In the space of a few months, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I got engaged, we got married, my mother died and we bought a house, every last one of these I was ill-prepared for. It's all a blur now but I remember that Mom did get to actually see the house but was only able to peer in through the patio door because we had yet to close and there were problems with liens against the title and my entire existence during this time was one of anxiety and dread.
Even on my wedding day when I was supposed to step out of the limo to camera flashes, I instead begged the driver to take me to a bar and drive around a little because something was wrong so very wrong, I felt lost and without direction but I chalked it up to cold feet and eventually walked up the steps and down the aisle, nearly two hours late to a very visibly relieved groom. (photographic evidence can be provided upon demand) and then spent the reception worried about my mother whose side I was reluctant to leave. It would be her last public outing and I knew that it took every last bit of strength in her being to even attend my wedding, the last of her children's wedding, the wedding of her first child. Although the wedding album belies a face beaming with joy it was pure adrenaline and Xanax and a few gin and tonics that got me through until the last guest was gone. We honeymooned for a weekend at a local lover's resort that specialized in champagne glass jacuzzis so we could be within driving distance should there be a sudden change in my mother's condition and I don't recall for a moment in all those months ever exhaling.
My mother died on November 10th and we closed on the house on December 19th and moved on December 21st to an icy hill we didn't know existed because we last saw the house in August. Not only did we NOT observe Christmas in ANY way but because of a realtor goof, the boiler had accidentally been turned off and the hot water baseboard heaters in the living room exploded and geysered all over the ivory wool wall to wall berber which had to be removed by Serve-Pro on the day of the walk-thru and then giant dehumidifiers were stationed throughout the first floor to combat any mildew that might develop on the sub-flooring so I couldn't even bring my furkids to their new home and I was utterly miserable. I was inconsolable. Not the weeping and gnashing of teeth kind but more like Ophelia headed for a short walk to the lake to 'clear her mind'.
No one in the neighborhood told us that the hill was the type that tried men's souls and fortitude and unless one had a four wheel or all wheel drive vehicle or snowshoes, or a magic carpet there was no way in hell you were getting up that hill for most of the winter because it was illegally graded, the township wouldn't adopt it to clean and maintain it and we were shit out of luck and no less than two days after we moved in, my car got stuck in a ditch about ten feet up. Every time I tried to pull out I would drift in deeper and deeper and as determined as I was even I couldn't bend it to my will so I sat in my car on that dark country hill and cried and beat the dashboard.
Then a light went on and I saw a house to my right and two snowsuit wearing figures trudging toward me with shovels. They helped me get out of the car and pointed to the house something about going inside and as I knocked tentatively on the door, I looked back to see my husband pull up behind my car (his now also stuck) jump out of his car and help the others. I was swept into the house and a blanket was wrapped around my shoulders and a woman said, 'Oh God you poor thing and here have some hot cider' and I stood in her foyer shivering in shock. She took my arm and pulled me physically inside the kitchen and sat me down and made me talk and I poured out everything in a torrent like a relentless waterfall, my mother, the wedding, the move, the house, the commute and she put her arms around me and just held me. Her name was Beth.
Eventually the cars made it up the hill but it was decided that I would spend the night in the Murphy's home because I was too worn out and in the middle of the night there I got a phone call that my father had suffered a heart attack and I was needed immediately. I woke up Beth and dressed numbly and she stood in the doorway and made me eat the most delicious Eggo waffle ever toasted. Then my husband arrived with a packed bag and picked me up, we drove to my dad's and I began to take control of the situation as I always had done, as I was taught to do out of love and duty but perhaps not desire. I longed more than anything to be held and taken care of and with my mother dead and my father's health in peril and my husband.....distracted.....my needs would have to take a backseat to others. And so they did.
When I was able I made a large eggplant parmigiana (a specialty) and Spouse delivered it to the Murphy's who proclaimed it the best they ever had. This would be the first of many exchanges of neighborly help for yummy dishes as Spouse and I were totally ill-equipped as new homeowners in the country but I was an awesome cook and everyone likes to eat. Beth and I struck a warm friendship.
She tended to be a bit bossy at times but I was accustomed to the ministrations of the capo di tutti capi or boss of all bosses, my late mother, so in comparison she was small potatoes and in fact at times comfortably familiar but every now and then I had to put my hand up and ask her to cease and desist. Once we were sitting outside on a warmer spring day watching koi in her pond gulp at the surface and she brushed a strand of hair out of my eyes and I asked, 'Why do you treat me like I need a mother?" and she said, 'Because you do." I insisted I didn't but could use a sister or friend and she agreed to it and we drank our wine.
We didn't see each other every day although we passed each other's house (they at the bottom of the hill, we at the top) either driving up or down or they walking their poodles and yellow lab and sometimes she'd call me and I'd accompany them for a part of the way around the circle but sometimes I avoided her because her love demanded something I couldn't or wouldn't give, perhaps it was a loyalty reserved for someone who would never leave my heart, someone under who's heart I grew.
I was so very sick and she would arrive at the house with meals for Spouse and trinkets to amuse me and stacks of books and told me she believed in me. She told me there was a book in me, no, many books and I had to stop shining my light under a bushel. She would leave with a kiss on my forehead and tuck her copy of the key to my front door tied to a gorgeous silk ribbon, into her threadbare pocket. They had little money but were lavish with love and service to others.
When I had to be rushed to the hospital for a blood transfusion it was she who held me and rocked me and sang songs to me while I wept deliriously. I have no memory of these things but others have told me.
One day I sat on my porch as the sun was beginning to go down but still sparkling in the air and I held a glass of wine in one hand and a bottle of Percocet in the other and didn't hear her walk up behind me with her three dogs and husband and she wordlessly handed the leashes to her husband and told him to go on without her and sat down next to me and asked me what I thought I was doing. I told her I wanted a divorce and she put her arms around me and said, 'I know.' and it was the first time anyone had touched me in six months. Her husband came 'round the circle again and she asked him to take the dogs down the hill and bring up the car and he did without a question and she called out to Spouse that she was taking me to her house for a little bit and she poured me a glass of wine and we sat and watched large birds try to fish in the pond, no words spoken, just company and when I was ready she drove me home.
In the nine years we've been friends we've seen each other at our best and worst and while still friends in some ways remain strangers because while my love and grief are deep running rivers always flowing, never resting, relentlessly searching and longing for belonging, Beth does not operate the same way. It's almost as if we are pen pals needing Google Translate to decipher each others heartfelt missives. Mine are dramatic and exhaustive. Hers are cryptic and require a secret decoder ring and a sundial.
However one day her husband appeared with some lame excuse to drop something off and something felt 'not right' and I followed him down the hill. I showed up out of the blue (not my thing) and they were delighted to have me and shared some stuffed clams they'd made and a nice discount merlot they'd found and then he disappeared into the depths of the house and she and I sat in silence as the sun disappeared behind the pines and blue spruces surrounding the property and she got up and stood at the slider door and I stood next to her and searched her face and asked her what she was thinking.
She told me she was thinking which tree out there could she easily tie a rope to and hang herself and I gasped and she rolled her eyes and said, 'Oh Elaine, people would get over it.' and I said hysterically, 'NO NO I WOULDN'T GET OVER IT HOW MANY MORE PEOPLE I LOVE DO I HAVE TO LOSE??.' and I grabbed her around her waist shocking her out of her reverie and said, 'What's going on? What's happening? What aren't you telling me?' And she told me. Her mother was dying. The mother she had no relationship with. She envied mine and my love for my lost mother and she envied that I'd said I'd been thoroughly loved by my mother and was able to tell her everything before she slipped away because her mother slipped away into dementia without any chance for absolution. She had told her husband because he found her standing there earlier that day and asked her the same thing and she said before she knew it, he'd left and I'd come following. He had come for me and I hadn't even know I'd been summoned.
I remembered the times Beth sat and listened to me and held my hand and kissed my forehead. I remembered when she rocked me in my delirium and when she was a stranger and she took me into her house and her arms and fed and clothed me. When she mothered me when I didn't want mothering and needed it desperately.
Too, I remembered all that I did out of duty and love, sincerely but because I was commanded to, whether raised or by some imperative or instinct to care for my own, but this time it was one of desire and gratitude for someone who reached out and patiently peeled through the layers and layers of cheerfulness and stoicism, the 'I'm just peachy's', 'no really I'm fine's' to peer inside the little girl who just wanted to be loved and was very lost. I reached out and took her hand. I did need mothering in spite of my protestations. She needed to mother and she needed a mother. She needed a daughter and absolution. So we began.