So, I had a really good day with my husband. We went out to a nearby town (Mishima) that we’ve always meant to visit but never had the chance to do so while I was pregnant. We’ve been through Mishima dozens of times before – it’s the largest train station in our region. We changed trains there to get to our hospital, and it’s also a shinkansen (bullet train) station, so we always came here on our way to Tokyo. We’ve always wanted to be able to linger but never could. Today, we did. We visited Rakujyuen, a big and extremely beautiful park that had imperial connections during the Meiji Restoration (around 1870). In addition to the extensive gardens, they have a small collection of animals and a petting zoo, which Geordie enjoyed. He’s a very hands-on type of guy.

Then, we walked to Mishima Taisha (Mishima Big Shrine), which we knew was large but was much larger than expected. It was getting dark by that time, so there weren’t many people around, but it was obvious that the shrine was preparing for an upcoming celebration – Shichi-Go-San. This means “Seven-Five-Three,” and it’s a traditional festival day that celebrates the growth and maturation of children; specifically, boys aged three or five and girls aged three and seven (hence the name of the festival). The children are dressed up in colorful, beautiful kimono and taken to their local shrines to be blessed and for families to pray for their continued health and growth. Shichi-Go-San is held on November 15th, but sometimes children visit earlier than that, for various reasons. By the time we got there, it was really too late for anyone to be there for any celebrations, which was good. It’s hard for both of us to be around young children now. It hurt a little bit thinking about how we would’ve liked to bring Lauren to a shrine in a few years for her Shichi-Go-San visit. I used to like to think of how pretty she would look in a kimono, how proud we would be of her.

And I’m so angry now! It was hard to be angry in such a peaceful, beautiful place like Mishima Taisha, but I feel it now. I’m taking all these hopes and dreams I had for Lauren and turning them over, and I can almost feel them happening. She’s so real to me that I can see her doing all these things that I wanted her to do, I can hear her laughter – I may never have heard her voice, but I can hear it and know that it’s her. I can see her in my mind, standing there before the shrine, dressed like a flower, and she looks back at us because she’s run ahead – she’s just like her father, curious and impatient and needing just to GO and run – and she’s so lovely in the sunlight, like a free and wild creature, unruly dark curls like mine bouncing around her face, and she smiles like a supernova. And her father hands me the camera, and she squeals as he chases her and catches her up in his arms and swings her around, and I am filled with so much love for them because they’re mine and I belong to them. THIS is how things are supposed to be, THIS is what should be the reality, and the cold, gray darkness I’m living now is just a nightmare that will pass into the night.

Except this nightmare never will pass; it is my world now. It is my every waking moment, the pain of which is so great that I often think it shall destroy me. Shatter me into pieces. Again. And again. Every day, I try to put myself together again. Some days I’m more successful than others. Some days, I fool myself into thinking I’m alright again. But the illusion never holds up. I look into the mirror of myself, and I see there the happy, laughing mother and her bright-eyed daughter, and I know it should be me and Lauren.

But it’s not. And the anger at how unfair it all is flows out of me, and all it leaves is emptiness. The anger doesn’t help; nothing can help. I will always have an empty place inside me, an empty place in my life where Lauren should be but isn’t.

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