Stressed about the travel arrangements of my boyfriend’s potential visit this weekend, I grabbed the latest O magazine and sloshed into a bubbles-made-from-shampoo tub. Can he come? For how long? Will I have to work? Why are plane tickets so expensive and why do trains take so long?

I flipped to the middle of the magazine and read an article by a breast cancer survivor. In a strikingly honest piece she detailed the steps of her recovery: one day she wanted only to live long enough to see her daughters get married–a month later (and cancer free), she just wanted them to stop whining and walk the dog. This! I almost shouted, dipping the pages into the barely sudsy water. This is the human condition.

How often have we prayed to something, for someone? Please if my sister just comes home safely, I’ll do anything. I’ll be kind to her forever. Or for ourselves? Please, please just let me do this one thing right. I’ll work hard for the rest of my life. Maybe that isn’t even praying–maybe it’s just begging. I wouldn’t really know, since I lack religion in my life. But by God (gods?) do I have some faith. Faith in the moment we all know: the moment in which a sick mother longs simply for life, the moment in which we need only to know that everything will be okay, that brief, tiny, sparkling moment of clarity. And then it’s gone. And the dog needs to be walked and you’re cruel to your sister and you lay around for three days in a row.

I stood up, wrapped my towel around my body, and told myself that if my boyfriend does not visit this weekend, then he will visit another time. I decided to sit down and write about my worries. And yes, I feel better. Perhaps my hastily whispered “prayers” aren’t what I need at all. Maybe I can extend that tiny moment of clarity through the length of a few paragraphs. There will be something new to worry about tomorrow. And it will drive me to a headache and maybe even a bottle of wine. Who says you have to start being good at this stuff right away?

 

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a room on fire

I went home last week. My sister and I got on a train to Richmond. Our father picked us up. We drove to Williamsburg and had dinner with our mother and newly minted college brother. That I’d wanted to go home for Charlie’s first few days of college made my actual journey even sadder.

For I did not want to go home crying. I did not want to lose someone so full of life, that the suddenness of her death left everyone who knew her asking “but, how?” And I really, really, never wanted to see someone I love suffer from the loss of her mother. 

I can’t continue to write about my daily life in Charleston, my mishaps and mangled tries at life, until I have written about Linda Jabs. What can I say? Words–something I think I have a pretty decent handle on, are simply not sufficient. You know how people describe their loved and lost ones as the kind of souls who lit up a room? I hate that. Everyone says that.

But if someone were to ask me–“did Mrs. Jabs light up a room?” I would say, “well, yes.” She definitely didn’t walk into it though (she strolled). Her smile may have been flint on wood, but it was her swinging hips, her raspy voice, her opens arms and exclamations of “where have you been all my life handsome,” that really set the room on fire. Finally ignited, of course, by her burning cigarette. 

Mitchell’s house was the mecca of my high school existence. It was the house upon a hill, with the yard gently sloping towards the York. Some of my most painfully poignant teenage memories took place there. And Linda was the queen. The hostess. The mother. The confidante. So unlike any mother I’d ever met, I marveled at Linda’s vibrancy. In recent years, with Mitchell in college at Florida, and me only a few hours away, I encountered Mrs. Jabs sans the connecting link of her daughter. And then we were just connected ourselves.

How could I make you understand about the cream cheese eggs and toast the morning after a party at Mitchell’s house? The insistence on dancing around the living room, under the sign that read “Life is Good”? Those scratchy animal hair pillows that were some dead animal only Mitchell could ever remember? And then I wonder and wonder and hurt and hurt because I only have snippets to haunt me with happiness–and Mitchell has a whole lifetime. 

There’s no “moral of the story” in death. There is neither rhyme nor reason, no matter how much you seek answers in sadness. At 22, I cannot fathom death. Nor can I attempt to rationalize it, or bask in some semblance of what it may represent. I can only remember Linda. Her life! God, it was full. I can close my eyes and see her dancing. Hear her voice. And I can try my very best to live as she did. I can be good, I can be happy. I can remember her every day. And maybe that’s what death’s about–the refutation of its own existence. The keeping alive of a life that cannot simply disappear. Image