I sit in the viewing area, not really paying attention. I fidget on the uncomfortable benches. They are hard and backless, and I have other things to do. But my daughter, out on the floor, likes to see me when she glances over. So here I sit. As I watch her practice a tumbling pass, I overhear a conversation in the row in front of me. I try to tune it out. Try not to comprehend. “…tried to help…little girl…” It’s enough to turn my skin clammy and force my fingers to clamp around the edge of the bench — my knuckles white.
I want to get up and walk away. Shout or sing to drown out the words. I can’t. I’m rooted. I cling to the bench, the only solid thing I can reach, desperately willing myself not to slide away on the wave of horror that rolls over me.
I know I’ve said it out loud. I see my feet hit the floor running. The realization that has been waiting there in the back of my mind, kind of a floaty unrecognized thing, is suddenly very terribly real.
I choke on air. My stomach churns. I gulp back the bile that burns at the back of my throat.
I stand pressing both of my hands flat against the brick wall at the back of the gym. It’s cold on my forehead, a solid and unmoving touchstone while my reality spins.
I force myself to breath in, breath out.
I keep eyes tight shut because I know if I open them the floor will slip away in a dizzying slide.
I know this conversation, this story. It was mine a few short months ago. The strangers’ whispered account of the accident they witnessed. I know this family — the unspoken names. Deep down in my gut I know without hearing — the way a heart knows.
I straighten up. My fingernails dig into the palms of my hands.I speak to the coach, then turn and walk toward the knowledge of the pain.
Along the way I stop to buy a teddy bear because I cannot arrive at this occasion with empty hands and my broken heart spilling out of me in jagged little pieces. Besides, it gives me something to hold on to. It is solid enough to stop my body from shaking when I wrap my arms around it, but not so solid it will break me if I fall into it.
My heart knows even as my brain screams and begs and prays for it to be wrong.
“Please God let me be wrong. Please, Please…”
The voice in my head gets fainter and fainter as I walk up the sidewalk.
The grief here is a physical presence. This is a house in mourning with its shades pulled down and its cars lining the block. Its silence settles dead weight on my shoulders and drags at my feet. My heart knows, and now my head knows that my heart is right. My hand hesitates, motionless in mid-air. I have to force myself to knock (I knock because a doorbell would be artificial and jarring and terrible). Knocking breaks the silence, but it is tolerable somehow because it is organic and authentic (this is a weird thing that I know about grief only because I have been there myself).
I don’t recognize the woman who opens the door, but she is familiar in grief and in soul memory and in the scent of our childhood home. It is the scent of damp moss and hot cedar trees on the banks of a river in the place where we both grew up —childhood friends of the momma I have come to see.
She has come, the way that women do, to circle the wounded, to help hold the pieces and memories and hearts when the owners of the hearts are too broken to do the holding themselves. It’s why I have come too, she knows.
I hold out the teddy bear in a mute plea, unable to speak. “Oh,” she says. “I think maybe she’s waiting for you.”
She is — my friend — waiting for me. I find her there at the top of the stairs, standing but almost not, holding on with all of her will. I know this holding on, and how sometimes it is all you can do. Sometimes it takes more than all you have. I wrap my arms around her. Somehow we will hold on together.
Misty Hawes is a British Columbian who currently resides in Calgary, Alberta. Earth is her element and her soul is most at home adventuring, barefoot, in moss covered forests. She is a fiercely okay mother of two – 24 and forever four. A believer in angels, in fairies and magic, and in the power of women who circle. A seeker of truth; she writes unsweetened honesty. Triggers may happen.