Today our downtown had its annual Christmas open house. It’s this day on a Sunday in mid-November when all of our local businesses open up and showcase their products, and the food vendors hand out free samples, and there are horse and carriage rides and a Santa (who we still have yet to see) and stuff.
So after Joel’s nap we ventured downtown to eat lunch and decided that afterwards we’d visit some of the attractions. We ate at St. Louis Bread Company, and it was crowded there, and I had to entertain Joel with a fruit cup for half an hour as Mark waited for our food, which was no big deal as Joel was so interested in all of the patrons, especially the toddler sitting near us. I could not tell whether said toddler was a boy or a girl, so I silently pondered what I might do in the event I had to make a quick judgment call, like if this child’s mom asked about Joel, “How old is he?” Would I just reciprocate, “How old is yours?” But Mark interrupted by bringing our food and filled me in on the 86-year-old man who had chastised one of the food preparers, “You should have known this day was coming! You should have been prepared by having extra silverware on hand! Real silverware – not this plastic garbage!!” I found this odd, because I can’t imagine being 86 and giving more than zero fucks, but kudos to this man for his spirit.
After lunch we headed to the grocery store next door and sampled loads of free food, and I tried egg nog for the first time, and Joel tried a brownie bite for the first time, which was Mark’s idea and not mine. Upon exiting the grocery store there were little pizza samples so we stood in line to get a bite and this woman in front of me looked at Joel and was like, “He’s so cute is he your first?”
“Ummmmm… No,” I finally answered.
“How old is your first?” she asked.
“He would be two,” I answered.
“Oh I’m so sorry,” she replied, “Well, he (Joel) is at a really fun age!”
“Yep…” I answered.
And I think this rattled me. I almost didn’t mention Matthew. But lately I’ve decided I think I must. Of course, one should only do what is right for their own heart in any given moment, but I think it is right for me to share about Matthew – I want to acknowledge him, and I want to help break the silence and shame that exists in society surrounding these losses. Of course what comes with this is the repeated realization that those strangers with whom I’m sharing him will only know him as my dead child and nothing more, and I think he deserves more than this, but alas…
Anyway, after we finished our pizza we headed to this local boutique. Once upon a time it was my favorite, and I haven’t been back since before Matthew died. It’s in my neighborhood, so I’ve driven by it lots – there are always fleeting thoughts, “I should go in, but I can’t go in. I don’t need anything, want anything, deserve anything… And I don’t want to see her… The owner. (She knew nothing of my first pregnancy let alone Matthew’s death.)”
But today I decided I’d go in reasoning, “It’s really crowded. She might not be there. If she’s there, she will be preoccupied with all of her other customers. If she sees me, I’ll avoid her gaze, and it’s been over three years. There is no way that she’ll remember me, or us. I look different now too…”
So in we walked, and, much to my relief, the coast seemed clear… I spotted a woman at the register who resembled her. “I’ll just stay away,” I made mental note. But then as I crossed the store I realized it wasn’t her, and, just as I started admiring some clothing, contemplating how much I missed this store, breathing a huge sigh of relief, I ran right smack into her.
At first she did not seem to recognize me, so I tried to avoid her gaze, but then I saw this spark of recognition in her eye and thought, “Oh shit.” And before I could run, she was like, “Hi!! It has been a really long time!”
“Yes. Hi. Yes. It has,” I tried (and failed) to force a smile.
Shortly thereafter she spotted Mark and ran to him, perhaps thinking he’d be friendlier than I’d just been. She greeted him, “Hi! It has been a really long time! What’s been going on with you all? Only good things I hope!”
“Yeah,” I snickered under my breath, “Only good things…”
And then I watched as Mark introduced her to Joel as though he were our first child, which, in this situation I wouldn’t necessarily have expected anything different, but it still stung.
I inched closer, trying to engage in the bare minimum, yet still mildly socially acceptable sort of way.
“How have you been?” I overheard Mark ask the obligatory question.
I inched closer still and overheard the latter part of what she said, “Oh he’s so adorable. This is such a fun age! I just recently welcomed my second daughter!”
I physically recoiled, pretending to be suddenly captivated by a shirt a few racks over, “Of course she did,” my mind screamed, “Another living baby. Because what else?! Of course mine is still the only one who is dead!!” (NOTE: I know others’ babies die, but in my real life pre-loss network, it’s only been mine, or at least it feels this way, which makes this loss all the more isolating… Also, I don’t want others’ babies to die, but I will forever wonder why the fuck it had to be mine, why we of all people had to be this horrible statistic.)
We exited the store shortly thereafter, and it wasn’t too long before Mark noted that I’d been a bit rude.
“No I wasn’t,” I snapped back.
“Yes you were,” he argued.
“Well I didn’t expect to see her,” I explained, “Or I guess I didn’t expect her to remember us. Like why on earth would she remember us?! After nearly three years?!” I asked incredulously.
“Well maybe we’re pretty memorable…” he explained, “You know we met her when she first started out, and we’d come shop here and talk to her about her business, and we took such an interest, and we had some really great conversations… And she probably enjoyed our company back when business was slower… We were really nice…”
And as he spit out the words, an image of her – not the store owner, but the old me – raced past. The one who purchased a pink shirt and some black yoga pants and a white pair of jeans and two scarves and her favorite black and white dress adorned with sequins on top and a pair of tall brown boots and a pair of even taller cream colored thigh high boots for which she never found a use… The one who, although she always had a bit of a fiery streak, was generally curious about others and bubbly and cheerful and smiley and memorable. For being so stinking nice.
An image relatively recent yet also one from so many moons ago.