One year down. Where’s my medal? I was going to keep this brief, didn’t want to dwell. I don’t fuss over dates. I even tried to explain it to my daughter, who was dreading this day. I told her she was looking at time like this (I used my hand to draw an imaginary circle in the air), when in reality it’s like this (I used my hand to draw a straight line leading up). “We don’t come back to the same day,” I said. “Not really. We’re not back there again. We’re this far away from it. And next year we’ll be this far away. The seasons come around again, and the weather gets warm again, but we’re farther down the path.” She seemed unconvinced. Or more likely she just wasn’t paying attention to me, because she’s nine and they’re like that.
So it wasn’t going to be any big deal. But then this happened…
“You’re acting like a girl and I don’t know how to deal with that,” he said.
It’s true. I was acting like a girl, or rather his idea of how a girl acts. I wasn’t terribly happy and I didn’t feel like explaining why.
“Why are you being like this?” he demanded. “What did I forget? It’s not your birthday or our anniversary. It’s not the day my dad died or your mom died…”
“Yes, it is.”
“No, it’s not,” he insisted. (Can we just take a moment to acknowledge how utterly ridiculous it is for someone to take this side of the argument?)
And then he went on to explain why it wasn’t the day my mom died. It wasn’t in August, he said. There was torrential rain and it was cold. No, it absolutely wasn’t in August. He was confident in this.
But of course he was wrong.
“Are you sure?” he said.
“Oh yes, quite sure,” I said. “Because it was August. The weekend before, I was feeling off. So were you. We emailed back and forth about it. I suggested it was a midlife, summer-coming-to-an-end thing. We were both sad. We went to that free zoo down near Cape May. It was a million degrees and there were those busloads of Orthodox Jews there for some reason. Remember how the baby fussed until we got him shaved ice? Parker took a couple great photos of Maddox in the car. We sent them to my mom. She wrote ‘Great pictures, Parker!’ And then the next day Steve invited us to see the planes at that little airfield. Hot that evening, too. We got Kona Ice for the kids. I took that picture of Maddox standing there with his mouth open like a little bird. The girl gave Parker a bracelet. Maddox got to see inside a plane. On Monday Mom called and sounded pretty good. She offered to edit my book right before we got off the phone. I said it was okay, that you would do it, probably in the fall, I said. I took you to work on Tuesday and called my mom on the way home. She said she was hurting, but said it would pass. I told her to go rest, that I would call her later, but I didn’t. I was sad that day. I was afraid if I called, I’d bring her down. My cell phone died the next day. I brought the kids to the playground. We didn’t stay long because it was so hot. I sent Mom some photos. She didn’t respond. The next day, Thursday, a storm rolled in and knocked out the power for six hours. I was waiting for you to come home so I could call my mom, but when the power came back on I found out she was at Fox Chase seeing the doctor. She sent that mass email that night. You know the one. ‘My instincts suggest good days acoming.’ That one. I wrote her back late to tell her all about how I hadn’t had a phone and the power had been out, but I was happy she sounded so optimistic. Friday morning I sent my mom another email saying I wanted to see her and then drove you to the station. I don’t think she read either of those last two emails. We drove through torrential rains, which was unusual so early in the day. The water ponded around us and I was afraid the car was going to wash away before the light changed at the intersection in Norristown. You waded through the knee-high water to get to the train, which I thought was gross. I saw a water rescue vehicle near the bridge. I was worried that someone had drowned. I came home and called my mom. My dad said she was maybe having an anxiety attack or something. Steve was there. He said he would call me back. You called me and I was upset because it seemed like another health problem might keep me from seeing my mom and I was frustrated. I did the dishes and cried. Then Steve called back… That was Friday, August 10th. I’m pretty sure I remember it better than you do, so can you please stop arguing with me now?”
I really really didn’t want to have to explain that to him. Worse than having to say it all again was remembering all the other moments, the ones after my brother called. How I dropped to my knees in the kitchen. How I went outside to call my aunt because I didn’t want to wake the baby. How the weird, lanky neighbor kid walked his dog right past me and I wanted to punch him. How I spent the drive to the station trying to figure out if it was psychologically important for me to see the body. How the traffic was bad on the way back and I smacked the steering wheel with my fists, as if getting to my dad’s house faster would made a difference. (Yes, Dad’s house. I started saying that immediately. Didn’t want to be one of those people who talked about the deceased like they were still around and made other people uncomfortable.) How my father and brother didn’t think I should go in there, in her bedroom. I insisted, told them I’d seen a dead body before and I knew what that was like. How I peeked in the doorway. How I saw she was on the floor, which I wasn’t expecting. I figured she’d be on the bed. Thrown off by that, I didn’t go in. Saw only her ankle. Decided that was probably proof enough. But was it? It still feels completely unreal, like she could knock on the door right now and it wouldn’t be weird at all.
Time goes like this, not like that.
Anyway, this is a Saturday and that was a Friday. Completely different. Maybe next year I’ll remember today. Parker was up at that cabin with her cousins. We took Maddox to the orchard, remember? I wanted to pick raspberries, but you weren’t thrilled with the idea so we just bought some stuff at the market and watched the goats. And Maddox threw that horrible fit while we were eating ice cream. I took a few pictures but they didn’t turn out great. I put Mad down for a late nap and you went out writing. Parker called and I told her One Direction was going to be on the Teen Choice Awards the next day. I sat down to write a blog post and Spotify didn’t open for some reason, but I decided to write it anyway. It was a long one, which I hadn’t intended. I considered deleting it, but hit ‘Publish’ instead.
My Mom died on June 23, it has only been a few weeks and I have not even begun to understand the magnitude and finality of her death. Her consciousness and all that she was has ended, forever. As an atheist I know there is no tomorrow for her, no heaven, no reward, no loved ones waiting to embrace in amidst the clouds. She is now ashes, lying in a small carved wooden hummingbird, placed in a quiet country cemetary. She has winked out of existence. The past few days I have been wondering if human brains are wired to want to believe in God and am afterlife. It puzzles me, not for one second since she died have I swayed from my intellectual understanding that there is no more than this. Yet I can not yet wrap my head around the thought that she is dead. It would be easier to be deluded and be calmed by a ridiculous belief that forever doesn’t apply, and I will get to see her again. But, that is not true. Forever is forever. Reading your blog has helped, please continue to share your experience. Your take on life, death and grief is valued and appreciated. Thank you for the work you do.