Here we are again celebrating a birthday for a little girl who never even saw her first year—only 6 precious weeks. Today, we celebrate a birthday dinner with an empty seat at the table. One is missing from our family of six. The empty seat at the table is weighted down and straining under the weight of the hopes and dreams we had for our second child. The paint is chipped and the spindles are coming loose from age as each year’s dreams are added on top of the pile on the now flattened pink toile cushion.
The warm October day fifteen years ago still stands firmly planted in my mind as a golden morning. We had pictures made of Cameron that morning, ran through the fall leaves, ate ice cream with friends, then a brief stop by the doctor’s office where they assured me that I had several weeks to go before the arrival of our first daughter. Within hours, I would be back at the hospital after my water broke while I was resting my eyes during Cam’s afternoon nap. I can remember the exciting ride to Boone—with my aunt at the wheel…. Within hours of arriving at the hospital, she was born, and I was holding my sweet baby girl, Abigail Faith. She was premature and needed oxygen, but she was safely in my arms.
She would have been 15 this year, a freshman in high school celebrating big dreams and cheering her school on at the big homecoming game on Friday night. She and her group of friends would be excited by a warm October Friday and an upcoming birthday. They would be sharing Snapchats and Instagram posts as they took selfies, hoping to catch the cute boy in the background.
I imagine that she would be tall like the rest of the Sechrist children with the same blond gone dark hair that all my children have. Maybe she would wear a high school t-shirt and jeans or maybe a mini-skirt with a cute top, moving with a little apprehension at her new found beauty. She would know that despite the self consciousness that she could catch her older brother’s eye up in the stands. With a nod, she would gain the confidence to proceed. When she returned home, she would argue with her little sister for taking her clothes and laugh at the younger brother’s silly jokes before slipping into her room to be a teenager.
Who would she really be? Maybe a soccer player, maybe a dancer, maybe someone different Would she be dreaming about going to Carolina or about singing on the Broadway stage in New York? I choose just a few possible items and pile soccer cleats and pointe shoes onto the pile on the empty chair, along with a high school spirit bow. The pointe shoes catch just to the side of the pile on the ribbon. Underneath the new additions, year upon year is stacked: a stuffed bunny, a paci, a monogrammed Easter dress, a miniature ballet shoe, a tennis racquet, empty school notebooks, and picture and chapter books of every size and shape and more. Holding it all together are four broken hearts who have learned to live without a daughter and a sister. Grandparents who wish a different story for our family. Family who grieves at our side. Friends who remember.
As I step away from the dinner table with a glance back, the spindle strains slightly as it pulls away from the chair leg screaming under the burgeoning weight of the pile and another chip of paint falls to the floor.