Yesterday would have been Baby Long Beach’s 11th birthday. (His name has a story…for another time.) It’s hard to know quite how to acknowledge his day. We did so quietly before going out to celebrate a new girlfriend with a dear friend with some of our best friends – friends who were there at the hospital when Baby Long Beach died. Our living children walked around the block after shaved ice while the adults engaged in storytelling and “get to know you” dialogue. I think he smiled upon us from heaven. He too would have enjoyed walking around the block and I imagine at 11, he would have even ran.
Here is a reflective piece — 10 years ago.
Dear Baby Long Beach,
You would’ve been one today. I wish I was writing about all of your “firsts” in your own journal – first word, first sitting up, first army crawl, real crawl, maybe steps, but Eden didn’t walk until around 13 months so who knows. Instead, I’m writing in tears, unable to see the paper, trying to recall what you felt like in my womb, not really caring if my pen positions the words on a line, I imagine if you’ve really landed in the place where age has no relevance and forever is well, forever, then it simply doesn’t matter how I write, only that I must write. I write hoping you might somehow read these words, hear my heart, and know you aren’t forgotten. The family continues to be (a wreck) in recovery. We are pregnant. I’ve announced to my work this fact. They were with me during the tragedy, now at the tail end of my employment, they celebrate.
We made chocolate cake. Lit a candle. Eden blew it out and declared you loved chocolate cake with Jesus. She is still sad you’re not here to play with her. She still imagines you emerging from birth as a playmate. You weren’t a part of a celebration where you could smile, maybe tear up, overcome with loudness caused by the enthusiasm of the crowd singing Happy Birthday. If I could have more courage, I would have invited friends over to celebrate your birthday with us. As it was, we kept it small. I didn’t want to dissolve in a puddle of grief. I didn’t want my longings to get bigger. See, I can picture you now, sitting in your high chair, pointed hat on your head which you keep trying to pull off. But I keep trying to distract you with your periwinkle blue balloons, matching your light grey-blue eyes, that I imagine you with – not as deep as Eden’s, maybe more like your uncle Brian’s. You would have your big sis right next to you saying, “Aren’t you excited? Look at that balloon! And the cake!” She’d be our helper, trying to keep that hat on until you blew out the candles and we’ve captured the moment on camera. I don’t want to imagine the chocolate all over your mouth, all down your shirt, on your pants and hands right alongside the goofy grin from having your first taste of sugar. I don’t want to imagine your feeling like mine – mine in the way of a child knowing his mama is a safe base – the feeder. I want you to feel like I can calm you when others can’t, like when you are startled and you look around for me before I gently remind you that you’re okay in the arms of another. I want to feel the exhaustion, mainly in my back, from you holding my fingers in your hands while you tootle around. I want to hear your knees hammer the floor with the splat of your palms hitting the wood floor – crawling. Maybe we’d go to the park, maybe not. But I know we wouldn’t be sitting here around this table with only one enthusiastic being – and she’s happy only for the cake – she’s feeling the sadness that rests right below the surface. She’s named it, “I wish Baby Long Beach was here. I want him to see his cake that I made”. I know there would be presents. There would be joy. At least my mind thinks so. I think there would be something else lurking. The death of another kind. The death of a marriage. I believe we would’ve been on the same boat headed down the same ol’ river that carries us and our bad habits along with the current. I think I would be exhausted. I think I would be mentally leaving – writing off Dennis again and again. I don’t think I would be discovering how I can create change, how I can get off the boat and not get swept away. I’m doing that now. I’m trying to get off the boat- joining hiking groups, asking Dennis to help with Eden’s care while I finish my post-doctoral hours – all ridding myself of resentment and loneliness. I wouldn’t be in a pregnant state again as I am now. Yes! You have a younger brother. He’s due late January- the 24th. I’m committed to this- making your life matter, making your death mean something. Isn’t that what our children do for us- make us better? Make us less selfish? Make us realize that life isn’t solely about our needs- but others as well? I want that. I want to be better, to have my character shaped by you like I have Eden. Eden has made my tongue less sharp, more gentle. I’ve become more nurturing, more attuned to other’s needs. Son, I’m still in process. I’m still learning what your death will mean, but I’m getting there. I’m not afraid to feel. I’m still allowing your life to mean something. Happy Birthday, Baby Long Beach. We love you. We remember you. Please visit when you can. Eden swears she saw you as a butterfly- the one that landed on her hat and stayed with her as we walked to the park.