vigil

It is early when I walk with K. on the long, tree-lined boulevard, and we watch as the dim pre-dawn light gives way to morning.

“I feel like I’ve spent the last month in hospitals and at funerals,” she says. The elderly uncle’s passing was sad of course, but the one that really haunts her is the man who was in a coma. “He was there for weeks. I sat by his bed and read to him for hours.”

“The first few days he was there, so present, you could feel it,” she says, “you knew he was there. But by the end, he was just gone. I watched – I could see the life just drain out of him.”

She nods to the runners who are coming at us from the opposite direction – her neighbors. The damp leaves are slippery underfoot.

“It’s supposed to rain this afternoon,” she says. We walk on a bit in silence. She says, “I guess we knew that days like yesterday couldn’t last forever.”

I take my daughter out last night, just the two of us, and we catch up on the varied and sundry dramas that define her tenth-grade life. “I declare this the year of social awkwardness,” she had said in September, and it has played out, more or less, as she expected. We are at a crowded little café in an area of the city where we are not likely to run into anyone we know. She has dyed her hair again – purple this time, and she shrugs off the glances – the curious and the critical – with an ease that I – twenty-five years her senior – have yet to master.

She gestures with her hands as she speaks. Her fingers are long, her movements graceful. Between conversational bursts, she picks at her apple crumble and sips her vanilla chai, which she has declared to be unequivocally “delicious.”

In her early school years, she was criticized for terrible handwriting. I expressed mild outrage at this, thinking that perhaps her teachers were too rigorous in their attempt to find areas for improvement. But when the sheet came home with tips and exercises that parents could do to help, it was M. who spent the after-dinner hour with her while she practiced the “wheelbarrow:” M. holding her feet up while she walked on her hands around the coffee table and from one end of the living room to the other.

Whether this strengthened her hands and fingers, and whether her writing was better for it, I cannot say with confidence, but the time they spent together, and the quiet moments after when they would sit, side by side on the couch, ice cream sandwiches in hand, stand out in my memory as hours of particular and shining grace.

On the walk, K. and I talk about work. About the next thing. We are always, it seems, trying to move things faster. The language we use feels forced, pre-packaged: we are scaffolding solutions, we are leading change, we are fostering sector-wide innovation. She is a poet, but she struggles. Her interests are so broad and her capacities so deep that she is pulled in all directions. Make time for the writing, make space for it, we say to each other. But this is, of course, easy to say in the early morning light, ambling down a leaf-strewn pathway.

When I get back from the walk, M. and the boy are drawing at the kitchen table. When he sees me, my son throws his arms over his paper, shouts, “I’m making a surprise for you, don’t look!” I catch a glimpse of hearts with arrows through them and what looks to be a giant floating basketball. “I’m not looking,” I assure him as I sit down across from them.

For a time, the room is quiet. They go about their projects and I watch them, their brows furrowed in concentration. The tip of my son’s pencil breaks and the sudden sobs that come up in him seem to carry whole lifetimes of anticipated disappointment.

This afternoon, as predicted, the rain comes. The sky is dark and the air turns cold. A postcard announcing an event at the Convention Center has been tucked under my windshield wiper and the rain has made a soft pulpy mess of it, leaving inky bits of paper smeared across the glass.

I am thinking of the man that K. read to in the hospital. Did he hear her? Did he know the vigil she kept for him?

And I am thinking of the children he left behind. Of all the things he will not know of them. That they will not know of him.

And of the fragile threads that hold us all in place – to each other, to our lives, to the damp earth beneath our feet. Of the rain that continues, relentless. The darkening sky.