One year ago tonight was the last time.
I don’t remember, but I’m sure I went to bed feeling happy, complete, in love, full of hope.
I’m confident that he wrapped his arms wrap around me, and I breathed in, secure in his presence, as I had every day for the almost six years before.
Just like every other night before, I’m sure the baby slept peacefully in her room wearing one of her many sets of fluffy footed pajamas, holding Sammy the purple raccoon and sucking on a binky. Though I don’t specifically remember which jammies or how she slept that night.
I probably had peaceful dreams and a refreshing night’s sleep — even though I don’t know for sure.
Because you never know when the day before is the day before.
August 8 was wholly unremarkable.
August 9 was anything but.
The Mikalee of the wholly unremarkable August 8 was optimistic, trusting and secure. But more than that, she didn’t realize she needed to take notice of the baby’s jammies, or the way his arms felt, or the specific dream she had that night.
Because that Mikalee died the next day. Without warning. Without signs. Without symptoms of illness.
So today I mourn her death.
I loved that person — far more than I love who I am now in many ways. I loved her playfulness. I loved her spirit. I loved how she embraced love and life and family. I loved how confident she was as a person, as a wife, and most importantly — as a mom.
That came to a cataclysmic halt when the police showed up at my door on August 9. My confidence, my spirit, my playfulness shattered on the ground at my bare feet as the detective explained what he knew to me — the barefooted woman on the porch of the home we called “ours.”
It was a messy birth. Ugly, raw, punctuated by breathing difficulties and tears.
Lots of tears.
So tomorrow I celebrate her birth.
Tomorrow I celebrate my birth.
Every day after August 9, I have taken a few more shaky steps. Nervous. Unsure of myself. Unsteady on my feet and lacking confidence in my direction.
I’ve sold and bought a home; worked tirelessly to re-orient a family in devastation; trusted in people around me like never before; worked my ass off to secure a present and future for a family that now counts on me solely; accepted love, help and friendship as I’ve never expected to have to do before or hopefully ever will again.
(And thank you to the many, many friends/colleagues/family members who have helped fill these roles. I honestly can’t thank you enough.)
During the course of the last year, I’ve changed dramatically. Perhaps the most significant change is the fact that I find myself paying more attention to the things around me.
And this is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I’ve never been so aware of and grateful for my family, and I’ve never felt more empowered as the sole determinant of my own future. I am fully present, if not a little skeptical.
And now to the downside: I feel guilty every day that prior to August 9, I just didn’t know. So now I’m forcing myself to approach life with my eyes wide open. Like, crazy-wide open.
But the curse of über-heightened awareness of one’s surroundings: Exhaustion.
I go through each day as if adrenaline is coursing through my veins. I feel at every moment like the mom who could effortlessly lift the minivan off of her trapped toddler with one arm while removing the baby with the other.
And that kind of heightened constant state is difficult to maintain. Probably impossible.
But I’m always waiting for the minivan. I’m always looking for the time when I’ll need to act. Or react.
I’m twitchy. Unsettled. And while it pains me to admit it, unsatisfied with this exhausting life.
But it has only been a year.
That’s why I’m celebrating tomorrow. The first year is over, and I’ve made it through.
Thankfully, there will be no more “first times” like there have been for the last 365 days. No more first birthdays or anniversaries since August 9; no more first times attending school events; no more first times in counseling sessions or courtrooms or new homes.
We’re onto the second year. And eventually — and I’m really looking forward to this time — I’ll just stop counting.
August 9 will fail to be significant. Fingers crossed.
One night while driving home from a work meeting while my parents watched the baby for me, I was listening to NPR. It went to commercials, which is usually my cue to switch the station.
But I didn’t.
An ad came on recounting the mundane events of a day in the life of a man. All ordinary aspects of a routine — brushing teeth, shaving, water cooler chat, meetings and meals with family. All things we do every day. But at the conclusion of the ad, the announcer says, “You never know when the day before is the day before,” adding that the man died the next day in a devastating tornado that ravaged his peaceful town.
He didn’t know the brushing teeth, shaving or family meal was the last. Just as I didn’t on August 8.
Of course this commercial was sponsored by FEMA and emphasizing emergency preparedness. Which is why I burst into tears at the end, because I realized no flashlights or cases of water or backpack stocked with supplies — fuck, not even a bomb shelter — would have prepared me for August 9.
The reality is, we can’t always be prepared for the next day. I’ve spent the last year trying diligently to be the person who doesn’t take the day before or after for granted, but it’s an untenable situation.
So the takeaway: Yes, you never know when the day before is the day before. But unlike the message promoted by FEMA, we can’t live our lives expecting the worst.
At least not in relationships.
And that is my birthday message to myself. Something along the lines of “Fucking forgive yourself and stop looking for the worst in people. And the minivan. Stop waiting to lift the minivan off your toddler.”
Hallmark will be calling any moment now to take that one for themselves, I’m sure.
So if we compare this to a newborn and her first year, that means tomorrow I get to eat chocolate cake with my hands and make a mess.
But unlike a 1-year-old baby, mine will be accompanied by wine.
Cheers to my 1-year-old self. Cheers to you. Cheers to what we don’t know — what we can’t know — about tomorrow.
But just in case, a generator and a case of water in the garage is always a good idea. Am I right?