"I can't believe she's gone, Aang. What did I do wrong?"
"You didn't do anything, Katara. Sometimes these things…they happen."
"She had been kicking just a few minutes before. I felt it."
"I felt it too."
"You had your hand on my belly…I was telling you that she was happy to see you."
"I know, my love…I remember."
"If only I had gone to the healer sooner…if only I had known. How could I have not known?"
"How could any of us have known? You can't blame yourself, Katara. This isn't your fault."
"But it is, Aang…it is."
The first time they'd been acquainted with her could be defined by a moment. A single segment of time that was neither linear or random in structure. It just was. It couldn't be illustrated by a look or a certain smell, not even a brush of contact between their separate bodies could cement the momentous occasion.
It had happened on a bright spring morning, when the air was rich and flowing with the current of new life and the earth seemed to breathe beneath her feet. She had not been feeling well all morning. Something was not right. Nothing could be determined just yet, not when so little time had passed since she felt the first shift in the wrong direction of her well-being, but there was no avoiding the unease. She wanted to make sure it was not serious before she allowed her doubt to escalate into genuine fear.
She wrote to the village healer when the illness did not dissipate within the week. Aang did not know, but she had her suspicions concerning the signs which had been unveiled to her by dreams, by her the instincts which her entire existence was founded upon.
Katara had been the only one who did not convey even the smallest trace of surprise when the news was relayed to her.
Aang had been the only one.
Her lack of astonishment was to be expected, the healer had told her. That she should know before her husband. She was, after all, the keeper of her own body and the sentinel which served as guardian for her many complex emotions.
It would have only been a matter of time before she figured it out for herself. On her own time. Without anyone to tell her what she had already felt long before the words of confirmation had been spoken.
There was no physical presence just yet, but she knew it was there. An assurance. The first swing of the pendulum and Katara knew she was expecting the turn of a new phase in her life. In their life. There was no way to describe the feeling, that merging of emotions that surged through her. Happiness. Excitement. Fear. Uncertainty. All of them became a vortex, swirling and shifting and lurching back and forth inside her until she felt faint from so much anticipation all at once.
Living in the company of water all her life, Katara had hardly known the feeling of sea sickness.
She was sure it felt something like this.
"Katara, we should talk about this."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"I think there is. We've just suffered an enormous loss. Let me help you-"
"You want to help me?"
"Yes. I honestly want to. Just say the word and I'll do it. Anything to fill this void that's come between us."
"Then bring her back, Aang. Bring her back to me."
Weeks passed. Time appeared long and overwrought in the face of eternity.
Katara did not miss a beat of every precious second she was given to enjoy the duration of the process. Though mornings, and the greater part of the afternoon, were spent being nauseated by the mere sight of food and with her face shoved into a vomit-soaked bucket, the nights were pleasant. Contented, even. When the events of the day began to wind down, tucking themselves gently away in the storerooms of her memory. The stars would ignite in the barren heavens from the dying embers of dusk. Birds would sing their little ones to sleep in the canopies of the peach trees outside their window. Aang would be there, his skin washed gold in the candlelight. His breathing the cadence which the last tendrils of the waking world would unwind to, sinking into somnolence with the rising of the young moon.
It was in these moments that the only real enjoyment she could derive from these first few months of torment could be found.
He would blow out the candle and the room would be stolen away by the first shadows of the settling twilight. Smoke rose from the snuffed flame and the smell of its ashes would waft over them for a moment before being carried away by an impatient summer breeze. Her nausea had long deserted her, bored of the torture for the time being, but the ache of its effects would remain in its wake.
She would ask him to hold her, just for a little while.
And he could never resist her request.
To the deep, dark thrum of his heartbeat against her back and his hand on her stomach and the pleasant weight of his chin resting in the crook of her shoulder, she'd fall asleep.
The world was her temple. And she lived peacefully within its hallowed halls.
"What do you mean you knew? You knew that this would happen and you never told me?"
"Katara, I know I should have said something. I realize it was a mistake-"
"Not telling me that you were having visions of our baby dying is not a matter of miscommunication, Aang. It's a matter of you planning on never telling me at all."
"I tried…I just couldn't. I couldn't, Katara…I didn't want to believe it myself."
"And all this time I had convinced myself there was nothing I could have done to save her. Nothing I could have changed because that's just how life goes sometimes…"
"There was nothing we could have done. It was fate. I couldn't have saved her…she would have died anyway because it was meant to be this way."
"This is your fault, Aang! You let our daughter die when you could have saved her life! Why didn't you tell me? Why?"
"Because I was afraid."
"Afraid of what?"
"I was afraid that if I told you, that if I let myself believe that there was no way to save her, then it would be true..."
The alteration was so gradual, so measured in its metamorphosis, that Katara barely noticed that Aang had changed at all until it was too late.
He had distanced himself slowly. At first, it was in his countenance. His face was sheltered somehow…guarded as if he had closed all ways of communication and revelation in his expression in a matter of days. She had owed this to the unrest which had begun to take place between the three nations, the political affairs that he had thrown himself into more often with the peace quickly coming undone at their frayed, fragile ends.
But then came the days when he didn't come home at all. The nights he spent restlessly pacing the kitchen floorboards and she'd lie awake, tracing every step he took as if she were following a map he had left behind for her to follow. When once their nights together had been a sense of security for her, they had become something different…something tense and out of sync.
He hardly ever touched her growing stomach anymore.
Only when she asked him to.
And even then he visibly recoiled as his palm brushed against her swollen belly.
"Katara, please. You're being unreasonable."
"I'm being unreasonable? What about you? I haven't seen you shed one tear since she died. Not one little flicker of fear or doubt or sadness. Not a sliver of pain. What's wrong with you? Why don't you care?"
"I loved her as much as you did-"
"You said you were afraid once! You said you cared!"
"I did! I still do!"
"No, Aang, you don't…you never did."
"You never even loved her at all."
They'd lost her on one of those rare peaceful nights, the ones Katara had come to cherish as her time of sanctuary, those moments from which she had fashioned her haven. Those moments which were so far and in between now that she forgot what they looked like when she saw them again.
Aang had been tired…too tired to think straight or care about anything other than sleep. She had pulled him close to her, as close as she could manage with her stomach simply bulging with the new life still growing inside her, but she managed just fine. The curve of his body fit well enough for her and the proximity was acceptable to satisfy her need for his closeness, his warmth, his unspoken comfort.
But in a matter of minutes, it wasn't her safe place anymore.
It became her nightmare.
Blood was everywhere. It soaked the bed. Her clothes. His hands. Nothing was spared from its warm, cruel grip which seeped over their skin and choked them with fear and filled them to the brim with the throttling realization that something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. Aang awoke at once to the sound of Katara's anguished screaming.
He wasn't tired anymore. Not after that fateful moment when their world came crashing down around them and she hadn't even known it yet.
Aang had knelt by her side for a moment, trying to listen to his own thoughts as she poured out her agony in fragments of screams and her muscles rippled from the pain. At first, he was at a loss…to wait or to go to the healer? The healer. She would know what to do.
But by the time he had summoned her, torn the old woman from her bed in the middle of the night and dragged her to the tranquil little cottage by the seaside, it was too late. She had examined Katara, now spent and barely conscious as she lay on the blood-soaked sheets. It had only taken a glance for her to know.
She shook her head slowly, gravely.
And all hope was lost.
"Don't touch me, Aang! Don't you dare touch me!"
"I'm just trying to help…if we stay together, if we let ourselves grieve, maybe things can go back to the way they were before. Maybe we can fix this."
"Don't. You can't fix it. You can't always fix everything. Some things should just be left to rot and die."
"What are you saying?"
"This is all my fault. If only I had never let you touch me…this wouldn't be happening. This never would have happened. If you wouldn't have touched me…."
"Let go of me! I hate you…Do you hear me, Aang? I hate you!"
"Katara, you don't mean that…tell me you don't mean it, please."
"I wish I'd never met you. I wish none of this ever happened!"
Change had come again into their home. It ransacked their routines, overturned them in search of something else. Something kinder to the battered soul. She heard it rummaging through the shallow graves of the life they used to have in the middle of the night, when her sanity was at the brink again, hanging by its last thread. It was when she imagined the cries that would make her roll out of bed, exhausted beyond anything she'd ever imagined before, but glad to hear those frail little sobs. When the croons, the giggles, the screeches of delight were almost something more than memory. Reality.
But the reality was they weren't real. Katara knew this, knew it as well as Aang as he measured out his breathing and took each inhale, exhale one dose at a time. He never slept anymore. Neither did she. Their sleep had been replaced by what if's and could have been's and…if only I had done something to save her.
She didn't know what he was thinking. What he was feeling. It had always been about her feelings, her thoughts, her despair. Aang had never said anything at all. They didn't talk. It was useless and tiring, shouting over the chasm of hesitation and revulsion and sorrow and hatred which separated them. She was too tired to reach for him anymore. And it seemed to her that he was too.
But maybe, she thought, just maybe she missed him.
Missed him more than she could bear.
"What do you want? Don't you have a meeting with the King today?"
"I wanted to say goodbye. We haven't spoken much lately. I miss you."
"I thought it was an unspoken agreement…that we didn't want to talk to each other anymore."
"I never agreed to that. I never said anything. You never let me."
"You're right...now that I think of it, I never really did ever hear you say anything. Not when I was pregnant. Not when I was giving birth to our dead baby. Not when I was lonely and I needed you. Not even when I was angry and I hated you."
"I didn't know what to say. I know we've been together for a long time, but I'm new at this. New at being a husband."
"But you're not new at running away…you've always been good at that, Aang."
"All I can say is I'm sorry. I love you, Katara...I wish things never had to be this way."
He began to bury himself in his work again.
Katara wished she could say she didn't care. That she wished him gone or dead or anywhere but next to her at night, when the moon was full and the stars were bright in the sky as they watched the surf pound against the drowsy shore. She wished she could hate the sound of his breathing or the fact that he had a heartbeat and her baby didn't. That she could push away the feeling of his body next to her or the heat that seemed to drown her in the comforting depths of its emanating, omnipresent warmth.
But she did care. She didn't wish him gone. She loved the sound of his breathing and was relieved to feel his heartbeat thud dully against the tousled sheets. That she missed his warmth, wanted to bathe in its temperate waters and soak it into the very roots of her skin, the lungs of her being.
She missed him. She wanted him.
But would she tell him that?
"I can't sleep."
"I have tried. Over and over again I've tried to go to sleep, but I can't stop thinking about her. About you."
"Aang…don't. Please don't."
"I love you, Katara. I miss you...I miss holding you. Don't you ever miss it? Being close?"
"No. I can't say I do."
"Don't you miss being in love with me?"
Part of her was ashamed when she came to realize it.
She had spent the better part of the last few months relying on this one feeling. This one great wall of hatred that separated her from Aang. And now that it had been breached, now that it was crumbling at her feet in shards of stone, she had nothing left to hold onto but the last remnants of her love for him. The comatose entity it had become.
Most of the time, when she was alone in her garden, in her kitchen with the tea kettle screaming for release, she didn't know what to do with it. Shoving it back into obscurity seemed like the best idea. He had been the one that let their baby die. He had been the one that had run away when she needed him. He had been the one that stood back and watched her world shatter.
He had let her pick up the pieces by herself. Why had he been surprised when the new world she constructed for herself had left him out of the picture?
But now she was homeless again. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to turn, without her hatred for him to stand upon.
Let the foundations be destroyed.
And a new sun will rise.
"Aang, I can't sleep."
"Neither can I."
"Do you ever think about me anymore?"
"All the time."
"…Can you ever forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive, Katara."
"But there is...there's so much to forgive. And I'm sorry…I'm sorry that I abandoned you. I realize now that you needed me as much as I needed you. That you suffered, that you hurt even more than I did. You knew long before it even happened that the day would come and this would all come to pass. You watched your entire world crumble and you had no one to help you pick up the pieces. I wasn't there for you, my love…I wasn't there when you needed me."
"It's okay...you didn't do anything wrong."
"Yes, I did. We both did, but it's over now. I can't take back the things I said, all that time we wasted on my hate and your regret."
"...But I can tell you that I love you…and for now, that's all I can give."
A new sun will rise.
coffee shop poet. 2010.