I’m wearing the pants I had on when Jack died. They’ve been at the bottom of the closet ever since they were washed sometime after the accident. I’ve already donated to charity the outfit I wore to work that day—a black pencil skirt and new fitted red blouse—because to see them hanging in my closet reminded me of how ignorantly/innocently I waltzed through that day, with no idea how life would change just a few hours later.
I had exchanged my casual summer clothes for professional ones that day and was ready to start the year. I think when you’ve been a teacher or a parent, September, rather than January, signals a year’s beginning. I felt great about where my kids were, literally and figuratively, and experienced the energy burst you get with the turning of a new calendar page. The wild weather of August was, I hoped, winding down, the kids were in school for a full day, and I was ready to roll.
After work I got comfy and pulled on my black stretchy pants, hand me downs from my sister. These were the pants that would run with me
as I searched desperately for a glimpse of my son, mere moments after he disappeared.
Even though we never talked about it, Margaret and Tim never wore their clothes from that night again. Margaret’s favorite Snoopy shirt and soccer uniform shorts ended up in a trash can. A kind soccer mom bought her replacement shorts. Tim’s brown suede shoes, covered with mud and tears, sat stinking in a grocery bag in the kitchen for a week before I threw them out. For a few weeks, until I got the energy to pick up another pair of shoes for him, Tim wore bulky hiking boots with his regular clothes to work and to church—a small outward example of how off-kilter we had become on the inside.
Jack was wearing his school uniform at the time of the accident, and had been wearing it for two days straight. You see at bedtime the night before, after our family Clue Game, Jack said he was feeling too lazy to change into a t-shirt and comfy shorts for sleeping. I said, “Why don’t you keep that on, then you’ll already be dressed for school tomorrow?” I thought I was clever and he liked my idea.
It may seem strange that we have so many photos of Jack in the outfit he died in, but that uniform represents more than 6 years of Jack’s life, and we can’t spurn any photos just because of clothing, for every image we have of him is precious now, and so desperately needed.
Although we do not know what happened to the exact clothes he wore that night-- his shirt, his shorts, his shoes, his belt—we have stacks of matching navy blue uniform shirts and khaki shorts in his closet. I do not associate that outfit with his death, but rather his everyday life-- his school friendships, first day of school pictures in the front yard, numerous baskets of laundry, and the last glimpse I had of him, smiling in our driveway.
But today, 5 months in, is the first day I’ve felt like putting on my black pants from that day. I woke up feeling strong, I want to be comfortable, and I don’t think my penguin pj bottoms are all that appropriate for public consumption.
The thing is, shortly after I started typing this, I noticed a stale smell. At first I blamed Margaret, who had been sitting near me. Sniff Sniff Sniff. The smell patrol is on the job. Turns out, that was a false accusation.
I now know the stale smell is my pants. THE
pants! This is certainly not what I intended to write today. This post was going to be about wearing the damn pants because not only do they fit, good comfy pants are hard to find, and I have zero energy for shopping. I was going to say that Jack is gone, but I still need to cover “my butt."
I mean, if I can drive by the neighbor’s house where the accident happened every time I leave my house, see the bridge multiple times a day, look into the faces of the children who are alive when Jack is dead, well then of course I can wear the stupid pants. Neat, concise ending.
But now that I know these pants carry a dank smell from the rain, mud, panic and fear of that night, and from being left in a pile, probably for days, while Tim and I wandered like zombies, making hasty yet unfathomable decisions, I've decided there will be no neat ending for today. Just a woman who is still feeling sort of brave and who will be throwing these pants away.P.S. If you are the woman who spotted Jack in the background of photos you took of your son at the Lego store in Feb 2010, please email me at aninchofgray or leave me a comment letting me know how to contact you! I lost your message and would love to have those pictures. Thank you so much!