I’d been building balconies for faux-Tyrolean apartments in Breckenridge, Colorado, and once they were finished, my now-husband, our dog Lincoln and I embarked on a hitch-hiking odyssey. We first headed to Poland, Ohio to visit my mother, and to and ‘do something’ with my dad’s cremated remains. No one seemed to want to touch them; God knows why.
We drove to our old stomping-grounds near Kent; Twin Lakes really, walked to his favorite golf hole, and sprinkled his ashes and bone fragments at the edge of the fairway. Looking up, a huge, smiling papa-face filled my sky-mind; I imagined everyone could see his radiant smile as it seemed to fill the sky. Bye, pop; God, I love you. I do so wish you hadn’t been the sole child of such rotten parents; how different your life would have been.
After our marriage, my husband I did some traveling, searching for a new place to call home. We’d lived in Truchas, New Mexico, for a few months, but left after some scary occurrences. 1973 was toward the tail end of the Spanish-Anglo wars, and we just weren’t cut out to be desperadoes, so we packed up our ’56 Ford pickup truck again, and went in search of a safe place to live. A place where the police were more likely to be on your side as long as you weren’t breaking any obvious laws.
Back in Colorado, toward evening, we came over a big hill not far east of Mesa Verde National Park, and spotted the edges of a tiny town: it was raining lightly, the clouds were just parting, and those spears of light that remind you of heaven, all gold and blue with a tinge of peach pointed down at the town, sort of a Eureka! moment. It looked safe, and small and rural; the topography was inspiring in every way: red rock mesas, Silver Mountains (the La Platas), verdant valleys; it looked like a good place to explore.
Inside my fifth grade geography book there had been a painting of a striated, red rock formation labeled ‘Tabletop Mesa, Southwest Desert. God, the wonder of that! I’d find myself flipping to that page often, adding ponies and Indians to the painting in my mind.
And here one was, on the doorstep of the place we decided in a snap to call home for now.
We found a funky old farm house that came with a farm/ranch job, and settled in, put in a garden; I started substitute teaching and…
Then it was time to go get mumsy again; her sister and her family had decided to move to Florida, leaving her, of course, behind. No, not really. Aw, come on. Cripes. Okay, fuck.
I flew to Ohio, and off we went again, back to Colorado in my mum’s merry Oldsmobile ’98; man, did I put the miles on that car! I’d discovered on the trips from California that it could do 110 on the Salt Flats. Zow.
We got her a little apartment in town, a shabby little built-by-Mormons place with several entrances and ‘dwellings’, fixed it up, and she did try to make the best of it. She was so crippled now that I had to do all her shopping, cleaning and laundry; she could still cook, though, and loved to make good dinners for us. She had a television, and we didn’t, so it was nice to watch with her some evenings. We were watching the night Richard Nixon resigned. Wow; “Your President is not a crook.” We played endless games of Scrabble, and she was killer at it. “Eighty-seven points,” she might crow about her word once in awhile. She loved having Lincoln and the new female Springer we’d inherited visit; they were amazingly even allowed on her furniture.
It grew more evident that Lady was not enjoying life. We didn’t have as much time to spend with as she’d have liked, and she was drinking more, and still had plenty of pain pills. She could pick fights over any nonsense, and there was always the edginess of wondering if she would end the fights in suicide.
I guess she had given herself X amount of time to either get better or give it up, and that time must have been up. When she’d talk about ending it all, we’d try so very hard to tell her all the reasons we wanted her to stay alive, but the burden she felt herself to be must have outweighed our entreaties.
One morning, we got a call from a friend who was living in our tipi in the back orchard. Lady had apparently arranged with him to come over that morning to do some little chore for her; it was her infernally clever way of being considerate of us… sparing us.
When he got there, he let himself in, and found her dead in her bed, a note explaining things, and telling us which laid-out clothes she wanted to be cremated in, who to give the rest of her clothes to, etc. She’d had me take her to an attorney to make her will months earlier, and her note reminded us where it was.
Unattended death in Colorado has to be checked by the police; I called them. When we got to her apartment, two local police cars were there, plus a county Sheriff, and the County DA. I folded onto the front stoop.
I couldn’t go in; I just fucking couldn’t face seeing her dead. The night before we’d borrowed her car to take a couple migrant laborer acquaintances to the county fair. My husband Steve had taken the keys in to her and said goodnight; I’d gotten into the truck without saying what would have been… a last goodbye.
The formidable DA and the Sheriff came out to question me. I don’t know where he’d been headed when he’d gotten the call, but the DA was wearing shorts and a cheesy navy sleeveless tank top with yellow binding, all his bristly red chest hair springing out at me; I could scarcely look at him. He and the Sheriff got a little intense about their questions. Huh? I finally twigged to the fact that the DA was there!
Wait a freaking minute–DA’s do Crime! It turned out that one of the geniuses thought I might have murdered my mom; her note might have been a forgery; brilliant, boys; just what we needed right then was a little bit more sick irony in our lives. “Did she use a cane? Who did she leave her money to?” I guess I should have been grateful that the Meatheads hadn’t fucking arrested me.
The funeral home sent the wagon, they took her away, and we went home. Here now was that shocky-underwater thing again, but at least we had each other, Steve and I. There was a finality to this that hadn’t been available all the other times, though it was hard to internalize the meaning just then.
We forgot for a few days how to do life. We made it through the unspeakable horror of making arrangements at the funeral home (“Surely you wouldn’t want your dear mother cremated in that cheap casket, would you? We’d have to special-order that one…”) as if they would actually burn the damned box… But we forgot how to eat, really. And cook. We had made a dozen or so friends in the valley, and they knew of my mother’s death through that small-town grapevine you hear about. But they.all.stayed. away. I guess we’d been tainted by death and they couldn’t overcome their discomfort to reach out. They didn’t bring food, which I now know helps the shock and can fill some of the empty places; the Jewish mothers sure got that part right.
On the third day, the secretary of the school I worked for brought a meal to us; we were almost speechless with gratitude. It taught me to always take food to our bereaved friends. To paraphrase Scarlett O’Hara: “as God is my witness, I will never let anyone go hungry again.”
By and by I sorted out my feelings: the loss, the grief of discovering it was impossible to provide another with the desire to live; the idea of being an orphan, even an adult orphan. I felt the everyday missing, which includes the forgetting; the many ‘oh-I-can’t-wait-to-tell-Lady-this’ moments, only to be brought up short with the forgotten realization of her permanent absence.
All that, plus the hardest one of all: the admission of utter relief: I would never have to go through those episodes again—the fear, the anguish, the Next Steps; life interrupted. It was over. We would have a ceremony and sing some songs, and spread her ashes in our rented apple orchard, and be able to breathe better again. We never would have wished for this, but the Relief Factor was considerable.
Goodbye, Lady. God, I loved you; we loved you, even the dogs loved you; and how I wish our kids could have known you. We made sure to tell them throughout their lives how much you would have loved them; they always loved to hear about that.
(cross-posted at caucus99percent.com)