marking time

It’s almost February. Where did January go? Swallowed whole by despondency, I suppose, and there were days when a short story ate at me until I tuned the rest of the world out and worked.

Now it is the 28th. I am studying again. Resistant/avoidant regarding deadlines, true. Studying all the same. This is the part of me the professors will have to understand, the part of my disability that lives in my mind. Anxiety like hands, pulling my arms into my body and back away from the keyboard; depression a tsetse fly, a bite on my neck, cursed to sleep even more than I need and I need so much already.

Winter bears down the hardest a month after the darkest day. The earth won’t begin to warm again until this month is done. I remember learning that in Earth Science in ninth grade, when I was looking for the rhythms of the Mother. I looked with cycle eyes for once and saw that all this has happened before and all this will happen again and wasn’t Battlestar Galactica fantastic for philosophy? At fourteen, I began to feel the spiral dance — Starhawk’s words, the only two I have ever read. Three if you count “the”.

We are on the verge of the warming, though we’ll still contend with frost and snow.

My mother and I have spent a year remembering my grandmother, who died just on the verge of the warming, asleep, at peace, eighty-six, ready. Called away by something I won’t understand until I experience it for myself. I want so fervently to send up a flare: This is the day. Or it will be on February 2. — Did I ever see before how appropriate it is to celebrate Brigid and the fire when we are leaving the coldest part of the year? Because it is. But there is no room in Brigid’s festival for this first anniversary.

Jewish tradition calls it, and this is just one spelling, yahrzeit. As far as I know, I am not Jewish, though I could be. My mother’s family integrated her local Jewish community into its sphere enough that it’s not weird to hear Yiddish out of my mouth. For her, that was normal. I wish we had talked about this before my grandmother died. All year long we’ve been asking questions about her, the natural outgrowth of a scrap, a rag, a patch of a quilt that is a person’s history. We are missing patches.

We are missing her.

As if winter weren’t hard enough, dark and damp: we are missing the girl who looked so like a Gypsy it’s remarkable there were no questions asked, the woman who married my grandfather straight out of his stint in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp (who cares how many toes still work?), the mother of my mother on the sofa in the living room where I dozed and dreamed and watched the clouds pass, the mother of my aunt and uncle, in the hospital this time because someone must have told her she was having twins. Or she knew this pregnancy didn’t feel like the last. Do farmers’ daughters learn about cycles of life?

I am particularly missing the smell of her kitchen, so much so that I steered Darling into a Williams-Sonoma just to smell the onions cooking on their stove. I am missing the taste of her sauce, some parts beef and some parts mushroom, not much sturdier than a broth but perfect with noodles that twisted in on themselves like pigs’ tails or babies’ curls. Fat little buttons of noodles. I am missing the red bowl and the special set of silverware. Where have they gone? Objects don’t die, only creatures.

She kept her pantry in her bedroom, a holdover from the days when her house wasn’t hers to rule. I wish you could experience the house for yourself the way I did. I grew into my understanding of it. I didn’t know why it looked so different from a modern house until my mother told me the stories of her youth. I didn’t know there had been another grandmother living there, downstairs in my aunt’s apartment; I thought until then that it had been lovely of my grandparents to give their daughter a place to live that was all her own. I didn’t know my mother had slept in with that grandmother, not mine but her own, presumably the owner of the green and brown flowered blanket I now cherish over all the fine, warm bedclothes bought over here. Bought. None of the bought blankets matter more than the ones we carried with us across the ocean. None of the bought blankets soothe me half so well.

I am sitting under a family blanket now, aware that in a minute or so I’ll need to interrupt this remembering to stretch legs that are years too old for me. Hearing my mother pull into the garage, weary after a long working day. Home just in time to watch her baby gasp in agony. Home just in time to make it better.

I don’t know how to mark the time. I have no tradition. I’m not Jewish, much as I often wish I were. There is no common thread between me and the rest of my society, nothing to signal that I am mourning. We have done away with signals as we have done away with community; we shy away from each other’s emotions. Private people, private pain. Discomfort in my discomfort. We wear black now as a matter of fashion, not to show how deeply we despair. I have no candle to light and no prayer to say.

The day will come and the day will pass. Cut off from other mourners, it will feel like any other Saturday except that I’ll know: this is the day she died a year ago.


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