It’s quiet here this afternoon, so quiet, after the big blizzard. My husband has taken our weekend guest into Boston before giving him a ride to the airport. My son is out with a friend, sledding. Fly high! I think. It’s New Year’s Day of the Year of the Snake—Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!—my son’s year. Last night, we celebrated with friends.
Beginnings and endings: I feel them keenly today.
Two weeks ago, I sat with my mother when she died, my fingers resting on the dry crown of her head. Her lovely brown hair was still only flecked with gray. I held my brother’s hand as she took her last breath, and then we looked at each other, shocked.
Is that it?
The silence then, that’s what reminds me of the silence in the house now. She died hours after midnight, in California. Today the sky is blue, the sun almost painful as it glints off stalks of ice and snowy roof lines. But that silence was as full as this cloudless sky.
I remember the blue outside her bedroom window the day before, even as she struggled for breath and didn’t respond to us or to her favorite Joan Baez CD or to the songs we sang. Swing low, sweet chariot. Birds tussled on the backyard fence and in the shimmer of green leaves.
Yesterday, after the snow, I thought, I’ll take a walk. I’ll throw on my old cross-country skis, I’ll join the happy hordes snowshoeing and tramping down the roads that are normally overtaken by cars. I’ll be a good citizen, I’ll help shovel our sidewalk.
I didn’t leave the house.
At the height of the storm, I looked out our second-floor window at the snow blowing sideways, the power lines whipping like a jump rope with giants on either end. I should have been worried. I felt numb instead.
People understand, of course. But it’s a burden when others look too sympathetic, when I feel required to explain. There is no explaining. Yet sometimes I find myself compulsively describing what happened, as if I’m counting up shiny little nuggets of colored glass, rattling them in my hand. See? See? Beautiful. Awful. Broken.
A few minutes ago, I fell asleep with a bar of sun across my bare legs and striped socks. I woke to a single bird chirping.
I remember: The birds on Mom’s backyard fence, the same bars of sun. Her face exposed by brightness, going transparent, the fragile bones poking through. The purplish shadows around her nose. The scent of roses, as I dabbed perfume on her temples—the fragrance I smelled when I woke the morning after she’d died. I thought the perfume still lingered on my fingers, then realized it was gone.
Now, that single bird, waking me from a restless sleep, into this first cold, sunny day of the Lunar New Year. I am awake, Mom.