Monday, February 25, 2008

between realities.

For some time now, I’ve been wondering, Why won’t my mother show herself to me. Why won’t she come to me in a dream, communicate with me, let me know I am loved?

And I’ve been mad. How can she have died? How can my dad have remarried? How can the make up of my family suddenly be altered? Yes, I’ve been mad. I’ve been kicking and screaming and wailing inside like a banshee unready for these changes. Even a year and six months after my mother’s death, I'm like a tantrum-throwing girl expectant of the luxury of seeing my mother - having her hurl love my way in some tangible form.

Sunday morning, 8:30 a.m., I woke to myself sobbing. Heaving and sobbing and confused by the blurred line between dreams and reality. By the eerie sense of living between realities, which is exactly as I’ve been feeling for many months. To wake sobbing from a dream managed to punctuate that sensation.

In my dream I am leaving a job interview, and I am driving home. I am driving to my childhood home. I’m passing houses, and noticing how old they look. All the while, I’m aware that I’m driving not only home, but also into the past. I get to an odd fork in the road, and have to work hard to remember how to take the fork to get to my house. On my street, I notice nearly all of the houses are for sale. I pause at one to take in how unlived in, how decrepit, it’s become – a reflection of the whole neighborhood. When I get to my house, it’s frozen in time. It looks alive, lived in, loved, and exactly as it had in my youth.

My dad is there. Two cars are in the carport, and dad's in the process of moving one because he doesn’t like how it’s parked. So I wait on the street while he adjusts the car, and when he’s done I pull into the driveway. When I get out, he asks me, “How did it go? Did you get the job.” “I think so,” I tell him.

We go inside. I notice a cell phone. It rings. The ring tone is the intro to the Beatles song “Come Together.” I watch it ringing; John Lennon starts singing. I start laughing and look at my dad. He laughs. I say, “You have a Beatles song as your ring tone?” He laughs at himself again and says, “You know. I like the Beatles.” We’re looking into each other’s eyes. I think to myself, Why didn't he choose “Let it Be” as the ring tone (a song I’ve heard him comment on numerous times). An instant later, I think, He must’ve barely known how to download a song and picked the first Beatles song he could find.

Suddenly, we are in my parents’ bedroom. It is the same room it was when I was five, same bedspread, same curtains. My dad is talking to me in a very matter-of-fact manner about when his new wife arrives. He’s talking to me about the things she’ll need to learn when she comes from India. My mom’s closet is full, just as it was when I was growing up. He is emptying it to make room for his new wife. He is removing clothes and making a pile on the bed. It’s all very practical. He knows he needs to make room for his new wife, and he also doesn’t want my mother’s good clothes to go to waste.

At one point, he takes out a sari that is folded up. It has white-on-white satin stripes running horizontally. Over the stripes is a pattern of red flowers. It’s a sari she had made in the mid-80s, and he holds it up. When he holds it up, I see my mom’s body appear dressed in the sari. I don’t see her face, I just see the form of her body, pre-stroke. I say, looking at my mother’s body, “I don’t want you to give her that one.” My dad says, “Okay. I won’t.” And he puts it on the bed, apart from the give-away pile he has created. I have a moment of thinking it’s going to be difficult for me to see anything red. My mother loved red, and she looked amazing in it.

He continues to pull out clothes, still talking to me about the things his new wife will need to learn when she comes here from India, English, how to drive, etc. Another red sari comes out. This one is older – from when I was maybe five or six years old. It is a more bluish-red, and it is silk. He holds it up, and again, my mother’s younger, healthy body appears to me draped in this sari. Again, I say, “Dad. Don’t give her that one.” He says, “Okay. I won’t.” And he sets it on top of the other sari.

Then, I remember seeing some of her American clothes come out of the closet. He sets them down. He’s still talking to me. I recognize every article of clothing that’s leaving the closet. He pulls out a mauve Indian suit. It’s a newer outfit. He says, “if I give her these [referring to the newer Indian suits], they’ll be too big. They’ll have to be taken in here and here.” He shows me the seams that will need to come in. He’s trying to decide what to do. For the second time, I look him in the eyes. I say, “She can take them to a seamstress. Or, if she wants to learn how to sew, she can get someone to teach her and she can take them in herself.”

I see a look of realization and surprise come over his face, as if it had not occurred to him that perhaps this woman could learn to sew. He says, “Really?” He seems struck by the idea that someone besides my mother might alter these clothes, particularly, this new wife. It is as if this is a place he’s reserved only for my mother, and this new wife is supposed to be different, not a seamstress. Not an artist working in the medium of fabric, thread, yarn.

Then he pulls out a midnight blue silk suit with white and silver embroidery around the neckline. I am doubly-struck by this suit. I hadn’t been so surprised that the red saris had affected me. But the blue suit is so startling. Her body appears, and her younger, smooth face – eyes dark and alive, hair perfectly set, lipstick on lips. She looks happy to see me. She is smiling and not speaking. She looks at me with admiration and pride, with warmth and soothing. It feels like she is there to mediate. To say, It’s okay. You’re dad has a special place for me. I know this. You should know it. And I panic, “Not that one. PLEASE don’t give her that one,” I say of the blue suit.

My dad sees my panic. He says, “Okay. Okay. Don’t worry. I wasn’t giving this one away.” He says it to let me know that he too holds her sacred. I look at where he lays the suit on the bed and see that the pile where he’d put the two red saris has grown. That while he’s been talking to me, he has been adding articles of his own accord to this pile. He adds the blue suit to the top of the pile.

I fall to my knees on the floor and bend over the pile. I am sobbing and begging, “Please don’t give these things to her.” Then I am hugging the pile of my mother’s precious clothes against myself as I sob and beg. I want to hug the clothes as hard as I can, as if I can turn them into her flesh against my own.

That was the dream. It made me sad and bleary. When I woke up, I never even opened my eyes. I just snapped awake in my head and then sobbed for real.

I remember that when my sisters and I were sorting through my mother’s clothes after she died, it had been so important to me to get a photograph of her closet. Since childhood, her closet has been a special place for me. The collection of her own creations and personalities and moods. It was the one place that was not neat or kept. In fact it was crammed, hangers always poking out or hung backwards. Garments pressed tight against one another.

Every now and then, I would clean her closet out for her. I remember, when I moved to Virginia to care for her, going through the ritual of again, sorting and organizing her closet. This time it was with the specific intent that she should know exactly where all of her items were, how to access them so she could easily dress herself and choose her outfits on a day-to-day basis. Little things you don’t think twice about when you are healthy and fully mobile.

I loved my mother’s closet. The way it smelled and sparkled of only her.

SONGS: Come Together, The Beatles and Dreamaniacs, Bettie Serveert

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