Our food came. Everyone else dug in but I just looked down at mine, suddenly disintereted in the sandwich that had seemed so appealing before I saw her. More than once, I felt my eyes fill with tears and more than once, Adam asked if I was okay. I didn't really respond and I think he knew that I wasn't because he saw her, too. I was watching him the moment he saw the hair and the mask and the too-full plate and I saw his expression change. He and I, we're alike in that way. In the way that our expression changes when we see certain things.
After a minute or two, I realized Abby was looking at me, her eyes wide with concern and confusion. She saw her, I think, but somehow it didn't register. I patted her hand and I told her I was fine, though I think she knew I was lying. I ate my food and picked at my fries. And I watched the girl and her family; how her brother sat patiently as she smiled and skimmed her fingers through his shock of light brown hair. How they all pressed her to eat and how she held up her placemat to show off her crayon-aided handiwork.
They got up to go and I felt a sense of panic. A sense of urgency. I stood up as they passed by and spoke to the mother.
I've been where you are. I pray everything will go perfectly for you from here on out. God bless you, I said.
She looked startled. One of your kids had cancer? she probed. Then her gaze shifted to focus on the table behind me, where most of my family sat, still eating and talking and being together. She was looking for a survivor.
I knew I had to tell her and my heart lurched in my chest. I hate being the one who scares people; the one who represents the worst case scenario coming to pass. Yes, I replied. Then, rather than looking away as I so often do, I caught her gaze again. But he didn't make it. But you... for you, I'm praying for a very different outcome.
She stopped and just looked at me. And hugged me. And thanked me. And said she was so very sorry for my loss.
And then she was gone. And I sat down to once again pick at my fries while the others finished their meals.
It never goes away. Peach fuzz hair and a mask and a puffy face still take my breath away and make my heart race and I suspect they always will. They represent trauma and my body just... reacts. The cracks in my heart split open and bleed all over again. But if I can make a connection, offer up a word of hope, be a voice who understands in the midst of so many who simply don't --can't--, I'll take on the task.