|The wall between me and you...|
It was just after 3 pm, not long after the last bell launched children from the nearby middle school like a voice through a megaphone. My team usually walks home, but we decided to pick them up before heading to the grocery store so that they didn’t arrive at an empty, locked house. As we turned toward the school, there was a storm of students in every direction. They walked, rode skateboards or bikes, and carried instruments in bulky, oddly-shaped, black plastic cases.
Backpack straps pushed into shoulders and rolled along bumpy sidewalks. Crossing guards blew whistles, waved cars through an intersection, and launched “stop” signs into the air to pause traffic for impatient kids. Cars lined the block near the park -- a popular after-school meeting spot. Kids waited, parents talked, toddlers swung and climbed and slid. Unseasonably cool air reddened cheeks and forced arms into jackets that had hung in closets since the beginning of the year.
From the passenger seat in my family’s dinged minivan, my eyes searched and my ears listened for the familiar faces and voices of the women I used chat with while I waited for my own crew. In that moment, I knew that somewhere in the last thirteen months, grief had shifted. While much is the same as it was a year ago -- I am not any less sad, for example -- things are also different. The fact that I even was looking beyond the brim of my cap was a change. I could not do that last year. I could not be near school, especially at pick-up. It was as if my fear of other parents and living, healthy children made me afraid of anything and everything. Seeing them doing their normal things was like a paralyzing storm inside of me. My limbs were like downed trees, immobile and broken. My mind was like a clogged gutter, mucky and stuck.
As we looked for the kids, a longing rose within as I missed the time when I was among the friendly mothers who met their children at the park after school. There are so many things I miss...
After noticing that slight internal shift, that desire to see the community of people I used to move through and among, I considered the errands I had just participated in. They were nothing out of the ordinary. From store to store, my feet carried me. My arms reached for gallons of milk. My mind made the to-do list. But I was not terrified. After Riley died, the world seemed like it was made of make-believe. I felt sidewalks would crumble under my shoes; I feared walkways were obstructed with sheets of glass; walls wobbled; branches angled like arrows aimed at my heart. Moving like a wounded animal, I cowered. I hid behind shelves and scoped safe pathways between myself and the cereal aisle. With arms wrapped around my torso, protecting my weeping organs, I scurried with eyes down. Like a raccoon, I avoided people. Like a deer, I froze as if to be invisible. I imagined people judged me when they saw me, that they believed that it was my fault, that I had killed my son. I imagined they were thinking: Why did you put him in the hospital? Why did you grow him wrong? How could you be out shopping or getting your nails done?
Hats still cover my forehead. A spasm still jolts my limbs when a familiar figure is spotted. It’s often (but not always) followed by a pirouette that launches me to a different part of the shop. But like glancing around for familiar parents at the park, I realized I look up a little more often in the first place.