There is a metropolitan bus route on the street in front of our house. In the morning rush hour, buses stop at the light two doors down from us every fifteen minutes or so, letting out a low-pitched whine as they brake. Before Hudson died, there were many occasions where I mistook this sound for her waking up—the slightest little moan from the next room as she roused from a long sleep. In the past, I would wait to see if I heard her again, and if not, I knew she was still asleep. This morning, I heard the sound and sat, waiting. Then, inexplicably, I heard what sounded like her feet beating on the mattress (she was prone to kicking the mattress as she was trying to fall asleep at night). For what seems like the millionth time in the last four weeks, I pondered whether this really could be just one long, very elaborate dream. I have had such elaborate, punishing dreams occasionally in the past—I always wake from them relieved, grateful to find I have only been dreaming, but also barely believing I have only been dreaming because the dreams are so realistic. This morning, my heart skipped a beat for just a second —could it be? — but then every detail of these terrible days came washing over me at once and I knew it had not been a dream. A few hours later, as Ed and I got ready to leave the house, I found myself, again inexplicably, checking her room just to make sure I wasn’t wrong about it being real and that I wasn’t about to walk out of the house and leave my child at home alone. She wasn’t there. I was imagining.
Joan Didion would call this “magical thinking.” After her husband died, she could not bring herself to part with all of his shoes because part of her was convinced that he would need them when he returned. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross would call it “denial”: you know the person is gone, but you just can’t fathom that reality. Ed and I have not even begun to think about doing anything with Hudson’s clothes or her room, nor do I imagine we will for any time to come. But again, inexplicably, for no reason and with no pattern, I have put some things “away,” meaning I have been putting them in her closet or in the basement. Other things I can’t bear to move. I remember when my mom died, I couldn’t bring myself to delete her number from my cell phone. It was as if I still thought I might need it and if I deleted it, I would delete her. It took until I got a new phone before I finally removed it from my contacts. So many of Hudson’s things are the same. Last night, I put “away” her toothbrush and toothpaste, but have not touched her bathtub or her bath toys. They sit on the floor of the bathroom and I look at them every time I am in there. Bath time was one of her favorite times of day—I can’t just put those things “away”—I guess part of me does imagine she might need them. In my purse, I have a small board-book copy of “Put Me in the Zoo,” which I always kept there for emergencies—waiting for food at a restaurant, waiting for the doctor at the pediatrician’s office, waiting in line at the grocery store—when she might get fidgety and need a distraction. It is well-used. It takes up a fair amount of space in my purse. But how can I put it “away”? What if I need it?
I don’t know how long this “magical thinking” will go on. Maybe it will go on forever. Maybe it will come and go. Maybe one day years from now when I am out and about with Hudson’s future siblings, I will look around for my oldest child and have to remember, again, that she is not there. That is a hard future to face. I can only imagine, really.