My wife is late from court, so we sit at the table with our drinks and wait, make small talk, change what we will order more than once. Get some lemons for the iced tea. The usual.
When my wife comes, I say, we will take the picture. My younger daughter disagrees, saying the waiter won't understand why there is no one at the table. We spar a bit, gently. My wife arrives, jacked up from her time in front of a judge with two other lawyers she terms "jackasses." It's the usual, trying to get her to detox from work and to enjoy a simple, weekday lunch. We order in a flurry of last-minute changed orders--words like salad, buffalo chicken, chicken fingers, Ranch dressing, cole slaw swirl around as the waiter tries to keep up with our energy.
Then we begin to talk about the photo itself, but my wife can't break away from her phone, her work. Another phone vibrates. My younger daughter picks it up. "It's Chrissy," she says, which is weird, because Chrissy is my older daughter's friend. My younger daughter answers, says, "Yes, she's right next to me" and hands the phone to my older daughter.
Then everything changes. My older daughter's emotions, first of all, because she is irritated at Chrissy, who has asked her if she has heard anything, and my daughter says, "Heard what? Just tell me." And as she is told, her face goes blank, then her hand covers her mouth, then her eyes begin to tear up, then she is crying, then my younger daughter is holding her, all while we watch and try to understand. When she can finally talk, she tells us that a friend of hers, someone we all have known since kindergarten, has been killed in a car accident.
Then everything changes. Her friend, sitting next to her, our photographer, goes to her own phone, trying to get her own information from a different friend. My younger daughter has not stopped hugging her sister, even as the phone conversation continues. My wife and I go from quick shock to quicker tears, and we, too, try to figure out our own ways to get information.
And then the food arrives, quicker than it ever has at this restaurant--2 buffalo chicken salads, 2 fried chicken salads, and a 2-piece white meat plate--so we accept the food before we have time to tell the waiter we don't want the food, and he doesn't seem to know, or maybe he does, or maybe he knows something but not what, and so wants to drop the food quickly and get away from us. And so we have our food right on top of our shock right on top of our grief.
The rest of the meal is mundane and chaotic. We eat without thinking, picking here or there, saying what people say when they don't know what to say, leaving to take or to make phone calls, putting food in our mouths because there is nothing else to do, there is nowhere else to go yet, and because we might as well, a little food, a little energy, a request for to-go boxes. But where will those boxes go?
And we pay and we part. My older daughter and her friend to a house where other friends are gathering. My wife to try to shut down her work obligations. My younger daughter and I back home where her grandmother awaits.
The rest of the day becomes talking, looking at pictures, making a cake to take to the family, keeping hair appointments, remembering the young woman as she was when she was a girl and when we knew her best, lamenting this or that, saying things within this family about that family and its problems, sitting, talking, looking, waiting, searching the Internet for information, speculating, mourning, retelling, sitting closer, switching attention to the dog, making phone calls, sending texts, critiquing Facebook grieving, telling stories, finding more pictures, looking for reasons and finding things that don't make sense.
This is not morose. This is not overly-dramatic. This is life, like it or not. The sudden, inconvenient, shocking, unexplainable event that takes over a day and days to come, the unexpected and unable to plan for. What you will feel, what you will think, what you will say and regret or say and surprise yourself, what you will come to know or what you knew but didn't know you knew, you can never know until this happens. What will come out or what rationale you will create for the irrational, all of these things will rise from the dark, fetid dirt like mushrooms.
Sometime later, you may find a way to account for this and you, but you cannot account for it now, except to know that you are alive and that you have added even more weight to that journey ahead. This is life.