this is the story of how we begin to remember

You probably didn’t know, when you forced me out of you, when you squeezed and contracted and pushed…You probably didn’t know that screaming ball of hot pink flesh, who grew in your womb for nine months and two insufferable weeks…You probably didn’t know that little hungry, demanding child would grow into a woman who wanted to be nothing more than a reflection of your energy, who longed to sway beneath the shadows of you and breathe you in.

You probably didn’t know, when I was two and hooked up to tubes and monitors in a hospital emergency room…When one of my organs wasn’t formed quite perfectly and the surgeons offered no promises what the next moment would bring…And you held my tiny, soft hands and stood by my bed and whispered gentle lullabies in my ear…You probably didn’t know that I would return the favor 25 and a half years later…And stand guard alongside your hospital bed…And sing you songs and tell you jokes and pray, and pray that you would stay a little while longer.

You probably didn’t know, when you brushed my hair and pulled it into a taught, perfectly smooth ponytail, when you pinned a giant bow to the very top – one with glitter or buttons or polka dots…When you tied my shoelaces and smoothed my ruffled skirt hems and wiped the dirt off my elbows and told me I was brilliant and beautiful and could be whatever I wanted to be…You probably didn’t know that I believed every single word…And never let doubt or fear settle anywhere near my dreams.

You probably didn’t know, when you tucked me in at night, and we read A Wrinkle in Time or Mr. Popper’s Penguins…When we said prayers out loud in that intimate space, when you kissed my forehead and pushed play on the cassette tape so I could fall asleep…You probably didn’t know how hard it was not to follow at your heels when you turned to go. How I longed for you to come back to me before you even left the room.

You probably didn’t know, when you planned my elaborate birthday parties – with goodie bags and piñatas and birthday cakes thick with sweet cream frosting…When I inhaled until my lungs felt as light as the balloons tied to the back of my chair and blew forcefully at the candles, trying to extinguish those melting time bombs before the wax collided with the cake below…You probably didn’t know every wish I made was for us to be healthy and happy and together forever…Every flame held the promise of a long life…Or so I believed as watched their reflection flicker in your endless brown eyes.

And I guess I didn’t know, when I talked to you 10 days before Christmas, and heard your hoarse voice on the other end of the phone telling me it sounded worse than it really was…And I told you to rest and carried on buying coffee mugs and goat’s milk soap and chocolate covered cashews for your stocking…I guess I didn’t know that would be my last, “I love you.” And there was so much more to say.

And I guess I didn’t know, when we sang the hymns and hugged and wept, when we called it a celebration even though we all knew it was a funeral…When we sat on the rows marked “reserved,” the rows that no one ever wants to be waiting for them…I guess I didn’t know how broken my heart would be.

And how much we all need our mothers. And how I would still need you.

angel painting
One of my mom’s angel paintings.

courage to fall

We used to make leaf piles. Rake the yard clean of fallen mahogany and amber and crispy browns until the shivering blades of grass beneath were revealed. We’d drag all those colors into the back corner of the yard. But we didn’t burn them. No we’d never let them go up in flames.

We piled them tall and wide until we created a mattress-sized heap of all the trees had shed that year. Then we jumped high in the air and let our bodies fall carelessly down to earth.

It was fall when I found you. Or you found me. And we both forgot – even if for just a moment – that our hearts were too broken to love again. And the time it took for a ruby-red Sweetgum leaf to dance its way from the highest tree branch to the anxiously awaiting ground below, that was all the time we needed.

We were falling too.

In a coastal town you have to seek fall out or you’ll never realize she’s there. When the humidity steps aside, backs away after a cleansing rain. And winter’s bite hasn’t taken hold. The sun is still warm, but the swirling breeze carries just enough coolness to make it possible to sit under those soothing rays forever.

I miss the way the Georgia trees paint the ground with colors. And spending all day in the backyard raking up those leaves just so I could fall with splendid abandon.

But the trees here don’t change with the seasons. And as quick as she comes to visit, fall will move on.

So I’ll just breathe in each precious moment. And be thankful that a childhood spent watching leaves tumble helplessly in the air was enough to give me the courage for my greatest fall. When there was no leaf pile to catch me.