Please welcome Eric, father of lost twins Zoey and Gus and husband of M., to our Glow company of writers. We've spent the last several weeks poring through submissions, and we're so grateful for all the new voices and friends we've met in the process. Eric and the other new writers, both full-time and occasional, bring new stories, reflections, and energy to our community, and we're grateful for it.
This is Eric's first blog post ever, anywhere -- so be gentle. Or don't. Either way, feel free to call him what we do: Blogless Eric. It lends an air of mystery. He's like a pirate. He might have an eyepatch. I can't be sure. But we're glad he's with us.
For Father’s Day, there are two things M. has decided she wants to do. She wants to buy me dinner, and she wants to visit Gus and Zoey.
Zoey and Gus were born on the first full day of spring in 2009. They died that day, too. A week earlier, M.’s pregnancy suffered “a sudden, severe complication,” as I called it in message after message sent from our hospital room. We buried them in a section of the cemetery near my friend, Harold. He had been like a grandfather to me, and his widow said she would like to believe he would be a good grandfather to them. These days, when I picture his funeral, I have to adjust the image because the camera is facing the wrong way. It is not trained on his grave, but on the empty spot up the hill that will be my son’s and my daughter’s—but not for another three years. That’s memory for you, I suppose.
Getting to the cemetery takes about 35 minutes and four freeways: the 90 to the 405 to the 101 to the 134. We exit at Forest Lawn Drive—named, I presume, after the cemetery of which our cemetery, Mount Sinai, used to be a part. Since burying Gus and Zoey, we have come to the cemetery many times. Just a few visits ago, M. suggested that by getting off one exit sooner (Buena Vista Street), we would actually get to the cemetery faster. And M. is often right about these things. Still, I have never gotten off at that exit. Because this is how we go to the cemetery.
Today, the drive from our house to the exit ramp takes its 35 minutes, but working our way down the exit ramp takes another fifteen. Cars are backed up from the ramp onto the freeway. “What the hell’s going on?” I mutter.
“It’s Father’s Day. Other people are probably thinking the same thing we are,” M. says.
The ‘80s station plays some Billy Joel. Through the staccato-heartbeat rhythm of the intro, and even through “Whatsamatter with the clothes I’m wear-in,’” I don’t realize the song is “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” For another few beats, I still think it’s “Only the Good Die Young.”
Then I realize something else: M. meant children are visiting the graves of their fathers. I thought she meant fathers are visiting the graves of their sons and daughters. Because isn’t that what fathers do on Father’s Day?
At Zoey and Gus’s graves, I do not say anything. I do not pray. I do not talk to them. I do not tell them that we will always be their parents but that we also want to be parents to children in this world. I had planned on saying this, on explaining ourselves, as M. is now very pregnant with their brother and sister and it might be awhile before our next visit. But I have told Gus and Zoey this already—from this same spot. On their due date, in fact, when M. and I came to the cemetery straight from our first consultation with the perinatologist about trying again.
Instead, I sit down at Zoey’s grave, with M. sitting at Gus’s, and we clean. I wipe the dirt off Zoey’s gravestone. I scrub the grit out of the engraved letters of her name. It is Father’s Day, and this is how I talk to my children: in solvent and cotton swabs.
After our visit and throughout the day, I talk with some of the fathers in my life. I wish them a happy Father’s Day. Few, if any, wish me one. I’m sure it’s innocuous. I’m sure they don’t see the greeting as a badge they are withholding from me. I do, but at the same time, I understand. After all, my weeks are not structured around play dates and check ups. My days are not punctuated by fevers and falls and scraped elbows and bruised feelings. I do not live with worry for Gus and Zoey’s futures or under the shadow of losing them a second time. And unlike some of the bereaved parents I have come to know, I do not have other, living children for whom I had to be brave today. And the day before that. And the one before that…
On any random day—no, on every single day—I don’t do the work. So should I really be seen as part of the club?
Those friends who are where M. and I are (the enlisted, as opposed to the civilians) say so. So when I email them about this facet of Father’s Day, it brings them to a boil even though I can only manage a simmer.
But our friends may be right. What fathering I can give, that club cannot. Other parents clean their children’s rooms and wounds, not their graves. Other parents have children whom they trumpet, not ones to whom every reference must be measured: firm enough to give their memory substance and to add to its length, airy enough to signal that it’s alright, that their presence in our lives is an everyday thing—just like that of everyone else’s children. That can be the trickiest part. While other parents manage their children’s experiences of the world (or want to, or try to, or try to when they shouldn’t), we have to manage the world’s experience of our children.
So we mention their names. We put pinwheels in the earth where they are buried. We protect their place in the world. We do what fathers do. We give them what home we can.
How have you been recognized (or not) on Father’s Day or Mother’s Day? How would you want to be? What rituals do you have to mark the day?