Well, technically, first I got really, really low.
There was this bag of pills, see: pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars… buried in her underwear drawer, to the right of her black lace slip, underneath the potpourri. OxyContin, Vicodin, and a few other names I couldn’t read through blurry eyes.
(They had just taken her away.)
(“Kiss your mother goodbye,” my father told me. And I touched her feet.)
You could still see the indent of where she had spent the last two weeks in the bed she had shared with the love of her life. The bed by the window, next to the purple roses growing just beyond the screen. Her marriage bed, the bed she nursed me in, her death bed, too, that final resting place, her feather weight still left its mark right there on the pillow, on the left side where she had always slept, next to the end table with her reading glasses, and the light still on.
Ruth Rendell’s latest bookmarked. She never knew the end.
I could still smell the GAP Dream perfume I had sprayed on her only an hour before. The the scent lingered on, that fragrant ghost, near the dresser, against the walls, by the window, behind the door.
I drank a pill with dusty wine — “Two Buck Chuck” from Trader Joes, a new bottle from the big case she and my dad had bought six months before, a new bottle she would never taste from the case she would never finish.
I wouldn’t let it go to waste.
(Cheers! Cabernet goes great with Oxy! Here’s to you! Salud! To life!)
I drank it down — pink, I think — not caring which, not caring what, not caring how it would feel or what I’d wake up to, if at all.
I just wanted to be her.
So I sprayed GAP dream on my wrists and behind my hair, that fragrant ghost all up on me.
I found her cigarettes — hidden from my dad, and from her parents, from the hospice workers, and the oncologist, hidden, only I knew where, behind the Woody Allen video cassette tapes, just next to the Ken Burns she never finished watching.
And I smoked until I stank beyond GAP Dream, like dried leaves, like late nights, like coffee breaks, like her.
And then: Outside the room closed in with others who were grieving.
(What kind of God lets an 85 year old mother bury two children in two years?)
(What kind of God lets a family break in half when the lynch pins are removed?)
(What kind of God lets a girl get so low that she’ll do anything – anything – to make the frightened child deep inside her stop from screaming, “help me, help me,” Mommy fixes everything. But Mommy isn’t coming.)
So I went outside, high and low, and from the top of the hill I saw it bopping along, a cheery beery Beetlebug – slugbug, punch me in the arm like we did when I was little on long car trips through the mountains, this car, bright blue like the sky, chugging with intention til it stopped in front of me.
A man hopped out, sprightly-spry, despite the web of wrinkles on his face, the silver dust of hair across his knuckles. He tipped his jaunty cap.
He came with lilies. I hate lilies. The smell of death begins with lilies.
“You really shouldn’t smoke,” he said.
“My mom just died,” I said these words for the first time. Ugh, how strange they felt upon my tongue, against my teeth, and through my lips. “My mom just died,” I said again, these words a second time, how bitter was their taste, like chemicals and cigarettes, and perfume rank.
“My mom just died,” I threw the cigarette on the ground, watched it burn a wilting leaf beneath the tree. Mashed both hard with my bare foot.
“I am looking for magnolias,” he said, pointing to the tree, the tree my mother loved, the tree that made her stop and take a second look at the little brown house at the bend of the road when she went looking for a place to make a home.
He popped the hood of bright blue car, with a creak and a groan it lifted up, the same color as the sky. He pushed it open all the way, a tumble of blankets, of boxes, potting soil, and a trowel, a bag of seeds, and a vase. And a folded step ladder that somehow fit inside the tiny space. He pulled it out and shook it once, and it unfolded like a staircase.
Up he stepped into the leaves, high above the cigarette smoldering, high above the waste.
“They are beautiful, you see,” he called down to me, his arms outstretched to catch the blossoms. “They are beautiful even though they die.”
He breathed in deep, the branches shook.
“They’re smooth and lovely, look! Like a woman in her blooming. But they too fade, and wither. They too, will disappear. But come here, and you will see: There are seeds — lots of them. So many seeds, they’ll blow away, beyond the tree, beyond the street, and a new tree will grow someday, as lovely as the one before. So they never really vanish even when they’re gone, because their memory lives on.”
And he came back down, his arms full of branches, full of leaves, and full of flowers, he came back down and drove away.
“But keep the stepladder,” he said to me before he disappeared. “Sometimes, we need a new perspective.”