I knew that 2017 was going to be THE YEAR. I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly or what precisely would make the year exceptional. All I had was a feeling in my gut. I remember telling my mama, “this year is going to be huge.” She and I talked every day about where we both were in terms of finances, personal growth, general health, our cats, and all the myriad of things you discuss with the person closest to you. Oh, the things we didn’t know at the beginning of 2017 could have filled a stadium.
The year began with two big changes for me. I ended the most significant D/s relationship of my life so far, and this blog faltered as I scrambled around trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Did I want to keep writing here? Did I want to write more erotica? My writing was at a standstill, and for that space in time, I didn’t care. I continued to untangle the threads of my old relationship as I saved money towards the object of my desire. There was one thing I was certain of. I really, really wanted to buy a house.
It had been my dream since divorcing that I would someday be able to afford a house as a single, self-employed woman. I was a homebody, a person who loved to nest. I enjoyed going out, but it didn’t feed my soul like cooking in my kitchen or curling up with Catsquatch in bed did. Home was definitely where my heart was, so I busted my ass cleaning up my credit, paying off my debt, and increasing my income so that I would be mortgage-worthy. I had no idea how it would work or how the puzzle pieces would fit together, but I knew in my heart that I wanted a house. It was the next stage in my personal evolution, and I knew I could do it. I didn’t know the details of “how,” but there was this rocket of desire pushing me to accomplish it this year.
In April, on a whim, I began the mortgage application process to see if I could get approved, and by May, I was seriously hunting for houses. I couldn’t believe it, and I kept mentioning to Mama that it seemed impossible that my dream was coming true finally. She said that she was living vicariously through me, and we jokingly planned about how we’d arrange “her bedroom” which was officially my office. I began to plan our first Christmas in my new house with excitement, and a little anxiety, in my heart.
The beginning of June launched a month full of inspections and repairs, and I became consumed by the house buying process. My end goal was tangible, and every day during our phone call, my mama asked for an update. She demanded to know all the details, but something was off. Her speech sounded slurred, and she was forgetting things more than normal. My brother and I had made plans to visit, and I reassured myself that I would haul her ass to the doctor once I got there.
She told me it was the usual chemo side effects that lingered, and that she was fine generally speaking. I didn’t believe her and urged her to go to the doctor. For the first time, I felt like she wasn’t being honest with me. But I couldn’t make her do anything she didn’t want to do. She finally admitted that she was afraid to go, because doctors always told her bad news. I couldn’t summon the words for an argument, because since being diagnosed with cancer over three years ago, the medical news had almost always been negative. Worry settled into my stomach.
A week after that, my aunt called me late on Tuesday night. She told me that it was time to come home and that my mama’s health was worse than anyone had known. My brother and I scrambled to make arrangements, and I told myself not to panic. There were too many questions still. I hadn’t talked to the doctors, and I didn’t know enough yet. I repeated out loud, over and over again, “we still have time.”
The day after my aunt’s phone call, I stood at my kitchen sink with my cellphone clutched to my ear.
“I need you to be my reality check. I know it’s a burden, but I need you to tell me the truth.” My mother’s voice sounded weak.
“OK,” I said, biting back a sob. “I think that you can do this exactly how you want. Regardless of what the doctors say or what my brother and I want, you can handle this in a way that you want.” I couldn’t bear to name the thing that loomed at the edge of our conversation. This was death, and I couldn’t name it.
“That’s good,” she said. “I think you’re right.” She went on to talk about an alternative therapy, but we both knew it would never accumulate into action. She was too weak and out of options.
Mama had finally conceded to go to the ER to have tests done. She learned that she now had a brain tumor, and cancer had metastasized in her lungs. She had a mass in her liver, and her oncologist projected six more months of life if she was lucky.
She didn’t want to tell me. In fact, she had asked my uncle to break the news to me. It turned out that her diagnosis wasn’t the only thing that she had wanted to hide. She hadn’t wanted to tell me that she had gone to church with her pants on backwards or that her “brain wasn’t right.” I ended up reading about it in her journal, and before you scold me about reading her personal writings, I felt desperate to discover what she hadn’t shared. The woman I knew and loved had gone to a place untouchable by me.
I had spent my entire life confiding in my mother, and she had confided in me as well. But she had been unable to tell me the hardest things that she had to face alone. I think because she didn’t want to admit them to herself. Because she was scared. Because she didn’t want to die.
I think about that conversation every day, and I think about the last time I saw her. She chose to die when I wasn’t there. She didn’t really want anyone there, but towards the end she allowed her siblings into her room to say their final farewells. I didn’t get to do that. I was already home. I had left with her smiling and hugging me. I had left with the promise that I’d return in a week.
I had to close on my new house, and I wanted to pick up my daughter. I had every intention of going right back to mama, so that she could have some time with her precious granddaughter. My best laid plans, however, were not what mama had in mind.
I think now that she couldn’t die with me there. That somehow I anchored her to this world, and she didn’t want to fight me about leaving. God knows, I didn’t want her to leave. I couldn’t entertain the idea that she would leave me even though I knew the odds. My heart insisted that we had six months, and that a miracle could happen in six months. But she was suffering, and her body had betrayed her. Her brain no longer performed the way she needed, and she was in a lot of pain from years of chemotherapy and radiation.
On the afternoon that she died, I held my daughter close and we watched Moana. There was a part in the movie when the grandmother told Moana that she should pursue her quest, because “there is nowhere you can go that I won’t be with you.” I was reminded of the pact my mother had made with me when she was first diagnosed with cancer. We vowed to find one another that somehow the three of us, my mother, me and my daughter, would be together again. I don’t know that I believe in the heaven that my church preaches, but I believe that I’ll know her again.
June and July have passed in a blur. I interred my mother’s ashes, worked with my brother to settle her estate (an ongoing process) and cleaned out her apartment. We found a good home for her cat, and I sat at her dinner table and sobbed about never sharing another meal with her. I wrote and delivered her eulogy and hugged a hundred people who knew and loved her. I closed on my house, moved my mama’s things, and then moved my own. And I did all this with a hole in my heart the size of the moon.
I am the walking wounded. You just can’t see it.
The oddest thing was that the world didn’t stop even though I had lost the second most important person in my life. The sun rose and set. I still had to work. I had to figure out meals and do laundry. I had to take care of my daughter.
The weirdest thing about this messy life, my messy life, was that sunshine pierced my darkest days. I could cry every day, and still go to the dungeon and have an orgasm. The gift of human connection and the ability to write about it existed alongside my despair. I learned, and am still discovering, that there was no “right” way to grieve and that it wasn’t this straightforward process of stages like Wikipedia may have lead me to believe. An acquaintance asked if I had “bounced back” from my mama’s death after reading the previous week’s post, and the words slapped at my face. Does anyone truly recover from losing their mother? I didn’t believe that writing about an evening of pleasure negated the loss of my mama. This year so far had been full of dreams come true and nightmares realized.
Every day I reached for my phone to call her. I didn’t delete her texts, but I couldn’t bear to look at them either. She had influenced my life in immeasurable ways, had been my protector, advocate, and sounding board. She had been my dearest friend, the best mother I could imagine, and a devoted grandmother. She had born witness to my life, and suddenly I was unsure of everything.
Who am I without my mother? And most importantly, what was I going to do without her? Hand over hand, bird by bird, I am doing my best to figure that out.