We were standing on the opposite corner from our house, the girls and I, and they were running towards me on the sidewalk. The older one was winning the race and the younger one was angry and loud about it, stopping in her tracks, arms crossed at her chest, in a petulant display of protest. It should have been the deli I was standing in front of, but since this spot was rooted in my dream, the storefront windows revealed a donut shop, or perhaps a bakery, crowded with people who ignored me when I entered. So I left. The race, now ended in protest, was done, and the older one, not wanting to rein in her pace, shot to her right through the parked cars and across the street.
There was a yellow car traveling at such a high rate of speed that it was just a blur as it rounded the corner and appeared to clip her ankle before speeding off. The closer I moved towards her, the worse her injuries became. As sometimes happens in these kind of nightmare sequences, I was caught in a continuous replay of the events – rewinding back to my corner, watching the car strike her again and again, watching the injuries get worse and worse. I was trying to decide how to keep the younger one contained on the sidewalk, I was trying to scream my husband into attention in the restaurant (that place where everyone ignored me despite my terrified yelling and tears), I was trying to reach her on the ground, but everything moved in slow motion, and besides – the closer I came the more desperate the situation seemed.
I woke up panting and covered in sweat, with an aching throat that thought it had been screaming for hours. I couldn’t shake that dream sequence for ages. I just lay there in the dark and tried to calm my breathing.
Tuesday marked six months since we lost my niece. I read back through some of the things that I wrote around that time, and I realize that I’m still in shock that she’s gone. Her loss doesn’t add up to me. It feels like an odd game of roulette, a mistake – which is completely unnerving to me still. My girls take an extra long nap and wake up with a fever and I hear that black ball tumbling over numbers as the wheel spins.
Just after three today my phone buzzed beside me and I noticed an email from F’s school. They were in lock down mode, the kids were all safe, police were in the vicinity, and they had little information beyond that. In less than half and hour another email came through that the situation was under control, and when M arrived the area was cleared out. Later tonight we learned that a group of high school students were targeted by a shooter on the way home from school. A few hours before I was nervous but patient, waiting for information to trickle in. Now I’m sick to my stomach, thinking about a kid being shot so close to my own kid’s school, thinking about the outdoor places where our little kids play, thinking about how this changes things now. I have to write emails about disaster procedures and increased security at the neighboring school and its vicinity. I have to try and sleep while thinking about retaliation and stray bullets and my four year old.
In between that first email and the second, in those moments where the details weren’t clear, I scanned through my phone looking for messages or clues to what might be happening. And then this poem appeared in my feed, a poem marking the final day of a month of poetry sharing. I read it over and over again, and I read it tonight as I lie in this state of unease.
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Poetry is like a prayer to me, each line a reminder to pause and take a breath. When I can’t find peace in sleep or reality or imagination – and there is a little peace in any of those this week – there is still a pause, there are still words, there is still connection with others we’ve never even met.