The tremble of your voice during our conversation is seared into my memory. Fearless, as usual, you explained to me through radio silence that I would never see you again—at least not as you were. I begged you to stay, to fight, and in your quiet, dignified way, you explained you were going to leave me. You spoke of rejoining your mother and your brother and your beloved dogs long past but none of that mattered because all I want is you. At the time it seemed like hours that I pleaded and cried, asking you to wait, to stay with me but it seemed you were determined to leave me. Alone in a world, I still don’t fully understand.
That was the last time I heard your voice. I saw you after. It wasn’t really you, you know. I visited the shell of who you were. I sang to the husk of you and rubbed lotion on your swollen skin—the nurse said it would prevent your skin from cracking and I thought that maybe—just maybe—if I kept your body in good condition maybe you could stay with me.
But you were already gone.
I remember countless red rags as I mopped the blood out of your mouth. The cruel grin on the ICU nurse’s face as she watched me in my Sisyphean task—like the alabaster demons of our ancestral mythology. Ever filling crimson geyser. I remember the fear that if I didn’t remove it they would let you drown there.
I wanted to be there with you.
I know that it would have been the most difficult experience of my life but I needed you to know that all those times I said I didn’t need you it was a lie. I thought I was grown, after all, I was 15. I knew what it was to be a woman—what use did I have for an overprotective mother? There has not been a single moment since you left that I have not wished to hear you, to hold you—to know you—just another minute more.
You always said you wanted me to sing for you at your wake—to hear “Amazing Grace” from your spot in the audience in heaven, but I still can’t finish the second verse without breaking into tears. They didn’t play “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” either.
Everyone was heartbroken when you left. At least they found a way to bond over a common enemy. Dad said I killed you. It turns out, even now, that on some level the rest of your family feels the same in some way. Joyce drank the bitter waters of grief and although her proclamations are Holy, I’m sure she prays there is a spot in Hell for me. She couldn’t bring herself to tell the rest of your family you were gone. No one was there when we were supposed to celebrate you.
Your memorial is the first time it really sank in that I would never get to evade your loving grip again. That I would never again be pierced by the stabbing pain of your disapproval or hear the beautiful cadence of your voice. That I was, in many aspects—alone.
The pitch and rhythms of your voice have now faded. The outline of your features are cloaked in cloud cover. They said time heals all wounds, but even after a decade the emptiness where you should be still burns to the core of my being.
Maya Angelou once said, “To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colors of a rainbow,” and for those fortunate enough to have known you, it is immediately clear the same could be said.
Smooth ebony skin hugged the high cheekbones that encased your warm mahogany eyes. Your face was pleasant and full. Warmth reminiscent of the sun, with royal skies of blue and cumulonimbus—Yet, in an instant, the clouds blown away by tumultuous wind and lightning would dance from your eyes.
You were fierce and beautiful and fearless in your perfect power. Your chin held almost as high as your expectations.
The melody of your thunder was effervescent, and your embrace enveloped anyone within into the dense warmth of tropical wind. The eye of the storm.