I woke up too early this morning, and no one had anywhere to be. The same was true the morning I dreamed of Benjamin, so I went back to sleep, willing my brain to repeat the gift. It did not work. Such an empty feeling.
Benjamin was just a few days older when he died than Banyan was when he left for Camp Highlands for the first time. Barely nine. Banyan was gone for four weeks that summer, and every summer since. I didn’t know how I would bear it that first year. I found these words from a few nights before Banyan’s departure:
This is my current state of body, my survival mode: when panic sets in and the lump in my throat threatens to constrict my breathing passage, I cling to the one piece of weakening logic that comforts the screaming left side of my brain. It goes like this, with less enthusiasm each time: “Four weeks isn’t THAT long, look how fast the last four weeks have flown by!”
And I look. Back.
In the last four weeks, he has played soccer with British champions. He has had three sleepovers. He has beaten me in chess twice, though I stood my ground in Battleship. He has learned cribbage and racquetball. He has stood under a tightrope while a circus star practiced his next death-defying act. He has gone to the specialist to have him analyze that lump on his knee. (It’s nothing, he says.) He has been to the beach, and the beach, and the beach. He has fallen off of the paddleboard and split his lip, only to climb right back on and push away the current. He has taken the lifeguard’s adult swimming test and passed it. He has taken six boys on a boat with his father and ridden the waves of courage, saying goodbye to eight in grand fashion, and looking every bit of nine going on gone. And, three days ago, he accompanied me to the UPS Store, where we bought extra insurance on the package containing his brand new footlocker and its forty pounds of clothes, camping gear, books, biodegradable soap, and love. I feel my grip slipping. Four weeks.
When he was four weeks old he smiled. All the time. Unless he was spitting up, which also happened all the time. Some said colic, others said fussy. Some even said “spirited.” I tried everything—nursing him, burping him, rocking him, singing him, slinging him, swinging him, walking him, strolling him, vacuuming with him. I took an infant massage course and pressed clockwise hearts into his belly each night. I drove across town to the Scottish specialty store and bought gripewater, a tonic made with fennel said to soothe crying babies. I eliminated dairy, garlic, broccoli, caffeine. I read page after page after discussion board after blog post about infant digestion. The dance was the same every day—after several failed attempts, my eyes bloodshot and my voice hoarse from another round of Bobby McGee, finally, finally, he slept. On my front, on my back, lying next to me, on my belly. He slept. And I kissed him goodnight, and I studied his every beautiful pore.
Four more goodnight kisses.
That’s how many I have left (after the one I just gave him).
Four more goodnight kisses, and then four weeks until the next one. How on earth am I going to survive this? My throat constricts at the thought of it. Of walking past his open door and seeing an empty pillow there, a room without the sound of his breath, the breath I have felt and listened for and analyzed for nine years.
This was how I felt, yet I knew Banyan would return, safe and sound and with big stories to tell. It’s been two weeks since I’ve been with Benjamin. Two weeks since I’ve heard the sound of his breath. He isn’t returning. We have heard all of his stories. I don’t know how to describe this feeling, try as I might in this space. It is an emptiness that is so full. I am bursting with love, with pride, and with sadness. I cling to photographs and videos and old stories, hoping my mind’s eye will sharpen as time goes on, and I will find new details, see new expressions in my memory. I miss my son.