Standing at the kitchen sink washing my hands, I glanced, absent-mindedly, out the window toward a solitary orange tree that sits against our garden wall. A majestic, yellow and brown Monarch, its wing span at least four inches, fluttered from branch to branch in a butterfly ballet.
I turned, instinctively, to call to the kids, Hey guys, come see the butterfly, but the turning of my head pulled me to the present. Katie was twenty-three years old and two states away teaching fourth grade, and Matthew was sitting in a college classroom in Ohio. I don’t think either one could hear me.
There was a time when such a sighting would incite a frenzy of motion. Two sets of feet would come running from the playroom and the three of us would note, in whispered tones, the butterfly’s every move. Matt would point and bang on the window, and Katie would scold him like the big sister she was, imparting wisdom like she was the expert of How to watch a butterfly without scaring it away.
There we’d stand, noses pressed against glass.
“Do you think it’s a boy or a girl?”
“Duh, Katie, it doesn’t have any babies with it. It’s a boy.”
“Look, it’s sitting on the top branch!”
“What if it falls?”
“Can we catch it?”
“Where does it live?”
Then off it would flutter, its magic along with it, though the moment would live on though rudimentary etchings of crayon on white paper and countless remember whens before bedtime.
I miss sharing those moments of innocence. My heart still calls out to my two babies when these everyday delights are revealed to me at odd hours. I have a feeling it always will.
It catches me off guard, this new stillness, this empty house of mine, the now quiet car rides, the lazy almost reckless way I can saunter through the market. I am realizing that emptiness is not always solitary. I am startled to discover that these quiet spaces are inhabited by ghosts.
This strange new phenomenon is putting me on edge. I am being visited by my children at their various ages. They haunt me, these younger versions, like they are trapped in time, and I am separated from them by a clear glass wall. A blond head with a coloring book at church, a giggle of silliness that erupts from a toddler at the mall, tanned skin and baggy swim trunks digging a hole to China at the water’s edge, and a preteen with gleaming braces and a long pony tail. My children’s faces are everywhere; their voices fill my head.
I know I am sad about the end of an era, which always involves mysteries of one sort or another. Our two children have grown up. These little sightings I can handle, explain away as the musings of a mom who’s moving on, but there is a presence of two other beings that I can’t explain. Two blurred faces who have recently begun to roam the halls of my house and sit on the edge of my bed.
After almost sixteen years, long past the days when I accepted that two of our babies had not made it to term, I am wondering, once again, who they would have been. How their lives would have blessed us and the world. They would be in high school with boyfriends and girlfriends and sprays of acne that would curse their days.
This shocks me. To tell you the truth, I never would have guessed it. Miscarriages happen all the time. A natural process, the doctor had assured me, making perfect sense. Of course it was a disappointment, but I was young. I would have more babies, she promised.
She was wrong. We didn’t. Years passed, and we didn’t have a number three, no number four. I cried my tears and then, one balmy spring day, I surrendered. We accepted and stopped trying. That was that, or so I had thought.
It can’t be coincidence that the door has sprung open to these memories at the same time I am grieving the empty nest. There are four spirits wandering in this house, not two. How can it be that I am just now considering that? Of course it impacts a universe when a pregnancy ends in miscarriage. There are souls involved, and the souls of children claim their mothers with a bond stronger than time or distance. This thought comforts me, two little ones who will always remain.
I dry my hands on a kitchen towel and fold it just so, knowing that it will not end up in a heap on the floor or secretly used to wipe peanut butter crumbs off the corners of a teen-aged mouth. The Monarch flutters past the window again, and then a second one joins it. I study them as they hop from leaf to leaf, unaware of me and the two little noses pressed to the glass.
Susan Pohlman is a freelance writer/writing coach based in Phoenix, Arizona. She is the author of the memoir, Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home.