There’s a voice mail from my mother that I like to listen to sometimes—when I’m up too late, or home alone and writing on a long and lonely afternoon. It’s from August 22nd, 2012. I’ve just come home from a visit, with (her words) my new beau, and she’s on her way out to Caloosa. There’s some (her words again) stormy weather coming to Florida, and she misses me, but not as much as usual, because for the first time in a long time she’s not worried about me; I seem to be in a good place.
Yesterday morning—long before dawn, but still the twenty-sixth—made one year. Twelve months, four seasons (inasmuch as we have seasons here), and all the joy and darkness they have layered over us. I look upon the calendar, incredulous. It might as well have been last week. Or never—in weaker moments of cognition, she’s still there. At work in her fitness pants and nametag. Up late on her balcony, listening to the chorus of unruly frogs. Or out and radiant in her brightest-colored clothes, laughing with that big wide open jaw.
As Florida has always been a foreign land to me, I find her there. Ad infinitum. Flirting. Watching nonsense television. Bobbing so as not to get her hair wet in the pool.
The only thing I cannot do is call her. Not on her birthday, not on New Years. Not on Mother’s Day, St. Paddy’s Day, or any other day. Not even after routine gynecology appointments. Not with good news or with bad. Not on the road. Not even when I’m undecided as to what to eat for dinner, or which insurance company to choose.
And never on the twenty-sixth day of the seventh month. This is an anniversary I will only ever face without her. A mark of the duration of her absence, that deafening lack of her. The one day I cannot ignore her goneness.
There is not much art in me today. I have no words for this except to say that (yet again) the platitudes have proved correct. The year is a strange witch lurking in the humid woods, who sends her strangling spell like clockwork, who brings the whole thing flooding right back through your veins.
I didn’t think I’d feel it. Which is to say: I’ve never really not felt it. The awful empty of her loss is physical. It is a chasm in me that will never close. I’ve merely learned to string my spiders’ silk across it, to lay a tenuous bridge or two, or step around it, lest those bridges fail.
An anniversary is a funny thing. You think it won’t feel different as it looms there on the calendar but then, one morning, you will wake up and the air is altered. The strangler witch has found you, and it doesn’t matter how far you have traveled, how many miles you’ve put between you and that one terrible day.
I wonder would she be worried about me now? I’ve tried to honor her with backwards glances and with unrelenting forward motion, but I find myself stalled somewhere in the middle. Still. Time marches. A new bush bursts into flower every month.
Yesterday came and went. I missed her, and I cried. I spent an hour in the car with Tommy Mitchell on CD; that was a kind of church. I bought a bunch of yellow roses. A bottle of champagne. I closed my eyes and played Walking in Memphis, several times. And then I stayed up late—listening to message after message, from the farthest corners of my hard drive—just to hear her voice. I stayed up until it wasn’t the 26th of July anymore. She yammered into nothingness about refrigerator repairmen and facial creams and when my flight was due. And then I listened—one more time—to the one in which she tells me she’s not worried. Until next year, mama, I will try to stay in that good place.