I received a call about you today. My mom said that you weren’t alive anymore. She had looked for you in the depths of the interwebs after losing touch years ago. And there you were. W. L. S. Born: _____Died: August 3, 2007 in _________ Arizona. You were _____ years old.
In 2007, I had just celebrated my marriage to a man you didn’t even know I had met. We had a party at my mom’s farm house for family and close friends who hadn’t been able to make it to our wedding in a small chapel in the countryside of England. I thought of you that week. Not because I had wanted to invite you, but because I would have liked to tell you about my life then. My new husband. Our home in London. My new teaching job. I wanted you to know the woman I had become. Twelve years after we had ‘first’ met when I drove out West to meet you for the ‘first’ time in my memory.
Because you are no longer on this earth, my memory of you will always be still. It will always reside in the photo of us outside your trailer in the Arizona desert where I first saw a storm come in over the mountains. Dark billowing clouds rolling in, bringing heavy rain to the dry red land. Lightning from a storm miles away on a clear path towards us. Air thick with moisture from the heavens about to pour down, creating deep welts in the earth.
By the time the rain arrived, we were cozy inside. I was going through a book your daughter, my Aunt Sandy, had made me over the years. The years I did not know who you were. I wanted to fill my mind and heart with stories from the years we had missed with one another and you wanted the same. I told you about the pink dress I had received in the mail on my sixth birthday. The one with the white collar and big white flowers. I thought it was from the mail lady because I didn’t know about you then. Any memory I had, had been integrated into my subconscious as a dream. In my new life I was not to know about you so instead I loved the mail lady.
You sat next to me in your wheelchair, your left leg ending at your knee. My mom had told me the story. But I wanted to hear it from you. You explained the excruciating pain you felt when the oven had exploded while you were baking a cherry pie, causing you to lose your leg. How your twin sister, halfway across the country, had felt that same pain in that same moment in her same leg. I wondered if I would ever have twin daughters that would experience a connection like this.
Before we met I had a photo of you and your husband, my grandfather. You were young. Newly married. Dressed for a party. Long legs, both of them. I imagined your bright red lips and rouged cheeks in the black and white photo. Your eyes sparkled with happiness. I imagined the romantic life you had lived as a young woman.
I was fifteen when we first spoke on the phone. Your voice sounded far away in an accent I didn’t recognize. I wondered how Arizona differed from Michigan, the only home I remembered. As we talked you felt less further away; I relaxed and we started to share stories. After our first conversation we started to exchange letters and I planned a trip that I never really imagined I would take.
After that you sent three porcelain china dolls for my collection. A collection my mother had started when I was just a girl but now feel is extravagant. But I hold onto them, boxed up in her basement until the day I have my own daughter to pass them down to. All except one. A baby girl dressed in a blue frock. She arrived with a broken arm. I had always planned to visit the doll hospital, but never did. One year, not so long ago, we drove her to the Salvation Army for another little girl to have for Christmas and to take to the doll hospital herself. Even though I wasn’t attached to this thing, it was like letting you go a little bit. We had shared so few memories that this doll had created one of them. And now she was gone.
A friend died my hair dark tulip the night before I would drive across the country with a boy from school I hardly knew. He had a crush on me and I just wanted to get to the place of my birth and survive meeting my biological father, his sister, and you. We embraced and you didn’t even mention my hair. Not once. You accepted me for who I was.
I’ve searched all of my notebooks and journals and I can’t find one which tells the story of that trip. It’s difficult for me to believe that having kept a diary since the third grade, I would let such a momentous time in my life go undocumented. It comes to me in bits and I want to get them all down, more so now that I no longer have the option of discussing them with you.
My mom showed me a list of ailments you had written down for her before she took us back to Michgian. In case. For the future. Helping me be prepared for the health issues that run through my genes. Thank you for thinking ahead.
I lost both of my grandma’s last year. My mom’s mother, and her mother. I was too far away to mourn them with family. Now I have just discovered that I lost you years ago. There is no one who can mourn you with me. No stories or memories shared. I can pay $2.95 to read your full obituary online. And I want to. I want to see the list of relatives you are survived by. Partially, I want to see if I am on that list. But mostly? I just want to make sure it is you.
I will always treasure the memories we were able to create that week during the summer of 1995. But now, I will have to put away the hope that there will be more.