I have a somewhat strange practice that I do at the beginning of each year. A while back, a friend of mine told me about las Cabañuelas: in some Oaxacan communities people believe that one can learn something about the upcoming year by paying a bit more attention to what happens in the first twelve days of January. Each day corresponds to an upcoming month. I like the idea of seeding intentions or understanding better what one could expect of the year, simply by being more aware during its first days. And so, since 2015 I have been writing monthly intentions for the year between the first and twelfth of January.
But since Rafa’s death, time is different – I no longer live it as a mere instrument to mark the passing of specific events. Though I’d like to still believe that time is divisible, limited, linear… I no longer believe it’s that simple. I now experience linear time as a trick. When I turned to the month of December in my calendar this year, I read the intention there, shook my head and laughed cynically. It said: “Enjoy the moments of feeling good and wellbeing. It is a time to celebrate a wonderful, magical year.”
Below that, in pencil, I wrote myself a note in response: “Fuck you, former self.”
One of the things I’ve never quite understood about las Cabañuelas is whether or not I should be crafting the intentions during the first days of the year, or if it is more about being attentive to what is happening and from there derive insights. This dynamic tension between willpower and destiny has been a significant theme in my life since my adolescence. I have always believed that these two forces are present and that one cannot exist without the other. Do we create our futures? Is our future predetermined? When it comes to my monthly intentions, it is clear that this time around it was based on what I imagined would be or thought was going to happen. I figured it would be a spectacular year. And it wasn’t. 2018 has been, without a doubt, the hardest year of my life.
But then I think about time and recognize that not everything is as we might imagine. Yesterday, I took out my appointment book from last year. I wanted to see all that I was doing a year ago, when I was happily pregnant for the first time in my life. I opened my planner to the first week of December 2017 and saw my intention for the month: “The road will not always be easy. There will be tears. There will be fear. There will be disappointment. May the road rise to meet you… anyway.”
I remember clearly reading those lines last year and thinking: something will happen to the baby! I was very afraid of having a miscarriage or that I wouldn’t make it to 40 weeks of pregnancy without serious complications. I realize now that perhaps this was actually the intention for this December, and not for last year. Maybe time has become twisted and confused: the past has become the present and vice versa. All of this scrambling of time brings to mind the fact that, when I look back, I realize that I knew for a long time that Rafa was not going to be here, alive, with us. Sometimes I fear that I’m just pretending to believe this to make myself feel better, to pacify my crazy mind or justify Rafa’s death… or even to negate the anger and sadness that I feel. But the truth is that it was hard for me to imagine my son here on this plane with us.
As I ironed the tiny sheets for the bassinet our friends lent us, I could not see my baby sleeping on them. I couldn’t imagine him at important events in these months: not at Christmastime, not on my birthday, not with us on the trips we have planned for 2019. During the lactation class I took, I could not visualize what it would be like to hold him, to nurse him. At some level of my consciousness, perhaps as early as January 2017 when I wrote out my intention for December, I knew that Rafa would not be born alive. I know that Rafael was a very subtle being. This pregnancy hardly left any imprint on my body: I barely gained any weight, I didn’t suffer from morning sickness or dizziness, I didn’t get stretchmarks or have to restrict my physical activity. During the birth, there was no tearing or excess bleeding. My breasts were not painfully engorged with milk. It’s as if he knew that he would only be here on this planet within my womb and because of that, he treated me with immense care and gentility.
All of this makes me ask myself: If I had known that Rafael was going to die, would I have continued with the pregnancy until the end? Would I have fully enjoyed the experience of gestating a new life within my belly if I had known he would never exist ‘out here’?
I have always paid a lot of attention to the passing of time: to anniversaries and the moments of: “this is the last time that I’ll ever…” But since the birth, this has become something of an obsession. I’m always thinking of these four distinct times: the time before I was pregnant (43 years of my life); the time during the pregnancy (nine or so months, although this is somewhat unclear since we are not sure when Rafa was conceived); the time since the birth (just over four months now) and the future or unknown.
My sister-in-law, Andrea Bel. Arruti created an incredible book entitled Cuatro Tiempos (Four Times). The piece is comprised of just one word: six letters repeated in different shapes and configurations: T I E M P O (time). Since our son died, this title has gained new significance in my life. I can spend hours in front of my computer watching photos I have taken over the last ten years flash before me on the screensaver, labeling them: before, during, after.
I am obsessed with getting rid of all of the things that I accumulated during the pregnancy (even though I know that this is an impossible and ridiculous mission). Sometimes I want time to pass very, very quickly: I pray that it will fly by so that I no longer feel this grief and that a day might pass when I don’t think of him. Some days I want it to go by quickly so that I can die sooner in order to “see where he has gone.” I don’t know if I actually believe in any of this but these are the kinds of thoughts that pass through my head. On one hand, I wish to erase this last year from my life. I won’t lie to you: there are times when I wish I had never gotten pregnant. (Have I said that before? I think so.) Then I remember Rafa and all of his gifts, all of the light he brought. All of the hope. And I can’t negate my son. He existed, in whatever way you see time. He was. I can’t change this and there’s a huge part of me that doesn’t want to change it. But there is another part that is in such pain and that, yes, wants to forget.
In the post that I wrote about death last month, I mentioned the work of Martín Prechtel, who said that birth is our first grief as human beings. In another part of the same chapter of The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise, Prechtel speaks about how time is for a baby in utero. He writes,
… time in the womb is plasmic-like universe time, meaning that in our early ‘water consciousness, we as little womb-floating children live time not as a sequential lineal thing but as a kind of all-time-at-once thing. We live in a soup of all time with time that has never existed along with time that does now, and will exist, blowing around us in one gigantic echoing bath. This experience remains as knowledge somewhere deep in our souls, but its pertinence to us is thoroughly hidden from us as we slowly creep into personhood after we are born. This experience of time as a “pool,” where all time exists at once, as elusive as it is for our minds to comprehend, is the basis of the story our souls long to hear, and shows itself in the hunger we have for real mythologic ritual now lost to the modern age. But without a true life initiation of the old spiritual type (not the macho get-ready type), this mythologic time bath of origins remains a force that unconsciously nags us, just beyond the grasp of our memory. It is a source of constant dissatisfaction and unhappiness to the over-civilized who want to remember, but cannot, and seek satisfaction in lesser directions.
In this third time, the time since Rafa died, it’s true that my longing for the time of no time is much stronger than it ever was before. Sometimes I feel like I can almost touch this space between all and no time, fingering the edges of her skirts. I suppose this might also have something to do with the fact that when this happened to me… when Rafael died inside me… everything changed. The things that seemed important to me before now don’t feel important at all. Not even life itself. But in other moments, I feel that there is something truly precious in me now, as a result of opening myself to other ways of conceiving and living time. There are other possibilities, other dimensions that had never been visible to me before. I am wondering: What possibilities are there now? What can I do now that I could not do before Rafa? How will my life change with this new experience of time? What am I not seeing?
I saw a movie last weekend about a woman who, as a result of contact with extraterrestrials, visualizes the conception, birth, childhood and premature death of her daughter years before any of this happens. As I watched, I imagined that all of us mothers, those of us whose children have died before us, that all of us have some kind of superpower. I’d like to believe that this is so, now that this has happened to me. I’d like to believe that now I have something special inside of me. It’s a superpower that hurts, that isn’t easy to have and that I never wanted. It has something to do with going beyond our ideas and limiting beliefs about space and time. I want to believe that children who die leave their parents with certain jewels, like big chunks of anti-kryptonite, special powers: the power to love more, to think beyond our limitations, to open ourselves to new emotions, to feel adored by all the universe, despite our pain.
May it be so.
Images taken from the book, Cuatro Tiempos (pocket edition) designed by Andrea Bel. Arruti.