At any given moment I am extremely proud of myself and also, simultaneously, disgusted with myself.
At any given moment I am extremely happy and extremely sad.
At any given moment my world is spinning but my world stopped.
Yesterday, one of my students offered that she hates when people use the phrase, same difference.
"Mrs. LaFata, it doesn't make sense!"
And she's right. It doesn't.
If someone would have told me as I held you on that chilly, February morning, that there would come a time...not twenty years from now....but within two years from that exact moment, where I would find myself complaining about the girl in the Starbucks drive through consistently filling my Venti White Chocolate Mocha halfway...actually taking a sip and parking and going INSIDE because it's Monday and I paid for a large and damnit, I need a large...I would have said they were crazy.
This life after loss, after the death of my daughter, the pain is so normal and welcomed now that I seem to have given myself permission to focus and concern over the stupid things again...and when I think about you on that morning as I'm asking her to please, please fill it up all the way, I feel crazy.
I wanted your death to better me, and in some ways I'm certain it has. Quieter ways. Ways that not everyone gets to see. Like when someone loses a child or a spouse or a friend, and I tell them (or don't tell them) that I'm thinking of them, I'm really, really thinking of them. For days and for months afterwards I'm thinking of them and I'm hoping they're okay in their strange, oxy-moronic lives.
Or when I catch your father whispering into one of your brother's ears, and it stops me in my tracks and fills me with so much joy that my heart might burst. Because I was happy before you, with him and with them. But that happiness doesn't hold a candle to the joy I feel now, in those same moments, with those same faces.
But in many ways I'm the same. I'm the same teacher who complains about standardized testing and misguided, adolescent rage and 18 minute lunch breaks. I'm the same mother who sometimes counts the minutes until bedtime. The same wife who still bickers with the same husband about missing diaper bag items and who is driving to basketball practice. In so many ways I'm the exact same person, and how is that even possible?
When you died I took seven weeks off work. It was strange, because the time I returned was around the very time I should have been starting my maternity leave. It felt so backwards, like some blurry succession of movements that didn't really exist. I wasn't supposed to be there, supervising the hallways between classes and proctoring the End of Course exam. I was supposed to be at home, with my daughter. My daughter who was keeping me up at night and who was breathing and who had coordinating little bows for nearly every outfit; these minute, contractual duties in the recesses of my mind because I had bigger fish to fry. And here I was, frying much bigger fish in a much different way.
I remember returning on my first day back. That first time into my classroom without you when I was supposed to be with you, and it was so very new and I was so very confused and so very scared, and when I walked in they were standing. All twenty four of them, applauding in unison.
And I remember stopping for a moment, by my desk, in my tracks. I remember watching their hands move and I remember crying because someone understood. Someone understood what it took for me to walk through that door without you.
Since that day I've walked through so many doors, sometimes for the first time and sometimes for the hundredth. Classrooms and residences and hospitals and gymnasiums, all without you. And although so much has changed, and although I might complain about the coffee or the traffic it still feels wrong. Every entrance is difficult. Each, its own milestone and test and I am always, always disgusted that these doors exist; that I can move and bend and push them in your absence, but I've noticed something.
Each one is a little lighter than that first day, a little more muscle in the access.
And sometimes, sometimes, I can still hear the applause.