During my walk with my dog today, we came upon someone else who was walking a dog, as we often do. I made polite conversation as we rounded the corner, but when the young man said, “We do what we can,” it took me a moment to realize he was making reference to his dog. “It’s permanent,” he said, as I noticed the brace on the back leg.
“He’s broken,” he went on to say.
I was struck by his diction. Such a simple explanation, such a common term. Broken.
Maybe that’s the best way to describe me in the months immediately following Camila’s death. I came to understand that being in a state of mourning is akin to losing your fine motor skills. You still have the muscle but your body doesn’t always obey the subtle commands. And the change is in the details.
I remember the first thing that deteriorated was my handwriting. I simply could not hold a pen the same way. My grip weakened. My cadence was also off: I couldn’t move the pen across the page in a smooth uninterrupted sequence. I kept stopping and having to re-start. My pen would zag. Sometimes even walking was awkward, difficult. My feet would drag. I remember leaning on my sister’s arm as we walked toward a store. I didn’t think I could take an unassisted step.
I was broken.
After such a loss, none of the other losses mattered. In those first months, I lost other things, much less important things. I lost a sense of the date, quickly lost the days of the week. I couldn’t tell you if it were Monday or Thursday, and I couldn’t have cared less. In this way, months passed untold. I could not connect to time or season. (I remember realizing that it was spring and blinking, surprised.) It wasn’t only the calendar I lost. I also lost my sense of direction, my ability to track conversations – or remember them. So many things were suddenly and absolutely rendered inconsequential. And they fell away like chaff.
While my brain turned itself around this one piece of reality it had to fathom, the rest of my mind graciously took a holiday, asked nothing of me, not even the day of the week.
The man on the corner continued. “But we’ve been together for 13 years, and I’m used to having him around. I don’t mind slowing down,” he said.
I thought back to my body’s slow unwind, my mind’s diminished speed, my reluctant will.
I had slowed down. S l o w e d d o w n . I can hardly remember anything I did in those blurred months of hard mourning. I woke, I walked, but I doubt I was fully conscious of the world around me. I couldn’t be. My inability to connect was directly correlated with my inability to care about connecting. It was a non-starter, like me: a non-issue.
Slowing down is one of the ways my body gave me time to catch up – catch up to my mind, to my truth, to the terrible bad reality I had to accept.
And just how much time does it take to accept your child’s death? No time at all and all the rest of the time you have. They are gone: there’s the difference: irrefutable. A matter of fact. But how can you accept such a thing, such a bastard truth? How do you stop looking for your child? How long does it take for your heart to stop waiting for them to come home? Well, here is another matter of fact: you don’t.
You just don’t. You don’t stop waiting. Some part of your mind keeps waiting because you cannot stop waiting.
Now, suddenly recognizing I am alert again to days, suddenly seemingly back in the calendar loop, I am also alert to other empirical knowledge.
Camila is not going to come home. I know this, have known this since June 9, 2013.
But I also know this, and I want you to know that it brings me comfort: Some part of me will always expect her. Some part of me will always assume reunion will occur. I will always look for her, wait for her, want her.
Like that young man’s dear pet, I too am permanently broken. My sense of loss will not heal. But I can walk now. And I can write. And I can finally understand what I need to know: my girl died – and I didn’t. Somehow, for some reason, I am aware of the date and time again.
It is June, the warm start of summer, and I am here.