Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just The Way She Left It

"Believe in yourself," Julie told her daughter.  "You are smarter than you give yourself credit for.  Not that it's going to be easy; it's going to take some time, that's for sure.  But you'll figure it out.  You're going to be okay."

"I know you say that, but you're my mom!" Tina answered.  "If my own mother doesn't believe in me, nobody will.  I know that you just want to make me feel better, but it isn't that easy..."  Julie could hear that Tina was crying again.

"Honey, I know it's not easy.  And I do want you to feel better, of course I do.  I'm not trying to make light of it.  I only know that everybody has issues and problems that they need to face.  You are a strong person, very talented and usually focused.  Be a little bit easier on yourself and give yourself some time to recover, that's all.  We're all here for you.  We love you and we believe in you, even if you don't believe in yourself right now.  Especially because you don't believe in yourself.  Lean on us for awhile, why don't you?"

The conversation came to a close.  Julie couldn't think of anything else to say that might make Tina feel better.  The truth was, she didn't feel so great herself.  She stayed awake at night wondering and worrying about her youngest daughter.  Tina lived in the Middle East and time difference and distance made regular communication difficult at best.  At certain times, it was impossible.  It was during these lapses in communication that Julie worried the most.  She tried to remind herself that "no news is good news" but generally she saw those words  as empty--a heartfelt but failed attempt at comfort.

Julie worried about Tina most days.  During those few occasions Tina called, she was able to muster up some joy, spending the few minutes concentrating on Tina's voice and whatever news she was willing to share.  But as soon as Julie hung up, she felt the sadness wash over her once again.  She missed her daughter terribly and couldn't remember the last time she felt truly happy.  It was before Tina left the country, that much she knew for certain.

But now Julie lived in a fog of sorrow.  The emptiness of the house gave witness to the loneliness she felt on a daily basis.  While most of Tina's clothes were still scattered in piles around her room as evidence of her existence, there was no real life there--no music being played, no lingering scent of Tina's perfume, no current magazines lying about.  Just enough of her things to remind Julie that Tina was really, truly gone.

It probably didn't help, but Julie found herself sitting in Tina's room a lot.  She didn't mean to make this either her place of mourning or a shrine to Julie--as if she we were gone for good-- but she couldn't help herself.  She had nothing else, really, only a few pictures that she had collected over the years.  And Tina's belongings.

After the phone call, Julie visited Tina's bedroom yet again.  

"I really should get rid of all this stuff," she thought to herself.  "Surely by the time she gets back Tina will want new things--the latest fashions--not this old stuff left over from high school."  And so, for the umpteenth time Julie began folding and sorting the clothes into piles.  Some would go to charity; others just needed to be thrown away.  Sometimes Julie put Tina's very favorite things into her dresser drawers:  her volleyball jersey, her favorite hoodie and jeans.  She opened the closet and looked again at the prom dress that Tina wore, remembering...

 After that, Julie just couldn't get herself to complete the project; it was just too unsettling, too permanent.  

"How do parents who lose a child do it?" she wondered.  "How do they pack up and get rid of all his or her things?  What do they hold onto to remember them by?"  Though she had never considered herself a sentimental person,   Tina's move gave Julie a better understanding of this emotion.  It wasn't about the things, per se, but the person who owned them.

 In her absence, Tina's things had become the sum and substance of her life, as if taking on a life of their own.  They illustrated the story of her life, giving a good glimpse of the largeness of her personality.  Julie needed these memories right now to fill in the holes that Tina's absence created.   Her certificates and awards were on her desk.  Various albums of photographs laid next to them.  

"Those things can stay--she'll want them.  But the clothes should go...  Ah! There's the green and white polo I gave her last Christmas.."
Holding her daughter's favorite shirt, Julie felt the tears stinging her eyes.  And she gently placed it on top of  pile covering the bed.

Closing the bedroom door, Julie decided to tackle the chore some other day.  She wasn't ready yet.  She hoped to have the room cleaned up and ready for Tina's next visit home.  But since she didn't know when that might be she felt she had all the time in the world.  This is one chore she didn't mind putting off again.  Though messy, Tina's room was just the way she left it.  It gave the illusion of being lived-in, as if Tina might walk through the door again at any moment, looking for the very shirt that Julie folded.  And even though she knew it was a fantasy,  that was exactly what Julie hoped might happen.


Lin said...

I thought of you and your daughter when I read this. Do you and did you go through it when the kids left? I dread those days. When do you know they won't be back? College? First apartment? Do we eternally wish they were young and still lived with us? I hope not, on some level, but letting them go must be hard.

My mom still has her "shrine" to my brother--the untouched room. Now my room, on the other hand.......

butterfly woman said...

Very deep and heartfelt.I felt your tears in my own eyes. And having some memories of your child, clothes, her favorite things, things to hold onto in her absence. Thank you for sharing here these tough emotions, for putting these words on paper. I hope it gives you a bit of relief. Even across the miles, my thoughts and prayers continue for you and your family and hope she is home soon to be by your side!