I thought I would have more time

Drove the desolate stretch of 95 between New Haven and the Rhode Island border and remembered my mother, returning home from surgery. Pale. Her eyes ringed with gray. Her skin papery and translucent.

I have not thought of this, have not held this memory actively in mind, for years. It was as if she came, unbidden, to remind me of some important thing, but what? And of course, this notion that I could summon her with my unconscious, to assist me in some present-day struggle, is a fantasy, a trick of the mind. I am not convinced, after all, that the dead are too much invested in the fates of the living.

My friend tells me that the last words of her father were: “I thought I would have more time.”

My mother, as she died, developed ascites, a build-up of fluid in the abdomen. Her stomach was bloated, distended. I have a memory of her leaning against the kitchen doorframe. She is wearing a pale blue nightgown and her hands are resting on her enlarged stomach. In silhouette, her body mimics pregnancy, but there is no life growing in her.

The last days of summer feel somehow both shapeless and urgent. I wake with pain in my stomach that feels like fear. Something has shifted in me. Things once held closely feel as though they are already gone.

I feel anger. Name it anger. I feel fear, name it fear. We fought, even at the end. She once said: You are always reporting on your feelings, like a wartime correspondent. You saw this, you did this, you felt this. But now, in this room, with me, you feel nothing.

I try to collect the memories. To write them down. So many I have lost now, after all this time. What did she say to me before I left? To return to school two hundred miles away? This was when we thought she would get better. When we thought there would be more time.

And what did she say when I came back, weeks later. When we knew the way it would go, but not how quickly. I remember how faded the azalea bushes looked in the thinning light of late September. How the blue of the drapes we had hung the year before seemed drained of color. The whole house, faded, out of focus.