We are thrilled to share some hand-picked readers' notes featured in Issue 60: Beginnings and Endings.
My first son, fifth child, was born six years ago this Saturday, October 2nd. He came ten days early, as autumn began, the day after I chaperoned a field trip to a farm. He was born in a blowup pool in our living room in the early evening while a friend took our daughters to eat Chipotle. We named him after my husband’s father, though the name, Stephen, didn’t feel right for a baby. He died seventy-five days later on a sunny winter afternoon, December 16th, while napping in my bedroom, just after the sugar maple outside our window lost all its red leaves.
In January, I decided that I wanted, needed, another child, another baby. Some people, my oldest daughter and husband included, thought I might be replacing Stephen or inviting more great loss, but I couldn’t quiet the longing. I learned on May 1st that I was pregnant and, a few weeks later, that it would be another boy. I spent fall, the anniversary of Stephen’s life, in my third trimester, terrified that the baby might stop kicking or breathing inside me and reliving the year before, each of those seventy-five days.
I felt like Mary that December, anticipating something looming and possibly terrible. True, named after another relative, came on December 30th, also born in the living room.
He is four now, at preschool, as I write. He asks us to tell him about Stephen. He tells me he would like his own tree if he dies. He experienced his first death this weekend: a chick, his favorite of the brood, a yellow one who let him hold it, killed by our dog chasing it. We buried the bird by the front porch, True laying the soft, downy body in a small hole in the earth.
Erica Jenks Henry, Oak Park, IL
“It’s three miles there and back” was always the answer when someone asked how far it was to the pier. Mom and I never walked it for distance but for joy.
Every night after dinner, whenever we were at Mom’s beach house, it was a rule that we had to walk to the pier and back to get desert—usually my sister’s homemade peach crisp with Carolina peaches and double topping so no one fought over it.
We didn’t rush. We took our time looking at all the sandcastles and creatures along the way, made with love during hours of play, soon to be washed away by the tide. “Careful” came the warning just in time for us to duck under the fishing lines as the sun started its decadent decent. Mom stopped to pet all the passing dogs. During these walks, there was always lots of chatting, singing, hand-holding with Mom, an ebbing and flowing pace, always laughter and usually dancing.
Our final walk was different. We each walked alone, lost in our own thoughts and memories. When we reached the pier, we held each other and cried. We knew she was where she would want to be—a part of her favorite three miles in all the world. A part of the beach, the castles, and the sea.
Laura Thoma, Guilford, CT
This July, I moved out of my parents’ house for the second time in my adult life.
The world’s tangle of coronavirus and a bout of deep depression had sequestered me home from my dorm in Manhattan to the quiet streets of residential Chicago where, following my parents’ recent divorce, my mom lived alone in what used to be our family home. I had been locked in intermittent skirmishes with depression since primary school, but this episode was drastic, brought on by a handful of factors, all future-oriented in the way things are when you near the end of college.
It was on my mind often then: Where an ending stops and a beginning starts. How to draw a map so you’d know which one you stand in the midst of, and how to tame them so they might arise at your command. In those ten months at home, I felt smothered by a final punctuation mark, stuck, hellishly, in an ending of epic proportions—a breakdown of the life I had built for myself. What was beginning, I feared, was a permanent regression, an empty shadow of adulthood slipping out of my grasp.
As the weeks passed, I took up therapy and Prozac and writing. I finished my first short story and started another. I learned that beginnings were everywhere, not only where I wanted them to be—but there, too. I felt that things would never be the same, and I decided, much later, that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing.
This July, I packed my life into cardboard boxes and signed a lease on an apartment in New York. This is how life goes on, I learned, beautiful and terrifying; an ending arrives, a beginning follows. So it changes. So it goes.
Blue Merrick, New York, NY
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