This Monday started like any other normal day. I booked an Uber ride, and five minutes later I watched as a white Chevy Impala bounced down our gravel road and stopped in front of the house next door. I kissed your little brother goodbye and exited our house, walking diagonally across our yard through wet grass. I made an awkward gesture towards the front door of the car, but ultimately chose to sit in the backseat.
As we drove away, the driver, John, referring to our odd, urban/country road, asked, “So did y’all make this street?” implying we’d crafted it with a shovel or something, and I explained, “We didn’t, but someone did…” And he chuckled, as did I, and I texted a friend regarding the ridiculousness of it, smiling to myself the entire time. And then I quickly decided to invite no more conversation, opening a novel I purchased after book club the Friday night prior. The owner of the bookstore where we met recommended this book, Behind Closed Doors, but not without first warning us that it’s so dark it makes Gone Girl look like a nice children’s book, so I, of course, was intrigued enough to buy it.
John tried to interrupt me once as we got onto the highway, gesturing towards the motorist alongside, driving too slow with a queen-sized mattress secured loosely atop his car, holding his left hand out his driver side window to steady it. And I chuckled again before delving back into my book about a sadistic psychopath husband.
Upon arriving downtown, we came to a four-way stop, and I noticed construction in all directions but one, and John was like, “Where should I go?” But as I began to answer he proceeded forward, and I attempted to stop him, cautioning him, “I think this is a one-way street,” but he ignored my protests, and I decided it would be fine because a head-on collision didn’t appear imminent.
I finally made it up to my office and powered on my computer and logged into our accounting software and, not even ten minutes later, I was booted out of the server, at which point I concluded my employment had been terminated, which is what I usually deduce when I’m booted out of the server, even though the more logical assumption is that a system glitch has occurred, which ended up being the case today.
But nonetheless, the minor distraction caused my mind to wander, and an otherwise uneventful (enjoyable, even) morning morphed into an entire day full of ugly crying.
This weekend was hard for me. We took your little brother downtown, and we interviewed a potential babysitter candidate (we parted ways with our former nanny – more on this later) at St. Louis Bread Company. We were impressed by her resume – she’s an overachiever, a former sorority president headed to law school next fall… But at one point during our conversation, I referred to your little brother as our “only living child,” and she looked at me sadly, quizzically, so I clarified, “Just over a year ago, our first child, Matthew, died tragically after an emergency C-section. The pain will never go away, and we miss him so much, though we’re so thankful for Joel…” I rushed through my explanation, ending on a positive note, feeling almost guilty to discuss something so tragic in too great of detail with someone so seemingly young and vibrant.
And then we stepped outside into the crisp November air, and there was a Christmas open house taking place in our quaint little downtown suburb, where the grocery stores and other local restaurants and vendors were handing out free samples, so people were hovering en masse just to get a swig of apple cider or a bite of pumpkin bread. It was the kind of thing I would have enjoyed before you died, but now, this isn’t so much the case. There were 16-month-olds everywhere, or so it seemed, and more than 100 of them were blonde, and at least three people looked at your little brother and asked, “Is he your first?”
And one woman we encountered stopped us to tell us we looked familiar. And as I stood there with your father trying to decide how we might know each other, my mouth dropped in horror as she (and I) simultaneously remembered, “Oh – we came over to your house to look at your kitchen when we were thinking about hiring your contractor!” she exclaimed.
My heart skipped a beat as I was snapped back into early summer of 2015, some of your last days with us. “You were pregnant!” she recalled, looking at your little brother, puzzled.
“Yes, I was,” I answered sadly, “And tragically, our son Matthew passed away just a few weeks later from an umbilical cord accident.”
“So this is your rainbow baby!” she exclaimed, gesturing towards Joel.
“Yes,” I answered as tears filled my eyes mostly at her recognition of the term “rainbow baby.”
The attention commanded by your little brother and the questions and my honest answers exhausted me. Not because I’ve forgotten you, and I needed reminding, rather I miss you so much, and when I’m asked about my family, I will not leave you out for sake of others’ comfort or convenience. But so often there is only time for a sentence or two maybe, and I can’t possibly convey your story or your impact in such few words, and even if I could, I’m rarely afforded the chance. And, as a result, I’m often left feeling drained and defeated that I’ve said you died and only this, as if it’s all by which you’re defined – your death.
And then, usually, as often holds true in our society, our conversation turns immediately towards your little brother – the positive, because he is here and alive and breathing. And everyone looks at him and wants to so desperately to assume all is okay now, that I am okay now.
But the truth is, it isn’t. And I am not.
Sure, last year, the changes of seasons from summer to fall and from fall to winter and from winter to spring… The holidays… It all felt completely offensive. How could the world continue to turn so immediately after you’d died? The drop of every leaf pierced my already-broken heart, and any sound of laughter or holiday cheer disgusted and saddened me. This year is different, and I’ll eat a piece of pumpkin pie or drink some cider by a fire, and we’ll have family over for Thanksgiving and resume our tradition of going to the Christmas tree farm for your little brother to enjoy. We’ll take some obligatory photos and share laughter and smiles and eat lots of food and sing songs and open presents on Christmas morning.
But there is still a heaviness, a certain amount of devastation. There always will be. And to me, you are so much more than your death – so much more than a tragic experience that occurred before your little brother entered our life.
You are our firstborn. Our son whose personality I know, I remember, and I miss. Your legacy impacts my every second of my every day. And it will for the rest of my life. I wonder about you constantly, who you would be, and I grieve over every little detail I’ll never know about you.
Today I missed you so much it physically hurt – the grief felt raw as if you’d died yesterday. Over one year in, it’s tough that most have forgotten you, assume all’s well because your little brother is here, that when I talk about you I must try to summarize your life in one sentence, that, as amazing as he is, your little brother commands most of my earthly attention – after all, for his sake, life must move forward.
I often imagine that you’re watching us. And if you are, I wonder whether you feel left behind when you see us putting one foot in front of another for sake of survival. I want you to know that although I keep moving and smile through some of it, even, I never forget you. Not even for one second.
As we move through life, you are never left behind. You are with us always, just as present as any family member here on earth.