As I drove my rental van south on I-35 in Shawnee, Kansas a few minutes past five am on a Wednesday, headlights illuminating the dark wee hours of the morning, tears welled in my eyes. I sucked it up, not wanting to cloud my already poor night vision. The thought occurred to me that for the past four years, since my mother’s passing, I’ve been in search of something that I can’t quite find, that I’ll never find. I’ve been in search of her. And no matter how cognitively aware I may be that I’ll never find what I’m looking for, it’s almost like a reflex.
Last week, I returned from Kansas City after a long, solo twenty-six hour road trip. I spent a brief four days and three nights there before making my way back west with a van full of the remainder of my mother’s belongings. This included furnishings, photo albums and perhaps the most treasured of all, letters upon letters and cards written to my mother from various people, including myself, throughout the years. It’s truly a gold mine! She saved everything and I mean everything.
Those four days and three nights whirred by in the blink of an eye as I drove from one Kansas City icon to the next, showing my boyfriend where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. Thankfully, I was able to spend some of this time with loved ones I rarely get to see or speak to.
The emotional response to the death of my mother is to constantly seek her presence. Perhaps this is why it is not in the least bit difficult for me to drive to the home in which I grew up in and sit outside staring, reminiscing about “the old days.” Perhaps, I have this morbid, unconscious expectation that she’ll emerge from the wisteria-covered fence, gardening shovel in hand, perspiration dressing her smiling face and dirt covering her exposed knees.
I experienced this sudden heartache on a few other occasions during this quick trip, this feeling of grasping at something that I cannot quite reach. It was in stark contrast to the bold, green signs stating how many definite miles to my intended destination I was. On one of those signs, I imagine this particular state appearing as an irrational number, almost indefinite.
Mostly, it occurred when I was alone but once, in the presence of my grandmother. I realized that the photo of the beautiful woman on her refrigerator was my mother standing on the porch of her childhood home, white slacks and blue sweater, her long hair hanging down behind her narrow shoulders. I had been to the fridge many times before but this particular evening, I guess I just took a closer look.
I suppose being in that close proximity to her mother, her history, places in which she walked, lived and breathed made the inability to reach out and touch her that much more painful. And maybe I felt bad, guilty, for not noticing the photo beforehand? It has been a great fear of mine since she died that I may forget the sound of her voice, the texture of her hair, the color of her eyes, the way she would say “that-a-way” instead of “that way” and so forth.
I know she’s always with me. She’s a part of me. Her energy still exists. As I said, on a cognitive level, I understand and believe all of these things but I’ve realized that the old adage is bitter-sweetly true: the heart wants what the heart wants. And my heart will forever want what once filled the colossal hole that it has been beating with in her absence.