A little voice startles me out of my thoughts: “How do you spell mosquito?” I peel my distant stare from my desk and put on my teacher mask, the one that reassures my students that the world is a calm and steady place, even when it isn’t. When I look into her face, I see someone else.
“It was a girl,” her voice echoes in my head. “She was perfect.”
I help her sound the word out one syllable at a time. She asks me why there’s a letter U in the word when you don’t say it. I hear myself say something about how Q and U are friends and always hang out together. Satisfied, she flits away, her skirt swishing against the backs of her legs, and I think about life, how immense and how fleeting and how fragile, and that yawning vacancy in my heart grows more prominent.
I consider calling the principal, going home, going to her. I came to school today because it was the only thing that felt normal after hearing my daughter’s wilted voice on the other end of the line. I don’t recall what I said to her. I can only hope it was the right thing. I remember gasping, then apologizing, but everything else is swallowed by grief.
She’s so far away. I can’t get to her. I can’t hold her. I can’t comfort her. I can’t even tell her everything is going to be okay because I know it will ping off of her like a ricocheting bullet. I would topple buildings like abandoned sandcastles and rip roads right from the ground like a loose hem if it meant I could get to her.
My husband topped off the gas tank in our Honda. We were on standby. If she calls us, we’ll be there. There won’t be a moment of hesitation. I can’t remember a time in our thirty-one year marriage that I’d ever seen such a look on my husband’s face. Helpless. Lost. He looked older than he did at the breakfast table fifteen minutes before.
My gaze settles out on my second graders, hard at work on their writing assignments, and I wonder. I wonder what she would’ve been like. Who she’s would’ve looked like. Would her features favor my daughter’s apple cheeks and wavy hair? Or my son-in-law’s deep set blue eyes and thin mouth? Would she have been restrained like her mom or gregarious like her dad? I will never know. I will never feel her in my arms. I won’t be able to celebrate my elevated status.
I check the phone in my pocket, slipping it out enough to see a corner of the screen. My students are easily distracted by them. Ask to take selfies. They use a word that isn’t even as old as they are.
My chest seizes when I see nothing on the screen. There’s no update. No news. I notice a smudge from a tear left behind from this morning and I buff it off on the lining of my pocket. Maybe she doesn’t need me. Maybe she really can do this by herself. Maybe… maybe I can’t.
Tears flood my eyes and I stand, my legs weak and wobbly. I pull everything into the center, drawing in all the pain and looking for a place to bury it. It’s so raw it blisters my insides. I pass through the aisles, checking work, cringing at some of the spelling attempts. Trying for normal.
I see her in this room. I see her in every one of these little lives, hear the call of motherhood in every beat of these little hearts. I think of the heart that stopped beating today and can’t believe how entwined it already was with mine. I hardly knew her. But I loved her.
Rain spills down the windows, the gray sky fitting for a day that changed so quickly, like the earth knew it was supposed to be sad. I can still hear the sigh that her brother released when I shared the news, long and harsh. He didn’t say much. He only wanted to know that she was okay.
Was she? Was she okay?
I want to call her, to hear her voice, but I don’t want to feel those fissures in my heart embed themselves ever deeper. I want to steal all her agony and gather it up and take it from her. To make it mine so she doesn’t have to hurt.
The clock ticks and wakes me up. I am still here. I have a job to do. I end the writing session and have them all line up for gym. The chorus of tiny voices and chairs scraping across tile jostles the stillness of the room and I breathe it in. I don’t even harp on them for using their outside voices before they’re outside. The chaos, for a moment, distracts me from mine.