Suburban Snapshots

A Million Brilliant Things

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

I was elbow-deep in the sink when my girlfriend texted me something about her son Jesse. Reading his name reminded me of the Carly Simon song. The memory makes me smile the way I do whenever music reminds me of my mom. I used to ask Mom the meanings to lyrics in the songs she'd sing along to: Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Paul Simon. Even now I won't change the station when "Maggie Mae" comes on or "Me and Julio," no matter how my own daughter protests. My mom is 63 now, and I still have all these memories from back when she was the taller of us.

In June, when we knew that my friend Sarah wasn't going to get the miracle she deserved, that she wasn't going to pull through just this one more time, there were too many emotions to manage. Her daughter would come to play on the afternoons Anna and I were home and she has so much of Sarah in her — in the funny side-eye she'd give me when I said something silly, in her inflection when asking for more lemonade. Sarah had an abundance of patience and love for her kids, even on her bad days, even when she spent most of her time at different appointments, even when she couldn't be out of bed for very long. She was their mother in every molecule. She was a million brilliant things in her life, but what I saw from a house away, on our walks to school, at birthday and Halloween parties, was how much she belonged to them.

It's been over a month that Sarah's been gone, which seems impossible. These past weeks I've seen her walking around the block or at the farmers market, where she would usually be, where she still should be. I've almost texted her pictures of our girls playing together. I've picked up my phone and read through our old conversations; I welcome these ghosts.

Does Anna want to come over?
Feel like going for a walk?
I'm sorry you're in pain today.

The day before she died I went in to visit her. It was sacred and a privilege — her family might not know how I appreciated their welcome. The people who'd known her all her life surrounded her, serenaded her, and fortified her with all the love she gave, they replenished what her illness had cost her until she and her pain could finally part.

When I was leaning over the sink singing "Jesse" and thinking of my mom, I thought of Sarah. I wondered what her kids will remember when they're loading a dishwasher or pumping gas sometime in twenty or thirty years. I wonder how much will stay hard kilned, and what will soften and change shape with time. I wonder whether her absence will firm their memories. I wonder about all the ways they're already holding onto her.

Thirty-four years later I remember my mom explaining "Jesse" to me, and I know that in the time she was here with them, Sarah gave her kids a million brilliant things to remember her by, bright and living.

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