There is a flowering tree a couple of blocks from our house, on the way to the playground. The pink, slightly purpled blooms are just about full now, which used to signify that we would soon be passing by frequently to play in the sprinkler and savor the length of the days. When you have small children in Brooklyn “the park” becomes like an extension of your home. This is where my lonely world of two babies born close together (mine were fifteen months apart) began to spread open a few years ago. I met neighbors who became friends. Parents who I poured my heart out to within minutes of speaking to them. Motherhood turned my world into a sea of details, wants and concerns. Do I use the toxic mosquito spray, or risk the bites which swell up like golf balls? What if they suddenly become allergic to peanuts? How do I help them to be brave, but safe? There are choices you must make when neither way seems good enough for the children you love so deeply that you may burst. And like the line in William Inge’s play, Picnic, “What do you do, with the love you feel?”
There were a couple of summers when the four of us, two kids with their father and I, always seemed to be the last to leave the playground. There were a great deal of water balloons involved. If we forgot to bring some we would walk the square perimeter and scour the ground until we would discover a few unbroken. Our kids would have made friends who would fill them, bring them to me to tie and line them up in rows on the benches. In my memory the balloons still sit there, a string of iridescent pearls, waiting for a battle which would never come.
There were some nights when we would go to use the swings after dark. The chains would squeak in a beautiful rhythm which echoed for blocks. The street lamps bounced spectral light off of the wet pool beneath the sprinklers, which were often left on, forming luminous spray fountains. I would gasp at the beauty of the moments. Time was still, fireflies, the same ones Peter Frampton sang about when I was a kid in the seventies. It’s all about eternity. Your heart fills up so there is nowhere for so much love and beauty to go. You have to save it in your heart for another day, all things will come around again.
A few days back, as I walked by and saw that the blooms had begun on the tree, I did not feel happy to see them. I felt angry that summer was starting to arrive without my daughter. Most of me has not adjusted to the fact that she will not be coming back. My son is growing out of his clothes, running, changing his hobbies and breathing. I look at him not with the same burst-worthy love and pride I have always had, but with much more. I usually see him as if I am looking through broken sunglasses, the ones that fall apart and lose one lens. Full view from one eye, the other eye seeing only the gaping absence of his sister, who should be next to him. I am inconsolable.
So, as I walk by, I note how much I want to scream at the tree flowers. How dare they, how dare they tell me it is May once again, and I can not return to the way things used to be. I am angry that I can not be sad only for my children growing up, which is sad enough, but because I can not see them together again. What if I did scream, what would those flowers do? We are all one. My family, other families, the earth, the flowers. I am sure they would understand. They would scatter their petals in the wind with my tears. They would rain down and pass through the fleeting, beautiful season. They would cry with me. And next year, they would bloom again.