Today without slitting your wrists

It’s Mother’s Day. Again. Fuck. Last night I dreamt of Jackson, then of meeting people I used to know, telling them “the news”, fielding their expressions of sympathy. I wake up exhausted and hurting all over. 

Of the particularly difficult days of the year – Jackson’s birthday, his death day, Christmas, Valentine’s Day – I think Mother’s Day is the hardest. My mother is dead, my child is dead. I lie in between two sets of memories, bereft in both directions, the heavy publicity the day receives surrounding me, advertisements on billboards, store ads, across the internet reminding me to do what I cannot do. Reminding me of what I am not, and who I was.

Mark drops me off on the edge of town at the cemetery, then he returns to my place to finish packing his clothes. Tomorrow we leave for Flagstaff Arizona and the Overland Expo. We have done a dry-run pack, stuffing the panniers with balanced loads, filling a small backpack with water, food and toiletries to strap behind my seat, on top of the sleeping bags, pads and tent. His stove is so compact he can fit it into his pannier with his clothes, as well as the one pan he uses for everything.

We have looked at both paper and online maps, and come up with a vague route encompassing the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon, before returning to California: a small circle encapsulating approximately one-third of the vastness that is this country. We had hoped to go all the way east via the southern states then return through the northern, but I have not yet found a new renter for my condo, so the lack of funds as well as the need to be in California again has led to this abbreviated road trip.

I traverse the short distance to Jackson’s grave carrying a handful of sage, rosemary, and a plant I can’t identify but picked because of its delicate golden flowers. Usually the tears wait, but today I am crying from the moment Mark drives off. I pass a dead crow lying on the grass, his little feet straight and stiff in the air, and remember finding a wounded one in this very cemetery on Mother’s Day a couple of years ago, which I took, with Jenn’s help, to the wildlife sanctuary in Morro Bay. Weeks later they called me to say they had healed him and set him free. I marveled that they’d go to so much trouble for a crow with a broken, what? Wing? Foot? I took him there hopeful they’d help him but almost sure they would euthanize him.

When I get to Jackson’s grave I lie on top, as usual. Someday – in an instant, a cosmic blink – it will be mine as well. For the first time in almost four years I talk to him. I don’t mean mumble, or whisper “I’ll be back,” as I always do before I go, I mean really talk. I tell him how badly I miss him. How much I think he would like this or that, and about my upcoming road trip with Mark. It’s not that I think he can hear me, it just feels good to pretend for a few minutes that he can. Or maybe it is just a new release, I don’t know.

As I walk back home I see a dog, clearly lost and confused, making his way alone down the highway. He’s walking in the same direction I am, toward town, but on the other side of the road. I fear he is going to get hit by a car, though he seems to understand the danger himself, and keeps looking at the cars as they pass. It would only take a split second, one false move; the cars are flying by. My heart lurches. He looks hungry, and scared, hunkered down. I want to help him. I feel like I have to help him. How I might do this I don’t know. I don’t have a car to transport him to the local animal shelter, and Mark’s motorcycle certainly isn’t up to such a task, assuming I could even convince him to follow me home. Suddenly a vehicle pulls over on his side of the road and two women climb out. I call across the road to them, “Hey, are you going to help that dog?” They wave in response, and begin to run toward him. They call out to him and he turns. At first he is reluctant, but clearly he wants to trust them. He hovers on the edge of decision, and I know he could go either way. He isn’t feral, I’m sure, or he wouldn’t be considering them as a viable option. As they inch closer and closer, lower to the ground now, he makes up his mind, and wagging his tail a few times, meets them halfway. I think they have done this before. When they meet, the first woman gets on her knees and reaches out her hand for him to sniff it. He does, and she cautiously reaches out and pets him. The second woman approaches and the scenario is repeated. Soon he’s trotting along beside them back to the car, looking up at them as they go. I sigh with relief. We are set to leave tomorrow morning. What would I have done if they hadn’t come along? I know I could not have done nothing. Not today, of all days.

When they drive away I call Marian, feeling the need suddenly to talk to someone who shares my dread about this day. When she answers I burst into tears again, and for several moments I can’t speak. But her voice is soft and her tone is calm. “I know,” she says, again and again. When I’m coherent again I tell her about the dog. She tells me she’s been reading emails wishing her a Happy Mother’s Day. “But it’s not!” I shout into the phone. “It’s Sad Mother Day.” And I think there is a small army of us the world over who would concur, who would rather be wished “Hope you can get through today without slitting your wrists.” It would at least be realistic, and genuine. It might even make us laugh.

When I get home Mark has done the dishes, vacuumed the carpets, and finished the last load of laundry. I take his hand, and tell him how much I appreciate his support. I tell him I know it must be hard for him, being around me. That I realize he probably has never met someone in my situation before, and that I hope he never will again. But he has, he tells me. “Who?” I ask him. “My own mum,” he says. “Three years before I was born my sister died.” I remember the stories he’s told me of his difficult childhood, his remote, emotionally distant mother, and I wonder how much of what he experienced was a result of the death of this sibling he never knew. One might think his mother would have loved and cherished him more, not less. “I’m sorry,” I say, meaning it for both of them. She took the direct hit, but he suffered the collateral damage. 

Eventually the day is over. I lie in bed and think about Jackson, and of the many people who loved him. I think about Marian who is almost certainly in bed right now thinking of her daughter Maddie. I think about Jenn with her new baby, and the promise he holds for her. I think about a group of young women I read about yesterday, struggling to adapt to a new life after being rescued from the sex trafficking industry, and finding out that sometimes who you are is bigger than what you’ve done or what has been done to you. I think about the crow that got a second chance and the dog today, and wonder if I will get my second chance, knowing only that it starts with a seed, turns into giving to someone or something else, and probably looks a lot like redemption.

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