It’s impossible to explain the type of pain that comes from losing a child. There’s no point wasting words to describe it. Unless you’ve gone through it, you’ll never even know the part of you that it takes away.
There are different ways to deal with the loss. Mine was to never stop moving, never stop working, never give myself a second to think. And it worked. As long as I outpaced my grief, I was functional.
Carly took a different route.
She acted like he was going to return at any moment. She still set a place for him at the table. She still laid clothes out for him. But the worst was when she talked about him.
“What do you think Ben will want for his birthday this year?”
She floated it out casually. But it struck a nerve. After months of trying to let her process in her own way, I had finally hit my limit.
“Carly… Ben’s not coming back. You know this, right? He’s gone,” I watched the words tumble out of my mouth and instantly regretted them. She quickly dropped the smile she’d been wearing.
“Carly, I’m sorry,” I took her hands, ”But it’s been so long… They would have found him by now.”
I saw the disdain on her face. She pulled away from me and walked straight out the door.
I chased after her and caught her by the sleeve. She wrenched her arm free and kept going, out of the yard and into the trees.
“Where are you going?!”
She didn’t look back.
Once it got dark I started to worry. She wasn’t answering her phone, so all I could do was stay out on the porch and wait. I didn’t expect to fall asleep out there. And I didn’t expect to wake up to the sound of the bath running and a wide open front door.
“Carly?” I called, making my way to the bathroom. The water shut off.
“Carly? Are you okay?” I tried again.
“Oh! Yes, dear. Everything is just fine now, just fine!” her voice sounded too cheerful, too over the top. I could hear water splashing around and some other unfamiliar noise that reminded me of blowing bubbles in a glass and tearing velcro simultaneously. Dreading what I would find, I opened the door.
Carly was knelt beside the tub, sponge in hand, scrubbing at the dirt and blood and ooze covering… it. The creature looked at me with empty, soulless eyes. Noseless and lipless, there wasn’t a feature on it’s face to offer any reprieve from the panicked nausea it caused me.
“Look, dear!” she exclaimed with maniacal joy, “Ben’s home! I just knew I would find him!”
I… don’t know what this thing is. All I know is that it had something to do with Ben’s disappearance. And after watching Carly swaddle it in a towel and cover it’s mucousy head in kisses, I realize that nothing will ever shatter her delusion.