July 24: The Memory of An Absence

A year ago today, the story looks identical to one I’ve told too many times. Camp and t-ball for the kids. Work and a late night (evidenced by a “hangry” bitmoji at 9:39 p.m.) for Matt.

For some reason, I remember this t-ball game more than I remember any of the others in the season. Maybe because the field was an obstacle course embedded with deep puddles and we couldn’t get to the bleachers without squishing through mud. Maybe because I remember worrying H would slip into one of those puddles and then refuse to ever play t-ball again (which is more or less how my childhood soccer career ended). But I don’t think so. I have a vague memory of hoping Matt would make it to this game. And an even vaguer recollection of him hoping to make it to the game, too.

I’m not sure why this t-ball game stands out, but it feels relevant in the way the last lingering note of a melody feels relevant in the moments before silence descends. But that could be because I’ve read ahead in the text messages, and I know every moment free from the weight of worry from here on out matters that much more than before. Or, possibly, I’m simply feeling sentimental because this Post-hope year has found new ways to challenge and torture, and we—G, H, and me—, have been forced to once again redefine how hard we want to fight through the noise and chaos.

The other night I took G to her first concert. I can say with uncompromising certainty that the night will be one she remembers for the rest of her life. I can say with the same uncompromising certainty that watching her watch the concert will be something I remember for the rest of my life. I will remember her unfiltered joy, the wonder in her face, and also, because this is post-hope, the grief wave that hit her the moment we walked into the concert venue.

Amid the photo ops and torrential downpours, my sweet eight-year-old daughter who deserved a night of unblemished joy pulled me aside and said, “I’m really sad I can’t tell daddy about this.”

At the end of the concert, G told me she wanted to take singing and guitar lessons. I told her okay and was struck, not for the first time, by the truth that she—and H—are limitless. They each have a future full of limitless possibilities and Matt won’t be there to watch alongside me. My own grief wave.

Grief seems to hit hardest when we’re unprepared. Grief is, apparently, the antagonist who takes the cheap shot while the hero isn’t looking.

I wrote a while ago that every happy moment is tinged with sadness. G’s first concert was no exception. The grief wave roared into our night without regard for the laughter and fireworks and enthusiasm around us. Grief crashed against our hearts and could have destroyed a night which held the potential for magic.

Grief failed.

The night was magic and more. The night was friendship and memories, music and the discovery of a new dream, which may or may not be the dream next year on July 24th; she is limitless, after all.

A year ago today, Matt didn’t make it to a t-ball game and his absence made a mark in my memory. In post-hope, Matt’s absence will likely make a mark in every memory. Then and now, that mark is exhausting and challenging and sad. But now, unlike then, we’ve been submerged in the densest parts of the darkness and we’ve fought our way through. Now, unlike then, we are acknowledging that this is hard and not letting a stumble define our journey. Now, unlike then, we know the story doesn’t always have a happy ending and we are nevertheless actively choosing hope.

The fact that we can do more than we did last year is simply exhausting and challenging and sad. And, also… well, not exactly magic and more (though that would add a nice symmetry to this post), but something else, something profoundly honest and determined and forever hopeful.

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Then and now. And always limitless.

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