Two weeks ago, at four months pregnant, I lost the baby: no heartbeat anymore, my little girl, gone. Tonight I’m making dinner in the kitchen while my sons, ages seven and four, play baseball in the November twilight. A hit to the playhouse is a single, to the old tree stump is a home run. My four-year-old hits, runs in the wrong direction, and laughs uncontrollably as he throws his red bat into the gold, California dust.
I go into my bedroom and close the door. Then I take off my floral dress and place it on the green chair. Everything feels tight. I lie down on the bed, and I wish I could pull my skin off and drape it across the chair next to the dress, or hang it over the bathtub like delicate lingerie. I could sew up all the small tears and gently wash out the stains. My whole body needs work, patching, mending, stain removal–women’s work, some would say. How nice the breeze coming in the window would feel on my exposed bones. I could take them off, too, and arrange them on the wooden floor from smallest to largest. Then I would scrub them until they glow like china in the autumnal light—my favorite light.
Reluctantly, I get up, put my dress back on, and head to the kitchen to finish dinner. A chicken is roasting, and there is fresh bread on the counter. I listen to the news while I make a salad; it’s hot for this time of year—wild fires are spreading. Maybe the Santa Ana winds are to blame, or maybe it’s climate change. A barn in Orange County, where racehorses trained, caught fire and burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Workers tried to evacuate the horses, but the animals were scared, and the fire was too fast, so they burned to ash in their stalls. All of that thousand-dollar horseflesh reduced to dust. I turn the radio off.
My husband comes home and he asks me about my day. I can see a great panic uncurling in his eyes. I see it in everyone’s eyes when they ask how I’m doing, as if I can answer, as if I’m not a beast of grief wearing the skin of a housewife—a coyote disguised as a woman. These days my body feels deceitful, rearranged like a Picasso painting. Instead of meeting my eyes when they speak to me, people are really staring at the blue arm emerging from my hip, a limb I haven’t yet noticed. “Fine,” I answer, with my sharp coyote mouth, “I’m doing fine.”
That night, I lie between my small sons as they go to sleep in their shared bed. They smell like peaches and sweet grass, and their arms winding around me are like sun-warmed vines. I have lost four pregnancies, but this is the only one that they have been aware of. Lying in the dark, my older son asks, “Why do bad things happen to us?”
“Bad things are part of being human,” I tell him. “It doesn’t mean we’ve done anything wrong. Bad things happen and good things happen.”
“But I think more good things happen,” he says.
I don’t reply. He is so little; I could snap his wrist in my hands, and his heart is the size of a small apple. He’ll have so much joy in his life, and so much pain. The thought of it makes me very tired, and I wish that I could spare them both the world’s brutality—maybe I would sacrifice the magic of dawn, if only to avoid the monsters in the ink dark night. But I can’t do that for them, so I hold them a little tighter and stay until after they fall asleep.
Later that night, I dream I’m one of the racehorses. I’m running on the track, my hooves pounding into the sand, and my muscles revolve like planets. I’m free and electric in joy, but then I’m burning. The fire descends on me and I’m devoured, until all that’s left of my great happiness is a pile of ash. I wake up with tears on my pillow. My hands fly to my newly empty belly—I would howl if I could. But then I’m smiling and laughing, and all I can remember is the great rapture of running.
I want to go into my son’s room, wake him up, and tell him about the joy of the burning horses. Tell him that I’m not sure whether more good things happen than bad, but even if they don’t, the living is worth it. Maybe our grief is just the tax we pay for the privilege of being alive. The privilege of having skin, bones, and organs, and the consciousness that allows us to experience all the moments, tender and brutal, silk and stone.