When I lost my daughter, I lost myself.
I can recall the exact moment of what I call "the split". It was in the second after I turned her over and saw her face and realized with no shadow of doubt, and no hope of error, that she was gone. In that moment, I distinctly remember thinking I was in a horror movie. I don't mean that I thought my experience was similar to a horror movie or like a horror movie. I mean that I absolutely believed myself to be in a horror movie. In that moment, I was lost.
In the same second I knew her to be dead, I could feel myself fracturing, cracking open, splitting straight down the middle of my heart, my soul, my psyche, even my body. This was the point of total dissociation.The old, familiar bits shattered and were swept away. In their place emerged another woman. I won't call her new because she feels very, very old and very, very tired. I have not found my way back to what was—what's "real"—since, and I'm not sure I ever will.
In the first few weeks, the woman I was seemed entirely gone. I mourned her loss as truly as I mourned the loss of my daughter, though I would have gladly given her up a thousand times over to keep Evelyn here. It is simply a cruel twist that your grief is multiplied in these unforeseen ways, that while you agonize and long for your child, you must do the same for the pieces of yourself that are no more.
I have since found that she rests inside, cradled in my heart next to Evelyn, where I can carry her forward with love. But I cannot reach her there, even if I can feel her. I cannot wear her skin or her smile. I cannot live her hopes and dreams. She is a part of me, but she is no longer me.
I wake every morning in this new body, the one that has aged seemingly overnight, that moans with new aches and complaints it never knew before. It is a heavy body, even if it doesn't look it, and yet more fragile than before. I must carry it carefully. I wake as this other woman, feeling like a stranger to my own skin. We are getting to know one another, but our encounters are awkward and fraught with resentments and misunderstandings. My expectations of her must be continually lowered. She has needs I don't know how to meet. We consistently let one another down.
It's not that I hate her. I just don't want to be her. I don't want to be here. She is the place I have arrived against my will. It feels like finding yourself in the desert after a long journey when you thought you were headed to Bali. The terrain is unforgiving, the atmosphere—suffocating. I packed for a wholly different climate, and I no longer have the budget to correct my mistakes. "Making due" is the order of the day, every day. Survival is a very real challenge. The pleasures of sun-swept beaches and plush, white sands are leagues away. The destination I planned for, shopped for, bled for, is a distant memory. I don't get to go there anymore. I am too far away with too few resources for a change of course of that magnitude.
This woman I find myself as has a terrible secret. She is invisible. Nearly everywhere she goes, people look at her and see the old me. They are incapable of seeing her for who she is, of understanding how completely I died with my daughter. They expect her to act as I once did, to laugh at the same jokes and share the same memories. She is lonely in a way that defies comprehension. She is unseen, unnamed. Because they cannot know her, they cannot help her. She must be a master of self reliance if she is to survive at all, but her disfigurement makes that all the more difficult. It is her paradox—greater need but less capacity.
I miss the woman I was, but as the months roll by, my longing for her pales beside the longing for my daughter. I believe them to be together, wherever they are, at least. Being that woman was one of my daughter's great gifts to me. She wasn't perfect, not even close, but she knew a happiness and an innocence I'll never touch again. I will spend a good deal of time now reconciling myself to the woman I am. Learning how to care for her, if I can. Learning who she is, what she's capable of. I don't particularly like her, but then, she doesn't like herself. She was born out of tragedy into a nightmare that never ends. She's likely tougher than I realize, and more vulnerable as well. We'll both be glad when her time here is served, of that I'm sure.