mind and heart conspire against me and take me back to that afternoon and the days immediately preceding. It’s as if I somehow can still be caught unawares, regardless of how many times I have made this journey.
And sometimes I think it would be better if I did not allow myself to acknowledge this tack, pretend it is not just there, on the periphery of my vision, waving its arms madly to get my attention. If I just don’t look . . . perhaps . . . maybe. If I spend enough hours in the bathtub with the lights out, it won’t be able to get a toehold, will fall away.
Who am I kidding? It always wins. Always.
More later. Peace.
Music by Bastille, “Oblivion”
Look, the eucalyptus, the Atlas pine,
the yellowing ash, all the trees
are gone, and I was older than
all of them. I am older than the moon,
than the stars that fill my plate,
than the unseen planets that huddle
together here at the end of a year
no one wanted. A year more than a year,
in which the sparrows learned
to fly backwards into eternity.
Their brothers and sisters saw this
and refuse to build nests. Before
the week is over they will all
have gone, and the chorus of love
that filled my yard and spilled
into my kitchen each evening
will be gone. I will have to learn
to sing in the voices of pure joy
and pure pain. I will have to forget
my name, my childhood, the years
under the cold dominion of the clock
so that this voice, torn and cracked,
can reach the low hills that shielded
the orange trees once. I will stand
on the back porch as the cold
drifts in, and sing, not for joy,
not for love, not even to be heard.
I will sing so that the darkness
can take hold and whatever
is left, the fallen fruit, the last
leaf, the puzzled squirrel, the child
far from home, lost, will believe
this could be any night. That boy,
walking alone, thinking of nothing
or reciting his favorite names
to the moon and stars, let him
find the home he left this morning,
let him hear a prayer out
of the raging mouth of the wind.
Let him repeat that prayer,
the prayer that night follows day,
that life follows death, that in time
we find our lives. Don’t let him see
all that has gone. Let him love
the darkness. Look, he’s running
and singing too. He could be happy.
“So I fill my hands with the shards of infinite ardors. A generous cargo of ohs and oh wells. And a strange half-wish to be a ghost.
It is the thing I wish for most.” ~ Jill Alexander Essbaum, from The Devastation
Monday afternoon. Partly cloudy and warmer, 70 degrees.
I had a full-blown Caitlin dream last night. I haven’t had one of those in a very long time. By full-blown, I mean, I saw her, held her, fed her, talked to her, called her by name. I cannot begin to express how much this hurts my heart. And to compound the ache, my father was also in the dream in a very active way: we talked about something, he smiled, I kissed his cheek.
In the first part of the dream I was in a medical center with Caitlin. Our nurse was very nice, and she was trying to get us a private room so that I could breast feed Caitlin. There was a lot of noise in the hall, and I peeked out and saw soldiers and people running. The medical center was being stormed by someone, I don’t know who. I looked around the hallway to see if there was a way out, and there wasn’t.
I went back into the room and closed the door quietly. I told our nurse what was going on. Other people came into the room with their babies. Everyone was scared. People were looking to me. I fed Caitlin and ignored everything else. My ex wanted to know how I could have fed her. I told him I breastfed her; he wanted to know where the milk came from. I told him that it was just there again, like it had always been. Then I went to the windows and said that we could try jumping to safety.
“Sometimes fear grips me that these fragile moments of life will fade away. It seems that I write against erasure.” ~ Assia Djebar, from “Assia Djebar: The Tireless Walker of Memory,” trans. Erin E. Brady and Guillaume Basset
In another part of the dream I was having an affair with my second cousin at Great Bridge. Everyone knew, but no one said anything. I was still married to my ex. I had four children, and one of them looked like my cousin. My ex wanted to know if he was the father or if my cousin was the father. I lied.
Then, I was talking to all of my cousins about the cars I had when I was a teenager, and I remembered when I spun my VW Beetle into a ditch (this really happened). My cousin said that he remembered, but the ditch was in front of my mother’s house. I said that there were no ditches there, only in Great Bridge.
Then we were singing karaoke. I signed up to do a duet of a country song, but when the music started, I realized that I couldn’t read the screen with my contacts in, so I didn’t know the words. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill were part of the group I was with, and they wanted to do a sing-off. I said that I couldn’t because I couldn’t see the words. They said that I was just making an excuse. Then two of the women in the group said they would sing with me.
At some point in this sequence, I was sitting outside with my dad. He may have been working on a fishing rod. I told him that I was really glad that he was my father. He smiled.
I awoke with a pain in my heart and a completely empty feeling.
“Because the body is so ephemeral and corrupt, what is beautiful today may not be so ten years hence, I give you words. Because my thoughts are strange and dreamlike and not to be trusted to icon or art, I put them into words for you” ~ Shaindel Beers, from “I Give You Words”
Today has been completely out of whack. My doctor’s office called to say that they had to cancel my appointment today because they hadn’t gotten approval for my shots, not the Botox for my migraines, but the cortisone for both of my wrists. Unbelievable. The Botox has finally been approved, but not the cortisone? What gives? I really need shots in both of my hands because they hurt all of the time.
Then my dermatologist’s office called and wanted to know if I could come in at 8 in the morning instead of 2 in the afternoon. Really? No. I made these appointments to work around Brett’s school schedule. He has an exam tomorrow. And besides, I’m not even conscious at 8 in the morning. Of course, I didn’t tell them that.
In between, Brett found out that an exam he thought was on Wednesday is actually today. Yep, major freaking out ensued.
Then I paid some bills, and I tried to create an online account for my life insurance, and the site kept saying that there was no policy in existence. I called customer service. Policy is in existence. Associate took all of my information and said to give it a bit and try again. He had a hard time with my e-mail address. I bet he put it in wrong because I still can’t log in to the site.
So much fun. Love days like these. Just want to do nothing, but no. I’m a responsible adult with responsible adult obligations………….. whatever……………
“In one way, causeless emotion reminds me of melancholy: when we have sorrows without a name.” ~ Mary Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey
For Mother’s Day, I ordered myself a couple of books and a one-pound bag of Chimes Mango Ginger chews. These things are addictive, and the ginger is very good for your heart and digestion, or so I tell myself, but they’re impossible to find in grocery stores. So yesterday, Brett went with me to T. J. Maxx, mostly to get out of the house, and I tried on clothes, which always makes me feel fat and ugly, and there on the shelves in the gourmet section were Chimes Chews, plain ginger, mango ginger, orange ginger. Unbelievable.
I’m trying not to think about it too much because I already justified to myself ordering the one-pound bag. I’m also trying not to think about the shirt that I tried on that was too tight in the—wait for it—ARMS. I have fat arms. How does that happen? Why does that happen? Why do women lose tone in weird bodily appendages and men don’t?
So the trip out of the house to lift our spirits ended up making me feel fat and ugly and inefficient. Now here’s the real rub: I can’t stop thinking about how I paid x amount to order this one-pound bag, when I could have paid y and gotten them at T. J. Maxx. My never pay retail mantra is kind of stuck, like LP’s? Remember that, how they would stick in a spot and play the same sound over and over again, and sometimes, this would happen at night when you would put on an album to fall asleep by, and then you’d fall asleep, and something would nudge you in your sleep, and you’d wake up to the sound of the record stuck on a scratch or groove? Am I the only one that happened to?
“This is the solstice, the still point of the sun, its cusp and midnight, the year’s threshold and unlocking, where the past lets go of and becomes the future; the place of caught breath . . .” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “Shapechangers in Winter”
So, no relief in the wrists, no sassy red capris with white polka dots because they looked stupid on me, no cute lavender denim shorts because, well, the stupid thing. I did come away with two pair of really gauzy yoga pants and a new bra, so I’ll just stay at home and wear my yoga pants and hide my arms.
Ack. What am I going on about, anyway. That my arms are flabby is no surprise. That I didn’t look all chic in the red capris is no surprise. That I found Chimes locally is a surprise. I think that I’m just trying to keep my mind from dwelling on my dreams last night. I did so many things, saw so many people, touched on so many memories. I think part of what caused such emotional dreams were two things I saw yesterday: the movie Boy A, which is heartbreaking, and then a short film on Tumblr about a wolf looking for her cub. Ack. Set myself up, I suppose.
The reality is that the dream of breastfeeding Caitlin was so perfect and so very, very painful. That is something that will never happen again. That baby that I held in my arms with the dark hair, the one who looked up at me in contentment—it’s not real. What is real is that I feel like I picked and picked and picked at a scab, and now it is raw again.
The scar that had faded to a pale grey line is red and aching, and it’s going to take me months to heal from this, and why can’t I be better about this? Why does the pain caused by a dream have to be so immediate and so real? Once again, I am among the walking wounded, and no matter how many of these damned Chimes I chew, I fear it is going to get better later rather than sooner.