The thoughts I try to drive away

April 20, 2010

It’s Spring here, beautiful Spring.  Sunshine and mysterious breezed that carry the scent of flowers so that even when you can’t see the flowers you know they are just around the bend in thr road, just up the hill, just across the street.  Trees are flowering and budding and I find myself feeling ridiculously happy to be part of life again.

Even so.

During one of the first few days after Dot’s birth, I was holding her in the hospital bed.  I was still tired and on painkillers, and in the dim light of the hospital room I looked down at her face and saw her lips turn dark, her little partly-open mouth fill with blood.  Just as I started to panic, I realized I’d been hallucinating or having a waking nightmare, and that she was fine, just fine.  And some time just after my heart began to beat again, I knew, somehow, that this feeling was something I’d be dealing with for a while.

We have a staircase in our little rental house.  The stairs are bare wood and the railing is lower than it should be.  When I walk down the steps I grab onto the doorknob of the door at the top of the stairs, take two steps down, and then grab the railing with my other hand.  Not something I can do when holding a baby.  I fear that staircase.  I push the images of falls out of my head and bite my tongue before I can tell N to be careful when he carries the baby down the stairs, afraid that if I say anything it might somehow make him trip and fall, with Dot, onto the concrete basement floor.

We live on a steep hill.  There are days, bright and beautiful days when I am the woman I used to envy after Teddy died, the mother with a stroller, singing to her baby as they take their walk in the spring sunshine.  Except that I keep imagining what would happen if I let go of the stroller while we’re walking down the hill.  I keep imagining my child careening into the high-traffic street below while I run screaming after her, powerless to stop disaster.

I’ve been taking pictures of Dot, but am starting to avoid photos of her while she’s sleeping.  She’s beautiful while she sleeps, but the photos don’t show that she’s breathing, and when she’s asleep she looks like her brother to me.  She looks vulnerable.  In some of these photos I can’t tell, just from looking at them, that she’s alive.  So I try for shots with her eyes wide open, with her hands reaching for things, photos that show vigor and breath and life.

This sounds more frightening and crazy than I mean it to, more dark than it really is.  These fears and thoughts are blended into days of much happier and more mundane thoughts about what to make for dinner, about the politics of my workplace, about whether or not I should wash the rest of the six month baby clothes yet because live babies grow out of their clothes and isn’t that amazing?  The fears represent only a fraction of what goes on in my head and heart.  But I resent having them at all.  My mother is the champion worrier in our family, and I’d always meant to let her keep the title.  I wanted to be a cool mom, a mom who didn’t care if her kids went outside without a jacket.  Now I worry that I’ll be lucky if I can let my girl go outside by herself at all, even if she’s wearing a catcher’s mask and football pads or a helmet and a protective bodysuit of bubble wrap.

I’m grateful she won’t be capable of opening doors for a few more months at least.  I have some time to order football pads and bubble wrap.

It’s a little like the story of the fairy ointment; once rubbed into your eyes it gives you the ability to see fairies.  But after you use it once, you can’t wash that way of seeing off or make it go away.  Maybe seeing death is something like that.  Having seen it once, I now see it everywhere even while I try to hide from it.  It peeks out at me from behind the tulips, hangs from the tree branches covered with bright green leaf-buds, taunting me with it’s proximity.  I refuse to make eye contact; I move on, hoping like mad it won’t decide to take another one.



  1. Erica, I have had the exact same visions of Angus falling down our front steps. And pushing Angus in the pram around our very hilly neighbourhood. I also fret when I’m in the car and I see trucks and vans coming at us from all angles, smashing in to us when I’m sitting at the lights. I hate it.
    I even have a few newborn photos of Angus that I can’t look at because, well, he looks…. dead. His lips were dark, his eyes were shut. And we all know what that means. Like you, I prefer the eyes wide open shots.
    Your line: “Having seen it once, I now see it everywhere even while I try to hide from it” is so very true.
    Love to you and Dot and remembering your Teddy.

  2. I have some of the same thoughts. And I slipped on the stairs today while carrying G…scary! I caught myself.

    We just bought a video baby monitor and when he sleeps and it’s set to black and white…he looks almost….well…you know.

    *sigh* the double life of being a DBM . 😦

  3. “I wanted to be a cool mom, a mom who didn’t care if her kids went outside without a jacket. ” Yes, this was me. Sometimes I surprise myself that I am not more overbearing. Sometimes I worry that in trying not to be a nut I will somehow overlook something wrong that I should have attended to. I guess this is one of the many areas where I strive for balance.

    I don’t take many pictures asleep or otherwise of Kathleen, and I have very little video of her, mainly because we are busy and moving.

    Welcome back to life! It’s different, sometimes scary, sometimes sad, often a jumbled confusing mess, but still so lovely.

  4. I push those thoughts away daily, particularly the one about the stroller careening into traffic (or sometimes for me, off the path by the river and into the water). It’s true, we’ve seen death and now we can’t help but see it lurking everywhere.

  5. I’ve had a lot of those ‘dimly lit’ moments over the past nineteen months but they are fewer in number now. It is hard not to see death lurking around on the corners of my field of vision. Sometimes this makes me want to fight him off with bubble wrap and football pads, at others, simply raise my hands in surrender.

    I’ve accepted I’m never going to be the cool mom either.

  6. big hugs hon. even before I lost Ireland I wasn’t the ‘cool mom’ i always wanted to be. I worried about everything and now so even more!
    I’m sure it will get easier but I think the good part of this is that you know your fears, you see it, and you will know if it’s getting to be more than just worries.
    lots of love to you

  7. oh, Erica. ((hugs))
    I’ve had similar moments, afraid that Death was just affording me a few moments more of joy before killing me all over again.

  8. i’m really late to this, Erica, but it took my breath away. i have a half-finished story about the fairy ointment, one that i couldn’t quite bring myself to look at long enough to complete.


    but yes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: