Late afternoon sunlight drifts across my desk. The trees outside are bare, their dusty leaves collecting on the ground.
I read the text from my brother. Then I read it again.
My childhood home.
A family with two little girls.
It’s been four months since my mother passed away. It seems impossibly long and short at the same time. Grief, it seems, has no clock.
Our relationship was complicated.
It’s not something I talk about often.
After all, what kind of daughter is estranged from her mother?
How bad, how damaged, how tense could it be that you can’t find one shred of goodness between one another?
This summer, COPD stole her air. As the doctor shut down the machines which give her breath, I considered the word carefully.
Now, my childhood home has sold.
A house I spent my whole life running from.
Yet I know the exact way the sunlight falls across the floor in springtime.
I know how the kitchen windows glow in late afternoon.
Every year we ate Thanksgiving at the coveted dining room table – the spot where some of my happiest memories reside, all polished wood and hopeful forks. I can still remember her joy when she found dishes to match the floral wallpaper.
My mind is a slideshow.
Birthday candles atop a chocolate cake, my brother’s face aglow.
Kickball in the backyard, tomatoes in the garden, piles of leaves in autumn.
Sitting around the radio, waiting to hear if we had a snow day.
Yet each slide is punctuated with chaos, like too many exclamation points in a paragraph.
A full-size aquarium smashed in pieces.
Screaming matches on the front lawn.
Long periods of silence following destruction.
For as long as I can remember, proverbial eggshells littered the carpet. We tread carefully.
Estranged. That is what we are. A word with a bad consonant-to-vowel ratio.
Can you miss someone you haven’t spoken to in nearly a decade?
Whose number wasn’t stored in your phone?
I assumed she’d be there forever.
Tucked away inside this house, surrounded by her books and DVD’s.
Sleeping with the television on because she needed the background noise to rest.
Do I miss her?
I miss who she might have been.
Who we might have been.
My gravity is gone.
I read the text again.
I think of my son Jack, tucked away in his own space.
A residential building with forty-four other kids.
He is happy. He is thriving.
Yet I am already thinking of the next step.
This is the life of a special-needs mother.
Constantly, we look beyond the moment.
Where will he live when this program ends?
Where will he go?
When Jack was diagnosed with autism, one chapter of my life closed, and another opened.
I became an advocate, a heart-changer, a Forever Mother.
Now, another chapter of my life has closed.
Where is the opening here?
Are the two connected? It’s hard to know. All I can say is there is a complicated loss mixed up in both: the son I never expected intertwined with the mother I always wanted.
The house is sold.
There is money.
Money I question if I deserve.
Why did she keep me in her will? I will never know.
I notice the way her own vulnerabilities show up in this boy of mine.
Extreme anxiety. Paranoia. A tendency to misread other’s intentions.
Because of her, I recommit to him. I have new resolve. I will not lose him to the same trappings of the mind.
Perhaps that’s the opening. Perhaps that’s the legacy.
I read the text one last time.
I pick up the phone. I dial the number I jotted in my notebook.
“Hello, I’m looking for a realtor. I’d like to find an apartment for my son Jack.”
We roller-skated up and down the sidewalk in the summer.
The cracks haven’t changed, even after all these years.
I miss who he might have been.
Who we might have been.
They asked to keep the table.