The song they play at your mother’s funeral is the one song you will never forget; whether it was a song that you grew up with, one that your father no doubt picked out, or one that was chosen by the minister for every family that couldn’t handle such a decision three days after the death of a family member. That song will be engrained in your memory for the rest of your life. For me, it was the same song they played at my grandfather’s funeral. The same song she cried to. It always killed me to see her cry, even if we were never on the same level and never quite understood each other.
When she died, I was angry. Angry that we had never shared the kind of moments that you see in movies and angry that we never had that ‘once in a lifetime’ epiphany that brought us closer together. I sat in the front row, two chairs in, on the left side and drowned out every person that knew her better than I did. No one had a right to know my mother better than I did. Of course, my family hugged me and tried to console me, but it was meaningless. “She loved you, you know” her sister told me. I didn’t even consider her my aunt. How could I after only meeting the woman at Christmas a few times. All I could think was, How would you know? You weren’t there, either.
When I arrived home my apartment seemed vacant. Nothing had been touched since I had left for the airport that morning and yet every item in my small studio seemed foreign. My mother would have made the bed before leaving, I thought. And that was all I could think of for days. It was late March and in Montreal that meant snow storms and large heating bills. I looked out the window at the falling snow and pondered what each flake meant. It was as if each flake was an ash from her body, drifting apart as they met the ground; separated but still affluent.
A week later, a box arrived in the mail but I didn’t open it. I’m not sure if I was afraid of its contents or if I was just too lazy. I didn’t remember where the letter opener was. Maybe the top drawer in the kitchen. Maybe not. It didn’t matter much at the time. All I wanted to do was lay in the dark, shut my eyes and attempt sleep. I knew I wouldn’t get any, but with each day that passed I hoped that tonight would be different.
On Wednesday morning, my boss finally called. It had been nearly two weeks and he was starting to wonder if I would ever come back.
“Hello” I stated tonelessly.
“Tams! How are you feeling.... uh... I was just calling—“
“I know why you’re calling.” I interrupted.
“Well I was hoping that you might come in sometime this week. It might be good for you.”
“Not today, Paul.” I said as I hung up the phone.
I laid down in the same position I had been in for days. I felt helpless yet, secure. Numb yet, comfortable. As I stared at the ceiling, unable to contemplate my relationship with my mother any further, my OCD kicked in. I started to count the dots in the plaster and tried to imagine Disney characters, if a little pixelated. Donald. Daisy. God damn ducks wouldn’t leave me alone. Frustrated, I turned over. I craved interaction. The desire for isolation was wearing thin and I was desperately seeking a distraction. I stood up and walked over to my 6-drawer cabinet. The radio that had been abandoned by my studio’s previous owner had been shoved in the bottom drawer on my first day; I didn’t think I would actually use it. Who needs a radio when you have an Ipod, I had thought. Now, I felt different. I opened the third drawer and took out my box of memories, grabbed the radio and walked back to the bed. As I plugged it in all I could hear was static. I wiped the dust off of the top of the radio and glanced at my fingers, covered in soot, as I rubbed them together. After several attempts, I found a station that suited my mood and turned back to my box of memories.
It was more of a tin container than a box; grey with a lavender trim. I had once used it to store the blades of childhood, but currently, it held the photographs of my past. Each picture inflicted a memory, vivid and yet distilled, as if one day the memory would fade completely. There was the photograph of my grandfather, taken in 1964. He was in the army and the portrait made him appear meaner than he actually was. I guess that’s what the army is supposed to portray, right? Another emotionless male between the ages of 18 and 35, ready to battle for his country. It was small, maybe two inches wide by three inches tall, and black and white. His hair was combed back and he was wearing a uniform with a little set of gold wings hanging from his shirt pocket. He died when I was seven, but I still remembered the day he taught me how to properly eat a cheeseburger. He would never let me forget to put my French fries inside the burger before I ate it. He told me it was the only way to enjoy both at once. I didn’t know why this was the memory my mind had chosen to remember of him, it wasn’t significant, but he was always nice to me, more gentle than he was with the others, as if he had a soft spot for his little girl. My mother looked like him, I thought, as I set the photograph to the side.
Then there was the photograph of my sister, who I hadn’t spoken to in nearly ten years. She was beautiful back then, before she started taking heroine. The government was corrupt, they stole her from me. Or at least, that is what I always told myself when I was younger. I never touched drugs because of her and in a way, I was thankful for her poor example. She kept me out of a lot of trouble I would have met with open arms. When I was fourteen, I had torn the photograph in half. I burned the side that I was on. At the time, I was angry and I didn’t want to remember being in her presence. I now wished I had kept the only photograph I had of the two of us existing together. In a way, she resembled me. Or I guess, I resembled her. She was only my half-sister, but I guess our father had strong genes. The almond shape of our eyes, the cherry lips; she even kept her hair short like I did. I missed her, but I didn’t have any memories of her and me, just what she had done.
The third photograph that I picked up was a portrait of my mother. In this picture, we looked identical. She was my age. She had my smile and my perfect nose, the same depth in her eyes and the same porcelain skin. I had tried to paint her many times but it always came out looking like a dated self-portrait. I could never quite capture the strength that she had. Her oversized glasses sat on the edge of her nose and I could tell that she was looking back at someone, maybe my father. Those eyes spoke an intensity of love I had never met. I put down the photograph as a tear rolled down my face. Why hadn’t I experienced those eyes? That loving stare and gentle touch?
I put the photographs back into their container, and placed it on the hardwood floor to the left of my bed. The song they had played at her funeral was being projected through my radio, and though muffled, stopped me dead in my tracks. For the first time since her death, I allowed myself to cry. My heart pounded deeply as I wished for another chance to be her daughter. I begged the universe to send her back, or to send me back in time, but she was gone. My face had reddened and my flesh was burning from the tears. It was somehow all satisfying. After six years of silence, I was grieving the loss of my mother.