One of my favorite features of Denver International Airport is the long moving walkway. I like how it helps travelers traverse the great distance across terminals at exponential speed. It’s gratifying to step on an already-moving conveyor belt and become strangely quick with minimal effort. Passing by all the regular pedestrians on the stationary floor next to me gives a sense of gliding along like a gazelle, while a slow-motion turtle next to me is doing his best to keep up.
Keep trying, little turtle.
I don’t know if WAYYYY back in the late nineties (just stop reading if you weren’t even born), you happened to see a little Gwyneth Paltrow film called Sliding Doors. At the beginning of the movie, Paltrow’s character misses her subway train (or does she?), and for the rest of the film, the viewer is given insight into two versions of Paltrow, two alternate realities of her life: one if she had made the train, and one if she had missed it.
Sometimes it feels like there are two versions of me, two realities which have to exist because there’s no other option. I can’t erase either version, because both are now essential to who I am.
One version of me is on the moving walkway because that moving walkway is time. It’s impossible to stop. I couldn’t get off it if I tried. My husband is there, my kids are there, and my sweet foster son is there. The daily requirements of cooking, cleaning, wiping snotty noses, and eating chocolate are there.
The other version of me stands on the stationary ground next to the walkway. I am watching my other version be carried away by the necessities of time and living. The stationary version of me holds Elliot tightly to my chest, cradling his memory as any mommy cradles her baby. I also watch friends and family moving along the walkway, as new babies are born, houses are sold and bought, children grow up, holidays and birthdays come and go with every season.
One version of me had to get back on that moving walkway.
Occasionally, I’ve heard people observe that a bereaved person seemed to be “moving on,” as if it’s a positive show of healing willpower. Well, I can’t speak for other bereaved parents, but I know for me that is not the case. As much as I wanted to stop time when my son died, I had no power to do so. I am alive in this world, and time is relentless. “Moving on” is just the reality that I can’t stop the walkway. How can it be fall once again? Soon it will be Christmas and another new year. And the me holding my little baby boy seems to fade further into the background.
And yet I am still her, still also the version who will never, who CAN never “move on.” I am gazing at the face of the baby this body bore, whose birth scar I forever wear. I am holding the hand of a little boy who wrapped his fingers tightly around mine, whose perfect clear eyes I gazed into. I am in awe of my son, who fought for his brief life for ten weeks after my water broke, nine of those weeks while I lay on bedrest, seven of those weeks in the hospital. I smile at the thought of a little boy who almost died during delivery but who would NEVER GIVE UP. I remember how he cupped his hands to his face, and the delicacy of his legs as I changed his diaper. I am her. I am that mommy. Elliot’s mommy. This is the version of me who can’t fathom changing my Facebook profile picture or removing his framed photos in my home.
So what do these two versions have to do with each other? A lot.