Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The cicadas might have something to do with it

It’s not something that will be easy to explain, much less easy to understand. Monday was one of those days that made me want to pull my hair out. I was busy all day and didn’t even eat my lunch until 4:30. At 4:45, Brooke was ready to go home for the day, and that meant a stop in at the co-op to pick up some groceries, including our special order that had come in while we were sick.

We ordered a case of toilet paper. It seems that we’re always running out, and running out of toilet paper is never a good thing. Our little toilet paper storage closet is narrow and deep, and I tend to forget to write it on the list when I pull the last package out. Toilet paper doesn’t go bad. Toilet paper only requires a dry place to stay until it’s used. We have a dry place. We ordered a case of toilet paper.

The toilet paper wasn’t the problem. It was sort of vaguely embarrassing for the co-op to be packed with people and have our cashier yelling, “I need a case of toilet paper!” around the room and into the phone, but that wasn’t it. The problem was the guy who walked out of the store room with the big box of toilet paper. Holding this giant box in front of himself, he verified my name. He mentioned a posh suburb of a nearby city and asked if I had lived there, and I had. I did. I lived there until I was eight.

I went to elementary school with him. Our moms were friends. I hadn’t seen him since I was eight—only, I really had seen him, not knowing that the dark haired guy who works in the store room at the co-op is someone I knew from the time I was five. He said he’s seen me around but didn’t know it was me. I mean, the last time I saw him was when we moved away, seventeen years to the day. To the day.

What do you say to someone you haven’t seen since you were eight? What do you say to someone you haven’t seen in seventeen years?

What do you say to someone who doesn’t know that your mom died? Who doesn’t know to ask? To whom that information is relevant as much as anything about you is relevant? Who would have to tell his own mother that an old friend is dead?

He asked how I was, and my mind raced through all of the possible answers: Good. Okay. Fine, thanks. Great! Really well—this is my partner... My mom died in February.

It’s not easy to catch up when you’re signing your credit card slip and balancing a giant box of toilet paper against the checkout lane. But, I know where he works. I’m sure I’ll run into him again. Maybe I’ll invite him to the Sodomy Party in June, and we can catch up then.

That was all awkward and weird, but the hard part, the scary part, the holyshitihavetocallmydad part is how close to the surface it brought one of my constant fears: telling people about Mom. It’s always there, this dread of being engaged in a conversation and having to tell someone that my mother is dead. It’s on my mind. I’ve been known to avoid people I haven’t seen or talked to since before February simply because I would have to say it. It’s not the same as being at the doctor’s office and speaking about my winter weight loss. That’s an explanation, a relaying of facts.

I dread avoiding it. I dread choosing the time to mention it. I fear the conversational jolt of it, the needle on the psychic record player skidding off. I don’t want to answer the same questions about that time in my life, and I don’t want not to be asked them. An old friend has been avoiding me, maybe for these reasons herself. We haven’t spoken much in the last several years, but she knows about Mom—her parents came to a visitation. We avoided each other at the co-op a month or more ago. I’ll let her pretend this doesn’t exist. I know I’d like to.


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