Everything is a memory.
There’s a note that a woman hits when she sings O Holy Night that brings me to tears, instantly and quickly, no matter where I am. It’s muscle memory, worn into my skin and bones, of a night sometime, long ago, and love. Triggered into my fingers and echoed in my lips while I mouth the words and feel the shudder of tears against my face.
The light reflected in puddles, yellow sodium burn in muddy snow.
The way my daughter’s head fits neatly under my chin as we stand, arms wrapped around me as she bears down on her own private grief.
I was 11 that last Christmas, that year of so many gifts, the year we knew would be the last. I remember being overwhelmed and slightly perplexed. My mother’s relatives were all there, people we never spent time with, strangers to me really. But they rallied around us and we, dealt with it. I didn’t like it. It felt wrong, it was wrong. Our little collective, our family of four. It was…altered that last Christmas and on some level, I resented it.
Not enough to not be completely enamored of the pink jewelry box my Aunt Gert got me, or the set of barbies my father snuck past my mother. The rules were bent, then broken.
When you’re a child you think this is a good thing. Until you grow up, and realize those rules were the only things keeping you safely a child.
Vivian is 11 now, all sprouts and glory, and I suddenly, vividly and unaccountably feel my mother within me. I breathe and she heaves along. I sing and her voice carries past my lips on the last note. I cry and she is there whispering about mockingbirds and starlight. I draw myself up to full height when someone has “done wrong” and I feel her, ramrod inside me, as full of ire and annoyance as I. I see with her eyes, my mother’s eyes and I know.
I always knew leaving must have been hard. Even on the bad days, I couldn’t truly imagine never seeing my daughters again. But to sit talking to my oldest girl, my precocious, over thinking daughter, the one who is so very like me and yet not like me, I feel gutted by how much it must have hurt to know, without any shadows, to know she was leaving. I was just a kid, aware, yet not aware. She was a grown woman, a mother, a lover. She knew. She knew what that leave taking meant. What wounded her destroyed me.
I really thought I was ok with all of it. Yet something will happen and I fill with tears. I feel like I’m walking on glass with myself, waiting for shoes to drop. I dream of my lover dying and in my dream I’m screaming “but I only just found you!!!” and I imagine my father screaming the same to my mother, whispering perhaps, the words mangled and thick on the tongue. We only just found each other, our family of foundlings, and then just as quickly, we were cast apart, forever chained a distance from each other. I really believed I was ok with it, until this year, this month, when I realized that no, I wasn’t.
She is eleven. She is where I was that year, delicate and brutal, fair yet unfair. Unfazed yet terrified. I buy her bras thinking of my mother. Every step we take now is one I never took. I sing a song about her period, I ask her about boys. I remind her to wash her forehead or pin back her hair.
I mourn my mother each time I walk without her. Yet she is there, silently urging me on. Telling me to choose the purple, not the blue. Reminding me we come to womanhood on our own terms, not our mothers.
Telling me she loves me, undoubtedly, as she loves my daughters too.