Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 5)
I realized this morning that I am living six impossible things before breakfast. 1. I have a living child in my lap. 2. I suddenly find the screaming of a newborn relaxing and restful. 3. I appreciate near psychosis-inducing sleeplessness. 4. I find myself welcoming questions about my dead daughter from complete strangers. 5. I am drinking my third cup of coffee without shaking like a little chihuahua on speed. And 6. I am enjoying Weetabix with soy milk even though it tastes like tree.
After Lucy died, I really resented the fact that I could sleep through the night. As a lifelong insomniac, I suddenly could close my eyes and wake up nine hours later, refreshed. Birth recovery was much easier with sleep, I found. I could sleep whenever and wherever I wanted. Perhaps it seems strange that an insomniac would not suffer from renewed sleeplessness when her child dies, but I could just sleep and sleep. Maybe it was suddenly the thing that kept me up at night--the fear of one of my children dying--happened and now that worry was gone. Or perhaps it was just depression. Perhaps it also seems strange that an insomniac would not appreciate the sudden ability to sleep, but I would lie in bed in the morning, tears welling in my eyes, and think, "I shouldn't be rested. I should be up all night, exhausted, short-tempered and glaring at Sam's body in repose as I feed our screaming child." But it was just another shitty day in paradise and I felt pissy for complaining about all the amazing sleep I was getting.
I am not getting any amazing sleep right now. I don't mind. Sleeplessness is just another impossible thing that will end one day. I am inarticulate. I fall sleep sitting up with the baby on my breast until the kink in my neck pains me awake. My brain is set on the half-assed setting. I do miss my usual whole-assed thinking, I admit, but luckily, I am not running a large government agency or something. I admit the sadness has settled back in my bones, like the adrenalin and endorphin rush has ind of dissipated. There is no one thing that has knocked me on my ass. It is a sadness cocktail of hormones, daughter-death, and sleeplessness. But as impossible as it is to believe, I am enjoying all of this, even the sadness. The sadness connects me to last year, to Lucy's death, to mourning the last aches of my child-bearing years. The sadness and heartbreak is appropriate and real and part of it all, even though I simultaneously am reveling in and appreciating the impossible joy of birthing a child I didn't think possible.
When our doorbell rang, I had this image in my mind of the two Jehovah's Witnesses with whom I had a long conversation in January. Back then, I was massively pregnant and opened the door and listened, smiling. And the woman's faced lit up when I told them my second daughter died as though she hit the conversion jackpot. I listened respectfully, and told them I had a complicated relationship with God and religion right now. She promised to come back again when we could talk, after I read the booklet she gave me.
I did read the booklet, as surprising as that sounds, and I was ready to respectfully disagree. But not then, after an afternoon of bleary-eyed bliss with my family. I couldn't get into it, and so in my most proud, adult way, I tiptoed to the door, and peeked out the corner of the window. It was my neighbor. She was holding a box, and I invited her into our house, despite the mess and my dark-circled eyes.
We sat together at the table, as I untied the ribbon, and she sat with her ten-month old son bouncing on her lap. I couldn't control the tears when they came. It was a necklace. With all my babies' names on it. Each had their own unique medallion--Bea, Lucy and Thor. Together. All three of them. I haven't cried much since Thor was born, but this was a long, hard sob, and I repeated, "You remembered my Lucy. You remembered all my babies." And she cried. And we cried together.
I have spent a year trying to hammer my old square-pegged friends into round holes. With each bang, I declared that they should be there for me right now in the way that I need them. With each bang, I feel lonelier and more sorry for myself. With each bang, I became more self-righteous. With each bang, I grew angrier. With each bang, I became less of the qualities I once embraced. The early words of my dear friend echo in me, "Such is a bitter lesson for the strong, because we are strong does not mean that those around us, though they may revel in this quality, will be equally strong when we need it." It became a refrain as I hammered and watched friends break apart and away from our grief.
After a year of banging, I stare at the hundreds of splinters on the floor around me ignoring the round, beautiful, strong pegs tightly in the holes throughout my life. When she left a few minutes later, I cried more. This neighbor has mourned with me, every day this year, without fear. Her children are my children's ages, and she had every reason to smile from across our cars, make nice and not talk about the uglies of grief. But she didn't do that. She talked about our grief, about my children, about my fear, about my anger and ugly emotions, about my family. She never flinches at Lucy's name, or turns away from hearing of her birth. She didn't pretend to know what to say to make everything better, she just was present, asking questions, listening. The ease in our conversation has always been there--drifting between tears, humor, grief, gossip and chit-chat. At the end of our driveways, she became the friend that I missed in the people I have known for decades.
I certainly appreciated my neighbor before the necklace, but something changed that day. Instead of seeing myself bereft of all these long, ill-fitting friendships, I suddenly saw myself full of unlikely friendships and alliances that were deeply fulfilling. It is a fortunate place to have friendships that are so ingrained in your life and heart that you can take them for granted. For as lonely as I have ever felt, I was always greeted with warmth and love when I walked out my door and locked eyes with my neighbor.
I expected something that afternoon. To sit uncomfortably with strangers respectfully disagreeing about the nature of the universe and man. I never expected my Lucy to come into my afternoon and remind me of my belief in the goodness of people. I never expected that the impossible peace I have sought in the deficiency of others could already be in my life.