Thursday, August 11, 2005

FOR CHARLIE: Baby Mine, Don't You Cry...

Baby mine, don't you cry
Baby mine, Dry your eyes
Rest your head close to my heart
Never to part, baby of mine

Little one, when you play
Don't you mind what they say
Let those eyes sparkle and shine
Never a tear, baby of mine

If they knew sweet little you
They'd end up loving you too
All those same people who scold you
What they'd give just for the
right to hold you

From your head down to your toes
You're not much, goodness knows
But you're so precious to me
Sweet as can be, baby of mine

All of those people who scold you
What they'd give just for the
Right to hold you

From your head down to your toes
You're not much, goodness knows
But you're so precious to me
Sweet as can be, baby of mine

Baby of mine

There is a picture of my son Charlie that I keep hidden away, in a box dedicated to his memory. I will never post it. I will never ask anyone to look at it. I may be the only person who ever again sees it. But I have it. I can see him now, just as he looks in the picture, just as he looked the one and only time I ever held him in my arms. And I can imagine how he might look if he were here today, on what might have been his eighth birthday.

I say "might" because his birthday was supposed to be one week later, on my birthday, as it happened. Of course, if he could have lived, we all would have gladly welcomed him seven days early. But when we arrived at the hospital on this day eight years ago our worst fears were realized, and our lives began a tailspin from which, I think it's safe to say, we have yet to fully recover. We ended up burying Charlie exactly one week later, on the day he should have been born.

For me, eight years later, there are no more sudden stabs of grief that seemed to descend upon me usually during private times, in the shower, for example, where no one else could see. And that blanket of pain that would suddenly cover me when I would happen upon some imagery or filmed situation at work that would trigger memories and the overwhelming desire to crumple into a heap-- that blanket hasn't been thrown over my head in quite a while. So I guess, to all appearances, I'm "moving on." Not surprisingly, however, my wife, though she's certainly better than she was eight years ago, has been so profoundly affected that her experience is often beyond my understanding, and certainly that of her closest friends and associates. Charlie was physically part of her; he was in her. She is the only one who knows that particular loss, but even she had no idea (and still doesn't) of its depth and endurance. Perhaps the most difficult thing I've had to do in the last eight years is not empathize with her pain-- it's too great even for me to know, and too easy for me to assume that my pain in any way resembles hers-- but instead to realize that she needs a strong hand and a strong heart to love her and help her heal at her own pace, a pace I can only respect and perhaps never understand.

I think of August 11, 1997 as probably the worst day of my life. And each day after, for months and years, was only better by the slimmest of degrees. I can remember sitting in a mall only a couple of weeks later, waiting for my wife to take care of some business, when a little girl, whom I'd never seen before, walked up to me, smiled and said, "Hi, Daddy," and then walked away. I've never been much of a believer in things supernatural, but that moment was so inexplicable, and so strangely relevant to what we were going through, that it has always given me pause, as well as chills, and a blindingly emotional rush of desire to see my boy alive.

And that following September we had tickets to see Alison Krauss and Union Station in concert, tickets we had purchased earlier in the summer, projecting that it would be our first opportunity to spend time together away from taking care of Charlie. Instead, the night became our first opportunity to try and function in public cloaked in the shadow of our desperate grief. The music was, of course, transcendent, but neither of us could have anticipated that one of the songs Alison Krauss would sing, in that haunted, piercing soprano with which she is so blessed, would be "Baby Mine," the song from the Disney film which is sung by Dumbo's mother to the son from whom she has been taken and locked away. Krauss' performance, sung only to the accompaniment of Dan Tyminski's guitar (played offstage), is a brilliant expression of the yearning and pain of isolation from the one(s) we love, and it blindsided my wife and I like simultaneous punches to the temple, the chest and the gut. The song, and her rendering of it, remains a cherished thing to me because it so readily connects me to all the feelings and hopes I had for my son and myself, but it is one that I can never again approach lightly. And Dumbo is a favorite film of my daughters, and rightly so-- it is about as wonderful a creation as has ever come forth from the Disney studios-- but that scene still hits me in my most tender spots. More than once one of my girls has asked me why I'm crying when we're watching it. I can only say, "Because it's sad, sweetheart," and I am not lying.

Charlie, I can see your face. I can remember what you felt like in my arms, wrapped in your swaddling blanket. I can remember trying to blink away the rush of tears so distorting my vision that I kept thinking you were waking up and that the horror of that afternoon eight years ago was some sort of sick flash-forward from which I, and all of us, would eventually wake. Instead, the summer was the dream, and the waking, like the fate of the Confederate soldier in Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, is bitter reality.

We love you, son.


Anonymous said...

Words fail me...but thanks for a beautiful essay, and for reminding me how small my own worries are. I'm thinking of all of you Cozzalios today, and hoping the day takes it easy on you all.

Adam said...

Like the person above me I can think of no words that would do you justice. I am extremley sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss Dennis. I am still very young and I have fortunately not had to deal with such a personally earth shattering and tragic event. I hope that while the pain never goes away, eventually the wonderful gifts of your two daughters (I think thats right?) and your full life does assuage your suffering. Thanks for the touching words.

Lester said...

Many prayers and much love to you, Patti, Emma, and Noni on this day.

Mr Gomez said...

Dennis...your reflections of loss are strangely inspiring. I myself have some dark moments in my life that no one will ever know of yet they stay with me every day of my life. I'm always reminded of Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven:

"Would you know my name
if I saw you in heaven?
Would you feel the same
if I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in heaven...

Would you hold my hand
if I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
if I saw you in heaven?
I'll find my way through night and day
'Cause I know I just can't stay here in heaven...

As for that little girl who said "hi daddy", let me say that even though I was raised a catholic, I haven't been to church in years. Yet I have a firm "faith" belief that when a loved one dies they always find a way to say goodbye. It might be in a dream, a song, a poem or even an approach of a little girl. Charlie just wanted to say hi to his daddy. It was his way of giving you a hug.

Loxjet said...

Dennis, I confess that sometimes when I'm feeling sorry for myself and cursing the moon and stars for the lot I've drawn, I think of Charlie and the profound loss that you and Patty experienced. I'm happy, though, that Emma and Nonie get to be parented by such loving, intelligent, decent people... and also happy that you'll get to hear "Hi, Daddy!" every day for the rest of your life.

8763 Wonderland said...

Good Lord, Dennis. I'm touched beyond words.

Anonymous said...

Dennis, I assure you that Todd speaks for many (if not all) of your friends. I know that not an August goes by when I don't think of your family and all that might have been. To have such a bitter thread woven inextricably into your lives-- none of us can possibly imagine. But, damn... your girls are so blessed to have you as parents, and I know that neither you nor Patty take a moment of their presence in your life for granted.

Please know that you ALL are much in my thoughts and my heart.


Dr. W. Sumner Davis said...

I have heard it said that time heals all wounds. Yet how do we heal when that moment lives eternally in our hearts and minds, and time stands still.

Anonymous said...

Time does not heal, but you do learn to live with it.

Anonymous said...

I hope from you to write more


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