Two hospital rooms, twenty six years apart. In one, I learned to read. Not to spell out letters or say the words - I'd learnt how to do that at school. But to read - to breathe in a story, to weave your own dreams from its dangling threads, to leap wholeheartedly and without realising you've leapt into another person's world.
The book was The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren - it still rates as my favorite book of all time.
It didn't strike me until a few years ago that perhaps a book that starts with two little boys dying might be considered slightly morose reading for seven year-old in hospital. But it wasn't morose, not in the least, because dying was just the kicking-off point for marvellous adventures for these boys in a world where they could fight dragons, and lead revolutions, and learn that sometimes, even people you loved failed you. This wasn't "heaven" and it certainly wasn't a cushy affair with clouds, harps and eternal life. In my pink pajamas and with my seven-year old certainty, I wasn't scared of dying then, and I didn't find out until years later what a close thing it had been for a moment there. But when my grandparents died, I thought of them as there, in Nangijala, going on with their slightly more adventurous lives and sending us a dove every now and then.
I hit a snag, though, in that second hospital room twenty-six years later, when the buzz of medical people doing things to various remote parts of me had stopped at last and I was left alone and with-it enough to think for the first time since the accident. My belly was still so swollen, but not with her - so where was she? We'd just farewelled her cold little face, so where was she - my moving, hiccoughing baby? Z was too small for adventures, too small for riding horses and fighting dragons. She was still too small to be away from me and my heartbeat, or to even know how the whole communication-via-doves thing works.
All I could think of was her howling, in a rustic-looking basket on someone's stone doorstep, and her little hands reaching up searching, and rustling the swaddling clothes. Someone would come, of course - but who? Some anonymous pre-modern wet-nurse? This was why I had to invent the idea of godparents, to populate her world with people we loved, who knew us and who could tell her how much we loved her, who could sort out doves for her. It kind of works, but it still feels like an invention. I've got nothing against delusions, if they work to make things feel okay, but perhaps this one of mine needs some finetuning. Maybe it needs to rest in my palm until the rough edges wear off and it becomes smooth and true.
Darling girl, we'd hoped your amazing beginning would be here with us, but since that time was so short, I love the idea that you are having an amazing beginning somewhere else, growing and learning, just like lhasa desela.
(thanks Kate for this post)
But really, I'm sure it isn't death that is such a difficult thing (she's through it, she's there, waving at me from the other side). It's the living without that is hard. Obvious, I'm sure, but true.
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