My Child Lives On in My Imperfect Memories
Naja Marie Aidt on Time, Grief, and Her Late Son, Carl Emil
I raise my glass to my eldest son. His pregnant wife and their daughter are sleeping above us. Outside, the March night is cold and clear. To life! I say as the glasses clink with a delicate and pleasing sound. My mother says something to the dog. Then the phone rings. We don’t answer it.
Who could be calling so late on a Saturday evening?
He had his green jacket on. I know because I saw it myself. He walked in the green forest, and beside him walked a tiger. He walked in the green forest, and he looked up at the leaves. I see that the light shimmers in his hair, which is the same color as the tiger’s pelt. He walks alone. He doesn’t understand why he’s alone. But he has his tiger. He had his tiger. He lays his hand on its strong back, and I see that he’s untroubled. Now the road turns, he disappears around the bend, the path leads him deeper and deeper into the green forest. He was untroubled. He didn’t know why he was alone. Beside him walked a tiger.
Once, I was pregnant and I dreamed that the child inside me was a baby tiger. Playful, soft, and cuddly with light brown eyes and a golden pelt.
That’s how you looked when you were born.
You were delivered by C-section, and I got sick after the birth. I had the most excruciating migraine, and the staff in the maternity ward thought I was hysterical. I cried and complained.
I could hardly contain myself. I could hardly take care of you. I fainted as I was rolling you down the hall in the see-through plastic bassinet. That’s when they called in a nurse who was also a healer. I felt it when she sent a gush of warm energy toward me.
That’s what it felt like. But it didn’t help. Finally they sent me down to a physiologist. He said air bubbles had entered into my spinal cord because the epidural was not put in right. He turned me upside down and manipulated my limbs and back. They cracked and popped. I felt like an animal in a slaughterhouse. I was simply bones and meat. The headache went away and they sent me home. This was at the National Hospital in Copenhagen. It was freezing out and I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to stand the cold. At home, you and your father fell asleep. I sat alone in the tiny kitchen. It was evening, dark.
I got dressed and went out for cigarettes. “I’m a human being,” I thought. “Now I’m myself again, alone in my body.” Standing in the corner store I thought about how the cashier couldn’t tell that I’d just had a child. It was my secret and it delighted me. You were my secret. I was 25 years old. I smiled at the cashier and went home through the snow-lit streets.
Born November 21st, 1989, at 2:32 pm.
You weighed 7.2 pounds and were 20 inches long.
You were ravenous right after your birth.
A little friend.
I wrote in my journal:
Monday, May 1st, 1989—a sunny day—I found out that in the winter I will give birth to another child. Little winter’s child, it’s so strange that you exist. I still can’t feel you; my body still can’t understand that you exist.
So excited to see him
Outside, the March night is cold and clear
A night full of terror
A night so full of terror
A night so full of terror, so full of terror, so full of terror, so full of terror, so
I cannot form a sentence
My language is all dried up
I raise my glass to my eldest son. His pregnant wife and their daughter are sleeping above us. The girl is exactly three years old. Outside, the March night is cold and clear. We’ve been together all day. We’ve been walking in the forest and playing with the little one. She said many wonderful things, and had lots of fun. We’ve talked about everything imaginable, and now we’re sitting at the round table in my mother’s living room. To life! I say as the glasses clink. We’ve eaten, and now we’re drinking wine, we’re talking about my next eldest son: How he didn’t get into the Danish Film School, although he made it to the final interview. That was a big accomplishment. How he seems to be getting over the disappointment, and will apply again next year. How he’s still enjoying his work as a chef. How he spends most of his free time editing films. How we miss him. I say: I miss him. Too bad he couldn’t be with us tonight. But I can’t wait to see him tomorrow, I say. The dog barks. I talk about my youngest son. We laugh at something. My mother tells the dog to be quiet. The phone rings. We don’t answer it. Who could be calling so late on a Saturday evening?
Lilies of the valley, white roses.
The earth, black and damp.
The glass bells’ delicate clinking to
Frederik, Carl Emil, Johan, Zakarias.
I have four sons.
Do you have four sons?
The language, empty, hollow
White like white noise
Bridal veil, grave cloth,
milk teeth, mother’s milk
I nursed you and you ate heartily
You have a name
Carl: (see earlier 1.1; now esp. dial.) adult male (compared to boy); esp: a young man who has passed boyhood but is still unmarried; adolescent.
Emil: boy’s name, originates from the Latin word aemilius, meaning friendly. The name Emil has roots in the Roman family name Aemilius. The family name is possibly connected to the Latin word aemulus, meaning hardworking, eager.
Friendly young man.
Friendly, eager young man.
Friendly, eager, hardworking young man.
We ﬁrst settled on Emil only, but you were so broad-shouldered and strong that it didn’t seem sufficient.
You are named after my grandfather and your father’s grandfather.
Your older brother’s youngest daughter is named after you: Emilie.
Your older brother’s daughter looks like you.
She doesn’t call much attention to herself and:
Your smile is unforgettable (a beautiful shape):
You are part of your older brother’s daughter:
We are part of each other.
Are you part of me?
I wrote in my journal:
November 8th, 1994
Carl Emil has become calmer and more in harmony, and he is unusually absorbed with drawing, painting, making masks, playing with modeling clay, etc. Writes letters and words, and has begun adding numbers and saving money. He has friends and is hardly as shy or taciturn as he was two years ago. A passionate boy, who still loves his paciﬁer, a kiss, and his bed.
I kissed your hand and your hand was so cold that the coldness crept up into my face, my head, my skull. Nothing colder exists in the world. Not ice, snow. No fear, no anxiety, no heartbreak as cold as your hand; your hand, which I kissed with my warm living mouth.
I said: Little friend.
You were twenty-ﬁve years old.
It was in March 2015.
Your young body in the coffin
The earth, black and damp
So strange that you don’t exist, I still feel you
My body still can’t understand that you don’t exist
I wrote in my journal:
December 4th, 1989
The little one has arrived! A ﬁne little one. He sucks and sleeps and is still just a small animal. I can sense that he has a powerful personality in his own quiet way. He only cries (very seldom), if there’s REALLY a reason for it, and then he lets you know—it resounds. But he also makes the sweetest tiny sounds as if he were singing.
I can say this about you: As if you were singing.
I can say: You were singing.
I can say: You sing in me.
You exuded a warmth that fascinated people. you exuded a sensual warmth.
But you were also withdrawn, remote, shy.
But you were also full of joy.
But you were also sensitive, perceptive.
But you were also strong.
But you were also inquiring.
But you were also deeply rooted.
You didn’t have much anger in you.
There was something about you that I don’t have words for.
Something transparent, that made you suffer alone, in silence.
And when you cried over love, you really suffered.
You didn’t call much attention to yourself
Now that I have to describe you, my view becomes problematic. I see you in relation to myself. I see you in relation to my limitations. The limitations are part of myself. Therefore, I don’t see you clearly. It’s not possible. Nevertheless, I still see you clearly.
Even though I don’t necessarily see you truly. Maybe I see part of you that no one else can see. Maybe the truth about a person is kaleidoscopic. All the views together make up a prism, which is you. The word kaleidoscope comes from the Greek and means something like beautiful-form-observer. To observe a beautiful form, to be a beautiful observer of a form, to observe a form beautifully, to form a beautiful observer.
I see you, you are a beautiful form. You are a beautiful observer.
I have formed a beautiful observer: you.
Excerpted from When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back. Used with the permission of the publisher, Coffee House Press. Copyright © 2019 by Naja Marie Aidt. Translation copyright © 2019 by Denise Newman.