I am not sleeping, so I will write. Tonight (which is now yesterday) at dinner, Liam asked, “Do you know what today is?” and Jim and I looked at each other, just briefly, before I asked Liam to tell us what today is. “It is the last Saturday of the year, and the last day of the last full week of the year,” said my son who will turn eleven exactly four months to this last Saturday of the year.
When Liam said this, I glanced at the Melissa & Doug calendar on our wall. Liam resets it every month, when I forget, shifting the magnets to form a new configuration of dates and holidays. As I sat in the same seat at the same table where I’ve eaten many meals in this house for over nine years, I saw that December 30th is on a Monday this year. It was just a glance, but in the time it took to turn my head back to my salad, I heard the excited echo of my own voice across a decade plus one year, saying, “We find out on Monday.”
On Monday, December 30, 2002, we were to find out the gender of our baby. That was all, just the gender. Boy or girl was all we were supposed to know at the end of that day. I couldn’t sleep tonight because I wanted to believe I was mistaken, that I hadn’t said those words, that it was really a Tuesday or a Thursday. Yet, calendars don’t lie, and the 2002 calendar tells me December 30, 2002 was indeed a Monday. Thanks to Leap Year, this is the first time December 30 has fallen on a Monday in eleven years. I am perplexed by the power of dates and how we recognize them in-spite of ourselves.
It was a Monday when we ate from the tree of knowledge and tasted the most bitter of fruits. It was a Monday that we were cast from the garden of expectations to leave all our friends behind to enjoy their normal lives of soccer games and college funds. We embarked on our exile from where we believed we belonged that Monday; it was an ending and also a beginning.
We made new friends. We made a beautiful but hard-fought life outside that garden of what might have been. I made a difference in our new world; I know this is true. I know that I’ve made the most of our exile and our new home in the Heartland, where we now have lived longer than we lived in the lost refuge of Shangri-La. I know our life is good, and I have done good things. But it was a Monday when I lost every scrap of my innocence and was introduced to the unique despair that haunts mothers who bring children into this world who begin to die the moment they first draw breath and whose last safe place was in their mother’s womb. I am of the breed of mothers who have no right or reason to expect their child to outlive them, and this was a revelation made on a Monday when I expected only happy news.
I want to believe the haunting thoughts I’ve fought all week manifested from the act of putting away the Christmas ornaments. Maybe it stemmed from my horribly timed effort of cleaning up my basement full of memories and treasures from Liam’s infancy and handling paper photographs I’ve not seen in a decade that show my just how horribly sick my child was without the distance of a computer screen. Paper in my hand brings the details so much closer to my eyes and my heart. Then there is the imbalance between the children’s memory boxes; Moira’s are fewer and less full because Liam’s contain dozens of get-well cards, but not a single congratulations card. Perhaps it is the absence of birth announcements and the presence of countless tiny hospital admission bands that jarred me from the peace we earned through so much blood and risk.
Then I believed it was the arrival of a new dog on the same couch where I lay and mourned the motherhood I expected to have that reminded me of the dogs who attended that mourning. Perhaps, it was even watching the Two Towers, and when King Théoden said, “No parent should have to bury their child,” asking Jim when the movie came out – 2002. Of course, I watched that film at exactly the wrong time then and now. Most likely it was all these things and the fact that Monday is coming regardless. I cannot change what was, and I cannot know what will be. No matter how much I’ve changed myself or changed the world, I cannot escape Monday or my exile from my former self that began that day, almost eleven years ago.
Ultimately, when all things are weighed in the balance of our four lives, we are richer and stronger than we were before. Yet to find that strength, we had to lose so much. The price was steep and so was the climb. I know what might have been was merely an illusion and that Liam’s heart was malformed many months before its fatal flaws were revealed to us with the knowledge we would fight for his survival. I know all the rational thoughts, all the hopeful thoughts, all that I can do and have done because I spend 364 days of the year immersed in the pragmatic efforts of doing everything possible to sustain him and children like him. No, I need not be reminded about where I live now because I know the topology of my life so very well. And yet, I am so surprised to trip over Monday, as if I could have forgotten, as if my mother’s heart and my long empty womb would ever let me forget the day that everything changed, most of all me.
For the lovely families who follow my blog and have their own “Monday” to share, I warmly invite you to share it in the comments below. You are brave and you are home, even though this is no place anyone would choose to live.