Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sacred Dirt

Getting through the holidays seemed a bit easier this year. I think this was because we have been so utterly distracted by our kitchen renovation (which is still not done!). Last year, New Year's Day was especially difficult because it symbolized the passage of time. Seeing the calendar turn from 2007 to 2008 was really painful because it meant that soon Natalie would have been gone for an entire year. While it hasn't gotten any easier to accept her death or live with the pain and grief (if anything, it's gotten harder), New Year's Day 2009 was very different. I didn't dwell on time. I didn't feel as angry. What I did do, after a lot of thought, was finally clean the screen on our TV.

Let me explain. At the time Natalie died, she had left her mark throughout the house in various ways. Over time, I found a puzzle piece under the living room rug (the "M" from our alphabet train puzzle, which was Natalie's favorite), a bottle of breast milk that had rolled under the dresser in her bedroom, books with torn pages, Chris's missing cell phone, to name a few. But one other thing she left behind was her slobbery fingerprints smeared across our TV screen. (There are some more on the glass door of our stereo cabinet, too.) After she died, these fingerprints became sacred to me. They represented the fact that Natalie really was here. She wasn't a figment of my imagination or only in my dreams. While most of the other things had been moved from the spot where she left them, these fingerprints remained. When I would watch TV, I could sometimes see them and I would relish in them being there. It was comforting in a way that's hard to explain. We had a cleaning lady come to help me with the house and I put big notes on the TV and stereo cabinet "Do Not Clean!" I think she thought this strange, but she respected my wishes. From time to time, I would dust the TV with the vacuum cleaner, but did not ever clean those very special smears. As time went on, especially after we began the kitchen renovation last August, I started to notice more dust in the house. It started to stick to the fingerprints. By early December, the TV was just plain dirty. I started to really consider the fact that soon I would have to clean it. I started to feel that the dirt was no longer Natalie's. It had changed. It was construction dirt and the dirt of time. And I finally decided it would be OK to clean it off. As January 1 approached, I planned that I would clean the TV on that day. Not for any major symbolic reason, but to perform just a small gesture to acknowledge Natalie and the passage of time. I thought about it a lot, sometimes as I lay in bed at night, sometimes as I sat watching that dirty TV.

When the new year arrived, I very consciously, and with only a moment's hesitation, wiped the TV clean while Chris and Roslyn were busy elsewhere. I cried, but I also made some peace with it. I was not erasing Natalie -- that would be impossible to ever do. After it was over, we went on with the day. We didn't do anything special. Now, a couple of weeks later, I do not regret doing it. And, thankfully, I still have the sacred fingerprints on the stereo cabinet, which I plan on keeping as long as I want.

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