I am writing this on a train.
Outside the train it is still winter: the ground is covered with snow and the trees stark, barren sentinels against our passing.
The train is late.
I have been marking for a class I’ve tried to teach to the best of my abilities this semester despite caring more about so many other things.
I have marked slowly, interspersed with weeping. I know I am red-eyed. I am unsettling to those around me.
This is the third time in the last two months I have been on a train, under these exact conditions. I feel like my memories of this particular corridor will be filled now for all time with marking, weeping, and snow.
I am trying.
I am trying so hard to cope.
I got to the end of my semester. I took too long to mark some essays, but otherwise there’s nothing I can point to and say “I should have done that better.”
When people ask about my Dad, I am able to give them the good news (He’s moved hospitals and can now start rehab! He’s able to use the ventilator to speak! He passed a swallow test and can eat some foods again!) and sound positive even as my heart breaks all over again that this is the good news, that he is still paralyzed, still on a ventilator, that while in the grand scheme of things, I know he is making progress, the situation is still too much for me to comprehend.
I am being beaten down.
This morning, I wept as I had to explain to E. that our cat might not get better, that the vet might not be able to fix what was wrong. I wept as Q. (newly recalled from work by my frantic phone call) bundled E. up and brought him to school from the vet’s, after E. had a chance to give Poppy a hug and a pat “just in case”. I wept when the vet told me what we had to do, the humane thing to do, the thing that you do when you are the adult and you take responsibility for these lives. I wept as I got on the train, pulled in too many directions again, knowing that Q. would have to tell E. after school that there was only one cat waiting at home.
“We will need to get another cat!” wailed E. in the vet clinic. “And we will name that cat Poppy too because it was a good name and she is a good cat and two cats are better than one cat!”
“Maybe we will get another cat one day, E.,” I told him. “But we won’t name that cat Poppy. You can’t replace a cat. They’re part of the family. They’re all special, each one of them.”
I am terrified that this experience, E.’s first real exposure to death and grief and loss, will, in the end, be seen by us as practice for the losses that are yet to come.
One of his grandpas. Or both. I have no idea what’s coming. But I am afraid.
I have been fighting for some weeks now an irrational fear that this baby will die at birth. I was going to tell my midwife about it, but I had to cancel that appointment because we were at the vet instead, surrounding our cat with love while giving the vet permission to end her life.
The problem is it doesn’t feel irrational to me anymore.
The odds of stillbirth are 1 in 100.
The odds of being born with one kidney are 1 in around 1,000.
I don’t know what the odds are of having colon cancer that doesn’t behave like colon cancer, but I imagine they’re pretty high.
And my father’s accident defies belief.
So why wouldn’t the baby die? It would actually be a more likely outcome than anything else that’s happened in the last couple of months.
I am trying.
I am trying so hard to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
But there is a limit to what anyone can manage.
And I know, deep down, I’m reaching mine.