I love this picture.
I hate this picture.
It doesn’t happen as often as it once did, that feeling that someone is missing. So now when it does, it blindsides me.
There are five. There should be six.
There should be another boy, just bigger than the smallest. Would his hair be another shade of brown like the older four? Or would he have surprised us the way the littlest did and been another redhead? He probably would have been born with a bunch of hair, just like his brothers and sisters all were, if he hadn’t come so early. He has the distinguishing feature of being the only one of this brood born without hair.
I wonder about his eyes, the ones I never got to see open. There is quite the variety in this family, so I can’t even guess. We’ve got the deepest of browns, hazels that are almost green, several shades of blue. I can almost picture him sometimes, almost capture who he would have been, and then it slips away from me. Perhaps his eyes would have been the color of smoke since they dissipate from my thoughts, or his hair the color of sand, falling through my fingers when I reach for it. He is air and light and mist and vapor, just beyond tangible.
This family of mine is complete, yet perpetually incomplete. Time has passed, and the rough edges of grief have been worn to dullness. The sharp and stabbing nature of fresh loss has been smoothed with a patina of age and use. Seven years. That’s how old he would be now, and I think of him at alternating times as the tiny infant I lost and the child he would be.
Related: A Missing Piece
In this photograph, I picture him in his rightful place, one of the stepping stones of children lined along a table, enjoying a day out in the sunshine. I feel the emptiness of his residue deeply in it.
Parents of large families count a lot. Double and triple checking. Counting and accounting for each and every child, again and again.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. And there it stops. But that day, I did not feel finished. Six. There is one missing. My count never feels finished. Most of the time, I remember now and stop at five. But that day, I felt the place where he should have been heavily.
So I count the heads that are there. One. Two Three. Four. Five. Then, I count one more because he counts. Six. And in my mind, I finish the picture.
Image credit: Kristen Wood