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It’s the smell that takes me back.  The way the cherry blossoms infuse the wind that caresses its branches, it smells like the world is waking up like all the regrets have been washed away with the melted snow and all is fresh and new.  It used to be the smell of shopping for summer clothes, planning family barbecues, and lazy days with my friends. Now it smells like burning rubber on tar, like screaming sirens, like empty promises. I pull myself out of bed, shivering as I trade the warmth of my cocoon for the unforgiving world beyond.  I cross the room to shut the windows and pull the blinds to keep the sun out. I used to throw open my closet on days like these, to dig through the heaps of school uniforms and jeans until in the back I find a pair of shorts. I would run through the house, my bare feet slapping on the ground, my hair a tangled mess behind me, shouting to whoever would listen, that the world was finally awake.  I realize I’m fingering the red and purple embroidery of my favorite pair of jeans shorts. I drop them as though they’ve caught fire in my hands. Every summer day I remember most I’ve worn them. The first time I went camping, they were the shorts that I spilled ketchup on, when we had a huge family reunion on the beach for the Fourth of July, they were the shorts that filled with sand and sea water.  They are my favorite because they were her favorite. I grab the first pair of jeans I see and a black hoodie. I lock the door in the bathroom and turn the water as hot as it will go, I sink to the floor with my back against the wall and let the small room fill with a thick, choking steam. I crawl to the shower and let the scalding water fall on my head, stinging as it makes contact with my skin. My fingertips find the faint scar that encircles my forearm, the bumpy one on my lower back, the long one on my hairline, and the short one under my chin.  My reminders of that day. The one that took my mother's life. The one that almost took mine. The one that should have taken mine. In the beginning I would try and let someone in, anything to not be alone, but no one could understand. They knew death only how it affected them, because death is lonely. It’s hollow and dark and evil. It takes what it wants and it doesn’t care who it hurts. It’s not complicated, it's glaringly simple. My mother is gone. Her laugh is slowly fading from the house she made our home and it won’t ever come back because she’s gone.  Her pictures on the wall will grow crooked and dusty until we replace them because we’ll eventually have to move on. Her advice and her love was only temporary and though I’ll try, it’ll slip deep in my memory until there might be a day that I forget, because she won’t ever come back. That's the way life is now, according to the book my therapist made me read about grief, that's called acceptance. Some people think it's the final stage, that it’s a good thing, that soon I’ll be fixed. They don’t know how cold and empty it is here, how I can feel my hope, my kindness, my love disappearing around me.  How I’m vacant of anything, how I’m numb, because it’s easier to be numb than to hurt so much.  

My skin is flushed pink from the heat when I finally turn off the water and step out.  I wrap myself in a towel, dripping water onto the floor around me. I wipe the mirror and look at the stranger staring back.  My hair used to be light brown streaked with natural golden highlights, it was always a wind whipped mess from hours outside, now it's a dull dark brown hanging limp around my face.  It's scary to see my reflection. Those hollow eyes, once a shining hazel, full of life, and love, and joy, now sunken and an angry dark grey color I don’t recognize. My full rosy cheeks have been replaced by protruding bones from not eating, dark circles around my eyes from not sleeping, and pale skin from not leaving my room.  The lanky muscle that encircled my body has disappeared leaving me with an alarming thin look that I hide with baggy clothes. I pull on my clothes and leave my room. The house seems so foreign. My fingers trace the railing as I slowly ascend the steps. No one is home. My dad and my brothers have, by all accounts, handled Mom's death better than me.  People say they’ve found a way to keep living a good life, that one day I’ll feel better, like they do. But I know they don’t feel better. If they did, they wouldn’t run away when they were confronted with painful things like Mom's birthday or the anniversary of her death.  

I don’t eat breakfast before I leave the house.  I haven't eaten breakfast since she died, because it was her favorite meal.  I would come downstairs to catch the bus and my Mom would be sitting at the table with a big smile on her face, her blonde curls bouncing around her face.  She was so happy, so alive. She’d make me sit with her every morning and we’d talk about anything. I let the door slam behind me as I left the house. The light breeze catches my hair, swinging it around my head.  I jam my hands deep in my pockets and try not to look around me. I take the back roads, the ones framed by trees with the asphalt cracking. The one my mom and I took on the way home from school. There had been a little celebration that night, just a small gathering in the gym.  There were books and flowers and my class had decorated walls with glittery lights. I was so proud, I tugged my mom around to show her everything we had been working on for weeks. My feet feel numb, like they're reminding me to turn around, it's all I can do to force them to keep going.  One step. My mom had purple flowers in her hair. Two steps. We stopped for ice cream on the way home. Three steps. I had strawberry, she had mint chocolate chip. Four steps. It was raining. No more steps. I’m here. We were almost home, just taking the sharp turn a mile from our house when the truck swerved out of his lane and came screaming at us.  It was dark and I remember the lights of his truck blinding us. Everything was in slow motion, our car jolted as the brakes failed to slow us down. Then we weren’t two cars on the road, we were one mess of metal. Everything in the car floating around us, my mom’s hand gripping my forearm, her nails digging deep into my skin. And then there was impact and then nothing.  I’m sitting, I realize. Glaring at me from across the street is the ugly memorial cross the town left to remind everyone that this street isn’t just a street, it's a nudge to make sure nothing like what happened to my Mom will happen to them. I want to go home. To crawl under the covers and pretend that this horror story is not my life. But I can’t. I promised myself I’d do it on the first day of spring, today is the day.  No more putting it off. I have to visit her grave. It’s been 365 days since a truck driver making his way from North Dakota to Utah got drunk on the job in Cody, Wyoming and took a turn too fast. 365 days since the airbag failed and my Mom hit her head a little two hard on the dashboard. 365 day since they couldn’t save her. 365 days since she died. I remember it like it was yesterday. The skin of my burning skin against the wet ground.  It’s hard to see with the flashing lights blinding my throbbing head. My lungs won’t expand, my fingers won’t answer my commands. People I don’t know run around. I can feel their urgency, their fear. It’s too loud. I try to sit up and that’s when I see her, She’s laying on the ground, her hair streaked with her own blood. Her face is a mess of bruising and crushed purple flowers. I know in that moment that nothing will ever be okay.  

It takes an hour to reach the graveyard.  Her grave stands out, twenty yards away. I haven’t been here since the funeral.  The draw reaches through my sneakers and seeps through my socks. Her name is big across the stone.  In loving memory of Angela May Dorlie. I fall to my knees in front of it and I just stay there. My bones grow stiff, the sun finds a cloud to hide behind.  She deserved so much better. She deserved to take that vacation to New York City that she always dreamed about. She deserved to meet her grandchildren. She deserved to grow old and grey.  The tears stream down my face without me blinking. My hand shakes as I reach out and lay it on her gravestone. There are so many conversations I wish I could have had with her. I would give anything to talk to her just one more time, to tell her how much I miss her, how much I need her, how much I love her.  But I can’t because death is final. My Mom will lay here forever and her memory is the only real thing left of her to walk through life with me. To advise me about my first boyfriend, to drive me to prom, to teach me how to apply to college. It’ll never be enough. It's dark when I stand up again. I take myself home.  This is the end of our story. The end of the midnight snacks and the water fights and the karaoke parties on the way to school. Maybe one day I can move on and find a way to live a good and full life without her, but no matter what happens I know there will always be a whole in my heart that broke when my mother died and I will never be the same again.

April 03, 2020 21:20

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Ari Berri
15:31 Mar 24, 2021



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