Malcolm, my five year old, is the hardest part and the easiest part of beginning to feel better after Marathon Monday. His little brother may have been there with us along the race route, and was certainly a bit confused by all the turmoil, but he’s three, and therefore spends most of his life in a state of fraught confusion. At almost six years, Malcolm is, I am told, unusually worldly and though I tried not to let him see me cry, he heard my voice break and saw me avert my gaze when I told him “Everything’s ok. I know Daddy’s ok.” The first was patently untrue, and the second not at all known to me at that moment. His father was somewhere on the course between mile 22 and the finish.
I try to let him be my guide, following his lead on what he wants to talk about, and most of the time, that’s ninjas and spy craft. Today, we spent two hours catching tadpoles and newts and releasing them again. But the sadness will out, and the anxiety, in us both. I can’t predict when it will hit either of us. Yesterday, I took him for a run with me. Runners run when we’re sad, or scared, or tense, or all of these, and I knew it would do us both good. We ran a mile to his elementary school and stopped for a break. A loud clanking sound came suddenly from behind us, and he asked what it was. “It’s the metal rings that hold the flags on the flagpole,” I told him. It was just louder than he was used to, the flags being half way down to the ground. On our run back, he insisted we start the way the marathon starts, at the cue of race director Dave McGillivray, and he extended his open hand, looked around, and then wordlessly made a little fist. On our many walk breaks, he slipped his hand in mine, a habit he had mostly abandoned until Monday.
Today, it was bombs. All his play with his brother involved bombs. Pinecones, rocks, a soccer ball. He would throw them or lay them on the ground and say, “These are the bombs and they can blow people up and kill them.” I know this is how he’s supposed to work his way through it, but he tossed a football to me and said, “This is a bomb! Like at Boston, right mom?” Yes. That’s right.
When I read about how to talk to kids about tragedy, a lot of what I read focuses on shielding kids from gory news footage, or too much adult talk, or too many reminders. The rules change when the boy was there. The mylar blankets he was wrapped in while we waited for his father are strewn on our floor along with the signs the boys made for him. Marathon detritus is everywhere. And though he has good memories of watching the runners (“they were dressed as sandwiches!”), he heard a police officer say people were dead. That severed legs were lying around in the street. He saw his mother not breaking, but bending, fissure lines opening up. Last night, he told me, he had a dream that we were in one castle and Dad was in a different one and Dad saw a monster with eyes on its cheeks and its forehead.
I’m not so different. I go to work, teach, which helps me feel human again. I have times when I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well, and times when I feel ok. I am grateful that my family is intact, body and spirit, and sorrowing for the bodies and families rent apart. I feel proud of my students who wanted to know how to help and made appointments to give blood, or donated to the charities supported by the runners like the one my husband was running for, Casa Myrna. Three of my students have made appointments with a National Guard recruiter. But the grief ramifies. I went through all my voicemails from Monday, and heard the voices of my friends, my sister, cracking as they pleaded with me to call them. My appetite is gone, and my wrists and shoulder blades weirdly ache somewhere within the bones themselves. I must be clenched most of the day without knowing it, and maybe the night too, when the many-eyed monster breaches the walls and visits me in the castle too.