29 August 2008

The morning after

Thursday afternoon. The son, the daughter and I walk across the street on the way home from school.

The damage to the pavement from the fire has been swept and sanded. Small bits of plastic and other debris still lie in the gutter. Workmen quietly labor over the telephone access box that was destroyed.

High schoolers congregate on the grass verge of the housing development next to the battered light standard. A few adults stand about. A makeshift shrine of flowers and candles has emerged around the pole. I feel searing rage boiling up in my chest and give the man taking photos a filthy look. Sometime late in the day, pictures popped up all over the local newspaper's website: a glove on the sidewalk, bits of wreckage, the dented pole, the dead girl's DMV photo. I need no reminders of what I saw and it sickens me that the news agencies will so readily pander to the vultures.

At home, we spend considerable time talking about what happened. Though the daughter wasn't exposed to the full horror of the situation, she saw enough when she went to school that she is quite upset.

I spend a little extra time with the son. I am especially worried about him. I've lived through this before: five boys I knew in high school were killed in 4 different alcohol-related car accidents, and one of my student workers in my first job out of college died when she was hit by a car running across a dark street with a group of friends. I am especially worried about him because I am not handling this well myself.

He stands in the center of his room, looking at the walls and the bookshelves as if they are new to him.

"So, life just goes on?" he asks me dully.

"Life goes on," I reply.

And it's true. Everything has changed--we will never again be the people we were when we left the house yesterday morning--and yet, very little has changed. Homework still needs to be done, dinner still needs to be made, I will have to mend the son's brand new school pants that he has ripped open.

Dinner is comfort food: sausage and sauerkraut, kasha pilaf and green beans. Ice cream for dessert, with chocolate sauce and sprinkles. I always insist on family dinner, and somehow it helps to restore a sense of normalcy. As we finish saying grace, I ask for special grace for "all those who are suffering tonight." I am thinking mostly of the families and friends, of course, but also of everyone--police officers, deputies, tow truck drivers, hapless passersby--who became part of that accident scene.

The Angels beat the Rangers.

This morning. I drag myself out of bed, definitely feeling gun shy. What could have happened that I don't yet know about? The son drags his feet leaving the house, and lets out an audible sigh of relief when we turn the corner to silence.

"There's nothing there this morning," he whispers to himself.

Puffy-eyed, the daughter stumbles out of her room, and gets herself a glass of juice.

"How did you sleep?" I ask, usually a perfunctory question, but this morning I am hoping for a single word. Fine.

"Nightmares," she mutters. "Everyone kept disappearing and didn't come back."

It doesn't take a degree in psychology to figure that one out.

Later, while she is eating her cereal, she asks, "Mommy, are the people still out there?"

"No, they've gone home."

"Oh," she says.

A few more bites then, "Mommy, is the sheriff still out there?"

"Honey, no. You saw it yesterday when we came home from school. They've swept up all the mess, and there are still some candles and flowers, but it looks pretty much like it always does."

"Oh. Ok."

Her distress is deep.

But when the son and I walked over to the school in the early morning light, it really didn't look like it normally does. It was far too quiet, and it was far too clean.

As we waited to cross the street, a car made an illegal right hand turn in front of us.

Life goes on.

Go listen to some music: "The Morning After" by Maureen McGovern from the movie The Poseidon Adventure.

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