March 2007. While I rarely think we look alike, I do in this picture.
“Here. Put your hands under her armpits,” my midwife instructed, urgency in her voice. With that, I pulled Grace onto my chest myself. She and I both cried, Matt pronounced her a girl, and they took her away to be weighed. I looked around the room, a wild fear that I have never forgotten galloping in my chest. I had never been more tired, but at the same time every single nerve jangled with awareness.
Someone brought Grace to me and I reached out for her blanket-wrapped body. Her eyes were closed. I looked at her, anticipating the surge of recognition I had been told to expect. I searched her face, waiting for something to break through the frozen numbness that filled me.
Finally, I looked up at Matt, my eyes full of tears. “She has a cleft chin, just like me.” Grace’s chin was literally the first thing to ring the bell that said: this is my child.
I sat on the edge of Grace’s bed to tuck her in. Without looking up from her book, she held up a finger and whispered, “I just want to finish my page.” I watched her in silence. After a few seconds she put her bookmark in her book and leaned back against her pillows. She looked at me and frowned.
“Do you ever feel anxious that you won’t have time to read all the books you want to read?” I nodded. “I mean, I just want to read so many things.” She pointed at her bookshelf, where a shelf of to-be-read were lined up. “I’m scared that I won’t get to them all.”
On one recent car ride, I have no memory of specifically where, Grace was trying to read in the back seat. After a few minutes I heard her shut her book and sigh. I glanced in the rear view mirror to see that she was looking out the window.
“Are you carsick?”
“Yeah.” Grace sounded dejected.
“Remember, try to look through the front.” She turned her head and peered through the windshield. “I’m sorry, Grace. I know you got that from me.” I can’t ride in a car for ten minutes without feeling sick. I’ve had to have taxis pull over between Laguardia and the city so that I can throw up.
“That’s okay, Mum. You gave me so many good things, too.” I caught Grace’s eye in the rear view mirror, eyebrows raised, curious. “You know, like my brain. And my looks.” I burst out laughing and she joined me.
We took Grace’s best friend from camp to the airport at the end of a wonderful and much-anticipated weekend visit. After we put her on the airplane, Grace dissolved into tears. I hugged her and felt her chest heaving against mine. We went home, walked to the park to watch Whit and Matt throwing a baseball, shared a happy family dinner, read a book, went to bed.
On and off throughout the evening Grace was tearful, her glossy eyes and mild frown occasionally breaking into full-blown sobs. Several times she asked me forlornly for a hug and to take deep breaths together, something we’ve done for years when she needs to calm herself down.
By the time I tucked her in, I felt spent, at the end of my own rope, out of soothing responses to her sadness. Grace looked at me, her cheeks wet, her eyes beseeching, asking without words for me to make her feel better, to take away this howling missing. Of course I can’t, and when I reflect on it I realize some of my own aggravation was surely that her feelings were uncomfortably familiar, ringing bells of identification deep in my chest.
I looked back at her. “Just try to think about how lucky you are to have such a wonderful best friend,” I said quietly.
Her gaze on me was steady and felt appraising. She swallowed. “This feeling is just part of the deal, right? To have such happy things in life, you are also going to have this. Right?” I nodded at her, blinking. “The great stuff and the sad stuff. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sometimes, it takes my breath away, the way parts of me glint in her like strands of gold (as glittery, though rarely as beautiful) catching the light in a fabric.