A Different Kind of No More
I dreaded all the departures. For twenty-five years I had been coming and going from my childhood home. You would think it would get easier over time. But it never did. If anything, it only got harder, especially after my Mom got sick. I had researched her illness of course. Dr. Google told me that her life expectancy after diagnosis was fifteen years. And they flew by with a swiftness that was unrelenting. My efforts to savor, catalogue and chronicle every moment in an effort to slow the passage of time was rather like trying to stop a locomotive by grabbing hold and digging in my heels. Futile. Absolutely futile. Especially from 900 miles away.
It had always been there you see. Even when I was grown up and had a home of my own...it was always there waiting. I could always go back. I always had a place. It gave me the peace and the security that I needed to stay centered here in the land of I don't belong. Some of that evaporated when my Mom died. She had always been a problem solver. She never waited around for things to sort themselves out. She had weathered some incredibly difficult life experiences and emerged battered and weary, but never beaten. So I knew that regardless of what life threw at me, that house would shelter me, and she would help me muddle through.
Even though I still have a father and a wonderfully supportive husband, I felt utterly lost when she died. Something about losing your Mom makes you feel terribly unbalanced and alone. But as long as the house was there, my Mom wasn't as profoundly gone as she would have been otherwise. Gone, yes, but still very much in evidence.
But, as we all know, the only constant in life is change. And change things did. My Dad met a woman and got married. Understandably, she was not inclined to live in my Mom's house. So the house is up for sale and this past week I travelled home for the final time to divide up the household belongings and the personal items of my mother's that remain there.
Her wedding dress is in a box with her dried and crumbling bouquet, the just married sign, the cake topper and all the collapsible tissue paper decorations from the reception. In others boxes were the baby clothes we wore and the baby clothes she wore. Doll clothes sewn by her mother. Letters from Korea written by her brother. Silk pajamas from a Japanese pen pal. A carton of family documents dating back to the 1800's. Plaster plaques she painted when we were born, each one inscribed with names, birth dates and birth weights. A multitude of incredibly detailed cross stitches. And so much more.
All those things hold inestimable sentimental value to all three of us for obvious reasons. But even the mundane utilitarian items are significant. My Dad couldn't understand why we agonized over butter dishes, gravy boats and nondescript kitchen bowls. He stood by looking bemused as we struggled to let go of things that seemed perfectly ordinary to him. But a gravy boat is 40 Thanksgiving dinners. A butter dish is 40 mornings of toast crumbs and chaos. The bowls are 40 years of cookie dough, cake batter and meatloaf. And 40 years of admonishments for eating it raw.
Those ordinary items were ever present on the landscape of our lives with her. And now, they are all we have left.
Deciding what to do with the things was exhausting and emotionally draining. But we got through it together. And now I can breathe a little easier knowing they are safe.
Friday night my sisters and I and our respective families gathered together around the enormous oak table in the dining room for the last time. I had intended for us to have a grand meal like the one my mother would have orchestrated on such an occasion. But we were simply too weary. So we ordered pizza, a rare treat for us these days, but one that went largely unappreciated by the adults. We were all too aware of the finality.
I didn't sleep that night, knowing what was coming. I stared at the ceiling of my old room, remembering and watching the hours on the clock tick by. At 3 am I gave up and got out of bed. I wandered through rooms now stripped of everything that made them a home. Each and every one advertised her absence with it's blankness. I realized, with relief, that I felt strangely detached. That was good. That was easier. But the worst was yet to come.
My mother's customary spot in the kitchen was in front of the sink where she could gaze out at her garden. For forty years she stood there; warden, sentinel, hostess. In the silent but not silent dark of old houses, I took her place. The yard too was dark, but a glimmer of white caught my eye. Her beloved peonies, which have normally come and gone by this time of year, had steadfastly refused to bloom due to the unseasonably cold weather. I had hoped they would flower while I was there, as I rarely got to see them in full bloom, but they remained stubbornly closed. The glimmer was an open bud, two, three, four.
I left the kitchen and ventured out into the damp grass. Their fragrance was still faint, but it was there. Only the white ones were blooming and only a few buds on each bush tested the promise of spring. But one bloom was fully open; full, lush and creamy white. I stroked the silky petals and thought briefly of snipping it to take with me.
But I couldn't clip that brave bud. So I simply whispered to it. "Good bye Mom."
A few hours later, my family had been rousted from bed and the first fingers of dawn were beginning to streak across the sky.
It was time to leave.
I thought if I did it fast, like a band-aid, it would hurt less. After only a moment of hesitation, I pulled the door shut. It clicked, locking me out of childhood. No more you can come home any time. No more Mom will make it better. No more escape into Sean Cassidy daydreams.
Drive, I said to my husband. Drive away. And he did.