Numbers have a way of driving our lives. We use them in every manner possible to evaluate ourselves, or even our worth, sometimes literally. One’s age, bank account, weight, the year of their car, square footage of their home, hours spent working in a day, children’s grades, and so on and so forth can lead to their feelings of personal value, or lack thereof, and even inadequacy. While some numbers bolster the feelings of praise or satisfaction, others tare them down with relentless fury.
Yesterday was my thirteenth anniversary. I’ve been married for thirteen years, but I met my husband sixteen years ago. I am thirty-two; half my life I’ve spent with him. Out of curiosity and nostalgia I tried on my wedding dress to see if it fit. It didn’t. I couldn’t get it zipped. There’s obviously only one real explanation here: clearly my ribcage has expanded (haha).
For your reference, here I am in my wedding dress in 2003, and then again not
fitting into it yesterday. Like I said…my ribcage must have expanded, but I digress…
So, I felt badly, of course. A stupid thing to fixate on, but don’t we tend to do this much more often then we should? I immediately took the dress off, mustered my best pose and took a selfie in the mirror. I sent it to my husband hoping to hear I was still pretty (and young, and slim, etc… [Which of course he said I was, but to be fair it actually was a good picture and magically made me look like I had a six pack, which in real life I certainly do not.]) But why was I punishing myself? So I’m not the same size I was when I was nineteen. I’m not that nineteen year old girl in any way. I’m not sure I resemble her at all. Why would she have anything to do with how I feel about myself? Why let a number sewn into a dress (or a pair of jeans) I’ll never wear again hold any of my own worth over my head?
I am so much more than a number on a scale. I have plenty of other numbers that matter a lot more than that one does.
How about that thirteen. That’s a good long time to be married, especially for a thirty-two year old. Two. That’s how many children I’ve birthed. Zero. The number of epidurals I’ve had. Eleven. Our oldest daughter’s age today. Three. The number of years our youngest daughter lived. Four. The number of years since her death.
A million. The number of times a day I think about her.
Forever. The length of time this grief will stay with me.
To be fair, there are plenty of other numbers I have no idea what their totals are. Numbers that I’m not sure how to incorporate into my self-evaluations, but numbers whom I know will always be infinitely more important than the ones on the scale. For instance, how many times I administered seizure medications, though twice a day for nearly three years is somewhere around two thousand. How many times I bathed her. How many diapers I changed. How many times I told her I loved her. How many times I’ve cried since she’s been gone. How often I’ve tried to conceptualize what she would have been like if Tay-Sachs disease hadn’t taken her life. And how many times I’ve failed to do so. Because I can’t. Try as I might, I have no idea who she would have been. She didn’t get the chance. The chance to develop her own personality, thoughts, feelings, perceptions, ideas, convictions. One tiny missing enzyme in her body took it all away from her.
I would love to change my numbers. Who wouldn’t? I’d be richer, skinnier, with a newer car, and a second home. I’d have a living child who was seven and not just the memory of a perpetual three year old for all of eternity. I would have stopped time, at the very least to live in the moment I held her, forever.
Time. Some of the cruelest numbers we encounter circle around this concept. To keep moving forward, to keep trudging through this life, we can’t fall victim to the folly of willing it to change. It will continuing moving along its own path no matter what we feel we have to say about the matter. No matter how many times I try to count the ever growing number of tears I’ve shed, and to organize them into an account of love through grief based on the time of their occurrence.
But all of those numbers, the good and bad, plotted across a graph do add up to begin to eventually form the description of who I am. They’re all part of what makes me, me. No one’s graph has a trajectory consistently moving at a forty five degree angle straight to the top. We all have ups and downs. They shape our character. If we let them, they mold us into three dimensional beings who have the ability to love, understand, forgive, relate, sympathize, and empathize. People who, because of their own plights are sensitive to those of others. People who can lend a hand, or shoulder, or ear when needed. Tried through fire. Sharpened with iron. Bent and broken. Clustered masses of infinite combinations painting the picture of humanity.
Each of us has a unique story to tell, and our numbers help us do just that.