We have been driving a few hours and as we near our destination I look in the rear view mirror and see my daughter. Her eyes are big and round, but there is a noticeable distant sadness in them. She sees me looking in the mirror and looks back at me so our eyes lock, looking directly at each other. I am forced to break the glance and look ahead at the road. I cannot say what her thoughts were, only mine.
The last time we made this trip was as a family, with their father, not even three years ago. The last time I saw their brother, my step-son, was a few days after the shooting when I was still in STICU. I don’t remember which day. I only remember by then I had asked, and finally been told my husband had died. My step-son had come to have me sign the financial responsibility papers for the funeral. I thought he had come to see me. Though we spoke on the phone several times after I came home from the hospital, the last time we’d spoken was the first Christmas after.
This journey, fraught with so many conflicting emotions I cannot possibly process them, begun so many years ago, is now through a new and unfamiliar landscape. Several times while driving I had to bring my mind back to the moment. The moment which was peace with my children, who were to be reconciled with their brother.
I am a mother. I am protective. I imagine all the conflicting emotions I have and am sure that my children, too, must feel both excited and apprehensive about the reunion. I want to shield them from any pain of a direct reminder of those days and months, really years after the shooting when their father’s family was a vacuum in their lives. Abandoned by him, left with barely a trace of his family.
We arrive, and within minutes I want to take the children and leave. I immediately sense they are safe to stay there, it is that I am overwhelmed. I stay long enough to be sure the children are comfortable and settled in, long enough to feel like I can leave though it is difficult to leave them.
I get into the car to drive another few hours to my aunt’s house to stay the weekend. I am emotionally numb, shut down, which frightens me as it is reminiscent of how I dealt with the abuse. The intensity of it offset by the impenetrable shell where nothing could hurt. I quickly realize this is not healthy and I need to process what I feel.
I search for and find some common ground with my step son. I realize though our struggles are different, neither would have chosen this. In our own ways, hard as it is to process what happened, we are both free. I don’t imagine it to have come easy for him either. He has worked for it. In him I see a man who chose and has worked hard to create a life quite different than his father. He is a dedicated, loving, loyal, physically and emotionally present father and husband, a forgiving person. He is everything his own father was not to his wife, to his children.
At some point of the drive I acknowledge this milestone in the journey for my children and for me. I celebrate new beginnings, which sometimes are created from painful endings.
Just for today…I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful.