I have this occasional but reoccurring thought that my house is on fire. I have two items I need to get to- Hank’s ashes, and his memory box. I try to go back in but either someone won’t let me, or I can’t due to the size of the flames and thickness of the smoke. I lose both.
A few weeks ago I panicked. I needed to see his pictures. I get this urge maybe once a year. The urge is so strong that I will race home from work, tear through the closet, rip the lid off, and just stare. I cry and apologize to him for failing him. I put the pictures back, get myself together, and go back to work.
No one is my office is none the wiser as to my actions over the last hour. I pretend to have that post- productive-lunchtime-errand-running-glow when I walk back in to my office. “Dry cleaners AND Home Goods!” I will sometimes announce this triumphantly.
The last time I tried to see the pictures, I couldn’t find them for about sixty seconds. I couldn’t find them because they were face down, in a sealed sandwich bag. I panicked again. What if they got stuck together and I couldn’t get them apart unless I ripped them? What if they got wet? What if the fire scenario came to fruition?
Most everything that is material in life can be replaced, except your deceased child’s stuff. I have so little of it that it can fit in a shoebox. I have no opportunities to grow this pile of his things. They’re not tangible or material things. They’re as important as a living person.
After I put Alex to bed last night, I had to get to Fedex. I couldn’t sleep until I made copies. Two copies, and one more copy on waterproof paper. I handed the pictures facedown to the woman across the counter and told her what I wanted. She nodded and flipped the pictures over.
Only one person outside of my husband and parents have seen his pictures. Now make that two. By the grace of God, the Fedex woman didn’t miss a beat. I was bracing myself for every question. None came. For this I breathed a sigh of relief that everyone in that store probably heard.
I asked her to trim them up, since she put two pictures on each page. She said I can do it myself, and walked me over to this paper cutter that cleanly slices through probably everything. She helped me get started. I thanked her.
“These pictures are really important to me,” I whispered.
“My pleasure. Glad I found that waterproof paper for you. Let me know if I can help.”
I’m doing great, on this satisfying paper cutter, it’s smooth blade effortlessly moving back and forth. Its like a safe mandolin, or deli meat slicer. I line up the edges and move the blade. It’s calming and satisfying, until I remember the autopsy.
Without going into too much detail, after almost seven years after Hank’s death, I got up the courage to ask for a copy of his autopsy from my doctor’s office a few weeks ago. When I left, I took it out to my car and read it. I got about halfway through.
My heart jumped when I saw the words FINAL AUTOPSY REPORT written across the top, on hospital letterhead.
Hank was not Hank, or Henry. He was “BB Mathay, Anne”. My baby boy. No identity, just a body.
The autopsy was not great. It has some things I never knew (blonde hair! 2.88lbs!). It also had some things I thought I knew and a whole lot I didn’t. It was hard to read how my body had failed him. It was hard to read that summary at the bottom where the medical examiner ruled his cause of death.
I sliced away on the fancy paper cutter as I thought about how the medical examiner looked at him. He looked at him scientifically and objectively, and without emotion. That’s his job, and he’s excellent at what he does. It’s not his fault that he’s labeled my son BB Mathay, Anne. Did he slice a blade cleanly, with precision, like me? Was he methodical and efficient? Did he think that there would be a mother out there, almost seven years later, slicing away at the pictures of this BB Mathay, Anne?
I left and came home. I held it together until I couldn’t. I heaved big sobs on the bedroom floor for a few minutes. I channeled my inner Annette Bening from American Beauty (remember her breakdown that ended almost as quickly as it started?) and moved about my evening. It didn’t stop the tears from my eyes.
We all find out things that we don’t want to know, but we are glad we have the answers to what happened. It doesn’t make those answers easier to swallow- it can make them sit in your throat, rising up and down for a few hours, snarled with sorrow and bile and anger. We are able to eventually push them down and get on with life, but it never goes away. Every time you swallow you feel it.