The family walks past the long window and through the door of the taqueria. The mother leads the way. She is undeniably who I first think she may be; her wild kinky black hair and beautifully pumpkin shaped body have not been altered by the seven years which have passed, and she is easy to recognize.
She is followed by her short, shuffling and grumpy husband, and I lean forward to catch a glimpse of the one I want to see so dearly and at the same time am afraid....and in another short, interrupted breath - he bounces in, buoyant in spite of his father's shadow.
He is tall, considering the stature of his parents.
His hair is like hers, and his smile is hers.
He talks animatedly about black beans or pinto; turns his excitement towards the soda fountain. He is seven.
The mother notices me staring and looks at me suspiciously for a moment before a flicker of recognition.
I wait for her to go first.
"You look familiar...do I know you? I know I know you from something....swim classes? The library? Music class?"
I let her trail off before I decide to answer.
"The NICU. We met in the NICU. Our babies were in together."
She looks at my children, sizing them up...wondering...
So I say, "No. This is my daughter. She was not even two at the time. This is my son, and he is four. It was Elijah who was in the NICU."
"Oh yes, now I remember. How is he doing?"
I shake my head, realizing I got myself into this by staring at her son.
I don't think she wants to hear.
The silence with which she waits indicates she is expecting the rest of the story.
"Well, he died when he was thirteen months old."
We go through the usual dialogue.
"Oh wow. Oh. I am so sorry."
"I know. It's okay. It was terrible. We really miss him. But now it's our family history."
"Oh wow. I am so sorry. I don't know how you....I could never....I don't know what to say...."
"So, your son looks great. Congratulations, he's wonderful."
"Oh wow....the NICU....wow. Oh the NICU...I hadn't thought about it in so long."
I gather up the scraps of my kids' quesadillas, and herd them out the door. When I turn to wave goodbye, her elbows are propped on the table, her head is in her hands and she is staring glassily into the orange booth in front of her.
"I'm sorry." I toss out, by way of 'goodbye'.
I really was.