It was almost a relief to see her go.
All those memories, plus the good stuff from before she got sick, typically take up most of the night. Once the sun rises, I shift gears and wonder how things might have been different if she’d lived. I go through the old photo albums, the letters she wrote to me as soon as she found out she was sick.
I do it all and I never, ever sleep.
The bonus to this is that I can sleepwalk through the actual day it happened. I’m so tired I don’t have to feel anything. That means I won’t cry in front of strangers; I won’t break down. It keeps things nice and tidy.
When I come downstairs, Dad is already at the table, staring over his newspaper off into space. Pat is quietly eating a slice of cold pizza over the sink. Well, as quietly as Pat can eat. Dude is a wildebeast. This is exactly what this day is like. Our loud, crazy family turns the volume down as low as it can go.
I give Dad a hug, and it brings him back into reality. He taps the newspaper and says, “Found a coupon for the store. Half off a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving used to be awesome. Mom would entrust me with her recipe box, a wooden thing Dad had made to keep all her index cards. I’d set out the ones we’d need, each one sticky and stained with use. It would be my job to line up the ingredients on the counter for each of the recipes. Sugar yams, green bean casserole, turkey rubbed with sage and butter, cranberry sauce and sausage stuffing.
Needless to say, it’s not like that anymore.
Dad tried, and failed miserably, at recreating the family meal the first few years after Mom died. Every time it was a disaster, and he’d feel bad about the money he wasted and how he couldn’t survive without Judy, and the whole thing was so awful that we started buying a rotisserie chicken and frozen veggies. The only thing we’d make at home was baked potatoes. And even though it’s nearly impossible to f**k up a baked potato, it still never tastes right to me.
Dad starts bawling at the table. I wonder what memory he’s thinking about. And like every year that this shitty anniversary falls on a Monday through Friday, I hate the thought of spending this day without him.
Even worse, this time next year I won’t be on Jar Island.
“I’m not feeling well,” I tell my dad, my voice soft and quiet, like my throat hurts. “Maybe I should stay—”
“Don’t even,” he says.
“What? Come on, Dad.” I know the sick sound is gone, but seriously? “I never skip!”
“I know you don’t. And that’s why you’re going to school. Your mother would never forgive me for letting you miss school on her account.”
I open my mouth to keep arguing, but Pat shoots me a look. He’s right. This day is hard for everyone, and I don’t want to be starting shit with my dad. So I trudge back upstairs, get dressed, and head out the door.
One good thing—I don’t think many people know that I don’t have a mom. Not besides Ms. Chirazo, anyhow. It’s not like I come to school and everyone treats me different. Which I’m glad for, because I couldn’t deal with any pitying looks. But part of me does wonder if Lillia remembers. If she’ll say anything. She wasn’t around for the funeral—her family still lived in Boston back then—but they made a donation in my mom’s name to some cancer society.
I walk past Lillia in the hall. She’s talking to Ash, and she sees me and gives me a tiny smile, but it’s the same one I get every day. No different.
I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my mom to Mary, but it’s not like I told her the exact day she died.
It’s weird, even though I’m totally used to going through this day alone, somehow this year it’s worse.
I open my locker door to chuck in my jacket. But I freeze. There’s one white daisy inside, laid at the very top of my pile of shit.
Daisies were my mom’s favorite flower. Everyone placed one on top of her casket before it got lowered in the ground.
I spin around and look behind me. Who did it? It wasn’t Lillia. And it wasn’t Mary. She wouldn’t know that.
And then, for a second, a split second, I see Rennie peering at me from around the corner of the hallway. Our eyes meet.
The weekend when Mom had her last round of chemo, nobody felt much like celebrating. She’d had gone through the treatments, even though things weren’t looking promising.
A month before, her doctor had said something like, “It’s your call, Judy.” Which is basically the worst thing a doctor can say. It means that even he doesn’t have much hope. Still, at dinner we’d had a family discussion about whether or not she should do it. Dad spoke first. He thought she should take it easy, enjoy what she had left, but Mom looked at me and Pat and said, “How can we not try?” Dad started sobbing. We all did. Nobody touched the lasagna.
Mom had her last treatment on Thursday, and three days later Pat had a dirt-bike race. It was his first one since Mom got sick. Usually Pat’s races were a family affair, and Rennie would tag along too. Obviously Mom wouldn’t be able to go this time, and, unspoken, maybe never again. Pat promised her he’d win her a trophy. He did a good job not crying in front of her. He waited until he was out in the garage to lose his shit.
I loved watching my brother race. Every other racing family knew who he was, because he was that good. We were like minor celebrities on the track. Even when I’d be hanging out on the swings or in line for a hot dog, the other kids showed me respect. But I didn’t just go to cheer Pat on. I had a job, too. After each heat I’d wipe Pat’s bike down until it shone brand-new. I’d get all the grit off. His helmet, too. Rennie gave herself the job of making sure Pat always had a cold can of Coke.
Dad and Pat had loaded up the trailer. I went to pack a bag of rags, and Dad pulled me aside. “Katherine,” he said, setting his hands on my shoulders, “I want you to stay home this time. Make sure your mother doesn’t need anything.”
This might have seemed obvious, but it wasn’t to me. I was looking forward to getting out of our house, away from Jar Island for an afternoon. Also, there was Rennie. “But Rennie is supposed to come with us! We made plans weeks ago! She’s expecting us to come get her.”
“Sorry, kiddo. Next time.” Dad quickly put Mom’s afternoon medications inside a teacup. “Call Rennie. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
I called Rennie, and she did understand, though I could hear in her voice that she was disappointed. I watched from the front window as Dad and Pat drove away.