For six months my middle son has been begging to go to the aquarium for his birthday. At just five, this was the perfect birthday adventure. So we planned, invited my husband’s parents, and decided on a date.
Yesterday we piled in the car and drove the two hours south to Monterrey. Birthday boy was excited, I mean, really excited. I was too, until, we got there.
Like a heavy, humid, thick wall it hit me. The last time we were here was with my own parents. My subconscious new we had come before with them, two years prior, but I didn’t expect it to be so tangible. It began as a ridiculous argument with my husband that escalated into a full blown grief attack.
We ascended the stairs to floor two, the family ahead of me, entering the jelly fish exhibit, when I really felt it.
It poured through my veins, slow at first, then pushing as though it were suffocating and grasping for air. Blooming softly under my skin, then with rage.
Grief. Aching. Sadness.
The darkness of the jelly cave was my saving grace, that and my husband and in-laws who were with the kids. I stood there, lifeless, surrounded by the black of the exhibit, and by beautiful orange jellies puffing their way up and around. It was intoxicating in the worst way. Slow and graceful they were, slow and painful were my tears.
I moved out of my trance, bit my tongue with the hopes that I could stop crying, and walked in circles for a moment. Soon, realizing I could no longer control it, I sat. Against a dark stone wall, hidden beneath the Moon Jellies.
I cried, gut-wrenching sobs. Shoulders heaving, blowing my nose into a disposable diaper, for it’s all I had at hand.
“WHY NOW!” I found myself panting. “WHY today?!”
But grief isn’t polite. It doesn’t ask ‘hey is now a good time?’ or ‘do you have an hour or day or week to spare?‘. No, it just, happens. It knocks down the door of peace and acceptance and barges in. Messing up your clean floors and insisting it stay for dinner.
Anger began to fill me. I dabbed at my eyes, sure I was a mess by this point, but realizing I should likely find my family. The dim light in the cave led me around the corner where I saw them. Standing just at the glass of the giant aquarium wall. They were laughing and yelling for me to come look. They were so, happy. And I was so, angry.
How dare grief come today. How dare my mom’s memory fill me. How dare it do this to me, right now.
The tears came again and I walked out of the darkness into the open. I stood at the balcony for some time looking out over the ocean, unable to control my crying, realizing people were staring and holding my breath as decided I simply didn’t care.
I knew I could turn the day around and be present, that’s what my mom would have told me to do. But the kids would see my swollen eyes and they would ask. So, I stepped out of myself and in a robotic way, went about the day. I was there but I wasn’t. I smiled at them and talked about the sea turtles but I was done. I was ready to go. The walls of Monterrey Bay Aquarium were closing in on me. Every corner, every exhibit, even the bathroom, held visions of her, of my mom.
I saw her lifting Luke up to see the penguins. I saw her taking Danny back to the Touch Pools for the fourth time so I could rest my very pregnant self on a bench. I closed my eyes and heard her say “Let’s go to Bubba Gumps!” for lunch, even though eating out was something she never wanted to spend money on.
So as I watched my family, my amazing in-laws, go about the day, making new (and necessary) memories – I just, couldn’t. I wanted to allow them to, yes, but I couldn’t for myself.
This bled into the rest of the day. It was our 11th anniversary yesterday, Justin and I. His parents took the kids overnight and we had plans to go to dinner. We weren’t really speaking however. Me lost in my mom’s memory, poor him, lost in not knowing what on earth was going on with me.
It took everything in me to get up and dressed. I felt as though I wore weighted clothes, absolutely pinned down by this heavy, awful feeling. But, I did. I got dressed and we left.
Driving down the freeway my heart raced, knowing I must say something. I pressed the power button on the radio and spoke.
“I’m sorry for today, but I don’t want to talk about it.“, hoping by not talking about it I could avoid crying again. Mistake. Speaking the words sent the signal through my veins again and I was back at square one. Instead of trying to speak I exploded. Hands safely on the wheel, pressed hard on the wheel, I screamed out.
“I am SO TIRED OF BEING SAD. I am SO TIRED OF MY MOM BEING EVERYWHERE. I am SO TIRED OF ALL OF THIS.”
He simply, softly, said “I know.”
You see, eleven years ago when we exchanged those vows, in front of everyone we held dear, we didn’t know it would come to this. To a drive down highway 4, seated in my mom’s car, trying our best to come out of the hardest year of our marriage. We said “I do” with excitement and giggles, and youth and time on our side.
And there we were, driving to dinner, seated beside each other, realizing grief and pain and tragedy, it all doesn’t just go away – and the only way to do this, to have another eleven years and more, is to do it together.
By the time we got to dinner I finally began to feel it lift. Slow and steady, the opposite of how it came on, I was once again free to be. The chains released from my arms and my heart and I smiled, and laughed. Eyes still swollen, face feeling sticky and lacking the makeup I had just put back on, but smiling none the less.
You see, grief does it’s thing, and if you’re lucky it comes and goes in a few hours or a day. It isn’t always this way, and you just have to be in it. Step into it. Hate it and be angry at it and wish it away, but step in. There’s just no other way.
I hope to return to the aquarium again some day, to be able to walk into the Jelly Cave free from the lead blanket on my heart, but likely not any time soon. And that’s okay. I’m simply thankful for a husband who stands by me and accepts this part of me now. It’s just another chapter in our story, after all, and only we get to write the rest of it – just like the jellies, puffing our way upwards, towards the top. We’ll be just fine, he and I.