We sit around the large table in the title office, signing papers to refinance our house. Our mortgage broker is a friend from church, and the head of the title company is a friend and parent from Jack and Margaret's old school. The last time we were all around this table together was years ago when we refinanced our old house. A lifetime ago. Before the accident. Before we changed houses in an attempt for Tim and me to put on our own oxygen masks even though we knew it would be difficult for Margaret to leave. Before our tragedy dragged these families into a dark place with us.
What light banter was there that other day?
Surely it was about our kids, all around the same age, at that point approaching tween-dom and teen-dom. Today, I'm just trying to get in and get out so I can cry in my car. I ask my friend how his new house is, and he happily tells me of his kids' friends in and out all day. It sounds so much like our past, but nothing like our present. I know every family has a story, and no one is free from hardship and despair. It does me no good to wish we could switch lives, switch families, switch futures. But oh how I wish we could just go back to that other year, that other time around the table.
Afterward, I go to the grocery store, purposely taking one of those mini carts, pissed that our food for the week will probably fit in it, 2 pathetic yogurts here, 3 lonely grapefruits there. I haven't felt this sad and angry in a while.
But then I smile broadly at an old man at the freezer case, wondering if he needs some human contact today. He is grimacing. It would be difficult not to notice his sturdy shoes, white socks, and bare legs under his trench coat. It's 30 degrees and windy outside. "Well," I tell myself, "at least I'm still putting on pants." Not that it seems right to feel better just because someone's backstory (which I've somehow spun between the ice cream and the frozen peas) could possibly be as bad as mine. And, for all I know, he's going to jump in his sports car with his 40 year old wife and head off to play racquetball in a few minutes. Perhaps I'm making his story sadder than it is. But when I look down at my dress, navy tights, and boots I think, "Getting dressed is something. You did something. You are doing something."
A few aisles over I see a mom and grandma calling out in Spanish to a child who has disappeared from view. Their voices are mildly irritated and not at all panicked. I feel it too, that calm that it will be all right, that he is just over looking at cereal or cheap racecars or the deep bin of discount DVD's. I linger until they are reunited, his hand grasped firmly in his Abuela's. I smile at his chubby little face. This makes me feel better too, that I can still rejoice in the good, in a happy ending, even though it's not ours.
I think of Margaret at school, how on just a few hours of sleep because of our late flight home from FL, she'll have to interact and learn, be surrounded by 800 people, come home and do homework, and then go to soccer in the cold. Here I am praising myself for getting dressed and buying grapefruit and she is doing 1000 more things than I am today. I'm so proud of her. And Tim at his office, playing catch-up after time away, buried under papers, using his brain on complicated equations that would baffle me. I'm proud of him, too.
I head home to clean a little, do laundry, make appointments, and play catch-up in my own way. I still feel fragile and weepy. It could be because my period started. Or it could just be a burst of grief. Or perhaps it's the emotional release of having gone on another vacation without Jack-- of mini-golf, warm sunshine, and sand under our feet-- that would have seemed impossible just a short time ago, but that we did and we enjoyed.
I don't know, but I let myself cry and be proud of myself, too.