Today is their birthday. 

Last night I thought I’m going to look back at those pictures, see just how small Ben was when he was born and was aghast as the rest of the world must have been. Now that I know him beyond the abstractions of the NICU—his giggles and his big brother idolatry and his koala bear hugs—the realization of how close we came to losing him is a vice around my throat.

Last night I realized how everyone else must have seen our doom when we could not. We were too busy doing what we were told, too busy straining to see beyond the wires and the tubes and the swelling, too busy trying to give them love through the portholes of a hot plastic box. Thinking in desperation Liam is just mellow, a patient, old soul. Last night I felt like a fool.

Last night I sought out Liam, mute and still, his limbs and face buried under an impenetrable web of wires and ventilators and sensors, tangled up next to Ben. Pulled magnetically to fish beyond the highly edited flickrstream for the outtakes, searching for something of my son that perhaps I hadn’t seen before. All I am given is undiscovered angles of horror and heartbreak.

Last night it occurred to me just how gravely injured he’d been. Always grimacing as if in pain or at least in purgatory, his face relaxed only when he was in the deepest of medicated sleeps. When his eyes were open his face was screwed up into an expression of frustrated shock as if to say why am I still here?

Last night I hated my body, hated it so much.

Last night I vaguely considered a tattoo for the first time in my life. Earlier in the day I’d opened the sailmaker’s chest to see a few snips of Liam’s hair in a tiny zip-lock bag. It’s darker than I remember and it dawned on me that I was looking at the hair of a dead baby, cut from him after he finally stopped breathing.

Then I looked at Ben who sat in his highchair grinning broadly with one solitary cheerio stuck to the spit on his chin and with Liam’s hair between my fingers I went to the car to get the camera and Oh lili, isn’t this lovely, you’ve never been outside before. It’s sunny and the birds are chirping, and soon the peeper frogs will start to sing, and doesn’t that breeze feel wonderful and I felt pathetic, standing there in the grass holding a zip-lock bag containing all that’s left of my baby, holding it up to the sun so that he could feel that the winter’s grip is gone, that the warmth has come back.

I wonder if they could put his hair into some ink and brand him onto my skin somewhere, somewhere secret, so he would always be with me. I hope it would hurt.

Last night I stood in the bathroom with Liam’s ceramic hole-in-heart. It has started, so I’ll put his heart on a new string and I’ll wear it for his six weeks and that will give me something to hold on to but the new string didn’t fit through the hole and I thought well shit, maybe not, and maybe that’s just silly anyway and I put the heart back inside the sailmaker’s chest and went back to bed and just lay there, goggle-eyed and clipped short like a hunted animal hiding in the dark.