Of all the things that I expected to be difficult (moving here), losing my mother was never even in the realm of my most terrible imagination. But it has become the only thing. Now there are vampires sucking at my words and rendering them bloodless. Suddenly. Tragically. Impossibly. I need every adverb in the book. I need to bend the language until it howls, then breaks. Or else I will resort to saying all the dumb things that now feel like the only things to say. It really does feel like a hole in your heart.
But then it isn’t real. There are arrangements to be made, and boxes to be packed. Loaded. Unloaded. Unpacked. And little moments managing to be beautiful in spite of this. Little jokes she might have made. Her memory, the act of her on a planet which is now unreal and immeasurable—both too big and too small.
After twelve hours on the southbound Amtrak Carolinian, I looked out the window and thought I live here now. I had my mother on my lap, and we were passing forest after forest—jungle green broken only by industry and mud brown creeks. She wanted me to move here so very badly; she kept saying, “you’re going to get there and everything will change.”
My first act as a Chapel Hillian was to walk through the four rooms of our new house and sob. She was supposed to come and hang my curtains, to remind me to remember to buy drying racks and shelf-liners, to tell me not to be afraid of wood spiders clogging our corners… to tell me how to live like this. She was supposed to do a lot of things. And we were supposed to come into our stride again, to talk to one another not just as daughter and mother—half bickering, half hand-holding, plus that desperate, complicated love—and learn how to be women in each other’s company.
As long as I keep moving, I can keep the tides of grief at bay. So that’s what I will do: get back to work and set this cottage up to make my mama proud. I imagine her coming to visit, scrutinizing every unwashed baseboard and every upturned sponge. She’d be furious at our lack of bedskirt. But (I hope) pleased to see how we’ve incorporated her into this place, into our us. (And in a way that sticks like gum in child’s braids.)
It’s her bird clock chiming in the kitchen. Her pink dress hanging in the closet. Her rock, and our scattered rocks and shells, outside.