This post mentions my living son.
I could drive around this town blindfolded.
Its old streets lined with empty trees, behind which old brick houses proudly stand, containing lives, deaths, sometimes everything in between, other times nothing in between. I could enter each one of those houses, stand in the foyer, and tell their stories in my head. I could then turn at corners quietly, ready to encounter the next block of houses, the next set of stories. In all my thirty one months in this preppy town known for the Ivy League university it shares its name with, I have gotten to know each stop sign, each side street, each by-lane. I know the speed limits, the way 40 goes down to 35, then 30, and then, finally, to a timid 25, in a matter of half a mile. I have grown to drive around carefree, often intuitively taking detours, knowing exactly where I will reach, and how long it will take me to get there. I don’t need a compass or a GPS. I am an anchored ship here, bobbing in the mild breeze, my destiny drawn latitudinally and longitudinally.
I feel confident here, comfortable, kind of at home. Even getting lost, on those rare occasions I almost indulge myself to half-knowingly take a wrong turn, feels tender, known, almost luxuriously safe. This town allows me to experiment with directions, and sometimes it even pushes me to be borderline adventurous. Sitting on the grass, leisurely extending its legs forward and tilting its head back, it is like a mother, watching her inquisitive child explore the woods on a picnic in the neighborhood, pretending to be appalled by the lurking dangers, all the while basking inwardly in the predictability of the surrounding that her knowledge and protectiveness have afforded her. Even the unknown in this town is known, even the unchartered seems to have been touched.
It is strange, this familiarity.
It should impart warmth and security, but all it brings is cold, bitter, angry injuries. I could drive here blindfolded, and yet I feel blind here. I take turns, and with every turn, no matter how close it brings me to my destination, or how playfully I pretend to get lost, I am always back in my mind at the corner of the street where, thirty one months ago, I turned right slowly and cautiously, not knowing which lane to stay on, as I trembled in a new car in a new town with a new baby in the backseat. That morning in July 2013, as I buckled Raahi and Aahir in at the hotel parking lot, and got into a rented hybrid car that did not need a key to turn on, I felt a tiny trickle of sweat run down my back. We were on our way to Raahi’s pediatrician for a routine check-up, the first after our move to this state three days back, and I was scared to drive.
I had memorized the route while the children slept in the morning, and I would have my phone in the cupholder, but I shook, realizing a mere block after I had merged onto the notorious Route 1 that I had not put my seatbelt on. I pulled over into the parking lot of a bank, and put it on, glancing terror-stricken at the shooting traffic a few hundred feet away, shuddering to think what could have happened, what might still happen. I was so nervous about getting everything right that even an amendable mistake devoured whatever was left of my confidence. I fretfully looked for the lane before the one where I would have to turn right in the final leg of the journey, as cars tailed me and cyclists gave me annoyed looks. Raahi was not even crying, Aahir quieter than ever, and yet my palms were sweating, my temples throbbing. I was aware, I was alert. I was paranoid. It was the first day in my life as a mother of two that I was aghast.
The sprawling shopping center which housed the pediatrician’s office had a designated right lane, with stores in the front and back. The doctor’s office was at the back, and I remember it took me long to find a parking spot in an empty parking lot. I remember the casual and presumptuous tone in which the receptionist at the doctor’s office uttered the name of the street, one light over, as she gave me directions to the radiology building. I had not come expecting to drive Raahi there for an ultrasound, which would provide what the doctor called baseline data during our rather simple visit with him. I did not expect to have my daughter, discharged from the hospital merely a week back after a brutally long twelve-week-stay, pricked for bloodwork, again. It made me cry uncontrollably in the lobby outside as I tried to read a book to her brother. My sense of bewilderment was exacerbated by how confident and at ease everyone else seemed in their space, and the matter-of-fact way they directed me to the next stop. It was like they thought everyone who ever came to their office had lived in the town forever, and had always known where they were going.
That rudderless feeling of being lost in the seas, literally and entirely, is what I remember the most about that day. The feeling that I could not afford to be flustered, not in this town, not anywhere, since I had two children to care for. The way my mind trembled like a compass needle, quivering from fear to strength, from paranoia to calm, from letting go to holding tight. That day in July, almost three years ago. The last day my daughter was alive. The last morning she woke up. The last time I drove her anywhere.
And now, even as a layer of me has been added to the thick, permanent skin on this old townscape, rock solid behind the wheels on these streets and on my feet in these buildings, I prick and peel it away every day, deliberately exposing the vulnerable, the fearful, the bleeding me, dripping wet with sweat and tears, her unseeing eyes searching for what she will never find. I hold my breath and drive by the shopping center and the radiology building, blinded by their familiarity, scorched by the knowledge of exactly where I went and what I did on July 22, 2013. I feel like a lead pole grounded into this earth, heavy, rusted, part of the scenery, and yet fading away. I never need to memorize anything.
And yet, the memories, of walking barefoot on foreign rocks, of feeling uprooted, are all I have with me when I survive in this town, where my little girl stopped breathing. As I drive by the cemetery in its center, where her body lies, I realize that on that day in July, overcome as I was with the fear of being lost with her, I still had no idea of how lost, how irretrievably lost I would be, in a few hours, and then forever, without her.
As I take a breath, a few steps, a turn, and then another in this town and in this life, I am forever paused at the stop sign where my little explorer Raahi last stood with me, and showed me the way.
What do you remember of the space you were in at the time of your loss(es)? Have you had to navigate a new space, a new town, since you lost your baby(ies)? How has your relationship with your old neighborhood changed after your loss(es)? What are you looking for, or not, on your “journeys”?