I am eight. It is 6 days before Christmas. Night time, I think. My father returns from the hospital, wakes me to tell me my mother has died. My half-asleep response: “OK.” What is there to say? He hugs me. I hug back. The entire world, aside from my bed and father, has just been sucked into a blackhole. I wonder if a dandelion feels this way when yanked from the earth roots-and-all.
I had been warned. There were signs. I believed them. He told me she was sick and there was a chance “she might not make it.” I confessed to him I didn’t know how upset I’d be because you’re supposed to be upset when your mother might die. I wasn’t. I didn’t want her to die, I just didn’t feel like I’d miss her because she’d turned mean the last few months. The results of a second, failed kidney transplant: depression, impatience, anger. She kicked me once in the ass on our way in the house from the car. I was in the way, struggling with the metal garbage can and she was carrying heavy stuff. I knew I was supposed to feel upset or sad and I knew my feelings didn’t match.
My father told her this. That she was pushing me away. He wanted us to come together again. To be whole. So one of the last messages she got indirectly from me was that I wouldn’t miss her or didn’t love her. Perhaps that’s why I still can’t go to sleep when there’s an apology to be made, a peace to be negotiated.
A few years later, while my father was showering, I sat on the closed toilet and told him it didn’t seem like such a bad thing to die. Like maybe it was preferable to living. Why wait for the inevitable. I could see his blurred form through the frosted shower glass. He continued washing as he said God forbids it. My life was not mine to take. The response was either the surest example of faith I have ever experienced or the absolute limit of parental hubris. Things can be both, I suppose.
I’m still here. My mother still is not.