Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Meeting Peter

I want to tell you how I met Peter.

One afternoon when I lived in Sweden, I went in search of an English novel to read. I was stuck at my IL's house for one reason or another, and as my MIL is an avid reader she always has lots of pocket books lying around.

As I looked through the bookshelves in their seldom-used spare room, I came across several old photo albums on the shelf. I pulled one out at glanced at the front page thinking it would be childhood photos of of my husband and his sister.

For a brief second I thought the photo I was looking at was my husband. But something was off. It wasn't my husband, but my father-in-law as a little boy. It has been well-remarked upon how much Hubbie looks like his father, but these photos were uncanny.

I turned the page with a smile. I love my father-in-law dearly, and to see him as a child was really sweet.

Then, I saw the newspaper clipping.

Pasted to the page, the yellowed and fraying paper bore a faded short paragraph. A birth announcement. Hubbie's father has a younger brother, whom I have met. As the resident historian and family historian, I appreciated the opportunity to read an original, Swedish birth announcement from the 1940s.

Until I actually read it.

And read it again.

It gave the mother's name, location, date of the birth: and the names of two children. Two boys.

I just couldn't understand it. I saw the name of my FIL's younger brother. But, who was Peter? My FIL had one brother.

My confusion lifted. I felt like I was going to vomit.

FIL had two brothers. His younger brother was a twin.

I had never met his twin. No one had ever mentioned him.

Which meant he had died a long, long time ago. Perhaps as a child.

I went completely numb as I turned the page. Two beautiful baby boys. Two smiling cherubs in sepia and lace.

Another page. More smiles, the boys side by side.

I could not stop turning the pages. It was as if someone else controlled my hand, whispered in my ear Keep turning...Am I still there? Do you see me?

The fear in my chest rose with the turn of every page. The boys got older. There were still two. Soon, there would be only one.

Something was going to happen. But what?

It hurt to breathe.

I couldn't tell the boys apart. The same dark hair. The same eyes. The same clothes. Until one of them started to look thinner.


Shadows formed under those doe eyes. There wasn't much time. The sun was starting to set.

Keep turning. See me.

And there it was. The photograph that I can only assume so many parents take, then tuck away in a box. That last snapshot of life. The same photo I took of my beloved cat when I knew he was dying. The same photos taken with grandparents in nursing homes.

Peter way lying on the sofa. He couldn't have been more than three. He was so thin. So tiny. He had his full faced turned to the camera. There were black circles under his dark eyes. He looked straight at the lens. Through the lens. He knew. Those eyes told me that he knew. He knew why that picture was being taken. Fifty years after the fact, those eyes stared up at me from that photograph and told me I am dying.

I thought I would drown in grief.

I don't know which parent took the photo. I cannot imagine the desperation of the person behind the camera. My heart breaks for them. They are long gone. I never knew them, but my heart shatters into a million pieces every time I think about it.

I now know that Peter died of cancer. We believe it was childhood leukemia, but no one knows for sure. It is our best estimate from the information available to us.

That afternoon haunts me. I know that Peter wanted me to see him. No one in his family speaks of him. There I was, alone in that room. I opened that photo album and something happened. For a few minutes, time stood still. I was there to celebrate his birth. I was there to mourn his passing. It was intense. It was awful. I felt at the same time assaulted and privileged. I walked into that room an innocent. I walked out carrying Peter with me in my heart.


krysta said...

this story is so sad...

RiverPoet said...

Oh my...that is quite a thing to find when you only set out to find something to read.

My mother had 6 children, but the first one died when he was only days old. It was a long, difficult labor and my mom never even got to hold him. He was whisked away from her, and she only ever saw the picture they took of him in his casket. I can't imagine what she went through. She said every time she heard a baby cry, she would ask, "Is that my baby?"

My aunt said that Eddie was the most beautiful baby she'd ever seen. I guess he was just an angel here for a short time, like Peter.

Peace - D

Patois42 said...

Peter needed to be found, to affect someone he'd never met. I'm glad you found him.

Anonymous said...

"I walked out carrying Peter with me in my heart."

This is why you found Peter and he found you. You are the family historian, and you are the one who has the strength and the drive to pick up his history, bring it forward, and re-tell it in such a beautiful way.

Somewhere, there is light in Peter's eyes knowing he will be remembered.

Gypsy said...

That was so moving and beautifully written. Thanks so much for sharing. And for turning the page.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Wow. Speechless. Amazing post. Amazing story. I wish I could reach back in time and hold him. Thanks.

formerly fun said...

I think that's what most people want, to be remembered.

Kelly said...

I've got to tell you...you are a really good writer. Really good.

You're timing and ability to touch the reader's emotions are spot on.

I loved this post...

Jenn in Holland said...

This is an absolutely captivating post. I am so moved reading it.
Also, I want to mention that I have spent the better part of an hour here crawling through your archives. What a great blog you keep. It's wonderful to hear your voice and your stories.
Nice to meet you!!

Becca said...

What a story...wow! Thanks so much for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

that's sad but lovely too. everyone wants to be remembered and acknowledged.

Anonymous said...

Wow...amazing! I can almost FEEL what you felt when you looked at those pictures!!