Kitty is counting her granddaughter's fingers, can you see? It seems we've stopped counting fingers and toes as a ritual. We assume everything is where it's meant to be; at least for those of us living and breathing in the first world. We have forgotten so much in a single generation.
Elizabeth was born sometime in the vicinity of 8 am on December 11, 2000. The room was watching the baby instead of the clock. I'm OK with that. Kitty and Jerry came sometime in the afternoon so she couldn't have been more than a handful of hours old. That's the best time to make that first visit. They are so new in the world and nearly unchanged. This is the root of who we are; in the first few hours before we have forgotten we are part of a whole.
The word 'innocence' comes, nearly without consciousness, to the minds and from the mouths of people fortunate enough to see, hear, smell, and touch infants in a state of grace. It's catching, I think. That state of grace rubs off, at least temporarily. You can tell from the photographs or your own memories. That Elizabeth would be the only grandchild was nearly a given. Her uncles appeared to be on a childless track, and I was perfectly clear that this was my last baby. When a person is nearly certain that this is all that's coming, I think that particular state of grace remains; or at least the possibility. Kitty stepped into that state and remained in grace for the next nineteen years, three months, and ten days. I don't know the number of hours for sure, but if I had to guess, those hours would equal the number between the birth of Elizabeth and their first introduction. Funny how that works.
Pat and I had what's become a traditional middle-class American marriage in that we were thirty-five when we stood before the JP, and thirty-six when this child was born. Kitty and Jerry were about the same age when Pat arrived; the first of three. We were aware that their time with this girl might be painfully short. I guess Kitty would have been about seventy-three when Elizabeth was born; Jerry a little bit younger. I had a dream once, maybe a little before or during my pregnancy. I dreamed that the stoic man from Castle Island knelt at the edge of his wife's garden with a brand new baby girl in his arms. He was crying. I've never seen him cry, although I'm sure he has on more than one occasion. I don't recall words, just gratitude and the sort of love that transcends everything earth bound.
She was a gift and I'd helped with that. Nearly twenty-one years later, I still lack the words to describe my own gratitude for the ability to help give the gift. For the rest of Kitty's life, she believed the sun rose and set on her granddaughter. That, in itself is a miraculous gift. Who Kitty was, and still is, in my daughter's life helped form the bedrock of Elizabeth's belief that she is loved beyond measure. I can't imagine this didn't have significant impact on the bullet-proofness of the Bullet Proof Baby. Any human being fortunate enough to have one of those people has a lifeboat of epic proportion.
I have one of those people, and in return, she has me.
In return, Kitty had Elizabeth. I don't know that Elizabeth has fully grasped the impact of that relationship, but I can see it coming.
Kitty died one year ago today. Elizabeth's grief has receded a bit, but it doesn't take much to bring it right to the surface. You see, it was NOT Kitty expected to die so soon. She may have been ninety-three but you'd be hard pressed to know that. She took care of herself and she took care of Jerry as nurses and doctors are likely to do. Jerry worked a job that was brutal on his body. By the time he retired his bones ached and he wore the cloak of a person ten years older. We expected Jerry might die next year. Jerry expected not to see the end of 2020. As the first COVID spike was rearing its terrible head in New York, he got on the train to see his city one last time. He went to look at the buildings that held a part of him; a near lifetime of labor. They aren't people to take risks and certainly not a risk like that. Kitty went with him, at least the first time.
But on March 21, 2020, it was Kitty who dropped to the living room floor and never got up again. It was over in minutes. Sometimes, no matter what we do in prevention, an essential organ betrays the body anyway. Her heart said, it's time, Love, it's time. I have seen Jerry only once since he heard that fall. He is broken. The man is simply broken. He is private in his grief and mourning; he prefers to have just his sons and his granddaughter in those public times and places. One time, our visits accidentally overlapped. I sat ten feet behind him and listened to the whispering. I don't know what he says to her, and I should not know. I don't know the words, but I imagine I understand the context. I waited until he'd finished and walked back to his sons and granddaughter. I got up and said my own quiet words. I did not sit, as I normally would, out of respect. I'm not sure why, it just felt like an act a little too intimate for Jerry to bear. I did it later, instead.
Kitty was raised in a town called Listowel in County Kerry. Jerry was no more than fifteen miles from Listowel in Castle Island. I don't know when they arrived in NYC. I know Jerry came with one of his brothers, by way of Canada to become a builder in NYC. I know Kitty was a nurse on a bicycle somewhere in England; I think she might have been a midwife. I don't know what had her come to the States, and she may have come by herself.
I've seen both childhood houses. Last checked, no one was living in the tiny house where ten children were born and raised, but we could see in the windows. The smallness of the space said, you do not need as much as you believe. It also said, it was kinda tight in here. One of Kitty's sisters lived in a house nearby. It has a name, like most houses sitting on a particular piece of land have names, but I don't remember it, just that it was. I remember the peat burning stove in the main room. I was fascinated. While Jerry and Kitty may have periodically lapsed into Gaelic while counting or something similar, that was all that remained. Aside from the peat burning stove, the rest of the house was entirely European right down to the washing machine in the kitchen, just like any other kitchen appliance.
In comparison to Kitty's childhood home, the house in Castle Island was much bigger. The original two story structure still stood, but it got bigger over time. I don't recall how many siblings Jerry had, but not so many as Kitty. The thing about the Castle Island house is despite the additions, which were modern, up to date, and in some cases an unexpected juxtaposition, the original rooms were mostly the same. This is a place where Gaelic was still spoken periodically, and not just to count. I recall having a hard time understanding Pat's aunt and that's unusual for me; I can almost always work it out. I expect her English was fluent, but the brohg had a life of its own. I said one word correctly (I didn't know there was an incorrect pronunciation) and the walls came right down. I was talking about Inismore; she looked startled, and then hugged me.
In 1999 I was grateful for the time spent with Pat's family and the ability to look and often touch their past. Now it is a thing I hold close in my own grief. We often wish we'd said more, done differently, known better, shared more of ourselves. What was simple gratitude, in understanding my husband for the most part, has become an extraordinary thing; the ability to hold more of Kitty than I would have otherwise. I have the same foundation pieces of Jerry and I'm going to need them. I need them now.
Pat has lived in Easton, CT since 2006 in a building that was once a puppet factory. It makes the house a little odd and it's definitely old. Pat has done all the work in his apartment. I know he's handled ceiling issues, I know he laid down new flooring. I believe his father would be proud, although I don't if he's seen it. The rent has not increased once. 2006 rent in Fairfield County would be at the very least three times the original amount, especially in the time of COVID when city people with the means are still getting the hell out.
Pat does not want to give up the apartment. He does not want to live and work in New York. The increase in almost all costs is painful. However, he mostly lives with his father these days because leaving Jerry alone is a heartbreak. So Pat stays and goes home on weekends when he can, but thing is, Pat STAYS. I'd bet a limb or two, that's why his dad is still up and about. None of us is ready for this loss. We thought we were. We thought we'd made peace, but then we lost Kitty.
We are aware that we could lose my dad, that we will lose my dad. We don't know when exactly, but we know it's coming and he does too. If Sarah dropped dead tomorrow (DON'T YOU EFFING DARE), I don't know it's something we could even process. I could see myself sitting at the edge of her garden and trying to figure out why the hell she wasn't there. The thought of what my father would experience feels like an icepick in the center of my chest. I don't know who I need to protect more. Me? Daddy? Sarah's mom?
Pat told me a story about his grandfather's wake. The man made an impact on the world that was so powerful that at his funeral, and probably heading toward the cemetery, the sheer number of people was like the wake in the sea when something so powerful has moved the water with such force that what is left behind is not only visible, but palatable. This is the gift of Kitty. My heart hurts and I'm glad for it.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
and he pressed the gold coin into her hand... lá Breithe Shona dhuit.