T/W: Mental health; mild references to substance abuse; physical abuse/bullying.
The Breeze Watches
The pencil mark hovered a good two centimeters above the last one. I instructed my little boy to stand back against the doorframe for a second opinion. Jake giggled, delighted that he had dodged a mark by his dedication to growth. “I can’t turn my back for two minutes without you spurting up like Jack’s beanstalk.” With laughter in my eyes, I feigned annoyance that he’d sneaked that extra centimeter. He was six years old and couldn’t wait to be a big boy.
* * *
Today, I counted the hours to Jake’s visit; searched for him as passengers disembarked, gray faceless. Then my son appeared, like a bleached picture on a sun-facing wall, his walk towards me slow and steady. He stood close to me, looked me in the eye, and whispered those words,
“The worst thing happened.”
“You didn’t die,” I replied.
“Not all of me.”
* * *
It didn’t seem that long ago when Jake was only six, and we forgot his shoes. My husband had booked an early ferry, but our son slept through the early hours. Smiling emojis covered his pyjamas and we lifted him from his bed and placed him in the back of the car. Another day trip to France began. We remembered to bring him a change of clothes, we just forgot his shoes.
Jake didn’t seem to mind skipping around the sun-clad deck of the ferry in his bare feet. Promises of ice-cream and jelly-shoes fuelled his excitement and he revelled in the adventure. He was a stowaway, or a member of a pirate crew bound towards a hoard of treasure; he was Neptune and the whole sea belonged to him.
He stood by the white stone fountain in the old square, reflections from the water illuminating the halo around his head, innocent eyes squinting in the sun. Ingrained green from moss filled the cracks in the sculpted figure of an alabaster boy in the center who turned his face to the sky. He held a conch to his mouth. Jake’s smile was of the moment, white linen shirt billowing in a gentle breeze that I now recognize as a whisper of warning, you’ll never know what or when. You’ll never know why a simple breeze will hold back and observe, and soothe, when a hurricane destroys everything in its path.
Like the time I watched Jake walk away—months before he launched those words—back to his university halls, to where the boy next door held loud parties in his room, and empties tripped everyone up, that’s if they didn’t already fly high from marijuana fumes that accompanied unfinished essays. He headed back to his stark room where he lately always locked his door. I let my son walk away because my train arrival, and a soft, “I’m fine,” swirled into a tuneless white noise deluding with its mundanity. It’s just homesickness—the breeze fluttered through my senses, and like some deluded Midas I turned my wishes into golden illusions, immune from the cold, biting breath of Boreas. Of course he’s safe, I convinced myself. I failed to acknowledge the grimace on my child’s face as it traced sleepless nights around nose and mouth, around those eyes that squinted in the sunlight that day in Paris, when we forgot his shoes.
That is why I transformed into a statue, cemented to the spot, fighting the urge to pull him back. The gods of the four winds raged combat in my cavern of a body. Too late, I reached out to grab him, but his shape grew smaller and further, until it merged into the delicate lace of people. I stood by and waved, tears veiling my perspective, as London swallowed him up. After all, who sees mountains at London’s King’s Cross Station? But we were climbing and I realized that when you let go of the rope, you can both fall.
Something continued to gnaw at me, like when frost expands cracks in concrete until they crumble and then a wind blows the crumbs away. I forgot stuff; words drifted off and so did some of my friends; my husband bought me flowers from buckets, and they bloomed, then drooped, then wilted. Slimy stems succumbed to mold that crept up the sides of the vase and left furry dots floating on the surface of the water. And yet the stench was nothing to the rot that continued to gnaw at me and turn my cracks into wide, empty, fissures. I could barely reach the top pencil marks on the door frame but I wanted to scrub them away, to retrace the years to when I understood, to when I could fix cracks with ice-cream and jelly shoes.
* * *
Now, as he explains his earlier not all of me, I try to unhear “despair,” “nowhere to hide,” “struggle,” I can’t fight back, can’t try to mix the vortex of sounds into something new, like a mad kaleidoscope that refuses to settle into a pleasing pattern.
I turn myself into the hurricane, the enveloping whirlwind around him that sucks him into me, and for a moment, or an hour, I hold him because I’m aware it won’t last; because today I understand I can only ever be a breeze, like Zephyros—god of spring breezes—blowing, soothing the absent bits of him. I learn I am grieving for fragments of my child—the missing parts that died. Like a gentle wind, I resolve to gather motes of moss, spin them into gold, and like a Japanese kintsugi artist, piece his broken spirit together and fill his cracks. Again, I imagine myself the alchemist.
I hear my husband’s footsteps approach from behind. Redness rings his watery eyes and he blinks long when his gaze falls on Jake. He drapes an arm around each of us, “let’s go.” Stark gray concrete of the station-platform paves the way home, and a return ticket falls from Jake’s fingers; caught by a passing breeze, it disappears into an amorphous crowd.