- dogwood in bloom, photo courtesy of L. Humble.
- flowering tree, photo courtesy of peggyapl.
Today I know that you were waiting for me. Looking back now, I recall thinking at the door that you werent holding your hand properly. It was April 17, Daddys birthday, and Carl, Ariel, who was only seven, and I had made the three-hour trip with a bottle of champagne on ice. It was a beautiful day and the flowering trees were in bloom. Each winter, I tried to recall the exact week those trees bloomed. Each spring I forgot.
I wanted us to make a toast. I brought the cooler straight to the kitchen, took out the bottle, and said, Where are the glasses, Mom? Ill get them. You, of course, were already on your way, and returned with three. I said, Mom, were four people; those are three glasses. I thought at first it was one of those moments when you would slap your forehead and say, Silly me.
You were silent, staring at the glasses. You counted them, then us, and finally said, No, were only three people. Your words were prophetic, and life as I knew it was over.
Daddy and I sat in the emergency room waiting area. He hadnt been allowed into your room to see you.
You the daughter? asked a nurse.
She wants to see you.
I went into the patient area and saw you on a stretcher, pale, cold, shaking. I took your hand. Mom, Im here.
I want you to check the oven, you said, check that the cheese is sizzling. You didnt realize that the cheese had stopped sizzling hours ago.
I will, I said. Its almost ready and well eat soon.
Good. Also, will you look on the couch for my afghan? Its folded up on the back of the couch. Im so cold.
I found the nurse and asked for a warm blanket.
I already gave her one.
I didnt call her all the names I felt like calling her, but I told her I wanted the blanket immediately. She believed me.
I then tucked the thin, frayed, yet warm blanket all around you the way you used to do it for me. You didnt answer when I asked you if you felt a little warmer. You never answered me again.
What hurts me the most when I think back on that day is the fact that they wouldnt let Daddy in to see you. You could have asked him about the cheese; you could have asked him for your afghan. He would have liked that. He would have had it to remember. As I do.
Later, in the intensive care unit where you lay unconscious for ten days, the doctor tried to tell Daddy that you werent coming home.
If she survives, shell be a vegetable.
Poor Daddy; he said, Ill take her any way I can get her. He just couldnt understand that you were gone for good.
I couldnt either, really, not at first. That same week, I was in the grocery store. It was spring, remember, and I saw some broccoli rabe there. As I reached for it, I thought, out of habit, Ill ask Mama how to cook it. Suddenly, I understood.
What I want to tell you about, Mama, is what happened at the house when you were in the hospital. All your life youd feared the hospital. Im glad you never knew about your only stay there. Im glad the last thought you had was about the familiar task of serving dinner to the family.
Ariel and Carl went home and I stayed on at the house. Ernie and his wife were there and Eddie, difficult to reach in the mountains of Puerto Rico, was finally on his way home. We ate the veal parmigiano you had been cooking. It was delicious and the cheese was still crispy.
I wasnt equipped to stay the night, but I wasnt worried. The house was still as organized as it always had been. I found, as I knew I would, new toothbrushes, freshly washed pajamas, and clean towels. Freshly ironed clothes, face cream, makeup, and new slippers. Prepared food and food ready to be prepared. Daddys medication organized for the next month, sorted by the day and the hour. Everything clean, inviting, and waiting to serve. You always made it look so easy.
The house seemed to run itself for the next month; it always had, even though you had a full-time job. I dont think my house would run for a single day without me. People often tell me Im very organized, but I think thats because they dont know you.
I miss your house. I miss the comfort I always got from orderliness and organization. Everything has a place, and everything should go in its place, you used to say. You insisted on it. I never seemed to have the time to take your advice until recently; I too have discovered that order brings serenity.
I was disappointed that your will didnt speak personally to me. But you left me grandmas trunk. When I brought it home, I found your messages to me there. All the contents in order, each with a message: This is the blanket you crocheted for grandma when you were ten. She wore it on her lap most of the time during her last year. These are the letters you sent me from school. This is my white fox collar. These are your report cards from the eighth grade.
The last thing you organized for me was my calendar. Youve made a permanent entry in it: the exact Spring date the flowering trees bloom. I will never forget that the route to your house is lined with trees bearing glorious pastel flowers on Daddys birthday, April 17.