We would have named him Jacob. Jacob Michael, if I remember correctly, but it's an old memory and the details are fading. We had thrown names back and forth, making lists, trying the sound of different pairings to see how they rolled off the tongue, and had come to a decision.
A good strong name, Jacob. One with heritage and weight, for the one who bore it would become Israel, the man who struggled with God, and who doesn't hope that for their child? And though he wouldn't be mine, really, though I was only in eighth grade and still a child myself, my parents included me in the choosing of the name, and I was a proud older-sister-to-be.
Proud, and excited too, because what girl doesn't love the idea of a baby sibling to hold and to cuddle, to love and to mother? It was late fall, close to the holidays, and I was thrilled. I would have a baby brother by Christmas. He was already a part of our family in everything but actual, physical presence.
My mom bought those clay Christmas ornaments at the local craft fairs every year - the ones shaped like wreaths, with bears or penguins or faces on them and names underneath, one for each member of the family. That year's ornament bore his name - there, in felt-tip permanent marker was our anticipated new joy of 1997. Jacob. In ink, and that made it real. Everything was ready.
And then he was born, and his mom changed her mind. She was poor, with multiple other children already, which had persuaded her to give him up in the first place - one more mouth to feed was more than she could handle. But he was born with some minor defect, some problem that persuaded the state to give her financial assistance, and so she changed her mind.
At the time, I didn't understand it. All I could see was my hurt, and she became the object of my anger, for to me it was clear that she had chosen to keep him for selfish monetary gain. Looking back on it now, though, I wonder if that financial assistance didn't give her the excuse she was hoping for all along, didn't provide her with the ability to keep her son with her. I can't imagine the strength it must take, the pain that must come with entrusting your child to the care of strangers, with placing him in another's arms because you cannot care for him yourself.
But I didn't see that then. I hated her, and I cursed her selfishness, and I mourned the loss of my little brother. For a loss it was, real and painful, and I cried real and painful tears as my excitement crumbled to emptiness. A few years later, once I thought that wound had healed, there was a drama at church one Sunday, one in which a couple struggled with this same loss my family had experienced. As the actress cried out about the injustice of it, my own tears rose in response, and I found myself fleeing the sanctuary so that my sobs wouldn't disrupt those around me. The wound persisted, though I thought I had recovered.
I think about him every now and then, and I wonder what his life is like now. I wonder if he knows he might have had another name, another family, another life. I wonder if he knows there were people who loved him before he was born, people who mourn the loss of him as a brother, a son, a friend. Would such knowledge bring comfort? Joy? Pain? Indifference? I will likely never know. All I know is that he was to be a part of our family, and we would have named him Jacob.