It just seemed logical. For her to watch over me a bit on her journey up, up, up. And I felt her in the birds silence. In crickets, singing their song in the background. In the Cicadas stuttering harmony. Stuttering, then still. Stuttering, then still. And especially in the pool, warm and comforting. It cradled me as I floated around by myself in the night, watching the clouds open and close across the star speckled night. Even the backyard foliage seemed to work to give me this space to mourn.
I kept my eyes up to the sky and wondered why I didn’t cry now. Now, when there were no longer kids to comfort, phone calls to take, or heads to stroke. The hugs to give in sadness had been given, for the night. There was just me. Me and my gulping ache just at the bottom of my throat. So welcome was the water, with the sky as my focus.
Crying was the reason I ducked into my friend’s pool. So I could just let my sadness have it’s time. I needed to sob, and to ache, and to contort my face into unattractive, out-of-control pain where no one could see. But the tears didn’t come, and I found myself concentrating instead on the stars. I knew they were just points of light. And constellations. And things to count when I was snuggling down to sleep on my lawn during summers, long ago. However to me, this night, they were beloved members of families and friends, watching over us beings still alive.
Maybe she was looking back over her shoulder, I think, as she went further and further on her journey to new things. Maybe she was already there and was looking to see if I could handle her grand-kids with the same patient love as she did. Maybe, and a bit of an angry sob stuck in my throat, she was just floating around somewhere and didn’t care anymore at all. Just part of the universe in a ka-jillion motes of nothing.
That was a secret fear. What if, after all I have been taught and comforted with, she was just really gone? Just … Nothing? Nothing to look forward to, no way to look forward to a meeting with her in another place and time. Just gone?
That would mean I really didn’t have a reason anymore to forgive her for my petty thoughts. My busy life. My assumption that she would just be there always. In the background. Like these crickets, you know? Chirping beautifully, and adding to my life now, but not having to acknowledge them as a beautiful accompaniment in my life. They just enrich the setting . That’s their job.
It would mean I chose to go into HER background, when I could so easily have stayed engaged in her life. Crap. It’s true, either way.
I felt her here, though, as I wandered through the water. First doing lazy laps. Angry, dog-paddle laps that fell short of any form or completion. Then just floating with the momentum. I felt comforted for a few minutes and remembered the same blatant comfort I felt the first time I met her in her kitchen. In that messy, cluttered, busy kitchen. It was cramped, and well-lit. And… loud.
Cows themed that place, and salt n pepper shakers, and miniature spoons from all over the world (a gift from her husband as he wandered from one military assignment to another). Nicknacks abounded and needed a good cleaning. Dust had blended with cooking grease on them, as it happens over time when ceiling fans and dinner preparations blend. It had that country feel of not needing to impress anyone, not even the owners, and was full of bodies and jokes and laughter.
And come-on-in-and-leave-your-troubles-at-the-door-ness. It was obviously the heart of the house, and she was the heart of that kitchen.
I remember walking into this place as a new girlfriend to her middle son, in that awkward, stiff way that meant to me, “I am new, and have manners and will not hurt your son while i know him.”, but to her meant, “I got a lotta hurt and judgements. Just love on me a bit, for as long as I am here..” So she loved me. Right from the start, and right there in that kitchen. She did about the only thing that would have kept me there. In that kitchen full of teens, and huge dogs running through everything with hair and slobber spraying into the kitchen air, she put me to work. Making food. The kind of food that should never exist in a healthy lifestyle.
If she were in the South, she would put Paula Deene to shame with her fatty, creamy food. From the first mouthful, it was happy goodness that let me stay. Total indulgence kept me there.
How different from the disciplined life that I grew up with. The life of constant repentance for deeds and thoughts not quite pure enough. My young teenage experience compared the life of order, and making sense, and purpose. An ingrained schedule and routine. Chores and strict manners. (That above all, in my angry, dramatic, teenage view, was what mattered. What I hated the most…)
That life had no place in THIS kitchen. Or this house, for that matter. Here, I was enough. Just as I was that day, that moment, that instant. It was a craving I never knew I even had. So I stayed. I stirred and opened cans, and eavesdropped as the chaos of off-color jokes and suggestive retorts blended with some strange feeling of acceptance. I put the slobber and hair and clutter out of my head that day and just reveled in it. In her.
That was what I experienced as I drifted along, toes and belly and fingertips sticking out of the water, juuust a bit, and chilly in the night air. The rest of me felt decidedly luke warm, which was enough. A gentle breeze blew and I went back to my childish view of a dead person. Sitting on a cloud in their robe of white, strumming a harp and singing a bit in adoring bliss. I chuckled.
That view stopped right there. For one thing, she would never have worn a robe without adornment. Bangles, or shimmery bits, here and there. Maybe a gold mu-mu with a white cord…. now THAT would have made the proper statement. Nor would she have been fine sitting in one place. Jumping from cloud to cloud, with stray angels following her as they looked back to see if they would get in trouble… that seemed more her style.
In addition, that harp would be replaced with an 80’s boom box, stuck on the sappiest song station. She did love music, i thought with a smile, and sang absolutely off-tone. So seemingly tone deaf was she, that she only sang when she thought others were not listening. But then, by darn, it was with gusto. Without reservation, and decidedly feminine. Her 5’11’’ solid frame would delicately reach for the high notes as she swayed along to the music as she washed dishes. I loved overhearing her at these intimate times.
Maybe that would be her heaven, I think. Belting it out and loving her voice.
Eventually, I just sat at the edge of the pool in the shallow part. I squatted with my legs in a sitting position, just my chin above the water. I looked down through the clear water to my knees, the lining of the pool, and my red toenails. And thought of nothing. That’s when the tears came. And the regret for Not Being There Enough. All those things that people must say when a loved one passes away, I said em to myself. Why did I just move on and let the phone calls get shorter and shorter? And less personal and intimate? Why did I feel like I had outgrown her advice, her jokes, her empathy? Because I was an adult now, I thought. I could make my own decisions, and did not need to consult her or any parent. And, I say quietly to myself, because she got older, and sicker, and less of her boisterous self.
I started resenting her.
I resented that she chose to keep eating those wonderful meals and snacks, even when the doctors said it was making her sick. I got haughty and angry that she didn’t listen, so she must be stupid, or crazy, or just too old to care about me anymore. Otherwise why would she choose to be sick? That was not my doing, but I made it about me. Of course, about me. It was me she left hurting, right? I’m the only one in the pool, doing the hurting.
My tears and sobs let loose as I found how petty and selfish my thoughts were of her. Not that she was a saint or anything. Lots bugged me about her, but these particular thoughts were absolutely one-sided. She loved and loved and loved and loved. Her kids, her in-law additions, her adopted ones, her grand-kids. She loved us the best she could and knew how. Her 100%. And here I was, angry with her for not giving more, or longer.
Could I say I loved her the same way?
I loved when it was convenient and when I visited. I loved with considerations. And I loved while I gossiped. (That last one hurt the most.) As she got weaker and weaker, my view of her changed. CRAZY… Even when her mind started doing quirky things, she was still the quick-witted woman who loved me through the crap part of marriage, kids, and life. And the dark and light parts of me. It just hurt too much to see her look and act different. And I resented her for it.
My tears and sobs went on and on and on. Clear fluids leaked from my face to the pool water and I was glad no one was there to see. I was glad the chemicals took it away. I no longer looked to the stars as I sobbed. I looked inside me and just let the hurt wash over me.
Eventually, I focused on the good times we had. Camping. Cars breaking down while we were camping. The lightning and thunder when camping. Jokes and laughter based around hours of playing cards. Sitting on her bed watching TV as not only the ceiling fan, but the portable air conditioner froze us to death (Even in winter.) Her crazy cold room with feminine touches surrounding her. Even the looks of anticipation and joy on my kids faces as we drove into her driveway, knowing they would soon be riding that converted old riding lawn mower around in her field.
The advice we both shared openly from the ends of our phones, miles away from each other, were just as entertaining and insightful. She was the Wicked Witch of the West. That made me the Wicked Witch of the East (until my new sister-in-law moved to Jersey).
She gave me permission to be human. And loved me for it. And that was when I knew she was there. At the pool. Just reminding me that in that instant, tats minute, that night, and any night I needed, she could be there. Her memories are there for the taking. Her love is there for the keeping and the sharing. That made it a bit easier to get out of that pool, dry off, stick my toes into my flip-flops, and head home.
That permission to be human. It’s a gift I can give back to her family now. Something I can use to stay close to her with. And when I see my own strays, my adopted kids walk through my door and ransack my kitchen… well, I know she is there, too.