I lied about Hudson for the first time yesterday (at least as far as I can remember).
I lied about her twice actually. The first time, I boarded my plane to Raleigh and as I was settling into an aisle seat, the woman by the window, a very kind-eyed grandmotherly type, saw my knitting and asked the regular string of questions, the string I brace myself for now in these awkward forced small talk situations. “When are you due?” “May 24.” “And is this your first?” “No, my second.” “And what are you having?” “A boy.” “And what do you have at home?” “A daughter.” No further explanation.
It just came out before I even thought about it. Usually when I get that question, I respond, “My older daughter actually passed away last year,” and then I brace myself for the fallout. After being sleepless since 3:15AM, looking into that woman’s kind eyes, anticipating a most effusive outpouring of sympathy (and I know my fellow bereaved of all kinds can relate when I say that the kindest and most sympathetic responses are often the hardest to deal with, the ones that make me break down the fastest), sitting in the front row of a plane with droves of passengers still walking by me as they boarded, I lied to spare myself.
“And what do you have at home?”
“Oh, well, perfect!” I just smiled and turned back to my knitting, hoping to avoid further conversation that might force me to admit I had lied when I said I have a daughter “at home.” I worked. She turned back to her book. And with that, I avoided a noisy and noticeable breakdown for which I was just not prepared this morning, as well as the inevitable look of pity she would probably keep giving me during the whole flight.
The seat between us remained empty almost until the flight was closed, but right at the last minute, a very young mother with a tiny infant strapped to her chest in a sling came in and sat down. The grandmotherly woman by the window gushed over the little boy, the young woman glowed in the praise, and I sat quietly, knitting away. A few moments later, I glanced over at the little boy, sleeping soundly against his mother’s chest, mouth puckered in that half-sucking pout that weeks-old babies put on while they sleep. As soon as I looked back to my knitting, the young woman next to me said, “Oh, I didn’t even notice you were pregnant! How far along are you?”
“Do you know what you’re having?”
We chatted a little bit about how they let you fly until 38 weeks now, and how much harder it is to fly with a little one. I mentioned that the flight attendants would probably give her son a “First Flight Certificate” if she wanted one (sometimes I just wander into the danger zone before I even realize it…), and of course, she immediately asked, “Do you have an older child?” Well, of course, I do. Why else would I know that Southwest would give her kid a certificate?
This time, I lied to spare her. “Yes, I have a daughter.” Well, this one wasn’t exactly a lie, I guess. It just wasn’t the whole truth that I usually tell when that question rolls around. But she was just so young and fresh-faced and so clearly still honeymooning with her sweet little boy (of course, I should probably know better by now that you can’t always tell from the outside what people are going through on the inside—this was just the vibe I got from her). I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her how awful the world can be to us sometimes, how awful it can be to our children.
I thought for a long while afterwards what, if anything, it meant for me not to share our story about Hudson with these two women. At first I found myself wanting to turn to them and just spill it all out, but after a time, that would have been awkward. Before yesterday, I guess I had thought I would always tell it, that to do otherwise would somehow dishonor her memory. But like so many other things about this process, I’ve learned that I just can’t know how I’ll react in any given situation until it is upon me. As much as I wish it weren’t so, I have many long years ahead during which I’ll have to answer questions like these. If I spent them either trying to predict these encounters and respond “appropriately” to them or second-guessing myself (or worse, feeling guilty) after every one, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of emotional room for anything else.
I said what my heart told me to say at the time. I guess that’s the best I can do.