Last time my son and I went to the aquarium, I watched as he, happy as ever, he raced through the tunnels of fish, calling out excitedly every time he saw a big turtle, a sawfish sleeping on sand, a stingray floating overhead, its mouth opening and closing, a shark with its pale eyes and teeth steadily swimming. I made my way through the tunnels more slowly, weaving the small blue umbrella stroller around the other people, watching them as they were watching the fish.
I watched too as a woman smiled at a man and handed him their small son. I wondered if we had ever been them. It seemed so far away, as if another life entirely, when I had been wife. Far away from the early years when my husband still bought me daisies and kissed me goodnight, even from the later years when what he gave me was his silence and I sat in bed watching him sleep, the only time he seemed at peace. Far away from when he was still a body and not a film canister of ash, tucked away in a drawer.
He was wrong. All those times he told me I was strong, he was wrong. How else to account for how these days I can’t seem to keep it together, sitting up in the long nights while our son sleeps, worrying, weeping over all the things that won’t stop breaking my heart? Small children in the arms of other fathers. Commercials with whole families. Unused left sides of beds. Even those who called me friend. Even, some days, my son’s sunny smile. All this, proof. He was wrong.
He was wrong. How else to explain the morning I found myself crying in the bathroom at work again? How else to explain how all I wanted was a cup of coffee and someone to share it with and instead I was in the bathroom, staring at my face, crying over strangers, the way that man had smiled back at her and taken the child in his arms. The way that man had smiled back.
I would dry my eyes, slap some makeup on my face. I would smile and say hello; be the person that everyone expected. The one who gets stuff done. The smart one. Reliable, efficient. The one who at work, or for the people who matter to her, can be counted on. The one who shows up. The one who keeps showing up. And later today perhaps I will also be the one to stop at the store, to buy my own flowers, bright ones to fill my table, to try again tomorrow to prove him right, to believe that once, I had been enough.
Had I been enough? I could be enough. There could be proof.