Last night, around 10:30, the fire alarm went off in our building. R and I deliberated for a moment or two, wondering if it was a prank or a mistake and whether we really had to wake up the kids and haul them down the seven flights of stairs. When we heard sirens approaching, just moments later, we each went in to grab a kid, and bundled them – sleepy and disoriented – out the door. R took an extra moment to grab our camera and computers, and I picked up my bag by the door with my wallet and phone. We walked down the stairs with our neighbours, who said reassuring things to the kids and made little, careful jokes. Outside, the sky was clear and full of stars, and all our neighbours huddled in groups, speculating as fire fighters went in and out of the building in their full regalia, looking serious.

It turned out to be just a very small not-quite-fire, started when someone left a pot unattended on the stove. After she woke up a little, E was excited to be outside at night in her jammies and M watched the lights on the fire engines with a great deal of interest. We were safe. The four of us.

I left her behind. I left the jar with Anja’s ashes on the dresser where it always sits. I passed it as I carried M out of the room and thought I should put it in my purse, but then that pesky old thought that gets in the way of every good babyloss mom instinct I have flared up: she’ll still be dead. She’ll still be dead, and saving or not saving her ashes won’t change that. Nothing changes that.

I left her ashes there, behind us, and I did it deliberately, but then as I walked down those seven flights of stairs, I felt the distance between her and us grow and grow and grow. I left her behind.

Outside, it was clear that whatever was happening, her ashes would be safe, but that niggling guilt continued to niggle: I did it wrong, again. I know there is no right way to grieve, no right way to parent our dead babies. I know this, but then something in me thinks: isn’t there something really wrong with just leaving her ashes behind?

I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. She’d still be dead. She’d still be gone from me. She’d still be the biggest mystery of my life. Ashes or no ashes, I still wouldn’t have her.

I guess that’s it. She isn’t her ashes. She isn’t the vase of rocks and shells we collect. She isn’t the art that E makes. She isn’t any of that. She isn’t, at all.

The moon was bright last night. Tiny bugs circled the streetlights. M pointed, delighted. E chattered, high-pitched from nerves and excitement.

Nobody went back to sleep until nearly 1. E came into bed with me, snuggled up against my side, while I sat up nursing M and his hand stroked my chest.

And there were her ashes, on the dresser across from us, right where I left them.