March 12, 2011
There is a little girl, around eight years old, sitting on her mother’s lap across from me at the Philadelphia gate at Reagan Airport. She has shoulder-length brown hair. She is wearing leggings with Hello Kitty on them, along with a belt that belongs on a child five years her senior. She’s at that age where her body is starting to get away from her, and her arms and legs hang off her mother’s lap at awkward angles. She doesn’t notice. She is comfortable. Her mother patiently arranges the girl’s limbs against her own, not wanting to move her, because she knows that the day when her daughter won’t want to share her lap is imminent.
The girl is playing a Nintendo DS. Cookin’ Mama, which was one of Kiersten’s favorite games. The sound of the game is tearing my heart out. I keep hearing the music and the ridiculous Japanese approximation of English as she finishes each step in the recipe. I close my eyes and I can almost feel Kiersten playing, snuggled in the next chair, her head resting on my shoulder.
She sat like that the day she died, as we waited for Steve’s car to be finished at the Ford dealership. She was curled up in the chair next to mine, her body resting easily against me. I kissed the top of her head several times, inhaling the smell of her. I can recall the smell of her hair now. I couldn’t do that in the first several months. I can also recall the exact feeling of the warmth of her body on my right shoulder as she leaned against me. That memory isn’t as painful as it used to be. It doesn’t make me want to scream and cry. But it still hurts like hell, and my shoulder suddenly feels cold for the lack of her warmth.
Looking across at the little girl with the DS, I find I want to say something to her. I want to tell her how much Kiersten loved her DS and how much she loved that game. I want to tell her mother not to take for granted the casual ease of her daughter’s body against her own. I want to tell her to give her daughter extra hugs and kisses every night. To never let her forget for a single day to let her baby know how much she’s loved.
I can’t do that, of course. People become nervous when you approach them in airports and discuss their children. It’s an instinctive mother reaction to shy away, to put your children behind you. And starting the conversation means I have to finish it, which means I have to tell them a story about how all that casual ease can be taken away in a heartbeat. It isn’t fair to the recipient. But there’s a part of me that wants to tell the story anyway. There’s a part of me that still, even now, wants to walk up to every parent I see and look them in their eyes and tell them that my baby, my heart and soul, is dead. There's a part of me wants each of them to hurt for my loss.
It’s selfish. I know that.
I know that, which is why I remain quiet and pull my jacket over my shoulder and listen and remember.