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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Grief and introductions

There is a woman. You might know her. She is tall with dark hair and she was on the trail Tuesday with her two dogs and two friends and their dogs. I know her friends, but I had never met this woman before we introduced ourselves to each other that morning. This woman who I'd never met before has a son. He's in 9th grade now, but he went to Central Middle. Just like Riley. And I can't stop thinking about her. Or about her son.

I keep wondering if her son was in Riley's 6th grade math class before he died. Maybe they sat next to each other. Or maybe he was in his English class. Maybe he sat in front of Riley. Or maybe behind him. Or maybe he was in orchestra with Riley. I wonder if he also played viola for the few weeks of the school year that Riley played viola. Or, perhaps he played cello when they were both in 5th grade and Riley played cello. Did they talk to each other at recess? Did they ever have lunch together? This boy who went to the same school as Riley and who was also a 6th grader when Riley died. They must have known each other. Or at the very least, they must have been acquaintances. The school isn't that big, after all.

From there, I wonder if this boy has a handprint on my garage door from the first anniversary of Riley's death when we made our first handprint memorial and dozens of classmates came to our house and stood in line to participate. Does he have a handprint on Riley's bedroom door from when we made our second handprint memorial? The one with the Tabasco Riley bottle? Did this boy talk about Riley with his mom when he found out that one of his classmates had died? His mom, this woman I'd never met, who happens to have a son who is the same grade that Riley would be in, if he had survived his last heart surgery. The surgery that was supposed to give him a normal lifespan. The surgery that was supposed to let him run and fly on airplanes without oxygen. Our sons must have known each other. Maybe this mother and son came to Riley's memorial after he died. Maybe they ran the Riley Run together and maybe that boy has worn a Riley Run t-shirt to school.

Does this woman know about my son at all? It's possible that her son didn't know Riley and never mentioned him in their home. That idea paralyses me. It's one of the reasons I'm intimidated by this unknown woman and her son, who I have been thinking about since Tuesday morning. She either knows about my son. Or she doesn't know about my son. If she does know about him, she didn't mention him when we introduced ourselves to each other on the trail as the dogs trotted around our feet, their tails wagging.

Then again, I didn't mention Riley to her either, even though we talked long enough to know that she and I have sons who went to the same school at the same time. I wasn't brave enough to ask if her son knew Riley. She wasn't brave enough to say that her son knew Riley. Or didn't know Riley. But if she doesn't know about my son, then Riley's life and death were invisible to this family who also lives in my town, whose son was in the same school and in the same grade as my son who is now dead. Impossible, yet possible. And frightening.

It's only in retrospect, though, that I realize that she may not have known that I was Riley's mom. I feel like I walk through the world with a sign above my head. But how could she know that I am Riley's mom, unless I say that I am Riley's mom? Sometimes it's so hard to say out loud. Not because I don't want to say his name. On the contrary. I want to say his name, but I want to say it, knowing with certainty that his name and his life and his death will be treated with the tenderness it deserves.

If I bump into this tall woman with dark hair on the trail again, perhaps I'll ask her so that I don't have to wonder anymore. But taking a chance is scary because I put my wounded heart in a stranger's hands. Will they treat it with the tenderness it deserves? So much tenderness is needed, all of the time, because my heart is so sore from all of the beating it's done without him these last three years.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Grief and Becoming Tapatio: Day 3

Who could have guessed that today was going to be tricky draping fabric day. What I imagined was a pretty straight forward bit of red paint under Tapatio Riley's torso turned out to be rather complex. Something about how the lowlights and highlights blend from one to another and back again so quickly as the fabric folds over on itself. It's not perfect, but once I put the white lettering on top of it, I don't think the imperfections will be as noticeable. The neck tie is similarly complex with folds, shadows, and highlights. Will definitely need to tweak it on the next painting day. I also started on the yellow jacket. I ran out of yellow house paint and resorted to kids' paint. Needless to say, it's just not the same. It is far too watery, and despite going over it several times, my sketch lines are still visible. But at least I can get an idea of how it's coming together. #feelingpleased #HotSauceRiley #RileyForever

Monday, February 05, 2018

Grief and my beating heart

Sunset, before the world falls into black.
Pressing into my jugular, I wait. Wait for the irregular heart beats--they don’t happen much anymore. Stress, they said. But I listen for them with my fingers. I want wrong beats to exert themselves. I keep anticipating more palpitations. Side effects from the medicine, they said. It’s terrifying when they happen, especially if I’m driving and everything falls into a black tunnel for a moment. But there’s something about wrong beats or extra beats that make me feel connected to Riley. Grief broke my heart. So I listen with my fingers pressed into my neck, feeling each beat as it pushes back against my fingers. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for my heart to be in sync with his. Just like it used to be.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Grief and Becoming Tapatio: Day 2

Tapatio: Day 2: Riley in unfinished sombrero
As the second anniversary of Riley's death approached in October 2016, I felt the need to take his love of hot sauce and somehow make him part of it. On his bedroom door, I transformed his name into his favorite Green Tabasco. From there, we carted his bedroom door to school and his classmates put their handprints on his door. We then put his bedroom door back in place. So now his Tabasco name and all of those classmates' handprints hang in the upstairs hallway.

On the third anniversary, I transformed Riley's name into a Cholula hot sauce bottle. I replaced the woman on the bottle with Riley's likeness. It was the first time I painted him. It was terrifying because it felt that so much was at stake. It felt like final product would be a direct representation of how much I love him. When it was done, I loved it, although the general consensus was that I had painted a 20-something-year-old version of him. 

And I've started again. This time it's transforming him into a Tapatio hot sauce bottle. This is how he looks on Day 2 -- his 11-year-old likeness in an unfinished sombrero. I wish I'd been documenting the progress of these painting projects from the start. Earlier today, for example, Riley's mouth in this painting was lower. I wasn't sure if I should move it. After talking to his brother and grandmother, I moved it up about a centimeter. And when I stepped back, I couldn't believe how much it looks like him. It was a good decision. I stared into his eyes all afternoon. #HotSauceRiley

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Grief and flipping a switch

My kids; Riley is the green one, obviously.
It’s not like I can flip the switch and stop wanting a baby. I thought it could be that easy; just decide to stop. But it hasn’t been like that at all. Sure, I’ve stopped going to doctor appointments that examine my ovaries and the follicles ripening within. There are no more estrogen pills or progesterone suppositories. I don’t take the CoQ-10; I don’t take the Inositol; I don’t take the Omega-3s; I don’t take the prenatal vitamins. I don’t take the others whose names I’ve forgotten. There are no longer three weekly pill organizers on my dresser packed with my morning, afternoon, and evening pills.

I keep thinking, now I can focus on me. Take the pilates class or learn to play piano. Go on some adventure that I wouldn’t be able to do with a protruding pregnant belly or a new baby. Watch me sleep in on Sunday morning--no one kicking my bladder. Watch me have a glass of wine or three--no reason to stay sober. Listen to me crunch on another cookie--it’s not like eliminating sugar helped my uterus hold any babies.

Sure I like fantasizing about exotic travel and wondering what my husband and I will be doing after our youngest goes off to college in seven years. And I like not being bloated and swollen from the hormones. But it’s not that easy to just stop the yearning. It’s been a complicated dance with grief and desire in the wake of my son dying. This dance must have been nature’s way of ensuring that our species continued thousands of years ago, when most babies likely died. This primal urge to procreate in the face of a child’s death.

Didn’t know we’d been trying to have a baby? Don’t feel left out. It was a carefully kept secret because I couldn’t bear the idea of anyone asking me if it was pregnant yet. I broke my silence about it in the latest issue of Six Hens.

There are still sharps containers in my closet, though, packed with used syringes waiting to be dropped off at the local fire station. There are also the unused syringes, the different sized needles for liquids of different viscosities, depending on whether they were meant for the fat in my belly or the muscle in my ass.

Now that we’re done trying, the desire still lingers quietly. But it’s more like a spiderweb on the on the bookshelf rather than a wasp in my nose. None of it really matters because with a baby or without a baby, Riley is still dead. Every so often, I’ll see him out of the corner of my eye. Like last night, when his brother put on my rectangular glasses. There he was for a second in my camera’s viewfinder. Still just out of reach.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Grief and desire

When my dad died in 2013, I never had this yearning for a new dad. I never wanted my mom to go out and find a new husband so that I could take the edge off of loss by having a new father figure to love, to talk to on my birthday, to be a grandparent to my kids.

But when my 11-year-old son Riley died in 2014, something happened. Desire turned out to be grief's unexpected sidekick. And through this primal desire to have a baby, I hung the tiniest bit of hope. A new baby wouldn't be instead of Riley; it would be because of Riley. I kept telling myself that if I could grow this because-of-Riley baby, a healthy baby, and keep it alive with my body, then somehow that new life would sand down the edges of grief. This enormous, unrelenting grief.

It seems that the universe doesn't give a shit about my plans for a because-of-Riley baby anymore than it cared whether my son lived or died. Because the universe doesn't care about me or you or my son. Nor does the universe think I deserve anything in the wake of my son's death. I wrote about it in the latest issue of Six Hens.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Grief and scars

Rice love
The restaurant was dimly lit, but I could see the top of her scar that sat in the middle of her shirt’s neckline. My eyes went right to it; I wanted to stare. Not because her midline scar was a thing of curiosity, but because it is something I miss seeing on my boy. His scars were part of him in the same way his elbows were pointy and his eyes were blue and his lips were a darker shade red than others because of the low oxygen saturation in his blood. But I didn’t stare. I just wondered about her heart surgery as I ordered the tofu curry. Then I blinked back tears as she walked toward the kitchen.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Grief and muddling through

I have no idea what I’m doing or how I’m muddling through grief. But I am. I go to sleep every night and wake up every morning because my heart keeps beating and my lungs keep sucking air and so on. Just the other day someone said to me, “I wouldn’t survive it.” And I realized after the fact that the only reason I’m “surviving it” is because I haven’t given in to the urge to kill myself. At least I now know what my response will be the next time someone says something that asinine to me.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Grief and skipping out

Today I skipped therapy, because, well, I don’t have to go. Fuck that. Because that’s how I feel right now. Fuck everything. Take all of your jolliness and shove it... Even though I’ve bought a bunch of presents. I should probably wrap those soon.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Grief and three impossibly long years without you

On the third anniversary of your death, sweet boy, here is the handprint memorial we made for you. My heart hurts every minute of every single day missing you. Love, Mom