I'm not talking about the obvious:
"How many children do you have?"
I'm not referring to the time when the contractor said all business-like while planning our kitchen island and mudroom, "Are you thinking of having any more kids?"
Those are predictable. They are horrible, they stop me cold every time, and leave me breathless and gasping, but they follow a certain pattern. Sure, they might drop like a meteor from the sky on a clear day, but let's face it: we knew going in they'd hurt, right?
"Is she your only child?"
"Isn't this [=fill in with any season or holiday that strikes you cold] a wonderful time of year?"
"They grow up so fast!"
I'm talking about the stuff out of left field that you had no idea would hurt until it was lobbed and sat there lingering in the air over your head like a toxic cloud. The words that cut to the core, and knock the wind out of you when you absolutely least expect it. The innocuous sentences that take on an entirely different meaning now that you're on this side of the divide. The lines that make you wince.
We were at a school meeting where a person was explaining why children learn languages so well at an early age, and why it's harder to do so later on. It was somewhat interesting, the stuff about hearing development and how aurally accepting children are, and then from her lips as a rhetorical example that was never answered: "What do you hear when I say the word 'chop?'"
I'll tell you what I hear, and it's not a cookbook instruction. It's the acronym for Children's Hospital. It's where Maddy died. It's a shrine, it's a ring of Dante's Inferno. God, how fucked up is it that their motto is "This is Where Hope Lives" when my hope died there? Right there? I can point to the place on a map. Why did she pick that word for an example? Of all the words in the English language, why that one? I wonder if anyone else in this room heard that. I'm screaming, aren't I. No, wait, I'm quiet. But now I'm lost and I have no idea what on earth she's talking about . . . .
The adorable boy who lives across the street came by one afternoon to deliver a birthday party invitation to Bella. He came with his babysitter, a lovely looking teenager. Bella is positively smitten to receive this, and I'm making small talk now because usually this boy is so shy, and here he is personally bringing this by! And his sitter is standing there, kinda proudly I think, and once he's involved in some conversation with Bella, she turns to me, sticks out her hand and says, "I'm Maddy by the way."
Maddy?! Did she say Maddy? Maybe it's Maddie? Or with some t's, Matty? In a normal universe I could just come out and tell her I have a daughter named that, and ask about the spelling and have an everyday conversation, but . . . well, it would probably fry her gourd to know she shares a name with my dead daughter. Wonder what it's short for. I'm flushed, I hope she doesn't notice. Did Bella hear that? I guess not, she's still talking. Crap, have I said "Pleased to meet you," or did I just shake her hand?
Flipping through a catalog and seeing the name "Maddy" on stationary, a wall, on a towel. Closing it, chucking it in the recycle bin.
Then there's the line that cuts me off at the knees.
When Bella was born, it was quickly noted that she resembled, quite eerily, her father. Pictures of both, a few days old in each case, were compared and there was no doubt that we had taken the correct child home from the hospital. As she grows, the likeness becomes even more apparent. I used to take a great amount of pride in this fact.
When Maddy was born and they handed her to me, I immediately searched her face for recognizable signs -- the telltale dimples and curve in the nose and ruddy complexion -- and oddly, she looked a bit like me. And then they took her away, and the rest is horrible, and she is frozen forever in pictures between two and six days old (I have yet to look at the pictures from the delivery room when we thought she was ok. Those were the last moments of my old life, and the fact that that limbo is caught on film is kinda disturbing to me yet.)
A few months later, the tape-reel of her life still too fresh in my head, and after turning the pictures this way and that, I came to the conclusion that she probably would've resembled me. But this fact, and it's significance, really didn't hit home until one day we were at a neighbor's house and Bella said something coy and turned and ran away, and my neighbor said, very sweetly,
"She looks more and more like her father every day."
And my other daughter? Looked just like me. Would she have looked more like me every day? This is what it was supposed to be like, having someone tell me this. And no one will ever know. I'll never have the pride of her looking like me, or hell -- her looking like ANYONE for that matter. That was my silly material proof that I was involved somehow in this childmaking business. My validation that a few of my genes went someplace beautiful. And instead, they got blown to shit. I should take out her picture and show her. I can't believe I feel like crying over this incredibly superficial point. Maybe that's not my nose after all, I should probably look at the picture again when I get home . . . Look, she's gone and changed the subject, my eyes must be welling up.
And yet, every time from that point forward when someone tells me that about Bella, it's as if someone put the knife in my sternum and turned it, slowly.
What makes you wince?