I lift a thin red ribbon to turn the brown faux-alligator cover open to the last entry in the book on the table. It was dated November, a year ago. A neat list of topics numbered the page. Cathy and I talked about writing from our perspectives about each of them in a daily blog during “Adoption Month” a year ago.
That was before I was offered a job in Seattle, packed and moved further away; from Olympia, from Portland – and before a diagnosis took our precious mother, Anne, in two short months. I’m still not used to it. She was a prize encounter every day and now she’s gone. Pictures whip my mind with light rushes of faces and scenes of all that’s happened since the ink dried on that list. I never got past the first topic of the day.
A back injury triggered a reluctant shift from being a musician on the road to working at a standing desk in a day job. A year later, I recall being in the thick of Hurricane Sandy as it roared outside the apartment at West 79th Street. My husband and I hung close to our elderly parents by candlelight, holding hands and cracking sweet jokes; a little nervous but glad to be together. We had become used to being with them, checking in to make sure they were resting snug and safe. A dozen trips back and forth to New York City from our fledgling life in Seattle; we gently tended to Anne and Marvin as the strands that bound them loosened to go the way all living things go, one at a time. My heart darkened as Annie’s fire went from full light to a whisper and then silence; and now inconsolable loss and the pure disbelief in her mate of more than seventy years remains. I watch him find his way back to her in dreams and memories, taking cabs to the door of their apartment where he finds his key no longer fits.
I look back over the list of topics in the brown book. None of them breaks through the skin of my heart.
What moved me now was a more recent journey to Anne’s tribute at the Duke Theatre on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. Cathy and I sat next to each other on the plane as it took off in the early October morning and we took turns talking about Annie. Even in the time between the words, when we closed our eyes to the roar of the airplane, we felt close.
Annie had been like a mother to me and a caring grandmother to my children and grandchildren. A kind of mother I never had, she always knew just what to say and what I needed to hear. The explanation point at the end of my name when I called her at work – “Kate!” – as though my call was the most exciting and important thing in the world. She made me feel so loved. She came into my life by marriage; mothered me and called me “darling”. Darling! No one called me darling the way she did. Having Annie in my life was a lesson in love. We were close and enjoyed our closeness, honest with each other; we laughed and cried and said the real things to each other. I adored her. I miss her every day.
When I first met Annie, I spent the ride home from the airport telling her my story. My biographical narrative held her captive as I drove right by the exit to our house, ambushed in the conveyance of historic miles that had that brought me to this place with her son – the man I loved. Anne was blind but I wanted her, needed her to see me for who I was. I told her what I had told almost no one. It was important to me that she knew the truth so I revealed myself in that first conversation with my story of reunion and reconciliation.
She took it in like a mason, nodding with a measured eye, placing each piece as it fit, one next to the other. When we pulled up to our house, she put her hand on my arm and told me, her voice conciliatory and warm, how glad she was that her son had found me. Her tone told me we were going to be close, and the best of friends. When I came around to help her out of the car, she took my arm and close together we walked with our bodies close, as old friends walk, up the steps to our husbands who waited inside the front door.
The warm shock of Cathy’s arm settled on the armrest on the plane pulsed between my arm and hers and I never wanted to move my arm again. I’m brought back to the moment and realize we are sharing the gift of this loss together.
Loss is familiar territory between us. We had learned to navigate in loss; she at birth and me as an invisible first mother who had relinquished her to “go back to my life.” We knew what deep loss felt like and how to survive it enough to be who we were in spite of it – or perhaps because of it. Loss was part of how we began – split apart – and made us who we turned out to be.
Annie’s departure brought us closer on this pilgrimage. Annie approved of us, blessed our truth, and now our job was to carry on what we had started. We would take her with us inside, together.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.