"She was really upset," Caroline's teacher said, looking over my shoulder at the doll in my hands. Caroline had brought her porcelain doll with her to school today, her "pottery doll" as she called her. She'd come with her own little box that doubled as a wardrobe and a few old-fashioned and carefully crafted outfits. Her delicately painted face now had a large crack hastily held together with a band-aid across her forehead. In Caroline's clutched hands were more band-aids, presumably given to her to doctor her at home and to comfort her.
"She's broken, mommy," Caroline said sadly, her lip trembling.
There's so much broken right now, I wanted to respond. But I just hugged her tight, and kissed her head and smelled her hair, reassured her that we would fix it, trying to not think about how I'd spent the last two hours crying.
On the way in I'd encountered another preschool mom, and something in the way she'd looked at me had made me ask if she was ok.
"No, not really," she said, and her face crumpled. She had family in the town, nieces who went to ballet with the kids from the school that no one had heard about, a mom who taught grade school there for years. She was just trying to hold it together for pickup, she said.
At eleven o'clock I'd prayed the rosary, the Sorrowful Mysteries. Some other Catholic moms and I did it together virtually and in our own space, united for a small moment across miles through our burdened mother's prayers. I grabbed the kids' rosary hanging above the desk; the large colorful wooden beads given to Caroline as a baptism gift seemed to fit today. I don't normally say the words of the prayers out loud, preferring instead the staid properness of just slightly mouthing through them, like all the old ladies in church have done for forever. But today, my sobs rang the words out loudly and brokenly. I closed the shades so no one could see me. When I got to announcing the first mystery, the Agony in the Garden, my heart turned toward the parents in the fire station, the ones who hadn't emerged trembling and thankful with their children. The ones who stayed. If there were a time for a person to fall to their knees, to beg God, to sweat blood, this would be it.
And that was when the cross fell off of my rosary. It just thunked to the ground between my knees, as if the weight of the entire morning was too much for it, as if the Father and the Son and the Spirit and the Mother were also in pieces with us. I paused, and stared at it, then picked it up and screwed it back on and kept going.
Just last night, I had a talk with Sam about the idea of us living in a broken world, how because of the way the world became corrupted bad things happen, how it's not what God wanted for us. But how because of that, we can freely choose God. How He didn't want us to be robots. What I didn't tell him was that there are days I wish I was a robot, days I wish decisions were made for me for my own good, when I didn't have to keep choosing over and over again to love God in the face of brokenness.
I won't tell him either that after the first decade I suddenly forgot the words to the Hail Mary, a prayer I've said all my life, and had to look them up to keep going. How I also forgot after that first mystery the extra prayer I always say at the end of a decade: "Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy."
Especially those in most need of thy mercy. And I knew I'd forgotten it because it allowed me to not think about the perpetrator, to not be forced to pray for him. I'm not a good enough Catholic to be able to offer up that prayer without it turning my stomach. But I did it anyway.
After preschool pickup I took Caroline for a cupcake and to get her hair cut, forgetting for a few hours the speculation and rumors that passed for news that were being announced on the radio. And a few hours later, I was at the school to pick up Sam. My own kindergartener.
The car line was short. The gathering of adults who had parked their cars and walked to the door was much larger. His teacher didn't make an appearance as she usually does. She's young, in her third teaching year. I'd wanted to give her a hug, tell her we all loved her. But I can't blame her for not being up for all that well-wishing.
I hugged Sam tight. He comes up past my waist now, and his hair has lost that baby-fine texture and is starting to get rough and spiky. But I buried my face in it anyway.
"Sam, I broke my pottery doll," Caroline said in greeting.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Caroline!" He patted her shoulder. "Don't worry, we can fix it."
"I can glue the doll," I assured them. "I'll do my best."
But I don't know how to glue everything else.