Our Hearts Are Full, And They Are Heavy

The baggage claim at Oakland Airport hums with quiet anticipation this seemingly uneventful morning. A small group of parents chats casually as they cross and uncross their arms. Every now and then we glance toward the escalator. We’re waiting.

Waiting for the flight to land. For the luggage to come out. For the kids to sail down the escalator, with backpacks and smiles and stories of new friends, loud songs and whose team won the color war. From the moment they left for Camp Ramah weeks before, we have looked forward to this day.

My heart beats a little faster. Nervous. I am not ready.

It’s been a wonderfully long, hot and adventurous summer and this day, which brings the kids and endless loads of laundry home from camp (will the socks ever be white again?), signals the almost-end. Emails bursting with back-to-school info already flood my inbox. She needs a new backpack, he has outgrown his shorts, and I wish we had all read more books.

I am not ready for school to start, I am not ready for summer to be over, and I am not ready for my daughter and two sons to come down that escalator. I am not ready to pierce their happy, anticipating balloon of home-at-last with my sharp and distressing news.

The hum at the foot of the escalator swells to applause and cheers. They’re home! My now sixth-grader leads the way, his feet barely touching the ground. He must have leapt over that short flight of moving steps, because suddenly he is in my arms, all bony elbows and shoulders, and I notice I don’t have to bend down to hug him.

“Hi Mom. I had a great time! What’s for dinner?”

I laugh and blink back tears of relief and delight, burying my news with its jagged edge under layers of bubbling chatter about his overnight trip and new Hebrew words and which day was the best day.

They have two big duffel bags each, and I wonder if they have come home with more than they left with.

Outside, I am distracted by a plane taking off loudly above us. When I look back down, everything has changed. The bags are scattered on the ground, lifeless and forgotten. Their tears and grief-stricken faces tell me everything.

“He was so old, guys,” I hear my husband say over and over, as he holds them close.

It’s been a week since our beloved dachshund, Pretzel, passed away. These three who were at camp have just heard the news. The air rushes out of their homecoming happiness with an audible pop.

He died an old and happy dog, but none of us were ready.

They are quiet on the drive home, each lost in memories of the silly little dog who was part of their whole lives. Their teen and tween imaginations did not allow for the possibility that their last goodbye was the last goodbye. They could not imagine he wouldn’t welcome them home with licks and a frantically wagging tail. That he wouldn’t sniff their dirty socks for clues of their adventures or curl himself into his signature pretzel right next to them on the couch.

I knew which one would feel this the most. He flew into my arms at the airport and now his mournful cries pull my heart apart, and I know his is in pieces, too. His eyes shine deep and brown with bewildered tears of hurt and confusion. He sobs on and off all day, caught between the happiness of home and the devastating finality of loss.

I want to help him hurt less. I haltingly assure him things I don’t know for sure: that Pretzel wasn’t in pain when he died, that his last thoughts were of his human brothers and sister, that he is so happy we are all together again at the end of this wandering summer. I want to believe these things myself.

But all I really know for sure is that we were not ready, and it is an unavoidable truth that hello and goodbye are always intertwined.

Pretzel: 3/16/2000 - 8/3/2001

Pretzel: 3/16/2000 – 8/3/2015

This post originally appeared in my “In Real Life” column in the J. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, where writers and bloggers gather together to share their versions of a completed sentence. This week’s prompt was, “What I’ll miss about summer…” Hosted by Kristi of Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Lisa (this week’s sentence thinker-upper) of Flingo and Allie of The Latchkey Mom.

Something Is Not So Fresh At The Supermarket

mint

I first notice her between the bananas and the piles of crisp Fuji apples. I catch a glimpse of her long, straight auburn hair and wonder if it’s her, but I need three English cucumbers, and I’m distracted by the bright green mint and beautiful flat-leaf parsley. How is everything still so fresh and abundant in this drought? It’s probably best that I don’t know, and I suppose not everything is from California.

I remember she told me how much she loves shopping in supermarkets in the U.S. Plentiful produce, clean floors, organized shelves.

I turn back toward the cart with my cucumbers and see she is no longer there. I breathe an almost inaudible sigh of relief and shake my head at myself.

This unsociable version of me is new and not all that welcome. Not because she is more reserved and quieter than usual, and not because she would rather be home alone than almost anywhere these days. This is unlike me, but I understand it can happen with age and circumstance and lots of children around all the time. Introspection and inward focus are good things. I’m okay with it. For now.

Antisocial me is unwelcome because she displays a reluctance to greet people she’s recently met. A reluctance, an almost-fear, to meet new people, and a strong desire to blend into the leaves of lettuce and kale for fear of being recognized. If only she were wearing green.

What has me worried and bewildered is that I may be perceived as rude and aloof. Or worse, snooty and unfriendly. The large crowd at the event the other night overwhelmed and frightened me and I stood alone, half-hidden behind a pillar in my brightly colored dress. Silently I prayed nobody would notice me. Nobody would notice me being rude and unfriendly, because how would they know that it was because I was terrified of saying hi to someone new? Terrified to introduce myself to a stranger and embark on a conversation, a connection. Even though it might turn out to be wonderful. The colorful, social butterfly that loves to flit amongst new flowers is suddenly fearful. The flowers look daunting and enormous, and what if she laughs too loud or not at all?

***

I met the woman with the long red hair just three days ago. She and her family are new to town, and she is lovely and friendly. They’ve been living abroad and she seems excited and happy to be back here, close to family and stores that are clean and convenient.

I don’t remember her name but how welcoming and friendly it would be if I walked up to her in the supermarket. Reintroduced myself and asked about her day, her kids. Connected over the brilliantly red strawberries or the boxes of Capri Sun. Five, seven minutes, at the most, of hello and how are you and a smile.

Of course, it’s possible she is feeling as antisocial as I am. Maybe she doesn’t want an almost stranger interrupting her solitude and thoughts. That is possible, but I can’t know for sure.

What I know is that I don’t want to say hello. And I’m disappointed in myself.

I wander around the store, tossing pasta and the organic two percent milk we are always running out of into the cart. Oh good, they have those new yogurt squeezables the kids have been asking for. Of course I forget the cream cheese, which is what I came to the supermarket for in the first place.

I find the shortest checkout line and unload my groceries. I look up from the cart and there she is again, in line right next to me. This is my chance! I can redeem myself, and be the warm, welcoming person I want to be. I take a breath. I open my mouth. The “hi” sticks in my throat and will go no further. It’s a good thing she’s not looking at me.

Suddenly I can’t wait to get home, to unpack all of this, and leave my rudeness in the cereal aisle where it belongs.

I will be back at the supermarket soon enough (probably tomorrow since I forgot the cream cheese). Fresh produce and a fresh start.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “It started in the line at the grocery store…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by Dawn (this week’s sentence thinker-upper), and me here at Red Boots.