They never got to say goodbye.
The wind carried his words away so quickly that I almost missed it. His tears were so deep and wrenching that his little body shook as I held him, standing in the parking lot as the dark clouds roiled overhead like the storm we were trapped inside. Caught between his need and hers, my son wound his arms around my neck while my daughter pulled at me from below.
When my husband died, familiar rituals lingered painfully before we laid them to rest with him. From the moment that the kids were old enough to listen, we gathered in the living room and read one last book before bed. Together we escaped to places where zofts slept aloft and wild things gnashed their teeth. We explored with Olivia, got fancy with Nancy and ate Alphabet Soup. We danced in the moonlight and imagined all of the places we would go.
That night, we gathered as we always did. Arguing over who got to pick the book, they looked at me strangely as I heard my voice come from far away.
We aren’t reading a book tonight. Mommy needs to tell you something.
After that, bedtime became angry and rushed and the books lay untouched in disheveled piles. When we tried to regain our bedtime ritual, we fidgeted where we once were content and familiar passages were skipped over. In the dead of night they would crawl into my bed and like Maurice Sendak’s wild things we would find sleep in a pile of arms, legs, pillows and stuffed animals. But we would not read the book that had once come to life in our living room – a pack of gnashing, rolling, wiggling, roaring and laughing wild things of our very own creation.
We catalog our memories. We hang on to every first and burn favorites onto the hard drive that is our memory. But it is the last ones that are seared the deepest – those final traces of a life that will never be re-lived. Last words replay over and over.
I love you. I love you, too.
Watching the wild things come to life on screen, I saw a little boy’s pain come rushing out. A father no longer there, a mother struggling to rise above her own pain, and a child’s anger at the unfairness of it all – an endless imagination offered escape. And suddenly the dam that had stood strong for so long burst, a torrent of pain rushing out and sweeping us away as the rain fell on tear-stained cheeks.
I never got to say goodbye, Mom.