By Rachel Kimbrough*
Just after I’d turned 18, Crazy Ma pulled another fun-filled fuck-with-your-kid stunt. I got home from work one night to find her sitting on the couch with this weird bemused look on her face. She instructed me to sit on the couch next to her, and then told me that she’d just woken up from a wet dream about me and her only to find a demon on top of her with its mouth over hers.
She said she rebuked it in the name of the LORD and it scampered away. I moved out the next week.
Fast forward to a couple years ago. I grew some balls and told my mother that I’m agnostic. She already knew, but would not acknowledge, that despite her best efforts I had roundly rejected Christianity. I’d sort of held off on officially labeling myself anything not-Christian in order to reflect on the possibility that I might have rejected the religion out of an abundance of young-adult rebellion, a drive to do and be the opposite of my mother.
As it turns out, my initial suspicion was and is the accurate one: I simply do not have the capacity for that sort of faith.
She said to me then, “You’re a Christian, Rachel. You’re just mad at God for taking Emri away.”
Actually, Emri’s death marked the last time I ever regretted being agnostic.
Emri should have been a living, just-woken-up child in the early afternoon February 15, 2008, but instead he was a fresh corpse. I, you know, called an ambulance and performed unsuccessful CPR until medical personnel arrived, and then he was whisked off to the hospital where a doctor and about a dozen nurses attempted to revive him for nearly four hours, no one willing to be the first to say, “It’s no use.” His dad and I sat in folding chairs watching the effort. I wish now I’d just stayed in the waiting room instead of allowing those mental images to solidify in my mind.
After those four hours, they all finally gave up, named it SIDS, swaddled him in a blanket, and handed my dead baby to me. Family entered the ER room, siblings and parents and aunts and uncles. Every so often another person joined us in the room. I held him for the majority of two hours, unable to shake the thought that he might, at any moment, wake up again. He did not.
For the most part everyone was quiet, with a few exceptions. I don’t know what I expected anyone to say, but most of what was said was something summatory. We will miss him dearly. I’m so sorry for your loss. God needed more angels in heaven. Things like that. My stomach wrenched every time someone referred to Emri in the past tense.
But what was said most frequently was something along these lines: “We will see him again in Heaven.”
I searched the face of anyone who expressed such a thought. Being a lady who does not have such faith, it’s difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to truly believe something like that. I looked for facial cues indicating things like deception, guilt, any sort of falsity. I found none.
“We will see him again in Heaven.”
My dad said that. My mom said that, among many other things. My uncle, the pastor Tim, said so, too, and then repeated the sentiment at the funeral service five days later. I watched his face for a full minute after he said so in the ER room and again found only sincerity. I looked from him back to the discolored mass that earlier in the day had been my three-month-old son. And I felt beneath my feet the sickening warp-speed movement of the earth, its rotation around the sun, its inhabitants routinely moving right along, happily ignorant of Emri’s having ever existed at all.
Most of all I was crushed under the unbearable weight of complete isolation at possibly being the only person in the room who did not–could not and cannot–find relief in the knowledge that I will see him again. That he’s happy somewhere. For all I know, he’s something somewhere or nothing nowhere, and you know a mother never stops worrying about her kids. If I could believe it, I would.
I relayed this information to my mother, that day when she told me I’m mad at God for taking Emri. She told me, “You will see him again,” forgetting or ignoring for a moment that my not being a Christian would guarantee my spot in Hell, if it’s a real thing. So I wouldn’t see him anyway. I changed the subject and departed shortly thereafter. I bit my nails bloody on the drive home.
*Through now four stories for TYTT, Kansas’s Rachel Kimbrough has displayed herself to be a great writer.
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