The other day, maybe while I’m pouring cereal, I have the random memory of eating my Cheerios…carefully. Small children, I don’t think, can really separate things that are alive and things that aren’t. And I was fairly certain that the Cheerios that stuck together while floating in my milk at the end of the bowl, were not just accidentally grouped together- they were families. If one in the group slipped off my spoon, I’d be sure to get him back on with his family before they all took the journey into my mouth. Do other people do this? I’m pretty sure they do.
The Cheerio families are not an adequate metaphor for how it feels to be a part of a broken family. The constant gnawing that something- someone is missing from your unit. They are not an adequate metaphor for how it feels to look forward to Audrey’s preschool coffee social- a chance to sit around with other moms who understand mothering and drink much needed caffeine while the kids are in class one morning- but then find your loss smacking you in the face yet again while everyone talks about their silly husbands or their second or current pregnancies. I chime in as if those are not painful memories- my own pregnancy, birth, “Oh, my husband was like that too…he’d always get the wrong stuff at the store so he’d call to check because I was so neurotic.” At one point when we’re discussing how consuming children without siblings can be, one mother from Audrey’s class, who must not know- I’ve never told her- laughs and tells me I better get started on the second baby. I just answer that it’s not really the first thing on my mind right now and it’s awkward because a few mothers do know- but the one who said it laughs as if I’ve made a joke again. I leave the mothers for a bit to go watch Audrey in her dance class from the gym window- and to gather myself…wipe the stray tears I barely notice are there anymore because they are so much a part of my daily face.
And the Cheerio metaphor doesn’t come close to the feeling of having various realtors come through your apartment with clients because your landlord is selling your place and you have no idea yet where you’re going to go…the place where you moved as a family when your child was five months old- where she took her first steps, where you slow danced to kids’ music with your husband in the living room and made him fresh waffles with heart shaped strawberries for his last Father’s Day a couple of weeks before he died. It doesn’t come close to the feeling when these strangers meandering through my home tell me my daughter is cute or they like how I decorated the little nook that is her “room.” It doesn’t convey at all the heartsinking that happens when the Korean realtor, seeing our family photos, tells me, “Oh, you have a very handsome husband,” and I answer, “Thanks, he was,” as they smile not hearing the past tense and head out the door waving to Audrey who has just changed into her fairy outfit and is wondering why the “guests” are leaving.
The heartsinking is the best term- when the pain that’s always there dips just a little lower than you thought possible- kind of like the pain I feel when Audrey has a wistful, shy look on her face watching another little girl play with her dad- or when she looks up at me one night before bed telling me she’s so scared of the dark…I tell her we’re the only people in this apartment and she tells me you’re here. Then I tell her you’re not because you died. And she tells me, “But we’ll always be stuck together- we’ll always be a family- ” probably something I’ve told her at some point though I don’t recognize it offhand. Then she tells me she wishes you would come to our apartment and call her name, “I wish appa would come to our apartment building and call me Audrey.”
How do I fix our family? I cannot. I can not pretend you are still here. I can honor the life you lived. But I cannot hold a place here for your return. I realize that even as I look at rentals and possible homes for us to move to- that thought that I’ve heard others in grief books talk about arises- “What if we move and he comes back and we’re not there?” It’s absurd because I really do get by now the circumstances of my life and yours. But still- that thought is there- we will be gone- what if?
What to do, what to do.
Buy matching pajamas for my daughter, her doll, and myself.
Buy matching mugs from Anthropologie with our initials.
Tirelessly put a unicorn puppet on my hand named unicorny complete with Julia Child-like voice because he’s quite funny and she loves him and he’s become a part of our