by Lisa Lanser-Rose
After we dressed John in new pajamas, (“He just wanted some rest,” my mother had said), we sat on the patio, my mother on the swing, I in a chair across from her, each balancing a sourdough baguette, cheese, and tapenade sandwich on a plate. We ate like the damned, tearing the bread with our eyeteeth.
We had swallowed the last, thick bites when we heard the thump, jingle, and rattle of firemen rolling the stretcher down the front hall, and then, a duller sound, the firemen rolling the stretcher, more slowly, out.
For about a week after John’s death, I stayed to help with the kind of paperwork that requires other papers you don’t have. We got none of it done. I did what I could: I wrote the obituary. I opened an account online for John’s mourners to leave digital notes on a virtual grave. Mostly, I kept my mother company in person, my daughter company through Skype, and endured more time without the company of my dog. Being dogless is a hardship I don’t understand, but I suffered it from the time I was a toddler until I got my first dog at eleven years old. When I was married and my daughter and I flew to California without my husband, my mother used to tease me, “You miss your dogs more than you do your husband.”
Then came the day when my mother heard the thump, jingle, and rattle of me rolling my suitcase down her front hall. We heaved my suitcase into the trunk and headed for the airport shuttle depot. My mother gunned the engine to merge into traffic on Interstate Route 1. “Humans aren’t made to live alone,” she said. “I’ve never lived alone.”
“No way.” My mind flickered with views of every place I ever lived alone, from my graduate-school apartment to summers in every home I ever shared with Delaney—she’d abandon me for six weeks with her father. After she left, I’d spend a few days crying with Casey on the couch, then get up and love my life. I’d learned I could live alone anywhere, anytime. Try me.
The turn indicator clicked, and my mother piloted the car into a narrow gap in traffic. I gasped as the hood of her car eclipsed the license plate of the car in front of us. I put my foot on the imaginary brake on the passenger floorboard. “Mom. Slow down.”
“I lived with my parents, then my roommates, then I married your father.”
“How about we slow down so we can see that car’s license plate?”
“When he left, I had you kids, then John. I’ve always lived with someone. My whole life.”
Until today. It dawned on me, when I left, she’d be alone for the first time in her life. “You have Ginger.”
“She’s John’s cat.”
I said, “If we survive this drive, I’ll be back next summer, me and my entourage.”
“Laura says I tailgate.”
“That whole multi-car pile-up thing? You’re how it happens.”
“Laura texts and drives.”
“You’re what? Seventy-one? The world is supposed to be tailgating you. Could you please just tap the brake, like three times?”
When I landed in Florida, Delaney and I had three days of her childhood left. I ferried her to Home Depot and Publix and Target and Borders and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We ate at all our places: Eddie and Sam’s New York Pizza and Sea-Sea
Rider’s and Tum Rub Thai and Gino’s. We went to Tampa Theatre and the Clearwater Cinema Café. We took Casey to the dog beach at Honeymoon Island. We found my heirloom steamer trunk and packed it with a desk lamp and a purple tool kit and a box of thumbtacks and Scotch tape and tampons, and lastly we tucked in a rolled-up Donnie Darko poster and the plush George the Curious Monkey doll that I bought for her when she was nine months old. When I heard there was a kitchen in the dorm, I hand-copied recipes for Delaney’s favorite ragout and vegan cupcakes and curry and Penne Franco. Delaney got mad at me when I fell asleep during our Kill Bill marathon. On campus move-in day, I took a picture of the loaded car with Delaney and Casey beside it. We were sad there was no room for Casey , but we were running late for the prescribed move-in hour, which made me anxious as we stood in line for the dorm key and then had to go to billing to clear up a mistake and then back in line for the key. When we finally got into the dorm room, Delaney’s roommate hadn’t yet arrived. I helped her rearrange the furniture and make her bed.
“What?” When I saw her face had gone still, I froze.
“Thanks,” my daughter said.
She hugged me, and the strangest thing happened: my mom-life flashed before my eyes, or rather, it howled through me. Again she opened her eyes wide as the obstetrician clipped the umbilicus and convulsed as if she felt it. Delaney sat at her child-sized table and played with her Playmobil. Delaney swung her little fist at the dogs when they eyed her pizza. She waved good-bye when I left her at saxophone lessons, at horseback riding lessons, at math tutorials, at the airport gangway to board a plane to visit her father alone. Sunny Florida afternoons she sat with me on the lawn and debriefed me on her school day while I threw the Frisbee for Casey. Again Delaney and I laughed ourselves blue the time I pretended to aim the car for a squirrel and horrified two mommies walking their children—I had to pull over down the block, out of sight—only the two of us knew why it was so funny. Again Delaney and I sniggered in the grocery store aisle because I was so impatient behind a slow old man that I mocked his gait outrageously enough to make John Cleese proud. Delaney and I bundled under a blanket in the dark to watch Ghost World. Delaney and I ate ice cream topped with chopped “Famous Anus” cookies and watched “Absolutely Fabulous” marathons. Again Delaney burst into my room in the middle of the night after a bad dream. Delaney strolled into my bedroom while I got dressed and said, “Wow, I’ve never met anyone so determined to look like a goober.” Again Delaney and I rode to school together every morning and home together every afternoon day after day, year after year, in city after city after city after city. Delaney and her girlfriends quipped downstairs in our living room while I crouched upstairs grateful that my home was filled with such rambunctiously sarcastic young women.
I loosened my grip and pulled away. Our curls tangled together, just for a moment, then slid free with soft, separate, bounces. “Okay,” I said. “That’s it, then?”