When my children were little, I used to wear or carry them around, talking or singing non-stop. I was so tired, always so tired, that I rarely had anything interesting to say. A typical monologue went like this: "And now we're in the kitchen. Look at the light! Do you like that light? I like that light. Your daddy hits it with his head, though. Eric used to always hit his head on the light at Nana's house. You don't know Eric. He was very tall. This is the fridge, let's open it. Brr, cold! Here's the water. I am putting water into my cup. I love water. It's very delicious. You can't drink it yet. You're too little. Aren't you, little dude? Oh, my cup is full! Yummy, now I can drink it. I'll try not to spill on you. Well, that was fun. Hmm, what should we do now?"
I just spent almost an hour looking through old pictures, to find one of me carrying a child. I pretty much did not put Atticus down from the time he came home from the hospital until he could walk...and even then, I carried him about half the time. And I carried/wore the other two a ton, too. The truth is, I am the picture-taker of the family: if I didn't take it, it basically does not exist. I have many, many, many pictures of other people--David, my mom, my step-dad, my grandparents, my sisters, my brothers, other friends and relatives--holding my boys, but pretty much none of me. I didn't even have a smart phone (for selfie/picture capabilities) until Atticus and Damien were about 18 months old. So, no pictures that I took of myself, until later. I have noticed this so much since Atticus died. There is very little photographic evidence that I am his mom. It breaks my heart. I am trying to take more selfies of me with Damien and Everett now.
Here is another one, from the day Everett came home. You can still see the swelling in my hands.
Anyway, my monologue has changed, drastically. For one, I no longer speak it aloud. But also, it is a constant stream of "Atticus would have, Remember when Atticus, Atticus never..." I cannot look at an object without thinking how Atticus liked or hated or ignored or never got to see it. I can't talk to people without remembering how they interacted with Atticus, or if they never did, how they reacted when I talked about him. I can't hear the news without thinking how it would have impacted Atticus.
The conversation from above is: "And now I'm in the kitchen. Jesus, you would hate this house. At least there's a dishwasher you could open and close. Those steps by the door would make you furious. I bet you would be hurt all the time. I cannot believe you died with a black eye. How could I have let that happen? Oh my love. Here's the water. God, you loved water. Once you could drink without drowning, you went at it. My sweetest, sweetest boy. The bath, the water table, the Children's Museum, oh you drank everything. Your fountain, at least I gave you that much. You wouldn't have needed your walker this summer. They'll be turning the water on at the parks, soon. I haven't been to Liberty since you died, my dear. I can't. I just can't. But I will, of course, because your brothers love it too. I wish you could drink this water. I wish you could spit it all over your face, and spill it down your shirt, like you love to do when you're done drinking. Loved. Loved. Oh my baby."
I will be having conversations with other people--including my boys, although I am trying extremely hard to just be present, in the moment with them, as they deserve that--and it is still running along in the background.
I like it best when I remember the happy things.
How I took him so many places, gave him so many experiences. How he would laugh. How he loved sour things. The look he would give you when he was so thoroughly done, just not going to put up with this bullshit (therapy, usually, but also big family gatherings, or really anything that wasn't his idea). He was so very stubborn. I loved it. He got it straight from me.
When he died, he took it with him. I now wilt and comply with just about any suggestion, no longer fight with the insurance when they tell us all of our clothing and linens were worth just over $2,000, just accept that our rent house has torn up carpet in the basement and has for weeks, because the people we share the duplex with had some sort of sewage leak and of course it entered our place, of course it did.
I'm not at all who I used to be. To be honest, I don't much like or respect the person I am now. I know that I will never be the same, but I hope that someday my strength and courage come back. I had a dream a few days ago in which I was acting so much like my old self. It was just a conversation, but it was me having it, the old me, the me who could laugh and tease and ask for things and not cry. In the morning, I hoped so hard for it to be true that I cried.
I had some of my most wonderful, beautiful friends in town last weekend. I could see glimpses of my old self then, too. When we were playing Cards Against Humanity, I was laughing so much I thought I must be drunk. (I haven't drank since Atticus died; I do not need to open those floodgates right now.) Because that's what alcohol always did for me: relaxed me. I would feel it first in my quads, a loosening. And next thing I knew, I was giving away my love like Oprah gave away cars: love for everyone I saw, hugs for everyone who was close, no anxiety, just laughter and joy. (I know, I know. Why didn't I become an alcoholic? Why? Was I too uptight, too worried about losing permanent control? Probably. Permanent control. What a joke.) And I wasn't feeling that, not exactly, but the heavy, heavy blanket of grief was lifted, just by a corner, just enough to let in some light. I went almost two full days without a true panic attack.
It didn't last, though. I need to be more like Atticus. He had the whole deck stacked against him, and yet he laughed. And he walked. And, I truly believe, someday, he would have said "mama". I need his resolve, his will, his spirit. It's so hard not to give up hope. But he never did.