Tuesday, April 28, 2020

To the Broken...

by Beth Saadati

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

On a chilly 65-degree early-October South Carolina evening—yes, chilly…my Northern blood has turned Southern—a friend leaned in close during the high-school football game. “I heard the marching band’s voice-over this week,” she said. “It’s intense. It might be hard for you to listen to.”

I gave a faint smile, assured her I’d be fine, and buried the words in the back of my brain. Why be afraid? In public—okay, pretty much anywhere, even at home unless I’m alone—my guard stays up. I don’t get emotional. I protect my heart.

The following night, however, something changed. It happened at a different high-school stadium, thirty minutes away. Scanning the scene like an anxious teenager looking around a lunchroom for any familiar face, I climbed the bleachers. The crowd contained no one I knew, but I spied an empty spot beside a friendly looking couple. With repeated excuse-me’s, I shimmied my way across a tightly-packed row of viewers and plopped down on the concrete bench.

Next to me sat an elderly white-haired man, beside him his pom-pom-waving wife. They told me they’d come to watch their grandchildren perform. My teens’ grandma has never gotten to see my kids compete, I thought. She’s eight years in the nursing home, ravaged by Alzheimer’s, unaware of who she is, being fed supper by their grandpa as we speak. I felt the familiar sting of absence but managed to utter with full sincerity, “Your grandkids sure are blessed to have you here.”

He nodded his agreement and asked, “Do you have a dollar?” An odd request to be sure, but I rummaged through my purse. He extended one hand. I gave him the bill.

Meticulously, he folded it, creased it, transformed it with care. Then the origami artist presented his creation—George Washington’s picture converted into a tiny two-inch shirt. His eyes twinkled as he inquired, “How many kids do you have?”

It shouldn’t have been hard to answer. This wasn’t calculus. But I mentally froze upon hearing the innocently asked question I HATE. My paralysis produced an awkward silence as my panicked mind pondered: Two? Or three? What should I say? Finally I lied and betrayed. “Two,” I muttered. Sometimes it’s easier not to explain.

“Girls or boys?” he asked.

Again, I lied. “One of each.”

Thursday, January 2, 2020

When the Memory of One Night Won't Go Away

by Beth Saadati

January 2 started like any other day—a welcomed return to structure and routine after two weeks of winter break, with all the hope and promise that accompany a new year. At 3:45 I naively wove through the high school car line to pick up my freshman daughter, completely unaware the world I’d known was about to change.

In the backseat, Jenna chatted lightheartedly with a carpooled friend and recounted the day’s happenings. One awkward moment peppered the list—circulated talk about a guy with a girlfriend who’d asked Jenna to the I.B. Ball, even though she’d said no. “I always attract drama,” Jenna declared.

She laughed it off then asked how many friends had emailed to say they planned to come to a game night she’d host in three days. “You’re already up to fourteen,” I replied. She smiled, seemingly happy with the news.

On the afternoon of January 2nd, Jenna waved no red flags. Her arrival home was followed by a little time in her room, the customary change of clothes, a request to go to her “thinking spot” by the stream as long as she returned in time to finish AP world history homework before attending youth group. Without hesitation I agreed and returned to editing a friend’s novel—the chapter in which the villain appears. Unsuspecting fingers clicked laptop keys.

Time ticked by. Darkness replaced light. Jenna never arrived.

January 2 ended like no other night. A long search. A police interrogation. Friends thoughtfully picking up my two young kids. Sirens, flashing lights, yellow caution tape. Fear of abduction, fear unlike anything I’ve ever known, concluding with a friend’s gentle delivery of eleven terrible words: “Your daughter is dead. It appears she took her own life.”

Then a wailing of “no” that didn’t sound like my voice. A sleepless night. A suicide letter to read, a funeral to plan, painful decisions to make.

The morning before visitation, I sat in the funeral-home parking lot with a family friend—a friend who wanted to say his goodbye privately before the evening crowd came in. We sat in the Accent for over an hour, neither of us ready to see the beautiful girl who, in this world, would no longer smile, laugh, or open her eyes. He glanced towards my seat, said he’d known someone who’d walked through trauma and was never the same, said he didn’t want me to end up that way. I internalized the challenge, assured him I’d be okay.