10 years ago today, I had big old belly with the makings of a boy cooking inside me.
I was staring down the barrel of December, a step mom to 5 kids who weren’t thrilled about the arrival of their newest sibling.
Desperate to make everyone feel special, I shopped for the holiday with crazed intensity, wheeling around my new stroller filled to bursting with shopping bags from Abercrombie and Fitch, Express and Pac Sun.
My son was due on Christmas, a seemingly cosmic insult to the other kids who just wished their world would stop being so tumultuous already.
10 years ago today, I was driving around in a red BMW convertible and my oldest step child was 17. We had three crazy dogs, all gone now, and two elegant kitties, also gone. We had just built a stone patio in the back yard and taken our first of many group pictures sitting on its wall, my youngest step daughter’s hair in double French braids, all the others forcing themselves to smile.
10 years ago today we had one year and 10 more days of thinking life was normal, even with all the challenges of living together—a group of seven people damaged in one way or another by the unpredictable events of their lives.
If you had asked us then what was on our minds, what would we have said? Would we have complained about each other, all of us worried the others were getting more love or more stuff for Christmas?
What would we have done if we knew that in 375 more days, my stepson Bobby, my children’s brother, my husband’s son, would hang himself with a belt from the closet bar in his bedroom in the basement?
I look back and see us as if we are framed in light, my abdomen distended and my face swollen with the task of growing a person who is now over five feet tall with opinions on topics ranging from how he likes his eggs scrambled to what color shirt he will wear to school.
I see the four girls sitting together in the basement, a place we all avoid now, tacking away on their computers, worrying about dial up connections, gossiping and teasing each other about crushes and clothes and who was the best boy band; 98 Degrees or New Kids On The Block.
I see my husband hurrying off to the train station to make the opening bell down at The Board of Trade, and walking back after a hard day of work, his strides long, his arms full of the mail he picked up at the post office on his way home.
He always had a smile on his face no matter what had happened downtown because his two littlest girls were racing down the street to greet him.
I see Bobby standing next to me at the fabric store as we pick out bolts of fake fur to decorate his room downstairs. He turned that room into a legendary dude pad complete with a smoke machine, mirrored disco ball, leopard print bed linens and a huge cut out of the Playboy bunny logo onto which he glued a length of white acrylic shag.
He would use other swaths of that same fabric to cover the interior of his Jeep and the giant speakers he installed in the back which throbbed with base notes so loud we could hear him coming before he ever even turned into the neighborhood.
10 years ago today, though we had all suffered in this house, we were still innocent.
We had known pain, but we hadn’t known grief.
We had known sadness, but we hadn’t known the finality of death or the permanent echoes it puts in motion which bounce ceaselessly off all the walls of your heart. Those discordant echoes that warp and eclipse so many other sounds, and in the presence of which it is hard to be sure what is real and what is imagined.
10 years ago today, everything was different and I never could have imagined what this day would be like.
I couldn’t have known the sweetness that would come from refusing to let Bobby’s death tear this family apart, or the love that would take root and bind us all together irrevocably and effortlessly, where once it was so taxing to cultivate. I didn’t know that age brings a softening, and strangely a bounty of gratitude, despite all the bad things, just for the fact that we continue to live and breathe and see.
I wonder what this day ten years from now will bring.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman