I was there. Right there. Within an inch. No, on the spot.
Precisely, undeniably, absolutely my dart was in the center of the target. That red center, that renders all the surrounding rings meaningless, as if they are merely decorative, their presence adding mere circumstantial detail to the act of throwing a dart. You miss it by a ring, or you miss it by an inch, you have missed it. And I did not. I had set a target for myself with regards to my family. Not consciously, but very, very cautiously. I wanted my second, and last, baby, before my son would be four. I wanted to complete my family while I was still in graduate school. And for the first time in my ten-year-war with my luck over my reproductive wishes, I hurled the dart on the spot, and got pregnant effortlessly at the beginning of the fall of my second year. I would have her right at the start of a year-long fellowship that would allow me to stay home with her. I would have her at the end of two years of staying apart from my husband. And most importantly, I would have her and complete my longed-for family of four. I was done. I could move on. I could make plans. I could focus on the career I had forsaken for ten years. I could focus on raising my children, and be the ‘whole’ mother to them I had longed to be. I was done making babies or trying to make them. I was there. I had hit the bull’s eye.
So accurately, that I was blinded by the beauty of it.
I stepped in. Hesitant, unconvinced, nervous. I could not believe I was one of them. Oh, finally.
I had wondered often how high the fence surrounding the playground was, willing even to swing my feet over it, only to feel once what it was to belong. A poor little girl, who had been standing outside the playground gates, longing in her eyes, for years. We all know her, passing by a neighborhood playground, many of us have seen her. A girl in rags, with a dark, unclean little face, bright eyes, dirty hands, hair in lumps, holding on to the wires in the fence. Eyeing the kids playing in the playground, and the candies in their hands they wanted and got, with pain and hope in her eyes.
And yet, on that autumn day, the door opened to me. Somehow, I got to come into the park, and with trepidation and disbelief, I felt like maybe I was indeed one of them. Someone handed me a candy, but I was told that I, unlike the other fortunate kids, would have to pay a huge price for it. I was willing to do anything to have a taste of the candy, to have a taste of belonging. I went through fire with the candy held firmly in my hand. I reached the other end of fire, and the candy was snatched from me.
I was thrown outside the park again, and the world didn't even look back at me, lying there in the ground, crumpled like a piece of discarded paper, my clothes still warm from the fire, my face covered in ash and soot, hot tears rolling down my streaked cheeks, my heart heaving from the fall. I missed the smell of the candy, and would happily cross a few thousand fires again to hold it again within my two fingers.
But I cannot. I was never one of them. I never belonged. It was a charade, I was only a clown, meant to entertain, meant to be made fun of. To be handed a coveted prize, only to be made aware what it is like to never, ever, be able to have it.
But I was there. I belonged. Only I came so close that I was burned by the fire.
I saw a butterfly. I believed it was there, fluttering away within the crevices of my belly, around me in the expanse of my dreams. I believed it came from me, and I believed it came for me. I let this thought, this faith, flutter in me too, that it brought beauty and freedom to my life, and that all would be well now. After years of warring with an adamant and invisible destiny, that seemed to be harboring some ancient and strangely esoteric grudge against me, I felt free from its clutch, free from the diabolic predictability of nothing ever working out. In a conscious, tactile moment of certainty, it felt wonderful to finally cease to be cynical, cease to feel trapped by unseen forces.
Finally carrying the girl I had always wanted, I began to believe in what had increasingly become an unattainable fairytale for me – that I could be a very ordinary woman now, with a little family of my own, able to live with my husband under the same roof. I did not care that this meant I would be severed from my work environment again, all I cared about was that my girl was here, we would be together, all would be well. I trudged on with the pregnancy, alone with a preschooler in the Chicago winter, looking ahead at summer, when my family would be complete, and the light at the end of the tunnel would lead the rest of our way.
I believed in my life. I soared high in faith. So high, so high, it unraveled me, bit by bit, on the crash down.
A feeling of having achieved the target of completing my family. A feeling of belonging with the more fortunate, who got what they wanted, especially in matters as natural as motherhood. A restoration of faith in my own life, the faith that everything will now be alright. My little girl, apart from being a beautiful, bright-eyed, intense, fragile little person, was all of this to me. She stood for the fulfillment of achieving my target. She stood for the patience of waiting for my turn to belong. She was my symbol for the faith that things can turn around in one moment.
She was here. My strength, patience, faith were here. For a few moments of music and magic, my fairytale had come alive. Only to turn into a darker tale of blank horror.
I cannot remember what it was like to not hit the target, to feel like I don’t belong, or to not have the faith in my life. And I cannot forget how, even as I was carving out her place in my life, in our family, I could see the coming together of my whole life, my deepest emotions and values, in her.
No, losing her is not the meaning. Having her is.
What do(es) your lost child(ren) symbolize in your life? How has having, and losing them, altered the meaning (or lack thereof) you ascribe to life?