The Niagara roars barely ten feet away from me, the mighty waters surging and sprinkling my hair, Aahir’s face, Som’s camera. We giggle, awestruck, inspired, drenched under the millions of water particles spreading far and wide, forming an opaque wall of mist, dancing with a celebration so sensorily rich and real that we are overcome with emotions. We stand in submission, huddled together as we watch nature’s forces—the water, the light, the air—colliding, breaking, flowing, merging into an eternal rhythm, a powerful, confident pattern of force and beauty, beauty and force. The force in the beauty, and the beauty of the force. We forget that we are tourists, and proximity to such magnificent beauty comes at a price. Aahir is in Som’s arms, Som has set his camera down, and I am comfortable with not recording this moment on the camcorder. We are quiet, pensive, humble under the sacred sprinkles of the mighty Niagara.
No water for her, I say to myself. No force, no beauty. No fear of nature’s power, no joy at the earth’s beauty. No wonder at the universe’s expanse, no humility in our own smallness. She does not ask us questions, does not giggle at the sprinkling water, and does not rub her face against her father’s wet neck. I almost feel like she is not even in Aahir’s heart, like he has emphasized for almost three years. I realize how absent she is from this sensory experience that one can only participate in by being present.
There is nothing metaphorical or metaphysical here. Between the waters pounding on the ancient rocks, and the small, but thickening trickle of water down my spine and the pool in my eyes, there is hardly a space for spirit. It’s all there, every single particle of myself, I’m aware of it all. What is, is. What isn’t, is not.
But even when all is full of water, and the sound and touch and sight mingle in a primal and perpetual whole, there is still space for her absence. Its hole is forever full, and always holds more than I can bear. Her absence creeps in surreptitiously, while I’m immersed in the sensational explosion in front of me. It creeps in, and settles into the cracks and crevices of my mind, overcoming it with a brokenness even more primal and even more perpetual than this union with nature. As the Niagara’s unending waters mingle in my eyes with the slowly-forming tears, I realize that no force of nature can ever fill my senses enough for me to be emptied of Raahi’s thoughts. Her absence, and its permanence pervade every experience, every sense, every reality.
She is not here. She was not here. She will never be here.
The Niagara took four hundred years to change the precipitous landscape of the region, eroding the rocks into shape after shape. Death took a moment to change the landscape of our lives, eroding us into a permanently shapeless mass of nothing, frozen in our loss.
Often these days my deepest sensory experience is to feel the air on my face. I never liked smelling, and my hearing has not been dysfunctional, but it has not been dependable either. I love seeing, talking, and touching. I love it when the air blows against my face, even in the coldest of days, the crisp air on my face makes me feel alive. It is the easiest and strongest of my experiences that I preserve like a precious possession.
She did not feel the wind on her face.
Confined to the NICU for twelve weeks, Raahi was deprived of nature, and this plagued my husband and me every time we stepped into the sun. It was mellow in spring after a rough winter, and the new leaves waved and swirled in the wind. My husband would carry Raahi to the window, pointing her towards the sun behind trees and buildings.
"That is the sun sweetheart, do you see? It gives us light." Then he would gently stroke her head and blow through her hair. "See, this is what the wind feels like."
Over those twelve weeks, as we encountered one medical constraint after the other, our dream for Raahi was quite simple. Take her to Lake Michigan, let her feel the sun on her face, the wind playing with her hair. Let her be one with nature. We just wanted her to have that experience.
She hardly did.
Raahi, the explorer, was home with us for eight days. Eight days during which we moved from the Midwest to the east coast. She flew, rode a taxi, and stayed in two hotels in eight days. She saw her Ma be scared and fastidious. She saw how frazzled her Baba was, from having to orchestrate everything. She experienced all the hassle associated with a journey, but we could not share with her the excitement of starting again together, all four of us, under the same roof. She left like a nomad, in a hotel room with no names.
I like to think Raahi has gone onto her next journey, the bigger, more meaningful, more cosmic one. But that’s when I need to console myself that she has fulfilled her promise, and lived up to her name.
Then standing next to the brutal waters, feeling alive and human in every possible way, I ask myself an honest question—"What about now? What about her not being a part of this here, this now? Isn’t life a journey she should have been on first? Before anything cosmic?" And I know. I know that Raahi would not be on life’s journey with us. She will not live with us, sit with us at the table, have conversations with us, fly a kite with us on Mother’s Day, make Baba breakfast on Father’s Day. She would never follow in Aahir’s footsteps, and she will never grow up to be her own woman.
The Niagara roars next to me. Soon all that movement, all that ferocity transforms into a blank canvas in front of my eyes. The waters fall, the earth swings, and the sky beams. But they’re all flattened into a pale canvas on which there is a silhouette of our youngest member. A blank silhouette at the center of every story, every scene, every single sensibility. A shadowy silhouette standing still, even as life moves around it at a cataclysmic pace. Every experience we have will forever be termed "something we did not get to do with Raahi."
She is not on this journey of life with us. We did not get to walk with her, holding her hand. Yes, I know she’s ahead of me and I am following in her infinite footsteps, I say that to myself every day. But today is not about her being somewhere on her own, it is about her not being here with us. Today is about not being able to live our lives with her, and be a part of her life. Today is about the reality, not about grandiose imagination.
I will not get to share my life, my thoughts, my emotions, my words, and a single sensory experience or physical object with my daughter.
And the Niagara will roar on.
What do you miss the most about living your lives with your child (ren)? How do you imagine them to have been like? How do you imagine your lives to have been like if you could share it with them?