Audrey’s class at the library started back up again this morning. My parents had been taking her ever since the phone call, but I always liked this time together- picking out a few new books to take home, going to a nearby playground for a little bit right afterwards- so I felt the new session was a good time for me to rejoin the group. I even rescheduled my counseling appointment so I could do it.
I walk to the library and as I was leaving our building, the Dominican front security guard came out of his little house towards me, “Ms Cho…” he began. I hadn’t really talked to him since your death so I thought he was going to offer his condolences, but it turned out he was asking me for any clothes Audrey doesn’t wear anymore. He said he knows a very poor pregnant woman who just moved to this country and her husband has no job. Very nice of him to help- he’s always been a nice guy. I told him I’d look and put the word out on the mom boards I’m a part of. But as I walked away I felt so sad. I just went through A’s clothes yesterday and I have all of her clothes labeled in bags- “newborn” “0-3 months” “6 months” “6-12 months.” They’re taking up way too much room in her closet, but I don’t think I can let them go just yet. I’d carefully washed them and packed them all away in anticipation for a second child- which we both hoped would be a girl. I wondered if Benny, the security guard, asked me thinking I was done having kids now, or just didn’t think of that at all. I smile and tell him I’ll get back to him. I headed on to the library.
In my mind, I think I imagined it would taste like normalcy- sitting in that little library room singing “The Wheels on the Bus,” clapping, watching Audrey grab an instrument to play. I was wrong. Singing the Barney song, “I love you- you love me, we’re a happy family,” nearly brought me to tears- as did “You are My Sunshine” at the end while the teacher went around blowing bubbles. A few Japanese mothers I haven’t seen since came and asked me how I was, but I didn’t know if they knew or not- so I just said fine. “It was hot summer,” one said.
When the teacher began he said, “How was everyone’s summer?” It’s strange to me that people had a summer. I remember planning ours, and then all of that stopped.
I made it through the library program and we headed to the playground. Another mom I know was there and she came up to me and said, “I’m sorry about your husband.” I don’t know her well so I just said thanks. I know there are no better words- but “I’m sorry about your husband” sounds ridiculous. I think maybe just “I’m so, so sorry,” sounds better.
“If you need anything, let me know,” she says. I don’t have her contact info. “I guess we don’t have each other’s contact,” she realizes too. “I’ll just think really hard about it,” I reply bitterly but with a smile. Then she says another mom we both know sent her my email so she’ll email me- we’ll get together for a play date. We never have before, so I wonder why she’d think I suddenly want a new friend now that my husband has died.
On the playground, Audrey is excited, but easily bullied by other little girls. Two push her. One mother reprimands her child, another just sits on the bench watching without saying a word. Usually I try not to do this, but today I had no trouble disciplining someone else’s child. “You don’t push,” I say strongly glaring at the mother who is also looking at me but obviously not understanding. I am ready to protect my little girl who is so sweet she just stands there waiting her turn or looking inquisitively at the person who pushed her as if to say, “Why did you do that? What’s wrong with you?” but in a very gentle, surprised way. I worry about her in this world.
When I look up at the sky, I see the red-tailed hawk flying right over us for a while. Then later I looked again and it had gotten cloudy and he was gone.
Going back to a part of my old routine made me think of a summer job I had when I was in college at Bed, Bath and Beyond. It was right after my first year and I was interning with a Congresswoman but it didn’t pay and by the time I thought about work, there wasn’t much left, so I took the humbling job of cashier. It was a dreadful job, but there was a cast of characters there that I would remember for quite some time. Larry, another cashier, had small glasses and was a bald little man in his fifties. The managers were called “key holders” and quite revered by all. “Front end to register five,” you would have to say if you needed them to void a purchase with their magical “key” or something. When I came back- with Dan actually- many years later to buy something there, I was floored to see that Larry was still there- working as a cashier. Wow- I’d gone to college for a few years, moved back to the NYC area, started a new job, started dating- and this guy was still right here behind the register. That was how I felt today when I returned to a part of my old routine from just a few months ago. Wow – I’ve been to hell (and still there) and these people have still been coming to the library all along? They’re still here. I have been gone for so, so long.