Thanks to its ever-changing messengers, The News is a thing that enters my consciousness a sentence or two at a time. I used to devour it; now I can barely choke it down.
Each word more treacherous and painful than the next. There aren't enough cat videos to compensate.
I've long ago stopped reading the obligatory commentary that attaches to the end of every item like tentacles, growing unwieldy until it starts to tighten.
They are all surging rivers of discontent feeding an angry, roiling sea.
Instead, I use what's left of my psyche as a breakwater against the tide, and retreat into works of fiction.
We've often made it a family affair; selecting tomes that we can read aloud, and that will make us laugh, and cry, and cry some more until I feel a tiny sense of hope. I try not to let my anxiety seep through.
In this silence, a part of me can travel the world, meet people I imagine might be soul mates, and visit all the secret gardens I haven't the skills to tend. Surprisingly, I can also bring things back with me; things that change me just a little bit.
These stories make me feel off kilter and slightly groggy, but otherwise contented. It is a strange effect.
I can shut my eyes and cast off into a dreamless night.
It's only temporary.
The world has a way creeping in through the curtains, bubbling over like a wave before crashing into something else. It nudges this sleepy introspection, gently shaking me awake and into the current.
I wish I could say this awakening sends a jolt through me, enough to snap me back to some gasping-for-breath reality I must have had as a youth; anything that could stir my senses into frenzied action.
But I can not.
Sometimes knowledge weighs on me like a stone, dragging me down through the shimmer to the deep and dark.
No matter where I look, I can't see a clear way out. Do we tell the kids? Do we wait until they ask? Do we go around or through?
This uncomfortable silence is the new normal. More doors and locks to protect us from ourselves. The only thing I can do is keep holding my breath.
Until the boy, on his way to school Monday morning, notices a flag at half staff.
I knew he hadn't overheard our whispers. He had been too busy with childhood to notice us with our coffee, heads down in our phones. The little attention he paid to our mouths covered by hands, came out as advice:
"Drink water. That's what I do if I try to eat something too hot."
But, now, in the car and with the neighborhood rolling along beside us, his eyes leaped from pole to pole, and the lowered flags worried him.
"Has someone important died?"
"Yes, dear. Many someones."
"Many? Were they Soldiers?"
"Yes, some of them were. And some were mothers or fathers or sons or daughters. People who will not come home to their families."
"Was it a war?"
"No, it was a nightclub in Florida."
He looked confused.
"An unstable man with a rapid-fire gun killed many innocent people."
"Oh, I thought we only lowered flags for the military."
"We lower flags to show national sadness.”
But it's not enough. It's just a sign of respect; it's not respect itself.
For the rest of the ride, we sit in silence, with tears, wondering what we can do.