A scream. A bloodcurdling, earthshattering scream.
A stare. A lost, opaque stare.
A shudder. A stranded, unforgetting shudder.
The first emerged – is there a word in any language to describe what it did? – on a July morning last year. It came from a flight down from where I was. It came from the center of the earth.
The next has stuck, to walls, floors, ceilings, grass, roads, the sky, and often even my face, every single day of this past year. It is plasticky, and has a shape. It is not colorless either. It seems to be drawing things in, but actually wants to let things go. Everyone. Everything. Go. Go. Go.
The last, a bodily movement. Like a snake in unsuccessful hibernation, wriggling its way out of crevices and holes after a winter of painful alertness, unsure of where to go. It is an earnest attempt to remember, and a desperate attempt to forget, all at once, all in one.
These are expressions. Or their absence. That have come from, and crept in, my husband of twelve and a half years. A bereaved father of a year.
He found her dead. He laid her to rest. He goes to the cemetery. He works. He reads to her big brother at night, and tucks him in. He takes care of me.
He screamed. He stares. He shudders.
The words I cherished the most from my husband for the entire nineteen years of knowing him were not “I love you,” or “Will you marry me.” They were “Come here.” He whispered these benign, almost mundane, words to me in a moving train, lying on the lower bunk, half asleep, as a cold January day in 1997 broke outside. Teenaged college students, we were on a clandestine trip to another part of the country, escaping our reality that had been rattled by the sudden death of two beloved friends. We needed comfort, and a change of scene, so my mother secretly sent us, then friends and no more, to my cousin’s house near the west coast of India. The thrill of leaving friends and family in the dark, and the excitement of what lay ahead was a heady, almost unbearably explosive feeling. And yet, on that first morning, as the train blazed through the countryside, all was quiet. Unknown, unborn. I woke up in the rocking train, and made my presence felt by reaching down and touching his arm. He opened his eyes, and looked at me as if from a million years away, and yet within a finger’s distance. “Come here,” he whispered with a fluttering smile.
“Come here!” He screamed.
Those exact words. The words that had been sacred, pure, so fragile it almost scared me to remember them. Eighteen years later, on a July morning in 2013, the same words that once weaved our lives together hurled back to me again, to unravel it, strand by strand. They sounded like a visceral grunt, a roar, a call for battle, for disaster. They were the stricken groan of a hunted animal, moments before its fight, its life, is over. The words, the scream hurtled me into space, and I, with my life holding on to my heels, came tumbling down the stairs. The day was breaking outside, and all was quiet again. Known. Dead.
Over the next few hours, and then days, all I would comprehend would be my husband’s words. And his eyes. The same eyes that brought our lives together by asking me to come to him. Forever glistening in a dusky face, and often bloodshot when tired, those eyes have been my Polaris. They were the first thing I now saw in the hospital room after the police officer drove me there. They were red. I saw Raahi, in a pale white bundle, on the distant bed. I collapsed.
“No more knives on her,” he said, declining the autopsy. In the room they took us to, as the ER nurse still held my hand, I remember his words. Back at the hotel, his invisible arms were around me, as I lay in bed and he talked. To social workers, policemen, funeral home people, friends, family, and most of all, he talked to our son. His invisible arms. The invisible umbrella.
He decided that two days later was the day. She would turn three months old that day, it was another Thursday, her birth day. I could not decide if I could go. Again I remember his words, telling me not to, as if they came from a faceless crevice. A gurgle of invisible but omnipresent waters, flowing underneath the rocky surface, the jagged edges. They flowed, the words. And yet they were stilted, like water entering, and then flowing out of, fissures. They sometimes disappeared into the hollow of his mouth. During one such act, I began, “But how can I not …”
Now the waters roared. They poured out with a conviction only those set free but wanting to be contained can enforce. “No, you will not go. You don’t have to, and you can’t. Stay right here. Stay with how you know her. That is not her. Look at me. I don’t have a sense of smell or taste anymore. I can only smell her from the CPR. I can only taste her.” The bloodshot eyes, dead, and all-seeing. The waters of clarity, the powers of a storm, gushing at me, pulling me in, holding me in place. Bobbing, bouncing, but in place.
What place was that! What was the “here” my husband no longer wanted me to leave, as he drove our daughter’s tiny casket to its resting place? Just like I had touched his arm from the top bunk of a moving train, wanting to be one with him, he now took me in by placing his palm on the glass windows of the car as he stopped at the driveway for a moment. I stood up from the chair on the funeral home porch and floated a few paces, holding out my hand. Our eyes met. Our hands met. He did not ask me to come, he wanted me to stay. Stay away, stay apart, stay far from the abyss that he was creeping into, all by himself, alive, wide awake, wildly alert.
And yet, we were together. In a new place, unmeasured by distance. Our last “here” with our daughter. We couldn’t ask her to stay. She didn’t ask us to come.
Over the past year, Raahi’s father and I have grieved differently, at a different pace, in a different way. And yet every week, there comes a time when he carries an invisible me, unable to walk, but eager to be borne, to a patch of grass, and sits with me there, our new “here.” He observes and memorizes how the grass is growing into and becoming one with the surrounding ground. He tends to it, planting a pinwheel, organizing a few sticks to mark the space, feeling the wind he always wanted her to feel.
Back home, he shudders often, as if his body disperses his horrific memories into the air around him, and his mind, invisibly, forcibly, desperately, gathers them back into the broken shell he now is. He stares blank with the same eyes, now blunt and lifeless, their brightness inherited by, and forever gone with, a beautiful dusky little girl. His facial muscles taut, his posture gaunt, and his hair standing on its roots, my daughter’s father walks on with me, carrying our two children on his shoulders.
Come here. Stay here. He’s here. But where?
How have you rediscovered and redefined your relationship with your partner after losing your baby(ies)? Have your perceptions of each other changed or grown stronger? Do you grieve in the same way, or differently? Do you both have specific roles and responsibilities around your loss, or is it undefined? Are there specific words, phrases or incidents in your story that have assumed a new meaning or dimension after your loss(es)?