In the weeks after my mother’s death, very little seemed to change. On the surface, at least. My daily routine was unaltered.
Janie: “Making my breakfast.”
Janie: “Chopping the lettuce.”
Janie: “Cooking the fish.”
Janie: “Eating the fish tacos.”
Janie: “Yeah. Everything’s fine.”
But the in-betweens of the routine—what I did while I was eating my tacos, what I did in between eating and working out, how I spent my time before leaving for the club—there was no mistaking that it was altered.
Janie: “I wonder if anyone’s up already…”
Janie: “…nope. Guess not.”
And there were new habits I had to add in. There was no one else in the house to do the little things that I preferred to avoid—like washing the dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning the toilet.
Janie: “Might as well get all the dishes washed.”
Janie: “Ugh. I hate this.”
I also changed around the interior. I perhaps spent too much money, considering the house no longer had a stable income, but I wasn’t much concerned about that. My mother had done quite a bit of work in her life, leaving a sizeable inheritance. If nothing else, at least my mother’s death meant that I was living comfortably.
Janie: “It’s so nice to have a guest bedroom downstairs.”
Janie: “Mama and Jalen’s anniversary champagne looks great in here.”
Janie: “Hey, Paige, you wanna hang today? Oh, you’re still hungover? Yeah, no, no problem. I’ll see you later.”
The other major change in my life? I could no longer force myself to hold my father’s promise—the “fun” life was not something I could abide by any longer. Not to say that I had a job—no, I was doing other things with my life. But I couldn’t make myself step foot into a club anymore, much less have a good time on the dance floor. Though I would never know the reason for my mother’s haunting of me, and though I knew that my mother’s spirit had been released—she could not return to this plane—the memory of seeing her, boogieing, from across the dance floor, kept me from wandering into my usual haunts.
Janie: “Sophie! Hey there! Yeah, I’m doing fine- Oh, yeah, sure you can call me back.”
And so the days went.
Janie: “Salad for breakfast today!”
Janie: “Paige is busy again.”
Janie: “Taking a shower.”
Janie: “Leftover tacos!”
One day, about a month after my mother had passed, I had just gotten off the treadmill. Maybe it was the endorphins or maybe it was my lack of hydration (I’m pretty bad about remembering to drink enough water), but I had a sudden realization. I hadn’t been out of the house in over a week.
Janie: “For the love of the Creator…”
It was a sobering thought. What had I been doing? Moping, that’s what.
The trouble was, I didn’t know what to do with my life anymore. My whole existence, thus far, had been bound up in my parents (however much I would have liked to deny it at the time). That is, my life was a study of opposites—whatever my parents did, I would do the opposite. Whatever they wanted done, I would refuse to do. Yes, my mother had been my best friend—but I still lived my life in opposition to hers.
It was like I had lost my counterbalances. I had been teetering on the edge, and now that my opposing weights were gone, I was spiraling into the void below, nothing to grasp onto. I needed to find a purpose in life again, before I became *shiver* a hermit.
The resolution was a step in the right direction. The only trouble? Where should I begin the search to find my balance?
I started in the one place that, in recent times, had brought me peace: Break Down.
The violins: they called to me from the second I stepped up onto the platform.
Janie: “This is nice.”
Other people, apparently, found it nice as well.
I stayed there until long into the night, playing my violin and letting the world spin away. Was this any better than moping? I did know. But at least I was around people, if not directly interacting with them. And at least I was earning an income—turns out, when you spontaneously start playing an instrument in a public place, people think you’re looking for tips.
Around 8, I set my violin down and looked around. While I had been lost in my own world, the venue had filled up, all sorts of people gathering to have a good time. I looked around, finding a group. Maybe I would join in? It had been a long time since I had socialized, and I was craving a bit of human interaction.
Reaper: “Hey there, you look familiar. Did I spare you recently?”
Janie: “Fuck you.”
Reaper: “Ohhh, a family member, huh? Well, you must look very much like them.”
Or not. This had been a bad idea. A horrible awful bad idea. I never should have even left the house! First, running into ghosts at nightclubs, and now the Grim Reaper at the top of a tree house! I was far better off staying away from everything, that was for sure.
I made a beeline for the door, before I broke into tears or punched the Grim Reaper in the face (I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t turn out well for me).
Before I could…
Candy: “Hey there!”
I hadn’t spoken to Candy since the last time I was here, the wound of my mother’s death still fresh and paralyzing. She had helped me, that cannot be denied. But… she had seen me so emotional, so vulnerable. How could I face her, after that? Moreover, she had said she was proud of me—what had I done since then to earn that praise? Wandered around the house, wallowing in my misery? I could barely look her in the face now.
Candy: “I’ve missed you! What’ve you been up to?”
Janie: “Oh, you know…”
Candy: “Yeah, I’ve been busy too! But, if you don’t have to run anywhere… you wanna play?”
She pointed to the violins.
Candy: “You take the white one!”
Huh. I was tempted to leave, say that I’d been playing all day. But she was so eager, a wide smile on her face. And, just because my mother died didn’t mean I was any less outgoing—I’d just been suppressing it for a while.
I succumbed to the need for sociality.
Janie: “I didn’t know you played violin!”
Candy: “Yeah, I just started learning. For my new job.”
Janie: “A job?”
I was a bit curious. I still wasn’t interested in working—not for now at least—but maybe for the future? If money ever got tight?
Candy: “Yeah, as an entertainer.”
Oh, never mind. Not what I wanted to do with my life, not at all. Only if I were desperate.
Janie: “That sounds fun.”
Candy wasn’t the greatest at violin. She was clearly telling the truth when she said she had just started learning, and it showed. But, despite the occasional grating of wrong notes in my ears, the evening with Candy was pleasant. We played, of course, but while we each fiddled around with the songs we were trying to learn, we chatted. And, after a while, had a few deep conversations. I don’t know why I had been so worried—when I finally confessed what I had been doing the last few weeks, I was met only with understanding.
Candy: “It’s hard dealing with the death of a loved one. Especially when you’re as close to them as you and your mother seemed to be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—there’s no should and shouldn’t to mourning. No right and wrong. No good way to be sad, and no correct time to stop being sad.”
As time went on, night fell deeper over Break Down. People began filtering out, letting the grassy platform grow quiet but for the slow strains of our harmonious violins.
Finally, even those grew quiet as well, and Candy and I sat against the wall of hedges, staring at the sky.
Candy: “I’ve got to go.”
It was around 3 a.m. that she finally said it, with the most mournful smile on her face.
What else could I do but smile back?
We both went home, my heart lighter than it had been in a long time.
Until I walked in the door, and saw the cake.
I had made it that morning, with the expectation that I’d be back from Break Down in just a few hours. The icing was a little smudged, and I wasn’t sure it was safe to eat.
But what else could I do?
It was my birthday. And I had forgotten. And I had no one left around to remind me, or to celebrate with me.
I was alone.
Janie: “Happy birthday to me.”
Janie: “I’m not going to cry. I’ve done enough crying.”
I didn’t eat the cake (even then, B, I couldn’t forsake the beauty that was my slim waist and toned abs). I went straight to bed.
The house was silent that night, but for the solemn croaks of Jeremy. The silence kept me up til the sun rose.