Grief is like waking up one day, deep in the middle of a cave with no flashlight. Your back hurts, your stomach feels tight and scraped out, your eyes burn, the shape of your spine contorts... (2.5 years later, and I can see a significant difference Terra's posture). You hear 50 voices at once calling from all directions. You panic. You always feel like you need to hurry, find a way out. You run into everything, figuratively and literally. Your energy goes. You can only creep, heel to toe, through the black, unforgiving space, feeling your way through the tunnels, that is, when you are able move at all.
Sometimes I would imagine that I was traveling through my own aorta in a kayak, splashing up one side and down the other in helmet and goggles, through the heart muscle and down into the grief pit. SPLASH!!
Sometimes I would see my symptoms from the outside. I would imagine that I was a scientist analyzing my own peculiar disease: “oh I’ve got it! My neck hurts because I am holding my head cocked to the right all day and my head won't stop wobbling and shaking!” Then I would straighten my neck only to be gripped by a falling sensation. GASP. Immediately re-cocked my neck. “Oh I see!!! It all makes sense now!!!”
I was at work. D walked lightly into my office and said “hey, what’s up? Wanted to see how the sexy Mr. Childers is doing today. I mean, Gonzalez resigned. I think that’s a pretty good weekend all by itself.”
I looked at him. “Hey there,” I said, “did he?”
Da and I used to talk about politics nearly every work day for at least 15 good minutes. Nearly every day. 6 years. Today he was getting nothing from me and I saw the question in his eyes. He tapped aimlessly at buttons on the copy machine. He decided to go for it: “want to talk about basketball then?”
I forced a smile. I didn't have it in me to... talk about it. He kindly fills the space and does the talking for both of us. Lakers and Suns, Gonzalez is out, yes! These things happened. After a few minutes, I realized that I had stopped listening or looking up. The peasant inside me shrieked "DON'T BE SO RUDE!!!" and I looked up at him.
“…well, I’ve got some work to do…” he said, and quietly left.
The phone rang.
Terra is crying.
I was aware that every hour since the moment we found out on July 31st, Terra had been tracing her steps back from that day to find the exact moment she may have killed our daughter.
I heard her say “I didn’t totally give up caffeine.”
I heard her say “I drank wine on the boat.”
I heard her say “I shouldn’t have climbed through that window when I was locked out of the house.”
I heard her say “I shouldn’t have gotten into that big fight with her. I mean, that was stressful.”
I heard her say “I wore that pregnancy apron every day when I had to do x-rays.”
She had repeated these things, out loud, while looking me in the eye after Mason went to bed. It was a nightly ritual.
The autopsy results had come back.
“They found nothing.”
One of the things about Terra that has always gotten me ( and something most people never see) is that she cries silently. It is wholly and completely the most authentic and sad things I have ever known. She never makes a sound. She doesn't close her eyes. The tears just fall out of her and she wipes them away as if she were dusting a nightstand. There is something ancient and proud and beautiful in the way she cries. It rips me apart.
Terra was crying. I know, because I couldn't hear anything except the sound of her breathing through her mouth.
I breathed deeply, searching for my words. Surely, surely, surely I could comfort her now… I mean, I was an English major for crissakes. I had read like 10,000 pages of 19th century prose and poetry in two different languages. I had done my homework.
“That fucking sucks,” I said.
She continued to cry.
“I’m sorry baby,” I said, gathering myself. “I know you needed an answer. I’m so, so sorry. This just sucks. Should I come home? I’ll come home?"
Silence, then sniffing. A cough. “No, I’ll be alright. Did you get those addresses?”
She groaned. “For the THANK YOU cards.”
“Oh. No, I forgot,” I admitted (GOD DAMMIT TO HELL SHITSHITSHIT). “I will. I’ll get them.”
“I love you so much Terra.”
“I love you too.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
A couple of hours disappeared. I picked Mason up from preschool and, as promised for being brave during the horrific foot injury scene the night before, I was to drive him to the video game store to let him pick one out. He was so happy and deliberate as we walked out through his classroom and out the door. He exaggerated his limp as he walked to the car (I checked to see if he had remembered to limp with the right foot- he had. Smart kid.) Once we were in the car, I watched his eyes in the rearview mirror. They were tired. I stared at him until I notice this faraway, kind of ferocious look on his face.
“What are you thinking?” I asked.
“I’m not thinking nothing,” he said. “Can I hear (The Beastie Boys’) “Shake Your Rump?” (Yes, that's right.)
“Sure.” I cued it up.
We flew through the sun in my dirty white ’99 Hyundai Accent. I stared at him for too long and he became visibly uncomfortable. I readjusted the mirror.
We arrived at the entry way to the shopping mall where the “Electronix Boutique” was located. I had put Mason up on my shoulders.
“Dad, put me down. You can’t carry me like that in here.”
“Sure I can. What do you mean?”
“We’ll get in trouble. Put me down, I want to walk.”
He wanted to limp. The more people that notice his limp, the more pronounced his limp becomes. He was glowing from the attention as we walked into Electronix Boutique.
After examining every game on every shelf, (both the front and the back of the box) he made what definitely seemed like a sound choice: “Wrestle Mania 8," and we headed home.
I was exhausted thoroughly spent. Muttered a hello to Terra and eased my sore back into a chair.
“Your mom and dad are coming over,” she said. “…and your sister and Jason. And my sister…”
“I am so tired,” I said, "so tired..."
She didn't say a word.
People ushered into our house, and I was short-tempered with them all.
“Be careful! His foot!” I yelled to my dad as he sparred and jousted with Mason.
“I don’t WANT to talk about this right now. I don’t WANT you to pay for it,” I said through gritted teeth to my mom when she offered to pay for Mason’s birthday party which was 2 months away anyway.
“I can’t DO anything with that right now,” I said to Terra, who was trying to hand me a plate of food while my hands were full.
“You have to play by the RULES, Mason,” I bellowed during a round of Candyland as he attempted to draw two cards in a row.
“Are you playing or NOT?” I said to Je, who had become distracted by something during our game.
“Okay Mason, 15 minutes until it’s time to brush your teeth!” I said loudly matter-of-factly for everyone to hear; the least hostile “GET. OUT.” I could produce.
“I’ve got to go to bed too, my friends,” Kandi said.
“me too. I’ve got to work tomorrow,” said my mom.
Then Je said “yeah, me too. I love you guys.”
“I’ve gotta go buddy!” my dad said to Mason.
Then I read Mason a bedtime story too quickly.
Then I covered him up and kissed him good night.
Outside (FINALLY) and smoked a cigarette, feeling calloused and twitchy.
Terra, thankfully, put her hand on my arm as I walked in and did not reproach me for the hours of impatient and dickish behavior.
"Want to watch a movie?" she asked.
"Might as well. Not like we're going to be able to sleep ever again."