Today I woke up and stretched for a bit while listening to a dharma talk on pain. How boring. Sometimes I wonder how to write these posts. Maybe that’s a way of saying sometimes I wonder if I have a right to write these posts. I’m suspicious of memoir but then I think maybe that’s more about my own lack of self-confidence and my own long term commitment to silencing myself, which I think is something a lot of us do. Or maybe it’s that it seems so long ago. Or like no time at all.
It’s less than a month until the twenty-sixth anniversary of my mother’s death. For a long time I would have said: It’s less than a month until the twenty-sixth anniversary of my mother’s suicide. This year I’m trying to think of it in a different way. Suicide or not, the fact is my mother’s been gone for twenty-six years. It’s awful and common no matter how I cut it. Twenty-six years ago this February day I wasn’t talking to my mother. Or, I had just started talking to her after a year or more of silence. I thought it was just a year but then a woman she’d been in the hospital with found me online and sent a letter saying she’d read my work and it seemed like my mother and I had reconnected and were back in touch at the time of her death. She made it sound like it had been a lot longer than a year.
I mean, I know time is funny that way. I had a friend who would say, “How long has it been since we’ve talked? It’s been forever.” when, in reality, it had been at most a few weeks that didn’t seem like much time at all to me. But then another friend would have the audacity not to be in touch for four or five days and I’d assume the friendship was over. All this is to say I’m hardly a reliable narrator and also that so much depends on where one is standing.
In February of 1988 I was in 8th grade at McGee Middle School. All I can think of as I write that is the hallway near my locker and the Social Studies room I was sitting in when my mother died. That feels like no time ago or maybe a better way to put it is there feels like no physical distance between me and the girl sitting in the classroom, who will find out when she gets home that her mother died at ten o’clock that morning.
Yes, I can be right back there in a moment to the day my mother died. To say she killed herself is both true and somehow easier to bear, at least today. I spent so much time thinking about my mother killing herself that I hardly thought about her dying.
At first it was because I couldn’t say she killed herself. The day after my mother died, Sandy walked up to me in the hall and said, “What did you do last night?” I said, “My crazy aunt killed herself.” Which let me say it and not say it all at once. It let me test it out. I don’t remember what she did when I told her that. We were walking past the lunchroom, which was just past my Social Studies classroom. I can feel that room waiting for me to go in it but I won’t. Not now. I know I said the word, “Pills.” That must mean that she asked how she did it.
Why didn’t I say my mother killed herself? Why didn’t I say, at least, my mother died? Nobody in that school knew my mother. I felt embarrassed about all sorts of things and maybe that was one? Who was I to say that she died and get their pity or their sympathy? Especially since we had only started talking again after how, after how many years? That last part’s from the Bishop poem, “Santarem” and the lines are totally different. It’s about remembering things wrong. Actually it’s about remembering everything right and still being wrong. Actually, it’s about someone asking about a wasp’s nest a million years after the fact.
Of course I may be remembering it all wrong.
In February of 1988 I’d just started speaking to my mother again after what I believe was a year and a half at most of not speaking. This was after a visit where she told me I’d be happy if she died of cancer and then told me she was going to go cry and I probably should too. I remember sitting in the living room while she sobbed in her bedroom with the door all the way open. And then some things happened and I went home and we didn’t talk for almost eighteen months. And then we did talk. And then she killed herself.
Died, rather. She died. That’s the lasting effect on both of us. All this talk of ethics and selfishness and murder. It’s the wrong stone thrown into the pond.
“How did she die?”
“She killed herself.”
“She took a bottle of pills.”
“She was really poor and not in good health.”
“She lost hope.
“Is your mother still living?”
“No. She died.”
Stop all the clocks. Or set them all to the same time all over the world and through years so when the hour strikes we can’t make sense of anything through the horror of the clanging.
Some people you miss after a few weeks and some you wish would call you all the time. Some things you want to last forever and sometimes they do and mostly they don’t. It’s February 2014 or February 1988 and I haven’t spoken to my mother in too long. It kills me and it probably did back then too. Who cares?
I think she did. I do.