Honorable Mention, 2014 Bethesda Magazine Adult Essay Contest
He’s a teenager now, and his fears and grief show up only as anger. Usually directed at me. He slams doors and mopes and tells me I’m a terrible mother. Glares at me with tears suspended in the web of his long, thick eyelashes. Tells me he wishes he was at his father’s house, tells me he wishes he lived only with his father. I am not perfect; I am not patient. I try to hug him, he shrugs away. I try to ignore him and he slams cabinet doors, hits ping-pong balls off the dining table until they ricochet off the ceiling and the artwork on the walls. I tell him to calm down and quit being a jerk. This makes him angrier, more certain of how unfit I am as a mother.
I am not nice, but I am the nicer parent. I am the nicer parent, but he misses his father, who is in Dhaka, Bangladesh, sitting in a hospital room I will not see, while his father is forced alive by a ventilator that expands and contracts his lungs with a hiss and then a release, pushing oxygen through a tube into his prone body. I can imagine this man I used to love suffering through it. I am relieved that I no longer love him, that his pain is no longer my concern.
But each loss brings up previous losses, each bout of grief awakens dormant sadness. And I hold my breath; brace myself to absorb the impact because the grief of my children will always be mine.
All I can do is take him for a hike. It is autumn, and the trail is thick with fallen leaves concealing the hazards of loose rocks and jutting tree limbs.
All I can give him, when I am charged with explaining things I cannot understand, is proof that the world goes on.
All I can give him is a river that cuts Maryland from Virginia and stones to throw into it.
All I can give him when the river is low is the noble vulnerability of exposed tree roots.
All I can give him when the water level rises is the wonder of looking at the places we once stood. Places temporarily submerged.