I remember when Etan Patz went missing. The story effected everyone. The story of this mysterious tragedy has resurfaced here in NY with renewed vigor as a possible location was excavated. Meanwhile, we are approaching the one year mark since a young college student, Lauren Spierer, in my local area, went missing. Two missing children. I see the empty shells of faces in Lauren’s parents. I can’t bear to watch the video of her father pleading for information. I have stared at the photos of Lauren around my neighborhood – a smiling, beatiful face. And all I could think about is how strange it is to have been found.
I wonder to my inner self how long it took my Umma to reconcile she will never see her child again? I wonder how she wrapped her head around the idea that her child could be dead? I wonder how long it was that she stayed in the empty space I see on Lauren’s parents’ faces now? I wonder what was the last nice memory she held onto? She talked about a pair of red shoes she bought me even though the store owner felt it was not appropriate for such a young child to wear them. I wanted them. I must have really loved them because I came to America in red shoes. It bothers me still that someone replaced those red shoes but they represent a certain tenacity I must have had at five years old that I insisted on having something red on my feet. When I showed them to her, we were both disappointed that they were not the same. I still love them though. It is the only reminder that I must have remembered Umma.
All other memories of her have vanished or had other faces transplanted in her place. I remember sitting in a car watching the window slowly roll up and I am crying and waving to two figures crying and waving back to me. I always thought they were my maternal grandparents. I later found out that it was indeed my maternal grandmother, but the other figure was my Umma. It is really hard not to be mad at my brain for erasing her. Is this what a child does when she can’t make sense of such an event? She cuts out the love and makes them disappear? I imgained her dead. It makes sense now why I did, but it haunts me that I could be so cold.
Guilt sets in too. I actually lived. I had chances to smile, to garner some success, to find love. All the while, my Umma did not know; time did not move for her. She lost her smile, her joy and I wonder if she can even begin to take that back now. Is it like riding a bicycle, you never forget how to smile? I feel guilt in the very decision to live and not act like I was lost or missing. These multiple transplantations made me strong, curious and seeking. Her absence and my erasure of her allowed for me to emotionally protect myself. It does not take way the tug in my chest to want to understand why, to have a definitive answer. How does the human brain compensate for trauma, loss and pain? How do I not believe this most unlucky event in my life set me on a path of more unlucky happenings? Was it to prepare me for more? Or have I invited more my way because I stood too tall among the weeds? At every turn in my life, I have created these walls so as to keep pushing off of them and move forward. Some people call it resilience, others denial. I am far from denial, but being resilient is sh— hard.
There will always be someone else who suffers more, experiences more pain and is tormented far more. It just feels like an awfully small club these days.