Matthew died in the middle of the hottest f#cking summer in history. I don’t know if this is true, but this is how I perceive it, how I’ll always remember it. It was at least 112 degrees and 140 percent humidity, and when we exited the hospital with a box of belongings through which, to this day, I have yet to sift, to start our most devastating walk to begin our most excruciating drive back to our old lives that we knew were over but hadn’t fully processed as such, the scorch engulfed us, making it feel even more surreal… It was almost as if the heavens had opened up just to give us one last middle finger upon our departure.
For weeks I remained in a grief trance of sorts. He died in early July, and I didn’t leave my house until late August, except to walk the trail. It remained blazing hot, and I wasn’t medically cleared to exercise, but still I did, literally putting one foot in front of the other millions, billions of times even, for hours on end, oozing abdominal scar and swamp ass be damned. I cried. I spent time fantasizing about death by way of dehydration or heatstroke…
I saw mothers pushing strollers, and I seethed at the unfairness of it. I could hardly share the trail with them. Because I kept asking why their babies would get to live over mine. (As if there’s any rhyme or reason to it.) Each one of their existences felt like a personal attack on me. So I started reasoning that each of them had experienced a prior loss like mine. It was the only way I could co-exist with them at the time. Sometimes this type of reasoning is still the only way I can co-exist with others. Of course I don’t know a stranger’s life story. But if I can imagine that it includes an element of tragedy, I might be able to better cope with my own devastating reality. Does this make me a horrible person? Some might think so. And I give no shits. Because anyone who’s been in my shoes understands.
In the midst of my assuming that everyone had experienced my same tragedy in an effort to be able to continue my existence, I wondered whether someday, if I had a living child, I might be triggering to someone else, whether I could create sadness or if someone could loathe my mere existence. Would someone assume my life looked perfect and easy and then be upset by their perception?
Today we planned an outing to our local nursery to potentially buy some new plants. Shortly after Matthew died, we landscaped our front yard. We thought this could be a way to honor his memory. New plants. Mark’s parents so generously helped us with the (expensive) costs. One year and a half later, our front yard doesn’t look as nice as we’d like it to. Read: It looks nothing like the picture the landscaping company provided when they initially enticed us to use their services, and there are hardly any plants left because they died because their roots were planted too shallowly, and, from the outside, our home looks like it’s about to enter foreclosure. I feel as though I showed my hairstylist a picture of Carrie Underwood and I’ve come out of the salon looking like me, except this is my front yard and results weren’t contingent on better facial structure, rather what was needed was simply better planting practices and the contractually-agreed-to amount of mulch. So this feels like another middle finger from the heavens, basically.
But ANYWAY, on our way to the local nursery we stopped for brunch at our favorite local eatery with Joel and decided to dine al fresco. It’s always crowded, so I quickly put our name in, and Mark and Joel headed to the farmer’s market across the street, and I was eventually seated, and they rejoined me soon after.
This place, even its outdoor area, is tiny. So shortly after we were seated, not even two feet away from us, I noticed a couple who looked to be in their mid-thirties (give or take), no kids. At first I thought nothing of it. Maybe they have kids who weren’t with them. Maybe they don’t want kids. There could be any number of reasons for them dining as two. They seemed content enough. Also, I try to avoid making too many assumptions.
But now my bereaved mother heart and mind notices subtleties that might go unnoticed by most. When Mark joined me with Joel, I caught the unmistakable look she gave me and the way she quickly turned her head and how the conversation between she and her husband became hushed, and eventually ceased, and how they never again looked in our direction despite Joel’s multiple attempts to engage them socially from mere inches away.
And I felt sad that we were possibility contributing to someone else’s pain, a pain we know so well. A pain I’m still accustomed to when I see a family with brothers or a two-year-old boy.
Our brunch, much to my regret, seemed extra obnoxious. We ordered too much food on plates too big for our little table, and Mark fed Joel exotic mangoes and oranges from the farmer’s market, and Joel loved them so much that he screamed and pounded the table repeatedly, demanding more, and the table shook so hard that a bottle of hot sauce came crashing down, shattering on the concrete below. We discussed how rapidly Joel is changing and how cool it is to see. Joel enthusiastically ate bits of fish and cheese quesadillas and tried to grab for everything, while wait staff commented on his enthusiasm and spilled hot sauce. At one point, trying to be sensitive to those around us, I asked Mark, “Can we tone it down?”
But Mark reasoned (not loud enough for anyone to hear), “I don’t care if we’re annoying. He’s alive.” And I couldn’t argue. So I just hoped that I was wrong about the couple nearby, as no one else seemed bothered by our antics.
But then this couple abruptly got up to leave, and I heard her say it to her husband, “I’m sorry – it was a mistake for me to think I could sit out here.” I saw her shift her eyes in our direction. And as much as I hate to make assumptions, I’m almost certain she was talking about us – the family with the perfect life.
Because she couldn’t know that just under two years ago, I was eating a strawberry sundae across the street while my first son was likely brain dead, willing him to move, not yet knowing that he never again would. And I don’t know if this would even make her feel less alone in her situation, whatever her situation is. But maybe, if she’s anything like me, it would have made her feel marginally less awful, knowing what was below the surface of our apparent happiness. Or maybe her struggles are different entirely and her knowledge of mine wouldn’t have helped in the slightest.
Either way it’s dangerous to make assumptions based on appearances, I’ve learned, but sometimes the visuals are too powerful, and they override everything, and it’s impossible not to make said assumptions.
I have no way of knowing. But today, I think I might have been the trigger.
And though I’m not sorry for the good in my life (Lord knows I deserve it), I’m sorry if it contributed to a type of pain I know so well, or any type of pain at all.
But mostly I just wish the world weren’t so unfair.