This morning my husband texted me and asked if I could pick up the mail one last time from his mom’s house. It was closing day. He and his brother were headed over with the paperwork to finalize the sale with the buyer.
The sun is out for the second time this week and it’s a gorgeous drive over to her neighborhood. I pull into the driveway, park in the dappled shade of mature oak and pine trees, step out into the familiar front yard, but I can’t head over to the jasmine covered mailbox that sits at the curb in front of her house just yet.
Something pulls me to the iron, maroon-red painted gate that spans the walkway between her garage and her house. I peer into her spacious backyard, a little neglected now, where once there was a pool that my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I stole some moments in when no one was home. Years ago. The image of sun-sparks playing on turquoise water and wet skin flashes past for a second. It is quickly replaced by a vision of our dogs, all three of them, sniffling and snuffling through the leaves at the base of the trees along the fence that stands between her yard and the busy street beyond.
I glance at the small, concrete, covered back patio and see my sister-in-law sitting at the plastic table in shorts and flip-flops, my husband and his brother standing off to the side on a lazy, humid, afternoon, watching the dogs play (I think my in-laws had brought their doberman over to play with our mutts). I remember us commenting on the bird houses that were collected on the wire shelf along the wall; about how she seemed to love them.
I can almost see myself, bald-headed from chemo, posing with her and my two kids and my sister-in-law, in a corner underneath two tall pines in the back. An image of my little 18 month old niece’s sandals barely covering her chubby toes as she sat in a lawn chair her Nana put out especially for her. Chubby little feet brushing green, bristly, grass under a blue sky.
I look back up the driveway and remember nights parked here after a movie or a dinner, my husband’s cat, TJ, the only one who refused to stay in the house, sitting on the roof of the car. Poking a paw down through the sun roof left open for the moon.
I’m almost stunned by how many memories are flooding into my head. I think about how many more memories could flood through my husband’s and his brother’s.
I can’t help but gaze at the spot at her backdoor that led to this moment. The tan doormat with it’s ivy-colored border and it’s floral motif. The water hose still curled like a sleeping snake next to it. That stupid, vile, ultimately deadly, hose.
My mother-in-law and I always seemed to have a somewhat, shall we say, tense, relationship. I never felt that I was quite what she had in mind for a daughter-in-law. Oh, there are stories, there are examples, there were resentments, misunderstandings, awkwardnesses. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I know we had two things very much in common: love for her son and love for her grandchildren.
I didn’t realize how much I depended on her, needed her, appreciated her, took her presence, no matter how it could rub me the wrong way or how much mine could do the same to her, for granted. How much I actually loved her until my husband called me from the hospital that day when she was supposed to be coming out of surgery.
It was ripped out of me, how much I felt all of that; violently ripped out as a scream I barely recognized as coming from myself. I couldn’t contain it even if I had tried, couldn’t hide it from the children poking their faces into the refrigerator just feet from me in the kitchen. We wailed for what seems like hours. This was not what was supposed to have happened. This was not how her back surgery was supposed to have gone.
She’s gone. Physically. She’s gone. Her house still stands. But, it is now gone from our life too. No more Christmas mornings there. No more Thanksgivings. Despite the grumblings over things that families grumble over, the unspoken opinions of each other’s decisions or taste or whatever that somehow leak out the sides, despite everything, burn it all away…I’m grateful that love remains. I’m grateful that the night before her surgery, my last words to her, which I never before had uttered over the 20 years that I knew her, were “I love you”.
I stand in front of her house, wishing I had spoken them more. I say them aloud now. “I love you. We love you. We miss you”.
I get into my car and the classical music station that I was listening to pops back on. The announcer mentions something about the title of the song about to play. What was that? I push the info button (new technology is amazing, I have to say) to double-check the title.
“Hellos and Goodbyes”.
I honestly felt like she was there, telling me something. Reassuring me of something.