The undertow of insight is so strong that it pulls me to the shore of waking, and in the alchemy of night, I see clearly, my son’s pain, like the barren planet upon which the Little Prince once landed.
18 years ago this very night, I woke too, with another kind of undertow. My mother’s leaving.
That night, instead of both my boys back home in their own beds for their father’s 53rd, it was each of my siblings sleeping under one roof, like we rarely had, with 22 years between the oldest, myself, and the last of my mother’s children, my youngest sister April.
As retrospect goes, despite being the oldest, I was young too. 36. A newborn at my breast. My mother just a few years older than I am now. My baby sister, 14. My brother 16. And a whole host of sisters in between, in various stages of “grown,” out living on their own.
It was a magical night of co-sleeping, literally beside one another, whole families on wall-to-wall air mattresses lined up in the diningroom (where had the table gone?)~the mattress closest to the kitchen held me, Casey, baby Aidan & Lloyd (missing his first week of kindergarten.)
Just two weeks ago, before returning home to an empty nest (a perch, I now realize, my mother never reached), I bought myself 3 different small packages of tiny tea cookies, one with Lavender, another with Earl Grey, and the last with a chewy raspberry center, which sits beside my rose tea as I type and the clock strikes 3.
We sat vigil with our mother this night, 18 years ago, beside her hospital bed which sat in her livingroom near the bay window where her exercise equipment stood only 3 months earlier.
We took turns beside her. One or two at a time. Until that time, when the turn-taker woke us to say:
But before that dawning, my mother’s namesake went to put on the coffee, and did I open a tootsie pop, the one with the raspberry wrapper, or were we eating pop tarts, the raspberry kind?
I’ve learned that if I set aside some time for grieving, for missing, for communing with this holiest of nights, my mother’s leaving, then there will be more space for celebrating the man born on this day with the boys we brought into this world together, though this was much less true on his 35th birthday after my mother was zipped inside a bag by her high school classmate, the undertaker, and taken out like the trash–a body that conceived, carried and delivered 9 of us.
She is my muse.
Until her death, I had only written for myself, in my journals, but after she was gone, the words poured out in an act of love and consciousness we had long cultivated together, at her diningroom table, though she preferred coffee.
The thing is, neither tootsie pops or poptarts have seeds, like this tiny cookie shaped into a flower that sticks to my teeth even as I sip and swallow.
Today is also the Feast Day of Mary. The Mother of God. A perfect day for my mother’s heavenly reunion as she arrived, like her Aunt Doll did, on Christmas Day.
We are a Marian household. I write across the pond from land belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (of Mary), my own day of birth, and welcomed to the world our first child on Mary’s Assumption.
No doubt it is Mary who thought of the raspberry and the comfort of the Little Prince on the barren planet, knowing what it is to worry about the silent suffering of a grown child.
He was the one to see her blue effervescent light on this land before it was ours.
“You live in paradise,” he says now when he visits.
“Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus.”
If only that quote belonged to Le Petite Prince then this piece would neatly end and I back to bed beside the birthday boy, but alas, “The true paradises are the ones we lose,” belongs to Proust.