The pool drowned your heart along with your daughter. At least that’s what you tell your counselor on Monday morning. She must think you are crazier than you actually are. Mondays are horrible for everyone, especially for a routine therapy appointment that you have to attend at 8am before work. Sure, you need it, but you really don’t. None of your friends knew what to say when your daughter died that day in early September, but they all pointed you in the direction of the psychological counseling center, disguised as a little blue house with baskets of daisies hanging in front of the windows down on bridge road. So you go weekly, skipping sometimes so you can fill your body with oatmeal instead of reminders that your little girl, your little Emma, will never come back. Therapy doesn’t calm you down, but the knowledge that you go is enough to calm your friends so they finally treat you normally and finally begin looking at you in the eye with an expression that doesn’t exude pity.
The strangest part of it all, besides having to fill a child-sized casket with baby toys, blankets, and rosary beads, wasn’t having all of your friends swarm you with gifts and pre made dinners within seconds after receiving the phone call. The strangest part was the day the men came in to drain the water and fill your pool with dirt and cover it with grass. I’m sure they didn’t know why they were filling it. They probably assumed you and your husband just wanted more land to spread tents and tables over to throw little parties for the neighbors. Everyone on the street had a pool, and now you were the only ones without one. Nobody would want to come visit now. Many who didn’t know what happened would surely guess that the recession hit you and your husband a little too hard.
The men who showed up came dressed in big brown coats and blue baggy jeans. It was clear they loved the earth, bathed themselves in the dirt, smiled at the opportunity to kneel down and dig their hands into it. Their jeans all had small holes and grass stains along the front. They spoke in quiet voices, but deep ones, syllables droning on and into the wind. When they crouched down to press in the fresh grass with their glove-covered hands, you swore you saw one of them close his eyes and kiss the ground. They were so alive. And so was the grass, fresh, green, and out of place. The new patch of bright green grass looked so odd next to the old grass that had just begun to brown with the dropping temperatures. The brightness was too much like Emma, and on some days looking at it there was too much for you to handle. But you should have been outside that day. You should have been outside.
Still, you miss that pool, and you miss all the summer days spent swimming laps just to cool off while your husband prepared dinner. Sometimes you think about how silly that is, taking time to consciously miss the pool instead of your daughter. How long will she be missed for? When will the pain go away? You don’t know. You can’t know. And when you ask your counselor that question she just shakes her head and purses her lips. The sound that comes from between her mouth when she lets air out sounds like a funeral march, and you are reminded that every step you take feels like either a step towards or away from Emma’s grave, both equally as healing and painful.
You settle on the fact that the pain will never go away. But you still try everything. You drink tea with your husband at night and practice yoga with your girlfriends on Saturday afternoons. You remember that someone once suggested that once summer came around again you take a swimming lesson. How silly. You vowed to never enter the water again, not unless you had your baby back and her safety was guaranteed. You should have been watching her. You should have been outside.
Your girlfriends invited you over to a few parties in the weeks after her deaths, and you went to a few. Every time you walked into a room it would quiet down, loud voices turned to whispers and nervous glances over at you, trying so hard to avoid eye contact. Conversing with them wasn’t the same again. You would stand, single drink in hand, as they would approach you one by one. “How are you?” “You look so good, have you been working out?” “I brought some cookies over, it’s a new recipe I found, here, you should try one.” Their words were awkward, yes, but at least they came. All you could do still stand, head nodding like a bobble head, completely controlled by your surroundings. Slowly, the pretty pastel invitations to pool parties and springtime teas stopped showing up. And so you sit in the chair you used to cradle Emma in and look out the back window out to the thick matting of dirt where your pool used to be.
Oh, God, the regret. It’s unbearable. It keeps you up at night and has only increased your reliance on coffee. Now, you need three cups just to undress and wash your hair. It’s longer now, much longer. Seven months without a trip to the salon has unveiled your dark and left your eyebrows bushy. Your mother says you look much older now with wrinkles coming in too early, that you need to brush up your appearance. She sends you new clothes and shoes at the turn of every season, and even gifted you with a new flashy necklace for your birthday. “If you’re not going to fake happiness,” she says to you when she visits, “you should at least present your body as if you are.” But every time you look in the mirror, no matter how you dress yourself, you see Emma. She had your nose, your high cheekbones, and your extra plump upper lip. She was beautiful, and now, you want to strip yourself of that beauty, you want to strip yourself of the memory. You should have been watching her.
Your mother cares. She spent a few says staying at your house after Emma drowned and cooked your meals, cleaned your kitchen, did your laundry. She was solemn, too, but healed quicker. You wanted her to leave earlier, but she wouldn’t, and her presence became both the devil and angel sitting on your shoulders. She constantly asked what you needed to feel better, but was also quick bring you to her lightened level of grief. “Sweetie, come on now, have some friends over. You would be surprised how far having a full social schedule goes. It will help distract you.” When she saw you cry would reprimand you for not being over it yet. “Emma was lovely, but she is in the past now. Smile, move on, and focus on the future.” They were words you sensed everyone wanted to speak to you, but because she is your mother you had no choice but to listen, even if you did resent her for it.
For the first few weeks after Emma’s death, you told yourself over and over not to blame yourself until it became a song in your head. But like all songs, the tune of it slowly faded from your memory and was replaced with the heavy realization that even though there were other people over that day, and even though you were a responsible parent in every other way, Emma is dead because of you. You weren’t outside. You weren’t watching her and her small feet, so new to balance and movement, that they must have stumbled over themselves and collapsed her whole body into the water. Her whole body. Your whole life. Your whole existence. When will the pain go away? Never. You are still settling on never.
At least you have stopped crying yourself to sleep. They say pain comes in stages. The first is shock, the second is pain, and the third is grieving. You are never sure what point you are at. It sometimes feels like all three at once. Other times you feel none of them, just a black pit of nothingness that drags you into bed and swallows you. Often, you lie there, pillows absorbing your head, letting your eyes glaze over in tears, thoughts coming either too fast or too slow. Sometimes, on the worst of nights, you lie and think of that horrid Fourth of July until you laugh as loud as the fireworks that came later that night. You feel guilty for that, too, but sobbing is too exhausting and laughing seems like something a pretentious TED Talk would suggest.
You can’t seem to bear anything anymore, let alone the crying. Your husband is frustrated with you constantly. But doesn’t he understand? Isn’t he in pain too? Emma was his as well. She was both of yours. She was you. You. And him. You both miss her, but he doesn’t show it anymore. Instead, he watches you prepare dinner in the kitchen, head in his unwashed hair, itching at his dark hair. You are too distracted to make a proper meal. You burned the water while trying to boil it to make pasta just the other week. Before that you didn’t know that was possible. Then again, you didn’t know so many things were possible. Everything you read about in books and watched on the television had come true for you. You wonder how you could watch such tragedy unfold on the screen moments before bedtime and fall asleep in peace. Your chest tightens. Guilt stabs you again. You should have been outside, watching her. You should have. Why weren’t you?
Maybe she would still be alive if you hadn’t been entertaining that day. If you hadn’t gone inside for those few minutes to check on the food cooking in the oven nothing would have happen. Besides, what’s a burnt chicken to a dead child? Dead. Dead. If there weren’t so much chatter amongst the guests you would have heard the infantile splash in the water. If you had just checked to see where Emma was instead of assuming someone else was watching her. If someone was outside. If you were outside. You should have outside.
Your therapist says that the guilt and repeating of thoughts is natural. She asks you if the nightmares have stayed. You say no. The first time you said yes, she had you describe your dream in full detail so she could analyze it. “Do you think the bird flying in the sky was brown because that color symbolizes an abundance in nature? Were you especially appreciative of nature that day.” You think it’s ridiculous, that and the meditations she tried to coax you into at the start of every session. The things in your dreams were only there because they were the reality, and as far as you were concerned, there was nothing else to explore.
You wonder if Emma even recognized that she was in danger when she hit the water. You wonder if she struggled to swim. You picture her delicate arms and legs flailing about, droplets of water flying off her skin and into the air. You close your eyes but your mind won’t turn off. You should have been watching her.
Maybe if she was still alive you would be spending your mornings on the driveway, coloring it’s surface with chalk as you waited for her bus to come. Maybe your husband wouldn’t be so tense inside the house. Maybe you would still have parties and use the pool. Maybe if she was still alive you wouldn’t want to die.
You remember how Emma’s chest was cold, her toes were cold, all of her skin, every inch of it and its once warm and delicate softness was cold. And hard. It looked as if she was frozen except for her hair that fanned out from her beautiful head, floating at the surface of the pool. Her lips were blue. Her cheeks were blue. Her eyelids were blue.
Your chest tightens at the memory of pulling her out. You think of the hot pavement, the guests of the back porch, the screaming, the screaming, the screaming. Your mind whirls. When will the pain go away? Never. It is too much.
The memory of her smile and the squint of her bright eyes in the sun flashes through your mind. You hear the sound of her laughter, her sleeping sounds, and her squeal when you tossed her into the air. It is beautiful, but it is painful, too painful.
You tie yourself up against the bed frame with a scarf and hang.
Your lips will be blue. Your cheeks will be blue. Your eyelids will be blue. You will be cold and frozen looking. Like Emma, you will be gone.
Rebecca Dutsar is a wistful 20-year-old from Newtown, CT, and is currently a junior at Ithaca College where she studies writing. She enjoys snacks and iPhone games that involve stray cats. Her favorite color is red. Rebecca wants nothing more than to share her passion for poetry with the world. Her work has appeared in Harpoon Review, Souvenir Lit, After the Pause, Unbroken Journal, 30 North, and several other publications. Find her on twitter @beccsdutsar.