the thing with feathers

Tomorrow will be Mother’s Day. Specifically, it will be the first Mother’s Day that I have to spend without being able to celebrate my mom’s existence with her. It will be the first without her here. Last year I wondered, “Am I doing enough?” This year will be the first that I question, “Did I?”

So many people have told me, “The first year is the worst.” It’s something you can be sure you’ll look forward to dreading with every holiday stirring up your sorrow. I used to think “looking forward to something” implied something good would happen, like when I used to look forward to holidays. I’d rather skip them now.

A year of firsts and worsts, although I can’t imagine subsequent years getting any easier. My mom left this earth in August, and I somehow got through Thanksgiving, Christmas, a new year, and a non-Valentine’s Day. I spent them hiding at home in a blanket cocoon and avoiding people, but somehow, my heart kept beating and my lungs kept filling up with air, which felt an awful lot like suffocating. I can’t imagine tomorrow feeling much different with the exception that I will leave the house.

I have a new chiropractor for my scoliosis who I began seeing eight days ago. Upon my initial visit with him, he took a thorough history including my family history. I had to check off the horrid little box on that sheet of paper that said my mom was deceased. The reason? Fucking glioblastoma. I didn’t write the expletive, but I thought it.

He discussed everything I wrote on that piece of paper, including how horrible glioblastoma is. He said how two of his patients passed away with glio this past year too and how he wouldn’t wish it on anyone. He said how being her only child, it must be more than just the loss of my mom but also the loss of my best friend. He knew.

Yesterday, I returned to his office for an adjustment and was greeted by his secretary-wife who said she and my chiropractor were talking about how depressed I’ve been since my mom passed (which I’m fairly certain is a HIPAA violation), and how Mother’s Day must be tough being the first. Clearly, they both knew.

I got settled in the exam room and was greeted by my chiropractor who asked what I was up to this weekend. I said that “we” (meaning my husband and I) are going to Monomoy, a wildlife refuge on Cape Cod known for its birds. I wanted to be with the birds and by the ocean, something I know my mom would love too.

The chiropractor started laughing and blurted out, “You’re bringing your mom?!” I thought briefly that perhaps he forgot what we’d talked at length about and said, “No, she’s…” Yet he squealed, “I know! I know!” Then I realized that the asshole actually thought he was funny and was making a joke about her not being here, that he knew she was gone and was making fun of the fact I said where “we” were going.

I didn’t have the guts to speak up and say, “That’s really not funny.” I mean, during a neck adjustment, he could paralyze me, so I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. I’d save that chat for another time. This same chiropractor later made “jokes” in the form of mocking a gay couple he knows and used the term “ew!” to describe their kissing. I am furious at myself that I didn’t have the nerve to stand up for myself or my friends who happen to be gay. Either way, I’ve lost all respect for that man.

What I didn’t tell him is that “we” (Ray and I) will go to the bird-filled beach tomorrow because “we” (my mom and I) had discussed at length where she and I would meet, and I know I’ll feel her presence there. Each night when she was still here, we’d pick a beach to visit each other in our dreams. Sometimes it was one we’d been to together (Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina was a favorite), and sometimes it was one we’d only dreamed about (I told her I’d bring her with me to Bora Bora). But my mom and I also firmly believed that her dad (my grandpa) who happened to be the greatest man on the planet came back to this earth as a bird after he passed away.

There were too many instances to prove our case. I’m a fan of Buddhism and like the notion of reincarnation, but my mom was a practicing Catholic who decided she liked the notion too. Right after he had passed and I went back to college, a hawk kept me company on my walk back to my apartment when all I could do was cry. I learned that the excerpt I read at his funeral was the same as a song by the Byrds. “There is a time for everything. […] A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Little chickadees hopped up to our car when my mom and I were pulled over and lost while trying to find a farm in Connecticut. Cardinals brought my mom to happy tears. There were countless examples and all of them made us sure that he visited us as a bird and that he earned his wings.

When my mom passed, I looked for birds, certain that she would come back as one too. But it wasn’t birds that I found when I needed her most. It was feathers. Anytime I looked down, there would be a feather at my feet, even when I was in the locker room at the gym. Then there were flocks of starlings dancing across the entire sky above (Hi, Mom). And a giant heron mixed in with a group of seagulls that brought me to tears on my way to work one morning (she stood out from the crowd in the best way possible). I know she’s up in the air and all around now too.

What I should have told that chiropractor is that Ray and I will be meeting my mom down at Monomoy. We (the three of us) will spend the day together by the ocean and with the birds, somewhere my mom would want me to go and the greatest picture of peace that I can imagine. I think it’s what heaven and nirvana look like. I’m not “bringing” her there, but I carry her in me wherever I go, so yes, perhaps I am. We’ll have to have a picnic with her and her bird friends.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You will always be the greatest mom and person on this planet.

I miss you and love you the mostest.

Tori


An excerpt of “Seven Birds”

A white bird
A breath condenses
Even density can be pleasant
Each wall widens its cracks
And retains the call
A height that remains a height
Springs that have gathered the winds of the fields

A red bird
It may have traveled the river in one night
The road may have guided it through the upper layers
I ponder the mystery of its redness
Then forget the sky
That has taken it there

Mohammad Bennis as translated by Fady Joudah

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