I stand on a road called Middle Street that bisects a park called Alhambra. To my left are a series of playgrounds shaded by a towering live oak tree dripping with Spanish moss. Delighted squeals puncture my brain as toddlers fly through muggy air on swings. I listen with envy as moms chat about healthy snacks their kids will actually eat and the difficulties of bedtime. The clicking of sprinklers watering the yards at the opulent homes that border the park serves as the percussion. To my right is a nearly empty green space and, beyond that, Charleston Harbor. It’s late in the afternoon, and the sunlight casting on the water makes the surface perform a glittery dance. The freshly cut grass and briny air create a familiar perfume.
Alhambra sits at the edge of the neighborhood where we used to live. We took Sam here nearly every day after daycare — a brief outdoor excursion before our fast-paced evening routine. I breathe in, letting the salty air coat my lungs and skin. The denseness of it mingles with my heavy heart, rooting me firmly to the asphalt.
“Go ahead,” I say to Ada and Mae, my 3-year-old twin daughters. They run to the left, to the playgrounds, their tightly woven curls bobbing the same way his did.
“I’ll catch up with you,” I say to my husband, Mike, avoiding his gaze. It’s still difficult for us to manage the other’s grief. Knowingly, he grabs my arm, kisses my cheek, and takes our dog, Echo, to the green space to chase tennis balls by the water.
Our trip to Alhambra is an attempt to distract us from the memories of six months ago. Memories of standing in a showroom filled with decorative urns, trying to decide what to inter Sam’s ashes in. Memories of choosing a picture for his obituary. Memories of writing his eulogy, of using twenty-six letters to try to capture who he was and what he meant to us.
I don’t remember everything about the day Sam’s doctor first spoke the words Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma and told us to “bring him home and enjoy him,” but I remember feeling infuriated by her gaudy peacock earrings and by how delicately the hospital staff treated us. I remember not knowing what to do with my hands or my mouth when they gave us Sam’s prognosis: nine to twelve months. I remember that…