One year ago, on February 1st, I boarded a plane for Minneapolis. Lee had called, Mom again was not doing well. I endured the three and a half hour flight, staring out the window at the dark landscape, at the lights of the cities and the small towns moving slowly below us.
We finally landed, and as we were pulling up to the gate I checked my cellphone and there was a message. It was Dorothy, one of their friends who helped take care of my mother. I could hear her crying, her voice was low, “Michael, your mother just passed. Call us when you get in.”
I pressed the “end” button, and slid the phone back in my pocket. I glanced around at the other passengers. I didn’t cry. All of us standing, waiting in the back of the plane, watching everyone ahead gather their coats and bags, and head up the aisle.
I pulled up to their house. There was a cop car idling out front. As I passed I saw two officers inside. They watched me walk up to the house. Lee came outside, and met me on the steps. “Prepare yourself,” she said, holding me tight.
There is no preparing for that. Several months ago they had moved their bed downstairs to the tv room, when my mother could no longer climb the stairs. In the living room a group of their friends stood. They watched me walk in, and though by now I knew them all well, I didn’t say anything. I walked past them, and rounded the corner, and there she was. Or there she wasn’t. There aren’t any new words I can tell you. She was gone, and left behind was a pale, small body, so obviously lifeless that the split-second sight of her dropped me to my knees. I buried my face in the covers near her feet and I wept for all I was worth. Lee crouched behind me, rubbing my shoulders, crying herself. Tears all around. Between the tears and the drool, there was no lack of bodily fluids in that house that year. Eventually someone dragged over a chair, made me sit beside the bed. I kept my face down, and I held her cool hand in mine, rubbing my thumb against the back of her hand. Someone handed me a glass of water. I glanced up, her face was so pale. Her mouth hung open a little. I couldn’t look for long.
Most days it still feels as though it were a mistake, a clerical error; someone will change their mind, some paperwork will be uncovered, some doctor will check his notes again…someone will call on the phone yes, there’s been a terrible misunderstanding…
I catch myself saying She was fifty-five when she died, as though through sheer force of repetition the injustice of the whole fucking thing will somehow be repaired. I will catch another flight to Minneapolis, and she will be waiting there at the airport, standing strong and vibrant, beaming like she did the night I read my poems. And she will take me out to dinner. Anywhere but Figlio’s, I’ll say.
I can still hear her voice; the timbre of it, her warmth and her humor and her boundless passion. Sometimes at night I can hear her call my name.
A month after the funeral I had a dream. I was at a party in someone’s dimly-lit basement, the kind of party we went to in high school, the kind with kegs in the corner and music shaking the foundations of the house. I was standing, alone, and I looked across the room and I saw her sitting under a blue light on a couch with Lee, holding hands. She was her old self: vibrant and unencumbered. She saw me and gave me a smile, inexplicably shy, and at that moment in my sleep I felt something move through me, my pulse beating, and I woke briefly, in time to feel it fading: I faltered on the edge of sleep and then another dream took me.
That morning I wrote: What am I forgetting? What was the gesture you offered, the moment my blood rushed quick? As the day progresses I am mocked by a message spinning in my head like a song; I can hear the rhythm, I can feel the form, I just can’t hear the words.