Trigger warning: infant loss.
I know you are 5 because June is 8. She’s our record keeper. You’re always in her roll call. She always counts you — even when, especially when we forget.
I know you are 5 because Onion is 1. He showed up on our front steps right before your birthday last year. A little kitten with fleas and worms and testicles. We hemmed and we hawed. And then I came downstairs on the morning of November 10th and out of all the pictures on the mantel, yours was the one he had knocked to the floor in the middle of the night. Glass shattered and your face staring up at the ceiling. And I said “okay, okay Paul. We get it. We’ll keep him.”
I know you are 5 because Diana finally asked last week. I was tucking her into bed and it was cold. And I said “here, let’s use Paul’s blanket too.”
“Mama, who’s Paul?”
“Paul is a baby we had before you. But he died.”
“He died with his blanket?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
I know you are 5 because someone mentioned you to Papa at work yesterday. Everyday he goes to that hospital on the hill. That salty, sacred ground of your birth and death. “I can’t believe I cried at work” he said. “I can” I said.
I know you are 5 because I woke up and my lower back hurts. Maybe my body remembers — you, head down in my pelvis. Getting ready to push out all 6 pounds, 2 ounces of you. It seems so silly now, but you know what I was thinking about when I was pushing? I was so thirsty and I was staring at a water bottle on the table at the foot of the bed. “Kate, you get to drink all that water when you’re done. Just get him out of your body and you can have the water.” In the end it wasn’t enough.
I know you are 5; but in some other universe, not quite yet. Because you and I both know you were due in December. So in that place you’re running around, excited for your birthday. The boy in the middle — one sister above, one sister below. What do you love? What do you hate? What would we be doing in this alternate universe?
The trick of you is that most of the time you let us forget. And no matter how many times I tell myself in the days leading up to your birthday that I’m fine! That life goes on! That you’re still with us! It could be so much worse! The fact of your birthday is in my body. The fact of your life, your soul, your death. You were here. So we mope around and bake a cake.
Just now the doorbell rang. A big man with a booming voice said, “Hi! Is Paul here?” I said, “ha, yes he is.” He was holding flowers. He said “well, these are for Paul.”
You are always here and you are always gone. It’s a riddle.
But I pulled a fast one on that guy. He walked away thinking you’re alive! “Thank you” I said. “I’ll give them to him.”
Kate is a Bridgetown Baby Mama of three, June, Paul and Diana and a powerful writer. This piece originally was published on Medium Nov. 11, 2017, Paul’s 5th birthday.