Tonight, as I was brushing my teeth before bed, the doorbell rang. Standing at the front door was a strange man, who asked if he could borrow some eggs. Before I could answer, and tell him I don’t have butter, sugar, or flour – much less eggs, he grabbed me and threw me in the back of his rusty van that reeked of peed-soaked carpet. He bound my arms and legs and shoved a gag in my mouth. He drove and drove until we reached his rundown shack, smack in the middle of nowhere. As he threw me onto the cold ground, he told me I’d be his bitch forever and ever.
Ok. So that didn’t actually happen. But I conjure up scenarios like these to do my best to put things into perspective. Because being kidnapped from my own home, shoved into the back of a smelly van, and forced to be a creeper’s sex slave would be just a little bit worse than the day I had today. My attempts to pull Jedi mind tricks on myself don’t work, because even though I logically realize that my day is better than someone’s who is held captive, or someone’s who lives in poverty-stricken, war-ravaged conditions, and is definitely better than someone’s who has the great misfortune of working at craft store for a living – I still hate every, single day here in this life without you.
Today was especially shitty because it was the first day of school. For most parents, this is an exciting time of year – marked by photos of their happy children, on the front steps of their happy homes. For most parents, the start of a new school year is a welcomed change. For bereaved parents, back to school bonanza does an exquisite job of displaying signs of torture everywhere. Over-sized backpacks, school supplies, yellow school buses, car drop off lines. Everywhere I turned, I was faced with painful reminders of more ‘firsts’ that you will never experience. It was one sucker punch after another.
It’s too much sometimes. By sometimes, I mean almost always. It’s especially challenging because, even if I tried, this annual occurrence is not only monumentally painful, it is one which I simply cannot avoid. I am a teacher, for the love of Jesus, Joseph and Mary. So not only am I smacked right in the face by the back-to-school torment; I have to actively participate in the god-forsaken event. Part of my job is to be the ‘welcome wagon’ to all the eager, awkward in the most adoring way, teenagers – with sun-kissed skin, donning their spanking new back-to-school outfits. But, behind every ‘welcome back’ smile there is a floodgate of tears threatening to tsunami my classroom at any given moment.
Everything I wished for is not. And the brutal truth of it burns. It burns new holes in me – it burns in the old places, that I foolishly thought were repaired, too. It aches in places I didn’t know could ache. It screams in a pitch that reminds me of the wretched moment my life changed forever. This is one of the many realities of being a bereaved parent that no one talks about….milestones – that should have been – which rip open the scabs of buried grief and create ones of new grief – all at once, and all over again.
And, boy, do you fucking bleed.
I know you wouldn’t be starting school this year. In fact, I know your first day of Kindergarten wouldn’t be for exactly three more years. To be precise, it would be in September of 2017. But that doesn’t stop me from imagining what it would be like to be able to take just one picture of you starting school. A toothy grin, or a goofy face. A perfectly matched outfit…that I laid out for you the night before. Or, a perfectly mismatched one…that you insisted on choosing yourself. Blurry or in focus. Sunshine or rain. Our front steps, or the front steps of your new school. I’d take it. Just.one.picture. Because just one picture would have given us five more years together. Five more years to kiss your sweet head. Five more years to hear your voice. Five more years to tuck you in at night. Five more years to memorize every nook and cranny, and idiosyncrasy that make you perfectly and uniquely you. Five more years to watch you run wild and free.
If only I could walk hand and hand with you to your classroom, or as far as you would let me before you wrangled your grip free, and bravely reassured me, “I’m okay, Momma.” If only I could be annoyed by the lengthy back-to-school shopping list. If only I could have held back the tears of wondering how you got to be my ‘big Kindergardener’, as you excitedly rushed into the day ready to partake in the rite of passage children across the land look forward to experiencing. If only I could post your (adorable) picture on my Facebook wall. If only I could race home to greet you, with an excited smile and an enormous hug, at the end of your very first day of school. I would give my whole life to experience just one more minute. Just one minute longer is always and forever the cry of a bereaved Momma.
Every ‘first day of school’ makes me sick. And it makes me sob. I know most people have no idea these thoughts and feelings flood my soul. You never having a first day of school is a distant thought in their minds. It is far too ‘long gone’ to stay in the present. Especially in the frenzy of their beloved children’s back-to-school hoopla. For the rest of the moms, time moves at warp speed. But for a bereaved mom, time stands still.
So here I stand, the world around me paused at a screeching halt, with one foot in the life we once had, and one foot in the life I now have. With a broken heart and a tortured soul…wondering, imagining, longing for all what could have and should have been. Here I stand, with wobbly knees and tired, tired legs – straddling time and space.
And although my life is not as bad as it could be, it is still so very hard to live this life without you.
I would’ve always packed you the very best lunches.
Stay with me, Sweet Boy.