Four cries that stay with me still:
1.I am small; small enough to think that my old feather pillow with the dark blue tick cloth can hide me. Small enough that when I stand I can rest my head against my mother’s soft belly, my arms stretched around her thighs, and feel her gentle fingers run over my corn silk hair. Not small enough, however, to offer her any of the comfort tiny babies give to their mothers, that snuggle-down kind of comfort where baby breath gathers into the hollow of the neck. Too big for innocence and ignorance. I lie there on my side, my twin bed just feet away from my sister’s twin bed. We face each other in silence, our eyes wide open, staring into each other’s heartache as our mother weeps in the other room. Late into the night, after Libby’s eyes have fluttered shut, I listen to my mother’s cries, weakening into sputtered moans, muted by the doors and halls and years between us. I pull my bony knees up to my chest, yearning to be hers again, to hold her from the inside out. It’s a mournful cry that rises from a heart that must let go of something it loves.
2. I am wholly aware of myself. For three days I have lived in the center of a pulsing amoeba-like force that radiates all around me. General discomfort points its long-nailed finger toward my belly, the creature inside growing still and hard, then all energy focuses in from my protruding belly button and begins to clamp down, like a vise on balsa wood. I breathe, Lamaze style, my lips pursed into a tiny tube-like pipe which will only allow molecules of air to release in a steady flow. Sweat drips into my eyes. When the clamping releases I fall back into the stiff hospital pillow, closing my eyes and hoping for a minute of reprieve before the next wave comes. I am weary from the length of labor, yet determined to endure it without numbing the pain. The love of my life stands beside me, allowing me to press my anguish into his poor helpless hands. My body shakes with another rising cramp. The cramps come closer and closer to each other, until a gush of water sends them rushing as they wheel me into the delivery room. Finally the doctor tells me I can push. Over and over we work, my child and me; pounding relentlessly. We work in sacred silence. I am strangely conscious of my desire to do this with dignity, to embrace the pain in some pseudo-religious ordinance-like manner, sensing the divinity of the process. I am wholly aware of myself and the spirit I have hosted. One deep breath, deep in the belly we usually forget we have, and I hold it in, trying to release it with that baby whose head has crowned. One silent, back crunching push, then the slip, and the cry. His first breath of earthly air, drawn in desperation, and released in a soul shivering cry, his presence known in the fibers of the Veil itself. I have never felt more one with the heavens, with my husband, with my God, nor with myself. That cry trumpeted my own birth as much as it signaled the birth of my son.
3. We have gathered in a cluster of hope, our beautifully dysfunctional enmeshed family, huddled there in the waiting room of the LDS Hospital ICU. For eight days we have held vigil, praying that the swelling in Clayton’s brain will go down. He is just eighteen-years-old, too young to drink, but old enough to purchase a bullet bike motorcycle without his parent’s consent. His helmet sits unopened on the counter at home, so when he laid the bike down to avoid a head-on collision with the car that came unexpectedly around the corner, his head took the brunt of the blow. Now he lies on a hospital bed, his beautifully built body healing in those eight days, the road rash turning to scabs and finally new flesh. How miraculously the body heals itself. Except that his brain will not let go of the fluid, no matter how hard we pray, how hard the medical personnel tries. The monitors ignore the god-like beauty of his golden curls, keeping their cruel numbers high. We take turns sleeping in our little make-shift campground there in our self-claimed corner of the waiting room. One by one the others patients who came in with Clay either succumb to their injuries or are released to regular rooms. We have grown so close so quickly with others who are living their crises that one day we make a full Thanksgiving feast and bring it down for us all to be nourished together. Later, the hospital will decide to no longer have couches in the waiting room, to discourage people from staying overnight. Shame, really, because there is comfort in shared sorrow.
Finally, on the eighth day, they take my brother George and his wife Cyndy, Clayton’s parents, into a small room down the hall. A while later they return and call us all together. We cluster around them, our arms intertwined. My brother tries to speak, but instead there rises from him a deep, massive moan. From the depths of the earth it rolls, up through his feet, past his loins and his tightened belly. It pauses in his chest and then squeezes out of his throat as his head falls back, his shoulders rising and then falling as the cry releases its full weight into the sterile hospital air, the pitch rising slowly and sorrowfully until it runs out of air and his shoulders fall forward into mournful sobs. It is such an agonizing sound I still hear it in present tense.
Clayton’s beautiful, healthy, glorious body became the source of life for many people the next day. There was little of him to bury. He remains in the heart, the eyes, the skin and other healthy organs other people carry around to this day. Sometimes I see a stranger on the streets of Salt Lake City and wonder if perhaps they are partly our golden-haired boy, unawares.
4. He stumbled back against the door of the fridge, his right hand rising up to hold his head, his left hand holding the phone against his ear. “No, Dad. No!” David slid down the wooden panel and ended in a heap on the hardwood floor. His cry rose up gently and deeply, almost childlike. It echoed in the empty space of our new house. They had finished the wood floors while we were gone to Michigan for vacation. We had just left David’s mother at the Saginaw airport. I can see her still, blowing kisses to her grandchildren as we walked up the steps to the small plane. On the way home her car had collided with another, causing massive head injuries which she did not survive. When Kate heard the cry she ran up the stairs, into the small library, and called her Gram, the one who still remained. “Something is wrong” she cried, and before the words of his mother’s passing crossed David’s lips, Gram was there to comfort us. It has been over twenty years now, but still, on dark lonely nights, I can sometimes hear the echoes of his cry in the corners of this house.