In the morning, I didn’t see C. I might have if I had searched harder. I suppose she came a little before me, and she thought I hadn’t come. Anyway, she didn’t want to study that morning. She had a toothache. But I found her only after 15 minutes of sitting in the staffroom trying to talk to VP Ma’am worrying about her and what she said at first was vague. I didn’t know she had a toothache. She said something about headache. So she wasn’t there and I was terrified, really, in that total trauma-induced way. Then something I couldn’t pin down was wrong with her. It didn’t start the morning off well and, although I had lots of work I might have done, I mostly wandered around and again tried to sit with VP Ma’am and listen to her readers, only the reader had chosen The Road Not Taken, which is for me terribly morbid and evocative and makes me think of the chain of events that led up to Nata’s death.
So when C happened to walk by getting water for the altar in her classroom with her friend, I had been just on the verge of tears. She stopped and asked what had happened to me. I had to tell her something, so I just said I had worried and I hadn’t been able to calm down. Then I found out about the toothache. We went back to her classroom together and she said, “You are going down, Ma’am?”
I said, “No, I am following you. I want to see your tooth.” I waited for her to pour the water into the seven bowls on the altar and I walked back up the path with her. And I had to say again, “I want to see your tooth.” She laughed and let me look in her mouth. I couldn’t see any inflammation—it was a molar. The center of it had gone black. Maybe a cavity. I’m not a dentist, I really have no idea, but you still have to look at these don’t they? I suppose it helped me. I saw the problem. I saw it was something short of life-threatening and later I went and gave her acetaminophen. I touched her and felt she was still warm. She wasn’t cold. She didn’t have hypothermia and she wasn’t dead.
It is all kind of crashing together in my head this morning—not C. That just touched the nerve that was already exposed.
And the nerve this morning is that I failed. The absolutely most important task I felt I had as a child was to keep Nata safe and alive. Then she went and let herself die and I was not allowed to save her or to even really try. I don’t exactly feel guilty about this—don’t get confused about the emotion of it. Guilt isn’t primary. It is more like a vast disappointment. I failed. Utterly. For seven years, I kept her alive and in one piece or tried to, and then suddenly it was all over. She was just dead. Irrevocably, unchangeably dead.
You might think I ought to soften that sense of failure. It was an unattainable goal. But that’s the core of it. I had a goal that simply couldn’t happen, that was completely too big for a little girl. I think I need to feel this. I need to feel the absolutely too-bigness before I can understand how it all happened the way it did, the sense that it crushed me afterward—to get that too.
But today is hard.