My husband, Robb had been gone for maybe two weeks when my young boys and I packed up for a trip back to Ohio. I moved to Colorado in my early twenties, and my soul took root right away. My soul breathes deep in Colorado air, but my heart still feels at home in Ohio, with the smell of cut grass in the summer, the changing leaves in the autumn, the snow that stays so long it turns gray in the winter, and the grand openings of ice-cream stands in the spring. My sons, my parents, and I made a pilgrimage back to the Midwest because that is home for us. An important part of me exhales in the safe presence of my many cousins and the magical healing power of my aunt Joyce’s banana cake. When everything fell apart because the other half of my marriage had died, we packed up and we went to Ohio. Because of course. You fix what you can fix.
I want to believe you are good. I want to trust you. But everything is wrong. And you could have kept all of this from happening.Tweet
I remember putting the boys to sleep one night on the pull-out couch in my aunt Janet’s basement. I would later join them, or rather, I would later move them to their sleeping bags on the floor when I was ready for bed myself. Something seemed to ease the bedtime routine when they got to start out in my bed. They knew they’d better be quiet and obedient, since they felt they were getting away with something.
I should tell you that I have never in my life quite gotten over the precious everything of my boys when they are sleeping. No matter what has gone wrong during the day, no matter how great the tantrums and transgressions, there is no wrong that could not be made right by the sight of a little boy sound asleep in his footie pajamas. The gentle snoring. The fluttering of dreaming eyelashes. The satin blanket balled into his dimpled, baby-boy fist. The smell of Johnson’s baby shampoo from his bedtime bath. Or almost as endearing, the salty scent of sleeping baby sweat. The rosy pink cheeks did me in every time.
I came to move them from the couch to the floor, and as I always did, I stopped to breathe them in. I leaned close to Tyler, bringing my nose close to breathe his baby air and to feel his feathery breath on my cheek. And suddenly, the scent of his clean hair, coupled with his little blue footie pajamas—the ones he now wore day in and day out—it all multiplied and compounded and washed over me in a wave of grief that took my breath away. My breath poured out of me in a long, silent, heaving sob. It emptied me so completely that I knew my recovering intake of breath would be enough to wake them. I was out of control, swept over the edge of the facade of holding it together. I grabbed at the blanket, and I stuffed it into my mouth just as the sob climbed on top of me. It was roaring. I rode this wave of grief, rocking myself as I wept silently into the blanket with one hand, my other hand hovering over the steady rise and fall of Tyler’s back as he slept. I wanted to soothe him, or maybe I wanted to protect him from the reality he could not yet understand.
I remember thinking, My God, what have you done to us? What have you done to my family? To my sons? My babies? You took away their father! What were you thinking? What have you done, dear God?
I didn’t move them from the pull-out couch because what was the point, really? I let them stay. I went back upstairs to a corner of the couch in the sunken living room. I opened my journal for the first time since Robb died.
Okay. I am here. Let’s talk. I want to believe you are good. I want to trust you. But everything is wrong. And you could have kept all of this from happening. I want to believe you are in this. I want to trust you. So we have to be honest with each other. And honestly, I don’t know where you are. And I don’t know why you thought this was a good idea.
I started with honesty. I wrote it all down. And I sat in the tension of pouring it all out to a void of silence, knowing no answers would come right away, maybe not for a very, very long time. But I knew that my honesty was not nothing. Honesty was all I felt I had, the only offering I could give.
Poured out, I closed my journal, and I went back downstairs to that pull-out couch. I crawled in between the little boy in the footie pajamas and his brother dressed like Buzz Lightyear. I fell asleep to the silence of their innocent breaths, the deep rest of children who trust.