A voice called out, and my eyes wandered over. A lazy glance at a conversation that had nothing to do with me. Not expecting to be away from the place in my book for more than a moment, yet when I looked back down, the iPad had auto closed. Five minutes had passed and I’m not sure where they went.
Her hair is different. Shorter, blonder perhaps. Gone are the casual sandals and shorts I seem to remember her living in; stylish but comfortable I would have said. Like she’d just stepped out of the pages of the Christmas Country Road catalogue. They’ve been replaced with a suit skirt and shirt. Heels. Still stylish, but business like.
Holding the hands of a toddler, a girl. The way she’s guiding her along the floor as she takes those unsteady baby steps, I’m sure she’s her mum. She’s a new addition too. There was only two kids before, now there’s three. Life just goes on I guess.
The other parent mentions her name, and they share an in joke and laugh lightly. I look away, hoping she hasn’t seen me. Any doubt that might have been lingering that maybe it was her sister, or a cousin, or just someone that looked like her disappeared. It was her. And silly enough, my stomach wretched at the thought.
The last time I saw her would have been years ago now. Time really does just go.
While my reaction to seeing her might have been dramatic, it probably shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
There was a time when we were friends. We shared those early days of prep together; grabbing a coffee and waiting at the school gate with baited breath to see if our girls would survive each day. It was a time before the diagnosis. A time when we were just a family of three. Maybe we’d even have another child? Who knows. Poss was starting school, the options were endless and life was going to change, I was sure of it.
And it did change. Just not in the way we’d expected. For us, and for them. Their daughter didn’t really cope; she spent much of those first few months crying, exhausted and at the younger end of the age bracket for that year. Poss was hiding in the lockers, and she’d started to lash out at the kids around her. The ripples that started small, were starting to spread.
And one day, they just weren’t there any more.
We tried to get in contact, with no luck. They’d moved house, disappeared. It was as though they’d vanished off the face of the earth. Gone. And I missed my friend.
Meanwhile, those ripples got bigger and bigger, and threatened to drown us all. We tried to swim against the tide for years, and I still look back at that time with a feeling of wonder at how we made it through.
Over the coming months and years, others left too. Most would probably attribute us being there, their children having to share a classroom with ours, at least in part, as influencing their decision.
I don’t know if that’s the case with this family. I suspect maybe yes, probably yes, but I never knew. The questions and the what ifs were never answered, because I could never ask.
Her face popped up in my laptop recently as I was cleaning out a bunch of old photos. The picture that caught my eye was one of the two of us laughing at a school sports day, our girls hugging as they showed us their ribbons. Like the others times she’s jumped back into my mind, I quickly closed the image, filing it away, too hard.
Seeing her takes me right back to those days, before our world crashed down around our ears. A time when we were balancing on the edge of a new reality.
I watched the movie, the Life of Pi for the first time last week. I know, I’m about five years behind everyone else. There’s a quote towards the end of the movie that goes ” I suppose, in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say good bye.”
Maybe that’s it. Not taking that moment to say good bye.