I depart as air…I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again, look for me under your boot soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fiber your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
–Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
My baby is officially one.
I can specifically remember the morning of Everett’s birthday, because for once, he had slept past the sun. Its light filtered through my bedroom curtains, and when Chris and I opened our eyes, we were shocked to greet daylight. I stretched out under the covers, looked over at him and said, “Hug me,” in my cutest voice. It’s the one Chris loves. And we cuddled for a few moments, until he said, “It’s Snuggies’ birthday! Come on!”
We went into Everett’s room, the video camera in Chris’s hand, and switched on the lights, saying, Happy birthday baby boy! in somewhat of a unison. Everett had a confused look on his face, but once his eyes adjusted, he stood up holding his blanket, smiling ear to ear because his Mom and Dad were both there to see him. He couldn’t have been happier.
After breakfast, we opened his presents from the previous night’s party, hosted by my in-laws.
The birthday food was excellent, the company was comfortable, and Everett was the center of all the love and attention he could stand.
But I missed you the entire time. And it was difficult for Chris’ mom to continually remember why there were so many people in her house.
I had a dream last night that Chris and I were at this huge outdoor party. I don’t know what people were doing there, but it seemed to be a concert-like setting, with lawn ticket seating. And amongst the tightly knitted crowd, I started calling for you, saying, “Mom….Mom….Mom…has anyone seen my mother?” I sounded like the little bird in that book I read to Everett, who leaves his nest too early.
You were still alive in this dream; however, the party was just too big, and each face I looked at, wasn’t yours. I was scared, literally feeling this fear in my sleeping state.
And sometimes I still feel scared about where you are. Sometimes I really want to ask people, Hey, do you know where Jenifer Norris went? She was that bubbly blonde with four kids–yea, that one–the one who died of breast cancer right before her baby started kindergarten.
But the reality is that no one truly knows, which is frustrating as all shit.
There are days when I feel where you are, and I trust the certainty of your existence.
There are days when I think it’s all a bunch of nonsense–that you really are just gone, unable to help me and unable to know Everett.
There are days when I truly cannot fathom the fact that I haven’t seen your fading face for eight years.
You never got to see me as a grown young woman. What would you think of me now? I wonder if you’d be embarrassed that I wear flannel shirts and moccasins, not the tight tops and high heels you frequently flaunted. I wonder if you’d be proud of the fact that I’m a yoga teacher, that my hair is mermaid length, or whether or not you’d think I was beautiful.
And you never got to meet Chris. That, almost above all else, breaks me the most, you know. For some reason, I sometimes picture how he’d look when saying, “You sound just like your mother,” as I pretend he knows the hidden parts of me that are comprised of you.
But even though eight years feels equivalent to an eternity, in this first year of Everett’s life, I’ve learned to feel closer to you than ever, even in comparison to when you were alive.
And each time I think of you, it’s not so much in a sad way anymore, but in a my mother is here, kind of way. Because you don’t exist as a winged angel staring down on me from heaven–what I feel is much more than that; I feel you are here.
I don’t know what better word to use, but here.
When I think of your face and your hair and your lipsticks and the way you smelled after applying suntan lotion, my heart aches. It makes me mourn to see you in person. Your physicality is what’s completely finite, and it always will be.
But what’s not subjected to limitations is your soul…your spirit…your energy…your life force. Whatever anyone wants to call it, because it’s all the same thing. When we leave our physical bodies, our spirit—the very “thing” that cannot be pumped back into a body (as my yoga once teacher taught me)—returns to the greater energy it came from and continues to exist. It returns to the Source.
A few days ago, I brought Everett to the cemetery for the first time, on what would’ve been your 48th birthday.
I felt like I was somehow finally introducing my son to you, allowing him to share my secret place, where a realm of pleasant serenity always awaits my melancholy mind.
We sat on your grave, while he kept pointing ahead at the lake, spotted with ducks swimming in repetitive circles. I’d watch when he swayed his feet in the grass, feeling the texture of it on his bare toes, as I myself have done many times before. It was hard to believe how close he was to you–like the earth underneath us was literally comprised of you.
Look for me under your boot soles. Because you are now a part of the same force that grew the very grass under Everett’s exploring toes.
He will never know your pretty face. He will never fully understand how fierce and funny and fun you were. He will never get to hug you, feeling the love his mother has for him immediately double, because you’re the only other woman on this planet who could come close to loving Everett the way I do.
But you will be alive when I teach him your constant presence–how there is no this place or that place, no death do us part. And for anyone who has ever lost someone, it can be incredibly liberating to imagine there is no heaven, no hell, and above us only sky. Because with that understanding, the idea of permanently parting until death can reunite, is nothing more than a human illusion.
With confidence, I can believe Everett will know you in a more special and profound way, than if you were still here to be in physical person when he blows out his birthday candles each year. And it will always be my responsibility to teach him just how close you really are–that we’re all laced together in such intricately detailed ways, there aren’t words to quite make sense of it.