two white women stand together with a group of people milling behind them; the woman on the left is dressed in graduation garb; the woman on the right is in a lilac short sleeve jacket and matching dress

003. six things i wanted to call you about recently

Letters to Mam

Mam,

Your number is still in my phone. Part of me refuses to delete it because doing so seems like the final admission of your leaving. But then, whenever I open my phone app to call someone, your number comes up as my most called, right next to my ex-husband’s, and I am reminded again that I can’t call you.

Some of the things I wanted to call you about lately:

  1. Alonzo Brooks’ case has been reclassified as a homicide. We followed his case after watching the new Unsolved Mysteries together, and felt deep in our bones the injustice of his and his family’s treatment. I know you’d be as happy as I was to hear this development.
  2. I gave a presentation at conference at my university this week about disability and accessibility. It’s the first academic presentation I have ever given that I haven’t been able to run by you first. You are so much a part of my academic journey, my academic life, that not having your perspective on this presentation was noticeable, and made me feel unprepared in a way I will have to learn to live with.
  3. Derek Chauvin was convicted of all three charges against him. I sat on my bed and sobbed off and on for hours, not because I felt joy, but because for once, someone was held accountable. All I felt was brief relief. When the video came out last summer, we talked for a long time about defunding and rebuilding the police, the history of policing in this country, and our fears that even with his actions on full display for the world to see, how he might not face any consequences. I hate that you weren’t here to see him face consequences, to see this step towards (possible) change.
  4. My divorce was finalized in March. You were so supportive of my coming out, of my separation and living authentically, even though it meant ending an otherwise healthy, loving marriage with a man you loved like your own. I wish you could be here to see what that looks like for me.
  5. I have read more than 70 books so far this year, and there are so many I wish I could tell you about. Little Fish by Casey Plett, Luster by Raven Leilani, Sheets by Brenna Thummler, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman…I could go on and on and on. I love that we could share books, that you taught me to love books before I could even read, that we could talk about books for hours and hours and never run out of things to say. The only thing we ran out of was time.
  6. I have also watched several movies and TV shows that I wish we could have watched together. The fact that we shared film studies made watching movies such a fun and simultaneously deeper, richer experience – even watching Hallmark movies with you was a conversation. I am grateful that I filmed our discussion of The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), so that I at least have one of our conversations preserved forever.

We used to talk 2-3 times a week, at least, and in the last month or so I have really been feeling that void. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like that void is filled, because no one could talk about anything like you could, or provide the perspective you could, or frustrate me with their devil’s advocacy like you could. I miss your voice through the crackle of a cell phone speaker, Mam. I miss your mind and your willingness to spend hours talking about everything in the world with me.

I miss you.

Love,

A

002. tension & ghosts

Letters to Mam

Mam,

Last week was the kind of nightmare I’m glad you weren’t here to see.

The guilt I feel in even thinking that is tremendous, but there is it, immediate and definite. I don’t think you’d fault me for it. I know how you would have worried if you’d known what I am about to tell you and, feeling powerless to help, how that worry would have stirred into a full panic, which would have done no one any good.

In the midst of record low temperatures, my apartment lost power for approximately 60 hours. About halfway through the ordeal, I was able to escape said apartment for a friend’s house 30 minutes down the highway. I remembered everything you taught me as I drove down the one cleared lane: go slow, keep your wheels straight, don’t throw your brakes, look for black ice under bridges. Everything I know about surviving comes from your warnings.

Mercifully, I got myself and your grandkitty safely to my friend’s home, which had relatively consistent power over the next two days. I ate better than I’d eaten in weeks (my friend, L, is a divine cook) between rounds of boiling, cooling, and storing water, binge-watching Netflix series, and shitposting on Twitter to release the tension roiling in my body.

I was finally able to return home on Thursday. By then, the roads were better, and the heat had returned to my two-story flat. One of the first things I saw when I entered was a huge cockroach on my stove, and all I could do was sigh before disposing of it.

It’s now many days later. I still have no hot water, and won’t for many days still, but I have little else to complain about. I am one of the extremely lucky ones—the privileged ones—who was spared burst pipes and ruined belongings and hypothermia and everything else. So many have lost so much.

I don’t find it a coincidence that my neighborhood—largely working poor, multi-generational, immigrant and otherwise BIPOC—was targeted for such an extended “rolling” blackout. Knowing you, you would have played devil’s advocate while secretly agreeing with me, just to push me to think more complexly. That used to annoy me, especially when my passions flared hot and righteous and I just wanted someone to tell me I was right, that it was okay to be angry.

Today, I miss it, even as I know that I would prickle at your defenses.

Perhaps soon I will learn how to argue with a ghost.

Love,

A

001. precious moment

Letters to Mam

Mam,

It’s snowing today in north Texas. Projections suggest we may get eight inches overnight.

The last time it stormed like this, I was staying with you amidst ongoing tensions with a college roommate. You were due for a trip to visit your then-fiance, now-widower in his homeland of Norway, which was somehow experiencing milder weather.

The streets of your small hometown were coated in inches of snow and ice, and the traffic lights didn’t acknowledge us as we wove delicately along tire tracks made by large trucks to your parents’ home, where your father waited to drive you to the airport more than an hour away.

Somehow you made it there, and he made it back, safely. The photos you sent over Skype from Frederikstad showed you and my future stepdad cozy and thriving; I pored over them from my grandparents’ couch, which I hardly left in the days we were iced into the house.

It’s been ten years since that storm, and so much has changed. But you’d expect that, wouldn’t you? A decade begs for growth and development, for expansion and depth.

I’ve married, accepted I was a lesbian, and am now going through a divorce.

You married, celebrated that marriage in Norway, got your PhD, grew a tumour in your belly the size of a large fetus, and eventually decided enough was enough, submitting to hospice and the long quiet after on your terms.

It’s been three weeks since you left, and today, as I lay in my apartment, blue fairy lights surrounding my bed, my cat-child on my lap, snow piling against my door – I wonder if I had known then when I know now, if I might have asked you to slow down as we raced toward your parents’ house that night. Take a moment to let the snow melt into our hair, the thick fabric of our coats. To roll the windows down and inhale that special scent that only exists when snow sticks to the earth.

If I would have asked you to spend just one more precious moment with me.

Love,
A