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Can I buy a vowel?

When the mechanics of the everyday, like a mouth that doesn’t speak, grinds to a halt.

Today, at the grocery store, what made me cry wasn’t:

The empty glass doors with no milk left, one shattered and taped up from people pushing to get theirs.

The elderly woman pulling her hand into her sleeve and eyeing an Asian woman as she passes her with her cart.

The errant lettuce leaf and rows and rows of empty fruit bins, streaked with rotting juice.

The glaring emptiness of bleach, baby wipes, children’s medicine, baby formula, gouged like eye sockets.

What made me cry was:

A mother holding up a 12-count box of Crayola Metallic Crayons up to her child, who couldn’t have been older than 2 or 2.5, pointing to a crayon in a row and asking him:

What color is this?

“Silver,” he said.

“No,” she said. “That’s GOLD. How many times have I told you this, why can’t you get this right?”

She put the crayons back.

“We’re not getting these.”

I turned as though someone slapped me. My face was purple.

As the mother of three nonverbal autistic children, I would give my kidney, ten years of my life, willingly saw off my own hand, to hear one of my children say one word.

Mama. Or crayon.

I would cry tears of joy as my child said every wrong color ad infinitum, as I gleefully pulled crayons out of every available box.

You may be thinking:

So this is how it feels when the bottom drops out.

When what you had always taken for granted, isn’t there.

When food doesn’t show up on shelves like it’s supposed to.

When people stare, with suspicion and fear, and complain, out of inconvenience.

When the mechanics of the everyday, like a mouth that doesn’t speak, grinds to a halt.

And isolation and voluntary quarantine is a way of life.

And keeping your children safe, and alive, is on your mind.

But don’t you get it? We’ve been living this life all along.

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