The Hand-off


It has been nine months and I still think about you first thing each morning.  The shower drain is streaked with the tears of 284 days.  I worry that I am forgetting you, forgetting the little things.  Then, I will reflexively feel around for you on the bed or think I hear you in the other room and I know you are embedded in the fibers.  When no one else is home, I wander over and put my hand in the clay mold that bears your name and your print.  I run over the ridges and indentations and am stung with memories of holding your hand as you slept solidly on my lap.  Every.  Single.  Evening.  For 11 years. The first day I met you we formed a quiet but immediate connection.  You tumbled my way through a flurry of sound and movement all around us.  We sat on the floor together and you nuzzled up close, warm and curious.  I tried to keep an open mind, scanned the place for anyone else to hold my interest.  But you were it.  You had my number and I had yours.

Those first months were all halcyon hazy summer.  You flopped on your belly in the dirt as I dug up weeds and planted patches of color all over the yard.  You refused to sleep alone and forced us to cozy up on the kitchen linoleum at your side or bring you into bed in the wee, small hours.  The canyon trail with the sloping hillside was your favorite sunset destination and after 10 straight hours of managing tragedy and illness, there was no better way to end my day.  You caught a bad cold early on and I sat through that birthday dinner frantically counting the minutes until I could get back home and continue nursing you through.  Nothing else mattered as much.

Nobody had ever seen anything like you.  The way you moved, the way you talked.  You could tear around the yard, scooting and leaping into the pool or settle into a nest of pillows on the couch and in either mode, you were utterly fascinating.  To a person, every one was impressed by the limitlessness with which you adored.  You wanted nothing more than to be with.  Your only enemies were balloons and footballs.  You had the most ridiculous face, defying all explanation … it made no sense.

In the later years, you happily abided five major moves, three of them cross-country.  You integrated a series of new family members and seemed to let go of your former incarnations without incident.  Everywhere we landed was home to you and every new person a comfortable lap.  You just had to get your bearings, get the lay of the land and you were off to races.  You were an inspiration to me in this way.

In the final months, you noticed my lap disappearing.  Our nightly ritual was growing increasingly less convenient but even this you soldiered through.  It required maneuvering and creativity, but you managed to nestle into new positions along the way.  Reluctantly, when there simply wasn’t the room, you opted for the second best lap in the vicinity.  I wish I had known that we were in a countdown during that time.  Or perhaps I am glad I hadn’t.  I was so busy with this other countdown, you see.

That last day was simply too much.  I was supposed to be elated and basking in the celebration of a new life.  In actual fact, I was the shell of a person.  I felt guilty for not wanting go — I truly wanted to cancel the whole thing.  But then, how do you cancel something like that?  How do you explain it to people?  ‘No,’ I thought.  ‘It’s time to start the transition.  You will regret not having marked this occasion.’  And I still think that is right, even though I was scarcely there.  It was all happening to someone else.  I look at the pictures and think, ‘Oh, she was there?  Did I talk to her?’  The only things indelibly imprinted from that day are his whispers in my ear, once to tell me it was time to go and the second time to tell me she was already gone.  I spent the car ride back telling myself it was OK that we weren’t there, that they were all surrounding her.  What a spectacle I must have been arriving at the hospital — stuffed into that silk dress, belly protruding and wild with grief.

She turned eight months today.  We half-joked that we hoped she would be imbued with your spirit, your passing converging with her birth.  I often think you would have loved her and how amazing it would have been to see you two together.  She is so delighted by everything these days, so fully engaged, she would have patted your haunches and squealed like she does with Ruby.  People kept telling me that her arrival would soften the blow of your leaving.  By all rights, the two should probably not even be comparable.  Of course they are and also not even close.  She’s on my lap constantly, much more than even you were.  She glows with your light, absolutely shares your disposition, there is no question.  Still, if you were here, you would shove her over just enough to divide the space and I would totally let you.