She would have been eleven today. I would have made her favorite meal, which is spaghetti, and we would have had cake, probably something with pink frosting, and I would have eaten a slice even though I gave up sugar for Lent, because if God understands anything about us, he understands this. I would have looked at her across the table, an island of grace amidst her unruly brothers, and maybe caught a glimpse of what she would look like as a mother. I would have kissed her goodnight, the way I always did, and perhaps I would have lingered in my hug, breathing in her smell, because I think something in me understood, before we lost her, that you never know how many days you will have with them.
Eleven is a curious number, if you look at it, if you sit at your desk and scratch it on a pad and stare at it because you can’t find any words in yourself. And if you think about how you can’t find the words, you remember what the writer you admire most said to you, that writing is actually very easy, that you just open a vein and bleed. And so you rip the bandage off the wound, and through the sting of it you see that the shape of 11 reminds you of two people standing, a mother and a father, perhaps, and they are waiting. They are looking into a future they cannot see, and they are waiting as if in a line, as if in both their small minds is the question, “How much longer here?” They wait in line and they quietly ask God this question, but very quietly, because to want it to be finished, so often and so fiercely, is a sign that you are broken.
The shape of 11 reminds you, if you look at it, of two people, a mother and a father, maybe, who have a space between them, a space that once was filled, only now it is empty, and though they reach out in their numbness, it is such a great distance to cross, the emptiness called she was here, or only daughter gone, that you wonder if they will ever close the gap, these separate ones. And when for a time the space disappears, and they are one again, it is indeed a miracle beyond the powers of any mathematician, to make one out of two divided by nothing.
And the shape of 11, if you look at it, is like a lonely 1, staring at himself in the mirror, like a father who shuffles into the empty room and cries out, only no matter how much he shouts there is only the mirror, and he standing in front of it, remembering that this is where she would stand, right here, and he would put clips shaped like butterflies in her hair, and marvel at how she could look like him, and still be so purely different and lovely.
The shape of 11 is the empty box, it is arms raised to heaven, it is the repeated number on the walls of the prisoner scratching out his existence, denoting one more day, and one more day, each carrying him closer to the opening of the door, the end of the separation.
The shape of 11 is two flags staked into the bloody ground, side by side, and two people, a mother and father, just maybe, who say, “this is our life, all of it, the blessing and the curse, and here we will stand until it is finished.” And if you look closely, you see that it is good ground, this place where they stand; it is sprinkled with blood, but it is overgrown with life, and so it is good ground. It is proof that joy and tribulation can co-exist, life and death, peace and suffering, and only because there is something on the other side of that mirror, the life more abundant, the reunion, the setting right of all things wrong.
But mostly, today, the shape of 11 is the two dreams, what might have been, and what is to come. Happy Birthday, Caroline.