Wow, it’s been a long time since I wrote. Once again, I’ve had several posts bouncing around in my head along with some motivation to write them, but not enough to overcome the vast number of things I’ve had to do in the last week. But I’ve needed to write. I’ve needed it a lot. I’ve also been struggling with words lately. I’ve written about this several times before, how hard it is sometimes to feel so much and yet be at such a loss for how to express it.
Last week was Jackson’s first week going at St. Ann’s, the same place where Hudson went to school. The first week is an orientation week, where the parent and child go together for a few days and then the parent gradually leaves the child there on his own for longer periods until he stays for almost a full day on Friday. I had already gone up to St. Ann’s one morning back in December by myself, because I feared it might be a difficult visit, and I didn’t want Jackson to sense any anxiety on my part when I took him there for the first time. The first trip was fine—I picked up his forms, said hello to a few old faces and new babies, and just took in the experience of being there for the first time since that very last Friday in May 2010. I teared up, but only a little bit.
Then came Jackson’s first day. I packed him in the car and drove the mile-long route to St. Ann’s like I’d just done it yesterday, even though I hadn’t done it since that very last Friday, almost twenty months ago. Muscle memory. It was practically automatic. I carried him up the sidewalk to the great heavy doors and waited to be buzzed in, just like I did on that very last Friday. I carried him to the elevator and held his hand out to press the “Up” button, just like I did on that very last Friday. I pushed open the double doors onto the infant hallway, just like I did on very last Friday. I carried him into his room to be welcomed by his teacher, just like I did on that very last Friday. I put his things in his cubby, just like I did on that very last Friday. I signed him into the sign-in notebook, just like I did on that very last Friday. Muscle memory.
I sat with him there in the room for a few hours, playing with him and talking to his two groupmates, both neighborhood kids, children of our dear friends, younger siblings of Hudson’s friends. It all seemed so very familiar and ordinary and yet so unfamiliar and extraordinary all at the same time.
Later in the week, Jackson was supposed to stay through the lunch hour. The night before, I packed his lunch—a bottle of breastmilk and two small containers of homemade pureed sweet potatoes and zucchini, along with some oatmeal to mix in. I put labels with his name on it on every container. I set the little cooler that we always use for lunch out on the counter so it would be ready to fill in the morning. Muscle memory.
It occurred to me how incredibly long it had been since I last packed a lunch for school. For a moment, it nearly brought me to my knees.
One day last week, I was coming back down the hall to Jackson’s classroom from the kitchen and was met in the hallway by a group of older children. I immediately recognized two of Hudson’s precious little friends in the group, looking so tall and grown up, on their way down the hall to the bathroom, which they all were using like big kids now. Confused by my own emotions, I smiled broadly at both of them and said hello in that cheery, sing-songy voice we use with children. Of course, neither of them had seen me more than once or twice since Hudson died, so they had no idea who I was, so they both stopped in their tracks and looked at me rather warily. I heard one of the teachers say to me, “Yep, the gang’s all here!”
I dimly sensed in the moment that my responses were exaggerated, that my smile and my tone were much cheerier than I actually felt. Only later did I fully understand why (aside from the obvious). I knew I was both happy and sad to see them, but only later did I realize that I no longer imagine Hudson among them. I am sad that she is not there, of course, but it is no longer my first impulse to picture in my head where she should be.
This realization struck me rather hard. It can only mean that in some small measure, parts of my brain are learning to integrate her absence into this new reality. Parts of my brain have accepted that she is no longer here.
I used to say that maybe if I could just start to accept Hudson’s death that some of this would begin to feel easier. And to some degree, I have to say that is true. If it weren’t true, I think my heart would be ripped out of my chest and shoved down my throat every time I drove that one-mile route to St. Ann’s and carried Jackson up the sidewalk and waited to be buzzed in and held his hand out to push the “Up” button and pushed open the double doors and carried him into his room and put his things in his cubby and signed him in and packed his lunch. So in that way, it is easier.
And yet, at the very same time, multiple times each day, I still do a double-take. I still shake my head from side to side as if trying to block out a bad image or make some sense of a thought that makes no sense. I still wonder how in the hell it is even possible that this happened to us, how it is possible that we lost our child, how it is possible that this became OUR life and not the nightmarish life of someone several degrees removed from us.
Today was my hardest day yet dropping Jackson off. He is totally fine, of course, oblivious both to being left at school without his mother and to my emotional responses to being there. But after I finished nursing him, I just sat there with him in my lap, kissing the top of his head and not wanting to let him go. I wanted to cry but forced myself not to.
I am grateful for the muscle memory that carries me along that one-mile route and up the sidewalk and into the heavy doors and to the elevator and through the double doors and into the room and through the motions of dropping off a child at day care.
But the muscle memory can only do so much.