When you were born, you slept in a bassinet next to my bed. I slept with my hand on your tiny back, making sure you didn’t stop breathing in the night.
When you were little, in your own room, I’d get up in the night, unable to sleep until I made sure you, your sisters, your brother, were breathing. I really did. Right up until you were all teenagers, and we moved to the house on the river.
When you were older and battling heroin, I listened for your breathing. Through the kitchen floor. I knew what to listen for. The ragged gasps of your respiratory system struggling. I’d race upstairs and breathe for you, hold you through the night and make sure you kept breathing. In and out. Heartbeat bumping. In and out. Sometimes you’d stop breathing, for a moment longer than you should have. I’d shake you. You’d draw in. In the morning, you were so sorry.
When you were clean all those years, I sometimes still listened, standing in the kitchen, beneath the floorboards of your room. I’d stand there and cry to hear the silence, or a little snore. I stopped listening, and started sleeping. Then you moved out into a life of your own, and I thought my days of listening were done.
I didn’t listen when you came home again. Those heartbending years were so far in the past. This was just a bout of depression, nothing we hadn’t handled before. We were already on it. You were coasting, you said, until it lifted.
You went silent.
You slept a lot.
But you were screaming and screaming, weren’t you. I didn’t know how to listen to this new kind of silence. In the frenzied chaos of those first days battling all that went on in your head, I knew what to see, to hear, to look for. But this? Not this. My guard was down. You’d made it through! But I forgot to never say never.
You went upstairs to bed, to die whether you meant it or not. I don’t know if you struggled to breathe, or simply stopped. I wasn’t listening anymore.
Now I see all too clearly. My failure. Ultimate, and complete. Irreversible. Hindsight is ever the cruelest of things. It shows me daily all the ways you were screaming for the help you didn’t get. It shows us all, now that there are no breaths left to listen for.