by Jennifer Sey
I get overwhelmed. I do. I think I may seem to have it together to the people I work with, to my friends. But sometimes I just want to fall apart. Just crumple in a heap and cry for days. Stare at the walls, drink nothing but tea and vodka. Eat only potato chips, never change out of my pajamas. Never brush my teeth. It all just seems like too much sometimes.
The kids fighting. Smacking each other with the intent to really do some damage. (And then happily reading comics together a mere 5 minutes later). The pressure to support the family. Just me. Supporting myself, the kids, the soon to be ex even. What if something happens to me? What if the powers that be just decide they don't need me anymore? I don’t pull my weight. I'm no good. I am no longer shiny and new (I was never really shiny to them anyway but even less luster is surely possible). What if, I am, proverbially, pink slipped? Any of these things could happen. Why won't he share this burden with me?
And then, I am stopped in my tracks. In the midst of being overwhelmed, tragedy strikes an old friend. Friend might not be the right word. An idol. Tracee was a gymnast, slightly older than me. A child wonder and member of the 1980 Olympic team, the team that didn't compete due to a US led boycott. Politics intervened in an incomprehensible manner, at least to a bunch of teenagers who'd trained more than half their lives for this. And, of course, the starry eyed children that anticipated the Russia games and the chance to see a Kathy or Beth or Marcia win a medal. We loved Nadia and Olga, but were just aching to see one of our own up there on the podium.
Tracee went on to participate in the 1984 games in Los Angeles; no longer the spunky youngster, four short years later, she was a senior member of the team that won silver, a first for USA Gymnastics. Though this team was led by Mary Lou, at least according to the TV coverage and post games Wheaties boxes, I cheered for Tracee and Kathy Johnson. The mature. The graceful. The courageous.
Tracee always had a kind word of guidance for me or any teary eyed young girl, who just fell off the beam, or face planted her last tumbling run. She had been through it. The ups and downs. She was on top and then she wasn't. She was perseverance incarnate and had the silver medal to show for it.
And in the last few years, we became email friends. She read my book. "Thank goodness," she said. "Someone finally said it all." What courage, she said. This, from courage itself.
This tragedy knows no mercy. Her son, Miles, not yet 5, accidentally strangled himself. The smile on this kid could melt a heart, un-panic a panicker. Remind you why you're here. And why nothing is that bad. Except this.
I have ached for her over the last week. How to undo what is done? How to will her the chance at maybe not happiness but peace, one day. Is it even possible? It seems maybe not. To lose a child is surely the worst thing that can happen to a person. And for it to happen in such a gruesome manner can only be a relentless nightmare. The woulda coulda shoulda’s must drive a mother to the brink of madness, perhaps even over it. The collision of circumstances required for this to have happened is stupefying. It makes one believe, a non-believer like me, that somehow it had to have been meant to be. How else could this many things have smashed together within the span of a few seconds, to produce such a hideous result? Is there some meaning, some learning, to be gleaned? I don't really think that way, but what can one do at a time like this but search for meaning and pray for the mourners?
I don't pray. Not to God anyway. But I have found myself on my knees in recent days, unable to catch my breath. Please make it so that this child did not suffer. Please make it so that his parents can remember the sweetness of his breath, the stars in his eyes. Please make it so that they can find their way to some sort of equanimity. One day. Please make it so that my boys keep pounding on each other only to find themselves, moments later, reading Iron Man together on the couch. Side by side. In plain view.