It happens the same way every year. I don't remember the day my mother died until I look at the calendar. I am writing, "6:00 dinner reservations," and see that the date is December 30. One year I wrote, "Dumplings, 2:00." I was unsure whether to keep the date with friends, because of the date on the calendar.
It happens the same way every year. It is not a date I remember until I am making plans for the day. Writing on the kitchen calendar. Frozen for the tiniest second. The day my mother died.
I was not there. At her insistence, I was not there. I wish I didn't know that. But my brother felt I should know. When Mom was dying, I asked her if we should call you. She said "no." She didn't die that day. She died a couple of weeks later, alone. The doctor from the nursing home called. My brother had added me as an emergency contact. I would have been the last person they would have called if they had known how my mother felt about me. In fact, I was the last person they called, but the first to pick up the phone.
I had the flu that year. Maybe it was the fever that made me think the doctor on the phone had a Swedish accent. I pictured him tall and blonde and capable. It won't be long now. I thanked him.
When the Swedish doctor finally tracked down my brother, it was too late. She was gone. I comfort myself by imagining that the Swedish doctor stayed with her until she took her last breath. That he spoke to her in his thick accent, maybe telling her a story as she passed over to the other side.
It has been fifteen years.
I write about my mother to unravel the tangles. To separate the woman who barred me from her life and her death, from the woman who had warm brownies waiting after school. No matter how hard I pull at the tangles, I end up with a bigger knot. My mother didn't let people in, and I was no exception. Sometimes I think I have untangled one of the threads and I find myself with a tiny bit of understanding. For the most part, now, as when she was alive, my mother remains a mystery to me.
It happens the same way every year. I am writing on the kitchen calendar. This year, a dinner reservation at 6 with my own beloved daughter. I will think about my mother today, but there will be no answers. I will put the tangled knots and the loose ends away for another year.