I didn’t get much of a chance to know you but I think I would have loved you even more if heaven hadn’t wanted you so badly and I was old enough to understand maybe heaven can be a little greedy, too. I just want to say I think I have your hands. I look at pictures then my palms as I drive or wash the dishes and think that you used to do the same thing too with hands that look like mine before heaven wanted them to paint a picture in the sky.
Dr. Fischer went to the local pet store and bought the angelfish and put it in the tank in his office on August 2nd.
The angelfish was bred and raised to be put in tanks like these, so it didn’t know what it meant to feel the way the sun cuts the ocean surface or how the currents brush the water. The fish saw lots of things from its glassy outlook, like on August 11th when it saw Dr. Fischer whispering into his secretary’s ear, but it didn’t know what that meant, either.
There were two other fish in the tank. They were boring but the only other two fish the angelfish ever saw, never the terrifically odd sunfish or the tiger shark or neon clownfish. It did see Dr. Fischer remove the golden band from his finger every morning he came into his office and slip it into his shirt pocket.
On August 18th the fish felt the vibration of the office door slamming as Dr. Fischer and his secretary left the office at night, just the two of them. It never felt the vibrations of a tuna fish swimming by or the warmth of a sunbeam on the crystal water.
The angelfish died on a year later knowing what it sounded like for a man to speak into a black rectangular box attached to the wall by a spirally cord and say, “I’m leaving” but not what it sounded like to hear the wind upon the waves.
I don’t see the world in black and white.
But I don’t see it in rainbows either. No, that was momma, chasing rainbows to the bottom of the hill and never finding her pot of gold.
No, I see in sunsets and the color of wildflowers and ocean salt spray. If I lived in twilight, running after rainbows and wishing after shooting stars like momma, I’ll end up like her. A washed up housewife who just keeps getting older and wishing she were young so she could do the things she always thought she would do when she was still a dreamer. Before Dad left and never came back and the world was still big and round with all the possibilities of life.
I think that was part of the reason she never wanted me to go. And as I sit cross-legged by the window seat and watch the peaks and valleys of the countryside pass me by, I think that’s part of the reason I’m going back.
I can’t help the smile that tugs at my lips when the train passes the old Smithson barn. The blue paint is still chipped in all the same places and the white picket fence is still broken where Maysie the cow once made her daring attempt at freedom.
If I tried I couldn’t count the number of nights we’d spent there in high school, me and JJ and Emily and Karina and anyone else who’d wanted to come over, drink a Michelson or two and talk about our futures among the hay bales and sleepy cows. Sometimes we’d lie on the roof and stare at the stars, the sweet smell of hay in our noses and the gentle clucking of roosters in our ears. That was where Davy kissed Laura and Laura told me the next day, her cheeks flushed the bright red of apples we’d picked from the orchard down the road. Long nights blended into summer days on the farm, until everything started to become moments of lasts. Last first day of high school, last time we’d go ice-blocking down Sander’s hill, last dance. We’d gone to the barn after homecoming, too. I smile again. Homecoming. How appropriate.
The last day of lasts, we took to the roof of the barn again. Laura, going to film school. JJ, off to be a dentist. Davy, studying abroad in England. He and Laura agreed it would be best to call it off instead of trying to make things work long distance, but we all knew they’d try anyway. Karina and Emily, both headed to Georgetown in the Fall. All my friends, all going to different corners of the world, their futures as bright and scattered as the stars blinking back at us in the sky.
Me? I went off from my small town to the big city, New York, New York – to study journalism at NYU. Over the years my friends and I stayed in touch, met up during breaks, but naturally strayed out of each others lives, with so many new places and other people drifting in to them. It was a clean break, a natural dissolve.
The same can not be said for momma.
I hadn’t told her I applied. I hadn’t told her I accepted. But when I told her I was going to travel 1,000 miles across the country for the next four years and God knows where after that, everything had blown up.
The shards of her favorite China plates smashed all over the wooden floorboards were still sharp in my mind, the words we flung at each other still heavy on my skin. The slamming door vibrating, the grumble of my Volkswagen engine. I could hear the disgust in my voice as I yelled the words I hate you as if I had said them yesterday.
“You can’t go,” she said,
“You can’t stop me,” I said.
I went. And I never really looked back. Until now.
No one writes letters anymore. It’s all e-mail, texts, Facebook. I guess this makes sense though. I never told her my phone number or gave her my e-mail address. I haven’t talked to her much besides – what is my social security number? I’m sorry to hear great grandma died – in five years.
I don’t see the world in black and white, no. Which is funny because now I work for one of the world’s largest newspapers and my name appears in black on the white pages just about every single week.
Anyway – the letter. I never would have gone back to my old apartment if I hadn’t been chasing a story for said newspaper. Six cases of the new avian flu, right by my old place next to the college. One near death experience. Easy, go in, get the interviews, go out.
So it was a sunset moment, living in color, when I decided to stop by my old place to see what it was like now. A lot can happen in two years. Junior year. I’d been going with Andrew and on Friday nights when he didn’t call I was really missing my momma, even though I never would have admitted it.
Dear Trina, the letter said. Mixed up with other mail, the girl with glasses and a braid down her back that lives there now had kept it, just in case. She said it looked important, personal. It’s postmarked from just a few months ago.
I am not sure if this is your correct address still, but I have been sending letters to the dorm until I found out about this one. I have some news I thought you should know. If you could write me back or phone the house, you know where I will be. Stay safe out there, love Mom.
I’d gotten a few of her letters here and there throughout the years. I called back a few times. This, though, was different. Mom said she had news. Maybe she’d finally started something for herself, stopped living by counting stars and got her feet back on the ground, understood why I had to leave.
The train stopped off right at my old house. Train tracks have a smell that’s like nothing else, like rusty rain and late night showers. It reminds me of home. Of home-cooked lasagna and making daisy chains in my backyard.
I tiptoe past tumbleweeds as I make my way up to the front door. It’s the only house around for half a mile, our neighbors houses visible in the distance on the flat hard land. I can just make out the pale blue of the Smithson barn to the east.
Everything is just as I remember it. Our third front porch step still creaks, the bannister could still give you a splinter by just looking at it. The rocking chair is there next to the window, but there’s a new yellow blanket draped over the wooden frame. Odd, since my old quilt used to match its pink paint perfectly.
I realize my palms are slippery as I’m about to use the lion’s head shaped knocker, and I wipe them on my jeans. I breathe in, breathe out, then rap the door twice.
It doesn’t take long for a woman to answer. The woman has blonde short hair and crows feet around her eyes, a baby girl on her hip. The woman is not my mother.
“Can I help you?” she says to me. She is polite, but questioning.
I falter. “Um, yes, is Teresa Geller here? I’m looking for…I mean, I’m her daughter.”
The woman’s eyebrows knit together.
“You’re looking for Teresa?” There is a catch in her voice that causes my stomach to sink, shadows to drop. “We moved in a few months ago. You know, when she passed?”
Mom had news. I never thought exactly what the news might be. Me, the successful reporter, never even bothered. It never even crossed my mind.
As I stand on the porch, not able to say anything back, I think that maybe after living in uncertainties and possibilities of the past while her daughter never believed in chasing rainbows, maybe there was something beautiful about how the woman with her head in the clouds finally lives among the stars.