My dear son Ferdinand,
it is autumn, though where we are that is not easily discernible as the weather seems fickle. The long sleeve’s and sweaters await their turn in boxes, some still with tags attached. As I pulled out some boxes from under our bed to search for clothing I saw a box that belongs to you. Clothing I cannot bear to give away. Tags still attached. Bought for you when I was bearing you within, pondering the size and secretly smiling at the cute pictures I will take of you in overalls and smart sweaters. Tags still attached. Some you would have outgrown by now.
Your little sister Lyra she is growing well and fast. Her second tooth is breaking out and she has taken to yelling back at your older sisters should they chide her (out of exasperation) for emptying out their drawers for the umpteenth time in the same day. She has no interest in her age-appropriate toys, expressing curiosity instead in markers and glue-sticks and stickers. That was a scenario I had imagined many times when you were squirming around in me; now I see a flitting shadow of you when I see Lyra acting out my fantasy of long ago. I miss you, terribly much.
Babies have such soft, smooth skin. Val says the best part is the back of the neck, oh-so-soft, while Sophia thinks baby’s toes are the best place to nuzzle one’s nose in. I remember running my fingers over your smooth cheeks. The skin on your fingers were so wrinkled, as they had not a chance to be fattened up by breast-milk and lengthy periods of deep slumber. I still recall, touching your soft cheeks and telling your father, “He is so perfect!” and asking, how could you have died? Sometimes I think, your lifetime with us was but a flash, everything condensed and intense. We watched you change, fast. Before your father left the hospital to fetch your sisters to come see you, he requested for the nurses to bring a supply of saline solution and cotton pads, and asked that I keep dabbing your skin with them, to keep your skin hydrated, so your sisters will see you in the best shape possible.
There was not much I could do for you, our time with you so short. So periodically, I dabbed your skin all over. It was a see-saw battle with time, with the powerful and brutal force of life and nature. They take, as they are entitled, and I replenish, dabbing gently and with diligence. But I knew, I could not win. I had to give over to the greater forces, let you go.
You allowed me to witness, in sped-up time lapse, how one ages, how life drains away, how a body dries up. No, it was not a pretty sight, but there is a bizarre beauty in it all, to understand it all by seeing it so clearly, nothing embellished. Texture altered, color changed. No illusions as to what I faced and what I faced ahead. That was a big lesson and I am still trying to make sense of it all.
She is a fast crawler now, and is on the brink of cruising. Still, she comes to me often, to cuddle and be carried, and for snuggles. Can I tell you how I lust for those moments of skin-to-skin contact? For the luxurious sensation of the weight of her body against my bosom? Can I tell you how it makes me tear up to feel her body mold into mine with total abandon and trust? I wish I had those unique moments with you. I will never forget that choke in my throat as I sat in the rocking chair, you bundled up against my chest, as I sang you songs that I sing to all my children. I sang them all, the baby favorites, the few tunes I remember by heart. I stole those moments of peace, shared them with you, before I gave you up to the journey you had chosen to take. Every time I have her skin-to-skin, I remember how your small body felt against mine, that slightly coarse blanket rubbing against me, your little face peering out from beneath all that cloth. I never forget that face.
Lyra she babbles, her voice floating inundulating through the house. In protest she yelps back at her sisters for trying to remove her from the things she finds truly fun. Every time she opens her mouth, I prick my ears up to listen closely, trying to find an echo of you. Trying to figure out the shape your voice would have made in the air, bursts of vocal fireworks that quickly fades. Sometimes I listen, with intent and curiosity, as other little boys talk, and I guess, will Ferdinand sound like that? Wouldyou have said “ma-ma” or “da-da” in a drawl, in a voice thick with honey-sweetness? I wonder, my child, I wonder so… …
Sometimes, as she peers out from behind a door and grins widely, I cannot help but think, “Who are you, and where do you come from?” I cannot believe she was once that fuzzy image I saw on the ultra-sound machine, so many times. Was that really her? I cannot connect, to be honest. They seem like two very different things. And I also wonder, that fuzzy image we saw of you, stored on a CD, in the depths of your father’s haphazard folders, where is it now? Where are you? Everywhere, and nowhere. Here, yet not here; sometimes, it seems, never here.
Last Saturday your sister Sophia had an art workshop at a gallery and I accompanied her since your father had to go with Val elsewhere. The gallery had an exhibition on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. It was a very poignant exhibition. I contemplated for a few minutes, to buy that sugar-skull kit and to work on that with your sisters. But I did not, I just could not see myself doing that. I love the idea behind the festival, celebrating the beloved departed, remembering them with joy. But what stories do I have to tell your sisters? One of the exhibits was made “in honor of children who passed before their time” and I stood for a long time looking over that exhibit, allowing the waves of sadness to wash over me, again and again, listening and giving in to the tides of grief. Sheets of cloth with words printed on them were folded up, to signify a story that could no longer be read, because the book was closed. It was impossible to make out the words and that made me cry, because sometimes I feel the barrier between you and me is not merely that of a veil, cloth-thin, even if sometimes you are so close in my heart. There were little baby figures, little shoes, little sweaters. There was a box with the words “papa said it was not the right time” printed on it. And it made me wonder if you thought it was not the right time for you. Maybe. Perhaps. I guess I will never know, and I think it has to be that. Or perhaps, Earth is not where you want to be. I can understand, it’s quite a mess here.
I am rambling now, and I ought to sleep. But of late, perhaps due to the turning season, my heart has felt heavy and I think of you more than usual, and I want you to know that. I want you to also know that we love you much and miss you. I wish you could come jump on fallen leaves with your sisters.
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