I must have caught the tail end of the dream just as I was waking up, because my first thought was “I will have to get a flight to Tampa.” My second thought was “Oh! Oh I thought she was dead. I thought she had died. What a terrible dream!” My third thought wasn’t a thought at all: it was just a stare and a blink and then another blink.
I don’t shy away from talking about her—I will say, easily and with no gulping or stuttering, to a new acquaintance: “I recently lost my mother.” I have her Mexican nightgown hanging on my wall and the bamboo tray that she used to keep her makeup on in my kitchen until I find a better place for it. I look at her picture every day. It’s been five and a half months.
“My mom died,” I say, but the words come from behind and beside and beyond where I am sitting at the bar, chatting amiably with the cousin of a friend of a friend. They don’t come from me. My mouth shapes them, my voice breathes them out, but they’re not mine, they’re not my own. “My mom died,” I say, and the acquaintance says “Oh, I’m sorry” and I say “Oh, thank you,” and continue with the conversation. You can barely hear the hollowness, underneath those words that aren’t mine. You’d think those were words that I was actually saying.
Meanwhile, I haven’t slept through the night in over a year. I pick fights and then send lavish, pointless text message apologies ten minutes later. I’m always somewhere between five and fifteen minutes late. I run hot and cold. I go to work and drink my tea and try to distract myself with all the usual things: the café chats and the yoga classes and the daydreaming about taking a winter dive trip. Five months, five and a half months. I sign another year’s lease on my flat, I tell a friend over pancakes, “I am committed to Wellington. There is no reason, now, for me to ever live in the States again.” I make dinner, I read books. I pick up a scarf I started knitting two years ago, before we knew she was sick.
I think about kissing her goodnight, every night for the last seven weeks of her life, and I wonder when she stopped knowing I was there. I wonder if I should have stayed in the room as she fell asleep, the way she would have done for me countless times when I was a kid. I reach back and try to make myself stay in the room with her, hold her hand longer, sit with her in front of a movie as her eyes flutter and droop and I know for sure that she’s not scared, that she knows I’m there with her, that she knows I won’t leave her again. Did she lay awake like I did, in the other room on the foldout couch? Did she wish I were there next to her in the dark as the oxygen machine whooshed and whirred and flushed? Did she know, did she know, did she know what was happening?
I do the dishes and check my email, I pack my work lunch. Her picture is on my bookshelf, the hoodie she sent me in a big package hangs on the coathook. “No big changes this year,” I keep saying. Tomorrow I’m getting a massage and have to stop off at the library; this week I will go to yoga and to the movies and out to dinner. I’ll keep saying those words that aren’t mine and don’t mean anything. I’ll get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and I will wake up and know it was a dream, it was only a dream. If only, if only it were a dream.