So all that’s to say I am not nice right now. I don’t want to speak, but I want you to write. When I interviewed the French author Anne Berest some weeks ago I told her I did not have one child, but two; one was gone. I began to cry. “I’m sorry,” I said, gathering myself. “Why are you sorry,” she said, looking directly at me. “It is sad.” We sat together, comfortable in the discomfort.
I still have a tendency to wake in the night and go over and over all of the things that went wrong and where I imagine I might have protected Orli. I berate myself for having failed her. It is completely irrational; it is also true. I could not save her; she could not be saved. I am her mother; ergo, I failed. In the light of day, I see the faulty logic of 4 a.m. It reminds me of how, when we were first in the emergency room with her in November 2019, after a month of her pediatricians failing to see what was in front of them, of coming back to the doctors week after week and asking them to please, please look at her one more time, it was not them I blamed initially but myself. “But I breastfed her,” I kept telling the emergency room physicians, into their downcast faces, as they explained that the pain she carried stemmed from innumerable liver tumors. “But I breastfed her.”
I try to reorient myself walking each morning. I try to see the blooming flowers, the wild potato blossoms that run the stretch of the path near my home, the fecundity of August, the greenery that rushed in during the months since Orli left us here, to fend for ourselves. I find I cannot talk to people I see at the farmers market, but I can appreciate the ripening fruit, the taste of late summer, the heat in the skin of each peach.
Sometimes I have tried to share what I see. As Hana’s birthday came to a close, long after the sky had cleared from that sudden downpour in which we looked for Orli, we stayed out too late. The day’s scorching temperature had finally eased, it was still gorgeously light out, and we were walking with a wonderful French friend of many years who happened to be born the same day as Hana, some decades before her. The adults were loath to turn back to the apartment, basking in company long denied.
Hana suddenly hung back, upset. Life, she said, is terrible. I said: I know it is. I feel like that, too, all the time. But look around you, I said. We are in Paris. It is 10:30 at night and the world is filled with people. This street, these buildings are exquisite. The light is soft, it is beautiful here, there is a breeze. The pain is always there for us. It will be waiting at the apartment when we return tonight, it will be lying next to us in bed or come to us when we wake; we always have it. But we have to let this beauty in, too. That will be the work of all the rest of our days: to hold this pain and this beauty side by side, without letting the one crush or crowd out the other. We have to let this beauty in, too.