Blood Memories


What did the doctor mean by “multiple anomalies”? Did we hesitate, look at one another, and say we wanted to see you, hold you? I don’t remember…but we didn’t. Why, I’ve asked myself many times? The words had an unsettling tone.

“Anomalies” rolled off the doctor’s tongue, but combined with “multiple” created an image of a young innocent body twisted into frightening shapes. The doctor said you were fortunate that you didn’t live but a few minutes.

However, we named you; named you James Edward even though we would never hold you and call you by your name except silently to ourselves, and for a while to one another.

I try to imagine you, had the doctor not said “multiple anomalies.” What would we have called you? A formal “James”? The informal “Jimmy”? What about “Jed,” a combination of James and Edward? Too folksy? Too farmer-like? Jamie maybe. I think that is what I would have called you.

At times I see myself sitting in the bleachers watching you fire one across the diamond nailing the runner scurrying to first base. “Way to go, Jamie,” I shout. You slap your glove asking for the next grounder so you can do it again. You’re in jeans, your shirt hanging out, your sneaker coming untied which you reach down and tie between batters. All your movements fluid, graceful, unhindered.

Often you’re in the backyard playing with your brother and sister. Though you’re younger, your spirit fills up the games all of you play. On the swing set you always swing the highest, laugh the loudest, unafraid of the wide arc you make as you curve through the air. I want to caution you but hold back, afraid to dampen your enthusiasm, your unlimited energy.

There are other times, however, when I picture pushing you in the swing. Your head hangs to one side, the muscles in your neck not strong enough to hold your head upright. My hands grip yours around the chains of the swing, and I move you forward a foot or so, afraid to push you farther. Then bring you back, push you forward, bring you back, push you forward. We complete this cycle a number of times before I stop. I feel your hands move in mine. I’ve come to understand that this is your signal for me to continue. So we start again, silently and cautiously.

rutherfordAt the beach, we walk down to the water’s edge. My arm is around your shoulders keeping you upright. You thrust your legs ahead, each one a cumbersome lunge forward, that digs a trench in the sand. But you keep going, occasionally throwing your head back at me as if to say, “See, I’m going to make it.” We keep on going into the water. I put my hand under your chin and grab the back of your bathing suit to guide you along the top of the small waves that greet you. The ocean wraps around you lifting you out of the struggle of walking. For a moment I imagine you free from the perversion of your misshapen body.

The doctor told us that if you had lived into the few years of childhood your affliction would allow, our life would have been a bittersweet cycle of caring and distress, loving and helplessness, only to have you die before we were prepared for it. Or as he cruelly yet honestly went on, “The baby would outlive your patience and caring.”

I hated his honesty. Yet I find the memories that I create, “the treasury and guardian of all things” as Cicero said, limit themselves to your young years. How many years would you have had? Are the ones I do create the years that I wish you would have had? Why not more? Do I not go past them because I would have run out of patience and love for you? I think not. But should I stop falsifying memories and accept your death as the best that could have happened? Why keep you alive in my mind and make you live your pain? Do I keep you alive so I can feel mine?

You have been gone these many years, yet never gone from my mind. I have tried to write about you in these numerous years, but have failed. This writing also might be a failure; but I take hope from Rilke and his “blood remembering.” He suggests one must wait for experiences to take shape; adding that “…verses amount to so little when one writes them young.” Yet our experiences and the accompanying memories are not enough until the memories have “turned to blood within us, to glance and gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves.” Perhaps then the poet can write about them. Perhaps then in that “rare hour” of which Rilke speaks, words can go forth from the poet.

Perhaps my memories of you, James Edward, have turned to blood within me.

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