His life was spent seeking absolution, hers, validation. She sought what she needed through God’s images, but he, through God Himself.
He was a hospice worker who sought to make comfortable the ill & comfort the well. She was a pathologist who only dealt with the cadavers that she disassembled. He saw his patients as whole, even as she saw her “visitors” as parts of one. She couldn’t deal with the grieving family members any more than he could deal with the body after the soul had left it. Their vocations– his, a calling, hers, a trade– was all the reason why he came home to an empty, fifth-floor walk-up, & she surrounded herself with the presence of so many who were so full of life.
Money was the only thing that ever came between them; he made not enough, & she made too much.
A bottle of White Diamonds perfume next to the last paperback you were reading, left on your crowded nightstand with something as completely random as a piece of junk mail serving as a bookmark; a Coca-Cola in the fridge, half-full— “an accident waiting to happen,” as Dad would say; a half a pack of cigarettes with the lighter inside, every book written by Lori Copeland and Kathleen Woodiwiss, a hutch filled with Coca-Cola memorabilia. So many reminders of the things you enjoyed in life remain, their disuse telling the story that even though you don’t live here anymore, your memory does, for it is protected from the elements of decay, even as it is preserved in the minds of those who knew you best.
Her life began as a brief birth announcement, followed by a series of Owen Mills poses, blurry candids, & unfocused, jittery videos. Then there was the grainy color newsprint photo in The Patriot Press of her holding up a certificate & wearing a medallion for placing first in a Constitution calligraphy contest. For many years, that was akin to her 4 touchdowns in 1 game. She never got a write-up in the arrest records, for that was a legacy she didn’t want to leave; rather, she lived up as a subject for several human-interest stories— as the girl who sold 6701 Girl Scout cookies because of a YouTube video that turned those processed disks into decadent desserts; as a college graduate who crowdfunded her way into creating an endowed scholarship for creative writers in memory of her sister, whose memoir, Lessons from Mother Goose, gained notoriety posthumously; in her silver-haired, golden years, as a woman who made old tee shirts into rag rugs for the homeless, in memory of the brother she’d lost to addiction, whose inward riches had turned to outward rags. And then she finally told her own story by writing her obituary, for she always had to have the last word.
He had been there to see him leave the earth but not to see him put into it, & I was angry at the world that had not magically changed because someone was no longer in it.
In burying my father, she had buried, it seemed, the last facet of her old self. She had gone from a grieving widow to a blushing bride-to-be in the matter of an hour,
& no one from the LDS Church knew of the quickening of Patrick Nolan’s soul to the Spirit World.
The first ceremony would be a civil one, followed by a spiritual one. Just like everything else, the marriages of other churches were the preparatory marriages, & Mormon marriages, the sealant.
Because my father had died, my mother would live as she pleased, but hadn’t she always? For if one had already enjoyed the intimacy of marriage without taking the vows, then how special could making it legal be? For what was marriage but a representation of monotheism— of being subject to one entity till the death of oneself or the death of the other.
I was a hollow vessel where Mother’s empty words echoed, taking no delight in what I had dreamt of for as long as my eyes had beheld the glory of David Dalton.
She’d imagined future memories of taking care of them someday, for they had taken care of her. Though her child had made her want to better herself, Mom & Dad had made her into a person who could.
Dad gave me strength, but Mom gave me resilience so that I was unbreakable.
As a little girl, she had looked back to see her mom, looking back at her. As an adult, it was not behind her, but above her, that she looked— whenever she shared a memory of her with her own child, whenever she spoke to the stone that bore her name like a commandment, whenever she made Dad proud. If you weren’t really an adult till your parents were gone, she would be happy to be a child forever.
When the fog settled over the Gulf Coast for days that seemed to run together like a week of binge-watching, life was like walking through a dream in varying filters. It was that last day in the middle of the night— before the fog lifted— that the 3 boys came to her door. Their frightened faces had been framed in the frosted oval glass, & their owlish eyes had looked sickly in the illumination of the orange streetlight. They said that the Londoners had taken their parents & spoiled everything. She chastised herself for opening the door so carelessly, for what if they’d been followed? And it was when she thought to look back that she realized her family had disappeared the second she had opened that door, just as she was here because someone else wasn’t.
When he was alive, she slept to escape him through dreams, but when he died, he haunted those dreams, & she became an insomniac who, from sleep deprivation, began to see his reflection in every window & imagine his presence behind every door.
Famous writers haunted ghostwriters, cases were tried by the judges perfected in Christ, & the scientists who’d practiced the healing arts on Earth, imparted their knowledge from Heaven— even as those who’d passed on ages before were able to witness the wonders of humankind while living in the presence of the wonder of God. Funerals were truly a celebration of one’s mortal life, & grief became a thing of the past. There was no moving on, for to see & hear their loved ones was enough to make up for the loss of the other 3 senses; this new way of life & death helped keep their memory alive, even as new conversations with the departed were being had. Where there had been faith, there was now knowledge, save for those who believed that man had never walked the moon.
The day was young, the night was long, that date of March 4th– the date Sydney breezed into the Reedsy Bluesy Cafe where Tammy O’Shanter told her that Adelaide (called Addie) was the only one who had ever ordered chocolate milk (never coffee) and a truffle brownie drenched in caramel syrup every morning for breakfast while she completed her morning crossword, leaving behind more questions than answers. Sydney waltzed into the Pence State College library where Addie was always on the waiting list for the newest installment of the Chocoholics Anonymous, even as she was always late returning it, leaving behind a Dove candy wrapper like a pressed flower, which she had used for a bookmark. Sydney ran into the man to whom Addie had been “practically engaged,” into Addie’s best friend with whom she had shared the part of her life her sister hadn’t seen, and the mother they’d shared a space with– a woman who had known Addie in a completely different way. This all happened on her way to her Celebration of Life (which they called funerals now), with Addie as the guest of honor, but the celebration had begun early as Sydney retraced the steps Addie had taken every morning– to gather the memories she would take out like holiday keepsakes– memories she would take out when it only seemed that she had run out of her own.
If I had just one more memory– one more moment stretched into years (with light years between the seconds)– I would have so much to show-and-tell you. Does that not sound like a little child?
Your presence hovers in the absence of space and time as you observe Hannah’s progression, listen to my stories, and see this, your daughter, in the collegiate green cap and gown, having remade herself into the ungraven image she’s always wanted to be.
We share memories of you at the table; I like to imagine you hear us every time we speak your name. We have no complaints.
Dad still carries your driver’s license in his wallet; there are never enough pictures. We say, “That’s a Mom joke!” (when the joke is truly terrible) or “Remember when Mom ..?”
Dad still calls you Mom; I call you Grandma. “Say ‘Good-night, Grandma,’” I tell my daughter, “blow her a kiss to heaven.” It’s a kiss strong enough to shatter plaster ceilings, to defy gravity. I catch the one you send back and plant it on her cheek.
We call you what our children call you. You wanted Dad to call you Betty more. Your mother always called you Betty Ann. You liked the names Carolyn and Elise. You dug up the roots of the family tree to give me mine.
She is…she was… it is just “Grandpa’s house” now, but the contact still reads “Mom and Dad’s” in my phone. I will never change it.
We remember your goulash– the only thing you knew how to make– even though we weren’t even Hungarian. Still aren’t.