Sometimes it is as though someone has come and laid an anvil on my chest- foomp. There’s a near-unbearable compression, and it is difficult to breathe under the weight.
As my boy coughs and struggles with the thing growing inside him, choking out his life, I pet his forehead. “Mama’s here,” I say, and he gives me a few threads of a purr and subsides.
He nuzzles my hand. His breathing is labored.
He looks up at me with those innocent, trusting copper eyes of his, and I say, “We’re on a rough road this time, love, but I’m with you every step of the way.”
His chin drops to rest on his paws, and he drifts into sleep, and that anvil comes again to settle on my chest, merciless and unyielding. It’s so damn heavy. How many days, God, I ask-
but this grief is clean. The last and most recent loss was tangled; a devious, impure, cruel, dark monstrosity of a toxic Mirkwood forest, and it needed a fucking forest fire to clear it from my life. The loss was better than that thing that grew, then, a thing I deliberately built with love and pure intention, or so I thought. The pain there was good, because the thing itself was a growth just like the one killing my beloved boy.
There are good losses, and then there is this-
Self-abandonment, caretaking others at the expense of self, oh yes, I did that in my past unknowingly. Now, I do it intentionally.
Every time he chatters or cries, I drop whatever it is I’m doing – anything at all- to find him. “Mama’s here,” I say, because it calms him, and because it’s all I can do.
He ate voraciously tonight- the thing inside him demands more food, and I swear, if someone told me: “take this scalpel. You have to cut into him, and it will hurt your little love, and he will cry and not know why you’re hurting him. It will hurt you worse. You’ll bear the scars for the rest of your days, but there’s a slight chance you can cut out that thing that is clawing through his chest, crowding his lungs and devouring his life; there’s a chance you can get it out if you are fierce and brave enough, if you do not hesitate-
I would do it. I would not hesitate.
I don’t cry.
I sing to him because he loves it, and I read a daily card of loving words and affirmations, chosen at random. “It’s time for our card,” I say to him. He likely knows one word in thirty, but he watches my face intently and purrs until his fur vibrates.
Somewhere in my chest, there’s a bewildered grizzly bear howling in pain, striking out blindly, with no idea where the source of its agony can be found. It tears its way around, under my ribs, up to my throat, sometimes into my stomach, and I’m not sure how many more blows I can hold until its claws break through my skin.
I can see future me, now- she’s in my apartment too. Sometimes she’s hazy, like a shadow, or like she’s on the other side of a fog that’s slowly clearing; other times, she’s so clear, I can almost hold her hand. Her arms are empty of his weight forever. She can no longer smell the sweet smell of his forehead.
I can almost reach her when it’s 3 am, and I’ve awakened to the sound of the coughs that wrack his small frame. I can almost touch her hand, then. I feel how empty her chest is- it’s been torn open by the bear- and I lean over, touching my nose to the whisper-soft fur beside his ears, and I breathe in the sweet new-hay smell of him. I feel his breath on my neck, each tiny puff so infinitely precious.
I have lived a double life for six months or longer, hollow, savage with grief. I have mustered my energy to go be around people, laugh and play, then I’ve come home and collapsed like a marionette with my strings cut. I haven’t spoken outside the walls of therapy or a few- very few- close soul friends, the closest of the close, about what kind of torment I have endured for years. What I’ve concealed. What I’ve protected and taken on myself. What I forced myself to believe; toxicity made a liar of me.
But now, I can’t run.
Loss is inside my home, and I don’t even know how long this will go on.
But future me has no more days left. This innocent boy, who has gazed into my eyes with love and trust for fourteen years, is gone forever from her world, so she looks at me with hollow eyes and empty arms and bereft heart from the other side of a hazy wall that is growing thinner by the hour. I can hear her now, she’s close enough – “hold him,” she says, “hold him for me.”
And I do.
I tell him I love him so often;
I remember a past human “love” who was deliberately stingy with the word “love”- who said, “if you say it too often, it loses its meaning,”
and I think, no. He’s got it all wrong, and he’s missing out. Because, while love is infinite, the ability to connect is finite – There will come a day – it marches toward me with jackboots- ruthless and inevitable, clack, clack- I can hear it in every labored moment his lungs struggle, bubbling with poison, to take in the precious air-
There will come a day when I won’t ever be able to say it to him again, so it gains meaning every time I say it. Every time I am able to. It is the richest thing in my life, to be able to tell this sweet angel how much I love him, and how grateful I am that he chose me. Saying these things to him feels almost self-indulgent, luxurious, as vital to me right now as the food I can’t seem to swallow.
I see it in future me, on the other side of the smoky haze. She’s drawing even closer now, and I see her reach toward me, closing her eyes that will never be delighted by his sweet face again and moving her lips with me soundlessly as I say it to him for her,
“I love you,”
and I think she can hear his answering purr,
and I feel his trust and love as his sweet furry little face slips into my palm to nuzzle me,
and I think maybe she’s a little comforted.