Many people talk about how when they were young they had an invisible playmate. The friend they could count on when no one else was available to help corral wild ponies or create delectable mud pies or to save the earth from certain, imminent catastrophe. Perhaps it was for the more mundane, a buddy to share a bowl of Cheerios with, someone to sit next to while taking in an episode of Tom and Jerry, a friendly ear to bend on a long cross country car ride. Invisible friends always laugh at the right parts in movies, they never interrupt or argue and they are always, there.
I never had an invisible friend. I had 2 brothers and 1 sister, a myriad of dogs, cats, gerbils and guinea pigs and an entire neighborhood, well stocked with kids of all ages and both genders, to keep a growing girl busy. Truthfully, I never really understood the whole concept of an imaginary playmate. I never felt the need to invent or create another character to fill in a blank in my life.
But I have one now.
It only recently occurred to me that that is what Caleb has become to me. He is my invisible reality. I take him everywhere. Sometimes I don't even realize he has come along. He pops into my head seemingly from out of nowhere and hangs out for a while before disappearing into the depths of my soul.
He is truly invisible in that he has no image in my mind. I don't see him as a baby or a child. I can't picture him in my minds eye. His presence is enormous and yet I can not describe him in any way. I do not see him. I feel him.
I don't often talk about Caleb in real life. If he comes up at all it is more about the 'event' than about him. It's not as though people when finding out you have a stillborn child, ask you what your hopes or dreams were for that child. They don't ask what he looked like or how his kicks felt and they can't ask about his laugh or his cry because he never had the chance to have either. And later, years later, they can't ask what's new with your dead child because, obviously, nothing has changed. I suppose to the outside world he really is just something that happened to me. He is not real to most people.
In many ways I am to blame for that. I have held him so close and refused to share him with anyone in any meaningful way for so long that he has slipped farther and farther away into the past. I don't do anything to mark either his due date or the day he died. I don't bake cakes, or release balloons, light candles or release butterflies. My mom and dad bring flowers over every year to mark the date he was born but even then, we never talk about him. And really, I prefer it that way. I don't want to go 'there' anymore. I don't want to feel as sad as I do when I think about him, outloud.
So instead, I have wrapped him up and packed him away from everyone. His ashes sit on a shelf in our bedroom below a piece of card stock imprinted with his tiny hand and foot prints. No one sees him but us.
I carry him with me always. I don't have silent conversations with him but I do have quiet moments with him. Quiet moments without him. With.out.him.
Life goes on, without him. I can't picture him in this life of mine in anyway other than how he is now, gone from it. I can't see him as a two year old, not even when I look at his cousin with whom he was supposed to share his birth week. When I see her and try to picture him with her, all I see is, nothing. A black hole of vacant space that should have been filled by a child. But isn't. When I hold Cason in my arms and look into his eyes, it chills me to my core to even think of him not being here, to try and picture another child here in his place. I remember when Cason was born, the moment I held him I thought to myself I can't ever think about wanting Caleb here again because then I will be wishing Cason wasn't here. I knew then that I had to let him go but it was one of the most painful moments of my life and time has not made it any easier.
I hate thinking like that. God, I hate it.
My life is what it is now. I don't have him here. I can't change that. I know that. But still, he is here. In the only way he can be. In my mind. On the corners of conversations. In words unspoken and in the newly planted flowers that bloom in my garden.
And on any given day, when I am driving in my car, my children in various seats beside and behind me, laughing or fighting, crying or sleeping, I can look into my rear view mirror and there in the periphery, I see him.
A shadow in the back seat. My imaginary playmate.