Thursday, August 28, 2008

Just Thinking

It came to recently, reading some of your writing (and I'm not going to point and gawk and stop traffic -- you know full well who's who, and there's more than one) that in many respects, I'm thankful things went down the way they did. No, not the unknown cause of lethal defects and actual dying part, sillies -- the rest of it. The surroundings. The milieu. Where the edges of the nightmare stopped.

Actually thankful.

I've got a post up at GITW today.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Lessons Circa Four

Bella: Let's play the dolls are dead.
Me: Are you sure? You don't want to play that they're very sick?
Bella: No, dead. You be the doctor.
Me: Um, ok.
Bella: (places dolls lying down on pillow)
Me: (in very serious voice) So Bella, why are you here today?
Bella: They're dead.
Me: Oh, I'm so sorry.

(Long pause as she studies dolls.)

Bella: This is not a very fun game.
Me: No, no it's not.

Me: Come here. (Hugs Bella.) You know, we can talk about being dead any time you want, ok? It's ok to talk about.
Bella: Ok.


Me: Wow, your nails are long, let's them cut them.
Bella: No! I like them long!
Me: Why? (anticipating some answer about some hot-chick's long nails that she espied)
Bella: I can pick my nose better with them long.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Picture This

I was somewhere recently, packing something, dusting something off, getting the dog to quit eating something, can't remember really, when I ran across the above photo.

Pictures -- especially portraits -- are just weird for me now. My techno/shutterbug husband with his swank new digital camera started up a website for all things Bella literally moments after she was born. The site is crammed with hilarious and poignant photos (like the one above: Bella's first experience with an ocean, Muir Beach, 09/05), and there are bazillion others that didn't make the cut and now chew up space on a spare hard drive. Cunning works in depth-of-field, and brilliant color compositions. Did I mention my daughter was in them?

The last pictures I remember coming out of the camera in this fashion were a series of Bella splashing in puddles on New Years' Day, 07. (In some, you can discern a shadowy, very pregnant figure hovering in the corner.) The last website photo shows Bella ripping Christmas paper off a tambourine.

And then it stopped.

Bella's website is still parked in cyberspace, frozen in time, like a clock at the moment the earthquake hit. I never go there anymore. Looking at Bella prior to two-and-a-half is an exercise in torture, because all I can do is wonder what her sister would have looked like at that age. And I have a seemingly infinite quantity of jpegs portraying exactly what a one and half year old girl should be doing, and exactly how many pixels should've been utilized by this point in time on a sibling. The above picture used to represent sheer joy to me, and now it's just a loaded bomb: When on earth was the last time I smiled at Bella like that? Or she laughed like that? Would Maddy have seen the ocean by now? Will I ever experience joy like this again?

In part because looking at old photos hurts, I quit taking them.

I realized looking at this photo that I don't have any current pictures of Bella, say, Bella at the beach just a few weeks ago. None. And frankly, I'm not that broken up about it, except that I know in a few weeks her school will ask for something to put up in her cubby and send me scurrying through envelopes sent from attentive relatives for something not too cheezy. I grudgingly dressed her up one day last fall and sent her off for school photos, which turned out remarkably well, and they're still lying in an envelope on my desk. Unsent, unframed. Really, the only photojournalistic evidence of the past year and half lies on my iPhone -- decent, though somewhat blurry photos of Bella in various settings and states of dress, that usually simply get passed on to Mr. ABF -- or not. Why do I even take these? They're not good, I'm not thinking "wooo boy, this is going on the desk when I get home," so are they simply evidence to Mr. ABF that in his absence I'm doing ok by her? Are they proof to me of the same? At some point in the future, after Bella holds up one too many liquor stores, will her therapist finally land on this period in her development only to have me whip out the alibi? "I took her to the zoo! She rode ponies! She climbed trees! Her hair was combed! (Usually!)"

I certainly don't capture Bella any more with any notion of remembering the moment. Because she's right here, and I want to be in front of the lens undistracted by the focus features and to whom this needs sent to upon finish. Mr. ABF snapped a few photos in the delivery room of Maddy, and then set the camera down so he could just be with her. I think we've learned that we don't want any more distance between us and and our children than is necessary. I want to experience her as she is, and soak up what she's doing and what she looks like, and just be with her beautiful, obnoxious self. Taking a picture seems somehow redundant. Like birthstone jewelry or tattoos honoring your living children seem redundant to me any more. Do we really need to remember the living? Do I need to frame and litter my television room with evidence that Bella is evolving (and Maddy is not)? Seems kinda obvious to me now.

Finally, there is this: I'm not yet in a place where I want to remember now. Now still kinda sucks. I'll be honest: it's much, much better than it was a year ago. But I'm not yet in a place where I can smile on demand, or even smile and mean it. I haven't posed for a picture containing the three of us in eighteen months, because it rudely encapsulates the incomplete. Not to mention I'm still overweight, complexion mottled by two pregnancies, with dark circles beneath my eyes. The only picture of me at the beach I've seen thus far is one my mother took: Bella's posing in the foreground, and I'm trying hard to sneak away and leave her with a clear shot -- back to the camera, hat on, trudging toward the beach. I run from the camera, and refuse to turn it on my family.

One of my daughters remains perpetually trapped in two dimensions; she'll always be six days old, a flat surface underneath my finger who never answers no matter how loud I raise my voice. Why on earth would I trap the other there when she's right here? I know our families clamor for photos of their grandchild and rue the sudden cessation of Belladotcom, and I should be a dutiful daughter (in-law) and point and click and send. I'm grateful for the start of the upcoming school year (in more ways than I can express) in large part because a professional will take a (hopefully eyes open, nicely posed) photo of Bella that I can throw into an envelope so that others might appreciate her smile, features, and maybe some residual personality if we're lucky. I no longer see the point, because when I want to remind myself of her I run my fingers through her hair, smile at her, or tell her I'm counting to three. For the last time.

Images of a past life that seem a million years ago, emotions that strike me as foreign. I seem so young. The pictures seem so flat. And I have yet to find anything that I want to capture and hold in this manner. I'm still wandering around with my hands outstretched hoping someone or something will make me feel that way -- the way I felt that day on Muir Beach -- again.

Gives a whole new meaning to "still life," doesn't it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Since We Last Spoke

Family, all of it, the last remaining dregs, left Friday afternoon. That marked 3.5 weeks with various permutations of family sleeping and eating in my house on a daily basis. My house, which frequent readers know currently has a gaping hole where my kitchen once was, and a 3-story elevator shaft where the (rarely-used, narrow, servants') back stairs once were. (We removed this "wall" in order to expand the kitchen, and the stair-case-hole will be closed on the second floor for a new laundry and on the third for guest quarters. NOT an elevator. Sadly, because running to the third-floor kitchenette is doing wonders for my calves but not so much my patience.) So I guess if you want to be technical, the day we had 10 for an impromptu lunch we also had approximately 8-10 contractors and subs in another part of the house. Did I tell you that I walked out into the hallway one morning to find my dog chewing on a Bella toy, began bitching him out only to look up and see my architect emerging from my second floor bathroom? It's been all shades of crazy.

The OBX were fun but not remotely relaxing. Not remotely. With big family dinners every night, followed by children waking up at 6:30 a.m. demanding to go hunt for seashells, I arrived home a sleep-deprived mess wondering how on earth I ever considered that week would be a vacation. I believe my parents were pleasantly surprised by the availability of good food products at the local stores, thank you for asking. And unlike last year where the repetitive rush of waves was an appropriate meloncholy backdrop to my mood, this year we all braved the riptide, got soaked, cracked jokes about my uncle's fishing prowess, and went crabbing. On the last day, I made all the small second cousins sit on a ledge, and constructed sand mermaid tails for the lot of them. It was only getting stuck in traffic on the way home due to a fatal accident about a mile ahead of us that I grew distant, and remembered how last year I insisted on taking Maddy's remains to my aunt's during this very trip so they wouldn't be alone. How far I've come, I thought, and made sure I walked directly into the family room after our 13-hour odyssey in order to say hello to the zip-lock on the shelf.

There were Bella birthday parties (no less than three of them), dinners composed of either take-out or stuff cooked on the grill, negotiating car usage, blistering heat, the occasional water or electrical outage thanks to renovation. The second car got a flat, a head cold cum flu symptoms is making it's way through the family that amassed last week, and in the free 20 minutes I had to weed over the last three weeks, I seem to have contracted a case of poison ivy.

Bella and her cousin (who is a year older) had a typical, heartfelt, and hilarious love/hate relationship: They exchanged clothes freely, played marvelously together, and only came close to blows once. "Want to play a game?" "THAT'S MINE!" "I'll push you on the swing!" "SHE HAS MORE THAN ME!" They slept in the same room, and did so marvelously save for one night (well, early morning if you must know), and of course the whole thing gave me much pause to consider what might have been. Ultimately, I'm so relieved she has a cousin, who will hopefully remain a confidante even if they do feed on each other's worst attributes: whining, and wearing age-inappropriate clothes provided by MIL's.

Because this 3.5 week time-suck was preceded by getting the kitchen ready for demo, I really feel as though I'm emerging from a six week business trip abroad. A lot has been left unattended during this lapse: our yard desperately needs weeding, our architect needs some final decisions on faucets and sinks and powder room tile, our car still has flat, my blogging life is in disarray. My family doesn't know I blog, so it was damn near impossible to carve out time for surreptitious "bill paying" or even reading/commenting without someone looking over my shoulder.

Blog time is Maddy time anymore, and as such, I feel as though I've rather left her memory on a back burner in the past six weeks as well. Save for a couple quick posts here and there, she didn't come up much: there was an odd discussion about how much auto-insurance companies suck during which "the incident" was mentioned. And of course on the last night with her cousin, with both of them curled up on the air mattress, Bella selected "I'm a Big Sister" for her book of the evening. I hate reading that book, even though I know it's her right to hear it. I really hated reading it to the both of them. In sum, I simply plowed from one activity to the next, one meal to the next, one evening to the next.

So it came as some surprise when my SIL sent me the following thank you note. My SIL is one of those people, one who wrote me daily and then weekly during my social time-out last year simply to tell me she was thinking of me without asking for anything in return. She has been nothing short of supportive and kind, and apparently, aware and unafraid of the subject (let's hope she doesn't google her own email):

I can't believe how much Bella has grown and I love her old soul. Maddelena's spirit is strongly present in your home and in all of our hearts. We all think about her all of the time but being there, I found myself thinking about who she would look like and what her personality would've been like. You and [Mr. ABF] are amazing.

As relieved as I was to go to bed Friday night, QUIETLY, with my husband, daughter, 2 dogs, and 2 cats, knowing the mason would be arriving for a rare Saturday work day promptly at 7 a.m., it's reassuring to know that family like this exists.

I hope you all are well, and haven't written too horribly much over the past few weeks. Thank you also, all of you, who wrote me to make sure I hadn't fallen off the edge of the earth. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some pendant lighting to consider.