Yesterday was a very hot day. When I was out for my morning walk, people were already headed to the beach in shorts and suits. Some had already claimed their place along the shoreline. I was taking all of this in casually, my calm glance going long. It lingered on a young woman sitting under a broad yellow umbrella who was dusting the sand off her son’s legs. The child was perhaps 3 or 4, impatient and wobbly. The mother had her head bent to her task. From my distance, I couldn’t discern her face.
I didn’t need to. Her hair was enough. Curly and dark brown, it lay across her shoulders and obscured her face as she leaned forward. She was Latina, her skin the color of browned butter.
Camila could turn as dark as a coconut hull. She tanned easily, effortlessly. Bi-racial, even in winter she would appear to have the perfect tan: sun-kissed.
For a few beats, looking down on the beach, I indulged in the pleasure of imagining it was Camila in the middle of a calm, pleasant moment. An ordinary moment.
I noticed a few hours later, in the midst of a good cry, that I had not, until the scene was forced upon me – in such a casual way, as all these scenes are – that I had not allowed myself to think of the future she had lost. For these 11 months, I had been stubbornly sticking to the easier path: I had been thinking nearly exclusively of what I was set to miss. All the usual hopes and dreams of grandchildren, love and affection in my old age, someone to sit beside me and simply hold my hand once I became slow and silent. Like all parents, I had had specific, unarticulated hopes. But never, until this day, had I allowed myself to even come close to thinking about what Camila was going to miss. I just couldn’t go there.
That woman on the beach, blithely sunning in the distance, forced me to see it. Suddenly, all the pictures of Camila playing with children began rotating like a slide show in my mind. All the big laughs, the little wonders – and then the talk, talk, talk of the kids she hoped to have one day. An only child, Camila began envisioning her large family from a very young age. I understood, and was glad. I too had wanted a brood when I was young and was very happy to be supportive of her hopes. I had also heard of the ease of grand-parenting and those rumors informed my smug smile and my sweet anticipation: a pack of children would be glorious.
Now, of course, I will not have those grandchildren. Worse, so much worse and so much more sad, is that my daughter will never have the children. And how am I supposed to reconcile that?
As I said, it was a hot day. I got a headache, which is very rare for me. It was one of those dull, persistent headaches, the kind that starts at the temple and ends up at the nape, surrounding your skull with a tight pressure that you can’t ignore. But it was just lowgrade enough to make me think I could.
But I know that I can’t make a headache go away by trying to ignore it, just as I can’t make all of the losses go away by trying to ignore them. I took Tylenol for the headache – and had that good cry for the rest. Both helped to relieve my symptoms.
People in the circle know what surviving means: It means being able to meet the visions and memories and thoughts around every corner. It means surviving that.