I had to count on my fingers from April through August to figure out exactly how many months old Everett is. At times sixteen months feels like nothing, and I’m surprised he’s only been with us for five changing seasons. I feel as if he’s existed my entire life and that Chris and I have always been married, living in our adored house together. Who was I before my family? It’s hard to imagine my world before.
For every monthly check-in entry, I know I always write to you, “Everett is so fun!” but he really is. Chris and I are constantly laughing at him–his sounds, his faces, his mannerisms. It’s incredible how much joy a child can bring to a family.
But his attitude is definitely starting to show, and little tantrums here and there are becoming more common. Today he flipped out when I laid him down for a diaper change, sniping the poop filled diaper and throwing it across the floor. We were both in trouble.
He loves to wear shoes now, a little dorky pair of water-like velcro slip-ons I bought him at Target last month. He prances around in them like an awkward little creature, looking more and more like a big boy every time they’re on his feet.
We walk out to the car together when we’re going somewhere, a process that takes a very long time, but he is so proud to open the door and walk down the front porch steps with me and those beloved shoes. Our hands are always anchored together, and we move at a pace made for snails, but I prefer it over bustling out on a mission like you used to do. You’d say, “Come on kids, lets go,” in that I mean business way of yours, rounding up your troop for the grocery store or wherever it was we were all going.
I like giving him the chance to do things on his own, especially since it makes him feel so special. Maybe someday with more kids I’ll lose that patience, but for now, I’m enjoying it.
Everett’s favorite book is The Hungry Caterpillar, the Eric Carle book I can still remember learning about in kindergarten. When we read it together, I ask him where the caterpillar is and he points to it. I love watching him understand things. He still doesn’t have much interest in talking, besides the normal babbles and sounds, but it’s nice to be able to communicate with him in our own way. It’s as if all the mornings, days and nights we’ve spent together have created a bond that doesn’t require a mutual language.
I like to think about when you and I got to spend our days like my baby and I do now. Somewhere I know I can remember it all, on a level I can’t consciously understand.
But I got the most time with you, something that sometimes makes me feel like your death should’ve been “easiest” on me. I don’t often think about this, but my recent conversation with Tatum made it a front and center thought, too obvious to ignore.
Last Monday night I decided to go to yoga. I couldn’t wait to leave the house and get into the studio. When I parked, I got the front row spot I was hoping for, making me feel like yes, I made the right choice deciding to practice tonight…I’m supposed to be here.
But the entry door was locked and class had already started. I got the schedule mixed up, passing my chance to practice for the entire week. I was bummed.
I walked back to my car and tried my best to trust that the night would fall into place unplanned, and what do you know, it did.
Before leaving the parking lot, I glanced at my phone and there was a message from Tatum.
TATUM: i’m going through a weird phase where the fact that I won’t have mom is becoming more apparent to me and I just feel sad and idk why it’s happening now.
ME: want me to come over? i can be there in thirty minutes.
TATUM: can you just come to lay with me?
And I quickly knew class was missed because I had somewhere else to be.
I drove to Dad and Terri’s, passing the old house on my way. When I opened Tatum’s bedroom door, she was cuddled in her covers and I joined her without hesitation or pause. I could see her eyes were glossed over and red. She had been crying, hard.
Even with sad eyes, she is so beautiful and I’m not just telling you that because she’s your daughter and my sister. Her eyes and nose and skin and hair are a stunning combination, with a built body to match her beauty. Allison and I always tease that we’re pretty but Tatum is the exception–she got all the good genes there were to get.
At first she said she didn’t know what to say, but eventually the real grit of her emotions came to the surface: she explained it makes her upset how she can’t remember you–that she cries about you but doesn’t really know who’s she crying about. She knows, though, that you were her mother and she wants you.
This is an entire different way that you are grieved, one that is foreign to me. And she used that word, grief, saying it started when she was ten years old. Before then she was “too little to notice you were gone.”
While she spoke, she was laying close to me. Her hands were tucked under her face in an accidental prayer position and our heads faced each other on matching pillows. She was so mature, so matter of fact, and it became obvious to me that she’d started questioning your absence in ways she never did before.
I felt selfish, across from her with the ability to remember you. I can remember your laugh and the songs you’d sing and the annoying way you stuffed tissues up your nose when you had a head cold.
The beautiful blooming young woman who is still my baby sister, has none of that. I’d give anything to imprint some of my moments with you onto her.
But I can’t.
I can talk about you and tell stories and I can comfort her in the times she’s feeling overwhelmingly sad–the times that have for once, finally passed in my life. I’m not saying I won’t ever unravel and cry in outbursts because you’re not here, but the heavy feeling in my foundation that something is missing, has disappeared and I know it’s because of Everett and the family I’ve created with Chris.
Seeing her upset made me think about how terrible things used to be after you got sick. It made me travel back to sixteen years old, the age when my life shattered but kept continually propelling forward. I was left stuck in a world that felt standstill and forever ruined.
And while I can’t go back and tell my younger self, It’s okay, life will feel full and happy again, I can do so for Tatum.
My siblings will always be your greatest gift to me. This past weekend, Allison was home from Ohio and she and Tatum watched Everett for a few hours while Chris and I went out to Ikea. Leaving my baby with his two aunts, knowing he’s in fun and safe hands, is one of the best feelings. He will grow up knowing their love, all intermixed and tangled up in yours.
And speaking of brothers and sisters, I am awaiting test results that will tell whether or not I am clear of infection, aka whether or not I can get pregnant. I had reoccurring staph on my lips, a possible reason why they’ve been peeling. I know, it sounds super gross.
My dermatologist was treating me wrong, and so were the several primary care doctors I saw. After seeing an Infectious Disease specialist (how scary does that sound) and a sixth round of antibiotics later, I feel like I’m finally healing. But until I absolutely know that this is something that cannot interfere with pregnancy, we can’t try for another baby.
It’s been frustrating to feel ready to try but not able. When I wrote to you back in the beginning of this year, I told you I pictured our trip up to Maine still being just Everett, Chris and I. And I’m still okay with that. If I just take a step back away from this it has to be now mentality and trust it will all work out, I know our baby, whoever he or she will be, knows the perfect timing for our family.
This morning started out slow and I felt low on energy. Not just tired, but I didn’t feel like being positive or grateful, the two things that help literally lift me up. I proofread the above portion of this entry, going in circles and not getting much accomplished. The writing had been done for days but I couldn’t seem to put a final cap on it. So I closed my computer, got Everett up from the nap he never took, and headed for the grocery store.
While driving, I knew I was being a crab and knew I was capable of getting myself out of the funk. A simple shift in thinking would’ve worked: I’m glad I have money to buy as many groceries as I want…Everett is in the back seat, happy as can be…my hair looks good today…my grocery list is neat and organized. I was just too stubborn to make even that bit of effort.
Spreading good through my veins is really that simple, but this morning it was like I wanted to take a rain check on happiness. No thanks Universe, I don’t feel like acknowledging any good right now. I like feeling shitty right now, just let me be.
It’s incredible to be aware when I’m gloomy, knowing I can crawl myself out, one thought at a time. All the years of my life before this understanding, I’d think my life was falling apart during these “moods” and that my misery was forever and permanent.
And then I got a text from Mrs. Hapach, and as soon as I saw her name on my phone, I knew what today was. She messages me faithfully, two days a year: your birthday and on the 14th, the day you died.
Feeling like I connected the dots, I had linked together the day and my sad energy. I mentally changed my plans and went to Chipotle before grocery shopping. Screw it, I thought. I wanted to rebel, going out of my intended errand’s order. How thrilling.
We walked in, our hands linked together, finding our place in line. I soon realized the man in front of me was your old hair stylist, someone your friend Norma had recommended to you years and years ago. He was top notch, costing a fortune for a cut and style, but that’s probably exactly why you went.
For your first appointment, you took me along with you and we both got our hair colored. I couldn’t have been older than twelve. It was raining when we left the salon and we ran to the car, trying to keep our new manes dry. You sat down in the driver’s seat and with the car still in park, checked out your hair in the mirror, oooing on and on about it.
It’s one of those simple memories that I’ll always remember. There’s nothing special about it, but we were us: the little me, learning to be like her beautiful mom. It’s a normalcy Tatum will never experience… it’s exactly what made her so upset the other night.
I asked him, “Are you the owner of MCN salon?”
“Yes, have you ever been?” he turned around quickly to meet my gaze, happy to have a conversation in the long burrito line.
“My bridesmaids and I got our hair done there for my wedding.” He looked pleased. And I added, “My mother used to go to you years back at your old location.”
It was like I was desperate to bring you into my words and into the real world, even if just for a moment. Out of all the days in a year, today was when I needed affirmation that you once really existed. I wanted to say, You did my mom’s hair! Do you remember her? Her name was Jenifer Norris and she was so pretty and one time we got caught in the rain leaving your salon together. It was like a child’s run-on sentence, a spew of letters that carried too much excitement to make complete sense.
We kept a casual conversation up and once we got to the register, he paid for me and Everett’s lunch. I was so surprised, saying thank you several times and telling him he made my day. He friendly patted me on the back, saying it made his too.
That whole incident turned everything around. I immediately thought, that was mom, like it was an obvious acknowledgment or message to me from you saying, I’m still here.
I don’t pretend to feel you to make myself feel better. When things like this happen, it sparks something, almost like an ah ha moment, proving to me over and over that this energy stuff is real. That on the day you left this world nine years ago, you’re no further from me now than you were before.
Thank you for the signs, thank you for the reminders. Thank you for the small coincidences that brighten my days, reminding me that there is a rhythm and synchronicity tied into all things, whether they’re of earth or of spirit.