C.T. crawls onto my lap every morning, when he's three-quarters through his breakfast. It became ritual after Zachary died.
He wraps his arm around my neck to hoist himself up, one knee at a time, and situates himself sideways so that he is almost laying on me, his head under and to the left of my chin. I cradle him awkwardly, my arms not nearly long enough to wrap all the way around his body like they used to. At eight years old, he is so big, so long.
He talks to me with no awareness that I'm studying him, greedily, with all of my senses. He pops a strawberry in his mouth, and I feel his chewing, the seeds grinding, in my ear. Bath or no bath, his hair smells so fresh and clean, I can't resist kissing him again and again. He wraps a hand around my forearm while we talk. He laughs and throws his head back in the crook of my arm, daring me to tickle him, mouth clad with milk moustache.
I close my eyes and try to grasp how I might have had this with Zachary too.
Over winter break and into the early part of January, C.T. read the fourth installment of Harry Potter, on his own. All 734 pages.
When he brought it home from the school library, declared he'd already read two chapters, I had no idea he'd actually get through the entire book without me. Surely he wouldn't have the endurance. He'd need my voice inflections, my explanation of mature themes, my help to understand tricky words and the subtleties inherent in the conversation sections.
I made him read a chapter aloud, testing for his understanding. Using context when he needed to, he was able to explain and understand everything.
We read the first three books together, C.T. and I.
C.T. reaches into the silverware drawer and pulls out four forks for the table. He notices his mistake almost immediately.
Mom and dad, look: I wish I was setting the table for the four of us.
Of course, sweetie. The fourth for Zachary. We wish too.
After his own name, he masters Zachary's, in cursive. I find Zachary's name written, in newly minted handwriting, all over the house, doodled on the papers C.T. brings home from school. He loves the connecting letters, the way the Z looks a lot like a fancy 3, the fact that cursive writing is a big-kid thing. Like us, he looks for every chance to use his brother's name.
I am crying on the way home from a ride along (with B) to pick C.T. up from a birthday party. My nerve pain has flared up badly, and although I've been cooped up, and in desperate need of a change of scenery, I regret leaving the comfort of home. He hands me a tissue from the back seat and tells me,
Mom, you are still doing such a good job of being a mom.
This boy of mine - C.T. - he is so inexplicably magical.
No one knows it, none of my stories can even begin to convey or describe it, but Zachary was equally magical.
The world thinks what's done is done, that what and who I've lost has been accounted for.
It is not so. Every day, I calculate his loss. Every day, I wonder at the growth and brilliance and unique tenderness I witnessed in that specific little person, my Zachary. Every day, I'm bewildered at what I have, the one of the three that I can see and feel and touch, and equally bewildered by what has been stripped from me. It would take forever to measure.