This is different to anything I've written before; it's the first time I've written in first person for the show, and in this way, so I hope it works. Reviews much appreciated :-) Thanks to CsiAngel for reading this one through, and for all her encouragement, as always!
Disclaimer: I own only the computer that this was written on.
There's an expression that gets tossed around like a scrap of cloth in a high, raging sea: You never know what you've got until it's gone. This, I think, is untrue. At least it is for me.
Having a child was the strongest desire I'd ever known. It consumed me like fire, filled my head and my heart, taught me that mother was the greatest word in the English language. It's certainly true that the harder you have to fight for something the more you appreciate it, and the tighter you'll curl your fist around it in the hope of holding onto it forever. It's also true that loss gives substance to fears you'd only ever half whispered, things you hadn't dared to believe could come true. No one likes to face the reality that all they love could disappear in a heartbeat, but when it's happened to you once you start preparing yourself for that loss, just in case. That's what I find myself doing, now.
I cried the first time I held you in my arms. You were so small, so fragile, and I knew in that moment that nothing would ever be good enough for you, knew there was no step I would not take for you, knew that every second of pain or heartache I'd ever felt in my life was worth it, and would vanish, when you locked your eyes on mine. You were what gave me hope, you were the one who truly taught me how to love, you were the one who gave me courage and strength. I needed both of those after you were gone; I still need them now, however much time has passed.
The thing is, I knew all of that while you were still in my arms. I didn't take you for granted, it didn't take losing you to make me realise how much I loved you – every second that we were together I thanked God for giving you to me, and making my life complete. So when I lost you, there was no shock of I never knew what I had until it was too late, as some people say. It felt like a fist clenched in my chest, like darkness seeping into every part of me, like I was falling, falling, falling and would never stop.
I always knew I couldn't keep you forever; whatever it was that would separate us eventually, in whatever way, was inevitable, but I never thought it would happen this way. And while I knew we wouldn't have an eternity together, I thought we'd have longer than this; I didn't think I'd lose you so soon.
Lost is a strange word, and leaves a bitter taste on my tongue. I could say you were taken from me, although that also sounds wrong. But lost seems to imply that it was my fault; that I let you go, somehow. That I didn't hold tightly enough to your hand, didn't watch you closely enough as you slept, didn't teach you to always stay by my side. But those were things I couldn't have done; we didn't have time for me to teach you not to talk to strangers, to always hold my hand when we crossed a road, to memorise our address in case you were ever lost. I would have done all those things, when you were older, but I never got the chance. I didn't warn you to beware of strangers, but in the end it was not a stranger who took you away. It was the woman who gave life to you, whose blood ran in your veins, who'd felt you shift and sigh inside her belly. The woman who'd given me the greatest gift was the one who had taken it away. I couldn't hate her, not when part of me understood. Not why she'd ever wanted to give you away, but why she'd realised she couldn't live without you. I'm still learning that, every day I spend without you.
I know the world isn't black and white, but it was you who taught me that it's a thousand shades of grey. Some things I used to think were simple – you were a mother, or you weren't. It was only when I fell in the cracks in between that I saw those shades of grey illuminated before me. I also realised that I wasn't the first. I fill in forms and check the box that indicates I have no children, but once you've been a mother you always will be, in your own heart and mind at least.
Your father is gone, now – not your real father, I mean, my husband. I'd never allowed myself to believe you'd be taken away, and I'd never thought I'd get divorced, but as you and he and a million other things have taught me, the sand is always shifting beneath our feet and the best you can do is hold on, just hold on, and wait for the next hurricane to come and sweep you along to somewhere else. I'm trying, although some days I don't know how to do it at all. But I try.
I won't say that my life is empty. It's true that nothing can fill the void you left, but I have people I love that I hold close to me – even if sometimes it seems they are trying to pull away – and I can laugh and smile and enjoy life, and know that I am lucky to have all that I do. But the smiles aren't quite as bright, the laughter not quite as free, not like before. There's always something missing, an ache that won't go away, a scar that nothing can ever really hide.
I still talk to you, when I know you can't hear me; a natural part of grief, I know. But I have no grave to crouch at, no clouds to fix my gaze upon and imagine you there. I have counselled parents whose children have died; I could not have survived if I were one of them. At least I know you are out there, somewhere, living your life. Even if it is a life where to you, now, I am a stranger.
I wake up in the night, sometimes, and think I can hear you crying. I reach out blindly, or stumble from my bed, desperate to find you, before I realise that you are now out of my reach. I see little girls playing in the park; giggling with their friends, being pushed on the swings, sitting contently in their mothers' arms, and I wonder how long it will be before I stop looking for you in crowds, when the day will come when you are not the first thing I think of when I wake, or the last image in my mind before my eyes close at night. I fear that day; it would be like losing you all over again, to think I had forgotten you for a while. There is moving on and there is letting go, and a space in between in which I find myself floating, trying to find the right balance.
Often I close my eyes and picture you; sometimes as you were, an infant in my arms; sometimes as the child you may look like now; sometimes as the woman you'll someday become. I wonder if you'll have pigtails or braids, like pink best or blue, choose cakes shaped like butterflies or rainbows or stars. I think of a thousand things I'll never know; what your favourite lesson will be at school, whether you'll like to sing or dance or paint, the name of the first boy to steal your heart. There are a thousand and more things I'll never know, but you will. When you're glowing with pride for getting an A in the lesson you love, when you feel your heart flutter and think 'he's the one', when you hold your first child in your arms – all these things are the puzzle pieces you'll slot together as you grow, building towards the picture of the wonderful life you've led. And while it crushes my heart to know the final picture is an image I'll never see, I take small comfort in knowing that I am a part of it. You won't remember, and I doubt you'll ever be told, but on nights when the moon spilled its light into your nursery, I was the one cradling you in my arms. On days when the sun hung high in the sky, it was me who pushed your pram through leafy green parks. And when you were sleeping, your breathing slow and even, I was the one watching over you; stroking your hair, placing a kiss on your cheek, wishing on a star that you'd grow up healthy, and happy, and loved. I just didn't think to wish that those things would happen in my presence.
You will not remember, and you'll never be told, but I was part of your life, and that can't be erased. And even if that piece of the puzzle is so small it's unnoticeable when you look at the image as a whole, I'll know. I'll know, and I'll draw solace from the knowledge that even though I couldn't hold onto you forever, for a while, at least, you were mine.
The best things, I've learnt, you cannot hold onto. A firefly's light will eventually go out if you keep it contained in a jar. The sunlight sparkling on a lake cannot be captured, no matter how much water you scoop up in your hands. Clouds will blow in the wind and decorate the sky with ever changing patterns, but they're not something you can reach out and grab, any more than the stars you wish on at night or the smiles on the faces of those you love. The most precious things, like you, can never really be kept or owned. The whisper of your voice that I hear in the wind, the spark of a firework that turns a black sky into light, a rainbow that fades all too soon. But the memory of these things, like my memory of you, is something I can hold onto, and something that I know will last a lifetime.