Excerpt from Standing on One Leg by Neal Raisman which is available through the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
How many children do you have?
Do I have?
Did I have?
How do I answer that? How do I stop the rising sadness as I think.
I had two. Now. One? No two. He always exists/ Even if he doesn’t. He is here. No. I don’t know where he is. Is he anywhere?
I have one. Shana.
But I had two Shana and Issac.
So what is the answer? How can I respond without denying him or the truth. I have one now.
Why did you ask? To cause pain. Increasing the longing for what I cannot have. Two children. Here. With me. Touchable. Huggable. Breathing. Living. Why did you ask? It’s just a common courtesy question. Socially acceptable intercourse. A nicety? But not acceptable or nice when you ask the father of a dead son.
But she doesn’t know. Doesn’t think about death. About how I grieve so for him. For Aileen and Shana. And myself. For our loss that you just brought up again like blame thrown in my face. As if I should have two now still. And I feel it gorging in my throat. Behind my eyes and in my moth. It curling down and out as if fighting the pain f hammer on thumb. But this is hammering on my being. Being alive. To answer unintentional questions that burn my spirit.
Why ask me that? Do you know? What to watch a man in pain. See how he suppresses tears. Rage?
Nah, just accidentally right on target space filler question.
I have one but I had two? Can’t deny his existence but no longer have him. Have him here. But I still have him. He is here all the time but none of the time.
Tell this person I have/had two? Do I need the pity rush today. Do I want to retell the story? Will she really hear the loss. Or merely rubberneck in the tale of death and want move on quickly. Oh I’m so sorry. It must be terrible. As if asking how’s the weather? Phatic statements. Filling in the silence.
“I have two. A daughter and a son who died at age 26.” And the condolences “I am so sorry. That must be terrible?”
I want to say that she has no idea how horrible. How horrific it is to live without him. How it pains me that I can’t help Shana understand how much I love her but have trouble showing it now. Surface emotions just a comb over trying to pretend my emotional range did not fall away.
I want to say she could never understand the torment. Screams of agony repressed at the top of my throat. A desire to smash her and everyone around who is happy. Wishing to cause enough hurt so others really understand. A hurt that makes pulling out someone’s fingernails, smashing finger, being drawn and quartered pleasurable in comparison.
So I say he died of meningitis. And tell the abbreviated story. Readers Digest version.
“I’m so sorry.”
Look at one another for a moment. Then move on to another topic or person. The question remaining for me like a wound that does not heal.