What’s Left (for Nikki)

(written October 12, 2011)

It’s the anniversary today.  I debate taking your grandchild to your headstone.  She names you in the sky at night.  I don’t feel grief or loss–those were my companions long before you died.  But there is this ache.  It’s in my chest and it warns memory.  The ache is, this year, something hard to identify.

This morning the house was dark and quiet and I pictured life with you in it.  A life without alcohol.  I imagined you would have prevented me from all sorts of things-things like heartache, lost trust, guilt shame, illnesses.  You were like a big child to us, even then.  Your slowness was what sweetened you.  You made your first born, Nikki, shine.  That was the last time she let herself be loved by a parent.  Your gradual rejection left in her a big empty space, and as she got older, that space filled with self-reliance, education, but mostly with the sense of life as an orphan.  Her ache for you and loss of you shook straight through her heart–cutting it in two and then clumsily stitching it back together, leaving gaps for it all to seep through.  I imagine it steeling itself to the love of many things.

When you died we all suffered different losses.  Mine was the beginning of a broken fever.  You left me to a monster and I’m scarred in crippling ways.  For Jodie, your youngest and by far the sweetest, her loss was unnameable and filled with a deep sorrow–it served as a reminder of not knowing love and protection and sanctuary.  But for Nikki–for Nikki your death made me angry.  Why had you left her again?  Why must she lose you twice and open up old wounds that, from childhood, really never heal?  When she was younger her love for you was fierce and without limit.  She knew you had no right to abandon her, and she didn’t give up easily.  She was persistent and faithful and resilient until, as time passed, her heart broke.  She learned loss and defeat too early.  When you died, her loss was like an old companion she’d tried to forget, only this time she had more control.  But I saw her face–she looked like a little girl again, learning you were never coming back.  I suppose, on the anniversary of your death, I grieve for her.  My heart feels young and fragile and sore for her.  She is the ache in my chest.

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