Pictures are a lonesome sort of company. Surrounded by familiar faces, but you’re still alone. They are sharp reminders of the past, events never to be unfolded again, trapped within the confines of a frame and a memory. That smile, frozen in time, echoes robustly within my heart. That smile sparks pain, the cost of love, reaped with interest after a life, borrowed time, reaches the end. These pictures are a reminder of a time I can never get back. Of a voice who’s lovely tone is already slipping unwittingly from the shelves of my memories. Of an embrace I will always long for but never again be able to turn to.
These pictures represent the past, a juxtaposition of joy and pain that compose the foundation of my life. The pain of your loss is a moldy beam that threatens constantly the composure of the framework, the façade of this building, my future. Each step forward is another twelve inches away from our last meeting. Some days are easier, but some I can hardly find the motivation to leave the empty warmth of this blanket, once yours. Your memory is a vexing vortex of contradicting emotions, pulling me in one moment towards a depressive cave, and the next up a mountain upon which hope embraces and strengthens me.
I am blessed to have known you for so long, yet cursed with the knowledge of exactly what-who it is that has been stolen from me. I can’t help but feel as though ignorance would truly be bliss in this situation. If I hadn’t known you, I could take comfort in my imagination, envisioning whatever it may be that I desire in that moment of sadness.
It is now a year since you passed, taken unfairly by your own body. Your cells much like mold within the walls of a house, growing and weakening you until you were but a ghost of yourself. Your body was skeletal, shrunken by chemo, medicine, and your inability to foster an appetite. Your skin lost its healthy blush, stretched over your frame like filo dough. You were once strong, all of these pictures are proof of that.
I still hear the cries of loved ones, they echo through my mind as I remember that day. Their hugs like phantom limbs, still felt. The hospital smell still brings me back to those days I took off from school, sequestered in your hospital room, the artificial fluorescent lighting failing to brighten anyone’s complexion. I remember the pitiful gazes of the nurses when they looked upon my sisters and me, girls losing their mother too soon.
I remember going home, the house felt too big. The funeral… I was there, but I felt so far away. Frustration overwhelming my grief at my graduation a few months later. As my mom, you should have been there, but you weren’t. It felt like a betrayal. You again MIA as I left home, left the state, family and friends, to go to college 12 hours away. Now nineteen years old, reflecting back on this last year and missing you so much it still aches a year later. I know this wound is eternal. The pain will lessen, but your death is a scar on my life.
Mom, you’re all around me, smiling as you always did. The past and present meet eerily; the pictures of how you once were and the knowledge that you are no longer alive engender a ghoulish entity, a poltergeist that knocks around the emotions that I try so punctiliously to organize. One moment, I’m fine. The next, my chest is a heavy stone that drags me under a glass-like lake, where the effort to breathe for once in my life slows my thoughts, making my mind a desolate place indeed.
It is easy to become lost in that lake. The shore recedes, venturing outward from sight, lake evolving into a tempestuous sea. My only hope, a memory you left me with that cannot be discovered within the pages of a photo album, are the words you willed into my very being. The understanding that even though I may not be okay now, I will be okay in the future. That lighthouse beacon has saved me from drowning a number of times already. I may find myself adrift now and again, blown off course by something, but that optimistic mantra that you instilled in me is now the drum to which I march forward in life. “I will be okay, I will be okay, I will be okay…”
With this, I think now, perhaps I am lucky to have known you after all. The treasure you bestowed upon me is priceless. For who would I be if not for you? With what compass would I navigate out of the hostile territories in my memories, if I would have the ability at all? These pictures still, and might forever, prick me with needling sadness. However, that smile of yours brings with it a reminder of your love, your optimism that now shines forth to guide my path as I make my way through the shadows of uncertainty that veil my future.