I keep having this vision: as I’m walking down the path, I get a call that someone in my immediate family has died: either the mother who is my whole world, or the brother that I love but rarely agree with, or the sister who is pregnant, or the sister with whom I shared a womb, or the brother that I pray for every day at 10:00am. My sight doesn’t go blurry, it goes black; my breathing isn’t staggered, it’s stopped. I collapse in the grass, or in the leaves, or in the snow, or in the mud depending on the season. All these strangers from the path surround me. None of them know who I am. All of my friends are either in class or another state. I hear a voice I don’t recognize trying to get my attention because I’m still on the phone. Why is a stranger calling? Maybe because it wasn’t just one of my family members — maybe it was all of them at once and I’m the only one left with this blood and these bones.
I keep my phone on silent all the time because I’m afraid of getting that call, but I still check it every couple feet because I don’t want to miss that call if it comes. I’m afraid that my vision could come true, but I’m more afraid that when I get that call, I won’t be able to remember the last words I shared with the one who has gone.
* * *
When my mother was twenty-four, her mother died. Her mother was fifty-three. She died five days after Mother’s Day. She died while my mother was angry with her, but not because my mother was angry with her. She died of heart failure. I think because she had smoked at least one carton of cigarettes a day for more than thirty years. I don’t know the last thing my mother ever said to her mother. This year, my mother turns fifty-three and I turn twenty-four. Even though she’s never smoked, I’m afraid that there are other ways the heart can fail.
I’m walking into the kitchen from the garage, my hands dripping because I didn’t get a vase for the flowers. I’m not surprised by how quiet the house is. On my way, I walk past the bay window that looks out from the dining room. I see Mom on the porch swing. She doesn’t see me because she’s looking up at the trees. I place the flowers on the counter, and open a cabinet in search of a vase. Timmy walks into the kitchen.
“Oh, hi Mike. Wow, nice flowers. Mommy’s?”
“Yeah, do you think they look nice?”
He walks outside. I watch him move toward Mom’s swing. Pausing, he indicates that he wants to sit next to her. She moves her book to make space. He adjusts himself on the seat, sliding up next to Mom, wrapping his arm around her shoulder as best he can. He rests his head on her shoulder and she, in turn, rests her head on his. This is their routine.
I remove the plastic wrapper, clip the stems, add water to the vase, then spread and arrange the flowers, humming as my grandmother would. It’s late morning, the perfect time for fresh flowers. My twin enters, wordlessly, from behind. Stray rays from the skylight make her squint and stretch. Her eyes adjusting, she yawns and smiles. I shake my hands dry. Arm in arm, my sister and I walk through the back door to be with Mom.
I’ve been moving through that doorway my whole life. I was carried through as an infant, I tore through as a child, but with age I have learned to walk through. I take a seat on the deck with my mother, my two brothers, and my two sisters. We’re catching up. We haven’t made any plans. Mom wants, most of all, to be surrounded by her children, so we have come. I’m not really paying attention to the conversation, but we’re laughing and we aren’t arguing as much as we could be. And today, that is enough. Sometimes that’s what celebrating looks like.
I wonder what I’ll say to Mom as I leave today.
* * *
I’m walking on the path and I pull out my phone. Scrolling through my recent calls, I’m trying to find Mom. I find her name, finally, attached to a missed call from three weeks ago. As I raise the phone to my ear, listening to the ringing, I breathe fresh and deep.
“Hey Mike, can I call you right back?”
This piece originally appeared in the spring 2016 edition of Dialogue [48.2] the Creative Journal of Calvin College.