“Nothing is so desolate as reaching a hand into a pocket and finding it empty.” She thought as her shaky fingers fumbled with the unlit cigarette and she realized she had no lighter. Rebecca stood in the shadows of the dimly lit street debating on whether she should return inside for fire or to stay put. The high drama of the night was over. They had carted her mother’s dead body away an hour before. She desperately wanted that cigarette but she more desperately preferred not to face her step-father and wade through the routine of small talk. She wanted to be alone, to gather her thoughts.
She had losses before. Pets. Lost boyfriends. Her car had been stolen on her birthday one year. Her father dying when she was sixteen. She was familiar with loss. This was hugely different. She took a step toward the clubhouse, the pool. She had been skinny dipping every night after the elderly residents retired for the evening. The only reason Rebecca even had access was because her mother lived here and she was sick, dying. Rebecca would walk down at night, pull off her clothes and swim naked in the pool. She had never told anyone this was what she was doing. The thought had not occurred to her with everything else pressing in so quickly. She hesitated. Somehow, swimming and feeling that relative freedom felt wrong tonight. She hunkered back in the shadows digging absent mindedly through her pockets again.
Three days. It would take three days for the feeling of loss to fade. Rebecca knew this from experience also. On the third day, it would feel as if her mother had never really been there at all. As if, that person, her mother, was just something she had been imagining all these years. She didn’t want that to happen. It just did. To Rebecca, her mother had been nearly a saint, had always known the right thing to say or do regardless of the circumstances. There had never been a hint of criticism. Somehow, her mother always managed to feel like she was supporting her, even if she didn’t completely agree with her choices.
Under normal circumstances, Rebecca would be able to see the beauty, the good, even the humor in the death of her mother. They had so much time to share and laugh over the last few weeks. It was her nature to see the positive in all things, and Rebecca knew she would later. But, right now, all she could feel was the pain and a deep burrowing sense of loss. Six weeks she had been by her bedside, caring for her, nursing her. She had not cried so much in her entire life. So many tears shed that it was unbelievable there could be any left now. But, even as she had the thought, Rebecca could feel the dampness on her eye lashes.
She took a deep breath, felt a tear slip down her cheek, and pressed her lips together to stop them from quivering. She thrust her head to one side and clenched her jaw tight. She knew better than to repress her emotions but she also knew if she fell apart now she would quite simply loose it altogether. She felt a wall of despair rise inside her. She was the strong one, the oldest daughter, the core. She had to hold it together. The mental coach was preaching while her heart slowly encroached, and with gentle assuming control, her will broke with a gasp. Her throat balled up in tight cramps as she choked.
She sank to the concrete and began to sob softly as moaning wails snuck between her lips. Her mom had only been fifty-six. She was only twenty-nine. It was too soon to lose a parent. She was too young. Grief rarely leaves room for rational coherent thoughts. Rebecca knew her thoughts were simple, yet true. Irrational, yet right. There was no one for her now. Nobody she could rely on when things got tight. No one she could have her ridiculous conversations with, the jokes that she shared with mom that Rebecca was pretty sure even her mother rarely understood. Both parents were gone now. Her father, her mother, just gone. She was an orphan, she realized. How was she supposed to manager her life? What would this all mean to her in real terms in her future? Could she really think about this now?
Her nose was running and the Arizona night was still hot and left her feeling grubby, sweaty, and sticky even this late at night. Combined with her tears, the sweat, and probably streaks of mascara, she was sure she looked a fright. Not that it mattered. In this moment, she could find nothing that really seemed to matter at all. She sniffled some more, her mind numb, and slowly tugged at a train of thought that would make some sense. Her mother was gone. She had no one. She had no expectations. No responsibilities. No plans. No obligations. She was free.
Rebecca froze. Her tears stopped at the strange thought. She was free? She considered that for a moment. Her mother had never told her what to do or held expectations for her, yet there had always been a sense of obligation, a desire to please, to do as she knew would find approval. It had been subtle. If you had asked her before tonight, before this very moment, if she had lived her life for her mother, she would have vehemently denied it. She might possibly have even laughed. She was more the black sheep, the gypsy, the wild child. She had certainly never been the golden girl.
But the truth was, she had allowed her life to be guided by things she knew her mother would approve of. Her degree. That had never been a desire of her own. It has been a need to adhere to her mother’s minimal expectations. It was a degree she never even used. She took a deep breath, feeling a little guilty as she leaned more fully into the feeling of freedom. With no one around who required anything of Rebecca, her options became wide open. To think that the deep grief and loss from her mother dying, could in some way give her a freedom she would not have otherwise achieved, made her feel ashamed, amplifying her guilt. But, she was desperate; desperate to find any means of reconciliation with the events of the last few hours, to cope. For some reason, the feeling of sudden release and freedom, felt like hope.
If she could hold onto that feeling, just to the idea of the freedom, she might be able to get through the next few days of the funeral, the family, all the ritual behavior that comes with burying loved ones. She might be able to remain strong a few more days longer. Then, when it was all over, she might be able to collapse into that hope and become something new. Some, thing, else.
Her fingers absently reached into her pockets again and felt around. Her hand brushed against the plastic tube of her lighter. The lighter which had not been there the last two times she had searched. That was odd, she thought pulling it from her pocket. She stared at it blankly for a moment, put the cigarette in her mouth and slowly flicked it to life. She took one long slow drawl from the cigarette and let the smoke curl out from her lips. She could do this. She nodded to herself.
She was a big girl now. She was a big, orphaned twenty-nine year old woman, she thought, with the rest of her life open and mysterious before her. She could do this. She felt her eyes fill with tears again. She took another unsteady drawl while her fingers trembled, and released her breath, letting the smoke go.