I regret nothing more than that day.
I regret nothing more than turning my phone off. Than leaving the house without telling Mama.
I regret nothing more than choosing to party over taking my mother’s health seriously.
Her husband had just died. I should not have been able to delude myself so completely that she was immortal.
Reaper: “Hello, Jane Newman.”
Jane: “I’m not ready…”
Reaper: “Jane Newman: check.”
Nothing more, B. I regret nothing more.
When I came home that morning, I didn’t even notice. My mother had always kept strange hours—I simply assumed she was asleep. And, to be honest, I was wasted—tripping up the stairs, stumbling over Samuel as I staggered to the bed.
I was not prepared, then, when I came down the stairs mid-afternoon, planning on a bowl of salad and a stiff workout to help alleviate my hang over.
Janie: “By the Creator, my heaaaad- Wait. What’s that?”
Janie: “Oh, Creator. I might hurl.”
I wasn’t even processing. I ran to the bathroom and emptied the contents of my stomach into the bowl. By throat burned with acid, and my head pounding in synchrony with my racing heart.
It’s not what you think, I told myself. She had a visitor. She must have. That can’t be her.
With trepidation, I stepped back into the kitchen.
Janie: “No. No no no no no no no no no.”
If I thought I had felt guilty before… This was not guilt. This was shame. It was regret. It was gut-wrenching anguish. My mother was dead. And I had been at a party. Not holding her hand. Not reassuring her that it would all be okay. Not here to save her, to plead with the Reaper on her behalf. Not even in the house. I was at a party, flirting and drinking and rubbing my a** against the fronts of hot men. While my mother died. Alone.
Janie: “She must have been so scared.”
Janie: “I’m disgusting.”
I didn’t know what to do. I went through my morning routine, half as if nothing had happened, half with a mind to punish myself. I ran myself into the ground on the treadmill.
I turned the heat up high in the bathtub, until the water was just this side of too hot and the steam swarmed around my eyes.
Janie: “Everything’s fine.”
I attacked the punching bag, knocking it so hard it periodically bounced back and hit me in the face.
Janie: “Ow! Ow! Ow!”
I took another bath.
Janie: “So hot! OW!”
Then, convincing myself it was far enough into the evening that it was reasonable, I went to bed.
I did not sleep soundly. I dreamt of women chasing me down dark alleys, shrieking in my ear; the piercing wails of witches, damning me to hell; the blare of hip-hop beginning to play in the background, and my feet planting, unable to move, as my body was compelled to move to the music, the shrieks and wails of my pursuers growing ever closer.
I shouted as I woke, the screech of my phone ringing into the early morning light. With shaking hands, I picked up the phone.
Paige: “Hey, Janie. I heard the bad news! Too bad about your Mom. But, you know, it’s not good moping around the house, is it? Come clubbing with us tonight!”
My first instinct was to start crying, to yell, to throw my phone into the ground and step on it til it splintered. “Too bad about your Mom.” Who even says…
I stopped myself. What was I doing? What was I thinking? Sure, Mama was… gone. But, was there any use in moping around the house? None that I could see. And no use could be greater than the good that would come of going to the club with my friends. Science and anecdotal accounts (mine, of course) show that much with definiteness.
I spent the day in my room, locked up with my violin. Though I wasn’t sure how much of my experience with my father’s death would apply, I figured that I could at least try to work out some of my feelings with my music.
Janie: “I pirouette in the dark…”
Janie: “Tiny mechanical hearts…”
No such luck. I played for hours—did nothing else but play, to be honest, the entire day, not even workout or eat. There were too many emotions, too many complications wound up and shoved down, clogging my lungs and making it hard to breathe. When my father had passed, there were only a few things to deal with—guilt at having a poor relationship, guilt for not feeling sadder. But now? I wished I could feel less sad, desperately desired a relief from the pain.
By the time midnight came around—prime partying time—I had been lost in my thoughts all day. I knew my mother would not have approved of what I was about to do—ignoring my new responsibilities (like planning the funeral, contact her limited family and zero friends, resolving her affairs) in favor of going to a party. But by that time, I was seconds away from curling up on the ground and refusing to move for a century. I needed time to forget. I needed time to escape. Wherever she was, watching over me in judgment, I hoped she would understand.
Janie: “Let’s do this.”
Janie: “Just listen to the music, Janie. Listen to the music and let it all fall away.”
After a few drinks and some long moments standing on the dance floor, trying to let my limbs move with their usual ease, the music started folding itself into my brain, pounding through my ears and keeping out every other thought.
Janie: “Much better! Woohoo!”
I actually started getting into it. If only it were a bit warmer in the club—suddenly, it seemed quite cold.
Janie: “Dance! Dance! Dance!”
Janie: “Hey there, Phillip! Wanna dance with me?”
It was strange. I was deep into the club atmosphere, moving to the music and losing myself on the dance floor. But it was a solitary endeavor. People would turn to start dancing with me, moving their bodies against mine, but something seemed to startle them away.
Huh. Maybe it was my outfit? I was wearing something that was kind of funeral-y. Maybe they were uncomfortable dancing with someone whose mother had just… whose mother had just…
Or maybe it smelled. That was it. There was nothing else that could cause them to run away.
Oh well. Soon, everyone would smell—it was a club, and sweat was an inevitability.
Jane: “I get it now! Makes so much sense why the Disappointment always came here.”
But even as the even went on, people continued to avoid me. Finally, I went up to Paige.
Janie: “Hey, girl!”
Janie: “Does the crowd feel weird to you tonight? People keep, I don’t know, avoiding me? I don’t want to sound arrogant, but people are usually clamoring.”
She didn’t even say anything. Just pointed across the dance floor, at something behind me.
All of a sudden, everything came flooding back. The tightness in my chest, the pain in my throat, the pounding in my head, the burning behind my eyes. What. Why was she here? Why would she come here? Was she haunting me? I couldn’t comprehend it.
I said a quick goodbye to Paige, and ran home. Literally ran. Bolting through the streets, dodging people and fire hydrants, running as if something was chasing me. And it was. By the Creator, my mother’s ghost.
I made a beeline for the pavilion.
Janie: “Why would you do this to me??”
Janie: “JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!”
Janie: “I’M SORRY!”
Janie: “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.”
I don’t remember what happened next, exactly. It was just a haze of tears and aching head and buckling knees, and the next morning I woke up in a heap on the pavilion, right in front the urn from which I just released my mother’s spirit.
I don’t know what came over me that morning, really. I spent the day in a daze, going through my mother’s belongings. I moved her paintings into the basement, alongside the remnants of my retail store.
Janie: “Last time I’ll be down here.”
I wouldn’t be opening it again.
Then I just wandered the streets. Not talking to anyone, not looking at anyone, just walking and walking and walking. What would I do? What could I do? The only method of coping that I had found—the thing that had so far carried me through all my trials—had been tainted. Ruined, honestly. It was forever the place where my mother had haunted me—filled with such disapproval that she had sought me from beyond the grave. Or, at least, that’s how it seemed.
I was startled by a voice from behind me, the first voice to shake me out of my thoughts all day.
Janie: “Oh. Hey, Candy.”
Candy: “I heard what happened. Did you see my text? And my voicemails?”
I pulled out my phone. Oh, yeah. People had been texting me. A list of condolences a mile long.
I shook my head.
Candy: “Oh, honey.”
Then she pulled me into a hug.
Candy: “I am so sorry.”
I’m not sure what kind of strange elixir this hug from Candy was, what kind of wicked magic, but with a sudden jolt, it was like the floodgates had opened. I could hold nothing in.
Janie: “She was haunting me, Candy. I felt like enough of a monster already, but she hates me so much now that she was haunting me.”
Candy: “You don’t know that, Janie. Maybe she was there to say goodbye.”
Too say goodbye?
Candy: “You know what?”
She grabbed my hand.
Candy: “Let’s go upstairs.”
Oh. Yeah. I was in front of Break Down. I had wandered all the way to Windenburg from Newcrest.
Janie: “I’m not really in the mood for a party.”
Candy: “Just trust me.”
Candy: “See? Much quieter today. You can play in peace.”
Janie: “Thanks for trying to help, but I already tried this. It didn’t work; it didn’t help.”
Candy: “You tried playing for yourself. But you already know what emotions you’re feeling, deep down. Try telling me now.”
I really didn’t think it would work. I’d already tried this, after all. Why would Candy’s presence make much of a difference?
But I tried anyway.
Candy: “Here, I’ll stand over here. That way you can start, and not feel uncomfortable.”
Janie: “Somebody shine a light…”
Janie: “I’m frozen by the fear in me…”
At first, I felt nothing. I was just going through the motions, singing along to the songs I had played and practiced for years. But then…
It was the same feeling I’d had the night before—of the emotions seeping out of me, of my gut untangling and my lungs letting go. I started playing random chords, unaware of what song I was playing. But it was like a release—with each bow, I felt my breath coming easier.
Candy: “That’s it, Janie.”
Suddenly, Candy was standing in front of me, smiling wide.
Candy: “It’s working, right?”
I made a face at her, not quite ready to admit that she was right. But yeah. It was working. I don’t know why or how or what exactly was working about it—I still felt sad, I still felt guilty, I still felt like crying. But it was like the edge had been taken off of it all. No longer so sharp, no longer so anguishing, no longer so strangling.
After a while, at some indeterminate time, it was like my mind knew when to end. The song came to a finish. As soon as I put the violin down, Candy was wrapping me in another hug.
Candy: “I’m proud of you.”
What else could I do but thank her?
She was an amazing person. I’d never met someone who I felt so connected with, who I felt like actually understood me. I’d been surrounding myself with hoards of people for so long, just random people I met on the street that I wanted to admire me. And people didn’t admire just anyone—it was a carefully crafted image that they all worshipped. But Candy? She knew me, and she was proud of me.
I went home and let out a breath of air.
I stood outside, just beyond the door, wary of going beyond. Inside were all the places that my mother had lived. The placed that she had worked. Where she and my father had met, where they’d fought, where they’d made up. So many places, once full of activity and memories, now so empty.
Would I be able to cope?
With a final breath, I stepped through the door. Yes, I would be able to cope. I had Candy. Of all the people I’d met, the immense quantity, I’d finally found my quality—the person that my mother had always referred to as “worthy of me.”
She would help me make it through.