Sometimes I enjoy his presence. The pain feels raw again and that feels like proof she was really here. That she lived.
It’s an ordinary day. Don’t most days start out that way?
It’s also Toddler Thursday, that blessed day when all kids’ clothes are half price. I browse the jeans rack wondering how my little boy has sprouted to size 4T when it feels as though I haven’t taken a deep breath since the day he was born.
A lump forms in my throat. There were many nights I lay awake wondering if he’d live this long.
The bells above the front door jingle. Someone enters. My spine tingles.
As my fingers linger briefly on a pair of jeans with pink fringe decorating the bottoms, I feel him come up behind me.
Well, hello again.
The weight of five years settles on my shoulders. Please, not today. I’m having a good day. Come back tomorrow or the next day.
He snorts. That’s not how our relationship works.
I move on to the next rack and my hand grazes an embroidered flower on a jean jacket. I never understood why this store mixed together boys and girls clothes on the same rack.
Don’t they know that intermingling makes shopping hard for moms like… me?
He chuckles and moves in so close that I feel his breath on my neck. My skin responds with a rush of heat, but this time, fear is absent. I know him too well to turn myself inside out when I receive one of his unexpected visits. After all, he was my constant companion for the better part of a year. He and I spent endless days, sometimes weeks, together in the beginning without so much as a break to feel anything but the weight of heartbreak.
I turn to face him. Why are you here, Grief? It’s just an ordinary day.
He smirks, knowing I know better than that. Ordinary days are my favorite days. When I’m least expected, I can have the greatest impact.
It’s true. He rarely shows up on days I’m prepared for him: birthdays, holidays and heaven days. I move on to the rack of shirts, and he slides along with me, constricting like a second skin.
I like that one.
He points to a hot pink shirt with a peace sign and daisies decorating the front.
Me too. I would have gotten that for her.
And you probably would have had a matching shirt of your own. Maybe you’d call yourself twins and she’d giggle, hug you and say, ‘I love you mommy’.
I suck in a sharp breath. Right again.
Can you believe she would have been five this year?
Tears prick my eyelids, but they don’t fall. Instead I think about the school clothes I would have bought for her, most likely in this store on a Toddler Thursday. An ordinary day. During her four months with us she wore many of the clothes I bought for her; others remain in a pink bin with the tags still attached.
He cranes his neck so he can look into my eyes. You look sad. Does it bother you that I’m here?
I let the full weight of his presence settle over me. No. You were harder to handle in the beginning, but I have tools to manage you now.
He laughs, but the chortle is less sinister than before. Perhaps I’m boring him. He seems to prefer when I put up a fight, pretend I don’t see him, or cry out in despair for the little girl I lost.
I blow out a long breath and face him. Actually, Grief, sometimes I enjoy your presence. The pain feels raw again and that feels like proof she was really here. That she lived.
He furrows his brow and looks away.
I turn back to the rack and surrender once again to the peculiar nature of our relationship.
I think I’ve learned how to deal with you, Grief. This is a lifelong journey and you’ll be with me forever… It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can learn to live with each other, right?
I wait for a smart remark, but Grief is quiet. For once.
As I approach the checkout, he follows a few steps behind me.
The clerk behind the counter greets me and I read her name tag. “Isabelle,” I say. “What a beautiful name. That’s my daughter’s name.”
Grief grunts and walks toward the door. Out of the corner of my eye I see him give a little wave.
See ya soon kiddo. Take care of yourself.
My head jerks up.
Wait, did I just hear compassion in your voice?
But he doesn’t hear me. He’s already outside on the sidewalk, strolling away, at least for today.