“After all, tomorrow is another day.”
~ Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
The words came so casually, so fluidly from her mouth. That’s not what surprised me so much, it was the ease in which I received the information.
“Your aunt is in the hospital again. She’s probably not going to make it through the night.”
I stared ahead at the brick wall in front of the car, then met my mother’s eyes and said “again?”
This time, it was real.
She will cease to exist as we know her now; and as I write this, she has.
Still, I have nothing to give. No emotion, no reaction. Nothing.
How can I possibly be me?
I’m the one that fled home, hysterical, when her fists came down to meet me; the one who pleaded with her when she stood in the way of my grandfather’s treatment; the one who stared, disbelievingly, into her cold eyes when she wished my mother dead. “Get out of here. I hope you die too,” she screamed.
She screamed words so horrible, I could hardly believe they existed; yet, there they were, lingering in my grandpa’s kitchen—a heavy noose, poised to fall around my neck. Tightening. Squeezing. Sealing the death of a once-beautiful relationship.
In the years of her steady decline, I secured memories of her coming home drunk, spreading tears in each room of that ranch-style home. Weeping in the space between sadness and anger, she offered secrets, like cookies, to an unsuspecting child: I always wished you were my daughter, not your mother’s. I always pretended that you were my own.
And it was true.
The saddest person you can ever be, is the person who longs for everything else.
I don’t have the capacity to mourn, The sentiment, the emotion—they’re not twisted or different or warped, just absent. So who am I today? What child is this?
When my grandfather passed, I felt it—the pull of grief as it seeped from the marrow. But that’s me. That was me. I feel it all; and often, it’s too much.
The weight of being human can crush a spirit.
And I think she felt it too.
She’s gone now, the legacy she leaves behind—mere hours old—tarnished by the dark-mess that gripped her in the end. I wonder if that’s how she’ll be remembered by her boys: swollen and unconscious in a hospital bed; her blood turned toxic long-before the test results could prove it. Acidic. Hardened. Dead. Eating away every beautiful piece of her that remained.
Gone, like the wind.
It wasn’t her, I know that. The rational inch of my brain knows that the words she spoke, the opaque hatred that glazed her eyes, the horror that she delivered through me— these things come from a broken place, from a mind that had been saturated with alcohol—but most destructive, discontent—and worn, nearly sheer, by pills for over a decade. And so the grown-up part of me accepts this, and carries on like it should.
I say things like, “that’s not the woman we knew.” I think think things like: she’s lost it, she was ill… not the one I loved; but, embedded is the truth of what she is—the injury that I cling to, a tragic part of my identity.
When she severed those ties so violently, I gave up on her forever. I buried her with the memory of the woman she used to be. I mourned her years ago.
I said goodbye to the person I knew when I was a child. The woman who taught me about the magic of black and white movies. The woman whose hair I brushed—a proud lion’s mane—one million times, at least.
I said goodbye to the woman who first introduced me to Rhett Butler, igniting a love-affair I would know well-into adulthood; who made homemade pierogies in my grandfather’s kitchen.
Goodbye to the one who whispered, “her name is Patsy Cline,” when my youthful lips mouthed the words pouring from her record player. The woman who existed for the sake of us children: arts and crafts, living-room campouts, hand-sewn Halloween costumes. I was Scarlet O’Hara three years in a row.
Now, as I scour the pages of cheaply-made, disposable costumes for my own boys, I’ll look back and consider the love that was once part of my definition of her. I’ll mourn the loss of that love—the love that I pray was somewhere still inside her, tucked away from the world.
Her body finally failed her. The machines that click and beep, unplugged. She’s gone.
I look into the eyes of my father—who wasn’t sure if he had reason enough for the visit—reddened and telling. He wavers in front his only daughter. He is sad. Nothing more.
Tonight, I’ll open the first pages of Gone with the Wind—the book I could never prioritize to the top of my infinite reading list. I’ll step into Tara and Twelve Oaks, in hopes of seeing her the way I’d like to remember.
I’ll see her as she saw herself: a Southern Belle. I’ll see her walking under weeping willows, free of her vices.
She’s gone now; but today, as the sun begins to set and I watch my son dance shirtless through the shade of the trees, I close my eyes to feel it. To feel the wind. And my heart’s quiet wish is that she’s been carried away just as gently.
The feeling and thoughts are brief, but they are there.
Perhaps I don’t bury her memory, but the resentment and anger instead.
I’m free from the burden of analyzing her. I don’t have to spend another moment of this precious life wondering what went wrong.
She’s been released to the wind, and I hope that wherever she is, she’s surrounded by velvet. I hope she’s wearing red lipstick and her nails are freshly done. I hope she wears all the bangled, costume jewelry her arms can bear. I hope she’s being pampered, with elaborate crown molding above her head, giggling that all-too-high, Aunt Pittypat squeal.
I hope she’s free.
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