I’m not religious, but I know it was a gift from God that she had so little memory afterward. All those months of silence broke my heart, and I was so afraid I would have this shattered girl in my spare bedroom for the rest of my life (or hers, because suicide seemed so likely then). No mother wants to see her child like that, physically present, but so unreachable.
Then, one morning I came down to make the morning’s coffee and there she was. She was eating yogurt and reading yesterday’s newspaper at the kitchen island. I remember stopping short, standing in the frame of the door just out of her view. I stared and I think I was a bit afraid. A year ago, none of this would have felt out of place, but now it was a manifestation of tremendous strength, a reason to hope, and something to fear losing. I wondered if I stepped over the threshold she might evaporate.
“Good morning, Bea,” I said, finally entering the room. She looked up and smiled.
“You’re up bright and early this morning,” I said, pulling the bag of coffee grounds from the cupboard only to realize that Bea had already made some.
“Not really. I’d planned to be up earlier for a walk, but I mis-set my alarm. PM instead of AM.” She shrugged a shoulder and flipped to the next page of the world news section and sighed. “Feels like I’ve missed a lot,” she said.
I nodded and poured a cup of coffee. In the last few months she’d been so pale, she looked like death itself, weight falling off of her in what seemed like pounds a day, hair coming out in clumps. A little yogurt wasn’t going to put it all back, of course, but her cheeks had that healthy pink to them and she’d pulled her hair back in such a way that you couldn’t see the bald patches. Almost herself.
“Any other plans for today?” I asked, taking a tentative sip of coffee. Bea looked up again and pushed the paper away.
“Actually, yes. I’m going to drive up to the university and re-enroll. I was deferred for the semester, right?”
So, she remembered that. Her father and I had made the arrangements ourselves, hoping for, but truly not anticipating, this very moment. We told her about the deferment despite the fact that she was almost entirely unresponsive to anything we said by that time. A a flutter of the eyelids, and then she turned her face away from us, away from the sunlight that filtered in through the window behind us.
“Yes, that’s right,” I said. “So, you’ll see if you can pick up a couple of classes?”
“No, the usual four, I think. Maybe three to ease myself back in as I’ve been so sick, but still be full time, and I might see what’s available for campus housing — Mum, what’s up?”
I’m not one to hide how I’m feeling. A glass face, that’s what I have, and I knew everything was on my face as she spoke.
“Campus? You want to live in the dorms again? You’re welcome to stay here, you know. I know it’s a bit of a drive, but Dad and I are happy to help.” I didn’t care, of course, if she wanted to be in the dormitories of her university or if she wanted to purchase a million dollar mansion; I couldn’t fathom letting her be on her own just yet, all of a sudden.
“Mum. I can’t stay here. You have done so, so much for me, and besides, I really need my own space, even if it’ll probably be with a freshman.” Bea grinned in a way that let me believe that she really had just been very ill for the last few months.
She stood up, plans in order, ready to tackle the world. I wanted to barrel her over, pull her into my arms and not let her go. She had seemed so fragile that I had been afraid to hold her, but now she was up and leaving and I wanted to grab her, to pull her back, but—
“You know,” I said, “you don’t have to go back just yet. Don’t rush this because you think Daddy and I want you to go back to life as usual. We want whatever you want, whatever you think is best. Take your time. Let your heart heal, lovey.”
Bea cocked her head to the side as she looked at me. Her hand hovered a moment just over the top of her abdomen and then went to rest on her chest. She said nothing, just stared at me, her expression a bricolage of emotions. I felt my heart begin to race and I wondered if I had ruined it, her return to the world.
“Do you want me to drive you up to school?” I asked, quickly. The question reeled her back in and Bea blinked and smiled.
“Nah, I think I’m good to drive by myself. Nothing personal, Mum.”
Bea left a few minutes later, finally dusting off her ancient Volvo that had sat parked in the side yard for the last few months, untouched. I watched her pull out of the driveway, wondering if I was insane for letting her go off like this, all of a sudden, but also realizing I had no other choice. Once she was out of sight, I went upstairs. I walked passed my own bedroom and the spare bedroom Bea was sleeping in. I came to the end of the hall, to Bea’s childhood bedroom. She hadn’t been inside, I hadn’t, her father, no one, since that Tuesday morning when all this awfulness, which seemed like it might be coming to a close, had begun.
I swung open the door like you rip a bandaid off your skin, stepped inside, then slammed it behind me. Somehow the room still smelled like her. She’d only been with us a month and a half, but somehow that sweet baby smell had deeply attached itself into every pore of the room and it had remained despite months of absence. Everything was still out. Clothes for that day, soft flannel, fleece, and wool, because it had been winter then. Knit blankets tossed haphazard into an infant carseat the EMTs insisted we wouldn’t need for the transport, and more blankets crumbled and dissolved on a twin bed where Bea had been sleeping.
The basinet stood next to the bed. I remembered their first night here. Bea had placed the child inside with such earnest care I thought I might burst. I saw her at four, putting one of her baby dolls to bed in just the same way.
I stood in the room a moment longer, then left. I returned sometime time later with boxes. I worked in a fury, unthinking. My only goal was to make the room as it was, maybe a year ago, or a year and a half. Everything, every remnant, went into a box, sealed with packaging tape, unlabeled, and was stored in the farthest corner of the attic. Next, I dissembled the rocker and returned it to its box, which sat in the coset bedroom. That, too, went to the attic. Finally, I took apart the bassinet and it was laid to rest as well.
I returned to the bedroom, now mostly bare but for a few of Bea’s old things. It made me think of first time we had dropped her off at college, the empty room reflecting the emptiness I felt inside, the acknowledgement of an all too brief part of life. I noticed, as I looked around, that I’d missed one thing. Hanging on the wall were the pastel letters S-A-R-A, each connected with a line of ribbon.
I gently plucked them down and folded the S on top of the A on top of the R on top of the A. I did not take it to the attic, but to my bedroom, to my dresser’s top middle drawer. There was a shoebox, it’s contents as neat and meager as Bea’s room. Ultrasound pictures, a newborn’s hospital bracelet, and now her name.
I heard Bea pull in and closed the box and then the drawer. I went down the hall hand shut her bedroom door. I breathed a deep, deep sigh of relief. Yes, it was a gift she had so little memory. Now she could have her peace.