Now that my daughter is a big first grader, she doesn’t bring that much art home from school. Most art is done at home. She incorporates themes using whatever she’s into at the time. Right now it’s fairies. But with any theme, there’s always an impressive level of symbolism that bowls me over. She’s not afraid to express herself through her art. It gives her a safety net to say things that are a little too tough to verbalize.
I like it when she draws a picture of our family and she includes Jay. She always used to include him, then stopped when it got too overwhelming. He returned for a long time, and now he’s gone again.
The reason I haven’t seen him in awhile isn’t because it’s too sad to include him. It’s because he’s been gone too long now. We still talk about him. His pictures are still up. His ashes still sit in our bedroom. But the memories she has are very slowly fading.
It’s funny being a parent. There is so much history you have about your children that is forgotten to them. All the years I chatted with her while nursing, changing her diapers hundreds of times, putting her down for naps, all of that is gone for her, but still with me. I’m watching time go by in a different way, and I’m watching memories slip right out of her head that I will always hold in my heart. In 10 years, she will barely remember Jay at all. She will have a million memories with Floyd, all going well.
And is that bad? That’s a tough one. It is very sad that this beautiful, smart, funny, gentle child we had will be largely unknown to her. But if I had to choose how my sweet daughter would lose a brother, if I had the power to dictate how much or how little pain she would experience over the loss of someone in her immediate family, well, then this is the way to go, I guess. She will always carry that loss. It will always be a part of her life story, but it won’t be her whole story, and it won’t ever be as big a story for her as it is for me. I will take that any day. For Floyd, both Jay and my mother will be complete strangers. I wonder what it will be like for him to grow up knowing he has a brother who died.
Even I have changed. When asked, I say I have two kids. I was militant for awhile about always saying I had three, but it got so cumbersome and uncomfortable that I finally stopped. What I was really doing was just acknowledging his existence, but people didn’t perceive it as such. I think they thought I was trying to rehash something or bring them into my traumatic experience, and I didn’t want any part of that. I mentioned it the other day to someone at the gym when they were talking about kids falling. I regretted it as soon as I said it. A friend asked me h0w I was doing on the grief thing. I said, “I don’t know…I mean, I’m more dealing with the after effects of losing two people. The anxiety follows me around more than the sadness does at the moment.” It’s actually easier dealing with the sadness. The sadness is a heavy weight, but it’s a feeling that’s anchored in a past event. Anxiety is rooted in fear of the unknown, and is much more unsettling 2+ years in. When Jay first died, the sadness was so completely encompassing, like being swallowed by tar. But the sadness isn’t like that now. Sometimes, no, many times, I look at his picture and I’m astounded that we had a life with this little person who will never be ever again. It feels foreign. Who was he? Who would he have become? I think about how well I know Floyd, who is now almost 8 months older than Jay was when he died. As Floyd gets older, I will continue to understand him better and know more of his little complexities. My understanding of who Jay was…will it change or be stunted because he will always remain a baby? It’s impossible not to romanticize the future, but that’s a dangerous (and wildly inaccurate) game to play. Who knows who Jay would have been? Whatever I imagined him becoming (a rollerskating, peace-loving, shirtless kid selling pot brownies in Golden Gate Park — just being honest) he undoubtedly would have been different. Child-rearing is chock full of surprises; about half of them not being good ones. And yet my mind cannot stop imagining various fantasies in which I heave pretend futures onto a 13 month old personality. So yes, it will be stunted. Jay’s life was a burgeoning 500 page novel that stopped progressing on page 5. There is no “how did the story end?” because the author just stopped writing. No outline was left. It’s just not there.
There is a special layer of guilt over the fact that we lost a son, a younger brother to our daughter, a child who was gentle, loving, funny and kind, and we now have just that at home with us right now. Do I consider myself lucky for that? I do, as hard as that is to say. We could have been unable to get pregnant again. What if the baby had been a girl? I would have loved that girl with the heat of a thousands suns, but it would be crazy to say that I wouldn’t have crumbled every time I walked by the boys’ department in a clothing store. We lost a lot when we lost Jay. But when we were able to conceive again and have another boy, we got a couple of things back. It’s hard to admit that having Floyd was healing.
The other night I went upstairs into our TV room, which, as we have a bunch of construction going on at the moment, has become the “screw it, there’s nowhere to put this so let’s just bag it up and put it in here” room. I was looking for something and found myself alone, in this room, sitting on the couch in complete silence. I whispered to myself, “He’s dead.” I do that sometimes. The world gets busy. My head gets busy. When I whisper it, it makes it real. I have never said those two words about him out loud to anyone. I can tell you he died. The word dead, though, that’s something I just do alone. It carries a different weight. I talked to Jay that night. I hadn’t talked to him much out loud in awhile. I said things that I hadn’t said to him in a long time. I talked about Floyd. I talked about the things they had in common. I talked about how special they both are. I told him that I would always be his mama. I found myself wanting him to know how much I loved him. I didn’t want him to feel replaced.
Sometimes I feel guilty about how much I love Floyd. But all I can do is love the hell out of the son I hopefully get to keep for the rest of my life. Sadly, it’s impossible not to feel guilt about my love for him, or the fact that our lives have moved forward. The pages in all our novels continue to be written, and Jay’s book is done at page 5. We can’t change anything. We will all just love each other, and live as long as we can, all while holding a teeny 5 page book close to our hearts forever. In the end, we’re all in the same book together.