It happens out of the blue and not often at all these days; a scent in the air, a sound in the sky or a moment of doubt serves as a secret passage into my memory chamber and I can feel this need, this want, this I’m-not-sure-how-to-describe-it feeling for someone I miss.
(Do you have that too? The desire to be held by someone who was once, and who will always be, somehow, even if they are no longer here on earth?)
I used to shy away from these memories and shove them deeper into the crevices of my body and then I discovered that words (just like movement) are medicine and by writing it out, slowly, over time, I could heal the parts of me that felt broken.
And so, the summer had a melancholic way to her, at times—and this is what I’m learning, still.
I want you to be the knock at my door and when you walk in, catch me in your arms so I can crumble.
You will tell me that everything is going to be okay (eventually) even if right now it doesn’t feel okay, and you will wipe the tears from my red, ravaged eyes and hold me closer still.
You will not comment on how I smell or the state of my hair; in your arms, I will soften, until the weight of me settles into the trust of your comfort.
You will tell me to get on the couch, and even though it’s a thousand degrees, you will pull the comforter you bought for me a long time ago from the chest that traveled over oceans to get here and I will wrap myself up and feel held by something bigger.
You will fuss around the tiny kitchen of this tiny apartment that you will never see, commenting on a small detail that only you will notice because I am your daughter, still, as you make me something that only you could. It will be the right thing for this moment and I will want to say thank you a hundred different ways, but the words will be stuck in my throat and instead, more tears will fall, and I will know by your presence that I am not alone or too weird or a freak or a failure in this moment of life.
And, even though I will have a hard time accepting the truth is not the one I tell myself, I will believe you, because you gave birth to me and knew me like no other.
When I wake up from a nap that resets my pulse, you will tell me who you were (really), what you were afraid of (really) and the secret to making love last ; you will show me your wild nature and you will tell me what it’s like to grow a life inside your body, and you will let all the things fall from your ruby lips and I will collect them, one by one.
Like little nuggets of gold, your wisdom and I don’t think you knew that then, but I know it now.
I will stash them safely away, into the corners of my heart for a day darker than this one.
So she was, for a long time—and, for a time that grows longer by the second, she isn’t anymore and I wonder if the first 30 years of my life were a mirage of some kind. Maybe I dreamt of her making heart-shaped pancakes on Valentine’s Day, or short-sheeting our beds after a weekend away and maybe I even made up the way her eyes would sparkle as she tilted her head back to laugh at the sky.
To keep her alive without holding too tight, I dip my toe into the places that still ache—the wounds have long grown over with weeds and I’ve learned to trust the woman that I’ve become and without this deviation in the path, who knows who I would be if she were here now.
The list of never-ending of questions that swirl around like my own personal cloud of wonder would take a lifetime for her to answer and so instead of her voice whispering in my ear, I pose my questions to God and sit in stillness while she teaches me the way.
There is nothing we can do that can alter what has come before; we cannot put words back into our mouths, we cannot unsay what we’ve said.
And, I cannot go back and remove the cancer before it removed her and I cannot change the bomb her death set off in our small family, sending us each to the farthest corners of where we started, so close, but in truth, so far.
Her absence is stronger than her presence ever was and I know that in my daydream, I imagine her as I would like her to be, now, to match who I am, now.
We would sit in the garden, just as we used to way back before the end of time, woman-to-woman, mother-and-daughter, over a picnic of tiny champagne grapes, smelly, oozing cheese and an array of crackers, washed down by a perfectly chilled bottle of bubbles. We would unearth the secrets we held back from each other then, not shy now, because time and life have made us wiser than we ever were before.
I remember all the things I can possibly reach with rose-colored glasses because what is almost worse than the hole she left behind is the thought that I hurt her in her time here, for as we grow from tiny humans into adult ones, in our confusion of trying-to-figure-it-all-out, we can be selfish and cruel, for we are only human, too, and full of mistakes.
What will never change is the knowledge that I came from love, and to love, I return.
(And so maybe the secret to making love last is found here, just where she left it, wrapped in the heart in my chest, the one she planted so long ago.)
“I had lines inside me, a string of guiding lights. I had language. Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines. What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination. I had been damaged, and a very important part of me had been destroyed—that was my reality, the facts of my life. But on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel. And as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.”
~ Jeanette Winterson
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Chiara Cremaschi via Flickr