And I do not immediately recognize the feeling as grief. It has been gone for so long. Yet suddenly and without warning it is back. I have tears in my eyes and my heart is breaking.
You smell like boy sweat even though you have told me that you showered. I think you lied. I agree to snuggle with you in your bed because you are nine and I know that these moments are going to end soon. I am really sleepy and as I am drifting off to sleep I have a somewhat misplaced thought. I am thinking of a high school teacher that I had. I think she died of cancer, she was part of the Historical Society, and that she always wore dresses. But I can’t remember her name. For a moment I am irrationally obsessed. Then I think of mom. I think that if she were alive, I would call her up tomorrow. I would ask her the name of this teacher. As quickly as I was obsessed with remembering some seemingly insignificant name, I am overwhelmingly distressed over not being able to call up my dead mother. Particularly distressful is that I know precisely how our conversation would unfold. I play the tape in my mind.
Hello, sweetie. It has been two years since I have heard her voice? I am struck that I cannot remember exactly how long. Has it been three? It occurs to me that after the first 365 days of being without mom I have literally stopped counting. And yet I can hear the voice so clearly in my ear.
It’s me. Then we would exchange small talk. How is the weather there? Hot. Yeah, it’s hot here, too.
Then I would say Ma, remember that high school teacher I had? She always wore dresses, and spoke with a lisp. She was in the Historical Society.
She would say Oh, you must mean Ms. So-and-s0.
Yes. I would say. The world being put right for some trivial reason that matters to no one in particular.
Why were you thinking about her?
Did she die of cancer?
Yes, honey. Don’t you remember she had that long battle with breast cancer, then when she died her husband was devastated? They had just bought that house out in the country?
Oh, yeah. Now I do remember. Whether I actually do remember or not being totally insignificant. It is more the needing her that matters so much to me. And insanely just knowing that Ms. So-and-so did die of cancer, her husband devastated has brought me peace.
I am deeply jolted by these thoughts of mom and I open my eyes to get my bearings. I look over at you and tussle your hair gently. I want to talk to you. Your eyes are closed, your breathing heavy, and I am sure you are asleep. I want to wake you because selfishly I do not want to be alone with what I know now to be my grief. I consider it. As if you have heard my thoughts you say What? with your eyes still closed.
I say simply and immediately knowing that you will understand, I miss Grammy. Since you were born I call my own mother Grammy. It just makes sense.
Me, too. You say simply. What do you miss?
I miss that I used to call her when I didn’t remember things and she would tell me the things that I didn’t remember.
Mmm. You say. I know that you have no idea what I mean. Do you mean that Grammy knew everything?
Yes. I know that as an answer this is completely inadequate, but I have nothing else to offer.
You consider this and accept it within seconds.
Well, you say in your attempt at a solution, I guess you could call Aunt Lucy. She’s old.
I laugh and it is good for my heart.
And even though it is funny and it is a nine year old’s offering for a peaceful heart, after I am done laughing my soul is bare. Again. No, I don’t think she would know the things that I don’t remember.
Well, what about Grandpy? He would know everything that Grammy knew, right?
Yeah, buddy. I think he would. And to myself I say, But it’s not the same. And immediately I feel guilty for having that thought.
We are quiet for a long time and I think that you have drifted back off to sleep, but suddenly you say, Mom, didn’t you tell me that your Grandpy died when he was 107?
Again, I giggle and it does feel good. He was old, but not 107.
Can you tell me about him, ma?
Well, we used to go visit him and my dad’s mom every Sunday. They lived close to where we used to live. They had a two-story house, but the upstairs just had one room. I think. There was a box of toys up there and I would play while the adults talked downstairs. They spoke Spanish and I couldn’t understand a lot of what they were saying, so I just played upstairs.
I ramble on and tell you about the tattoos of the Virgin Mary, Jesus on the cross, my grandma’s name in a heart with an arrow. As I relate these memories I am not sure that they are true. But I don’t think that it matters. I tell you about how my Grammy was as deaf as a doornail and spoke no English, but how somehow I felt love for her. You ask me about the size of my Grandpy’s sweet tooth and I tell you that it was huge. Possibly larger than your own Grandpy’s sweet tooth. We both laugh.
We are quiet for a long time. I am sure that you have now drifted off to sleep. I lie there alone with my grief. And again, you surprise me.
I love you, mom. And I miss Grammy, too. And I hope that my Grandpy lives to be 107.
No words will encompass what I have in my heart, so I just say,
Yeah. Me, too.