I pull myself, wide-eyed and confused, from my bed.
For a moment my thoughts are a garbled mess of sadness and longing. I want to disappear back into my dreams of a little boy gone too soon. I don't want to get on with the day. I want to acknowledge his existence. I want to scream his name. He lived, dammit, and he died too—!
Instead, I pull myself from bed, and onto my feet. I brush my teeth and wash my face.
I pick up the pieces of my broken heart, giving tender care as not to let them slip and shatter. I scoop them in my hands and place them in the corner shelf of my mind, a shelf already accumulating the dust and grime of neglect.
My son's name is engraved there, a name endlessly on repeat, the echoes reverberating in the corners of my soul. Riyad.
My mask is a likeness is of me—the me from eons ago, unburdened and unbroken. Free from the burden of holding my dead son in my arms. More ignorant, pure, free of bitterness. Free from the raw, animalistic pain. I once had the luxury of not knowing exactly the depth of human suffering. Before, I had the luck of never experiencing intense sorrow. Not the kind that renders me to my knees, unable to walk, unable to even properly breathe, racked to the floor with sobs.
This is the me of before, glossed over. But now, I wear the mask.
Eyes devoid of feeling, so as not to tell too much. Emotions kept at bay with blank stares and absent smiles. Mental reprimands when my eyes fill with tears, as if I am some disobedient child—Now is not the time! Focus! Be present!
"How are you today?"
My coworker is casual, carefree. Coffee steams in a cup at her hand.
The question still knocks the air from my lungs. It stuns me with its audacity, an insult wrapped in the pretty package of polite chit-chat.
Well, my son is dead. Thanks for asking.
I do not say the words that hang from the bow of my lips. I push them aside, further into the yawning abyss of my heart. A lump settles in my throat. Impending tears are carefully restrained, a mother's wail for her dead son, its intensity welling up in a knot in my chest. My fingers are white-knuckled. I eke out a smile so static, I am sure she cannot see the trembling of my lips, or the immense effort it takes to straighten my jaw like a vice.
"I'm good, thanks."
Mollified, she nods her head and walks away. All she needed was a confirmation that everyone was Fine. I shut my eyes and fight back the sob, knowing that it will overwhelm me hours later, when I am sitting alone.
Day in and day out, I wear my mask.
Sometimes grief breaks through when I least expect it— a flood of sorrow consuming me completely. I am back in that cold, lonely room, unaware my life as I once knew it was being readied for slaughter. The tone of the doctor's sorrowful voice, the precise angle she hung her head as she spoke: I'm sorry, there's no heartbeat.
But most days, the grief merely seeps through in rivulets across my day, tainting my thoughts and experiences. Bitterness wells up at the sight of a round, pregnant belly. Bile builds in my throat as I watch an oblivious pregnant woman, her face aglow as she speaks of baby kicks, due dates, showers, clothes.
Once upon a time, I was jubilant at the prospect of meeting my very first child. It felt as if our lives had crossed the veil of reality into a fairytale. I was a princess, my husband by my side, and we were due to meet our little prince. We would live happily ever after, the remnants of our eternity filled to the brim with milestones, coos, first babbling words, innocent giggles, and wide, chubby smiles.
Then the fairytale was flipped, shattered and warped into a gothic nightmare. The princess holding her dead little prince in her arms, dressed not in white but in black, her bright world gone dark.
Who am I now? Am I a mother? Perhaps that, too, is a fairytale. A figment of my imagination, a fantastical dream spun from the fabric of fantasy and broken wishes.
You are strong
You are brave
You are powerful
Words of praise, but what choice do I have? I did not choose this life, nor did I choose this limbo—floating aimlessly throughout my days, donning my mask to conceal my emotions from the world, living only to complete my tasks and smile my empty smiles.
People all around me are wearing masks, too, their own horrors hidden. Perhaps each night they pull their grief into their hearts, the raw pain of missing their own losses. Perhaps, during the day, they scream even louder than me on the inside, while on the outside they labor and toil and cook and clean, their faces set like stone.
I do not know anyone's suffering but my own. But I know their questions.
I know they, too, lay bewildered and wide-eyed at night. Whether their bellies had once been truly full of life, their hearts warm fires kindling dreams of bright, vibrant futures—or if they, too, had simply been fantasies, gone in the blink of an eye, too good to be true, not meant to be after all.
I am not alone. We all come to life as mechanical dolls, only to unwind and break down once the day is done.
During the numbness of the day, I eagerly await the night. I need it. I pull myself back into a time that was both hopeful and horrible, when the promise of my son was both formed and painfully shattered within nine months. In the stillness of the night, when I am doubled over in the agony of his death, yet still yearning to remember him, yearning to love him, I am with him again. He is there, my personal fairytale, my once upon a time, my wish upon a star. And I know who I am.
I am a broken mother. I am unashamed to dream of his smile, his eyes, his coos like lost whispers in the night. I hold what was and what could have been in my heart, I hold the pain close to me, for it is sacred, it connects me to both my fantasy of his life, and the reality of his death. I relive the tale of Riyad, the tale of my child that was too good for this world. And in that moment, he is real. The pain is mine, to hold and to bear. Day in, and day out. And he is mine, forever.
We're happy to welcome Nada as one of our newest regular contributors at Glow. On the occasion of her first post on the roster—a reflection that reads like a state-of-the-nation—tell us how you're doing. Are you still donning a mask as you move through the world? What doors does the night open for you?