I have no way of knowing, that reading this piece would make the soft pulsing organ in the hull of my ribs ache with indescribable sadness.
A mother. A runner.
“I thought of you when I read this, you’ll see why,” was my friend's explanation for the link to this story in my inbox, referring, no doubt, to the fact that the school mentioned is my high school alma matter. It takes me until page four to understand that this is probably what he means.
And maybe it is because of this--that I know the geography of her life--that this piece has the effect that it does.
She was pushing Julian up just to keep him above the water. She would raise him, sink under the water herself and then reappear.
I read through to the end and feel broken open sitting in my studio among sheaves of research for my thesis, the window open just a little to let some cold spring air into the stillness of the room.
Outside I hear my boys driving a remote control car across the newly greening lawn; the car’s small motor makes a whirring sound, like a hive of angry bees. The dog barks at it every so often; high pitched, uncertain, her head tilting to the side. Then she settles down with her bone under the crabapple and watches uneasily as they run pell-mell, laughing.
The sky has been gray since dawn. All morning I’ve caught myself wishing it were different. I want the sun to come back the way it was all last week: mellow and golden and so warm the lilac started to send out furling tender leaflets.
Maybe it’s this that makes me fold in against myself when I finish reading; like one of those Leatherman tools, where everything is rendered useless in its compact state; knives and saw blades and pliers all folded against each other.
They were less than 10 feet away from her, but in the time it took Caleb to turn back around, Rhiannon had breathed her last breath and vanished into the sea.
When the finish line is moved, runners struggle to continue beyond the expected terminus.
It isn’t just the facts of the story. Because later I go back and read other reports in local newspapers, and each reporter describes incident in the typical anonymous tone such papers tend to take on purpose so that no one becomes too alarmed: “Healdsburg woman washed out to sea.
I think it is the way piece in weaves the grief into container of tenderness; the way the author gathers the facts and turns them over and over, like pebbles on the shore, looking for understanding, that moves me to tears.
It’s damn good writing.
There was a time when I might have managed to read this piece and move on. But then I had one son, and then another, and with their births I become utterly permeable. The world slips in now through my breath; my eyes; the very pores in my skin.
Now, I cannot move on. The grief lingers in my chest all afternoon like a carrier pigeon in its wicker create. I don’t know how to release it, or where to tell it to fly.
I run and errand and when I return, Sprout, who has been napping, has just woken up and he runs to greet me, his arms held open. I press him to me and his smell his scent like it is a thing that can sustain me.
T looks up from rewiring the brake cables on his bike. “What’s the matter?” he asks, seeing my face.
I tell him, in as few words as possible, trying to be obscure so that Bean, who is puttering about at the opposite corner of the room wont hear, but he stops to listen. I tell the part about the way she held her son above water until he could be rescued and then slipped under, and Bean takes one look at me and says, “That makes me sad” and in an instant he is beside me, folding his small wiry body against my birdcage chest.
I hold him there and cry silently, with gratitude and for my tender boys; for the fact that I am their mother, at whatever cost.