The house is silent.
The children asleep.
The kitchen empty.
The light above the stove welcomes me home,
even here, in this new house, still a stranger.
My mother’s bedroom
with the man who was first my classmate
is upstairs, with dark sheets,
overlooking the bay.
The kitchen counters, the floors, even the table
Whispering to me
and later at 27
and before at 13 and 11
and even now at 52
in my own hushed and tidied kitchen
sixteen years after we slept in the space where her table stood
on the night she took her last breaths…
There was a time I literally cried my eyes out when September came because it meant my summer friends were leaving…
Nights hanging out at the arcade came to a close along with most of the stores.
My street, which had been a constant party, was emptying.
School was starting, and I dreaded it.
As I got older, I began to love September–the cooler days, empty beaches & restaurants.
Then it happened…
She was taken from me in September, just like my summer friends, just like the crowded streets, the dock parties, the fun.
The pain of September returned.
My mother was gone at what was supposed to be my most ” fun” summer, ever, at the shore–my 21st .
While all my friends did Ladies Nights and Monday Nights at the Princeton, I sat by her bedside.
Slept in her bed beside her,
bathed and changed her.
Read her the crossword puzzle every day.
September came and by the 7th night we knew she was leaving us.
I lay in her bed all night, surrounded by all my siblings and their babies on air mattresses covering her living room floor.
I chose to stay awake all night and stroke her hair and sing her the same lullabies she sang to me as a little girl…
Telling her to let go…
We would be ok…
I left her bedside early that morning to get the coffee started, while everyone else was still asleep, and as I did, she took her last breath.
September would never be the same.
I long to love September as all the locals do, but l just can’t.
The sounds, sights and the cool air just bring me back…
Back to saying goodbye to my friends as a child,
and back to saying good bye to my closest friend, my confidante.
The feeling is always the same on September 1st.
I’m not sure why I’m writing this now–16 years later. I guess seeing all these posts of how lovely September is and wanting so badly to join in…
Maybe by sharing there will be some sort of release.”
My sister Michelle has our mother’s quiet, introspective nature, and her propensity for mothering a large family.
They both have big hearts too. Michelle took hers abroad, to Cambodia, where she has been living and working with her husband and their four youngest children for a year and counting.
This Christmas (aka. our mother’s birthday), Michelle longs to be reunited with her college-age children. Her oldest, Rebekah, who is a writer like her aunt, created a Go Fund Me campaign to help with the cost of the flight for her and her brother Andrew. This will be their first trip abroad.
It brings me great joy to imagine these siblings and parents reunited.
If it does you too, consider contributing.
We only could afford a little, but things like hope and love grow little by little, and sometimes in big leaps.
cream butter and cream cheese thoroughly; mix in sugar and add vanilla and nuts
if it seems dry, add a little milk
(my mother’s recipe)
I remember the first birthday cake that I ever baked. It was my father’s thirty-second birthday.
It was also the first occasion that we celebrated in our new home on Connor Rd–a steep hill lined with duplexes, reserved for officers. We lived at the very top, and looked out over the base and into the embrace of the Highlands above the mighty Hudson River.
Years later, many, many years later (but before Homeland Security), I returned to West Point to discover that I could no longer see the river from our place. The view had been obscured by trees–ones that had only just been planted when I first arrived on the base at the age of 11.
It was the mid-seventies, and my mother was still baking from scratch (sometimes), and sewing our costumes for Halloween (all the time), and keeping our house immaculately tidy–except for now. Now, she was crying in the tiny bathroom off the small kitchen which was just like all the others in this row of Captains quarters.
Beneath us, on the flat stretch below, were the First Lieutenant’s homes–somewhat smaller, and without a view, but nicer than those beneath them–in the apartments assigned to Second Lieutenants.
We would live on this base in this duplex for 3 years, until my father became a Major, which wasn’t enough of an advancement to get us one of those fancy homes with the big lawns and the screened porches. My father used to drive us down those tree-lined roads, which were closer to the Academy and the Chapel; and sometimes, he’d even venture into the exclusive cul-de-sac at the heart of West Point–reserved for Generals.
My mother hadn’t left yet. Hadn’t woken us girls up and carried the youngest ones out to the car sleeping, and then silently winded her way through the base, past the Generals’ homes, and out the gate, into Highland Falls; where she pulled up to the curb at the liquor store; and I held my breath; before she drove 4 hours in the dark to her hometown at the shore.
On my father’s thirty-second birthday, in mid-September, she hadn’t mustered that courage. Instead she was weak, and weepy, like a dog.
In fact, when I think back to this day, I think of Tigger–the dog that belonged to my baby sister once she was grown. I remember hearing her scold Tigger once, and then I watched, as Tigger bowed her head, slinked into the bathroom, and hid there until she was absolved.
My mother was hiding too. She had been hiding for a long time. Hiding pain. Hiding the bottle. Hiding from my father.
On this day, he banished her from the celebration at the kitchen table saying, “You don’t belong here, Mommy.”
She was drunk.
Because she was drunk, I decided that I would be the one to make the cake.
Carrot cake was my father’s favorite, and my mom made it every year with that cream cheese frosting and pecans.
It was a tall order for my first try. I never made it to the frosting.
The cake sat there–flat–on the table between us. Stiff, like clay, in our mouths. Especially after we sang Happy Birthday, Daddy to the sound of our mother’s shame echoing off the walls of the tiny bathroom.