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Words by Eliana Sagarin
You never think it’s going to be your kid. But let me just say as someone with experience, that’s a thought in which a mother’s hope betrays her intuition. Because when you know, you know.
Something horrible happens and there are sirens and children huddled without their backpacks in the parking lot. They are crying. There is blood. They sink. Their paunchy adolescent bodies bend forward and back with the weight of what they did and did not see. You imagine the moment. The moment a mother’s eyes dart across the television looking for her child. And there he is. Sinking or crying or hugging but certainly living and you sigh—because he survived. You’ve also learned the ones who kill rarely make it out alive, and you wonder if that’s a good thing. They don’t want to sink into the tragedy. They are already sunk.
But I knew it was my kid.
There was no one else to choose from.
I didn’t have a midwife or doula. I didn’t have an epidural or stirrups. I didn’t have crushed ice or a nightgown.
I didn’t have a smiling doctor or an encouraging nurse. Your father didn’t smell of cigarettes and coffee when you were born.
CNN wasn’t playing in the background when you let out your first cry.
I didn’t smell the takeout from the nurses’ station.
I didn’t know that I would have to find a name for you.
Before you were born, your father would wrap my belly in his arms and he would call me the moon. He would lay his cool hands on my warm skin and he would call me the sun. And when you would move inside me he would call you the garden. He believed we had created our own garden to carry with us forever. Your father was homesick.
But I knew better.
I was not the sun or the moon, and you were no garden.
I didn’t know I was supposed to love you yet.
I remember screaming and ripping and wondering if it would have been better if I was dead. I wondered if maybe I’d die.
Your father held me as I cried but his touch felt like a memory.
I felt my body rip in half and the part that would have killed me was you.
Your father kept you warm while I slept.
Your father did a lot of holding that day.
I dreamt of walking without legs.
If I’m being completely honest, I was scared of you.
And of course I loved your brother because he was second, because so was I. And maybe that’s petty, but no one ever taught me grace.
And of course when you killed your brother I knew you were my son, and I’ll tell you why.
Because we both made choices that felt like sinking. Because I had tested the waters but you had learned to swim. And maybe that’s too precious, but I’ve had a lot of time to think. And I don’t even like the taste of apples. Did you like the taste of blood?
After your brother died I laid next to your father and traced the scar on his ribs where I came from. Not knowing how to pray I imagined that your father had one more rib to spare. In my dreams I sharpened rocks and plunged them into your father’s chest to carve your brother back into this world.
I didn’t know what missing was.
They hadn’t yet built the word for grief.
I would wake up panting. Your father remained undisturbed next to me. His chest gently rising and falling.
I’m never been remembered for being the best mother. Just for being the first.
One night I couldn’t fall asleep.
My legs took me to where your brother’s blood had fallen, flung generously onto the clay earth. Miraculously, it was still glistening. The animals hadn’t lapped it up. Maybe it was their simple alter. Maybe they believed in something too.
I fell on my knees and dipped by finger and began to smear between my thumb and forefinger. The feeling of blood in your hand is a perfect feeling.
I began to dig. First with the bloodied finger, then with my whole hand, then both hands. Digging deeper and deeper. I was hunting for the garden, for my sons, I wanted to disappear, I wanted to kill something too. I wished I could fall. At first my muscles ached, firey and taught, I dug until I was numb, until digging felt the same as stillness. But then like a wave, exhaustion came over me and I finally fell into a ragged sleep.
There wasn’t a word for grave yet.
In the morning, your father called for me. I stirred, squinting through the yellow light of morning, smelling the earth caked in the ridges of my face.
He called again, louder, hungrier, more afraid.
My arms were sore and my fingernails heavy with dirt and blood, but I managed to crawl out of my vertical cave.
Your father found me there, laying next to your brother’s plot, covered in mud. He paused for a moment, looking at me. To make sure I was breathing.
Without a word, he flung me over his shoulders and took me to the spring where the animals drank. He didn’t ask me any questions. I gingerly lifted my filthy dress and stepped into the water to rinse off. But before I took a second step, your father grabbed my forearm with his enormous hand, held my face with the other. With my head in his hand, he just said,
“Please don’t sink.”
When you’ve been around as long as I have, you learn that tragedies are textured. Some are metallic and cold. Others are hot and sweet. There are tragedies that taste like a juice box. Tragedies that feel like stale bread on the roof of your mouth. Have you had something horrible wash over your when you’ve been in the middle of eating something sweet? Did you finish it? How did it taste?
There are tragedies that taste like the meal you didn’t finish when you found out. Rubbery scrambled eggs. Cold spaghetti. Lukewarm yogurt. They taste like the wrong temperature.
Losing your brother tasted like bile. Like screaming. Like ragged breath. Like a nightmare.
I haven’t slept in centuries.
Losing you tasted like earth. Smelled like your father. Felt like my bones.
Losing you was a perfect feeling.