The uncanny and unthinkable and un-metabolizable intruded on the usual hummings of life this week: the news that a child in D's 3rd grade, a child we've known for years and who's mother I had just passed the day before on the street, receiving one of her boisterously cheery smiles as she bobbed by, had been killed when struck by a truck while riding his bike with his father.
Since first hearing the news on Sunday morning while the kids played furiously in the fiercely bright sunshine at the edge of land where Brooklyn meets New York harbor, the statue of liberty in the distance, I have felt a long, slow, weight, like the descent of a heavy stone in the deepest of water, sink down through my gut. It feels like the week has gone on for a month.
Everywhere I've turned I've seen tears and sad faces. The schoolyard, the halls of the school, the streets where I endlessly bump into my friends who are their friends, the coffee store where they knew them, the bakery, my son's drum teacher who is roommates with the boys piano teacher, my friend at the knitting store who taught his mother pilates, my littlest daughter's music class teacher who taught all my children, and her son, and it just goes on and on and on. None of us can fathom how they can survive the loss of their only child. Everyone is just mute and dumbfounded by the mass sadness. And wondering what to do, what can be done, for us and for them. And wondering how to help our own children deal with it.
Unfortunately, mourning has been the theme of the summer for me, and this only intensifies it, especially with the memorial service for my stepfather coming up in a little over a week. I never really knew before how grief and mourning feel--it had been so long since I was a child and my grandparents died--and how mysteriously they can work, and keep working at the edges of one's life, and then stealthily back into the center and then back out again, like a vapor. I know this community will be working on this for a long time.
It's interesting to experience what it's like for a small town, as this big-city neighborhood really is, to have this kind of tragedy hit. So many people who live so closely together are affected. You can't get away from it. And neither can the parents get away from all the people and places that remind them of their son. I grew up in a giant city, Manhattan, and moved about 10 times before I left for college, so many neighborhoods hold memories for me, but anonymity felt like the norm. You were alone with your pain. But here, you are less alone. A father I know a little said to me today that the whole school community he's a part of is mourning, too, though few knew this child there. He asked that we let him know if the community is going to do anything to remember the boy, because they all want to give their support, too.
I think we are all trying to find a way to grieve that isn't alone and private. We all want some kind of communal experience. Some way, I think, to transced all the boundaries that keep us in our separate spaces. We all come together to pick up our children and press together in the school yard and then we all fan out and go back into our separate apartments and lives. We love parks and festivals and outdoor concerts and places and times when we can sort of blend in with each other and lose the feeling of the boundaries and separations, and then at times like this we remember them again, that this happened to them and not us, or to us, generally, but not to them, all the other people walking around who have no idea. Life stops and life goes on. We're inside and outside.
I've always been fascinated and kind of horrified, I think, by all the separations between people, all the boundaries. We may be friends and feel warmth for each other and want to be close and enjoy sharing time and friendship, but then the membranes of family boundaries and even, in the city, the flimsy yet final walls between us--the very walls of our houses--take us back inside, away from each other. We have our different families, places we belong or are condemned to, places we are excluded from. My family is mine, yours is yours. My house is mine, yours is yours. My life is mine, I can't have yours and you can't have mine. I think my constant interest in these kinds of separations has to do with feeling so exiled from the world as a child. I felt I was somehow imprisoned in the sadness and lonliness and foresakenness of my life even though right there, right there, were others living such different lives. And, of course I could never really be a part of my father's life, even though I went there every other weekend and half of vacations.
I remember practically vibrating with excitement when I read the phrase "a different species of time" that William Shawcross used to describe how he felt about looking across the Thai border into Cambodia as the nightmare genocide of Pol Pot raged in Cambodia and life went on as normal in Thailand, the two experiences separated by an arbitrary yet deathly final line in the dust. It resonated because my sister came from there, the other side, and even though the international community knew what was happening, all the people within that space were left on their own because of that line, that membrane made of ephemera like politics and national sovereignty.
Now we get to go on with our lives as they were and these parents don't. Finally, we can't really share with them what we have.