There's a heavy longing in the house when it's quiet, when the boys are not here, or when they are sleeping, or any combination of these things (one at preschool, one sleeping). It's a silence I would have been longing for - a moment - that suddenly turns intolerable.
For what am I to think about when it becomes silent?
I'm in this silence now and thinking about Emily Rapp and the silence she is in. The longing that wants to suffocate after the death of a child. The longing that has suffocated parents in Newtown, Connecticut since just before Christmas. I think of their longing most after my kids go to bed.
After they go to sleep I spend time looking at photos of them. I place things like Valentines into memory boxes where I'll plan to put their first report cards.
This morning, Will and I dropped Ben off and his teacher told us she was sore. She went skiing and her daughter, my son's classmate, skied for the first time. "What did you do?" she asked us. Ben kind of looked around like he wanted to go play. "We did a lot of painting," I said. "And cooking."
Ben asked yesterday if it was brownie day. "Yes," I said and we mixed.
I think of Emily Rapp in this silence today. The longing. I thought of her when I woke up next to my baby this morning like I have every morning since I learned her baby died the morning after Valentines Day. I think of how Emily isn't waking up with her baby.
We often say, "Life isn't fair." And I think that's our way of trying to make oneself feel better about another's sadness. The longing that Emily is feeling is not fair or unfair. It is terrible.
It's not that I don't want my kids to learn how to ski. Or that I don't want to see their faces shriek with excitement. It's not even that I don't think it's fair that my kids will get to do things that Ronan won't. It's that I want to shout at my son's preschool teacher, "I don't know how I can ever let my child go down a mountain. I don't know how I can even leave him here with you today." I want to look at the other preschool teacher - the one with the melon colored maternity shirt who is expecting a boy - and say to her, "Dear God, you have no idea how joy can be swiped from you at any moment -- do you?"
I don't tell them about the longing I feel after my son walks off to play. Or that I'm afraid that something could happen to him while he is in their care; something that would not be their fault but the kind of something that might make him not come home one day.
Emily Rapp doesn't know me from any other mother writer reader on whom she has had a profound impact. There are many of us. And I don't know Emily. She was a faculty member in the program where I got my MFA, when I started. I remember seeing her during my first residency. She wore killer boots and I found her brilliance a little intimidating. I don't think I spoke to her.
At some point I took time off while pregnant and by the time I started back, she had had Ronan and moved to Santa Fe to teach. Some months later, I learned that she learned that her baby was diagnosed with Tay Sachs disease. Emily knew that her son would never go to kindergarten. She would never place a report card into a box of memories. My son is about six months older than Ronan and I have thought about Emily every day since I learned her baby was dying. At every "first," I have choked on my sadness for her.
If I were to talk to Emily now I wouldn't say it's not fair. I wouldn't say I can't imagine or oh you poor thing. She is clearly a woman who will move forward and doesn't need me as a cheerleader.
After I learned that Emily Rapp's baby was dying, I did what I often do when I can't find words for how I feel. I wrote poetry. I wrote bad, sentimental, gushy poems like I did when I was in high school. I was writing my first poems as a new mother and the poems I wrote for Emily were no worse than the poems I was writing about my own experience. Being a new mother, I was learning a new language and being a new mother knowing another new mother's baby was dying made that language all the more unlearnable. I started writing poems about children or mothers I did not know who had terrible things happen to them. At some point, I had to stop writing those poems. I had to focus on the language of being a mother.
I had to make sure my toddler had chapstick at preschool for cold mornings on the playground. I had to figure out how to tell him it was time to learn how to use the potty.
If I were to talk to Emily, I would ask her about the things I can not know from her Facebook photos. When she was pregnant, did he kick most at night? Was he born before or after his due date? When she un-swaddled Ronan's baby body, did he stretch the right arm first or the left? Did he stretch them both at once? What about his legs? How far did his belly rise while he slept? What did his laugh sound like?
Does she still feel his hand on her chest?
As much as I would like to take Emily's longing and flush it like the shit I wipe from my three year old's bum, I cannot. But if I were to talk to Emily now, I would thank her for sharing Ronan's remarkable life with us.
And I would tell her how much she has taught me about motherhood. And I would thank her for that.