Tom walked. He never had a specific destination in mind, but he knew where he needed to go. Away. Just away. Always away. Ever since Jonah’s last breath had been forced from his still-small lungs, Tom walked. He preferred to be out in the country, on the roads where a single, solid white line separated the edge of the road from the ditch to its right. He’d walk step by step along that line, unwavering, never worried about oncoming traffic. The line led him. Without it, he didn’t know where to go. Amy never walked. She barely breathed. It was a tragic juxtaposition, this walking; this nothing. Once, they’d moved together, inhaled and exhaled the same air, locked fingers, intertwined limbs. Oh, Tom still loved Amy. Still loved her with all that remained of his heart. He didn’t blame her for Jonah’s death, although, in fact, she was singularly, tragically responsible for it. He wanted her back, his Amy, his bride. He wanted Jonah back. He wanted out of this nightmare life; prayed for a do-over, bargained with the devil for a time machine to take them all back to when things were good and right and safe. “Everyone grieves differently, Tom,” his counselor, Gina, said as Tom stared at her breasts. They were good breasts, firm and high and healthy. He wasn’t interested in them, though. They were simply a convenient focal point, and Tom desperately needed a focal point. Amy cried silently and steadily through every one of their joint counseling sessions. Tom paid a great deal of money for the three of them – Tom, Gina, Amy – to sit together in a darkened room and share a sacred, silent space. Gina, of course, did most of the talking; Tom, most of the listening; Amy, most of the crying. He didn’t begrudge Amy this. In fact, he fully believed this ritual, this rite of grief counseling passage, was wholly necessary and helpful, and that someday, he and his wife would grow from it, would find a solid foothold in it. But for now, the sessions were long and painful and heavy with the weight of their dead child. “I don’t remember who we were before Jonah,” Amy confessed to him in their dark bedroom. “I don’t know who I’m supposed to be without him.” “You’re still you. You’re still my wife, Amy. I loved you then. I love you now.” But if she’d heard him, she gave no indication. Any additional words had failed her that night. Words were at a premium since Jonah had gone. Amy’s words were a finite entity, born and bred in scarcity, close to running their course. Tom feared the day they were all used up. He shuddered as he imagined the silence, the dark, deep quiet. You could drown in that kind of nothingness. When Tom had proposed to Amy half a decade earlier, he’d whisked her away to Chicago, the Windy City, with promises of good food, red wine, and great sex. As they’d strolled along Lakeshore Drive holding hands, shivering in the early spring air, Tom had knelt on the cold ground and said, “Make me the happiest man in the world, Amy. Marry me.” And Amy had laughed and cried and squealed and jumped and hugged him hard. “Yes, Tom! Yes! Yes! A million times, yes!” He’d never been happier. She’d never been happier. Then two short years after they’d walked down the aisle and pledged their eternal love and fidelity to each other, Jonah joined them. Jonah, with his red curls and his pale, translucent skin. Jonah, with his ten perfect fingers and ten perfect toes, his lusty cry, the dimple in his left cheek, deep as a cut. He was beautiful, perfect, cherished. Their circle of three was a tight, unbreakable bond of wild, new promise. Tom was flush with pride and happiness and fatherhood. Sometimes, in those earliest days of new motherhood, Amy cried with fatigue in the night, so tired and worn from breastfeeding every two hours. “Please, Tom, take him tonight. Just let me sleep for a bit. Please.” Tom would. Always, willingly. Those wee morning hours when he rocked his son in the serene blackness were transformative. He reveled in the gentle coos Jonah made, the involuntary movements of his immature limbs. He always thought it was a bit clichéd when people spoke of the magic of a newborn baby. Then came Jonah. As promised, Amy would take her turn after she’d refueled with an uninterrupted hour or two. She’d gently lift the baby from her sleeping husband’s arms and watch in awe as Jonah’s tiny chest rose and fell without falter or fail. She was madly in love with her little family – even in the haze of sleepless nights and long, working days, her heart all but exploded with gratitude and the wonder of what was yet to be. They were doing this. Together, they were creating a family, a story of their own. Life continued pushing them forward at a blistering pace after their son was born. Jonah talking, Jonah crawling, Jonah walking and cutting teeth, Jonah celebrating his second birthday. There were dual careers to balance and friends to laugh with and extended family to hold their trio tightly. There were endless trips to the grocery store, to the mall, to the zoo. There was talk of making Jonah a big brother soon. “Dada! Dada!” Jonah had yelled in his gravelly, old-man toddler voice. He would bring gifts to Tom, treasures to be shared. Legos, mini-basketballs, stuffed friends with names like “Boo-Boo” and “Monny” and “Duckie.” The tiny house Tom and Amy rented was quickly overrun by the brightly colored pieces of Jonah’s existence. There were, of course, so many things a young child needed and wanted. And Tom and Amy did what they could to provide them. “We need a bigger place,” Amy sighed as she corralled Jonah’s playthings into an oversized plastic container. “An extra bedroom would make a world of difference.” For the next few weeks, they’d bathed Jonah in the evening, slathered him with the lavender-scented lotion he would undoubtedly tolerate for just a couple more baby years. They’d read to him, sung to him, and together, after Jonah’s cheeks were rosy with the sleep that follows a busy day, they’d pored over down payment figures and interest rates and neighborhoods within good school districts. If they were careful and diligent and thrifty with their money, they would have the requisite down payment within a year. Giddy with the excitement of their burgeoning dreams, they’d lie in bed, Amy’s back pressing gently into the curve of Tom’s stomach, and talk about paint colors and the merits of a patio versus a deck. Then came that crisp autumn morning when Amy woke up late and raced the clock with her hair dryer and lip-liner. “I have a 9:00 meeting,” she said in her frantic, rushed voice, the one that was untypically Amy. “Can you please take Jonah to daycare? I’ll pick him up after work. I just need to get to the office.” She threw her make-up bag into her purse where it came to rest between a container of baby wipes and two sticky pacifiers. “Damn! I can’t believe I overslept!” Tom scratched his tousled, sleepy head with one hand, clutched his mug of black coffee with the other. “Of course, Honey,” he said. “I’m going to work from home today anyway. Remember? Jonah and I will have breakfast together, and I’ll take him in after that. No worries.” He kissed her cheek and walked to Jonah’s room, the early-morning, insistent calls of “Dada! Dada!” urging him on. Tom plucked his red-headed boy out of the crib, changed his soggy diaper, and left Jonah’s pants off at his son’s request. “No pants, Dada! No pants!” Tom sat Jonah on the floor to play and shuffled his way to the kitchen where he began cutting bananas and boiling water for their favorite breakfast oatmeal. Amy ran down the hallway in her high heels, click, click, clicking as she went. She scooped her precious boy in her arms, kissed him on both cheeks, settled him back in the midst of his toys, and called a hurried and harried “Goodbye! Love you!” to Tom. Precisely what happened in the following moments, neither could quite recall. A folder of Amy’s work was forgotten, the house phone rang, some coffee was spilled. Amy turned the ignition key to start the Suburban, Guster blaring from the speakers (Maybe you will always be just a little out of reach…), backed it from the garage into the driveway, remembered her forgotten folder, threw the truck into park, ran back into the house to grab her papers, climbed back into the SUV (a little trickle of sweat now rolling down her neck), and hurriedly refastened her seatbelt. Jonah, in his Winnie the Pooh pajama top – the one with a brightly printed, “Hello, Friend!” emblazoned across the front – and his fresh diaper toddled into the driveway, the cement shockingly cold on his tender, bare feet. Neither of his parents witnessed this last journey, but they both imagined it a thousand times until it became hard and real and impenetrable. In the darkest of the dreams that followed, they heard Jonah’s deep voice calling, “Mama! Kisses!” as he ran behind the wheels of the sturdy Suburban, the one that kept him so warm and secure on the inside, the one whose consumer safety ratings ensured Jonah would be most protected in the event of an accident. And so, when they first found out they were expecting, Amy and Tom had spent the extra money for a vehicle bigger than they needed, had taken the new truck to the local police station to ensure Jonah’s car seat was properly installed in the middle of the second row, the safest place for a child, for their child. There were Cheerios on the floor, toys scattered throughout the backseat. When Amy felt the heavy, black tires back over something unexpected, she wasn’t immediately concerned. It was surely a scooter, an oversized plastic baseball bat, a forgotten toy. And so she kept going. Whatever she’d hit would undoubtedly need to be replaced anyway. She felt the bump again as the front tires went up and over. She turned the wheel to angle out onto the street, and that’s when she finally saw. A language invented by fallible humans cannot adequately describe the scene of a small, unmoving body in a Winnie the Pooh pajama top, a trickle of warm blood running haphazardly from pink baby lips, auburn curls blowing gently in the morning breeze. Hello, Friend! These are words that have not yet been – nor should ever be – defined. The universe sucked every ounce of oxygen from her lungs as Amy threw open the door and stumbled to her ruined son. All that remained in her was one keening wail, animal-like in its rawness and intensity, Jonah’s name tethered to the end of it like a kite. She knew instinctively that she should not move him. And she also knew instinctively that it no longer mattered. So, she grabbed him up into her mother-arms, clutched him desperately to her chest, held on, rocked him, begged God in all His infinite mercy to undo what had – in an instantaneous, irrevocable, life-altering moment – just been done. As he mopped up the last of the spilled coffee in the kitchen, Tom heard the primal, otherworldly scream. His chest seized tightly as he ran to Jonah’s empty room, as he noticed the front door standing wide open in the cool, morning air like an ominous invitation. And his wife. His beautiful wife, holding their son, rocking maniacally in the driveway, blood blooming across her freshly pressed, white work blouse. Her blood? Jonah’s? “Oh, my God, Amy! What have you done?! What have you done?!” Once spoken, Tom prayed those words back a million times over in the coming weeks, months, eternities. Because the “you” in that question, the implied blame, the accusation was something neither Tom nor Amy would ever move beyond. The burden of those three letters was a noose around both their necks, tightening, tightening. He ran to her, to them, and pried Jonah from Amy’s arms. The Suburban’s tires had not touched their son’s beautiful face, had not marred his perfect head, the ever-expanding brain with all its firing synapses, suddenly silenced. But Jonah’s chest, that magical place where the life pulsed in and out, in and out. It was crushed, flattened, the protective armor of Jonah’s butterfly ribs, no match for the 5,000-pound vehicle, the one idling in the road, impervious to their anguish. Mrs. Donahoe, their next-door-neighbor, ran slowly and tentatively to the edge of her yard, pink housedress flapping in the wind. “Oh, dear God. Dear God.” She may or may not have made the Sign of the Cross. No one noticed her there. “Breathe,” Tom begged, willing his son to hear, to obey. “Breathe. Please, please, please.” But Jonah’s last breath had already been, and neither Tom nor Amy had been privy to it. The rest of those warm, wet, baby breaths – along with all his promise and potential – taken away in a single, unchangeable moment. An entire lifetime, extinguished in one second on a cool, crisp fall morning with cut bananas browning in the kitchen and a 9:00 meeting that began – and ended – without Amy and her folder. “I can’t believe she’s not here yet,” her colleagues whispered, some cruelly, some with concern. “Has anyone called her?” In the following days, Tom and Amy’s tiny house was filled with a quiet, desperate buzz of continued activity. Mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, friends, neighbors – everyone came to help, to cook, to clean, to cry. They begged Amy to eat, asked Tom where the mixing bowls were stored, wept silently at Jonah’s open bedroom door. Amy was tasked with choosing an outfit for her baby’s funeral. Someone – was it her? – had decided on an open casket, one last chance to see that exquisite baby face, an opportunity for closure. But Amy was unsure that a raw, gaping, festering wound such as this could ever close. In fact, she was certain it could not. Even when the tender, pink skin grew back around and into itself, the scar would always remain, an ugly, constant reminder. No mother, ever, should be in charge of preparing for her child’s funeral. And yet, Amy thought, no one but her should be allowed. So, she chose. She delivered – how did she get there? – a handsome, striped, autumnal sweater and a pair of tan corduroys to the funeral home. Shoes? Did Jonah need shoes? Her tiny boy, dressed like a big man, the one he would never become. “May I stay?” she asked timidly, the unfamiliar sound of her own voice startling her as she spoke to the director. The rules of the funeral home were unchartered territory, and she was not sure how to navigate them. “Of course you may,” the silver-haired, soft-voiced gentleman assured her. She sat with Jonah. She touched his face, felt the unfamiliar cool. Was Tom with them? She couldn’t recall. Would she recognize Tom if he was? The funeral itself, people said, was lovely. A touching tribute to a life ended too soon by an unthinkable tragedy, a portrait of a family bound by love, crushed with grief. The casket itself was so very small, so unreal in its proportions. Amy felt briefly like Alice in a madcap world where nothing made sense – the grief was too big, the hole in the ground far too small. “I know God wanted him,” Amy heard her own mother say in a choked and unnatural sob as they stood together in their tragic receiving line. “We just wanted him a little bit longer.” And she couldn’t stand it for another second, this mass grieving, these voices that danced around the right and wrong things to say to a mother who ran over her own child like a wayward animal. She took another white pill that her doctor had so generously doled out, dulled the gentle noises of sniffles and “I’m so sorrys,” and imagined Jonah’s brilliant blue eyes fluttering open, a smile breaking across his too-still face, “Hi, Mama” falling from his bluish lips. It was all a bad dream, Mama. Here I am. But he wasn’t. After Jonah’s body had been closed in his walnut casket, blue blankie by his side, his still body resting – he wasn’t really resting, was he? – in the cold, hard ground; and once the flowers placed on top of the dirt mound began browning around the edges, Tom and Amy tried to figure out how to use their voices, how to exist together in a world that was broken beyond repair. There was no more talk of bigger homes and fresh, new babies. Paint colors ceased to matter. Amy, with Gina’s help, learned how to say, “We lost our son. He was run over by a car. And I was driving it.” The words were stilted and rootless in her mouth. But they were all she had. She said it to herself again and again and again so when people asked, she could answer. It was a horrible answer, one that was inevitably followed by an uncomfortable look of shock and pity from the recipient. It was all she had. Tom’s already lean physique became taut as he walked through his longest days and nights. His body strong, his heart undone. Amazing that despite his best efforts to let it stop, that heart kept beating, beating, sustaining. Yet Jonah’s heart hadn’t. Tom looked at his wife’s body in the night, the one that fitfully rested in short spurts, aided in sleep solely by the white pills to which she’d become accustomed. He loved her. He did. But he wasn’t sure what this love was, the one at the other end of such staggering grief. What was it supposed to feel like? How did it coexist with the people they’d become – parents who no longer had a child? Two months and ten lifetimes after Jonah was buried, Christmas was upon them. Their small town blinked and twinkled its white-light holiday cheer. There was an aura of joy and serenity in the air. But in Tom and Amy’s tiny home, there was no Christmas tree. The packages Amy had wrapped for Jonah – she’d always been an early shopper – had been spirited away by a well-meaning friend. There was no holiday in this little space. There was no air. Tom pulled on a winter jacket, a fleece cap. “Would you like to come with me?” he asked his wife as she sat idly in a chair, knees pulled to her chest. She looked at him, unseeing. Had he spoken? He looked at Amy one more time, the love of his life, till death do us part. And then he turned around, opened the front door, and began walking.