going back to work was as i expected it would be….hard. i’d taken a melt-under-your-tongue anxiety pill before i left the house, but it did little to prepare me for the barrage of memories and awkwardness that was to follow.
i took a new route to work, one that had me walking past a large sign that pointed towards the cemetery where little sun’s funeral was held…the place where his small body was burned to ash, a place i still can’t return to. when i got to the courtyard of the school, one familiar administrative assistant was outside smoking with two men i didn’t know. i followed the ritual and called out, “Bonjour,” to them, and the admin assistant responded with “ça va??” it felt like there was so much more to the question than just “how’s it going?” but all i could do was nod and respond with a “oui, ça va,” before hurrying through the front door and rushing into the nearest ladies’ room.
the tears and sobs kept coming, but i tried to be as quiet as possible. when i finally pulled myself together, i went back out into the halls i hadn’t seen in over a year…. the last time i’d been there, we’d just found out we were having a boy. now i was returning empty bellied and brokenhearted. in the office, i recognized another coworker, and she barely raised her eyes when she responded to my “Bonjour.” my boss was much kinder, and she laughed and made a few jokes, but i could tell that she felt awkward.
class itself was fine. i haven’t forgotten how to be a teacher or how to be friendly and kind to my students, but i feel heavier somehow…sadness seems to tug on me even when i am smiling and encouraging one of them. as i expected, there was a student i knew from two years ago in this new class. after all the other students had left, she came up to me and said, “oh, i heard you had a baby. what a great thing!” two sentences that seemed to come out of her mouth in slow motion. before she’d even gotten to the word “baby”, i knew that she hadn’t heard, and i was already bracing myself. “it was a great thing,” i said sincerely, and suddenly i wanted to show her the film in my head of little sun in Froggy’s arms…the one where i see the blond widow’s peak on his forehead when she puts him in my arms for the first time. the one where we are happy and little sun is still breathing, crying…..living. but i have the only copies of those images, so instead, i told her what happened, and then something compelled me to show her pictures of him. that poor girl. i’m sure she felt terrible. what choice did she have but to look at the photos on my phone? when she left, she said she hoped we would have another baby and that people who suffer a lot should be given some extra luck in life. once she was gone, i sat back down at my desk and sobbed for the second time.
that student was the only person who mentioned my baby to me. now that she knows what happened, i imagine the news will spread to the other students, so i doubt that scene will be repeated. as for my colleagues, i guess they’ll go on pretending that i just took a year off for fun. there will be no condolences, no looks of compassion, no one to just sit with when the tears can’t be held back. at least there are bathrooms and empty classrooms.
on the walk home, i passed two signs for little sun’s cemetery. after that there were two more, this time pointing in the direction of the hospital where he was born and died. a year ago, i felt bubbles of joy and excitement each time i saw one of those signs. now they are just huge arrows directed right at my heart. the walk back was dark and rainy and even among the crowds of other people going home, i was totally alone.