Survivor guilt

It occurred to me this morning, while vacuuming my daughter’s room – mostly rat bedding, cat fur, and the occasional leftover yard-long hair, dyed black, from before she shaved her head – that my mother and I do not often talk anymore. It is as though, since she died, our worlds have diverged, and the longer each of us walks on our new paths – she wasn’t here when I was ordained, when the children grew up and left home, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, when, when, when; and God only knows what she’s been doing – the further apart we drift, so that no amount of calling out can bring us back within conversational distance, let alone the whispering closeness of family secrets, intimations of mortality.

I know that when we go over this summer, my father will expect me to visit her with him. He will be talking to her in that fake jolly voice, but the corners of his eyes will be bent towards me, watching for my reaction. My teenaged self will come back to haunt me with its Sphinx-like resolve not to give him the satisfaction, although really, he isn’t asking for much. A nod, a tight smile, maybe a tear or so.

Perhaps I’ll persuade him that I would be better going alone, although he will still expect a report on my return. “Did you talk to her?” he’ll say, and how can I tell him that I didn’t find her there, that she left me behind long ago?

Once he is gone, I don’t suppose I’ll be back. That is why she didn’t want a grave, a marker that could become a mark of neglect, over time. He needed it, though, and I assured him that in his time of grief she would let him have whatever he wanted. I wonder, sometimes, if I did the right thing.

She hated to walk in graveyards overgrown and overcome with the abandonment of the dead, the unfeeling coldness of the living. It was her greatness ambition to be beloved.

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