I still think about it when the leaves start changing colors. Not all at once, but bits and pieces, little flakes of color from the kaleidoscope, random scenes from that part of my life. Today it shook loose memories of a car ride and the first rumbles of the earth that signified the beginning of the end.
To be honest, I don't know why fall takes me there. I can't even remember what time of year it was when she got the diagnosis. All I remember is waiting in the car with a book, and seeing her come out of the doctor's office, pale and quiet and somehow smaller than she had ever seemed before. In my world, she loomed. Who am I kidding? She was the world. But on that day, she was almost a stranger, a frail and milky woman standing where my strong, scary, vibrant mother should have stood.
I don't remember what was said exactly, but I remember quickly decoding the cryptic speech they were using as Dad drove us toward home. I remember knowing, knowing, with a bladder-loosening terror, that it was bad. Really bad. As bad as when Grandma got sick; when Grandma died. That we were falling toward a dark, terrible place, and there was no way to stop the descent.
I remember that she said, "Stop me by the store. I can't deal with this without a beer. Just a couple, then I'll quit." She hadn't ever said anything like that before. Mom and beer, beer and Mom, that was the combo. And Salem Lights, of course.
Everything else from that day is a blur, but those few little vignettes keep popping into my head, driving me to my computer to pull up old Bob Dylan tracks (god, how she loved Dylan, and I love him, too, because she made him a part of the soundtrack of my childhood) and Judds songs and even, lord help us, Elvis singing "In The Garden," a song I hated off an album I hated by an artist I hated for most of my life. Tonight? It made me cry. And I listened to the whole song.
Tonight, Bob Dylan's harmonica and organ and weather-beaten drone sounded like lullabies, like connections to a pair of hands that I can no longer touch, to a lap in whose comfort my head will never again rest, to a face I will never see except in a kaleidoscope of pain and loss and lifelong lonely regret for all the things I will never get to ask her. Show her. Go to her for comfort over.
More than two thirds of my life have gone by since she died. You would think that all these memories would be shadows by now, vague things, and that the hurt and sheer solar plexus-punch gasping shock of it all would be gone away and over with by now. But it isn't. It isn't. It isn't.
It's still able to step up and stab me in the tender places, randomly, viciously, slyly. I can go for months without even thinking about it, and then it's in my face again, biting, bitter, freezing-hot and hideous.
I used to love the fall. I used to love the smells, the feel of the air, the gray skies. I used to look forward to the metamorphosis of the leaves and the first smoke from the chimneys and the ozone-scented streets after the first serious rain. Now I hate it all, because, regular as clockwork, the kaleidoscope kicks up another little shard of sorrow for me to cut myself on. And I bleed, and I cry, and I wonder: Will this ever ease? Will it ever not hurt? And what would that make me, if it didn't hurt me anymore?
Just another broken soul, falling, falling toward the dark?
I will accept the pain and the stealthy grief. But I will resent for the rest of my life the fact that death has stolen from me another thing that I love, and that it has done so across the span of time the way it has.
I don't have so many beloved people or ideals or dreams that I can afford to lose any more.