It’s been 18 months since Eva died. Saying that number, 18 months feels cruel. She only lived to 10 months, and already she has been gone longer than she was here.
To someone who meets me now, there’s no indication that I am Eva’s mother. No indication that I was a mother. If you know what to look for you might notice a multitude of tattoos in her honour, or countless necklaces that friends and family have given to me to keep her memory close. If you ask, of course I’ll tell you, and sometimes I’ll bring her up to absolute strangers, sick of not mentioning her name. But mostly, mostly I’m just a woman in my early 30s who lives alone. I have a wonderful boyfriend, a good job. No pets. I laugh. I go to dinner with friends. I watch Netflix.
Sometimes I’ll catch myself in a moment in my life and wonder what this exact moment in time would look like if Eva was still here. There’s the fantasizing about who Eva would be and what would she be doing, that element is never ending, but in these specific moments I catch myself looking down a path my life didn’t take. I imagine the day to day of us together rather than just imagining her in isolation.
I walk through Wellington on my way to a doctor’s appointment, or to meet a friend and I notice how quickly I weave between other pedestrians. I imagine myself with Eva in the front pack or pushing her in the stroller. I picture us taking our time, the stroller too big and unwieldy to dodge and duck the foot traffic. I never got to push Eva down Cuba Street. I wish I had.
I think about her when I finish work and I walk the five minutes home from work. If she was still here I’d be making a bee line for her day care to pick her up, or if I’m being honest, I probably wouldn’t be working at all. I’d probably have found the balance of surgeries and therapies and appointments too much to juggle as a single mum trying to work full time. So maybe we would both be at home. Maybe we would have joined parent groups. Maybe Eva would have met some of the amazing families and children that I’ve met since her death.
I went to Melbourne on holiday recently. Would I have gone there with Eva?
Would I have met my partner? Would I be podcasting? What would my life look like?
These thought experiments, playing sliding doors and imagining that other life, feel beautiful and tortuous at the same time. I can’t play what if with my life. There are so many things that would be different if she was still here, but I can’t bargain my way into a swapsies deal on this one. There is no dealer who can agree to take all these positives and trade them for Eva.
Instead I have to live my life knowing how quickly hers was taken, and how we cannot take anything for granted. I have to walk down Cuba Street without a stroller or Eva, knowing that to a passerby I am just a women in my 30s. Not a mother. Not Eva’s mother. I have to know that truth within myself and hold onto it, because as time goes by, 18 months now, my life hardly resembles what it was when Eva was here. But I am still her mother.