I went to Townville tonight for the first time in weeks – probably close to 2 months. I was dreading it… had a pit in my stomach and that all-too-familiar gaggy feeling in my throat. Sue was crying on the way out there – upset that Daddy had yelled at her for not taking care of her health insurance stuff. Bobby’s all happy-happy because he’s feeling fulfilled, content, well-rested.. And I’m just pissed.
When we pulled in the driveway and walk into the house, I see that Jennifer’s rearranged the furniture. It actually helps – Mama’s absence is slightly less glaring because the loveseat and sofa have been switched. Sounds stupid, I know. Sue goes back to her room/former room and discovers that Jennifer has stuffed all her clothing into garbage bags. Kinda shitty. So there are more tears.
Feeling a little inadequate in the face of Sue’s emotional need, I retreat into Mama’s bedroom to pay homage… can’t go to Townville without visiting Mama’s room. I lean down, as always, and smell her bed… regardless of the weeks that have gone by, I can still smell her. I inhale as much I can, and feel my own tears coming. Take a slow walk around her room, touching the things that she loved so much. The antique china boxes and trinkets sitting on her dresser… the crystal box engraved with her monogram. I open it, and there are three pink bracelets in it – one says “PRAY FOR A CURE.” One says “SHARE BEAUTY. SHARE HOPE.” And the final one, the ones that became such a huge part of the marketing campaign that we launched – because surely, SURELY if we had enough people on board, God would spare her – the pink bracelet reading “BELIEVE FOR DENISE.” I did. I did. Mama, I promise I did.
I glance through her smocking books, full of children’s clothes that she was going to make for my children. I look at her wedding picture sitting on the top shelf, and the picture of her as chubby, adorable three-year-old with too-short bangs that Grandma cut herself. On the bed, there are three paintings, and three copies of the book called “Someday” – we found them in Mama’s room, and knew that she had bought them for the three of us. The painting is one that she did for a school-wide fundraising project – it’s a watercolor of a tree, her favorite tree, about a mile from our house. She took so many pictures of the tree – how completely appropriate that she chose to paint it as well. Her watercolor was chosen as one of the featured pieces for the fundraising events, and although she made very little fuss about it, Jennifer, Sue and I made a huge deal over it… so for our Christmas gifts, at some point before Aug 21st when everything changed, she had three copies matted and framed for us. And three copies of the book as well – about how a mother loves her daughter, and how even after the mother is gone, they’ll always, always be together.
And then I went to the bathroom and sobbed. Cried and cried until I felt drained, until my tearducts ran dry. Then went to the kitchen to set the table for dinner and offer to help Jennifer finish up the meal.
I brought my picture home, and I’m going to hang it. I love it, truly I do.
And I didn’t go see the gravestone. I talked to Daddy about it, and he said that we’re going to have it completely redone. I’ve been so anxious about seeing it – because I know it’s not how it was supposed to be, and because I know that my Mama’s name is going to be engraved there, etched into pink granite. It’s been raining all day, and I’ve been pushing away the image of the rectangle of earth, sunken and sodden with rain that drips down onto her – and although I tell myself again and again that the body in that beautiful casket (beautiful casket – is there really such a thing?) isn’t the one that Mama deserves – its liver is riddled with cancer, its lungs are partially filled with tumors, and its brain has a mass on that frontal lobe, the one that affects the filters – even though I know that Mama is so much better where and how she is now, and that’s what I want for her because I love her, I still am haunted. Riddled with cancer as it may be, that body is the one I love, it’s the only one I’ve ever known, the one who rearranged her bedroom when I was young and terrified of tigers so that she could watch for them coming down the hallway. The one who listened tirelessly to my painfully rambling stories in middle school, who baked fabulous chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies, and who always smelled like soap and freshly cut grass. Regardless of the facts, of the medical certainties that I know are true, that’s the body that I love. And the knowledge that it’s now under that cold, wet rectangle of earth is almost more than I can bear to think about.
So that’s why I didn’t go. I still haven’t seen Mama’s gravestone. But something tells me that she’s ok with that.
I love her so much. I miss her so much. I think about her countless times every day, and still manage to somehow forget that she’s gone. I dread May 1st, her 51st birthday. I so wish that I could hold down #4 on my phone, and she would answer. I so wish that her inexpensive little watch was on her wrist instead of on her dresser. Tonight, I saw her shoes – her little red shoes that she wore with her denim dress, the pink ribbon New Balance walking shoes that I bought her for Christmas 2006. I took one of them down, and there was a sock tucked inside – when she took it off that last time, she tucked it into her shoe until she passed by the hamper. And it’s still there. How will I ever move it? How will we ever be able to do anything with any of her things? Can her room stay the same forever, with her little sock tucked into her walking shoes, and her watch dropped onto the dresser like she’s going to put it on on her way out the door to school on Monday morning? How can I do this? How can this be forever?