I may still decide to bore you with my many, many words on how I decided to go back to work outside the home, but there is something more pressing I need to write about at the moment, and it is my dread of tomorrow.
My new job is at my old company, where I worked until Simone was born—or, more precisely, until my maternity leave ran out a bit over half way through her NICU stay. You probably remember that I didn’t go back because Simone’s pulmonologist was firm on the point of no day care for the first two years, but honestly I couldn’t have brought myself to leave Simone then anyway, especially when I had a choice. Before maternity leave I’d been on short-term disability thanks to bedrest, and before that was my actual last day in the office—a half-day, actually. Six years ago tomorrow, January 14th, 2008.
A lot of things are different now. For one thing, the company acquired another company and changed its name, and there has been some significant rebranding. I am in the same department I was in before, but that department has undergone dramatic changes itself. I am on the same floor I was on before but at the opposite end, and there’s been a remodel—the color scheme is different, as is the carpet; the offices are much, much smaller and everything looks a bit sleeker. It’s different now, it is, but it feels, in many ways and in many places, the same. I park within a spot or two of where I parked six years ago, I get coffee from the same machine in the same location as I did back then, I use the same bathrooms and climb the same stairs and I even eat the same thing for breakfast from the same cafeteria. Sometimes when I walk across the skyway to refill my cup I feel eerily unmoored in time, because I have walked across that same skyway so very many times in the past.
On my last day, six years ago tomorrow, I shut down my computer around lunch and left for a routine prenatal appointment, twenty-two weeks and two days pregnant with twins. I thought I would be back the next morning. Instead, I didn’t return for two months, and when I did it was on a Saturday, so that I wouldn’t have to see anyone, and Scott and I hurriedly deposited the contents of my office into garbage bags—hurriedly because afterwards we were going to the hospital, where our daughter lived, and where we’d spent most of our time since January, and would until mid-May.
Look, I don’t mean to be maudlin or overdramatic about this. I’m not going to kneel in front of the Xerox and keen. Being back doesn’t upset me, in general; if anything, familiarity has made the transition to working outside the home again much easier. There have been a few awkward moments—I saw someone I worked with before who inquired after my children, asking how many I had now. I said two, and he said “Oh, it was twins, right?” and then I had to say Well yes, a boy and a girl, but my son died. But my daughter is fine! I have another one now, too! Most people, though, who were here back when I was, remember what happened. They look visibly relieved when I show them a picture of Simone, or mention that she is in Kindergarten. Some have read my book, or saw articles about the book in the local papers, but mostly the subject doesn’t come up.
Still, when I found out that my start date was a week into January, I had a wild, stupid moment when I considered asking to start two weeks later, say around the 20th. January 14th, you see, is my Dark Day. The 11th isn’t so hot either—it’s probably the last time Ames was alive, and possibly the night he died—but except for the furious kicking the relevant events of the 11th are speculative, and all happened in the evening, after work, so there is no parallelism to contend with. And anyway the 14th is always the worst, because it was the worst. It was an unimaginably horrible day, a horror. I usually commemorate it now by ruminating on all the ways I am possibly to blame, and all the ways things could possibly have gone differently. And I wonder about him.
In an unexpected and late-breaking twist, tomorrow I will again shut down my computer around lunch and leave for an appointment–more specifically, to take Simone to the pediatrician, located exactly one floor above the perinatologist’s office where I had my appointment six years ago. I’ll even park in the same ramp. I suppose this is good, in a way: it underscores the fact that I have been lucky, that I have a lovely, healthy daughter, the same daughter whose future, six years ago, was so precarious.
Simone asked me this past week whether Ames was “an ‘Early Bird,’ too.” I don’t know where she heard that phrase—I think her teacher (also the mother of a preemie) may have used it. (“I was an Early Bird,” Simone will say confidingly.) Anyhow, she asked if Ames had been an Early Bird, and I told her not really, because he had died before he was born. She knows this, but something about the phrasing struck her, and she repeated it incredulously: He died before he was born?
“I didn’t know that could happen,” she said. I nodded.
And I suppose that is what I am dreading about tomorrow, in a nutshell. I did know that could happen. I did. But the way I knew it before January 14th of 2008 and the way I knew it after are a world apart. I am dreading sitting at my desk, remembering sitting at a desk some yards away, stupidly, luckily unaware of what had already happened, and I am dreading the walk to my car remembering that other, last walk to my car, before everything changed forever.