I am Dorothy

Talking to Mom

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     After my mother died, I flew from Phoenix, Arizona to Salt Lake City, Utah, then back to Switzerland.  In my living room, I placed a cassatte tape of a poetry reading from a quarter of a century ago into the cassette player.  I wanted to hear my mother’s voice.  I didn’t recognize it.  By chance, she read the poem she wrote about Emily Dickenson.  After Emily’s father died, Emily never wrote another poem.  My mother was a poet and a scholar.  She did research.  If she wrote it, it’s true.

     I decided the coincidence was a sign.  I would become like Emily; take a moratorium from being a writer… for one year... to honor my mom.  On the anniversary of her death, I would begin again.  By then, maybe I would have something to say.  Instead of writing, I read.  "Read, read read," she always told me.  I never did, until then.

     A couple of weeks ago, I felt glimmers of the old longing.  An idea for a new play flitted through my mind.  I decided a half-year moratorium would suffice.

Talking to My Mom Six Months After She Died

8/25/2004 Linda Eisele


     This morning, I woke up not feeling differently from any other day.  Then I remembered. 

     I have many plans for today.  I will audition for the new play tonight because that’s what Mom would want.  “I’m all for it,”  she said, when I told her I had joined a troop of players as she lay dying.  With her beside me, I will be fine.  I will go to the book discussion group this evening, too, to discuss  ‘The Celestine Prophecy,’  a book which came into my hands at precisely the right moment to explain the coincidences which started happening when she died.  I would be in both places at once, if I could. 

     Recently, I was wondering, 'How can spirits do that?  How can Mom be with Debbie and me and anyone else who needs her at the same time?'  I decided, 'Time has no meaning for spirits; that’s how they do it.'  I will tell the others at the discussion group,  “Pay attention when coincidences happen.  Then, God is near.”  Near?  God is with us all the time!  I will tell them how ‘The Seeker’ issue of Parabola magazine, the journal Mom subscribed to for me, arrived after she died to provide a word for what I had become when I gave up writing.

     I thought about the last words from the Hindu essay in that issue:  ‘Nothing is all.’  I thought,  ‘Nothing is nothing.  Even outer space is filled with particles far apart.  And space itself?  Space is not nothing.  Space is the place in between the things.’

     “Space Is Where The Spirits Go.”  Mom?  Is that you?

     I will play the piano, maybe learn a new song for my mother, and… and hang out the laundry, pick new dahlias for the vase on the dining room table, wash the pots and pans.  I will spend today loving my mother.  I feel that I have never loved anyone the way I have loved her since she died.  I think,  ‘This is not true.  It is the same way I love my children.’ 

     “The Way God Loves You.”  Mom? 

     It is unconditional love.

     I will end my moratorium on writing by editing and submitting a story for the short story contest, deadline next week, and by writing a poem for the Dorothy Lykes categories of the fall Sandcutters’ contest she always entered.  You can see her poems in nearly every issue.  She even won once after she died.  I wish one of mine would win… for Mom.  If it does, I'll figure she fixed it with the judges.  ;-)

     I will put up her homepage –  "ja!  sofort!" – and sew red cords onto the quilt she gave me and hang it over our bed.  Hubert shall help positioning the nails this evening.  I will use the art supplies from the art box she gave me to make a picture of where she is now.

     In the shower, to celebrate her anniversary, I choose products she would have used.  Ah, Head and Shoulders shampoo!  I saw it a couple of weeks ago for the first time since I moved to Switzerland fifteen years ago.  I smear Neutrogena Rain Dance shower jell down my limbs.  Debbie gave me the sample tube when she saw it in Price Club – “I haven’t seen this here in years.  Shall I buy it?” 

     As the water splashes my hair and face, I remember Mom asking, "How was the water?" a week before she died.  She had already had her last shower.  "Cold,"  I replied.  I wish I had thought of something better to say.  Years ago, when Micha and Mark were running down that grassy hill in Logan, Utah, blonde hair blowing in the breeze backlit by golden rays from the setting sun, and I thought,  ‘This is the meaning of life: right here; right now,'  I was right.

     Since my mother died, I have come to realise there is no greater gift than being a mom.  It is an honor to watch our children grow; a privilege to be allowed to feed and care for others.  It is for being my mom that I love her most, and not because she was a great poet who counted Alberto Rios, Norman Dubie, Richard Shelton, Bill Wilkins, and Rita Dove among her close, personal friends; who fell in love with Billy Collins less than a year before she died, telling me over the phone, “I have always fallen in love too easily.”

     When I brush out my wet hair with the Fuller brush she gave each of her children, the tangles look just the way they did when I was a teenager in Phoenix living in the same house with my mom and my dad, Ricky, Debbie, Lisa, and Brian.  I take a few strands at a time, brush until the knots are clear, move on to the next tangle.

     Afterwards, I apply Jergens body lotion to my skin, the original cherry and almond flavor Debbie and I bought in Phoenix summer before last – “They still have this!?”  – because it reminded us of Mom and growing up.  I rub it into my legs.  “Right, they are pretty, Mom?  I have done a good job of staying fit.”  I lift fingertips to nose and sniff:  Mom’s fragrance.

     I pull on the flower shirt I haven’t worn since we were caring for her while she was dying.  In the mirror, the red and yellow flowers seem creepy.  I am not ready to wear this.  I remove it and search the closet, select a silk blouse she wore in the sixties or seventies.  The golden glint of its fabric matches my hair, dyed from white and gray a few weeks ago.  Mom used to dye her hair… nearly this color.

     In the bedroom, the quilt she ordered from a catalogue last Christmas lies across the foot of the bed the way it does every morning.  Debbie gave it to me two days after Mom died together with the art box and my new carpet bag purse, my last Christmas presents from my mother.  Which squares of the quilt are for whom?  Hubert is the heart made of red swirls.  I am the green vines heart.  And the centers?  Those God-like forms?  One of them is Mom, but which?  The right one.  Who, then, is the left?  My dad.  I smile.  And the ‘X’ and the wreath?  Micha and Mark.  The cross for Mark?  No, that’s Micha’s, for her ambition.  The wreath is Mark, for the Olympics, for his gentleness.

     Carrying shower-damp towels onto the balcony, I compose Mom’s homepage in my head.  I must be careful.  Whatever words I put online today will stay.

     “That Is Not A Reason Not To Do It.”  Mom? 

     I weave the towels through the railings and gaze out across the emerald Swiss countryside. 

      “God Mom, it is a perfect day.”

      “A Perfect Morning.”

     “You would love it here.”  I push open the bedroom shutters.  They are as tall as the glass wall and extremely heavy.  Usually, one or both hits the end of the track with a crack.  Today, both slide soundlessly, perfectly, to a stop in exactly their right positions: a baby miracle.  She is here.

     “You do love it here,”  I tell her.  I smile as I slide open the computer room door with delicate care, relishing her presence.  In the living room, I open door-sized windows overlooking the garden, to let oxygen fill the house.  I move a chair to block a window so it won’t blow shut in the breeze.

     I ask another question.  The answer arrives: words in my head.  “What?  You are answering me?  Any question I ask, you will answer?”  This is fun.  This is cool.  This is great.  I feel so happy.  This is a game we can play together, my mother and me.

     What do I want to know?  She will tell me anything.  Last week, listening on the car radio to the song,  ‘What if God were one of us,’ and the words,  ‘What would you ask if you had just one question,’  I blurted out,  “Where is my mom, now?”  If I knew the answer to that one, I would know everything.  I had smiled at the cleverness of my ‘just one’ question, serving for many.

     I pick up a pen, one of Mom’s, and begin to write for the first time in six months.  This.  In the garden below, the dahlias I planted for Papa, her father, are not his any longer.  They become hers.

     As I remove the old dahlias from the vase, words –  “Don’t Waste Time” –  pop into my head.  I open my mind to whatever thoughts she will give.  I will be quiet and creative, today, spending her 6-month anniversary listening.  I drink a cup of coffee, because she drank coffee.  And now to work.  Ah!  But where to begin? 

    “Laundry,”  she tells me.

     I write,  ‘Thanks.  Mom.’  I mean to write a comma, but the comma comes out a period. Mom thanking me?  J

     I write,  ‘Thanks, Mom.’

     “You’re Welcome,”  she replies inside my head.

     I feel like any thoughts I have today should be considered sacred. 

     As I hang up the laundry, I have this feeling, any project I begin today will be blessed.  Ha ha!  So, begin as many as I can!  When we were cleaning the kitchen in the sixties, Mom said,  “Pretend a tornado is coming.  Anything we get picked up before it hits will be saved.”

     I will start weeding the garden, start cleaning the house, start filing the health insurance papers, start editing my novella according to Mom’s suggested changes, start Mom’s homepage. 

     “Start Writing Your Autobiography,”  she says.

      I carry the compost into the garden.  As I dump it into the container,  “Eat Raspberries,”  appears in my head.  I return to the kitchen.  Only one stainless steel bowl, just right for picking raspberries, is left in the cupboard.  (All the others are on the sink waiting to be washed).  I can get a lot done if I keep up this pace!  I smile.

     Shall I go back outside barefoot?  What about the wasps?  I feel like risking it: Mom will take care of me.  I shouldn’t take this thing too far;  'God helps those who help themselves,'  she would tell me.  I stand with feet planted slightly apart in the soft earth and reach as far as I can over the bushes, plucking raspberries.  Eventually, the bowl slips and falls to the ground, raspberries tumbling out.  I pick them up, one by one.

     “Enough,”  she says.

     Next, I set to work trimming old dahlias and roses.  Then, I work weeding the flower hill until 11.30.  The bees humming around the oregano blossoms do not sting me as I step between them.  A bumble bee enters a white gladiola: he will not hurt me. 

      Finished in the garden, I play Scott Joplin on the piano Mom would have wanted me to fix.  Refurbished since she died, it sounds like new.  ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ is an old song I played in the Phoenix days.  'Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.'  I borrow Micha’s old book of songs to learn something new.  The book falls open to  ‘A Tear,’  something blue, by Modest Mussorgskij.  I play it for the first time with nearly no mistakes, learning it for Mom.  Next, I sit down at Mark’s computer and open the Tripod site builder page on the internet.  I type,  “I am Dorothy,” the title for her new homepage, while eating fresh raspberries.  God, how she loved these.  She made me stop as we drove into Cache Valley toward Logan, Utah in the early nineties, Micha and Mark in their car seats on the back seat.  She bought us a tray of fresh raspberries from a young man and woman who stood beside their white van at the crossroads.  I am going to eat fresh raspberries all day long.

     Writing feels so good.  “Why have I kept away from this for so long?”  I ask her.

     This time, her answer is only silence.

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