What stage of grief is it when mourning doves are cooing and the soft morning air carries the sound to me in my bed. That sound. What stage of grief is that sound?
When I was twelve, my mom sent me to the store for lettuce. I can’t remember why, but I didn’t ride my bike. It was six blocks. And very hot. The heat surprised me. It was crystal clear and not humid, but the heat was oppressive. It lay on my body like a boulder. I pretended I was trekking through the desert in search of the Holy Grail. In my mind, so very fertile in those days, I saw myself on my knees croaking, “Water, water.” It was so hot.
I bought the head of lettuce and the bag boy put it in a full-size, brown paper bag. The sweat of my hands left large blotches on the paper. It seemed much too large. He embarrassed me when he said, “Can I carry that to your car, ma’am?” He did it just to be mean. I flushed, and he and the cashier laughed. I knew them both from the school bus – they were two of the high school kids that picked on the rest of us.
I had enough change to buy a Coke. I wasn’t supposed to, but it was hot. I couldn’t get over the heat. I felt faded by it, an x-ray of myself. The vending machine was outside the store. The machine wasn’t the kind that dropped cans or bottles. It was the kind that streamed the liquid into a waxed paper cup of crushed ice. They’re not easy so easy to find anymore, but they’re still around. Mostly, you see them with coffee.
There’s a spring-loaded door in front of the cup. After the cup is filled, you have to either pull the door up or to your right all the while gripping a small knob. Either way, it’s awkward. The tension is so strong you have to use your right hand to open the door and your left to pull out the flimsy cup. I just barely got the soda out before I lost my grip on the door and it snapped shut. I nearly dropped the cup but recovered in time. I only sloshed a little. I looked up to see if the bag boy had seen me through the glass – looked to see if he was laughing. He hadn’t and wasn’t. I felt my spirits lift.
I wanted to save the Coke until I couldn’t bear it anymore. We never had soda at home. It was a real treat. It was hot, I was hot, but still, I wanted to wait. I walked across the parking lot with the bag in my left hand and the Coke in my right. I pretended the bag was all of my earthly belongings and the Coke the Holy Grail. I had to get it back across the desert. The asphalt stretched before me wavering in the heat.
I was across the worst of the desert; I could see the oasis before me. The light changed and I stepped off the curb headed across Williams. I stumbled on a chunk of loose asphalt lying in the gutter. The Coke went flying. I can see it still now. A small spray of drops arcing as the cup turned top down. I still don’t understand the physics of it, but the cup landed perfectly upside down onto the hot street. The Coke, except for those few drops, trapped in the cup. The heat of the street caused a perfect seal. I stood there and looked at the cup. In the stark, long shadows of that afternoon, I saw that cup sweat and tremble until the ice re-hardened the melting wax and the Coke began to seep out. Then it gushed. The cup falling over with the movement – a dark smear on the dark asphalt. The heat intense, my heart draining with the cup, I sat on the curb and sobbed. I felt utter despair and hopelessness, and couldn’t explain why. It was so hot. I was so thirsty. Unfathomable sorrow trickled into my soul as I watched that liquid seep and steam on the hot pavement.
Mrs. Gardner saw me from her picture window. She came out to help. I can’t remember what she said, but she took me to her porch and went in to call my mom. By the time she pulled in the driveway, I noticed the first trickle of blood on my thigh. By the time we got home, my white shorts were well blood–stained and my face red and raw from the hot tears.
“Ah, honey, it’s just your first period. Your body is just trying to adjust. It’s rough, especially at first. But it’ll settle down. It’s not that bad. You just dropped a Coke. Someday, you’ll laugh about this.”
I never did. Mourning doves in the morning always remind me of that afternoon. Always. I don’t understand it, but that sound is that feeling. The Holy Grail forever lost, blood soaking and seeping, the precious wine forever gone. What stage of grief is this?
No mama, I won’t.
I have never forgotten that sound. Even now when I think I have accepted my losses. Come to terms with them. Quit bargaining. No longer in denial. No longer angry. Resigned. It is then that the mourning dove cooing catapults me into the vortex of grief again. Hot tears spill. The Holy Grail forever lost.
I am bereft all over again. Circling in and circling out of grief, a kaleidoscope of life passing before my eyes. Of yearning, of loss. Of something gone that will never return. Until the next time a mourning dove coos.