A four-foot box, a foot for every year
- Seamus Heaney
Juanita screams. It’s not a cry. It’s a feral, angry thing. A mother lion reaching out to tear her too-young child from death’s maw.
Andy, almost catatonic, paws ineffectually at his clothes. Juanita, already dressed, pins the last strand of hair into place and then helps her partner out of his pyjamas and into his funeral suit.
Some family members comment on the horribly ironic sunshine of the day. She doesn’t think much of it.
Some friends mention Heaven. She doesn’t think much of that either.
Andy’s fingers are clasped onto hers, desperate. She finds it cloying. She can’t give him what he needs. She doesn’t have the strength.
Juanita stands up and says words and forces inflection into them. Forces the feeling her daughter, Marie, deserves. She feels empty.
She burns the photo in her wallet and throws the pictures on her desk in the trash. She can’t bear the reminder.
Their home is terrible, every room, every door, every piece of furniture has memories attached. She needs to pack up, start anew. She can’t carry on here. She can’t move on here.
“No,” Andy cries, voice cracking on the word, “We need to stay here, where she was.” He clutches Marie’s stegosaurus teddy bear to his chest. There are tears in his eyes.
They can’t support each other. It’s a stark realisation. Instead of holding the other up, they’re pulling them down.
They compromise. She moves all the things that remind her too much into Marie’s room. Andy builds a shrine there and never leaves. Juanita never enters. It hurts them both.
Juanita buries herself in work. She’s moving forward, moving on. This is her new life; her career. She gets home at eleven every night. Takes a few bites out of a microwave meal and puts the rest outside Marie’s door for Andy. And then crashes into bed. (At least this way she doesn’t have to think).
She should talk to Andy, she knows. What he’s doing isn’t healthy. (What she’s doing isn’t healthy either). But that would mean she’d have to talk about the happy little bubbly child they’ve lost. And she can’t. Can’t. Can’t.
They’re both dealing in their own ways that’s all. It takes time. It hasn’t been that long. Actually she’s not sure how long it’s been, as is the timelessness of grief.
They don’t talk anymore. Their opposing griefs crash into each other. It’s too painful. She hears him sometimes, talking to Marie like she’s there, burying himself in memories.
One night she finds Andy standing in Marie’s doorway. “We need to talk. What we’re doing here isn’t good for us.”
For a moment Juanita can’t speak. It’s too much. Too much. Too much. She takes one shuddery breath and another. “No. I can’t. I’m sorry.”
“We need to process this,” Andy says.
“There is no processing this. It just is. Our daughter is dead. People aren’t supposed to lose their children. Your entire life revolves around them. And there’s other stuff, sure, but that… that doesn’t matter…that’s insignificant… like planets. And your child… is the sun. And now there’s…there’s just a hole where that part of you was. And there’s no fixing that. That will always be there. And all we can do is accept that and carry on.”
“Well maybe it’s time you got a therapist.”
Juanita actually organises a therapist for Andy because he won’t for himself even if he wants it. They’re reluctant to come to the house, say it would be better if he came to them. But she talks at them until they agree. They send him to a psychiatrist who puts Andy on medication for depression.
She gets a promotion and Andy starts working from home.
At some point something dislodges and her work actually feels more fulfilling than a mere distraction.
They are getting better. But then the unnamed thing of their relationship needs to be addressed. Their grief has moulded them into strangers. Inhabiting the same space civilly, dealing alone.
The weight of their mutual abandonment in a time of such need is a painful one. And he is part of her old life. Another reminder.
She needs to decide, whether she tries to bridge the distance or walks away. It’s time to move on, she thinks.
She finds a little studio flat with a view of more flats, but she likes it.
Juanita starts working saner hours than before. It gives her more time. She starts cooking again and going out with friends.
She finds a well-built man in a bar. And as he fucks her she remembers how much she loves Andy. It’s surprising. As though there was no room for love against the pull of grief. But that was long ago and too much has changed. She sighs when the man is done, wordlessly pulling her skirt and underwear back on and leaving.
Juanita sees Andy at a bus stop. It’s been years. She pauses between walking past and stopping and waits too long. They are different people now, with these holes inside them that they’ve papered over; that they’ve adjusted to. She doesn’t start with hello or how are you, the words spill from her as though she was nineteen again.
“We should go out. On a date.”
“We’re not who we used to be.”
“So maybe we start again, new, from scratch.”
“And get to know each other. That makes sense. Coffee?”
She smiles. “Sure.”
Written for the topic 'Turn back or forge ahead?'