The other shoe

 photo by  Laura Makabresku

They will be fine. I will lose them too. They will be fine. I will lose them too.

The world is rejoicing and celebrating love with blooming, intact, whole red roses. And I pluck away at strands of my mind, thin alternating fibers of strength, anxiety, faith, paranoia. No choice between loves and loves-me-not for me. It is really a life-or-death Russian Roulette. I fix my eyes, my lips tremble, but unlike even the petals of a thousand roses, my counting does not yield a final fate implied by a single remaining petal on the bulb. My mind’s strands are endless, and my oscillation between belief and paranoia, a bullet and a blank, is rapid and relentless.

I know I cannot stop even when all the red roses in the world have been counted.

My innocence wiped clean in one swipe, I am forever doomed, never to believe again in an easy, free-flowing life where petals determine destiny and children outlive parents. In my abode of terror, I meet death every day. I look into its icy deep eyes, I sit under its shadow, I lean onto its monstrous arms. As the life in this world moves on in front of me, and beckons me to take part in its colorful charade, death never leaves my hand, engulfing me, tossing me up, catching me back, smugly smirking through it all. It is my most trusted companion, looming like a shroud over my body, like a cloud over my head, like a nail in my heart.

+++

Its claws dig the deepest into my heart, especially when it comes to the remaining two people in my life. A forty-one-year old man, who came into this world five days before me, and into my life twenty-two years ago. And a little chatterbox of eight, who we both created and who I hope, every single moment that I breathe, will outlive us. I meet death every day as it lurks from every corner of their precarious life, emptying its fiery cauldron to char my imagination into an impenetrable darkness. There is no escape from it as it overcomes whatever iota of reason my mind can conjure.

I fall back upon reason—it fails me. All of my daughter’s tests, conducted less than twenty-four hours prior to her death, were normal. Her pediatrician examined her—she was fine. I count on statistics and probability—they fail me. My little girl had an intestinal blockage, survived inside of me, and through two surgeries before she turned six weeks old. She came home healthy. And died, in the absence of a medical reason, of SIDS. Both of these conditions happening for the same infant has a chance of one in seventeen million. Seventeen million. And she was the one. We were the one, heavily perched on the wrong side of reason and statistics.

+++

In a country rattled by eighteen school shootings in less than two months, the last fatal one on Valentine’s Day, what is the probability my son may be in one of them? When more than forty-thousand people die in car crashes every year, what chances does my husband have of avoiding one on his way to or from somewhere?

+++

My thoughts are ominous, logical folks will say. My religious and superstitious mom, if she heard, will call me sacrilegious for even thinking these thoughts. As a mother, I need to be strong, courageous, and auspicious, she would say. My psychologist friends would condemn and fear what could become a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Non-bereaved people would shudder at the idea of me voicing such graphic details of my deepest fears.

What they don’t know is that these are not mere fears.

When you walk on nails through your infant’s surgeries, placing her tiny body and delicate life in a surgeon’s hands, and you wake up in the morning a month later to find her dead, you no longer “fear the worst.” You start believing in it. You count on its predictability; it pitches its bloodied tent in a no-man’s dead zone between what you think is plausible and what you know will happen. Nothing is uncertain anymore. Everything is uncertain from now on.

+++

Please, let them live. Please don’t take them from me. Please, they’re all I have. Please. Please. Please.

I plead these words when he blows the candles on his birthday cake. Or as I look at their sleeping faces. I float these words into the cold air on every morning as they board a bus and a car, waving their hands even as their backs are turned toward me. I whisper these words under my breath as I tuck him in every night with the promise and hope contained in my own brief lullaby for him. The lullaby I did not sing for his little sister the night she did not wake up from.

And yet, despite all my pleas and prayers, death invades my imagination so sharply that it becomes more potent than my reality. At any time of day, while I am driving, cooking, reading, working, just merely trying to put one foot in front of the other, death dangles the other shoe in front of me, daring me to avoid dropping it too. It orchestrates elaborate scenes of car crashes and school shootings in my mind, of police officers at my door, and of frantic calls from the school. I stop in the middle of what I am doing, as vivid images of my son’s reaction to news of his father’s death race through my head. I scream “NO!” and shake my head vigorously, trying to hurl away my fear-turned-belief as it seizes me in its grip.

+++

While I try to live a life in the aftermath of death, it refuses to walk ahead of me or leave me behind. It is determined to hold my hands and meet my eyes every step of the way, sometimes lurking from behind, at other times clutching my fingers in its bony white ones, never, never letting there be an "after" where it is not constantly present.

The right pair has landed with a thud, it hisses in my ears. The pair that is left, hangs like an inevitable guillotine blade over our lives. 

It will drop. It will not. It will kill. It will not. It will ... it will not ...

 

How has your anxiety been regarding your loved ones in the aftermath of your loss? Is it a constant, or does it come at specific times? How do you deal with anxiety?