When I was 3, I didn’t know a damn thing about lost causes, so when I watched your lankly frame walk out of my life for the first time, my childhood innocence convinced my broken father to go after you. Do you remember that? You were wearing white Keds, carrying nothing but a purse, walking slowly as you braced yourself for the chase. Dad was wearing a plaid button down, and moved too quickly to even consider buckling me in my booster seat. Instead, I road copilot — our fruitless pleads screaming after you.
I want you to know that’s the last time he ever wore a shirt like that — of this I am certain. But that’s not what this was all about. Or maybe it is, if only with the same splintered strand of an idea that nothing was ever the same after each time you left. How many were there, mom? I lost count. How many times were we forced to start over after you? From custody battles to missed birthdays, from long fights in the night over the phone to unattended graduations, I was always marked by the presence of your absence. The last time I saw you before I knew you were dying, you held me with such love and yet you could not wrap yourself around this obvious disconnect to get through to me. I wanted to love you back in that way — trust me, I tried — but where you held on to all the times when we were together, I saw all the years you were gone. I saw all the Hallmark commercials for Mother’s Day, actors with their perfectly manicured nails and pale pink carnations, and I wondered what that felt like, like I was on the outside of an emotion, looking in on something that I couldn’t relate to.
Yet no matter how many times you walked out, I was always waiting when you came back. Even when the coroner checked your pulse and pulled the red blanket over your body, I stood there in my stale breath for what felt like days, just waiting. I guess I was expecting an encore. It didn’t make sense that your symbol crashing in intervals, marking my entire life, would mute itself into a slight tremor before becoming nothing at all.
In the following days after, I would detour my flight back to Boston, stopping in New York, your home city, in attempt to hold onto every part of you I felt was fleeting. I remember you describing SoHo like it were less of a neighborhood and more a bazaar. Though the January air was raw and the weather was seeping into my sneakers, I still expected to stumble into hidden book stores and be approached by palm readers, like you said it was in the 70s. Instead, I paid 10 dollars for a croissant at a place where they frothed the coffee, and I wept quietly to myself when the attendant at the MET wouldn’t let me check my carry-on suitcase up front.
The New York you loved was thankless, Edye. Your home couldn’t care about you dying, at least not in the way that I did. New York saw no difference between you leaving decades ago and me showing up just for that day. January 21st could not tell your physical and my internal death apart.
Everything would continue to feel gray, even as the seasons changed. I still feel like that middle hue sometimes — as soft as I am hard, and as vocal as I am nondescript. It comes out in stuttered words and me staring off into space. I am either brought back to life by something as simple as dandelions, or stay in a trance that wears off as I sleep, in between dreams. What was once me waking up still feeling like you’re still around, has been replaced with me feeling like you never were, and that I somehow spored from the universe like a celestial strawberry.
As I write this, I ask myself what is all this is for. You can’t read it, and thankfully we reconciled things enough while you were still around for me to be at peace with the indefinite hurricane that was what it was like to love you. Your uniqueness is too farfetched for a copy cat. Your snarling laugh cannot be mimicked. It was your perfect balance of heaven and hell, of color and darkness, of song and noise that made it impossible for my loyalty to be anything but relentless though I wanted to badly to abandon my post for sake of my own starving heart. It took me years after kissing your ashen forehead for one last time for me to realize that your death was never about me, or about us, or what you once had and lost. You had been dying for something your entire life, a something that I will never get to see, a something that was only obtained by a woman I never really got to know in the way I wanted to.