Four has been so different than any other year. I barely cried. Sometimes I wanted to but couldn’t because I was standing in front of one of my classes or waiting outside E’s class to pick her up. Sometimes I did everything I could to avoid crying – changed the radio if a certain song came on, dodged phone calls and texts. I was too busy to really let myself feel and I knew if I let a little bit of the sadness in, the rest of it would flood me. I don’t know…partly it was just easier this year, too. My body felt heavy, still feels heavy, and I can’t concentrate very well, want to eat sweet things and sleep. But it’s easier. Year one I was so anxious, pregnant with M and still in shock, I think; year two I was furious; year three I was befuddled and cried silently pretty much the entire week surrounding her death and birth days; this year, I soldiered through. Maybe I’ll pay for it later? I don’t really know what choice I had, at any rate: when people don’t understand one month after your baby died why you’re still sad, they sure as hell don’t get why you might need to sit back a little from your regular life four years after.

I wondered who would remember. Baby loss friends, that’s who. One other friend. Little Anja.

I had several conversations with both E and M about Anja. E and I had a long talk that night before Anja’s birthday. She was feeling sad and anxious, though she had trouble expressing it at first. We lay on her top bunk and chatted. I asked her if there was anything she was worried about and she said: How did Anja die? And I had to tell her, again, that we never knew how, that no one could tell us. ‘Was it my fault?’ she blurted out, suddenly. ‘Because I used to rest cups of cheerios on your belly?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘oh, no, no, no. It was not your fault. Never. Have you thought about this for a long time?’ And she said yes in a strangled voice and then rolled over and made upset, heavy breathing noises into her pillow. I reassured her, held her, stroked her hair. Remembered the little three year old she was.

After a while, we talked some more. She told me Anja would be one day younger than her classmate B’s little sister. If you’ve read here for a long time, you might remember once when I rejoiced because a little boy fell off a chair at the library and he and his baby sister, who was born when Anja died, had to be taken away by their mother. That boy is now in E’s class, and I see that kid all the time. The cruelty of it is she looks like she could be related to E and M. People tell me that all the time, not knowing. The curls, I guess. I thought of E listening to B tell her about his sister’s birthday and held her tighter.

She asked me if she could ask Santa Claus to bring Anja back to life. She said she wished she could break her leg so she could go to the hospital and people would ask her if there was something she really wanted and she would say she wanted Anja back. I know she doesn’t believe any of these things could ever happen, but she wished so many different times over the last few days that her sister was alive.

‘I wonder who her friends would’ve been?’ E asked. ‘I wonder what kind of birthday party she would’ve wanted?’ We looked at the picture of E on her fourth birthday that is posted to our fridge door. E in a pink dress, chubby arms, curls darkening already, her pink dress and tiara. A grown girl. Four years old.

And then there was M. After school yesterday, E and I went to pick up cupcakes. There were none that she thought were special enough so we splurged on a little cake, pink with white frosted flowers all over it and Happy Birthday in icing on top. M was so excited about the cake. ‘It’s Anja’s birfday!’ After a while he asked, ‘When is Anja coming over?’ ‘She can’t come over, sweetie, she died, remember? She was in Mommy’s tummy before you were born and then she died. She didn’t get to come home. She can’t come over because she died.’ ‘But it’s Anja’s birfday,’ he said, studying me seriously.

We looked at her picture together. ‘Aww,’ said E, though I know she is kind of grossed out by the fact that Anja was never bathed and cleaned up. ‘I wish we would’ve given her a bath. She was so pretty,’ I said. ‘Yeah, she’d be prettier with a bath,’ E said. R interjected: ‘She was beautiful. Just beautiful.’ ‘Little, little baby,’ M breathed.

Everyone has been a bit volatile. Lots of crying and frustration. Their worlds are out of sorts.

So, four. Mostly I just hated the day, wanted it to be over. It’s over now, and I don’t feel much better. But I don’t feel much worse, either.

All I kept thinking yesterday, besides about her sweet face and the weight of her in my arms, was that there will be another January 14 in every year I’m alive. I guess every one will be different. I guess I’ll find out.

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