the nature of the panic, 2

I sit at the boarding gate, waiting. I pace. I sit down again. There is a small bird on the ledge on the other side of the glass. It is the size of my closed fist. White breast, speckled brown. Lying on its side, its legs and feet bent stiff.

I listen to the conversations of strangers. A man, black hair and v-neck sweater holds his phone to his mouth, his lips on it: “I’ll be there soon, Mother. I love you. I’ll see you so soon.”

I stare at the bird. Photograph it. Stare at my phone, at the image of it and back to the bird itself through the glass. The early morning light is so blue. I get up again. Walk from one end of the terminal to the other. A child runs past me, trips on her shoelaces and falls, sprawled out on the floor. Her mother scoops her up in one motion without stopping. 

In the city, I rise early to walk through the park, the dark canopy of trees overhead. On the sidewalk, beneath the streetlamp, my body casts two shadows. I watch one pass through the other. One version of myself overtakes another. But which?

The morning advances. On the other hand, I am standing still in a dark island of trees. 

On the flight, the man seated next to me explains the construction of one thing or another. He says: “I make each of the pieces by hand. They take days to dry completely. Then I paint them.” He extends his upturned palm, as if there is something held there. He pinches the thumb and forefinger of his other hand together and mimes making brush strokes at his other open hand.

A thin stream of air blows down on me, makes a hissing sound. The man smiles, showing small, square teeth. 

At the ocean, I wade out past where the waves break foamy on the sand. The water is green not blue. I float. I dive. I let the water carry me. 

Beyond the low dunes, a construction crane rises up. Patches of pale sky are visible between the mirrored glass columns of the high-rise hotels. The steady drone of machines in the distance and up close, the soft lapping of water. Competing frequencies in which I attempt to locate the rhythms of my own beating heart. 

I meet a man who lost both his parents by the time he was fourteen. His mother at six, his father a few years later. His grandparents refuse him, the ungainly inconvenient teen he has become. They take his siblings instead, a brother and a sister, still moon-faced with downcast eyes. He rents a room near a restaurant where he washes dishes and mops floors. “It was as if I had never had parents at all.”

I talk about my children. I talk about my work. I keep checking the time. I excuse myself to my companions. Back in the hotel room, I stare at my keyboard until the letters and numbers blur. I fall asleep sitting up in my bed. 

This is the way I remember it: The early morning light, her white room. Silence except for her labored breaths. Her hand in my hand. Her thin pale skin. Her breathing slows then stops.

If I gasp, if I make a sound, I do not remember it. If I bring her hand to my heart, I do not remember. If I bring my face close to hers, to press my lips against her dry cheek, the skin still warm, the lingering sour smell from her mouth, I do not remember, though I try.

Though I wake in the night with my fingers to my lips, as if I were kissing her face in a dream in the moment before I was stirred from sleep. Now, she has been gone from me for longer than I knew her. And the questions multiply with each year that passes. 

There is only one story I will ever tell though there are two mothers about which to tell it. And I will tell it over and over, till I am too weary to speak. And it will be about a longing in my bones for which there is no language. And it will be about losing love for reasons that I cannot understand. And it will be about wading into the sadness and the shame and letting the weight of it envelop me. There will be days that crush. There will be days that lift. 

In the ocean, I lie back and float. The sky is gray with clouds that obscure the sun though I can feel its heat. A wave is forming, building strength and its approach interrupts my reverie. I look to the shore and recognize nothing. I have drifted so far from where I began.