But after Grace died, all of the things I love about the first day of school have been tainted by everything she missed. She died just when she was starting to read. And count by tens, adding ribbons to a paper kite as she counted her way upward. She counted in Chinese too. And drew portraits that still hang on my living room walls. Her teeth were strong, no loose ones yet. And she had just learned to ride her bike. For first grade, a milestone she never reached, she and Sam were finally going to be at the same school.
When I saw all the kids with their new backpacks and light up sneakers walking into school that first September, my grief exploded and knocked me down. The thing about grief is that it doesn't ever leave, but it does quiet. The pain of all the glorious first days of school Grace missed has lodged deep inside me. This year I would have taken her to a dorm at some college, leaving her to forge her sophomore year there.
All of that lost promise does not go away, all of the hopes we place on our children do not die. Yesterday a friend who lost her son last year talked about the pain of seeing all the children walking to school and then we held each other's hand and cried. Good and hard.
But a part of me has held on to the promise that freshly sharpened pencils evoke. It's September. Soon the weather will cool and the leaves will turn glorious reds and yellows and oranges. There will be pumpkins on doorsteps and crisp apples in bowls on countertops. I'll make sausage with grapes and Sam will make his cheesy arugula polenta. Fall.
This year was the first time Sam didn't have a first day of school. Instead he searched NYC for an apartment, trained as a bartender, auditioned for plays. And Annabelle left elementary school behind and stepped into the next phase of her life: middle school.
Here they are. Beginning the year.