How many children do you have?
An ordinary, run-of-the-mill, small talk question, repeated over and over again as a natural part of daily life, bearing the potential for endlessly rolling waves of pain.
At my niece's wedding two weeks ago, my brother introduced me to friends. "This is my sister and these are her children." No No No, I wanted to scream. These are TWO of my children. These are TWO-THIRDS of my children.
But. One does not sink onto the floor and wail at a wedding reception.
My son . . . one of my sons . . . my surviving son . . . says that he catches himself constantly. So many of his stories begin with the words, "My brother and I . . .". But as he begins to speak he realizes that he does not want to go there, not with new acquaintances. He especially does not want to field the questions that have always been addressed to him as a twin.
Who am I, without all of my children? I could describe myself in any number of ways, but what do I care? There is only one irrevocable part of my identity, and it has been shattered almost beyond recognition.
And so. Tomorrow the Quiet Husband and I head for Oregon to visit The Lovely Daughter. Gregarious Son goes to New York City for a much needed break with friends. And Chicago Son is somewhere else. With us but not with us.
We have always been a travelling family. We have all spent a lot of time separated from one another, often across two continents. But cell phones and emails and airplanes and our love for each other shortened the distances.
It doesn't work like that anymore. I am always in two places now. In this world, with two of my children. And somewhere else, where my heart is full of the one who is not here at all.