Friday, 29 July 2011

It seems that I am not the only one . . .

. . . .who is a little confused about the date.

My dear little car confidently informed me today, via the clock radio, that the date today is the 15/08/2008.
I know the clock is broken. It has been broken since before the real 15/08/2008. I could take it back to the dealership and get it fixed but I am . . .lazy. This is not some sign that time is spinning backwards, my perfectly normal little old Ford Fiesta is not suddenly going to spew me out back into the midst of three years ago, in a Back To The Future stylee. Although that would make quite the blog post, I have to admit. It's a sign that I am lazy and don't particularly care about knowing the date (the one that the world is agreed upon) or arriving anywhere on time.

Now I find that my eye is irresistibly drawn to the digits, surely incontrovertible proof that something is happening. Is bound to happen. 
I am counting down the days. 
In anticipation of what I am not entirely certain. 

The return of the past?
An opportunity to go back and save her?
Perhaps that would be impossible even if I could, somehow, revisit that time.

And maybe she would not be there. She is not a creature who has much to do with time any longer. Perhaps death removed her from this continuum where her mother still paces back and forth and frets over her broken car and what this all meant. If it meant anything.
I find that I still pick and pick at this idea.

And re-visiting the lines from my original post, I find the final line, overlooked by whoever was speaking in that radio interview that first drew this quote to my attention.

‘It does not seem to me that we understand the laws governing the return of the past. But I feel more and more as if time did not exist at all, only various spaces interlocking according to the rules of a higher form of stereometry, between which the living and the dead can move back and forth as they like. And the longer I think about it, the more it seems to me that we who are still alive are unreal in the eyes of the dead , that only occasionally, in certain lights and atmospheric conditions, do we appear in their field of vision." 

Still taken from Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald, only now slightly more complete.

And I wish I could know that I did. That I did appear in her field of vision.
When the light is a certain colour, when the rain slants in a particular fashion, when there is a stillness to the atmosphere. 
Or perhaps, it is when there is a storm. 
Does she see me? Do I appear in her field of vision? On occasion.
Or are we forever cut off in mid-breath, all lines of communication down?
Then what I am to do with all this mess in my heart? This troublesome mind that itches and wants?

How I wish I could reach her. I don't care to know when, I'm not fussy about that. 
I don't want to know the particular blend of conditions that would conjure me to her.
Just as I am forever conjuring her to myself.
Just to know it could happen would be enough.
That this isn't a one way street. 

I hold the sturdy weight of her sister asleep in my arms. With her beating heart and heavy limbs. And I can't believe that this, this experience that so saturates me and her siblings could come to just . . nothing. 
All to naught, to a . . . withering. Surely that simply cannot be? I cannot let it be. I can maintain both sides of this strange relationship if necessary. Just give me a basis for doing so.

And I can't stop thinking that I am nearly there, this thought tickling at the edges of my brain, that same feeling you get just before you grasp something complex and slippery. 

Time is a trickster.
Perhaps her death was always just waiting. 
When I was four, it was waiting.
When I was sixteen, it was waiting.
Was it always waiting? For her?
And perhaps it is still waiting, waiting for me to go back and find it. Find her.
One of those moments with no beginning and no end.
29th August 2008. My own perfect circle.
Trudge, trudge. Surely the circumference is getting a little worn now.

I'll let you know if my car actually does turn into a time machine. Eleven days to go until the day she was born. According to my car. You never can tell.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


I promised myself that I would never write about him here.
And yet . . .

It's our wedding anniversary this week.

We were so hopeful. I look back at those drunken evenings, filled with potential, possibility and scribbled schemes on scrappy bits of paper. Lists of pros and cons. Holiday plans. Wedding plans. Furniture rearrangements. Plans to re-landscape the garden. Lists of baby names.

Sometimes I think that was all we had in common. Hope and a liking for plans.
It was enough to keep the conversation going for over a decade.

But now we have fallen. Silent.
I hope it's not a permanent state of affairs.

In the evening, the dull, dual buzz of baby monitors fills the house.
Although Jessica is nearly three and doesn't need a baby monitor.
We pretend it is so that we will hear her fall out of bed.
But we both know it is so we can listen to her breathing.
Just checking. Even after all this time.

He sits downstairs with a drink.
I think he is looking for our half-made daughter at the bottom of a glass.
But she isn't there.
I've checked.
I still have a good look around down there from time to time.
Just in case I missed her.

I sit upstairs.
Looking in the sparks and wires of the internet.
But I suspect she's not here either.
Only a pale imitation of someone who might have been her. Once.

He knows that I am searching for her.
That I write here in this semi-public diary.
Pouring my heart out to strangers and yet . . . he has never sought this place out.
Perhaps he doesn't care to know what I think.
Perhaps I have already bored him half to death with it all.

Whereas if I knew he was talking about her, anywhere, I would be there. Like a rat up a drain pipe.
Because I don't know what he thinks about her. If he thinks about her at all.

When he does mention her name, I am mildly shocked.
As though he no longer has any claim on her.

We are not always silent.
I have my evening store of anecdotes, saved up from my tiny patchwork day with two young children.
Small miracles and disasters.
He has his tales of work and the outside world, the latest car and TV series.

But we no longer plan. Only half heartedly. With caveats.

Sometimes I think it was all that hope that did for us.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Playing favourites

Within our family, there have always been fairly well-acknowledged 'favourites', special relationships between various members that just don't exist for others. I don't know if we are particularly unusual in this regard, it isn't something that I've discussed with many other people in real life for fear of opening a can of worms, somewhere along the lines of 'My parents never loved me, sob sob, they always loved my brother, Jim, more. I've been scarred for life . . . . '

I know, for instance, that I am not my father's favourite child. My younger sister is. I don't find this particularly upsetting, perhaps because it has always been out in the open. I know it. She knows it. My father will neither confirm or deny it but his refusal to say anything (when confronted about his supposed favouritism) along the lines of, "Pish, I love you both just the same" leads me to believe that my sister is, in fact, his favourite. And I can see his point of view, my sister is less neurotic, more athletic, taller, prettier and generally an improvement on me. If I were my father, I'm sure she'd be my favourite too.

My sister occasionally tries to make this up to me by claiming, hollowly, that I am our mother's favourite child. But we both know that this, although kindly intentioned, is laughable. I think our mother likes us both equally, I'm fairly sure my sister actually thinks the same. She's just trying to redress the balance.

My grandmother made no bones about the fact that she favoured the eldest child in each family, as she was the eldest child herself. But within this hierarchy of favourites, the 'eldest eldest', the first grandchild, ruled supreme. 

Amongst the grandchildren, it is recognised that some of us have so-called 'shining hero' status and, no matter how obnoxiously we behave or how badly we mess up, we will be excused if we are one of the 'special' ones. This operates separately from birth order and appears to be allocated at random. Just bad luck if you aren't selected. Thus cousin E complains about cousin J, "Hrumph, he can never do ANYTHING wrong JUST because HE. IS. J. Everyone in the family will always stick up for him simply because you all think he's SO great. No matter the evidence to the contrary."

But none of us are dead. I have no experience of this sort of interplay in a family where one of the siblings, or cousins, or grandchildren, is dead. Georgina is, in fact, the only infant death to have occurred in this, and the previous, generation. 

I do sometimes wonder what it will be like for Jessica and Reuben to grow up knowing that they had a sister who died. That, where there are two, there might be three. 

Perhaps they will take after their father and just won't be 'reflecting on what might have been' kind of people. 

Because I am someone who likes to conjure up problems that don't currently exist a good decade or so in advance, I have already had hypothetical fights with a teenage Jessica. These proceed along the usual lines (I hate you, I never asked to be born, but I WANT to stay out until 3 am, date this undesirable boy, drink three litres of cider) until the denouement of, "I bet you wish I had died instead of Georgina. I bet you wish that she was still alive and I was dead so you'd have your perfect daughter who you think is SO great." 

And yes, I do like to trouble trouble LONG before trouble troubles me. 

My relationship with all my children is, at the centre, the same. I love them. They head butt me, ignore me, vomit on me or they pull the ultimate act of defiance and die on me thus removing themselves from my sphere of influence forever. Still I love them.

It is hard not to imagine Georgina as something otherwordly. Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that she would have been a real, honest to goodness, human child had she survived. Burping. Filling up nappies. Saying "no, no, no, no", when asked if she loves me (Jessica's latest wheeze). 

As time passes, Georgina has become something purer. A spirit, a thin little ghost girl, ageless, wise, pure. Barely touching the earth. I feel the need to defend her, to keep mentioning her, just because nobody else will. 

Will her brother and sister think I love her more? 
That Georgina is, somehow, my favourite? 
Because she is dead? 

And, Reuben, whose birth was so far away from the absolute bomb shell of his older sisters'? Their birth feels like the epicentre of an earthquake. I watched Jessica hover between life and death for weeks at a time, so defenceless. During those early days it felt like I was walking into hell, every time I walked into that NICU. Every single day, I woke up and I had to walk back in again. To Jessica and her sister. And then just to Jessica. 

That experience did something to me. I will never, ever be the person that I was. Not ever again. And the girls were right there, with me, in the midst of it. 

My love for the twins has a desperate and despairing edge to it that my love for Reuben does not. Not more. Not less. Just different. My love for him in the immediate aftermath of his birth had a contentment and a peace that would have been inconceivable with the girls. How will he feel? Sharing the spotlight with a bona fide medical miracle? 

As my sister in law said, "Everyone thinks their children are special. But Jessica really is special."

She is. It is hard to reconcile that with a living, breathing, nearly three year old who can occasionally drive me to absolute distraction. Sometimes, mid telling off, I see that tiny, baby again. I hear the ventilator wheeze and the alarms beep. And a voice whispers in my ear, "She nearly died you know. How can you not let her soak her baby brother with the watering can / eat gravel / kick you in the shin / throw her toast on the floor?"

But Georgina is special. Reuben too.
They are all equally special to me. Although nobody will ever be shocked or amazed by the story of the beginning of Reuben's life. Or the beginning and end of Georgina's. Events took expected turns.

I don't think that there will be any favourites in this family. I hope they won't feel that there is.
I love them. My dear, dear three. 
And I can't imagine loving one any more than the others.

Saturday, 9 July 2011


desiderium - an ardent desire or wish; longing or wish, properly for a thing that you once possessed and now miss; a sense of loss. A material sister to the geographical nostalgia. The Latin word means longing, sense of want.  
Stolen from Philip Howard's 'lost words' column in today's Sunday Times.

I re-read some of the more recent posts on this blog. I'm mildly surprised at how angry I sound. I don't spend a great deal of time feeling angry these days. I would hate for some poor soul to stumble across this outpost of dead baby blog land and think, geesh, I'll still be THAT angry in three years time. Really?

I think I was so angered by the extract featured in my previous post because I am a former magical thinker myself. Reformed now obviously. And we all know who the most vehement anti smokers are? Usually the ex-smokers.

Yes, I confess. I once was one of those suckers who thought I could save my children from death with the power of my mind, with the strength of my love. I quite miss having those stupid, misguided thoughts. They made me feel safe. But, as Merry wrote, until you know, you don't KNOW. And I shouldn't be angry at people who don't know. That isn't fair. And as Monique commented, a pat on the head would be a better response than a whole lot of spleen venting.

Expressions of anger are unacceptable in day to day life so I tend to take them here. In the real world you have to do a lot of biting your tongue and swallowing. Which can make you a little acidic.And though I'm a little more snappish than I used to be, I am not as bad as I sound here. Promise. Or at least I hope I'm not.

I find that thoughts of Georgina, her small life and her death are a constant in my day. Like a trapped nerve or a pulse, a nystagmus. Pulse. Flick. Pulse. Flick. She died. She died. Her life permeates my own. Just a fact rather than something that drives me to extreme pitches of emotion. Like a sponge soaked in NICU machinery and small babies, I slop about on my day to day rounds. Obsessed with something I can hardly bear to think about.

Sometimes my hands extend like fleshy claws and I can see them, my hands, doing their thing. Driving the car, changing nappies, buttering toast, flicking pages. All at a distance. My life is peaceful but, sometimes, it feels very far away. As though it is happening to somebody else. Where that leaves me I just don't know.

I still cycle around the five stages of grief but these cycles have decreased in duration and emotional amplitude until I can deal with the whole process in less than a minute.
Denial - she isn't dead.
Yes, yes she is. Waste of time to pretend otherwise.
Anger - not fair.
Nobody ever said life was fair. Life is not a bowl of cherries. I never promised you a rose garden. It's nothing personal. None of this means anything. You aren't cursed or to blame. You just had bad luck. Waste of time to pretend otherwise. Go write on your blog.
Bargaining - if I have to lose her, please keep the others safe. Please take me instead. Please.
No takers. Waste of time to pretend otherwise
Depression - I am so sad.
Nobody cares. Waste of time to pretend otherwise.
Acceptance - Here I am again. But acceptance feels like a bit of a misnomer.

I find I can't take the process any further than the 'she died' part. I can accept having a pregnancy that ended abruptly, a daughter that died and another daughter that nearly died. In the abstract. I know that these things happen to people, I knew that before they happened to me. One of those things. Sending out ripples in concentric circles.
Very sad for me and my husband.
Very sad for Jessica and Reuben, although I hope they will not feel the loss as we, their parents, do.
Sad for our families.
Mildly sad for friends and acquaintances.
Not much of anything to anybody else.

Increasingly, I find the details unbearable to think about. So I don't.
I don't look at her photographs. I'm frightened of them. I am scared to see those blue eyes looking at me from all the time ago.

I can deal with the 'dead' part. Just not the rest.

Yet I can't leave it be. My eyes snag on the corner of that time. I cannot quite look away.

Long ago, I saw something horrible.
Long ago, I saw something wonderful.

So horrible and wonderful and strange and beautiful that I still stand here. Enchanted. Stupefied. Shocked. Still, after three years. I am in shock.

I cannot look away. I cannot look either.
So I just remain. Not angry or denying or depressed.
Just standing, staring at a point in the middle distance, at nothing.
Somewhere between August 2008 and here.

She was beautiful. That tiny baby. Georgie.
But I can't tell anyone that.
Because nobody else wants to hear it.
Except for you, here.
Because out there, in the real world, she is only dead.

But I miss her terribly. I love her.

I have a desiderium for golden days.