There Are All Kinds of Ways to Lose a Child
Lilacs, lilies, mint, and thyme arrive without concern. Washing dishes with kitchen window open, I marvel at birdsong -- so indifferent to loss -- while the oblivious, dark purple skirts of irises sashay just beyond this dusty glass.
Over the kitchen sink, there is a small radio. I turn it on. Impossible coincidence, a woman’s voice announces the program is about what it’s like to lose a child. I put down the blue glass bowl that I’m rinsing. I turn off the water. Stare out into the green wilderness that envelops our little house. I stare as if the woods hold an answer.
It is enough to gaze into trees climbing the hill above us. It is almost time to leave but I cannot turn the radio off. I stand there, losing precious moments in a busy day, savoring the gentle voice of a stranger -- a man whose son killed himself. He says, “there are all kinds of ways to lose a child.”
How do you tell someone your 17 ½ year old daughter is gone -- alive, but gone. No, not to college, she’s still a junior, or she was, when she dropped out, no, she’s not returning to school, I don’t know where she is, well, she’s living with a friend, or perhaps her father, or both, there’s no contact, no, he won’t respond, nothing, she was very at-risk again, last time I saw her, no one can help, not the school, therapists, DCF, nope, not now. How do you say this? How do you not say this? How do you open your mouth? Respond to emails?
I don’t call my family as quickly as I should. I’m not sure what to say. What not to say on the street, when running errands, when people ask how are you? How are things? How is your lovely daughter?
The other day a clerk said, “Can I ask you a question about the local school? You have a daughter, don’t you?” I shook my head “yes” while swallowing. Tried to smile. Said, “Yes, I do.”
I grip the edge of the kitchen sink. A stranger's voice grows even softer as he names a few of the many things he could have done differently -- the things that haunt him -- then talks about not turning down that road. I turn. Begin to list one thousand things I could have done differently. A cardinal flashes in the leaves then paints a stroke of scarlet from one tree to another. Then she is gone.
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