Speed of Sound

6/15/07, Contest Entry (Hidden River Arts)

I never wanted an average life for myself, nor did I ever imagine that I would be a mother and a wife before I had accomplished my personal ambitions. But, I wouldn’t change it now. In my youth, I would close my eyes and envision myself performing in front of large audiences; singing my heart out to the mass.

Life happens so quickly, and things change so fast that I have to stop myself sometimes just to enjoy the things in my life I take for granted – the smell of Springtime approaching, the innocence in an animal’s eyes, or the fun of making a mess in the kitchen while teaching my children how to bake cookies. Like the rest of the world, I rush around in an endless circle of tasks and chores to keep the earth spinning on its axis – as if it would implode should we take a moment to stand still.

The rain tapped on the windows like the ticking of a nervous clock. We had to be at practice in fifteen minutes. My daughter, Alex, came running down the steps with her ballet bag draped over her right shoulder. I laughed to myself – it was almost as heavy as she was.

“Let’s go, mom!”

“Are you sure you have everything?”

I might as well have asked myself because she was already three steps out the door. It was the usual Monday routine: work and school, dinner then ballet. My husband, Daniel, worked late on Mondays and Thursdays – leaving me to play chauffer.

The rain was coming down hard, and the umbrella I attempted to shield myself with was no match for the wind. Alex was sitting in the car impatiently waiting for me to turn it on. She loved to blast the radio whenever she could, and she knew she could on the days I drove her.

Daniel didn’t appreciate the distraction of a young child singing at the top of her lungs to an already loud radio, but I did. She and I would sing whatever song happened to be on at the time, and, while the world outside the car sped by us in a blur, we were able to slow down and take pleasure in each other. It was only a couple of minutes each way, but it reminded me of those things in life I was most passionate about: my daughter and music.

I was singing on the night that my husband and I first met. I was bartending at a dive bar about twenty minutes out of my neighborhood. I made enough money there to cover my rent, my bills, and my somewhat extensive shoe collection. If asked, I’d say I was an aspiring singer. I had big dreams and even bigger plans for reaching them.

When it wasn’t too packed, and I was able to take a twenty minute break from behind the bar, I would grab my small guitar and sing. I would sit on the edge of the one and only table, and I’d just let my soul spill out into the place. Daniel happened to walk in the bar in the midst of one of my performances. I stopped and motioned to put my guitar down, but he insisted I continue; that he could wait. Once I had finished, I re-adjusted the lights and started walking back behind the bar to service my customer.

“What can I get for you?”

“I’ll have a lager – draft. And, if you’re single, I’d love to take you out sometime.”

My standard reply of I’m sorry, sir, I cannot date the customers was what I had every intention of answering him with, but it came out something like this:

“I’m…I’d love to.”

When I had finally reached where he was standing, I found myself looking into the most beautiful green eyes I had ever seen. I couldn’t decline.

For the next two years of my life I looked into those same green eyes as his girlfriend. After the first year, I started working a full-time job as a secretary at a law firm in his area – courtesy of his father’s connections. I traded in my mini-skirts and belly-shirts for blouses and dress pants. Daniel had tried convincing me for a year to look for a “real” job, but I thought the money I was making at the bar was real enough. I finally caved-in when he asked me to move in with him, which meant I’d have to travel much too far to continue bartending.

My singing aspirations took the backseat in my new life. After I had adjusted to everything from living with Daniel to a different job environment and had networked enough to find outlets to pursue my dream, reality became more real: I found out I was pregnant. Daniel proposed three months later, and we married six months after Alex was born.

My daughter had been singing since she was old enough to carry a tune. She would follow me around the house and sing with me. I had hoped she would ask to take lessons, but it seemed that her interest was directed more towards dancing. I have never tried to push my lost goals on her, but I wouldn’t make it through my week without our musical car rides to ballet.

Once we arrived at her school, I lowered the music so she could give me a kiss and say goodbye. She ran as fast as she could through the pouring rain – trying not to get soaked, but she still did. It was horrible outside tonight. I sat there for a moment with the car parked and wondered if Daniel knew how bad it was. He would have to drive over the highway to get home.

I picked up my cell phone and dialed his number. It went right to voicemail, so I left him a message:

“Hey, honey. I just wanted to warn you how bad it may be in the next hour when you leave work to drive home. Please, be careful. I love you. Bye.”

I found myself constantly worrying about my husband and daughter’s safety. I tried not to show it nearly as much as I felt it, and after two and a half years of counseling one would think I was stable enough to control my own thoughts. But, when you lose a child, a fair amount of your sanity dies, too.

My son, Danny, was born when Alex was five. He was like a new toy for my daughter – even with the age difference they bonded immediately. He was a true pleasure to be around; a mommy’s boy in the making. He’d hang off my pant leg – his little fingers grasping the cotton fabric tight enough that I could almost walk at a normal pace.

We woke up one morning to find that Danny was no longer breathing. It was a regular day – a Tuesday to be exact. My husband had left for work already, and I woke Alex up, first, to make sure she got in the shower. Once I heard the water running, I went to wake up my son in his small, blue bed. He wasn’t moving or breathing.

The majority of that horrible Tuesday was spent at the hospital. They told me he had suffocated in his sleep; asked if he normally had trouble breathing. They said he may have had undiagnosed sleep apnea, which is apparently twice as likely to occur in males. After they ruled out the possibility that I may have smothered him, they let us leave. My three-year old son was dead and my eight-year old witnessed the entire thing, and all I remember is the feeling of overwhelming emptiness inside.

I sat in my silent, empty car staring at my cell phone. I was hoping Daniel would get the message and call right back, but it didn’t seem like that was going to happen. I turned the radio up to take my mind off the worrying and began to drive away from my daughter’s school.
I kept thinking about the list of things I still had to get done before the day was over. Everyone was driving unbearably slow, and I could hardly see anything more than a few feet in front of me – besides taillights. As I sat waiting at the intersection five minutes from my house – at what had to be the longest red light ever – I noticed one of my favorite songs was playing. So, I turned the radio up higher and sang:

“…the sign that I couldn’t read,
or a light that I couldn’t see,
some things you have to believe,
but others are puzzles, puzzling me…”

The light turned green and as I pressed the gas to go, a very large truck went flying through the intersection. It looked like he had tried to stop because his front end was headed towards me as the back of his truck swerved to block oncoming traffic. I slammed my breaks in fear, but only caused myself to lose control. There was a lot of light; a lot of noise,…

And then it went completely black.

When the lights would go out in our home, we would run to the closet to search for candles. Alex was just a toddler, and I was newly pregnant with my son, during the storm that kept us in the dark for twelve hours. My daughter held onto her father as he tried to calm her; as I lit the candles. Once I had finished, I sat next to Daniel on the floor, with Alex lying across us. The living room was pale with light and full of different smells. We sat leaning against our sofa and played a guessing game – trying to figure out what the peach candle smelled like when it mixed with the scent of baked apples; how the vanilla aroma mixed with that of the pumpkin pie reminded us of Thanksgiving at Grandma’s.

“Mommy, I don’t like the dark. I’m scared,” Alex whispered softly.

“Me either, darling, but the lights will be back on soon.”

“Mommy, don’t be scared.”

My daughter’s fearful grip loosened around my hand as she drifted into sleep. She was scared of the dark until the age of seven, refusing to sleep in her own room on many occasions. Daniel would find her on the floor of our room in a make-shift bed of blankets – often tripping over her on his way to turn off the alarm. She would pretend she was still sleeping, and he would pretend he didn’t know that she wasn’t. Once her father would leave for work, Alex would climb into bed with me.

Daniel was always out the door before the sun was up, and my bedroom would stay dark for another forty-five minutes. Once the sun would rise, I would take her back to her room and try to reason with her, or, eventually, promise to buy her a nightlight. Alex continued to play this game with us until we bought her a dog – a white Maltese that she named Sugar. We realized two nightlights, a lamp, and glow-in-the-dark doll too late that not only was she scared of the dark, but she wanted company as well.

I was never a fan of being alone at night, either. Perhaps my daughter’s behavior was genetically passed on from her mother, but I’d never admit it to her – completely. Even when Daniel would leave me alone in the evening in our first apartment together, I would feel so alone and afraid…
Which is how I am feeling now.

I saw a lot of light, and then it went dark. I am sitting, or lying, or standing. I’m not sure, but it’s dark and my mind is racing. So many memories I had forgotten about seem so easy to remember in the dark.

And, then I hear it:

“Mommy, don’t be scared.” It wasn’t Alex’s voice this time, I was certain.

At that moment, the bright headlight of a giant truck races towards me. It starts out small, and then quickly grows until all I can see is light.

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