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I once had a daughter. She died when she was very young. She had been sick from the moment she was born and never got better. She never learned to walk, never made a sound, never blew out the candles on a birthday cake. The only home she ever knew were the sterile walls of an ICU.

She was very tiny and she fought very hard. The last seventy-two hours of her life were agonizing, and when she died it was without the benefit of a warm, loving human touch lingering on her skin. Her mother, exhausted and sedated, was asleep on a couch in the hospital's lounge; I'd not eaten for almost a day-and-a-half and so had gone to the vending machines one floor below to get some coffee and a sandwich. The entire trip took four minutes. The coffee was lukewarm and weak, the sandwich stale and tasteless, and by the time I came back to the ICU, my daughter was dead and gone.

Her death was not a surprise, her mother and I had known for a while that it was (as the tired cliché goes) "only a matter of time."

Not a surprise, but still the ice-pick in my throat.

I remember seeing the curtain pulled around her incubator.

I remember the beeps, whirrs, and susurrations made by the various machines hooked up to the other patients in the unit.

I remember wanting to cry but being unable to.

Then it was shuffling, being taken aside, muffled words from weary nurses, uncomfortable-looking orderlies, a gurney with a squeaking front left wheel, and the last sight of my daughter: bumps and curves and patches of pale flesh inside a translucent plastic bag, rolling away, away.

Her mother and I were both young and foolish and not nearly strong enough to handle this. Our relationship crawled along for a few more months, a joyless thing, back-broken and spirit-dead, before ending in infidelity, accusations and poison.

It's been about twenty years since she died. I have since seen my writing career at last get on its feet, and finally gotten–albeit sporadically–the upper hand in the battle with my recurring bouts of severe depression.

Still, there are times–periodic though they may be, usually very late at night or first thing in the morning–when it all comes back, diminished not one whit by the passage of years, and I crumple. Simply crumple.

Don't believe what the pop-psychologists or self-help books or daytime talk-show hosts tell you about it: You never fully recover from the death of a child. The grief eventually works its way into the shadows, back there someplace, a whisper, an echo, a tendril of smoke perpetually curling in the air over a just-emptied ashtray...but it never completely goes away.

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