Alexandra Owens lives in Morris County, New Jersey, with her husband, Michael, and their two daughters, Gillian, 14, and Catie, 10. Alexandra is the executive director of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA; www.asja.org).
Let me try to describe how it felt, the most vivid three seconds of my life. Only ten weeks in as a new parent, the holding of a baby is both wholly natural and yet unfamiliar to me. Though I’d only recently learned to do it, in fact it was oh-so-easy from the very first moment. You fit perfectly into my arms, your soft solid warmth a part of me. No tiny, frail thing, you: no, from the earliest days you were a baby of substance, making your fellow 10-week-old babies look almost waifish. The power of my love is such that nothing can ever pry you out of my arms. I know this. I knew it once anyway.
It was the morning after your first Thanksgiving, 1998. The holiday had proven wonderful; you met many members of your extended family for the first time. The next morning it’s just you and me in the house. After our morning cuddle, off we go toward the stairs, ready to take on the day. I was thinking about the leftovers and festive clutter needing my attention down in the kitchen.
And then…an overconfident step, slightly off-balance, in socks that make no purchase on the hardwood floor. My feet go flying out from under me, my hands grasping for the handrails in frantic reflex, and your soft weight leaves my hold. My left hip and elbow hit the hard edges of the stairs and moulding, and I land on my back and right arm and wrist. My vision is filled with your face, contorted in surprise, floating down the stairway in front of me.
This flight of stairs, with 14 steps, is made of hardwood, and I had slipped at the very top. You looked up at me, your mouth an “O” and your eyebrows up, all the long way down those stairs. And as I watched you go, emotions unfathomable filled my being. How? How could I ever have let go?
You move through the air — slowly yet quickly — and I think thoughts I’ve never before thought.
I’ve killed my child.
I’ve done it, and now it’s over.
Our child will never grow up, my husband will never forgive me, the pain will be eternal, I’ve wrecked our family forever.
My life will forever be defined by this moment, by what happened before it and what happened after.
There will never be redemption and I will never heal.
And then you land. Feet first, face down, your tummy hitting the edge of the bottom step, and your head clocks the wall right at the sharp edge of the wooden moulding. You are mere inches from the piece of garden rock that sits there serving as our front-door stop. Panicking, I clumsily finish my own descent in pain and horror, hearing only silence, the worst silence I can imagine.
P.S. — Please see part 2 tomorrow.