Sometimes the pinches are triggered by music or photos. I may see a FaceBook post from one of Noelle's friends talking about college or life in general and instantly...the pinch comes.
Some days, the simple act of living causes a pinch.
One aisle over, my view obstructed by merchandise, I listened to a mother talk to her young child.
"Would you like this for your doggy?"
"I like this, Mommy."
"You can have this if you like."
At the checkout, I was stopped in my tracks when I heard that same mother, who was behind me in line, say Noelle's name. I turned to look, expecting to see a three year old version of my Noelle in the cart.
This Noelle, however, had blonde hair and blue eyes. She smiled sweetly at me when I looked her way, proudly clutching the toy she had chosen for her doggy.
I turned back to continue unloading my purchases, but was overwhelmingly drawn to this other Noelle. I wanted to speak to her mother. I wanted to ask about the spelling of her child's name. I wanted to tell her to never ever let this child walk down a street alone. I wanted to tell her, I too, had a Noelle.
I didn't though. I picked up my bags and with one last look over my shoulder, walked to my car.
At home, I busied myself cleaning out bathroom cabinets. I baked cookies. I read. Anything to keep my mind off the two Noelles.
At one point, Bentley, once Noelle's dog, now Jack's, walked into the room. I have never been fond of Bentley. He is very high maintenance and not well trained. Since Noelle's death, I like him even less. That is a terrible thing to say, I know. But it is the truth. He is a constant reminder of my daughter.
I look at him and long for her. She loved that dog. He is a part of her. While I sometimes wear Noelle's shirts to feel closer to her, I just can't seem to bond with her dog.
I know he feels her loss just as acutely as I. Even though he has Jack to care for him and to sleep with at night, his girl is gone. I sometimes find myself looking at him and wonder if he knows she didn't mean to leave him, just as she didn't mean to leave us. I don't think he quite understands she is never coming back.
I have a friend, who from a distance, resembles Noelle. When she walks up the sidewalk to visit, Bentley goes crazy. He jumps and barks and whines. I wonder if when he sees her through the dining room window, he thinks it is Noelle soon to be walking in the door. I know I have. There have been times I have caught a glimpse of her through the window and in my mind's eye, she is Noelle, not M.
It startles me when I see her that way. Makes it uncomfortable even, when the door opens, not to Noelle, but my friend.
I have mistaken my sister for Noelle, as well. She walked into the kitchen and for an instant, she was no longer Hannah. I screamed. The look on my face told her why. She understood, she later told me, without me ever saying a word to explain my behavior. It is crazy the tricks a grieving mind can play on you.
Shortly after her death, I had recurring dreams of searching for Noelle. I would find her in a crowd, but she was always steps ahead of me, always elusive.
Those dreams stopped when I realized she is still here. She is everywhere...the sun, the sky, wildflowers growing along my fence; she is the good I see in the world. She is in my heart.
When I was a little girl, I was told Jesus lived in my heart. I pictured my heart as a tent and there He was, sitting cross legged in the middle of my heart tent...camping out. Now I picture Noelle with Him.
Last night, I lay in bed with my heart pinching and my throat closed. I couldn't breathe. I wanted so badly to reach inside me and pull her out, put her in bed with me and talk to her once again.
This morning, I woke to a Facebook memory. A video she made of me trying to acclimate our pet pig to her new coat. A video where she and I bantered back and forth like we always did.
Bittersweet memories and a pinching heart. That is how I live my life these days. She felt my heart pinch last night and she provided me what I needed in the only way she could. Through my memories.
As always, life goes on...pinched heart and all.