Memory #1: There were three in the bed, and the little one said, “Roll over! Roll over!” So they all rolled over and one fell out...
The second I walked through the door, I knew something was wrong. Not yet old enough to read, I could tell by the way Mom propped herself against the kitchen wall with the phone dangling loosely in her hand. My stomach turned inside-out.
“Mrs. Marriner?” said the tinny voice in the phone. “Are you still there?”
Mom put the receiver slowly back to her ear and groaned, “Uh-huh.” Her eyes were unfocused, her lips trembling.
“Is there someone who can look after your daughter? You need to come downtown and identify the body.”
Mom’s eyes came back to life and flitted down to look at me with a mixture of sadness, pity and fear. She clenched her lips together and hung up the phone. I walked toward her, wary, wondering. Mom crouched down and pulled me close. “I love you, pumpkin,” she whispered.
“I love you too, Mommy,” I answered, reassured by the familiar exchange.
“Listen, I have to go run an errand. I... I’ll drop you off at Maddie’s, okay?”
Normally the idea of a playdate would have made me jump for joy. But I knew something was wrong.
“Go pick out a sweater.”
“Okay.” And off I ran to my room, still shielded from the new reality.
* * * * *
That evening, Mom ordered pizza and we sat next to each other at the kitchen table as she explained to me that daddy wouldn’t be coming home any more. I can remember crying, but not really understanding. Mom cried too, even though she did her best to stay strong. She told me a little story about daddy driving to work and a big truck pushing his car off the bridge. Daddy flew and he was still flying. It was just an accident and daddy wishes he could come home, but he can’t, and he still loves me bigger than the universe and sends me kisses and hugs every morning and every night.
The Wisconsin winter rain pounded on the kitchen window. We finished the pizza in silence. Something was wrong and there was nothing either of us could do to put it right.