I am a witness in a friend’s lawsuit. I won’t talk about the details, but she was badly injured and her attorney is trying to piece together the story of who she was before and after her injuries.
I don’t know if you’ve ever spent over an hour on the phone with someone grilling you about your best friend, but it’s exhausting. And I don’t think I can tell him quite the story he wants – or maybe even the story she wants. He, of course, would love it if I could tell him that when I first met her I knew she was the most brilliant mind I’d ever encountered, but while she was smart (we met in graduate school – we were all smart), her intelligence isn’t what made her stand out, at least in my mind. It was her confidence and her ability to bring people together and to create good conversations because she could make just about anyone feel interesting. Those things have both been – not lost, but greatly diminished, too. And whether or not she will be able to reclaim those parts of herself – that’s uncertain, and that’s a great sorrow.
And I know he is trying to help her, and apparently he is good at his job, but it’s fascinating to me, how problematic complicated truths are. And also fascinating is how important truth – in all its complexity – is to me. It is going to be hard for me to pretend things are simple when they’re not. Even for her.
And it occurs to me that this kind of witnessing, the coached, coaxed, carefully orchestrated kind, is a pale shadow of the real witnessing that we all want for our lives. N and I dropped Dot off at daycare this morning, and she went skipping away with her pigtails and her sunny little-girl face that just months ago was a baby face, and my heart swells with how much I love her and how lucky I am. With how I love the freckle on her temple that marks a perfect spot for kissing and how I love her sleepy hugs and her little stories and the way that she holds my face between her soft hands and then kisses my chin. With how I love even her temper and the way that she works so hard to put off bedtime every night. With how I love the smell of her and how lucky I am to be able to bury my nose in the back of her neck while she is sleeping and inhale baby soap and shampoo and faded sunscreen and that particular smell of her.
And then I hold N’s hand and think of how lucky I am to be able to watch him grow as a teacher and partner and father. How we’ve held each other up and have watched each other be strong and have watched each other fall apart. How I still love his collarbone and the strong, clean lines of his wrists, but how I now love his unfailing generosity and how hard he tries and how he can make me laugh even when things are grimmer than grim even more.
And then I think of my friend and how we cooked Thanksgiving dinner together (so many pies!), of how I watched her struggle through exams and coursework, through living apart from her husband for a semester so she could finish her coursework. I think of watching her with her dog and how well she’d trained him, of all of our talks about mystery plays and early modern drama and teaching and books. I think of her Halloween parties and how much she loved filling her home with people who enjoyed talking with each other. And I think of how hard she worked to make a home for herself and her husband, and of how they wanted children and of how hard it was to find out that they couldn’t have them. And I remember watching her struggle as her marriage fell apart, and then almost came back together, and then fell apart again. I watched her fighting to become someone she never thought she’d have to be, and I saw how writing helped with that – how happy and alive she felt when working at writing. I think of how witnessing her life has made me love her and how I’m lucky to know her.
I think of my Teddy, his kicks and wriggles – so very alive while he was inside me. I remember his beautiful stubborn face, obscured by tubes. I think of his hands and feet, more purple than they should have been as he lay on that cold blanket that the NICU used to try to prevent brain damage. I remember the weight of him – so very precious and warm, but still – in my arms. I wonder what he know of me and his father through the morphine and what I can only imagine as exhaustion. I remember his small last breaths and the feeling of the life leaving his body – such a momentous thing but so lightly done. Like a butterfly lifting itself off of a flower.
I think of how humbled I am to read the words of other babylost parents, to hear so many stories. So many important stories, all packed full of love and longing and howling and thorns and grace and revelation and despair and hope. I think of how grateful I am when someone reads my words and says, I hear you. I am listening.
Listening to the stories that are not simple. That may not play well in front of a jury. That contain contradictions and surprising strengths and weaknesses.
It takes a lot of love to be a good witness.
Thank you for being one of mine.