By Joseph Mills
She stood at the edge of the path, watching the field. She tried to stay out of the way of walkers and joggers. She was conscious about that now. She didn’t care what she looked like, but she didn’t want to be in the way.
She still didn’t care about a lot of things that had used to seem important. Apparently she would again one day. That’s what people in the group said. It was hard to believe. Right now, she felt this would be the rest of her life. Numb. Behind the bleachers. Watching. Far enough away that she couldn’t make out specific children, so she didn’t know who she knew, who, if any, had played with William.
She knew when the games were because she was still on the league’s email list. She still received the soccer updates, the fundraising requests, the announcements for camps and events. She could unsubscribe, but she didn’t.
She didn’t tell John where she went. If he knew, he didn’t say anything. Just like she didn’t say anything about the drinking. No matter what time he decided to start. He had loved coming to the park, but she couldn’t imagine him coming again. Not to this one. Not to any. Parks were for people with children. Or with grandchildren. Or who had children that had grown. Not for them. The people they were now.
But she came. She came and watched practices and games and imagined William was out there, imagined him doing drills, running, even sitting on the bench laughing with his teammates. Sometimes she watched the older kids play. It was like those photo apps that age children to show how they might look in the future. She had heard one of the women in the group talk about it. How she had had it done with her daughter’s last school picture. How it had comforted her. It had seemed a way of…what had the woman said? … unfreezing her. Of not having them simply stopped. Of imagining possibilities. Which was no different than what they had always done when their children had been alive. Constantly wondering who they would become and what they would be and looking for signs of the future. The woman had said that it might seem crazy but that it had helped, and the group had understood. She had understood. What helped, helped. To others, it might seem crazy, like this, coming to the park to watch children who weren’t her own, and maybe the logical thing would be to stay as far away as possible, but it helped her, somehow, and that was all that mattered. What helped helped. For some it was Valium or Prozac. For others, it was Netflix binge-watching or 80 hour work weeks. Maybe someday she would ask John to stop or at least taper a bit. Maybe someday he would ask her to not leave every Saturday morning. Or maybe they would get so far apart from one another that that someday would never come. Right now they were living with each other blindly, bound by routine and muscle-memory, but maybe they would never be able to see each other clearly again. They would become strangers. She knew the statistics for divorce in families where a child had died. And those for an only child. Everyone in the group did, and it annoyed them. What good were the numbers? What could they do about them? It didn’t motivate them, it just depressed them. One more punishment.
Hearing one of the parents talking about the goal at the end of the game, she had had to find a bench to sit. A fluke, he had said. A fluke that it would go in. A fluke that kid would be the one to make the goal. The other parents had laughed and agreed and marveled. As if it was miraculous. Who would have believed it? A fluke. She couldn’t breath. That’s what they had called what happened to William. A fluke. An inch either way, even a half inch, and it would have been different. It was a stupid, awful, accident. A fluke. That too was awful. She didn’t have the comfort of someone being negligent or responsible. Within days, law firms had contacted them about a possible lawsuit against the equipment, the manufacturer, the city, someone. Someone should pay for the horrible tragedy. They had called and emailed and came to the door. They had told her and John they were owed, and she knew that many thought that way, that it helped them, but they weren’t. Not money. It wasn’t fair or unfair. It simply was.
Marcia hadn’t helped by saying that it might seem like a fluke, but it wasn’t. That it was some part of God’s plan, that God had wanted such a sweet boy with him. That maybe he was creating a soccer team in heaven. What a stupid thing to say. What a goddamn stupid thing to say. If she would have had the energy, she would have punched her in the face or asked her to leave, but she hadn’t done anything, and really she knew that Marcia was just trying to help, to say something, to say anything that might offer some consolation. To find words that would help.
But what could be consoling? Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Marcia should keep her mouth shut. Everyone should just keep their mouths shut.
When William had been born, her parents had set up a college fund and tucked the papers for it in a University of Michigan onesie, the school where they had met. Marcia had given them a dozen Caldecott books as the start of a new library. John had bought stock in William’s name in each of the top twenty Fortune 500 companies. Each of them imagining a future, and she had insisted, again and again, that she didn’t care what their son would be — a doctor, CEO, teacher — as long as he found something in his life that he loved. And, he had. Soccer. All he wore to school were jerseys. He spent his TV time on matches and replays. He only wanted an Xbox so he could play FIFA. The night before a game, he would wash his own uniform, and he would pack his bag, and he would put everything by the door to be ready, no matter what time the game was, morning or afternoon. When they would get to the field, he would start running and zig-zagging with a pure joy. He had found something he loved, and was good at. One of his first coaches had come over to them and said, “Billy is going to score a lot of goals. A lot of goals.” It had been a thrill to hear parents of his teammates call his name and know who he was, and to have people on the opposite team yell “Guard that guy. Someone get on #3!”
So was she supposed to be grateful? That what she had hoped for him, that he would discover a love and a passion, had happened? Was she supposed to think that his ten years were better than some people’s eighty? That he had had a full life? That he was spared the possible disappointment of not making it to a higher level, of having a career-ending injury, of losing his enthusiasm and love of the game? That they were spared seeing him fat and watching TV on the couch, remembering how he used to be an athlete?
She didn’t feel grateful. She didn’t even feel cheated anymore. On this sunny weekend morning, in this park full of families, she didn’t feel anything at all. That’s why she came.
Copyright Mills 2016