Love only needs an instant to unfurl, and no one knows this better than the mother of a child she only knew for a few days.
BY KATE TAGAI
What more can I say? We met so briefly that I never really knew you. And yet, I think about you daily. Your memory brings a brilliant ache to my core like the flash of a lighthouse beam. A momentary burst that disappears quickly, but I know will come around again, just as brief and just as bright.
Sometimes, a pressure builds, attaching itself to memories we don’t have. The weight of hope that is really grief.
All the moments we never shared drift like ghosts: reading you bedtime stories and then creeping back in to watch you breathe. Introducing you to the fresh tang of the air across the North Atlantic, teaching you how to skip rocks across its surface and search for sand glass beneath. Hiking into the mountains and telling you about how your great grandfather identified trees by their bark and your grandmother knows every forest wildflower by name.
The bright flashes fill my body until there is no room for food or air, only the memory of you, so much heavier than you ever were in real life.
I wonder about the love you would have gifted to me, almost certainly, built into the contract between mother and son signed in blood and pain at birth.
We didn’t get to have those small trials that happen when love is layered on top of love, folded, tested, heated by the forge of living that would have tempered it into a complex and strong bond. Or maybe would have broken us.
Instead, I have our love in its rawest, most elemental form, pure and unshaped by arguments and frustration, worry or joy, or time.
Would you have hated cilantro like your father? Would you have loved reading like your mother?
It feels so strange to know so little about you and yet love you so much and without doubt. I think of the moments we did share: the weight of your head in my hand, the small pressure of your belly and legs warming the skin of my chest as our intimacy of umbilical connection was severed. The hours I spent standing by your bed rubbing a finger along the soft, warm skin of your knee and across your belly, the only patches of you that weren’t covered in tubes and medical tape.
Yet with any other person, if I’d only known them for a few days, my expressions of love would be met with skepticism.
I’d known your father for only four months before we got engaged and my friends said, “Are you sure?” and “It’s too soon, too fast.”
Their unspoken question hung between us: ‘How do you know you love him?’
But I knew.
Or rather, I didn’t know in the way I know how to solve for X in a math equation or that water changes state from liquid to solid at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. I knew in the way that you know when to stop kneading bread dough that the elasticity is just right, or in the way you add one last stroke of paint to a canvas and know the painting doesn’t need anything else.
When I said I’d marry your father, I knew the raw material between us could create something spectacular.
In the same way that after knowing you for only three days, nine months and three days, that the raw material of you was perfect. Our shared love was a spectacular thing. A love without doubt but full of wonder.
I wonder who you would have been. I wonder who you were. I wonder at your tiny toes and fingers that wrapped around mine. The perfection of your whole hand held in the palm of your father’s.
And I will love you every day of my life.
Because what more can I say? We met so briefly that I never really knew you.
About the Author
Kate Tagai is a writer and cartoonist living in Midcoast Maine. She has a degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts and can occasionally be found exploring motherhood and grief on her blog: Adventuresofagrievingmother.wordpress.com
2 thoughts on “A Love Letter to Nathaniel”
So beautiful, Kate! It referenced and put a different frame on my experience of motherhood.