She never came into this house. Her absence did.
Three weeks after Raahi died in a hotel, we moved into this house. We stood at the foyer, our heads lowered, our gaze at the floor, as the sun pouring in through a skylight above us cast a deep and hollow shadow in our midst. Across four states and one timezone, from one college town to another, from four, back to three we were. As we closed the door behind us, our three-year-old son looked at the empty living space and asked me if he was going to play there. He paused, and added, “Alone?”
He asked a similar question as we showed him the expansive backyard in the new house five days ago. In two years we have not been able to give him the living sibling he craves, and in two years, he has not gotten used to playing alone. There is a shadow he carries, of a little missing girl, trailing behind him, playing, running with him. He imagines what he would have taught her, what he would have shared, oh so lovingly. As his eyes twinkle speaking about it, I see him get lost for a minute in the pretense that she is with him, and I hold him, and her in him, close. From home to home, her absence is present.
And yet, this house, our last rental, is where we are leaving our rawest grief. Here is where my journey as a bereaved mom began, those early days consuming me like fire, a cold, dead fire. Here is where I screamed, here is where I stared, here is where I learned how bizarre a comedy of unpardonable errors life truly is. Here is the place I first knew how a felled tree falls, and here is where I have felt the comfort of many wounded women and men, who stood in a circle of sheltering trees around me.
I came wounded into this house, trembling like a bird in storm. I climbed the stairs feeling like I was climbing mountains. I leaned on the walls like they were literal pillars of strength, when all metaphors in my life assumed an altered meaning. As the abstract became concrete and the concrete lost shape, I lay in the empty bathtub, trying to feel death, the cold, the still. I crouched inside a closet, surrounded by my daughter’s boxed things, feeling like I was under the earth, the dark but peaceful, crumbling yet containing, earth. I wafted through the hallways, feeling light, airy, non-existent, like a spirit I was no longer sure I had. I looked intently at the ceiling, wondering if the sky can truly come crashing down through a crack in it, sometimes wanting at least that metaphor to turn literal.
In this house, I was safe from societies, communities, the forgetful, the naive, the do-gooders, the carefree breeders, the world at large. In this house, I exposed myself to the elements instead. And the senses. I became aware of the stale and persistent smell of grief, as it pervaded the home inch by inch, and crept into its every nook. I saw the pale sight of loss as it stared at me like a piece of different colored paint on the wall. Sometimes I only wanted to stare at that spot on my wall, and at other times, even if my eyes turned away for a moment, they were drawn back to it. In this space, I could touch Raahi’s absence, as it whirled around me, engulfing me in light strokes, like the fleeting touch of her little fingers. And here is where her absence slowly turned into the solid cast I was gradually embedded into. In this house I heard the deafening screams of questions, the whys, and it is here that I heard the silence that only utter, complete emptiness can bring. This house made me reassess what it takes to be human by laying me bare to how it feels to be non-human. I felt dead, I felt stopped, stuck, frozen. This house, this space, contained it all.
For two years to the day. In less than a week, at the beginning of another August, we will stop living here. We will uproot the two surreptitious nails dug above the fireplace surround, from which two stockings hung on Christmas Eve for two years. Full of identical gifts, one was emptied on Christmas morning, the other packed away for yet another year of unopened gifts. We will no longer enter the foyer where I stood on a September morning two years ago, after seeing my son off to his first day of school, and stared at the space I had imagined her playpen in. I dropped to the floor like weightless crumpled paper, as visceral wails emerged in lashing waves from my innermost gut. We will drive away from the driveway where I often stopped on starry nights, as my husband carried our sleeping son in, and looked at the house like I didn’t know what it was. We will carry Raahi's absence with us, and her few things in boxes will find their new place in a new closet.
This was the thirteenth house I lived in, the largest, the most peaceful one. Raahi never came here. She was a dream I had secretly cherished in so many homes, and a reality in the previous house, as she grew in my ripened belly. Then she became absent. An imagination. A long, desperate story of what-ifs, of what-is-nots. This is where it all began. This was the first house Raahi should have lived in. Should have learned to crawl, stand, walk, talk in. And this was the first space that her absence filled.
Not the last one.
Which place do you associate with your earliest grief, and why? Have you had to leave that space? If so, what did you feel? If not, how would you feel if you had to move?