I rarely venture into his room. It remains just as he left it, transfixed in a state of perpetual infanthood. Toys litter the corners, gathered up haphazardly and scattered without reason. His changing table set up and waiting, a stack of diapers waiting unopened by the cushion. After he died, I spent a night or two on his rug, T-Shirt knit and surprisingly comfortable. I thought the sensation of being there might have some kind of independent value, might keep me closer to the memories. I suppose I could have used the bed- his crib is a bed, purchased with the express purpose of expanding one day to a full size and accompanying him through childhood and into adolescence, but I could not bear to do that. In any event it would make for a macabre guest bed.
His room has existed in stasis now for longer than he occupied it. Everywhere, there are reminders of what should have been. His closets and drawers stuffed to the gills with 12 month and up clothes purchased on sale and off season from the year before. On the ottoman accompanying his rocker, the one I sat on while Kara and I alternated holding him as he lay dying, rests a coordinated 12 month outfit, "Here Comes Trouble" written in playful letters across the front. If only that were true. The tags are still on it. It was marked down to under ten dollars. A bargain, though a pointless one. On top of his chest of drawers, the plaster moldings of his hands and feet. One was done at the hospital and one at the home, I cannot recall which. I still cannot figure out how to take the impressions out of one of the molds, and so they sit, as I am too afraid to try and break them.
I can never make a decision about what to do about any of it. To make one decision, say, to give away the unopened toys or the brand new clothes, leads inexorably down the path to making hundreds. What do I do with this room where my son once lived and died? What do I do with his books? Which do I keep? How do I choose? The same is true of all the toys, of everything in the room. And so I make no decisions. To acknowledge how inessential each piece is represents some kind of ultimate surrender for which I am unprepared. It means acknowledging the obvious- that James has no use for them, or for any of the artificacts he left behind, each preserved only for us.
I went yesterday. I sat in his chair, and for some reason turned to look out the window, away from all things James. In the antique crib between the chair the window sat a load of toys, overflowing the crib. On top was his plush dog toy. The zombie dog, which always went off with one of its phrases at the most random time. I hated that toy. We bought it at Target with a gift card. I have no idea why I remember that. Amused, I go to press one of the buttons, to see if it's still obnoxious. There's no noise. I try again, and belatedly realize the batteries are dead. It's been sitting unused for a year. Of course they're dead. The realization starts a minor panic in me, an unwillingness to believe it's been that long, that the toys and the rest of the items kept so carefully in stasis are beginning to fail. I immediately check the rest of his electronic toys. His firetruck still works. His piano rings loud and clear. The mobile won't work on the first try but it comes around on the second. I can't find his laptop and for a moment wonder if I buried him with it, but it's buried beneath some other plush toys and obnoxious as ever. One of the pieces of his activity mat no longer works. It's the last toy I check and for some reason I lose it, clutching the silly dog to my chest and sobbing.
Sometimes I am better at this than others. Sometimes I am more ok, and the emptiness seems like an appendage, a burden but not an unbearable one. Other times, like then, it is the only thought I can hold in my head. The rest of my thoughts grow small and do not have the narrative force to dislodge it. For some reason realizing that the batteries on his toys- even toys he didn't really like- are failing brings home to me just how empty the room is, how pointless. That is a hard thing to know. Afterwards, I sit there for a while, taking it all in.
The more time passes the more transparent my defense mechanisms become. I am doing better, but lately everything seems fresher. Whether it the concurrence of dates or seasons, the memories seem clearer and closer. The dead batteries are just another reminder of how long its been, and what is missing. I can't imagine if he were here I'd ever have allowed that to happen. But he's not, so I did. This month is hard, and it's realizations like that that drive it home. I miss him, and sometimes all the more when I realize how long I've missed him. Still, I tell myself that next month will be better, and next year will be better. I'll get around to the room eventually. The batteries might give out, but that doesn't mean James is or ever will.
Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.