It's funny how I search you all the time. In silence and in thunderstorms, in white treasure chests that hold the only clothes ever to grace your skin. I open chestnut dressers holding sandy ashes and I breathe deeply, willing you into me. Desperate to feel you. I get nothing.
Today I was jogging through the card aisle of my friendly, neighborhood Target. In and out, I kept telling myself. After all, your brother wasn't there to slow me down this time!
There is an entire, separate section for Father's Day cards. I imagine to someone with a dead father, this aisle must feel like the formula aisle for someone with a dead baby. Everything shrinks in around you. It gets quiet, hard to breathe. It's like the world is stopping just to point at you in that moment. Hold on...she's looking at them. What will she do next.
There was a woman there, a little older than me. She was holding a card, and she was crying. Not the soul-wrenching, guttural crying, but the silent kind of crying you do when you don't want anyone to see. Hands on her heart, shoulders hunched, softly bobbing up and down.
It would have been easy not to notice, several didn't. It would have been easy to pretend not to notice, as I would have done before. Before you.
But now I get these pulls. I can't ignore them when they happen. I wanted her to know that I could see.
So I took the four steps in my gray sweatpants with five holes, and I stood just beside her for a moment and I waited. When she started to cry harder I didn't back away. The pull, my darling, wouldn't allow it.
I hugged her. I hugged her for what must have been three minutes but it felt like three hundred. I felt the weight of each tear as it hit me, let it show me what was lost. When she relented I looked at her. "I'm sorry." I said. "I'm so sorry."
I didn't offer my sob story. I didn't tell her about you, that my baby girl died one morning abruptly and unexpectedly. That I had to deliver her dead body in a hospital room with warm incubators, waiting with pink and blue striped hats and spa-like bathtubs. I didn't say that I knew what she must be feeling, as so many have told me. More importantly, I didn't say nothing. Hadn't ignored the hole inside her. Hadn't pretended it wasn't there. I like to think you taught me that, allowed me to give this complete stranger the only thing I have left to give to anyone. A little compassion and two empty arms.
She thanked me, and I walked away with nothing but a damp patch on my right sleeve.
The very best way to walk away.