It was his first, his only, camping trip.
After Adaline was born, we had so many problems with her, at least I thought they were problems at the time. She wouldn't latch and we had to feed her via syringe and with a spoon. I had to pump nonstop. She had what is considered to be "colic". Whatever- she wasn't an easy baby.
Charlie was easy. Easy-peasy. He latched 4 minutes after birth, nursed like a champ, was super healthy, gained 9 lbs in the 11 weeks he was alive, and slept like a baby (by the way, this is now what I consider to be one of the worst phrases ever.). As in, he slept 6-8 hours a night. I didn't know babies came like that. My life was almost perfect. My toddler was potty training and sleeping through the night and my infant was amazingly easy and slept better than my toddler. Life was so good.
My grandmother died right after Ada was born. It was the most traumatic event of my life at the time. We were so close, she was the mother I never had. My grandfather quickly remarried- just six months after Mimi's death and none of us were too happy about it. He moved to Tupelo and my cousin rented the house from him. My cousin finally moved out last year, and my grandfather has decided to rent the house to someone else outside the family. He decided to tell us this just two weeks before the new person was to move in.
So, on April 8, when Charlie was just 10 weeks and 3 days old, I made the decision to travel to Alabama to collect our family heirlooms from the house that I grew up in. The house that was about to be ripped out from under me. It was important for me to go, to say goodbye to the residence among other things. Oh, if only I could remake that decision. Maybe this would have never happened.
We drove from Louisville to south of Nashville on the afternoon of Easter Sunday. Adaline had an Easter egg hunt that morning and Charlie sat quietly in the stroller and soaked up the sun and was happy as could be. He sat snug in his Moby Wrap as we walked about and looked for eggs and I grumbled about my mother in law's plastic eggs and wished I had stood my ground and insisted on the beet dyed eggs I really wanted to make and hide with her. So trivial.
We arrived at a state park early evening on Easter and after setting up camp, we went for a stroll along the river. Adaline played in a field of yellow flowers and we went to see an old mill. She kissed Charlie, and for the very first time said, "I love you my Charlie"- something she continues to repeat even now. David and I were the epitome of the happy family we hadn't even strived for. David watched the kids for a little while, I went running, and the we went to the playground and Ada went down "her wee" (the slide) about 20 times. It was the last perfect day.
We woke the next morning and drove to Birmingham, my hometown. As soon as we arrived, both kiddos were fussy and miserable- which we chalked up to heat and travel stress. We went to my grandmother's house and packed everything into the truck. Afterwards, we went out to eat and walked around. Charlie fussed the whole day, so unlike him. Since we'd be camping the night before, we decided to set up our tent in my grandparents backyard. It was so hard for me to want to sleep in the house, knowing she had died there and knowing that it was about to be the end of an era of my life. I felt like every single thing I did that day was the last time I'd ever do it. The house, that was the symbol of stability of my childhood was about to disappear.
We put Charlie to bed in the tent with us. He was on a changing pad, swaddled in a Miracle Blanket, in appropriate clothing, no blankets near him, and with the moonroof of the tent open. Safe as could be, right? There were so many nights that he slept right next to us, with blankets and pillows in our bed. But not that night. I was worried about being in a tent, so I had him separate from the rest of us.
When David woke up he cuddled with Adaline. He looked at me and thought about how beautiful I looked as I was waking up. He was on vacation, waking up to his perfect family outside in lovely weather. Until he sat up and saw Charlie. I'll never forget that moment. That scream. That fear in his eyes. I followed his gaze and when my eyes hit my son it felt like a ton of bricks landed on my heart. He was blue and stripey. He wasnt moving or breathing. I picked him up screaming and trying to breath life into him as Dave ushered us all out of the tent and into the truck. We didnt put Ada in a carseat. We didnt drive on the road. We drove in the emergency lane the whole way, honking the horn and screaming and crying. Ada just kept asking, "Is Charlie ok?" over and over again. He was so cold. So lifeless, so blue, and nothing I did mattered. I did chest compressions, I did cpr, I prayed, I shook him, I listened to his little heart hoping for a beat and- nothing. Nothing changed the nightmare I was in. I shook myself to try and wake up. It was the longest 9 minutes of my life. He was gone when we got there, and had been for several hours.
I handed my baby to the man behind the computer at the ER. He was trying to manage Charlie as he was typing very fast on the computer, and almost dropped him. One more brick for my heart. He immediately took him away and I could hear over the hospital intercom "Code blue to ER" over and over. Doctors were running down the hallways and we were sent to wait in a tiny room with a chaplain that was not great at being sensitive. The carpet was brown with black squares that looked like 3d objects through my tears. The nurse came to take us back to see him and David wanted to know why. We were told it would be better for us to see in the longrun. We walked into a large room with at least 20 doctors in it. Some of them were holding hands. Some were crying. Most were looking at us like they knew it was about to be the end of our world, and the head doctor explained that they were all still there so that when we look back on this moment we will know how many people tried to save our baby's life. And then they asked me if it was ok for them to stop trying. We said goodbye to Charlie, said we loved him. Dave crouched down on the hospital room floor and screamed a gutteral scream like nothing If ever heard before. I was in complete shock. I wish I'd spent more time with him to say goodbye, but I just wanted to lay down and die.
He was gone. All gone. The onslaught of detectives, social workers, chaplains, and nurses to follow was a lot to handle. My grandfather had been detained in his home, without even knowing why we had left. Our vehicle was taken from us for investigation purposes and we were drug to the homicide department- the homicide department- 2 hours after I lost my child. The whole day I kept shaking myself to try and wake up. It was the worst day of my life, but sometimes it didnt even feel real. I wanted to kill myself and take my daughter to playgroup all at the same time. I couldnt understand the concept of how much my life was about to change, so I just wanted to pretend that it had never happened.
Oh, but it happen. And life sure does fucking suck. a lot. And I still can't wake up from this nightmare. Thankfully, I have an amazing community of support and family and friends that have taken such good care of us. The autopsy report (which they did without my permission) showed no cause of death. They guaranteed that he didn't suffocate, and that he had no internal organ damage, and hadnt been abused within the first few days. We had to wait for the full report until this week, and after a full autopsy with tox reports and the whole nine yards, they still have no answers. Undetermined death- SIDS.
Im a big, huge mess. Life will go on, we'll have other kids, we'll get back to a routine, we will be ok- but for now, it sure does suck more than anything ever has. I hate this life. It's not fair, and this wasnt supposed to be how it happened for me. Or for anyone. Little babies shouldn't just up and die for no reason. It's just not right. Just not fair. Just not okay.
This is my Charlie, three days before he left this world. He was 10 weeks, 2 days when this photo was taken. I spent the whole day alone with him for the first time because my daughter was in a historical fashion show.
Charles Hartford Zoller
January 26, 2012- April 10, 2012
He is in the wind, in the trees, in the ground, and somewhere over the ocean.