She held the memory out to me, the edges smoothed gently from handling and hugging. It was a treasure and I accepted it as such.
I looked at it, turned it from every angle, thought about what it might mean, and raised questioning eyes to hers. “This?”
She nodded, a smile playing at the corners of her Daddy’s mouth.
We veered right at the line to the London Eye, and quick-walked through the small tree-lined square, dodging people heading for the Embankment as we hustled the other direction – to the street, with cars nipping neatly from lane to lane and busses squealing and hissing as they pulled up to a stop, then belching a thunderous roar as they swerved back into the always-moving traffic. I saw the blue bus approaching our stop, the one we were rushing toward, but without so much as a pause, it glided on, not breaking the pattern of traffic for two weary travelers from the States.
“Was that it, Mama? Was that our bus?” My daughter had seen it, too. “Why didn’t it stop? Didn’t it know we were coming?” The questions came quickly now, anxiety on the horizon.
“I don’t know, Beary. Maybe it wasn’t on this line – maybe it was a Purple Line bus that’s cutting through. I couldn’t see that far.”
I tried to keep my bewilderment from infecting her anxiety. “Let’s go wait for a few minutes and see if another bus comes by. That one was earlier than the driver told us it would be, so…yeah, let’s just wait.”
We’d gotten off the tour bus about half an hour before, hungry after visiting the British Museum. I remembered a fish & chips place on the Embankment, but it was getting late, so to make sure we had time to eat, I asked the driver how long we had until the last bus – at least forty-five minutes, he’d assured me.
My girl played on the sidewalk, spinning around this crack, jumping over that one, while I scanned the street, willing a blue tourist bus to rumble our way. Five minutes…eight minutes…twelve minutes… It was obvious that the last bus had passed by. I only had a few pounds in cash, not enough for a cab. I didn’t have an Oyster card yet, because we’d been using the tour bus to get around, so the city bus wasn’t an option, either.
“Okay, Beary, let’s go.”
It was time to start walking.
“Do you know where we’re going, Mama? Are we going to get lost?” The questions pounded out with each step we took on the London pavement.
“Nope, we’re not going to get lost. We can figure this out, right? Westminster Abbey is right up there, and I remember the bus coming around that corner this morning, so if we head that direction, we should find the Palace. It’s huge, right? I mean, how can we miss Buckingham Palace? It’s going to be a long walk – I won’t lie to you – but we are definitely not lost.”
My confidence reassured her and she swung my hand as we waited to cross the street. We wandered back across Westminster Bridge, stopping to listen to the bagpipes, then kept going. We paused to admire the last bit of sunlight splashing across the Abbey, then started walking again. We meandered the sidewalk along St. James Park and played with the statues we came across. Each time the idea of being lost niggled into her brain, we came across a huge “YOU ARE HERE” map posted along the sidewalk and I pointed out where we’d been, where we were, and where we were going.
“Almost there, Little Bear! You’re doing a great job!” My stride was longer than hers, but she’d kept up, even running ahead in places to explore a bench or a statue, waiting for me to catch up. So confident was she in my navigating ability, she even conceded to a quick detour to see the front of the Palace, since we were so close. Forty-five minutes after we left the London Eye, we straggled into our hotel room and collapsed on the bed.
“That was a really, really long walk,” she murmured, “but we did it.”
My mind looked at each bit of the memory, then I handed it carefully back to her and asked, curious, “Why did you pick that one, baby girl?”
“Because it was an adventure! And we were together. And you didn’t get lost.”
Her simple statement made me smile.
There are days I feel like I’m not going to make it. I miss Kevin so terribly much. It’s been days and months – and now, how impossible!, almost years – since he’s been with us and I feel sad. I feel cheated. I feel overwhelmed and bewildered. I don’t make great parenting choices some days, but my daughter is filled with abundant grace and she forgives me over and over. Because she knows as much as I do: we’re in this together.
I don’t want to overanalyze her memory. Maybe it’s as simple as she explained: once she realized we were going to be okay, it became an adventure that we shared. A long walk through London. And she likes to think about that adventure when she thinks about us in London.
But for me, if I take it a little deeper, it’s a little more. For me, I can see parallels to our life, the life we have without Kevin. Left behind and forced to figure out how to get to a safe place. Worrying about getting lost in the grief, but instinctively knowing that we have to stick together, figure it out as we go along. Knowing where we have to get back to – a feeling of family, a place of happy and content – and knowing we can make it if we just keep going. Starting to feel more confident in this unexpected life, able to take a break from the grief and see the beauty around us.
Knowing that through all the sadness and misunderstanding and tears, if we stay together, we won’t get lost. The road always curves toward joy if we just follow it.