The way you put yourself back together is like this: with a slow, strong stitch and a steady, gentle hand. One. Minuscule. Piece. At. A. Time.
You collect pieces for years. That's what you become—a collector. All the little bits of debris, the flotsam of your soul, scattered far and wide. Sometimes, they rain down on you like ash. Other times, you come across a bit here or a bit there, like Easter eggs hiding along your path. With tenderness, you gather each one.
Some pieces are too fragile to tie back in. They must be carried, apart from the rest of you, like petals in a basket. You hold them close. And remember. And wait. And if you are lucky, if you are observant, there will come a day when you can finally fold them back into yourself, counting on the solidarity of the pieces around them to hold them there until they can draw strength from the whole.
Or there will not. And you will carry those petals until they are as dry and brittle as old paper. Maybe they will become kindling for something new—some new shoot of who you are after that is trying to find enough purchase in the tear-soaked ground of your being to bear fruit. You are so much more fertile than you know.
Maybe you will scatter them behind you, still clutching the false hope that you can find your way back. It's okay, my friend. We all secretly nurse that cold fire in the empty chambers of our breasts. We all long to find our way back, to the before, looking over stooped shoulders with forlorn, withering glances, even as our road only carries us forward.
Maybe you will simply hang onto them, refusing to set your basket down, the container of who you were. And on lonely nights under dark skies you might take them out one by one and allow yourself the gift of memory, tasting whatever you still can of the life you used to live with your beautiful child breathing by your side. How bittersweet the flavor is. How quickly it fades on your tongue.
Other pieces come to you ready. They are supple in your hands the moment you pick them up. And so you sit down for a while and finger their edges, feeling where the fray ends and the weave begins. And you place your needle just there—at the point where it is least likely to simply tear away—and you begin the mending. Carefully. Your stitches are clumsy at first. Awkward and rough. But with time, you gain skill. And eventually, you learn how to sing the pieces of your soul back together. You might even find yourself smiling a little in the process.
And then there are the pieces that never return. And you knew, from your very first step on this journey, that there was a cost. You knew, even as the scattered remains of yourself called you forward to find them, that some voices were too weak to last, and others were simply missing from the start. Those are the pieces they take with them, our children gone too soon. And it's okay because we would have given them every last part of us if only they had asked. We are all too willing to travel as a fraction of who we once were, if it means some bit is still with them wherever they are. If it means, somewhere, we are still together.
There will be holes, to be sure. Places where what you recovered is so much smaller than you recall. Places where there is no give, where the scar tissue pulls tightly in ropey, fibrous knots against your seams, and you simply cannot stretch even a millimeter more out of what you have. Places where your ungainly stitching has cost you precious ground, has left the weave unworkable and hard to look at. Places where you could not find the right fit, and you did the best you could with low light and tired, tender fingers. And of course, the places that will never come back. The holes you start to look on with love, these little reminders of who your child made you.
Like it or not, new things start to grow in the breaks between. That is the promise of death, after all—the birth of something new. At first you are likely to resist, yanking up these green shoots like unwanted weeds, mowing them down with whatever chemical concoction promises to work. You will hate the new you. Not just the ugly bits, the scars and puckers of flesh. The discoloration. The distortion. You will hate the new growth, the cycle you cannot escape. You will hate that any part of you can thrive when your child is gone. Maybe that is the most bitter truth of all. The medicine you will try to spit out over and over again. But nature won't be thwarted. She will have her pound or two. You will learn, and you will grow, and eventually, you will stop tearing at your heart long enough to wonder at it. And one day, you will look up and see the sun is high, and feel the parch echo deep inside yourself. And as much as you swore you wouldn't, you will pick up that watering can and give yourself what you need, not just to keep going, but to keep growing.
Fuck this day, you will say, even as you take relief in it. Fuck this day and every day after.
If it sounds pretty, it's not. If it sounds good, it doesn't often feel that way. Mark me, every piece of yourself that you reclaim and every inch of new growth will hurt like hell. You will curse and you will rail and you will weep, and you will never manage to stop it. And then, at some point, you are just too tired to care. What is another drop of pain in an infinite bucket?
It's not in the mending or the growth itself that you find some small pleasure, but in the surrender to it. And the more you relax into your task, the more relief you feel. The more joy you find. The more beauty you notice. Your steps are never easy, but they become lighter, if only because you have stopped fighting each and every one of them. You have stopped fighting yourself. When you give over to survival, it becomes something more.
I don't pretend to understand the magic inside of us that will not let us die even when we beg it to. That spark that not only keeps us going, but insists we learn to fucking like it along the way. I have told that spark exactly where to go so many times I've lost count, and still it has me fanning, carefully stoking it with oxygen and determination, turning my ire into fuel. All I know is that I am 37 trillion cells of love and longing for Evelyn. 37 trillion cells of fight and piss and obstinance. 37 trillion cells of sorrow and brokenness and surrender. 37 trillion cells of yesterday and tomorrow. 37 trillion cells—at least a few of which still want to be here, still believe they have work to do. Those 37 trillion cells have carried me on the days I could not bring myself to take another step. And yours will carry you, like it or not.