I was supposed to be grading papers during my planning period at school today. Instead I read a book. An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken. I read it, cover to cover, in about three hours.
I read a memoir about stillbirth called Life Touches Life and I absolutely hated it. It was one of the books I was given by LLOST at the hospital. It was all about the author's withdrawal from the world, her decision to not try to have more children, and then, at the end, a very Buddhist metaphor about buckets of water and sunlight that just made me want to scream. I am not exaggerating when I say I hated it.
This book was different.
The author wrote the book immediately after the birth of her second child, her first living child. It's about the absurdity of stillbirth, the complete darkness and irrationality speckled with the small spots of brightness. So many of its pages echoed thoughts that I've had and that I continue to have.
One section in particular cut straight to the root of the root for me. She was comparing herself to the crazed woman in a gothic novel wearing a bloodied nightgown and rocking her dead baby to sleep while singing lullabies, something out of an Edgar Allan Poe short story. Here is my favorite piece:
I remember one lunch with people who loved us in London early on, two of the most excruciating hours of my life. Nothing but that endless juggling: Other people's jobs and boyfriends. What kind of wine to order. This was two weeks after Pudding died. I might have been something like that gothic character one step short of total ruin: I wanted to rock and sing lullabies and hold out my torn, bloody nightgown and run my hands through my wild hair, and yet I knew you weren't supposed to do such things in polite society. My hair was uncombed, and my face was puffy from lack of sleep and crying and too much wine, and my clothes were what I'd salvaged from the middle of my pregnancy, because of course even through people might pretend nothing was out f the ordinary I had the body of a woman two weeks postpartum, soft and wide around the middle, and if I'd been one step worse off I might have lifted my shirt up to display my still livid stretch marks.
But I didn't. I could feel how uncomfortable my mere presence made people feel, and I couldn't bear it. So I sat in this Indian restaurant and listened. Sometimes a piece of palaver came loose and shot straight toward me, and somehow I caught it and tossed it back.
All the while, all I could think was: Dead baby dead baby dead baby.
And I know everyone around that table was thinking the same thing, every single person.