When my mother died I wasn’t there. I wasn’t that worried though because I expected to see her that evening, in the form of a ghost, of course. I was staying at my house, her house, and so she knew where to find me. We had a lot to catch up on, and she would want to say goodbye and I would want to say goodbye, and finally we could have some privacy. It had been a long, surreal day, finding out that your mother has died while you were living across the country, taking photos with your Pentax 35mm camera for photography class on a sunny San Francisco day; yes, she has been dying but I didn’t see it that way, and yet, as much as I hate to admit it, I had already started to forget about her. It seemed she was no longer human, an exhibit at the hospital that would always be there. My brother called me while Jaime was driving me to the airport, and immediately, I knew could never articulate or have a connection to this loss. It would never be mine. It was like playing parachute in elementary school gym class. Everyone’s hands gripping the rainbow parachute, forming an unbreakable circle, and when the hands go up, everyone’s hands are pulled up and stay there, uncomfortably. You hold up the parachute, fluttering, hesitant and strong at the same time, and lose the ability to form an opinion while you decide if you will go under and sit in the epicenter of it all, awaiting the slow colorful group hug in the form of a duck and cover exercise.
I wasn’t ready to be the grieving daughter and felt bad for my friends who were feeling bad for me and felt guilty for my aunts who watched her die and were there and who loved her in a way that I did not. I spent the hours with all of them and went home, got in bed, and expected mom to come immediately and talk to me. She did not, and I was surprised and offended. I patiently waited night after night, and the weeks went by. Why did I think she would come? It wasn’t because I had seen ghosts, or believed in God, or even believed in ghosts per se. My mother died without us talking about it at all, and we were very close, and it just seemed guaranteed that I deserved that opportunity. She was unable to speak for the last six months of her life so we couldn’t speak on the phone. That was a big adjustment since we used to talk every few days and I lived far away. I still, nine years later, forget that I can’t phone her. I’ve written about it, how all I want is to be able to call her on the phone, how ingrained is the idea to call your mother. I thought the ghost appearance would be like a hologramic phone call. This never happened and I never got to say goodbye. Looking back, I regret it wholly that I did not move back home for those last few months. If I had, then after it was all over, I would have gone back home, to San Francisco, and I would have stayed. My life would be different now. Like Darwin different. Instead, I stayed in San Francisco and then, missing her death, decided to move back home, to her home, to Utica, NY. I lived in her house and slept in her bedroom and watched her TV for six months. She didn’t visit me then, either.
I don’t reminisce about her with anyone. It’s taken me years to understand why this is, and it is because my best memories with her were near the end, the last few years, when we were alone together. When we were in love with each other, when she looked to me as her best friend, when she would be her private self and talk about her feelings. When I really listened to her and felt bad for her for the many wrongs in her life, when I felt special that she thought of me this way. It wasn’t until the last few years that we found this stride. I felt so bad that I was only home for two weeks, every six months, for years, but I had to. I felt guilty and sad everytime I left her and flew back to my own life. I am so much more like her now than I ever dreamed I would be. Always playing a role, always reserved, but not so it was obvious, always more of a listener, valuing privacy and image above all.
In all my memories of my mother with anyone else - my dad, my aunts, my friends, her co-workers, I am playing the part someone expects me to play. No one knew her like I did, and no one realizes they didn’t know her like I did, and there is the problem. The empty void, for me, is twofold. For all these reasons, I cannot believe she did not come. Is death really that final and instantaneous? Movies and television, as well as religion have promised otherwise. I was thinking you got your one phone call from jail. Maybe she did and she visited someone else? The truth is, I did have a dream with her just twice. The second was very nice but weird, no conversation. I woke up crying. The first was clear and realistic, enough to be like an actual visit. She was in her pink robe we buried her in and we were walking home up the hill. All she said to me was, “I miss you less and less”. I choose to discount this as real, because she wasn’t nice and it wasn’t reassuring.
Mom, come to me in a dream talk to me. It doesn’t have to be weepy and we don’t have to talk about how dead you are or how I didn’t say goodbye. We can talk about anything, like I can tell you how many things you were right about and you can gloat all you want. Maybe you’ve been visiting Dana or Ann or spying on famous people. Maybe you finally flew over London, maybe you found a penny in the street. I don’t give a fuck, just come back. I have your sewing basket.