Roberta F. King

Author site for the memoir, He Plays a Harp and other writing by Roberta F. King

23 September
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September Son

Yesterday, I was riding my bike and thought about you, Noah. There are tiny triggers every day that cause me to pause and remember you. Sometimes it’s seeing a school bus rambling down the road, or I’ll hear a certain song or a spoken word that makes me smile about our life together. Other times the mulling is more intentional. I think of you hard when I’m in your old bedroom. Lately, I’ve been choosing some of your old books to place in our Little Free Library. It’s painful, but feels good to be sharing a part of your life with people who will never know you.

Lake Michigan in the fallThe weather here is just like it was the fall you went to kindergarten and that’s why I thought of you. It’s oddly warm, summerlike. There’s a sporadic southwesterly breeze and the light is abundant, yet diffused, as the sun moves further away.  I remember the September that you started school, it was very warm and sunny, too. I was between jobs and I was happy to not be working. I was a final candidate for two jobs, both of which I wanted, and I felt confident and glorious. I ran every morning after you left for school and then, a few days a week I walked over to your school to read to your class, wading in Lake Michigan on the way home. I loved seeing you and your friends sitting in a circle listening to some of our favorite stories. I’m sure I read McElligot’s Pool and Curious George Makes Pancakes.

So today, as I was riding my bike, I was reminded of that wonderful time in our lives and was thinking about your birthday, too. Did I bring cupcakes to your kindergarten class that day? Was your birthday that year on a school day? I can’t remember for sure. Making cupcakes seems like something a mother might do, but I’m not a maker of beautiful cupcakes, which I would have wanted them to be. But five and six-year-olds are easy to impress with thick frosting and abundant sprinkles.

Had you lived, you’d be 29 years old today. I can’t imagine it. I just can’t visualize you beyond the 17 years that you were alive. Lack of brainpower or lack of will, I’m not sure which it is.Noah Miesch age 15

Maybe that’s why I have to go back to the past, raising up memories and thinking about the happy days of your life—like your birthday. I picture times when you weren’t sick or suffering, I think of your crooked smile, your funny remarks, and your skinny legs. But, as time has passed those memories are fading, like cupcakes in kindergarten, I can’t be sure of anything today—other than how much I love you still.

21 July
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Member of the Tribe

It was a hotel with one thousand rooms, but even in that expanse, recognizing the bereaved parents was easy. We were the worried-looking people with name badges on blue lanyards and big photo buttons of our kids. Though we didn’t pack them, Mike and I had our big Noah buttons by noon the first day of the conference. A volunteer assembled the buttons onsite with a hand-operated button machine. Ours were made from a scan of a worn sixth grade picture that Mike carried in his wallet. I must have missed the memo about bringing a nice photo of your child to the conference for a big button and ours looked worn. Some parents wore two and even three buttons—one for each child that died. I can’t imagine that, which is just what people say to me when I tell them my son died.

So, in our own way, we chose to show our belonging to the group by what we wore. A big photo button and name tag badge with the name of our deceased child printed next to ours told everyone that we were part of the bereaved parents tribe.

Conference Goer from Across the Way

Conference Goer

Across the skywalk from the Hyatt Regency O’Hare where parents and siblings gathered for national conference of The Compassionate Friends (TCF), Exxxotica, the Largest Event in the USA Dedicated to Sex and Love was holding its annual show. They were easy to spot, too. The Exxxotica women wore bum-showing shorts or skirts, sometimes with leg warmers and stilettos or with thigh-high boots. They wore cinched up bustiers with bellybuttons showing, There was lots of black and hot pink clingy material and spangly sparkly tops. They showed inches and inches of cleavage and were generous with their colorful eye makeup and lipstick. They had plenty of ink, too. I spotted a leg length snake working its way from an ankle around the calf, up a thigh and up into the front of a short skirt. The men, for the most part, carried women’s stuff—bags of whatever people in the erotica industry need to have on hand. When you’re toddling around on seven-inch heels, you don’t need to be schlepping a heavy bag.

It was an odd mash up and I wonder about what the hotel conference planner must have been thinking at booking time.

The last night of the conference, I wanted to get a picture of one of the participants from Exxxotica. I needed proof of this unlikely convergence. Mike and I walked the musty and warm skywalk over to the Rosemont convention center after the closing candlelight ceremony for TCF. The skywalk was carpeted, which seemed to be contributing to the dank smell. We passed several possible photographic candidates, but they weren’t interesting enough. Finally, I spotted the one. She was at least six feet tall, but with her spiked heels it was hard to truly gauge her height. She was probably as old as me, and easily seventy pounds lighter. Her makeup was heavy and her expression worn. She’d probably been working a trade show booth since noon. I wondered if she was repping a line of dildos, or was it lube lotion, leather goods or videos? I didn’t ask.

“Hi, do you mind if I take your photo?”

“Sure,” she said cheerfully. She let go of the arm of the man who was escorting her. She smiled and posed against an unfinished trompe de l’oeil painting of a window. I took two images with my phone.

“I just wanted a photo, well, because we’re from the bereaved parents conference. We’re in the same hotel as you guys,” I said. “You know, bereaved parents and erotica in the same hotel. I just thought it was interesting,” I stammered.

Big photo button“Oh. So did we,” she said, nodding. “Who did you lose?”

I told her a bit about Noah’s life and death as we walked back toward the hotel. I was glad she asked, and we were happy to tell her about our son. She steadied herself on her companion’s arm and we fell behind them a few steps. We parted as the doors opened from the smelly skywalk opened to the marble floors of the hotel lobby. Her heels clicked as she and her companion strutted toward an elevator.

I’ve thought about this brief meeting and how the tribes we represented that weekend are on the fringe of what’s considered normal in American culture. Death and sex are two topics people are generally uncomfortable talking about. So here we were, parents celebrating the lives of our beloved dead children, mixed up with other adults reveling in their sexuality and simply looking at one another in wonder thinking: how do you do it?