Our Invisible Travel Companion
I wrote this weeks ago but never planned to post. And then tonight, in trying to explain something to myself, I realized I had the answer right here in this post. And to explain what was in my head tonight, you would need to read this.
Before our trip to London, we were walking through the mall and we passed a sign in the Gymboree window announcing a baby sale. Well-dressed, cherubic babies stared at us from enormous posters. The ChickieNob started joking around that babies were on sale, would I like to purchase one? Without actually answering the question, after we had talked through the repercussions that purchasing another human being could have on that baby’s psyche, I pointed out that we wouldn’t be going to London if there was a third child. A perfect storm of logistics and money and timing would take care of that. We could go on two 10-day trips to expensive European cities and stay in nice hotels and get extra leg-room seats for the cost of one IVF cycle. One chance. That may or may not work.
In the moment, I labeled the trip in my mind a consolation prize. But that isn’t quite accurate. It is merely the living of a life in the absence of what we thought would happen. Life has to go on, and so we are making it go on. And this life isn’t second-best, isn’t the loser’s prize. It just is.
The third child popped into my head on the first full day of the trip and remained with me through nightfall. We woke up in the morning to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The time on the website was wrong so we arrived and had first pick of the ceremony route. We sat down for two hours and read books, wrote in our journals. The four of us were in sync, perfect travel companions, rolling with the change. They felt closer — maturitywise — to our station in life rather than babyhood. Which is exactly when you want to start dragging your kids around the world; when they will be able to enjoy it and allow you to enjoy it.
But there should have been a younger sibling there, fucking things up.
Someone we needed to occupy with two hours of games or songs, who would whine for a snack and attempt to run into the road.
I kept touching everything I was trying to keep track of in the crowd: two cameras, three backpacks, two children, my Oyster card, my hotel room key. Touching everything in a five minute cycle on repeat; cameras, backpacks, children, Oyster card, room key. Because I kept startling, thinking something was suddenly missing.
I couldn’t stop pointing out how impossible the trip would be if we had been successful in adding to our family. Our day continued off track and we didn’t sit down to eat lunch until well after two o’clock. As we walked in search of an acceptable restaurant containing non-white, vegetarian food (please don’t ask), I kept pointing out that if we had a younger sibling in tow, this day would have completely fallen apart. A baby can’t wait two additional hours for lunch. We would have had to bail on our afternoon plans.
Our invisible child waited for us on the sidewalk while we ate overpriced pizza a few blocks from the Tower of London. And we picked her up again when we walked outside.
After the Tower, we hung out in the area, having porridge and hot chocolate to get over the cold. Josh looked on a map and determined that we needed to walk over Tower Bridge to pick up a Tube stop on the other side of the Thames in order to get back to the hotel. I couldn’t explain to him why I didn’t want to walk over the bridge; I just wanted him to look for another route. A bus? Josh shrugged. Do you want to take a taxi?
No, we’ll walk over the bridge.
We slipped into the night, into the crowds of people still milling outside the Tower of London. And we crossed over the water, me and Josh and the twins and the invisible child, trailing behind me in the dark like a question. She felt so real in that moment, not there just as much as the twins are here. Corporal but made out of wishes and conversations and money and thoughts that only slip in when the moon is visible.
When we crossed to the other side, I let her go. I left her on the bridge. My own child. I told her to stay put, and I took a few running steps to catch up with the rest of the family. I’m sorry, but she couldn’t do this, couldn’t follow after us this whole trip. I would pick her up again — I always pick her up again — at another time. But she could not come with us to see the rest of the city, even if she promised to stay in the back of my mind.
That night, as we lay in bed, I whispered to Josh why I hadn’t wanted to cross over the Thames, how I didn’t want to be trailed in the dark by our solemn little ghost child. And then I really let her go for the time being. That is the best and worst part of a ghost child; she is always there waiting.