This morning I threw out your shampoo. I want to include that in my statement. I want to describe the sound of the lime green bottle clunking against the bottom of the garbage can. Only, I can’t get up. It’s not just the shampoo. It’s the razor balanced on the edge of the tub, the jumble of make-up in the drawer, your toothbrush almost touching mine in the holder beside the sink. Everywhere I look, there are remnants of you. You’re everywhere. And nowhere.
You left a pair of socks beside the bed. My mom scooped them up, adding them to the pile of laundry she was collecting. “I’m just trying to help,” she said when I screamed at her. If she washes your things—the pants that brushed against your legs, the ratty t-shirt you wore to bed, the socks you left on the floor—I will lose even more of you.
“At least let me do the kids’ clothes,” she said. “I won’t touch any of her things.”
“Okay,” I agreed, clutching one of your balled-up socks in my fist.
Sullivan calls out for you every night. He’s never known this kind of hurt and all he wants is his mommy. You’re the only one who could make something this hard okay. Except, of course, you can’t. I do my best, but I’m no match for the confusion and grief that have clamped around his little heart. You know how he gets. It’s your arms he wants. Your kisses he needs. So how is he supposed to survive losing you without you here to help him? How are any of us?
Wesley is trying to be brave. He hardly ever talks, though. I think he’s afraid that if he opens his mouth, all his sadness will come pouring out in a never-ending wave. I know the feeling. I am constantly on the brink of drowning—like this moment now, sitting on the bathroom tiles, gasping for air.
Even the dog has taken to whimpering. She sleeps in Sully’s bed and I let her. The night of the funeral, we all slept together—me, Sully, Wesley, and the dog—the four of us crammed into one bed.
You would have loved it. Well, maybe not the dog sprawled across the white comforter, but given the circumstances, I think even you might have made an exception.
Just from touching your apple-scented bottle of shampoo, I can conjure the smell of your hair. If I close my eyes maybe I can fool myself, just for a second, that you’re right here beside me, sitting on the cold bathroom floor.
“It’s okay,” you’d say. “You have to do it sometime.”
“Why? Why do I have to get rid of anything? WHY?” I slam my fist against the tiled floor and the pain that shoots through my knuckles, eclipses, for one breath-taking moment, the pain that has been coursing through every muscle and fibre and neuron since the accident.
I didn’t believe it at first. It thought it had to be some other car, some other person. How could it be you? How could you be gone, just like that?
“I’m sorry,” one of the officers said.
The kids were upstairs. I offered water to nobody in particular. I straightened the cushions. Somebody contacted your parents.
Rachael came right away. She’s the one who told the kids with me, in the morning. Sully came down first, hugging his stuffed rabbit, his hair all rumpled, cheeks flushed with sleep. I had to wake up Wesley. He followed me down the stairs, groggily. I wanted to carry him, but of course, he’s too big for that now.
“What’s happening?” he said, noticing Rachael where you should have been.
“Oh, Sweetie,” Rachael said, going over to both boys, one hand touching each of them. “Last night your mommy was in an accident.”
My heart ached as I watched their faces crinkle in confusion. “She was hurt really bad,” I said.
“Where is she?” Sullivan asked.
The other driver wasn’t hurt. He knew the light was about to change, but gunned it anyway. Didn’t you see him? Couldn’t you tell he wasn’t slowing down? Did you even have time to panic before the sickening crunch of metal, before a thousand pieces of glass rained down on you?
Killed on impact. That’s the phrase everyone uses to describe what happened to you. Impact. The word ricochets around my mind. I’m supposed to prepare a statement, a Victim Impact Statement (that damn word again), to detail all the ways in which our lives are less now. I wrote two sentences before folding in on myself. Because how can I describe any of this—this moment where I can’t get up off the bathroom floor? How for days I couldn’t rinse out the mug you used on the last morning you stood in our kitchen?
The space you used to occupy can’t be measured in words.
Sully finally lost his tooth, the one that was wiggly forever. He put it under his pillow but the Tooth Fairy forgot to come. He showed me the tooth the next morning, still wrapped in its neat square of Kleenex.
“The Tooth Fairy was probably busy,” I told him. “I’m sure she’ll come tonight.”
Then Wesley asked me to help him find his soccer cleats and when I asked where he usually kept them, he stormed away.
“Mom would know!” he yelled.
“Yes, but she’s not here,” I yelled back.
What was the last thing I said to you? Did I tell you to have a good night? That I loved you? Or was I reminding you we were out of ketchup? I can’t remember. I can’t remember the last words I spoke to you. At the time, I thought it was just one more of a thousand casual goodbyes.
I reach into the garbage can and pull out your shampoo. Not yet.
Ever since reading L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon as a child, Carolyn Huizinga Mills has dreamed of being a writer. In 2014, her story “Without a Soul” placed first in the Canadian Authors Association Short Story Competition, and in 2017, her story “Finders” placed second in the Alice Munro Short Story Competition. Carolyn’s first picture book, The Little Boy Who Lived Down the Drain (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2017), was chosen as a 2018 Blue Spruce Honour Book. Her second picture book, Grandpa’s Stars, is forthcoming. Her debut novel, The Good Son (Cormorant Books, 2021) was released in March.
A grade seven teacher, Carolyn loves to share her passion for reading and writing with her students. She grew up in Calgary, Alberta, and now lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband and two children. In addition to reading and writing, Carolyn loves playing soccer, camping, travelling, and eating dark chocolate.