The Second Year

If he had lived, our son would be two years old today.

Several close friends have had children in the past year. I have been too afraid of breaking down in front of the parents to accept invitations to meet them. Just the other day, however, we were at a restaurant and some friends came in with their nine-month-old twins. I decided I was feeling strong enough to finally meet them.

Before approaching them, I washed my hands in the bathroom, since I have been fighting off a cold. I pumped soap from the dispenser, and ran my hands under the tap. Absentmindedly, I began lathering up my wrists and rubbing furiously. I was back in the hospital, scrubbing up at the sink inside the entrance to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Back then, I washed my hands vigorously, thoroughly, twice in a row–up to the elbows and underneath each fingernail. I shuttled over colostrum and came back with empty bottles, stole away in the night while Val was sleeping off the anesthetic, aware each visit could be the last. Every time, I scrubbed down furiously, as though some miracle of cleanliness could restore the electricity to our son’s brain.

It has not been an easy two years. But James’s death caused me to reevaluate what matters. I rediscovered the young idealist, who left the engineering department at Berkeley during the height of the dot-com era to study poetry instead. I recommitted to my writing, and signed up for an MFA. With such loss has come not only grief, but great compassion. I want to write about what makes us human, because never has it impressed upon me more that this is precious in its entirety–from my flashback in the bathroom to the radiant abandon with which infants squirm in their highchairs. There is so much to life. Sometimes it overwhelms.

I say once again: Godspeed, little James. There is so much more to love than could ever be comprehended.