Internalizing Atomic Numbers and Counting Sunrises

titanium

Thirty-years ago, I became a mother. In an instant I learned what it meant to care about another human being more than myself. I remember the strange sensation of hypervigilance that first night. Every sound, every slight stirring my newborn made from the bassinette positioned next to my bed woke me all through the long night. When they whisked her away in the middle of the night to do her vitals while I was asleep, they kept her a little too long. I awoke in a panic. I swear I heard and recognized her cry all the way down the hall. They brought her back to me and placed her in my arms. The sound of my voice instantly calmed her and her eyes intently gazed up at me. We’d long since bonded during the months I carried her inside my body. Meeting simply galvanized the connection.

My oldest child, Sarah, would’ve turned thirty back in October. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that fact. I might find it easier were she still here. I might find it easier, and I wouldn’t have to wonder. I wouldn’t have to wonder what she’d be doing right now. I wouldn’t have to wonder what she would look like at thirty and if she’d have a husband…or a wife…or a child. I wouldn’t have to wonder if I would have a grandchild. I wouldn’t have to wonder if she would’ve pursued a career in music, as she’d always talked about, or found a different path to happiness. I wouldn’t have to imagine what our relationship would be like now. It was pretty contentious back then. What would her relationship with her sister be like? They were so close – the inseparable now forever separated.

I have heard that each human heart possesses a finite number of beats and that that number varies from person to person. Of course, I’ve also heard that that is merely a myth. Still, it is another thing about which I now wonder. I wonder if death will, for me, come when, as Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl describes in the song One of These Days, my heart simply “plays its final beat?” Or, as it did for my parents, will illness bring my demise? Might an accident bring my life to an abrupt end, as it did for Sarah, or will I lose my lifelong battle with depression someday and die by my own hand?  Recent events have caused such murky thoughts to resurface after a long stretch of being submerged deep within my subconscious. Both my parents died about a year ago. So did Sarah’s cat, our precious Peanut.

My resting heart rate is about 70 beats per minute. There are 525,600 minutes in a year. That means my heart has beaten over 533 million times since Sarah died and over 2 billion in my lifetime so far. How much is left on the meter?

Before you dismiss my words as the wild ranting of some weird math nerd, I wasn’t always so obsessed. It wasn’t until the losses in my life began stacking up like the score of a video game. Maybe it’s a return of my childhood OCD behaviors. Maybe I’ve always been a little “on the spectrum” and the counting and calculating are just the latest indicators of it. Math is good. Math is solid, and unlike most things, it’s predictable.

It’s twenty-five paces from the pavement to my daughter’s grave. I count it in my head every time I go. I’ve never told anybody that. We visit on her birthday or the anniversary of her death or when I’m feeling an instance of disbelief that she really is gone – which still happens occasionally, even after all these years – and I still count.

The day after Sarah died, I remember feeling like the world should’ve stopped turning, and I was so perplexed that it had not. It just kept spinning. Everyone’s lives went on. They went to work. They went to school. They ate their meals and watched television. They did their laundry and shopped for groceries. The lives of many of the people that loved Sarah went on. In reality, it turned out that our lives were, more accurately, on pause for a bit. Then, somewhere along the way, time hit the “play” button, and even my world began turning again. Before I realized it, the world had revolved over 5,000 times and made its trip around the sun nearly fifteen times.

My heart, the muscular organ inside my chest, has beaten over half a billion times since that black day. My heart, the figurative seat of my emotions, has ached and made my eyes produce what could easily be measured as several gallons of tears. The sun has risen and set over 5,000 times since my beloved girl left this world, 5,292 to be exact. Maybe someday I’ll be able to stop counting – stop ticking off days, stop counting steps, and stop marking mental tallies on a slate in my mind. Maybe.

It’s funny that grief unleashed such an odd obsession inside my brain. I remember being in AP science classes in high school and thinking, “I’ll never be like these nerds.” In retrospect, I now wonder if their affinity for science and numbers and things grounded in the observable might’ve been an anchor for them in the tumultuous sea of social uncertainty that was high school. I never dreamed that one day I would have a “favorite element.” And, yet, now I do. This reminds me of a song that is dear to my heart, Atomic Number by Niko Case, KD Lang, and Laura Veirs:

Why are the wholesome things
The ones we make obscene?

Latin words across my heart
Symbols of infinity
Elements so pure
Atomic number

I am the spark
Of this machine
Purring like the city bus
why are the wholesome things
The ones we make obscene?

Well if your mercy’s lost
I have enough for us
Latin words across my heart
Symbols of infinity
Elements so pure
Atomic number

That’s right. In keeping with my numeric obsession, I now have a favorite atomic number. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I have an atomic number…well, one with which I identify. It’s twenty-two. Twenty-two is the atomic number of Titanium – the strongest metal. Titanium can withstand anything…any assault…any abuse…and maintain its integrity. That’s me. I’ve withstood the elements…the wind…the rain…the fire…all of it, and I’m still standing. I’m still opening my eyes each day to see the sunrise. I’m still walking around. I’m still breathing. How is that even possible?

The cliché goes, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Here’s the thing. I’m not quite sure what the point of that actually is. Why? Why do we need to be made “stronger?” This is another of the many things about which I wonder. It’s true that, these days, I am hard pressed to subscribe to the teachings of any particular religion. I do, however, believe in a “higher power” of some kind and you can bet your sweet ass I’ve got a shitload of questions for he/she/them/it, if and when we meet. “Why you gotta do this kind of shit to folks…perfectly good people?” is top on the list. Until then, I’m left with my wonderings, with my questions, and with my numeric obsession. This post has 1,273 some words. I’ve read it and reread it half a dozen times. My heart hopes it helps you, if you need it to, and speaks to your heart like zero others. Namaste.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s