Even though I didn't take the kids to the mall very often, it's still a minefield for grief.
My looming 25th high school reunion necessitated a visit. The weird thing about this event is that it's for the whole school, all graduating classes since 1962. That means I'm going back as a student ("Beer is Great! Sex is Heaven! We're the Class of '87!") as well as a teacher (93-99). My outfit needs to say, "She's still got it!" (If I ever had it in the first place) but not, "Methinks Ms. Whiston doth try a little too hard." I'm not as worried about seeing my peers, because the 20th reunion wasn't that long ago, and we're all in the same boat age-wise. The students, however, haven't seen me since I was in my 20's! Twenties! Just don't want the whole thing to be jarring for them, you know?
Of course I've debated going at all, because I know it will be painful. My last day teaching was the day before Jack was born. I left school on a normal Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning I was phoning in lesson plans from the hospital because Jack had decided to show up two weeks early. Being with him was the place for me, and though I missed the students, I never looked back.
Now, I will likely receive hugs and love and condolences. I will probably still ask the standard questions that used to seem so mundane, but now I realize are loaded for so many people with the realities of cancer, infertility, loneliness: "How are you? Are you married? How many children do you have?"
The overpriced dress I found today is clingy and quite possibly falls into the "trying too hard" category. I'll leave the tags on and see what my wee clothing expert has to say about it. Give a tween a Pinterest account and see how quickly she becomes a fashion expert. If I return my cougar dress for a lacy light pink Taylor Swift number with nude pumps you'll know who's responsible.
As I left the mall I saw Mrs. Davidson, a mom from the neighborhood I grew up in. I never knew her well, but she's a lovely lady and was immediately recognizable to me. I've seen her over the years in the grocery store and such, but I don't know if I've said hi. You see, her son died in a car accident not long after he was out of his teens. I never knew what to say to her beyond "I'm sorry," so I didn't say anything at all. I didn't know then that sometimes "I'm sorry" is all there is to say. Today I hesitated, then said nothing once again.
Despite being right outside of a big city, we live in a small-ish town. Surely she's heard about Jack. I'm wearing his photo around my neck on a beautiful necklace sent by a blog reader. While I desperately wanted to say my very belated "I'm sorry, and I'll never forget," I also wanted to ask her about this pain and longing for our only sons. Would it abate? Does one even want it to? I think I was afraid to engage. Afraid to ask.
And now, with this horrible news coming out of New York City of two children killed by their nanny? Sometimes the sadness seems too much.
So I smiled, swung my little shopping bag in the air, and kept walking.
But Mrs. Davidson's roots were dyed her trademark black, while my grays were springing out this way and that. Her toenails were painted a beautiful coral . And she was spending a Friday morning at the mall, of all places, perhaps buying clothes for her next trip to see her grandchildren (please let there be grandchildren!) or meeting a friend for an early lunch.
She looked put together. She walked with purpose, her head held high. She didn't look like she was slogging through her day.
Maybe that's what I needed to see.