Right now, on December 30, 2011, I am watching Liam with peanut butter all over his little freckled face gobbling up a sandwich. Now he’s talking with his mouth full, peanut butter clinging to his new permanent teeth. He’s moving on to the Cheese-Its and pineapple chunks. Now, he’s teasing Moira and making her irritated. Now, he’s clearing his plate, and he will wash his face and I will tell him when he comes back that he missed some peanut butter, because that’s what happens.
Nine years ago right now, on December 30, 2002, I was in an ultrasound room entirely oblivious to anything but Liam’s transformation from Flipper our androgynous fetus to Liam, our beloved little boy. About two hours later my world came apart at the seams.
I wrote about these moments in my book, and I don’t think I can write about them again right now, not as well or with as steady a hand because today is that day, and every year on that day Jim and I find ourselves just a little bit shaky remembering the earthquake that hit our perfect little lives that day. Our world changed that afternoon nine years ago when Jim and I were told Liam was missing half his heart. It was like I was Eve eating the fruit of knowledge and then we were unceremoniously cast out of the garden of blissful ignorance. The wages of sin is death, and we believed that day our baby would die, though we didn’t know what sin we could have done that earned Liam such a fate.
But he didn’t die. He almost died, during delivery when his heart crashed and they did an emergency c-section, on the precipice of triple organ failure the days leading up to his first huge open-heart-surgery, that night in 2006 when his chest cavity was septic to the bone and he was breaths and minutes away from full-body infection. Nine years ago was the dawn of many difficult days, it was the end of my old life, but it was not the end of living.
Today, I know so much more of the landscape of the world not only the terrain of its dire and savage valleys, but I now know so much more of its graceful expanses and hopeful peaks than I ever knew secure within the garden walls of certainty that bad things wouldn’t and couldn’t happen to me or my baby. Bad things happened, and I’ve been put out, sent down, thrown out of that garden, and then Liam was born into the wilderness. Liam is of the wilderness, not the garden of ignorance. He’s never known a world of arrogant assumption. While sometimes I think the tendrils of entitlement are reaching out for him from over the garden wall, I don’t think they’ll ever permeate the scars we all wear, his visible mine less so. And that’s ok, because as harsh as the light is in the wilderness, once you’ve walked in the bright truth of life’s fragility the shade of assumption is more frightening than comforting.
Yes, my world ended nine years ago, but it also began. I wouldn’t have believed it that night when I rung out my soul grieving for my unborn son, but I would never go back. Now, I am of the wilderness too.