x = (Don’t do what I did)^2(My child self, my old self, my not-this self, cried too much. )^2(I am trying to manifest some guidance from the universe.)^2(My therapist says I have a problem with rumination)^2(I am supposed to be giving you advice)^2(I have an idea)^2(Have you ever thought of the way brackets are used?)^2(Let me know if you’d be interested in spending a bit of time together)^2
Don’t do what I did. Don’t leave the spilled syrup on the counter and tell yourself you’ll come back and scrub it later, properly. Don’t read the text message and draft a close-to-but-not-quite perfect response and so, give up and abandon it. Know that each episode of neglect is another small cut inching towards a thousand total cuts, towards the death of yet another friendship. Don’t lie in bed when your mind disguises avoiding life as self care, only to then have it slowly dawn on you that maybe you aren’t okay, that maybe it’s not self care after all because it has been five days and you have not showered or changed. Don’t do what I did.
My child self, my old self, my not-this self, cried too much. Her tears welled up into an embarrassing meniscus; she looked like an anime imitation, a cry-baby creation. Maybe if I had burned my tear ducts up, I could have stopped telling on myself (fat tears rolling quickly on the playground, friends asking if I was okay, cheeks burning). Over time, I managed to stop crying through sheer force of will, through Shutting It Down (the It, I suppose, was me). Later on, as a young woman, the same men who whined about their ex-girlfriends being “drama queens” told me that I was “cold”. They seemed unnerved by my matter-of-factness, and by a feeling of invisibility that would descend as they broke up with me. I think they sensed from my vacant and calm eyes that mentally, I was already out of the room. Without a word from me, nearly half of my once-beaus made mid-paragraph u-turns and suggested that maybe we should keep going, after all. I think I made them feel like they were losing a competition. As for the current matter - I have not cried during all of this, not me, not myself. My child self, my old self, my not-this self, cried too much.
I am trying to manifest some guidance from the universe. What do you do when your child dies? And it’s not even really your fault, or their fault, or anyone’s fault at all. Although. It is maybe, probably, my fault that when I drive past the Children’s Hospital, my mouth twists into an ugly, jealous grimace. I find myself wishing that I had had the forewarning those hospital parents have, the ones with the terminally ill children incrementally sliding towards the inevitable. I wish I could have known that my time was limited, that dry cereal was the last thing I was going to give her. I didn’t make any eye contact as I plunked down the bowl, I was really busy, I was doing something important, I’m sure. Her colt-like legs were peeking out from a kilt that was getting a bit too short post-growth spurt and one tendril of her hair had escaped a plaid scrunchie. She yelled, “Bye, Mom!” and grabbed her bike to ride to school early for dance practice. None of this matters. I don’t know what to do with all of this. I need a little direction. I am trying to manifest some guidance from the universe.
My therapist says I have a problem with rumination. She tells me about something called post-traumatic growth, which is when you grow from a trauma, apparently. I think of the trauma bay in hospitals, or at least, I think about various TV shows I’ve watched throughout my life and their trauma bay sets. These trauma bay scenes usually involve blood, and monitors with beeps that hint at ongoing life, however tenuous. My daughter wasn’t taken to any hospital, the monitors at the scene were mournful in their silence, or at least that’s what I imagine - I wasn’t there, after all. There’s no real end to this, and I can’t find any metaphorical seeds. I don’t think I want to grow from this. I think I want to sit in it and fester, just a little bit, or maybe a lot. I think of kombucha, the fizz and tang that comes from waiting and doing nothing, or at least what looks like nothing, while small changes brew underneath. This is the closest I have to hope. My therapist says I have a problem with rumination.
I am supposed to be giving you advice. I heard what happened to your kid from your best friend. She came to my house and stood in my doorway. She pretended not to notice the not-showered thing, the mess-behind-me thing, the squinting-of-eyes-from-sunlight thing. It was nice of her to ask me for a favour, it made me feel slightly more solid, like I hadn’t completely evaporated. I guess I should be really sorry about the hospital comment above. I know your kid had been in the hospital a lot; I bet you knew the names of some of the other kids, bet you knew where the coffee machine was, bet you had preferred rooms and nurses. I wonder if you bothered to go through the emergency room, or if you just called ahead, knowing the tempo of your son, hearing the chord that hummed hospitalization. I can imagine a familiar nurse on the phone saying, “Oh no, again, so soon?” and then a brief pause heavy with mutual, unspeakable knowledge. Sorry about that. Sorry about the whole thing. Sorry about the prolonged grief before the grief. I don’t have any advice for all of that, I know nothing about it. The only advice I have is this: try not to scream at the grocery store cashier. Do not ask her if she is a fucking idiot when she holds up the garlic and asks what it is. Recognize, if at all possible, that she is only about three years older than Nancy was, although of course I recognize that your son wasn’t named Nancy. By the way, Nancy did like her name, actually. And, by the way, she knew what garlic was, because we made garlic bread from scratch, all the way from scratch, right down to patiently making the sourdough starter over the course of weeks. Did you know that you can make sourdough starter from normal flour? I may be a little bit off course here. I doubt I am inspiring any confidence. I seem to be making this about me, again. I am supposed to be giving you advice.
I have an idea. I wonder what you’ll think. I’d like to propose a toast, one for just you and me, and Nancy and Jack too, kind of. It would be better if we both agreed, but the first thought that comes to my mind is that we could go to the lake, and maybe then we could get a canoe, and go to the little island in the middle, away from most things. Maybe we could bring champagne and something to remind us of them. I might bring some of the ashes, if that’s okay. I don’t know if that is okay for you, or if any of this is okay for you. After all, we’re not friends. But there is a glue between me and you, and all the other moms who’ve lost their kids, and it feels a bit different when it’s not a mental health thing, or an overdose thing. I’m really sorry to say that because I’m not trying to cut anyone out or anything, but I guess I’m just saying that maybe there are different kinds of tragedy? And yours feels the right distance from me, like a Goldilocks distance. So let’s toast to whatever this bond is, even if it is held together by an unwanted glue. I wonder if anyone has said to you what they say to me - I have no idea what you are going through. I have an idea.
Have you ever thought of the way brackets are used? In my mother’s obituary, my then-husband’s name was in brackets next to mine. It was a priority sort of thing, a bit of a cascade, a signal that without me, he wouldn’t be on the page. The online version is still up. Do you think they should edit it, take him out, write post-deceased next to Nancy’s name? I suppose not, right? Brackets are also used to append a little extra context that may or may not be necessary, depending on the interests of the reader. Wikipedia says that brackets “isolate a segment of text or data from its surroundings”. It also says that the bracketed words, known as adjuncts, are “structurally dispensable”. I would like to be bracketed in this way, to be adjunctive. I once found out that when doctors talk about women and pregnancy, they use a system called GTPAL - number of gestations, term births, preterm births, abortions (“spontaneous” and “therapeutic”), and living children. Well. I used to be a G1T1P0A0L1. Now, I am a G1T1P0A0L0 (Did you know that zero is the only number that is both real and imaginary?). The difference is meaningful. To me. But I wonder if a doctor wrote it down, would they put brackets next to it? Does it matter if Nancy was earthside for 30 days or for 4834 days? I think it probably does, I think they’d probably put brackets, and then inside would be a little fragment of the story, something like: (daughter dead, 13, trauma). The trauma part probably should be there for every 13-year-old’s death, but I don’t think that’s what they would put in your brackets. It’s probably implied anyhow, in the dead kid bracket existing at all, even if the age number is 63 and not 13. My Nancy-less life brackets my motherhood: non-mother to mother to non-mother. I don’t want to say what would be in your brackets, that’s up to you. So what about you? Have you ever thought of the way brackets are used?
Let me know if you’d be interested in spending a bit of time together. Talking is optional. Crying is optional. Screaming is recommended, just not in public. Showering is optional. Normal friendship is optional. Let me know if you’d be interested in spending a bit of time together.
i = (fat tears rolling quickly on the playground, friends asking if I was okay, cheeks burning)(the It, I suppose, was me)(“spontaneous” and “therapeutic”)(Did you know that zero is the only number that is both real and imaginary?)(daughter dead, 13, trauma)