Emma Oliver "Those Frozen Moments"
You don’t know what it’s like: To raise a son to fend for himself, to send him off into the world, to miss him. You cherish, even more, the pictures you had taken of him in those moments that slipped away so quickly you remember them as those frozen seconds beheld by the frame, taken from the context of the past completely, as if that one smile for the lens was all that mattered. You live on those phone calls that come just as you’re pulling your house coat around yourself or settling in for late night television on the couch: the quiet hum of the line in the background, the smile in his voice. And those moments in the frames smile back at you as his voice tells you he’s off to bed, that yes, he brushes his teeth every night, and he hopes you sleep well. And he loves you, Mom. Mommy, he whispers. Because grown men don’t say that. But sometimes those little boys in the frames do.
You don’t know what it’s like: When your son buys his first motorcycle. You try to keep down the memories of riding one yourself and tell him it’s not the same. When he tells you he’s got his permit and he’s taking a safety course. When he describes releasing the clutch and how it makes him feel alive and says that one day you’ll ride on the back. At least once, he urges when you protest. You say you’re getting too old for that, and he grabs you up in a bear hug and says you don’t look any older than you did when he was in middle school. He says Mommy, trust me, I’ll be safe. And you believe him, because the boy with the ears that stick out a little bit on either side of his head, the one who never ages from his frame above the stairs, pedals toward the camera on his two-wheeler, shouting that Mom! I can do it! I’m riding without training wheels! And you had to work up the courage to let him do that too.
You don’t know what it’s like: To get a call when you’ve just sat down for dinner, and a voice unfamiliar mentions your son, and a motorcycle, and a car, and a terrible accident. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know what it’s like. When that same voice mentions a hospital and sirens and no pain. He mentions dead on the scene and instantaneous. But you don’t hear a word of it because that little boy in the frame atop the bookshelf has finally stopped crying, and he’s holding up his elbow to show you he was brave and let you clean and bandage his scraped skin. And you can’t quite understand the meaning behind the voice’s words, but whatever it is makes you ache so bad you have to hold onto the counter to stay upright. It makes you slide down to the tiles of the kitchen floor and sit there with the receiver in your hand, as foreign to you as if a newscaster had announced the end of the world. Because your world has ended. You just can’t fully grasp it because if you do, you won’t be able to feel anything ever again.
You don’t know what it’s like: To bury your only son. To put on a dress you’ve worn before at occasions that you can’t remember but don’t matter anyways. To drive down the road on a clear day and wonder how people can walk down the street around you and not know he’s gone, not know that the world has ended. You park and trip over heels you hate anyways and take them off, because that little boy who still smiles up at you from your wallet, he’ll forever run around in the grass, barefoot with green feet. And you walk into the service and hear words that don’t mean anything now. And no one, no one in the entire world, knows how you feel right now or ever will: when you look down into this wooden box, this coffin frame, and see your son - your baby, all the little boys in their moments - frozen in time, smile gone, beautiful eyes under closed lids. Lying still in this box, like the one he kept beneath his bed with movie tickets and boutonnières and bottle caps - forever remembered the way they were. The way he...was. And they close that box. And it’s over. You’ll never see him that way again. You’ll never see him smile at you again. Never hear his voice on the phone again, whisper that he loves you, Mommy. Telling you he’ll be safe and nothing will happen to him. And it’s so much harder to look at those little boys in the photos and smile back, because you know what would happen to them if they weren’t frozen in those perfect moments, when he needed you and the world had yet to end.
Bio: Emma M. Oliver is an American writer of short stories, live performance, themed entertainment experiences, and poems. She received BAs in English and Spanish from Christopher Newport University and an MFA in Dramatic Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Her short fiction has previously been published in The Rectangle and Haunter’s Tale: Volume II, available on Amazon. Emma’s writing is inspired by her love of self-exploration and people. She is currently based in Japan.