The last time I was this stuffed with life my grandmother lost hers.
What I have left of her now is a curio cabinet filled with a few photos and mementoes, and her scent secured two years after her death in a plastic bag of her bath towels, which I refuse to wash. Every once in a while I untie the bag, reach inside and lift to my face one of the pink cloths of cotton, permitting myself to inhale the faint remnant drift of her. And every time that mingling of her fabric softener, her lotion and cough drops, her linen-cum-medicine closet tickles my memory, it hurts that she is gone.
As life’s imperative to end continues to nip at my heels, life itself again literally kicks me from within. A slippery 2 ½ pounds swims in me, growing impatient, if his or her elbows are any indicator, to surface for air. Amid the din of these fetal acrobatics, I hold as close to me as often as he’ll allow the 25 sprouting and uncontainable pounds of my living son. He eventually stills for me. He takes my hand in his two and presses my palm flat against his chest. There, beneath its spread, I feel the swift and soft reverberation of his life drumming.
It gives me everything I need.
Because I am the reason these children are here, because I am responsible, I want to give them everything they need. But I can’t give them me—us—forever. In this, I’ll always fail, and in a rare outpouring spurred by this notion, I cry and weakly tell my husband that my tears fall because, “The story will always end the same way.”
The parents of friends and peers have begun dying. Parts of our stories—in many ways, the most central parts—have begun ending. I often sting at the lack of perfection in my relationships with my parents, but whatever I may wish were different about them, I can’t imagine losing them nor can I imagine my grief and guilt when they go: how I’ll wish I could have improved upon our flaws and how I’ll need to finally accept that we three were who we were, and we did the best we could.
But how will I ache for them? How will I grieve? How will I survive it? And how will my children grieve for me? How will they manage to be OK when the inevitable ends in their lives begin?
(And let me not dare visit the unthinkable possibility wherein I might be forced to survive grieving for them. Let me not dare consider how I might find a way to take and love life again should I lose them or the man who, with me, is responsible for choosing to bring them into this finite existence.)
There’s no knowing how, exactly, we’ll survive. Life will not beguile me with its winks and charms into buying back in. Its scents won’t intoxicate me, because I know no matter how tightly I try to contain them they’ll eventually fade. Life won’t offer me violet eyes into which I can dive, as I do into my son’s dark-chocolate orbs every moment I’m with him.
Life’s plain face will only keep looking at me. And eventually I will again look back, and I’ll take it for what it is, gently pressing my trembling palms against the thin, breakable skin that softly, swiftly drums—and gives infinitely.
Much like my decision to have children, survival will be a choice, a rallying and an uprising.
*Inspired by Ellen Bass and her great poem: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2010/10/16.