Yesterday, had he lived, our son James would have been three years old. Looking back on the first and second anniversary, it is clear we have come a long way. Last night we saw “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a film based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story wherein a man is born old and grows younger, ending up as an infant who dies in his true love’s arms. Even a year ago, I might have had to walk out after the doctor’s (incorrect) prognosis, early on in the film, that the old-man-baby would not live long. Instead, I sat through it, and am glad I did. It is a compelling (if stylized) look at the transitory nature of life and love.
On one of our bookshelves, I have lit a candle next to a picture of James. Though he never opened his eyes, our baby was beautiful. Yesterday afternoon, I went in for new head shots to post to the company website. As the makeup lady dabbed my lips with flesh-toned gel, I thought back to my goth days in San Francisco, when I would trace my lips with black lipstick before a night out on the town. Then, as I felt her moving along the peaks of my lipline, I thought of James’s lips–a cupid-bow-shaped miniature of my wife’s own lips. Moments later, I was smiling into the flashbulb.
My inner life is my real life. In it, I carry the memory of my son. Over time, he has gotten lighter, as I have come to embrace greater hope, and to acknowledge the blessings he brought. Were it not for James, I might not have started writing poetry again in earnest, let alone completed an MFA. I would not know what I know now about fatherhood, the depth of support that can come from friends and family, or the strength of our marriage to endure. Though I have come a long way in recovering from grief, it still pricks me like the thorn Antonio Machado described in his own poetic heart–influencing all that I experience and express, and reminding me, poignantly, of that heart.
Godspeed, James. Thank you.