I’ve lived two separate lives on this day…
Driving home from taking Layla to school a tidal wave of emotion flooded me and writing is a way I know how to release it.
Christina: Scene One.
I guess to make this accurate, the first incarnation, I should be called Chrissy. If you had loved me from birth to age twenty-one, you probably know me best by that name. I go by Christina now, though I’m still not convinced that is my soul’s title.
There isn’t anywhere else to go from here but straight into the thick of it, so I suppose I’ll just compare my two realities, and begin with 2006.
I remember sitting under a blanket on the couch in my dad’s living room. I had been crashing there off and on to ward off my loneliness, to have some kind of bearing on normalcy after my world had dramatically shifted. Separated from love and burdened with a bitter pain in my chest, I often sought refuge at my father’s house – comforted by familiarity and love. It was there I sat when one of my older brothers came in, took a seat across from me, and we began talking. I asked why he was over, and he said with an anxiousness I wasn’t familiar with that dad had called him, told him to come over and wait at the house. “Something happened to your mom”, he said. Immediately, upon hearing this, I supposed, “But if she is just in the hospital again, why wouldn’t he just have said that?” We both felt the hot sting of anticipation burn as tears in our eyes, and we didn’t say much after that.
My two younger stepsisters, my stepmom, and my baby brother walked into the front door, followed by my dad. The girls went immediately up the stairs, and I could tell my younger brother was visibly upset.
“You lost your mom tonight”, my dad just blurted it out, like the snap of a finger the world went black.
“Why don’t they just wake her up?” I asked, to myself or to whomever I thought could fix it. Bewildered, just completely riddled with shock and disbelief, I watched in slow motion within seconds of the news my big brother crumble to the floor, I looked up at my dad and saw he too was crying.
The rest of the night and following days were a blur, I was lost in a fog, unable to make any sense how the world could keep going on when mine had just stopped.
We were thrown into unfamiliar chaos, funeral arrangements, consent for cremation by her three oldest children sitting in a small office to sign forms that would ultimately erase our mom forever. I volunteered to write her obituary and had to drive down to the Columbian newspaper alone, and sit across from a stranger to tell them what to print – I have no idea what I wrote but I remember barely being able to speak. Every day, every task, every breathe felt impossible, but we got through it, little by little. I remember my dad giving my sister and I money so we could go pick out a dress for the service, how sad and strange it was walking around the Vancouver mall, where we had been with her beside us all our lives. Things like that, those everyday things like what should be fun, like getting a nice new dress, were suddenly dreaded, suddenly wrought with anger at every smiling face you encountered along the way. ‘How can they be happy? Will I ever smile again?’
You do smile, eventually, I learned that. But, you have to accept that everything has changed. That takes a lot of time. Many nights crying yourself to sleep.
What got me most, once the clouds began to thin even a little, was the fact that she was alone. There was no moment to be had again, no shared apologies for the hurts or joyful celebration for the love we shared. There was no preparation, no final farewell. As far as I understand it, she laid down to sleep and just never woke back up.
I’ve wondered, if she knew. I’ve wondered, if she felt it coming somehow. I do know that she was beyond anywhere I could have gone to save her, it was beyond anywhere my daughter love could reach. I do know that it was meant to be that way, or things would have been different. I know that I’ve had to dig deep to accept it, especially because of the wounds she passed down to me before she died; the challenge of forgiving, really truly, has been a sixteen year struggle, but I’m better today than I’ve ever been.
January 19th, 2006, rest in peace, my beloved Mama.
Christina: Scene Two.
Grief was still very much a part of my life when I was pregnant for the first time with my daughter, Layla. I saw only everything she missed, and felt her absence as a constant ache in the back of my throat. I was living in a small Texas town, no family, expecting my baby girl, a gift I could not wait to unwrap. My baby, mine.
At the end of pregnancy I was so ready for it to be over, but days kept coming, and I thought it might not ever end. On a Friday afternoon I was scheduled to be induced that following Monday. 11 days post dates, I hoped she would come before then, but I had the weekend to contemplate regardless of when exactly, my baby girl would be in my arms within days.
It didn’t occur to me until standing in the elevator that Friday after our doctor’s appointment that Monday would be…
At exactly midnight my water broke – God saved the Docs an induction.
The same day my mother passed away would really be the day I birthed my first child – of 365 days in a year, how can this not be a miracle?
The mix of emotions was intoxicating in its gravity; I’d cry holding a picture of my mom and then cry holding my belly – I’d laugh at the serendipitous timing and then laugh with tears falling from my eyes that I really needed my mom in those moments, but God damn it where did she go? I labored for 12 hours but pushed quickly, all the while recognizing something was missing.
I held my daughter in my arms right after she was born, and we locked eyes immediately. My God the way that felt. It was her, she was what was missing. You don’t understand how significant that moment, that day really became, and it happened in a moment when great sorrow was eclipsed by great Love.
Indescribable but I can try… I remember smelling her skin constantly, breathing her in, something so primal in my chest was born that day, a deep and profound love and instinct to protect someone more than myself. My eyes couldn’t leave her little fingers and her sweet lips, the way she cooed and stretched and fit so perfectly at my breast. We took to each other like two halves fit together by God. I was instantly hers, and she will be forever mine.
It was never my intention to name her in reference to my mom, but because of that day, that day, I made sure to include it as tribute to the spiritual transaction which took place in that hospital room.
January 19th, 2009, happy birth day, my darling Layla Samaya Roberta. May you always know how special you are, and may you always be safe in my arms.
I can’t say for sure if God has a twisted sense of humor, or if random chance just happened to align in this way, but I know that it was a gift. A gift that… sigh. . . Ouhf now I’m going to cry.
I wonder who she could have been, my mom. I wonder even now if she’d be proud of who I have become, seeing me as a mother, especially. I wonder if she, well… it’s really futile anyway, to wonder. But, today, at least in this moment, I do.
This morning while taking Layla to school, I had this image flash through my eyes. My mom’s face, and she was smiling. Immediately tears welled up under my eyes but I tried to hurry and wipe them so my daughter wouldn’t see. See she did, and asked what was wrong. I reached my hand over, stroked her hair, and said, “nothing baby, I’m fine”, and she sighed and said, “it’s okay, Mommy, I get it”. She softly smiled and we held the moment between us as an unspoken bond.
She doesn’t understand, how could she, but she does know there’s a war in me on this day, but that I give it everything I have to make it about her, and celebrating her life. It was sweet, that she acknowledged my heart, and there wasn’t anything more we needed to say about it. I played her one of my “for Layla” songs and we arrived to the school both smiling. I wished her a good day and drove off. On the long and winding road back home, the flood of emotions came, and I allowed it. Now, these words the dam. The day will come and go, I will smile and dance and give my love to my daughter, and I will do it knowing the honor, the privilege it is to be this. I will, I am, more than my mother, and I’ve learned that’s a really good thing, and I think she’d have wanted that for me.
I’ve got words tattooed into my skin, “In spite of the uneven odds, beauty lifts from the Earth” (Uneven Odds, Sleeping At Last). I chose these lyrics very carefully. It is about my mom, about my journey becoming a mother, and about how the pieces fit – even when it seems impossible, beautiful things can come out of the darkest things. Joy can come after sorrow, and sometimes even take its place.
Alas, adding another line to the tally of years without, and within.
From death to life.
From darkness to light.
It’s just another day, but a day that changed my life, twice.