There was the smell of jam and sadness.
In our family runs the tightly woven threads of melancholy and dark humor. Of wanting to see to the bone of things, of not averting our gaze. I am only tempered by the joviality of my father’s side, where conversation is a defense against loneliness. Jove, Saturn.
In the kitchen, I am 27. My mother is 55. We are looking at a half-made quilt of autographs, put together by my grandmother over the course of ten years. She died when my mother was 28, I was 1. A loss that never lessened over time for my mother, a loss that terrifies me, because it runs in my veins, and I will inherit it when I lose my mother someday. I’ve watched my mother carry that loss for 27 years, strapped to her back like a fifty pound rock, with nowhere to put it down. My grandmother’s death runs through our family like a scar, it’s a look I can recognize in everyone’s eyes, the look of being cheated, of something sudden and abrupt; irrevocable. It makes our blue eyes turn to flint, brighten and deflect. The quilt: A meticulousness I did not inherit, the ability to see things through. A scrap of torn yellowed paper falls to the floor from other scraps of paper. On it, typewritten:
Do you now what it is like to be a nobbody?
p.s. I foundd your address in the phone book.
Something comes over my mother’s face, some previously unwitnessed mixture of pain and surprise. I wrote that, she says. I must have been about 12. I stuck it in our mailbox and your grandmother must have saved it. I think I just secretly wanted someone to figure out it was from me. I can’t believe she did. I hug her. I think of my mother at 12, all freckles and flaming hair and sad intensity. I think of how, after years of civil war, we are so incredibly alike. That we are a family of somebodies who think that we are nobodies. My mother is retired, after years of rising to the top of a field run mainly by men with ivy league diplomas hanging in their corner offices. She has no college degree. She is brilliant, beloved, feared. Two years ago I turned over the bottom of a dog biscuit jar she had made in a ceramics class. Painted on the bottom in her looping scrawl were the words, you are good enough.
Mostly I am terrified of time, of what it can do, and can’t undo.
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