Thursday, March 19, 2009

Salted Strawberries

There were strawberries on sale at the grocery store a few days ago, obviously grown somewhere very far away under perhaps questionable circumstances, but strawberries nonetheless. But unlike the strawberries one usually sees in March in the grocery store, these ones I could smell the moment I entered the store, and they were huge, and bright, bright red, and swollen with nectar. I bought two boxes, and greedily brought them home and left them on the counter so that they would be warm and soft when we ate them.
The next morning I poured myself and the kids bowls of Cheerios and cut four or five of the reddest looking ones on top, and the juice was pouring down my fingers they were so ripe and divine.
We sat down to eat, me and my two miraculous children who rose from the ashes of my shattered life like little, golden phoenixes, their blond hair touseled from sleep and their cheeks rosy. Their lips shone with the milk and strawberries as they slurped up this delicious breakfast, and I looked at them in awe as the combination of ripe-tasting strawberries and Cheerios cereal brought me right back to June of 2003, when Greg's parents picked us pounds, and pounds of strawberries.
They didn't know what to do with us, lying limp around our home surrounded by wet kleenex, the wet spring air blowing in the windows as we sat and mourned. So they did what many people did and they gave us things, because they didn't know what else to do.
So I took those strawberries and I cut them up and put them on my cereal in the morning, and every single morning, I would sit at our wooden kitchen table, and I would lean over the bowl of cereal, and I would cry as I ate my cereal, and the tears would drip off my nose and my chin and they would land in my cereal bowl, so that the last few bites of my cereal were salty and warm and almost a little disgusting.
Not that I cared.
I was eating only out of habit, with a slight secondary purpose that there might be something way down the road worth living for. Certainly Charlotte had taught me the power of a mother's love, and to render this worthwhile I would have to keep myself alive to give it another go. As if I could imagine that possible. It was not possible at that time.
I had nothing truly worth living for in that moment, just myself and the thought that if I were to die I would inflict that same anguish that was crippling me upon those who loved me, and so therefore I ate my cheerios, even when they were warm and soggy and salty, and my heart ached and I wondered vaguely, rather than hoped, that something good could rise out of this catastrophe.
And so there I was the other day, nearly six years later, looking right at them, the beautiful results of my most dreadful tragedy, the two that I could never trade even if I could get her back. Fortunately for me there is no choice to make, I have what I have and it's not Charlotte, and I can hold her next to my heart and feel that it is swollen bigger with love for everyone around me because I have loved her.

The memory was triggered, the memory of the sadness that ties like a thick rope across your chest and threatens to suffocate you and stop your heart, but which I have beaten down to a thread that I wear like a badge. It is a badge of love for Charlotte, I will not let you go, I will feel the pain, I will keep you. And how I will love your brother and your sister, how I already do. I wrap myself delightfully in the blanket of their joy.


Delia said...

My salted strawberries are grapes. The year that we lost Somer so many people kept bringing grapes to my house. I refused to eat almost everything, but just to make people happy I would eat a few grapes and now grapes are my daughter, Clarissa's favorite food. I watch her eat them and it brings a smile to my heart knowing that 6 years ago this June, grapes meant an entirely different thing to me. Not a day goes by that I don't join Clarissa in eating a few grapes and holding Somer close to my heart. Thank you for bringing this memory back to me.

Hope's Mama said...

It was bananas (and still is) on my cereal. Salty, teary cereal.
All too familiar Carol.
This post was so moving.

Meg said...

This post is so beautiful. All 3 of your children are so loved and that is a wonderful lesson for all of us. To enjoy every moment with them. Thank you.

Ruth said...


Alisha said...

Beautifully written. So eloquent.