The water beating on her upturned face is warm, but far from relaxing. Her thoughts are frantic, jumbled, everywhere – grocery lists, to do lists, replays of conversations, everyday worries, fears for what’s to come, scenes from the day. They jump from here to there, shifting messily, rattling round and round painfully. She rests her forehead against the wall and the cool tile soothes her momentarily. Her thoughts slow, her heart calms, and she breathes. Then she closes her eyes and remembers.
His head was bowed, eyes squeezed shut, fingers locked together tightly. She started to ask a question. “Quiet,” he hushed her. “Can’t you see I’m praying?” She closed her mouth and lowered her own head reverently, stealing furtive glances in his direction, sure she knew what he prayed for. She tried to say her own, but was distracted by the tension in his shoulders. Her hand hovered over his back, not quite touching him, aching to comfort him, but not sure he wanted her to. She wanted to pray, but couldn’t remember how.
She opens her eyes and tilts her face back under the water, allowing it to wash salty tears down, down, down the drain.
“Are you ready to say your prayers, baby?”
“Yeah, prayers.” She clasped her hands together – the little one mimicking her actions.
“Dear God…” She began – the little one repeating after her. They ran through the list of “please bless” and “thank you for” and “watch over” and ended with a simple, “Please heal Daddy.”
“Amen,” she whispered.
“Amen,” the little one repeated. Then they sang a song about building a snowman and she kissed the little one’s smooth, clear forehead. And still she couldn’t remember how to say prayers that were her own.
She crushes her hands over eyes, willing the tears to stop. What’s the use in crying? What good does it do? Her tears obey, ceasing almost immediately. She’s gotten very good at cutting her feelings off before they overwhelm. Her thoughts continue to race, but she manages to quell her emotions. She feels numb. She turns off the water, towels herself off, gets dressed, and brushes her teeth. Her eyes stay dry.
Dinner was ready and she ran back and forth, fetching napkins for everyone, filling tiny water cups, grabbing condiments no one needed. Then they all held hands and said grace. She recited the words thoughtlessly, smiling at the little one who was saying words that weren’t words, laughing at his customary “AAAAAAAAAMEEEEEN.”
She makes sure tomorrow’s lunch is ready and turns off the lights. She checks on the little one and pulls the blanket back up, hoping it protects her from cold temperatures and monsters alike. She kisses him goodnight and picks a book to read, attempting to quiet her mind. She turns off the light at 10:15. She doesn’t sleep.
She lies there thinking, thinking, thinking, until her thoughts have run so wild, have frightened her so much, she starts to cry again. But quietly, quietly, so she doesn’t wake him. She’s mad at herself for crying, frustrated she can’t sleep, worried about tomorrow when she has to function like a human being. And so she wills herself to stop crying again. She begs herself to relax, threatens herself with exhaustion, cajoles herself with the promise of treats.
But she can’t stop crying.
So, she gets out of bed, kneels on the floor, bows her head, clasps her hands together tightly, and begins to pray.
And for the first time all day, the prayers she says are all her own.