It was clear the Target employee was unsure of how to respond. His question, to him, must have seemed innocuous. It was Father’s Day, and so he’d asked how my son was going to be celebrating it. Evan was holding my tablet, happily watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, his generation’s Mr. Rogers, oblivious to the question. “His father is deceased,” I said, and paid for my groceries.
I packed the groceries and my son in the car and we went on about our day, enjoying the sunlight and each other’s company. He can be sweet when he wants to be, this bright son of mine, mischievous too, but so sweet that my heart swells with it, and aches too for all that he will miss out on in the future, and at times I doubt that I am an adequate substitute for the father he should have had, but this is the role I have been thrust into, being not parent, but parents. And I do not know how to talk about it properly, this mess of feelings inside, with anyone or with him when one day he will be older and want to know. They don’t teach the language of grief in school, like they do Spanish or French or even Latin. It is an older language than those, and one I have never wanted to speak well or even at all. My mouth doesn’t know how to shape these things, how to blunt the edge of them so that they are less like knife and more like song, like whisper, like prayer.
Soon we will move into the after house, the first house I will own without my husband, and there is part of me that wants nothing of the before, the bed, worn into the shapes of our bodies, the plates we picked out for our wedding, the plates we ate ten years of meals off of, the plates I served food on for us together first, the plates I then ate off of alone, the empty plate across the table from me, aching with its bareness, the plate I’d put back in the cupboard after dinner was over, untouched, my husband too lost to his depression to join me. A plate of food was a conversation, a connection; some too were fights or missed opportunities. Others were silent disasters, angrily served. But they were our plates, chosen together, handled, some chipped, cherished. And I cannot bear to look at a single one. Is this the language through which grief speaks to a person, through the stupid tan of stoneware plates?
Today I put away groceries and make my dinner on borrowed plates, mine boxed and waiting for the move. These plates are nothing like mine, and so conjure nothing. They are white with blue flowers, thin. They hold the heat from the microwave too well and almost burn my hands. But it doesn’t hurt. Nothing about these plates hurt. They are merely what they were intended to be, receptacles for holding food, not memories. They are, in the end, just plates. And the others, the ones in the garage? Maybe I will leave them there, in the past. Maybe that this where those plates belong.