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Lions Roar : January 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2012 57 body, the body that gave rise to mine, is not some- how endangered? Not prodded, not intubated— not horizontal—and yet to say she is now vertical isn’t right either. I lean into her. She is both there and not there. What do you say to your mother’s ghost? It’s so nice to be here with you, I tell her. I’m waiting for some similar sentiment, but instead she says, I’ve been crying about you for the last two or three years. I can’t help but notice the odd vagueness of “two or three.” Her lack of speci- ficity underlines the differences in our realms of existence. Time and space are now so fluid for her, but still solid for me. In the kind of grace only the dead can deliver so convincingly, I feel both shocked and relieved by her statement. Something in it provokes a habitual guilt. Oh no, I made my mother cry again. What was it this time? But what stays with me more clearly is a sense of permission in her statement. That I am convinced of something she never wanted me to believe. That I’m servicing a burden she could see was no longer worth carrying. She had become the correspondent I had hoped she would. When she was close to dying, I was intrigued by the possibility that she was about to enter into unknown territory. I would have someone in the field. She would be embedded. I proposed to her that we arrive at some sort of secret code through which she could communicate to me that she was with me after she died. I learned later from my brother, a magician, that Houdini and his wife had made such a pact, and had agreed on the word believe. I proposed to my mother that we come up with a sentence that she would “throw” into the mouth of the child I imagined I might have someday, a kind of otherworldly ventriloquism. I relished the idea that one morning as I pulled socks onto that future child’s feet, her small toes quotes of mine, that she might utter some unlikely sequence of words and I would have incontrovertible truth that my mother was still with me. My mother, vested with the authority of the nearly dead, proposed something far more elegant. She said, “If you want to feel my presence, just let yourself be really quiet.” Sitting at the side of her bed, my legs gathered close to me on a metal desk chair, in the hospital where I had been born twenty-eight years earlier, I registered her words. I felt the noise rise in me. If she was going to show up in quiet, I wanted both nothing more and no part of it. I filled my life with static; I resisted sitting still or calming down for fear that I would actually encounter her. Sometimes I would catch myself in a moment of quiet, perhaps in the middle of the night, sitting in moonlight on the staircase waiting for my dog to come inside, and I would busy myself with some- thing quickly, start reading a seed catalog. I wasn’t ready for confirmation, either of her presence or her absence. The fear of the unknown felt indis- tinguishable from an intense curiosity to push past that mystery. It wasn’t until nine years later—after a stretch of grief that unspooled with the rawness it might have had if I could have felt it when she “first” died—that I could allow the chattering to stop long enough to be fully receptive to her silence. To just plain silence. Long enough to take in a full breath and not feel I was diverting it from her. My own quiet meant I had to be ready to hear, as the only exception to total silence, the deep and even rising and falling of my own breathing. I had to be ready for nothing. Steve, my ex- partner was gone. I lived at the end of a dirt road. Alone except for my dog Jingo, a greyhound, her barrel chest rising, paws draped off the cushion, her long exhalations slowing my own, I felt ready to do what my mother had stunned me by suggesting nine years earlier. To just listen, without interven- ing. The windows opened out into the relief of a summer night. I sat in the curve of the couch. The moon stretched shadows across Jingo’s back, onto the floor. I had nowhere to be. And I could hear it: I could hear my breath. ♦ ” The windows opened out into the relief of a summer night. I had nowhere to be. And I could hear it: I could hear my breath.