Friday, January 9, 2009

The Long Goodbye

I have been thinking about today for 15 years. Along the way I've thought of many other things, and I've had days and weeks and months of not thinking about today at all. But it didn't sneak up on me, not even for a moment. No, today has been with me every day since January 9, 1994.

"It's over," I wrote in my journal that day, my 15-year-old self every bit as dramatic and heartbroken as the 30-year-old who writes this. I was talking about the hell of watching my mother die. I was talking about the exhaustion of doing my homework from a chair next to her hospital bed, and the fear of giving her the seizure medication too late, and the desperate attempts to be a normal teenager while balancing a schedule that included spending all of my free time at Albert Einstein Medical Center. I don't know what I thought would be different after she died, but I did know that I was ready to release myself from all of those things, from the hospital and the pills and the balancing act.

But the fact remained that my mother was dead. And that unlike so many of my friends who were just starting to realize that their parents were real people, I was faced with the reality that my mother could only live on in my memory. Starting tomorrow, then, my memory of mother outlives her presence in my life. Tomorrow, my mother will have been dead for fifteen years and a day, and I only knew her for a mere fifteen years.

I picture myself at the bow of a big ship, holding my arms out to the world, titanic-style. I see myself surrounded by white light, offering my outstretched palms to the sky. There is a freedom that comes with today, with letting the past be the past, and the future be the future. I cannot put it into better words, and that is good, because I feel terribly terribly guilty about the freedom. And I also feel terribly terribly sad.

There are so many memories in the last fifteen years, memories that I wish my mother could have been in. I wish I could picture her at my college graduation, taking pictures and meeting my friend's parents. I wish I could remember the excitement in her voice when I called from Mexico to tell of my engagement. I wish I could remember that funny time in the wedding dress shop when she got angry and walked out of the store because I couldn't decide between an ivory-colored veil or a champagne-colored veil. I wish we could reminisce about those horrible mornings spent doing my hair as a kid, or those car rides to and from ballet. I wish she knew Matt, and Julie, and Evan. I wish she knew me.

And that's the thing: I think that she does. I do, I really do. I think of my mother as a continuous presence in my life, a fact that today doesn't erase. But today does change something. In my head, there's a difference between today and tomorrow.

I woke at 4:40am today as I do every year on this date. I didn't think I would this year, I thought that it would start off differently. But no, I woke at 4:40, just about the same time that we got the phone call fifteen years ago. I don't have to think too hard to hear my father or Andy crying. Or picture our house full of our friends and family. Or visualize the funeral home. I am moments away from those memories. And yet they were fifteen years ago.

But I have to work to remember those mornings spent doing my hair, and those car rides to ballet. I have to work to remember them because I can't reminisce about them. My mother and I have no stories that we have told so many times that we can finish them for each other. I have only the stories I that I have told, over and over again, creating a lifetime of memories with my mother from ten good years of conscious thinking with her in my life. It is amazing what ten good years can give you.

I think that I know my mother, that I know who she was and what she was like, how she viewed the world. I worry that I put her into a mold that would feel uncomfortable for her to actually inhabit, that I have made her larger than my own life just so I can keep her in it. But the worry doesn't keep me up at night. I love the mother that my mother is for me.

I have been experiencing this day in my head for so long that I needed to experience it out loud. I was fifteen when I realized that I would still be so young when today came around. And at the other end, at thirty, as I re-read my journal entries written in my fifteen-year-old voice, I think to myself that we never really change. I have spent fifteen years - half of my life - thinking about today. And as when I was fifteen, now that it's here, I just want to spend today thinking about today, assured in the knowledge that tomorrow is tomorrow.


Steph said...

Sigh. I understand all too well.

heather said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
heather said...

wow. love and light to you.