My mother made little eye contact with me, dropped her sweater, jacket, and purse on the living room carpet, and went into the bathroom. In retrospect, this was very strange. She never put her belongings on the floor. She would have put them on the cheap WalMart table my roommate and I bought. She would have said, “I’m going to use the bathroom.” She would have made another comment about remembering the first time she had an apartment with a popcorn ceiling.
But none of that happened. Little did I know, my mother shutting the bathroom door behind her would be the last time I saw her as her normal self.
Let’s just say that my life drastically changed after my mom left the living room of the modest apartment I was renting with a friend. It was one of those big buildings with a lot of apartments that were all the same. The walls were white, the carpet beige, the kitchen cabinets a grimy white color with light wood around the edges, and the rooms were small. You could walk from the front door to the farthest point in the apartment in about twenty steps.
So when the EMT’s burst in the door and shoved the table forcefully over, I felt trapped. It was as if everything exploded – all of a sudden our quiet apartment was now a disaster area with people yelling and rushing around and trying to save my mom’s life.
Someone pushed my roommate and I in my bedroom, purposefully standing in the way so we could not see what was going on behind where the table used to be. I’m sure he wasn’t yelling but it felt like he was screaming at me. He was asking me what my mother had drank and eaten that day, if she had any allergies, what medications she was on. My mind was blank.
More happened. Hours and hours of more. But in the end, I could no longer stay in that tiny little apartment and had to move back home. To the home, my mom had left as if she would return that night we went to eat and then stopped by my apartment. Freshly washed clothes were in her laundry basket, a few dishes in the sink. Tape still on the ceiling.
December 14th, 2010 my mother turned 50. I coaxed my grandmother to take her out for lunch and shopping while I ushered her friends and family into her house for the big surprise. Everyone parked across the street in the dirt parking lot, the lights were off, and we were all hushed in the dark as my grandmother pulled in with my mom. I stood on the stairs directly across from her as she opened the front door. I had butterflies in my stomach because I was so excited to surprise her.
She opened the door, I flipped on the stairway light, and we all yelled, “surprise!” She was shocked and for a moment I thought she would punch me out of fear. Her eyes fluttered and her body shook, but a smile came over her face immediately when she realized the situation. A hundred or so balloons floated along the wood floors, people walking around kicking them to get to the next room, my boyfriend and I most amused by this as it was our idea. We taped a ridiculous amount of celebratory decorations on the walls and from the ceiling. We all ate food and laughed. When I left that night she reminded me, as a mother usually does, that I needed to come back and clean up, which included taking the tape off the ceiling.
My mother’s surprise 50th birthday party was one of the last fun things I got to experience with her. A little over a month later she was gone. And I was back in the house she raised me in since I was four. And I’d never felt so alone, so lost, and so not at home.
It is now 2018, seven and a half years since the day it all happened. Seven and a half years of trying to make this house my own. Trying to make my own life without the support of my parents.
The first few years in this house were honestly torture. Trying to go through everything in the house was like reliving a million memories. Many times I sat in the driveway, my car idling, and waiting until the last possible moment to go inside. Sometimes procrastinating the walk to the front door for an hour or more, especially when I lived on my own. It felt like the house had a hold on me. It was haunted in more ways than one.
Over time things became easier, and the house seemed more like home again. I got new furniture, new curtains, changed things around, and redid the bathrooms and kitchen. Every once in a while, I’ll go through more of the things that have been in the house since I can remember and either donate them or toss them out.
Some people would say you should never throw out things that were special to the person who passed. I was tired of feeling suffocated by the things of my childhood, my mom’s childhood, and her life. I also came to the realization that my mother had an abundance of things. That when she liked something, she sure did like something and tended to buy multiple colors of said thing. An example of this was something like fifteen or so vases, twenty or so miniature bowls, and a shit ton of clothes. I came to the conclusion that I, on the other hand, preferred only one vase, one miniature bowl and only the clothes I need to wear in a week.
But what about the sweater, jacket, and purse she put on the living room floor in my apartment almost eight years ago? What about the tape on the ceiling from her birthday? To this day, her sweater, jacket, and purse hang off the same dining room chair I put them on seven and a half years ago when I moved back home. To this day, I have barely touched them, let alone gave them a new home. To this day, there is one piece of tape on the ceiling that remains from her 50th surprise birthday party that sits right above where I am seated writing this.
Some things you just can’t get rid of no matter how hard you try; no matter how much time goes by.
And that’s okay. Grief and loss take their own path in everyone who experiences it. Some people want to swim in the person’s belongings. Drown and seclude themselves. Some people get rid of people’s things and change their life almost immediately after someone passes away. Neither is right. Neither is wrong.
It just is. It just is like the tape on the ceiling that continues to be there and will continue to be there for years to come.
It just is.