the morning my dad called to tell me my mom had died, i threw on the first articles of clothing my hands touched: a dark teal top, jeans, flats. the same thing i had worn the day before. i put my hair up in a messy bun and i highly doubt i washed my face or brushed my teeth before k and i left to drive to my house.
news hadn’t gotten out yet, so it was a relatively quiet day. dad’s best friend was the first one at the house. a few hours later dad and i drove into town to take care of funeral arrangements; k went to the mall to get a black dress for herself, black stockings for me. when we got home, i had to call my cousin, who works for the phone company, to figure out how to check our landline’s voicemail – mom was the only one who knew how, and our inbox was filling quickly.
a handful more people came and went, and then finally around ten, we all shuffled to bed. it burned like hell to close my eyes, so instead i lay there in the dark, staring at the ceiling, tears leaking sideways from the corners of my eyes into my ears, into my hair. i’m sure i slept, though i don’t know how or how much.
it’s saturday now and family will be flying in. i get up and shower. k’s sister got me a beautiful sweater for christmas – it’s soft and white and sits just off the shoulders. i pull that on and some jeans, wear my hair in waves, add a pair of dangling white beaded earrings my mom had just gotten me. i do my makeup, a routine so automatic i could do in my sleep. i don’t think i bother with shoes or socks. it’s january in new york and i pad around my uncarpeted house barefoot.
i try to eat breakfast – my best friend had brought over tons of food the day before, yogurt and fruit and granola, to make sure i keep eating through the whirlwind – but my throat feels sutured shut. a few spoonfuls later i stop, put everything away, begin to wander aimlessly around the house.
the first person to arrive, after several phone calls, is a woman my father works with. she is loud and obnoxious and her first words to me are, “just feel lucky you didn’t have to watch her die in a hospital like i had to with my parents.” despite the lovely spread of cold cuts and kaiser rolls she has brought, i instantly abhor her and want her gone. she is irritating and gets drunk and stays far too long; i play with my dog.
family and friends begin to filter in and my father clings to them like life rafts. he is 6’5″ but today he looks like a little boy, his face crumpling every time he stoops down to accept a hug. looking at him breaks my heart, makes my throat swell shut and my lips tremble. i am trying to be graceful and strong; i stop looking when people hug him.
i brew coffee and answer the phone and bring people beer from downstairs. we amass a plate of lasagna, more cheese and cold cuts, a fruit arrangement, italian pastries, and at least two cakes. i touch up my makeup, lay off the mascara, keep detangling my earrings from my hair.
each time i answer the phone i am mildly surprised to hear my voice, so clear and even cheerful, sliding like silk from a throat burned raw by the effort of keeping in hours and days and a lifetime of wailing sobs stuffed into silence.
above all, i want to handle this with grace. i will not fall apart, because there is my father to think about. my mother was our family’s rock; without her, we need a new one. so i fix my hair and straighten my sweater and make sure everybody has a drink and a snack.
when i fall into bed that night, my eyes stay open like wired springs. tears leak sideways out of the corners of my eyes. into my ears. into my hair.