This week marks 13 years since my mother died. Both of my parents are gone, but you wouldn’t know it from meeting me. I rarely talk of my parents; not consciously, but it’s not a subject of conversation that lends itself to colloquial interaction.
“Hi, I’m Bob”
“Hi Bob, I’m an orphan”
…doesn’t roll off the tongue.
They say of loss that time heals all wounds, but I’m telling you right now that is utter horse shit. Time doesn’t heal a damned thing… it makes you forget about the scar in it’s wake, the hole in your heart, the feeling of missing parts. One day, you’ll be walking through life, and then there it is. Plain as day, shiny and raw in the light. No one sees it, though. Only you notice it. And for a brief moment, you remember the sting.
You get yanked back, tossed into your past self for a moment, sometimes longer. It is the only proven form of time travel, grief. You are back in your dorm room in your slippers and robe, 18 years old, making Mac n cheese in your popcorn grease-soaked microwave and get a call.
“The chaplain said Mom isn’t doing well,” your father says. She’s been in the hospital since Friday. She was placed into sedated detox. It’s now Wednesday. You beg him to call as soon as he and your sister know what’s wrong.
You hang up.
An hour passes.
You shove salty orange noodles around a plastic cup in time, listening to mindless chatter in the hallways, some music popular at the time, and the thump of your own heart in your chest. Finally, you reach your threshold- you try your sister’s phone.
She picks up immediately. She says nothing.
“Emily, what’s wrong? What’s going on.”
A brief sniff.
“Talk to Dad”
A shuffle. The phone changes hands. Silence.
“Dad, what’s wrong.”
A bigger sniff.
“She’s dead, Julie.”
A guttural sob.
You hang up the phone.
You run into the dorm hallway. You scream louder, nonsense at first, then only the words “no” and “mom”.
The screams don’t sound like they are coming from your body.
Girls spill from their rooms like beer foam over a pint glass. You manage to tell one girl that your mother died. She spreads the news in hushed tones among the crowd. You remember no words after that, just collapsing. You fold, heaped into a lump of confusion and pain on the scratchy carpet while strangers comfort you.
You will remember none of their names.
You call your best friend. She comes and gets you. You go to a mutual friend’s house. They make you pasta with pepperoni. You eat none of it. They put on the movie Robots.
You will never watch that movie again.
You call your mom’s phone. You listen to her voicemail.
Your uncle picks you up from college to take you home the next day.
The memorial is awkward. You stand by the closed casket and talk to people. Some of them you know, some are familiar, but distant, some are total strangers. The same script plays out over and over and over and over. While grief is a stabbing, stinging pain, mourning is Chinese water torture- annoying, repetitive, monotonous, as thin a feeling as water rolling down your cheek.
You grow tired of being by the casket. You sit down. You read the guestbook. You talk to your mom’s best friend.
You sing at your mother’s funeral. You carry her casket to the hearse.
You eat cold cuts in the church’s preschool.
People mention seeing a crow outside the memorial, by the church the funeral was held, and now at your uncle’s house.
You think it is nothing.
You look at baby pictures with your last living grandparent, your mother’s mother.
She dies 4 years later.
Your dad dies before that, a year and 4 months after your mother, almost to the day; 10 days after your mother would have turned 51. He has a stroke one week after your mother died. Your mom dies one week before Thanksgiving. The timeline confuses you, but you know it by heart. It’s carved there.
Tony, I know you’re gone. I know my mom is gone, and my dad is gone, along with all of my grandparents and an uncle. I have grieved, angered and accepted long before typing this letter. Time passed and the scar tissue is still thick and rough. It pulls at my current life, given strain to everything and everyone I encounter…
it didn’t just scar me, it maimed me.
Nothing was spared from it’s wake- my mental health, my relationships, both romantic and platonic, work associations, conversations with strangers about things their parents do.
The rest of my life, whether I remember it or not, I am marked. The game now is to see how long I can go before the light hits the damage just right…
November 16th will mark 13 years since Maureen Helen Cleary Birnstein took her last breath.
And tonight, I see every scar as if the wound was just made.