There is a stack of unopened envelopes in the cubby downstairs. Red and blue and green and cream-colored paper displays my name and address neatly written in cursive. So many letters, so many names of people I’ve known at different times in my life. They have all gathered together to prop me up with their words. I don’t know what to do with them aside from put them in the cubby. That impressive collection of feelings is waiting to be felt as soon as I am strong enough to feel them.
Right now, opening them seems impossible. If I open them—when I open them—that will be the end somehow. The flood of support will be over. If I leave that stack of envelopes alone, there are still things to be said. And as long as I have that stack of letters, people are still thinking about us because their sentiments are unread, unsaid, waiting to hold me when I need to feel not quite so alone.
After Riley died, almost inconceivably, the World Series teams pitched and scored against each other. Children and grown ups slid into costumes and ate Halloween candy. Babysitters were hired, Saturday night cocktails were imbibed, and dinners in dimly lit restaurants were eaten. Now Thanksgiving is looming while the reds and greens of Christmas twinkle from shop windows. People are buying milk and condoms just like any other day because there is still cereal to eat and sex to have. The world keeps going. Yet, somehow I feel like I’ve stepped every so slightly from the earth’s surface and the wind is slapping me raw as the world keeps spinning without me.
All of our family and friends packed their neatly folded green sweaters into their luggage and left town a week ago. Riley’s celebration was the end for most people. But for me, it was the beginning of quiet. Of lonely. Of alone. Family may have returned to their own houses, their own towns, their own families, their own activities and distractions. But this is my house, my town, my family. Any activities or distractions I have are distorted because someone is missing. Our six-chaired table typically evenly balanced with four kids and two grownups is now lopsided.
Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing aside from getting through the day so that I can go to bed at night and getting through the night just to begin the next day. I don’t know what I’m doing besides killing time. I have talked to no adults—aside from my husband—since family left. And as I pounded my feet along the sandy trail near our house this afternoon, I realized I’m terrified of talking to anyone. I’m afraid of seeing people I know. I’m afraid that someone might recognize me. Without the dog to walk, I might never leave the safety of my warm bed.
In all of this fear of communicating, I keep thinking of an email that a friend sent me after I told her that Riley would be having surgery. She wrote: “This news…reminds me of the special challenges you have been awarded (not quite the right words, I know) in this life. And yet... you do such an amazing job of being a person who glows and sends loving energy out beyond your skin to the people around you, which is such an incredible gift, and all the more special and awesome, given the fear and underlying uncertainty you live with.”
I thanked her for seeing those things in me and reread her words countless times in the weeks leading up to surgery. I hoped that those words could reinforce my unsteady frame, shield me from crumbing, disintegrating under the weight of what we faced, the unknown. It was almost a mantra: I want to be that person, I want to be that person, I want to be that person. The fact that I ever was that person seems incomprehensible.
I cannot glow. I cannot send positive (or even neutral) energy to anyone because I am unable to communicate. I have not responded to text messages, phone messages; I have not read any meaningful email in a week. I cannot open that stack of letters. I no longer know how to be in the world.