One year ago today, I woke up and I knew. I woke up and saw that look in Matt’s eyes that I knew meant he was going to have a difficult day. I woke up and I missed Matt, even though he was right in front of me.
On November 10, 2017, we re-packed our bags and loaded them into the trunk and planned another full day of activities. Our original plan was to go to the chocolate museum, meet the characters, and then buy tickets for the amusement park—we’d stay for a few hours before heading home. (Because it was off-season at Hershey Park, the amusement park part of the park was only open weekends, meaning our first chance to go on the rides (roller coasters, etc.) didn’t occur until 5 p.m. of our second, and last, day.) But Matt wasn’t Matt and the temperature was a few degrees below bitter cold and we had to change plans. Like before, we needed a new plan.
Instead, we visited the chocolate museum, took another ride through the chocolate making factory, and stalked the characters.
I remember waiting in the lobby for the characters. I remember Matt—who wasn’t Matt at all—was impatient and irrational and agitated. He didn’t want to wait for characters—Hershey and Reese’s and Kiss. He was upset that the hotel concierge could only give us an approximate time for the character appearances. He was tired and anxious for reasons I don’t think he understood. He wanted to go home, but G and H wanted a photo op. He was irrational and threatening to leave. And I was torn.
So I did what any rational mother-caregiver-human would do. I made sure my kids were first in line to take pictures with all the characters. I can’t say for certain that we didn’t cut lines and obnoxiously peek behind curtains for character arrivals. I can’t say for certain that I didn’t push G and H to the front to ensure they took pictures first.
In the moment, I didn’t know what else to do. In the moment, I was thinking simply about survival. Only afterward did I wonder what others thought of our family, whether they listened to Matt’s anger, my placating, G’s and H’s whining, and the way I scrambled to make sure they were first. Only afterward did I wonder how we must have sounded to outsiders. What they did or didn’t think about our marriage, about me or about Matt.
On the ride home, we played twenty questions. When it was Matt’s turn, he had to think of an animal, and we (G, H, and I) were supposed to ask yes or no questions in order to guess the animal he chose. About ten questions into the game, Matt forgot which animal he’d chosen. He’d forgotten that he was the who was supposed to answer questions. He started laughing, and we (G, H, and I) joined in. But I remember the feeling of my heart breaking again, the feeling of knowing something awful was coming. I wasn’t wrong.
When I look back on November 10, 2017, I’m left with these two observations. One: It’s true that you can never really know what’s happening in another family, and sometimes—most times—a little kindness, a little patience, can make all the difference. And two: I didn’t care what anyone thought—we were faced with an impossible situation and doing our best every second of every day and that was all that mattered, even when it looked messy from the outside.