9 January, 2018
The First Day of Our Second Year Without You
We visited your grave on Christmas Eve. Elliott helped me find you like we were playing hide and seek. Is Granny over here? No… Is Granny over there? We found you surrounded by poinsettias and candy canes. Elliott picked up a small branch and traced your last name on the headstone, slowly announcing each letter. At age 3, he believes that you’re dead like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. He tells me you woke up in heaven and you live there now, but you will come back. When I am really, really old, he says daily now, I will go to heaven. Sometimes he adds, Mommy, I don’t want to go to heaven.
How to Use Vanilla
You told me that when you were young, poor girls used vanilla extract as perfume. I imagine you rising, your scent growing stronger in the sunbaked fields. A young woman picking cotton or blueberries and adding something new—but, of course, a poor girl wouldn’t waste vanilla on the fields. You’d save it for secret dates, for sneaking off to carnivals. One drop for an older boy, two drops if Daddy disapproved of him for driving too fast. You’d touch the small space behind each ear, hoping that your chosen boy might pick up the scent and find you delicious. A few years later, you would bake dessert for your husband—baby balanced on your hip—and recall those warm evenings, the thrill of a field boy’s rough palm. I suddenly understand why, whenever you made simple syrup for waffles, you always replaced the maple with vanilla.
I Was Afraid It Would Be Empty
Do you remember the notebook I gave you as a Mother’s Day gift five years ago? I asked you to write to me about your life: how you didn’t learn about periods until you thought your sister was bleeding to death, how you snuck out with grandpa for a carnival date. You are one of the few people I can—could—sit with for hours on a couch, TV off, only our stories and us. When we knew you were close to death, I thought about asking if you’d written in the notebook for me, but I didn’t ask. I didn’t want you to feel guilty if you hadn’t found the time or the words to write. When we went through your bedroom after Christmas, I found the notebook in your dresser drawer. I opened it quickly. It was blank, but there was a jagged edge in front. The first page was torn away.
After Your Strokes, I Ask If You Found Your Clitoris
I read about a woman who was 70 before she realized she had a clit, and I became concerned that you might not know about yours. What if you’d never had an orgasm? With Grandpa gone, I wasn’t sure I should ask, but the mini-strokes had shaken off your shyness. I knew your wedding night story—how you knew nothing about sex until that day, how two kids in the early fifties couldn’t quite make it work, how you went to bed crying instead. I’d heard stories of Grandpa patting you on the bottom when he thought no one was looking. One time he bought you a black leather jumpsuit like Olivia Newton John wore at the end of Grease, but you were too embarrassed to wear it for him. Even in the recovery room after his heart surgery, Grandpa playfully brushed his fingertips across your palm, an old signal that he wanted you. Did these actions add up to your pleasure? “Granny, I’ve been reading this book,” I began. “It talks about how our culture is so focused on men’s bodies and we aren’t supposed to talk about women’s bodies. A lot of women don’t even know about their clitoris! Did you and Grandpa find yours?” “Yeah,” you said quietly, as if someone on your end of the phone line might hear you. “So you did orgasm too?” “Yeah,” you said with a little chuckle, as if it were obvious.
Your Death Explained in Birds
Death is the great egret at the swamp, picking newly hatched green herons from their cypress nest. I am the pregnant woman on land looking for something to throw. I am the mother heron, too small to fight back, and the runt deep in the nest. Death is the egret dropping fresh young birds into the swamp with barely a ripple. I am the pregnant woman standing horrified and helpless. I am the mother heron shrieking and snapping on the branch below. I am the smallest green heron in the nest. I stick my head out in the stillness after everyone else has gone.