It’s going by quickly. I went to New York to see family and friends and to be very cold, and now I’m in California (the part where it is also very cold), currently sitting in bed and reading about gun control in the wake of the latest school shooting and wondering whether I have enough energy to get up and make a second cup of tea before breakfast. I’ve been to the Museum of Natural History and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in the same week, which is surely a personal achievement. Yesterday I played dress-up in a golden ballgown at Dickens Fair and got asked to dance a schottische.
LA on Tuesday and then Mexico for Christmas and then another plane and then, many cramped and dazed hours later, Wellington, in time for New Years’ Eve. It’s going by very quickly, this in-between time, this time After Everything’s Over but before I Get Back.
Did any of the rest of it happen, though, that’s what I can’t quite figure out in the midst of all my dinners and photos and public transport tickets. Did I sleep on a couch in the assisted living facility in Tampa and wash her hair with a washcloth? Did the nurses roll their eyes, ever so slightly, when I asked questions and said we needed help? Did I do the laundry every day, did I organize the pills and sit beside her as she slept, wondering how long would it be, how much possibly longer would it be? Did I listen to her whisper to herself for hours in the other room, wondering what was happening and if it was normal and who I should call and what I should do?
Did I say goodbye to the cats on a rainy night and apologize to her out loud on the way back? Did my sister and I each wear a piece of her jewelry at the memorial service, and did the kids read poems they’d written in her class and then go play on the playground as the sun started to set? Did I walk on the beach and wonder if it was the last time, and not be able to know if that were a good or a bad thing?
I have to have done all those things—surely I did them– because all those things are done. I’m here now, in a house I’ve been staying at since I was twenty-four years old. I’m going ahead with all the arrangements I made during that last week in Tampa and it’s what I wanted and what I planned and I’m trying to play the long game here, trying to decompress a bit before I go home, trying to see people I probably won’t see for a while. I have to have done all those things because all those things are done, and I guess it was me who did them.
But was she ever not sick, I wonder, pulling up the guest bed covers a little more snugly. I can’t really recall. I think she had a whole life before this year where she wasn’t sick, where she could walk and talk and do all sorts of other things, some of which I was around for and a lot of which I wasn’t. She traveled, didn’t she. She got her master’s and she raised a lot of kittens and she spoke several languages and towards the very end of her career the parents at her school were basically kissing her ring whenever they saw her, right? She had long phone conversation with her best friends during which we weren’t allowed to bother her, when we were kids. She did yoga and went to the beach and grew a huge garden, I know she did. Surely it can’t have been all doctors and radiation treatments and confusion. Surely there was so much more—more than I know or ever will know–before she silently left us.
She really did leave us, though. There’s no doubt about that.