Our daughter died the day before she was born. Her room is still ready for her: empty clothes in the closet; a still rocking chair; the faint smell of new paint in the air, kept from dissipating by the closed door. Space that will never be filled. Stories we’ll never tell. A sentence that will never end, because it never started.
We scattered her ashes in the park; she would have loved it here, is what we told ourselves. I carved her initials into the wood of the bridge we laid her next to. Today they’re covered in snow, but they’re still the only part of her that takes up space. There are trails there I’d never walked before; now I have, and I wonder if I’d have found them walking with her. I wonder, and wonder, and wonder, because that’s all that’s left of her – that, and the ash under the snow near the bridge.
It’s unhealthy to want great accomplishments for your child. You want them to be happy, healthy, kind. Curious. You don’t want them to be cruel, or arrogant, or sad. Mileage may vary on the rest. As I got used to the idea of being the father to a daughter, I started to draw out some specifics. We were already sure she’d be fiercely independent; her brother is easy-going to the point of amazement, and she was scheduled to rebel. Secretly, I loved that about this version of her: a girl and a woman who would refuse to bow to what the world around her said she should do. It’s funny how what we want from our children as people often conflicts with what we want from them as parents – obedience is something we crave in transitory moments at the dinner table or as we get ready to leave the house, but what a horrible lifelong trait it can be. I was already preparing myself to endure the resistance so she could grow up in a world without restraint. I saw in this version of her a fighter: a person who would attack injustice with dignity, confidence and determination, but without moderation. This is how I came to fall in love with the name Ida.
It was a conceit of sorts. My wife took convincing; it is after all an old lady name, and with the middle name May – a certainty, named for her grandmothers – it sounded a little too country for a suburban Massachusetts kid. But there was too much power in it for me to leave it alone. She was named for rebels: Ida B. Wells. Ida Tarbell. Unquiet, disobedient women who saw the wrongs of power and lay siege with sharp mind and pen. I wanted to tell her about them, and so many others – men and women both who refused to be quiet. What she would do mattered less to me than how I wanted her to do it, unbowed, unafraid. Stronger than any man, any force or any society who tried to keep her down. Whatever she did, I wanted her to make some noise.
But she’ll never make a sound. She’ll never cry, never laugh, never rage or scream or learn to speak or sing. She’ll never prove me wrong. She’ll never become all the things I never expected her to be. And there’s nothing for me to fight now but the wind; there’s no reason here, no plot, no cruel workings. Just shitty luck and a pain that sucks air out of me. This injustice can’t be fought with the written word, it can only be chronicled and shared and shouted with it. I can use it to say only that I loved her, and I wish I’d known her.
Ida May Lipsett.
December 13, 2015.