Friday, August 6, 2010

I wish I had a river I could skate away on

I had just finished making my toast earlier today, taking a break from writing for a moment, when the phone rang.

"Hi, it's Sandy from the new medical centre," the caller announced. "We have your records here and what must be one of your children who has attended the centre, transferred from your last medical centre. Now, what we don't have are records for your other child and, I'm sorry, I only have a first initial E here..."

Oh, was she going to be sorry, alright.

"Yes, that's Ellanor, our first born. She passed away when she was a baby," I advised Sandy.

I'm used to this sort of bungle. It has happened plenty of times over the years. Our private health care cards still bear Ellanor's name -- in place #3 -- because we kinda like seeing it there with all our names, alongside Lolly's, so we have never requested new cards. The Medicare card is the hardest to carry, though. There's not even a gap where her name appeared, on cards we received the very week she died. A few days later, as the paperwork went through the same health care system, we received new cards, her name erased. When the LGBB was born, she became #4 and not the new #3 - the only indication that the government recognises we had ever had a child before Lolly. Somewhere, in some departments, but not others. Our Medicare cards have no #3. I guess it's a fitting tribute. Or not. I'm undecided.

The call with Sandy went fairly predictably from then on, as is my experience now with such queries about the number of members in our family. She fumbled over her words, overstating how sorry she was to have bothered me, talking over the top of me and not even pausing to fill her own lungs, so I couldn't reassure her that it was okay for her to have called me. She wasn't to know, after all.

But I have been left quite shaken. My hands are shaky, my body feels a bit light and airy. A reeling feeling. Earlier today, and after a few exchanges with a dear friend who is also no stranger to deep, intense grief where lost babies are concerned, I was heading for a vulnerable state of mind anyway, I guess. I was tapping in to that part of myself that knew only how to feel so horribly guilty that my baby had died. Despite everything I thought I knew about her condition. Despite my love. Despite my longing for her. It wasn't ever going to be enough.

And the fact that I had stopped writing to come and make some lunch, leaving my "book songs" on iTunes and listening to Joni Mitchell's "River" when Sandy called, has not made the experience any easier either.

Now I have the words of this gorgeous song looming in my mind like impassible barriers, forcing me to face them today. Fall into them. I am reminded of the times I would listen to River after Ella died and the lyrics would taunt me, as so many of the lost-love songs did during that time. SO many lyrics just seemed to fit so well with how I felt. This one, in particular, was a good beat-up song, I recall. I see now that there was no reason for me to feel so guilty about her passing. But anyone who tried to suggest that to me at the time would have been wasting their breath. It was a conclusion and a healing I had to come to in my own time.
I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby say goodbye

As if I was the one who got to determine whether she died or survived. As if.

There are many songs that do this to me. Just at the right time, on the right day. Pinpoint accurate and capable of letting the floodgates go. So I cry. And release the pressure on the dam I didn't even realise I had been damming. A decent unwelling is always a good thing. Especially when you were not aware you had been holding it in.

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