I haven't actually been mute for two weeks.
The demarcation line through my silence, with no words on one side and no time on the other (seriously, this past week at work was effing insane), runs through the day that brought, despite whatever it was that the world's most respected groundhog saw one fine sunny morning nearly a week before, a thaw so profound that it was simply beyond my ability to resist conscripting it for a metaphor, however glaringly obvious.
I went outside to photograph the patterns in the melting snow without bothering to put anything over the tanktop I was wearing in the house. It was just a bit chilly. And later that day, before we left for the dinner our friends put together by way of saying they were sorry for not calling us on the anniversary, yes, even before that dinner, I felt released. I felt that I could, once again, write.
The week I was mute felt like I was walking through molasses, energy sucked out of me by every.single.thing. But maybe, to go with the newly conscripted metaphor, I was frozen.
Everything that week was ordinary, unremarkable when my internal clock insisted that it should be, you know, most remarkable. And at the same time it was all a little off kilter. Starting with my house turning into stomach bug central, with JD out of it for most of the 31st, and my sister and brother-in-law both succumbing to the yuckies and not making it over for the dinner I planned to cook. So the dinner got scaled down, what with barely any stomachs fit for duty. But Monkey and I did make brownies. From scratch*.
She changed her mind. It used to be the cupcakes she wanted to make, but it switched to brownies some time in January. She couldn't really explain why, except for something about not wanting to make frosting. If I was to offer a guess as to the reason for the change, it would likely delve into the implications of having something that looks like an actual birthday cake for someone who is not here to partake. That's the thing that made me think last year that we are not a birthday cake kind of a bereaved family. I was pretty sure we are not. Until Monkey told me, sometime late spring-ish, that we should have cupcakes for A's next birthday. It came up a few more times since, and she was rather attached to that plan. But when, with a few weeks still to go, I asked her about what kind we should make, she changed it. Of course now she wants to make these very same brownies for one of her own several upcoming birthday parties. I guess it remains to be seen whether she insists on frosting then.
My mom was visiting for the weekend. Which was great for Monkey and the Cub, but, at times, too much for me-- I really felt the need to cut out the random chatter. (My mom mostly gets it. It's just that sometimes she doesn't get that even if not discussing something NOW means that we won't get to for a while, or in person, one must still let it go, for the sake of my headspace. But we also ended up having a good conversation about that, so it's all pretty much ok.)
Our friends didn't call. That was a twofer-- not only did it hurt, it also contributed greatly to that just an ordinary day feeling that was so maddeningly surreal. They all had different reasons-- one lost track of the dates, several didn't remember the dates anymore, just the general area of the dates, and one remembered, but couldn't figure out what to say,-- but I spent a good deal of the next week telling them all (individually) how hurtful it was. And whooo boy, was that ever draining. I think that for a good while there it was having these conversations that kept my blog mute button firmly pressed-- I only had energy for one or the other. To be fair to the friends in question, they rallied, albeit late, with an apology and a dinner for us, which is how people from the Old Country show contrition and make amends.
The day before the dinner, last Shabbat, was A's yahrtzeit-- anniversary by the Hebrew calendar. Because that calendar is lunar, the dates shift around a lot from year to year with respect to the Gregorian one we are used to. Last year the yahrtzeit was nearly two weeks before. This year-- a week later. Next year-- only days before. Yeah, I am sure that's going to be fun.
We went to synagogue, and we went up to the Torah, and the Rabbi did his shpiel, which was very nice. He talked about memory, and inspiration it brings, and the Cub was in the sling on my chest, and Monkey stood with us too, holding at first my hand, and then Cub's.
The next day the snow started to melt, and our friends put together a dinner for us, and somewhere between those two things I realized that I could write again, and breathe. If only that silly work thing didn't get in the way...
It's funny, I think, what sticks with you. Two years later I am not nearly as shellshocked as I was. I still don't think there is a cosmic reason, or that one good enough could possibly exist. But I am willing to examine my remodeled heart.
The day after A's birthday this year (check that out-- I can say birthday now; couldn't for the life of me last year) was insanely busy. It was the day I was to cook dinner for one hundred-- Monkey's school was having it's annual social action day, with community dinner to follow.
When I first volunteered, I thought it would be good to have something big to do the day after, that it would be just the thing to pull me through the anniversary. In the end, due to the all-mighty mission creep, it was a lot more work than I was thinking I was signing up for. Start with the shopping and the coordination beforehand, add the couple of hours of cooking I already put in Friday, cap it off with the whole stomach bug-induced lack of helpers for a good part of the day, and you can see how I was a bit spent by the end. That, and damn near bursting-- I brought the pump with me, but never had a chance to pump. That's right-- couldn't find twenty minutes in the nearly ten hours I spent at the school that day.
I cooked that dinner in A's memory and honor. I cooked it in a way that was never accomplished at the school before-- the dinner accommodated every single known food allergy at the school. A real community dinner.
The funny thing is that before Monkey started school food allergies were not at all on my radar, not even a little bit-- not a part of our lives, and not really at the forefront for anyone else we knew. And yet, slightly more than a year later I was volunteering to cook the dinner in large part so that I could demonstrate that with just a little thoughtful planning we don't have to leave anyone out.
Do you think bereavement changes us, or do you think that underneath we are still who we are? I know I've participated in this discussion before. And I know I've rallied against the silly notion that we shouldn't let our dead children change us. Why the hell not? Aren't we supposed to be forever changed by having a child? Doesn't it follow that having a dead child might change you just as much?
But maybe, as my friend Aite has said from the beginning, maybe we are the same us that people know, only now with a very shitty thing to have happened to us. I am beginning to see the wisdom of this view as I interrogate and disentangle my thoughts and emotions. And as it turns out, this issue is connected to A for me in the oddest of ways.
I have always had a sense of justice, and I have gotten myself in trouble more times than I care to admit due to this seriously inconvenient trait. (This is also, by the by, why I have such strong dislike for the people seeking to inject religion into science curriculum-- given how hard it is to correct misconceptions, these people are literally limiting kids' life potential, making them that much less likely to become doctors, scientists, even engineers. Ughhhh....) So by last summer it burned my hide that the Parent Association wouldn't change the format of their summer events to make sure that all families could attend (in the summer food gets on everything, so yeah, a serious reworking of the format would've been necessary), and by fall I was no longer willing to just hope they get it right. In the interest of full disclosure it is a friend's family who is most often affected by lack of accommodation, but even before she was a friend, I minded not at all any of the measures that the school and the classroom were taking to ensure safety without putting kids with issues into a you're not like everyone else box.
It took a good deal of digging around in my head for me to figure out why I am reacting this strongly. The way I have been able to articulate it to myself, it goes like this: my son never had a chance. It was an accident, unforeseen and unpredictable, that took away from him and from us every other chance he would've ever had in life. So it bothers me a great deal when people, be it through carelessness and thoughtlessness or with actual malice, limit a child's horizon.
I can't do much about it. But for one afternoon I could make it so that kids with allergies could sit at any which table and eat what everyone else was eating. (And maybe that other parents, the ones for whom allergies are not a part of their daily lives, see that inclusiveness is not that hard to achieve and, you know, decide to give it a try too...)
*They were raspberry truffle kind. We cut the sugar in half as suggested in the reviews, and we used Splenda baking blend, which has half the volume of sugar. So in total we reduced the volume of the sweetener by 3/4. All the better for the remaining volume to become one with the chocolate. Oh, and it turns out they are even better the next day, after the chips have the time to return to their self-contained ways.