The Days After the Phone Call
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday I think: my mother is dead. The sentence goes in a continuous loop. My mother is dead. In my head my mother is smiling somewhere outside, in the sunshine. She is 45, not 83. She is smiling and strong. My mother is dead. Like a drumbeat the thoughts go by themselves, unbidden: My mother is dead. I am so relieved. I want her back. My mother loves me. My mother loves me.
I see her with sun on her face, in her 40’s before the illness that paralyzed her left side for three and a half decades. I keep doing, doing, doing and the moment I stop any task—folding my money away in my wallet, washing a dish, directing the traffic of my family’s life, the preparations for Friday– The very moment I have 20 seconds with nothing to do, the voice recites My mother is dead. My mother is strong. My mother is so glad to see me, every time I come. I can never come often enough, stay long enough. I often don’t visit. I want her back. I want her back.
I wake in the middle of the night and I don’t have a mother anymore. I wake in the morning, my mother is dead. This is the new rhythm: everything I do is as someone who doesn’t have a mother anymore.
For the first time I understand Camus’s novel The Stranger 37 years after reading it. The first line is “Aujourd’hui Maman est morte,” (Today Mama is dead) and thereafter the narrator engages in meaningless, random violence. He no longer knows who he is. It makes so much more sense now. How pointless to have teenagers read it, almost none of whom have yet lost their mothers. I go to the house to comfort my father, yet again, before the big day. By his bedside is The Stranger.
The Day after the Funeral
I wake up and the drums start right away: “My mother is dead.” Later in the morning a startling image presents itself, in that inexplicable way that the imagination operates. As clear as a photo I see my mother, holding me high up with one arm, her hand cupped under my butt the way you can do with a one year old baby—hold them aloft in the palm of your hand. My mother is smiling and looking up at me. I am looking down at her upturned face and she is holding me, a full grown adult, in her upstretched hand. This has never happened, could never happen. But nonetheless, she is doing it all morning long, holding me up and the thought-beat switches back and forth from ‘my mother is dead’ to ‘my mother is the earth.’ My mother is pushing me upwards. My mother is the earth. She is pushing me up to the sky.