The year of magical thinking
To my mind, columnists who write columns about column-writing are right up there with people who insist you look at every app on their iPhone, make you talk to their toddlers on Skype, and want to show you their stitches. It’s not that it’s too much information. It’s that, well … (If this column was done in graphic-novel style, I would draw a picture here of me expiring from boredom/nausea with Xs for eyes and a twirl of smoke over my head.)
But, as in all things, I am willing to make an exception for myself. And that’s because I have to tell you that I tried not to write this column. This isn’t a fake “I promised myself I wouldn’t” claim, like the one I made about my recent colonoscopy column, which I had every intention of writing. This time, I mean it.
You see, I’m writing this column on the anniversary of my mother’s death. Because I dragged my readers along with me through this past year of loss and reckoning, I feel, as a writer, that I must come full circle and bring it to a close.
Now, when I say “close,” I don’t mean “closure,” a term that makes me want to punch someone in the neck. (Ooh, maybe I need to focus on my anger issues first.) As a person who is still holding grudges that date back to kindergarten (“I was going to eat that paste, you jerky Nunie Jackson”), there’s no such thing as getting over anything for me. But there is marking milestones, and this is a big one.
That’s not to say this one-year mark is a finish line (“Ta-da! Done with all that now!”), but there are certain things that change — most notably, the end of firsts: the first holidays and birthdays, the first family functions without my mother. Now, I don’t mean to sound calloused, but has anyone ever noticed how often we lose people around these events? (Mom was buried five days before my fiftieth birthday; our dad, on my brother’s thirty-third.) And don’t even get me started on the Christmas passings. I saw all these days coming and braced for them, but the storm mostly passed me by. I did get caught off guard by — I kid you not — a Hallmark ad right before Mother’s Day, but it produced only a microburst and
You know what did get me, though? Doing my taxes. Not only because I had to go through my 2009 calendar and relive that year week by week, but because I always did Mom’s taxes with her. And paid her bills. I actually have in my possession a stack of her checkbook registers bound with a purple rubber band from a bunch of asparagus. One day I will flip through those registers that date back to when my mom was still writing her own checks and driving. I will look at how many trips she made to Skillins in the spring and how often she had her hair cut. But not yet.
You know what else still gets me? Going near the Brunswick Hannaford. She and I spent so much time there, padding up and down each aisle, buying baby cans of vegetables and packages of ground beef that would promptly go in her freezer and remain there. Grocery shopping was our regular Friday thing, and that store holds more juju for me than her gravesite or our family home, so I’m still giving it a wide berth.
As the anniversary approached, the small acts of letting go began. I don’t mean spiritual surrender. I’m talking about parting with the can of beets and Snow’s clam chowder I took from her cupboard (and knew I would never eat) by donating them for a food drive. And, when I finished it, chucking her empty Redken shampoo bottle into the recycling bin. It was these mundane things I seemed to cling to most, the ones that said, I was just here, at the grocery store, at the hairdresser. Heirlooms and artifacts are forever, but gray, frozen ground beef is fleeting.
This year has been harder than I ever expected. Because I lost my dad young and because I knew Mom might go at any time, I thought I’d be prepared. I thought I’d have all the scaffolding and stabilizers in place, that the wave would come but not knock me down.
But if I’ve learned anything through all this, it’s that you can’t cheat grief. It takes what it wants and takes its own sweet-ass time to get lost. I know I will start getting better, moving forward. And a part of me mourns that, too. Because as difficult as this year has been, I have been electrifyingly close to my mother. There was a pleasing intensity to those microbursts of tears and feelings.
Yet even those have begun to fade. Like when I placed a wee can of beets in a bag of goods to feed the hungry, and I knew it was just yucky beets and not her yucky beets.
For me, that was the start of the end. And that’s what I had to write here — for closure’s sake.
Now, would anyone like to see my basal-cell carcinoma surgery scar?
Elizabeth Peavey dedicates this column to all us survivors.