Tangled Branches

My screams are combined with a sobering numbness.

An old oak tree in early spring with no leaves on the branches, watercolor art
Image created via Midjourney // Anna Burgess Yang

I spent the week in my hometown, a Spring Break getaway with the kids. It has been far too long. We haven't been back to the area since my grandma's memorial in 2021.

I'm always greeted with changes. New homes under construction. A new grocery store.

Yet so many other things remain unchanged. The sheltering oak still stretches on my aunt and uncle's property, guarding the ashes of Nelle, Iris, and my grandparents. Though, since our last visit, one of the largest branches has broken. It now slouches toward the earth, not fully letting go of its connection to the trunk.

We visited the tree, as we always do. Up the steep path, holding Autumn's small hand in mine so she wouldn't slip. It was early morning and the sun was bright even though the air was frigid. The kids ran across the big field in their rubber boots. They approach the tree with excitement; a contrast to my always-somber mood.

That morning, I was thinking about my babies. And I was also thinking of the people murdered the day before in yet another school shooting in Nashville. Three children and three adults were killed.

Jared Moskowitz, Congressman for Florida's 23rd district and former Director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, wrote on Twitter:

Screenshot from Twitter

"I didn't hear crying, I heard screaming."

Because that's what parents do when they're told they'll never see their child again. They scream.

I screamed when the doctors told me that Nelle and Iris had died. My mouth opened in a silent scream. I closed my eyes tightly, wanting to go back to a few minutes before, those moments when I believed that my babies were still alive.

Reading about the shooting in Nashville, I put my hand over my mouth and screamed. Parents have been screaming for years. Decades. We scream in horror that guns are valued more than our children's safety.

Every morning, my oldest son hurriedly leaves the house for middle school. I walk my younger children to the bus stop. At that last glimpse, I say, "I love you!"

On more than one occasion, I have felt a pang in my chest that I might not see them again. They could be killed at school, a place that should always feel safe. It's not some distant idea... my son's middle school had an intruder just a few weeks ago.

My screams are combined with a sobering numbness. I can't think about the daily risks, because if I did, I would lock our home's door and never leave the house. Instead, we have to just accept (?) live with (?) the knowledge that politicians are spineless and don't care.

Often, I've wondered if — one day — something terrible will happen to one of my living children. And I'll look back on my writing from today, and the day of Uvalde, and the day of Parkland, and the day of Newtown and think, "I had no idea how much pain I'd be in. I'll never see my child again."

Because I can only think about that so much. I look back at the writing between when Nelle died and when Iris died, when I felt something was wrong, but couldn't explain it. And yes, I had no idea how much losing a second baby would break me.

And I can silently scream along with the families victimized by gun violence. But I can't know what they're going through. The loss of my children isn't the same as the loss of their children. I lost a dream. They lost a reality.  

We hung little paper flags among the tangled branches of the oak tree, a tribute to the people who rest there. Those families in Nashville now face a lifetime of remembering and honoring the dead, instead of seeing their loved ones every day.