My father died when I was ten. The events surrounding his death, as close as anyone could say afterward, went something like this: One morning in early September, just before daybreak, Ray Goren, our milkman, pulled over to the side of the dark road, planning to knock on Joe Sanders’ door. Smoke was coming out of the front of Ray’s truck. Ray was a milkman, not a mechanic. He had no idea what the smoke meant except trouble and no idea what to do except ask to borrow Joe’s phone to call the Winder Dairy office to get someone out to help.

My father was driving to work—he was an early riser by nature—and he must have seen Ray stopped by the side of the road, must have stopped with the intention to help. Why my father stopped is no one’s mystery. My father had a reputation for being a Good Samaritan. After he died, people told shining stories about him. How he had shoveled their snow-packed driveways in the dark of winter mornings before they rose. How he had picked too-high apricots on their summer trees, leaving them on porches in inconspicuous brown paper bags. How he had paid off the fall merchandise waiting in layaway at Kmart for those in the ward who were struggling financially. My mother used to say that he was the only person she knew who seemed at first to be too good to be true and who turned out, over time, to be better than that. My father also knew his way around cars and all things mechanical—he was an electrical engineer—so he must have thought on that early morning in fall, with good reason, that he could help out.

But why he walked behind Ray’s truck that morning instead of in front of it, no one knows. He knew not to do that; it was one of many things he had already instilled in me: to walk in front of cars, never behind them because who knew when a car might back up? So why did he do what he knew he shouldn’t do? No one knows that part of the story. All we know is that in the same split second that my father walked behind Ray’s truck, Ray thought better of knocking on the Sanders’ door—it was only 5:30 in the morning; nobody’s lights were on; the newspaper hadn’t even been delivered yet—and as Ray put his truck into reverse to back up, his truck knocked my father to the asphalt.

Mr. Sanders called for an ambulance, but Ray Goren got so agitated, he couldn’t wait. So, with Mr. Sanders’ help, he lugged my father into the cab of his milk truck and drove my father to the university hospital, smoke rising from the engine. They arrived in record time—sooner than anyone believes an ambulance would have. But seven days later, on September 12th, just a month before he would have turned forty-six—three years younger than I am now—my father died of what my mother told my sisters and I were “internal injuries,” a phrase that, as a girl, I found as mysterious as the year to follow.

“Your father was run over by the milkman?” This—or some version of this—is what I encountered for years to come whenever I told the story as an adult, which is why I stopped telling it a long time ago and just said, when asked, “He was forty-six. A heart attack.” The truth must have sounded like a cross between a joke and a grim fairy tale. Which is what it seemed at the time.

My classmates from Mrs. Cottom’s sixth grade classroom composed condolence notes and mailed them to me. Jimmy D, a quiet boy with large ears, wrote: “I’m sorry youre dad died i’m glad it werent mine.” Mrs. Cottom, whom we had nicknamed Mrs. Cottom-Bottom, believing ourselves to be original in that way all children believe themselves original, had crossed out “weren’t” and written in neat letters above Jimmy’s block letters “wasn’t.”

Ray Goren moved with his family to Hyrum, Utah, a year after the accident. A few years later we heard through the ward grapevine that Ray fell from a ladder while putting new shingles on his roof. He died immediately. His wife, Clara, moved back to our neighborhood. I used to see her sitting in the back row of church during Sacrament meeting, watching me. She wore a fur coat that looked out of place among all the other women’s understated tweeds. My sisters were grown by then and out of the house and my mother never went to church again after my father died. So I sat alone.

What Sister Goren felt, whether rage or pity or some of both, I don’t know. But I still remember that fur coat and her eyes on me, as if an aggrieved animal were stalking or fleeing something that could be enemy or prey.

After our father’s funeral, the Relief Society president, Sister Anderson, came to our house with a hamburger casserole and told our mother she would arrange to have food brought in for the next few weeks.

"These weeks," she said in a whisper, as if sound itself might cause pain, "may be the hardest."

But my mother, full voiced, said we would not be here, that she was taking me and my sisters to Oregon to be near our father’s extended family for the next few months and one of my father’s nephews, Brock Grant, would be staying in our house with his new wife, so not to worry if they saw the lights on here. Brock’s wife, Sarah, she said, was originally from Salt Lake. They would attend Sarah’s family’s ward over in Olympus Hills, not the Garden Park 12th. Everything would be fine, she said, opening the door to usher Sister Anderson out. She would be in touch when we got back.

“Who is Brock Grant?” I asked Shelly when the Relief Society president left. We were sitting at the kitchen table, eating Hostess Sno Balls, the kind of food our mother had, before our father died, only rarely, if ever, allowed.

Shelly unpeeled the aluminum foil covering Sister Anderson’s casserole and stuck a finger in. “Not bad,” she said. “It’s still warm.”

I went back to my bright pink Sno Ball, bits of coconut sticking to the sides of my mouth. My aim was to eat around the whip cream center till I could not stand it anymore. I couldn’t think of anyone named Brock in our family or anyone else’s for that matter. And our father’s nephews were all my age or younger.

Carrie shook her head. “There is no Brock Grant. She made him up."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because she’s losing it, that’s why.”

Is that why in the weeks—then months—that followed, we did not hear from anyone? Because no one knew we were there?

Two days after our father’s funeral, the phone rang and our mother shouted at us not to answer it. She yanked the phone out of the wall and ordered Carrie to bury the noise in the trash.

That afternoon she announced she was taking us out of school. When I asked for how long, she stared at me and said, "Time is the blood of mother’s sour milk."

Maybe she wanted to keep us close for fear something would happen to us. Or maybe she just wanted the company—other bodies in the house—while she slept, which is all I can remember her doing during daylight hours for months following my father’s death: sleeping and occasionally rising, wild-haired and dark-eyed and exhausted, roaming the house for a few minutes at a time in a nylon summer nightgown and green flannel robe, talking in a voice that sounded distant and strange.

Her requests included a mix of the familiar and the new: to clean the dog’s cage; to pay the piano teacher; to defrost the pork chops; to clear rats out of the glove box of the car.

"Make sure it stays hot," she’d say sometimes, passing me in the hallway as if I were running the bath water or serving a meal. "Thirty-two furnaces but nothing keeps her warm!"

I had no idea what she might be talking about.

We did what we could, pulling chicken breasts (no pork chops) from the freezer; or feeding Tulip (our guinea pig—we had no dog); or carrying our mother’s black handbag to her in the bedroom, fishing out her checkbook, pointing gently to the line where we believed a grown-up was to sign to pay the electricity and water bills. (Only Carrie had taken piano lessons and she’d quit a year before.)

A routine developed those early weeks. Carrie had gotten her license the month before our father died—he had been the one who taught her to drive, reminding her not to even start the car until everyone had their seatbelts on—so she was the one who ran all errands, including trips to the grocery store, which she did at 10 o’clock at night and in a neighborhood adjacent to ours to avoid running into anyone from the ward. Shelly, who loved to eat, took on the cooking, making salmon patties that tasted like our mother’s had but were irregularly shaped. Taking care of Tulip, something I’d done with my father’s help before he died, was assigned to me.

We reveled in creating a new routine. If our father was gone and everything was going haywire in our lives, why not start over? The old routines had disappeared with him. Our mother was not our mother anymore. When she emerged from her bedroom, which wasn’t often, she often had a blank look on her face. We began taking her meals twice a day on a small wicker tray—oatmeal in the morning or juice and buttered toast; tater tots and hamburger patties on toasted sesame seed buns at night. She ate erratically—the juice but not the oatmeal or toast, the bun but not the hamburger or tater tots. Worried she was going to starve to death, I sometimes brought her yogurt at midday, having heard someone in the ward say once that the very old and the very sick could subsist on things like yogurt and applesauce alone.

When she didn’t have a blank look on her face, our mother was enraged. Even something as small as the tenor of our voices could set her off. She claimed she could hear us no matter where we were in the house—even downstairs—and no matter how quietly we talked.

So we took to whispering, then not talking much at all.

This is how two months passed.

By late November, restlessness kicked in. We missed our previous lives. We whispered in the daylight hours, should we tell someone? But who? Maybe this is when we remembered our father, how he rose before we rose in the morning, how he used to arrive home promptly at six o’clock every night, how he wore white starched shirts, how he pulled from his briefcase mechanical drawings, eager to show us pictures that never looked to me to be anything recognizable at all. When he walked in the door, our father brought light.

Carrie was the first who said we had to do something.

One Sunday night, as we sat in the basement with the television turned low, she announced, enough was enough, that she would drive us to school the next day. Her age carried with it the authority to decide such things.

I ran the bath water that night, worrying whether our mother would be okay. Who would bring her food while we were away? Shelly had said she would make us bagged lunches and she would make two meals for our mother as well: cereal over which all our mother would have to do is pour milk, and a pork sandwich that she would cover with tin foil on a plate. She was afraid of making anything that needed to be heated up for fear my mother would turn on the oven and burn herself and the house down, but cereal? A sandwich?

"Those are safe," she’d said, and Carrie agreed they seemed safe enough.

When Carrie came to my bedroom to wake me at 6 a.m., I was already awake, putting on a plaid pantsuit, an outfit my mother had bought for me at Castleton’s in early August, weeks before my father had died. My mother had told me then not to wear all three pieces at the same time—vest, jacket and bell-bottom pants—but now, I could not choose between them and not wearing all three seemed a mistake. I was sure when my mother saw them together she would agree.

Shelly made us sit down at the kitchen table to eat our cereal and drink our juice just like we did back when our father was alive and our mother was well. Then Carrie said we needed to go to see Mother to say goodbye. I thought that our mother would be proud of us for organizing ourselves so well on our own, that she would be pleased by our initiative to return to school. In the back of my mind, I suppose, I also considered that she might fly into a rage since she had been so erratic since my father died.

But neither of those things happened.

Instead, we three stood at the bottom of her bed, which now seemed cavernous without our father and with our mother, who ate so little, shrinking day by day, and Carrie rattled the car keys in her hand, and Shelly gently roused our mother by shaking her foot, saying, “We’re going to school today, Mother, but we will be back late this afternoon,” and our mother surprised us.

She opened her eyes. She sat up straight. She looked at us one by one, and very calmly, very quietly, said, “If you leave, I will hang myself in the garage.”

I have, in the years following that morning, wondered if I made it up, what my mother said that morning in her bedroom. It is not something my sisters I discussed afterward, then or now.

We slipped out of the bedroom and out of our school clothes and when no one from school turned up to tell us to return to school, weeks passed. By December our routines, such as they were, began to fray. Carrie grew increasingly fearful of driving on icy roads at night. She stocked up on groceries, filling our downstairs freezer with supplies. We took to eating cold cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner, pizza for breakfast. We ran out of sunflower seeds for Tulip, so I dropped Cheerios into the cage and watched Tulip hold each circle to her ravenous mouth in tiny-clawed hands.

I grew sullen, missing school, missing Mrs. Cottom-Bottom, missing kids I’d previously hated, even Anne Marie Slink, nicknamed Anne Marie Stink in fifth grade not only because of her name but because when she’d broken her arm skiing, the sweat of her cast had created around her a halo of unpleasant odors. So I recreated a version of school for myself, hiding in books, anything I could get my hands on, first the Nancy Drew mysteries, her father an unhappy reminder that mine was gone, then all the books lining our game room that must have belonged to our father once upon a time. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Old Man and the Sea, The Crucible, The Haunting of Hill House, The Origins of Totalitarianism.

I stopped bathing but once a week (no one could tell me I had to) and when I did, I took Tulip with me, dunking her small surprised self into warm water, then wrapping her in a towel and watching the creature shiver. When we ran out of shavings for the bottom of Tulip’s cage, I did not ask my sisters for help. It did not occur to me to do so. Instead, I cut up the new outfits my mother had bought me the previous summer for the start of school—I wasn’t going to use them anyway—then lined the floor of the urine-soaked cage in small squares, a colorful mix of florals and plaids.

Carrie began inviting a boy over late at night. Gabe came in through the downstairs door after dark and left the same way before dawn. I knew because I was up at those hours too. I tracked Gabe’s late-night comings and goings in a small orange spiral notebook, the time of his arrivals, the hour and minutes of his departures, all carefully noted with a “G” and a date and a.m. or p.m. to follow each time. And I took to sleeping and waking in shifts, partly because this seemed to be the rhythm to which my body naturally attuned itself—it still does today—and partly because I liked to go to the living room in the middle of the night for the possibility of seeing my mother awake.

In memory, she wanders the house so quietly that it’s the light of the refrigerator opening and closing that wakes me, not the sound of her specifically, her feet on carpet or tiles. And then she’s standing at the closet next to our front door, removing her thick wool coat from the hanger, pulling on boots, wrapping a scarf around her neck, all without making a sound. She opens the front door.

She disappears.

The first time I wake and observe her from underneath a blanket on the couch—if she sees me, she never lets on—I worry. Will she fall and freeze to death out there in the snow? Will a car, not seeing her—because what is there to see? She is a figure wrapped in black in the dark of the night—hit her, leaving us orphaned?

When she returns, her face shines in the sliver of moonlight filtered through small triangles of glass at the top of the front door. Her body seems less frantic, her shoulders less tense. She moves with more ease now, even I can see that, removing her coat, taking off her boots.

This happens night after night. Sometimes she wears a scarf back to bed: her black cashmere scarf or my red-and-white striped one, a gift from Santa the previous Christmas, the last I was allowed to indulge in such a ridiculous belief.

Once, after one of her late-night walks, I wake to the sound of water running. I go to her bedroom but she isn’t there. I find her in the bathtub, fully clothed, that red-and-white scarf around her neck, her black coat ballooning up as water overflows from the tub, spilling steadily onto the bathroom floor.

"Oh no!" I say, as if it is an accident though I know it’s not. I turn the faucet off and reach for my mother to take my hand. I have in mind I can lift her up. But I am far too small for that. In any case, she does not move. Her eyes are wide open. I know she isn’t dead. But when I say, "Don’t you want to dry off?" she says nothing.

So I wait till all the water drains, then cover my mother in the largest bath towels I can find, the ones covered with dancing cats that we’d once used for trips to the Liberty Park swimming pool. Then I clean up the mess of water on the floor and because my mother still does not move, I lay out a bed of blankets fashioned from dry towels and position myself next to her in the bathtub and somehow, in the hours that follow, I fall asleep.

Hours later, when I wake, she is gone but her wet clothes—that heavy wool coat—has been discarded, a muddy trail of mad bread crumbs leading toward her bedroom. There I find her curled up and sleeping, nude.

I never told my sisters. I don’t know why. Maybe they, by then, had begun observing our mother’s secret life. Or maybe they were, like most of us—then and now—caught up in their own troubles.

Shelly began eating so much that her body began changing before our eyes, shifting from lush to matronly, a fact I observed as I floated in and out of our family room, a book in hand, and Shelly sat in front of the television, clipping her toenails and eating potato chips straight out of the bag.

Carrie spent large swaths of her nights holed up in her bedroom with Gabe.

When I asked Shelly what Carrie was doing with Gabe, Shelly laughed and said, “Calculus.”

By December we were three girls transformed, once lovely, now gone to seed.

Our parents met at a church dance. Our mother was living in Eugene by then and her friend, Vanita Baker, dragged her along to a dance my mother did not want to attend. Vanita, our mother told us, was angry afterward that the only girl who wasn’t Mormon at that dance snagged the sweet fighter pilot with the adorable strawberry blond hair. Our mother fell for our father instantly.                    

“Your father was the best person I’d ever met," our mother used to say. "I wanted to do whatever I could to stay close to that goodness.”

As a child, I could imagine the sweetness of the scene: the glossy wood floor of the church gymnasium, the taste of ginger ale in small paper cups, my mother in a belted black dress, her dark hair pulled back into a pony tail, red lipstick a contrast to her pale skin—like porcelain, my father said once, which seemed to me at the time the most glamorous description in the world because I had not yet heard every woman with pale skin described as having porcelain skin.

But that’s all I knew of my mother’s story. Because the facts of her life before she met my father were as bare as his were full. While he grew up in a large family of eight kids and extended relatives on a hazelnut farm outside Eugene, her family was small: just one sister, Marie, who we’d never met, and her mother, who died before any of us were born.

I asked my father once about my mother’s mother. He had picked me up from school that day because my mother, he said, wasn’t feeling well.

“What was she like? Did she have black hair?” Something at school had sparked my interest, some stray remark from a classmate who’d defended bratwurst in her lunchbox against a boy making fun, saying it was her grandmother who’d made her lunch that day, not her mother. Suddenly I wanted to know.

"I only met her once," my father said. "She’d been in an asylum by then for at least ten years."

In my mind, I heard "silo" for "asylum," perhaps because I’d just finished writing a report on Nebraska in school and had seen in the World Book Encyclopedia photographs of grain silos. It did not occur to me to wonder why my grandmother lived in a steel structure made for grain. Like many children, it did not occur to me to question or ask for more.

But my father must have read my mind. When he pulled into our driveway he said, "An asylum is a hospital. Outside Salem. I remember it was freezing. A very sad place."

It was Gabe—that skinny, pimply, improbable kid—who orchestrated change after the New Year. He must have told Mrs. Derrick, the history teacher at East High, something about what was going on at our house, because one evening, Mrs. Derrick dropped by and rang the bell and Carrie and Shelly and I ignored it, the way we’d ignored most everything.

Mrs. Derrick, though, didn’t take no for an answer and she came back the next evening and the evening after that and the evening after that and then, suddenly—who had left the door open? Carrie? on purpose?—she opened the unlocked door and shouted out in the most comforting voice you can imagine, "Hello there! Hello!"

When Carrie emerged from the basement, Shelly from the kitchen, and me from our mother’s bedroom—I was sitting in a chair in her bedroom, reading, watching her sleep—Mrs. Derrick hugged us one by one, as if she knew us well, though she did not. She told us she hoped Oregon had been good to us and she was so sorry about the passing of our father, but he would be so pleased to see us doing so well.

We obviously hadn’t gone to Oregon and even more obviously we weren’t doing well, but it felt good to have someone say otherwise, like a lie we might aspire to make true.

Mrs. Derrick sat down on the sofa and continued chattering pleasantly, filling us in on Carrie’s class in high school. She didn’t seem to notice the fact that the room was a disaster: wet bath towels hanging over a velvet green chair; the carpet covered in old newspapers still coiled in hardened elastic bands; and Tulip in her filthy cage on the coffee table, where I felt I could better keep an eye on her, her animal odor one of the dominant smells weaving its way through the room.         

As Mrs. Derrick talked, her words washed over us and we blinked like three girls who had just awakened from a long and dangerous sleep.

It was done now. Our days of isolation were done.

Once Mrs. Derrick called our Mutual President and Sister Newton called the Relief Society president and Sister Anderson called the bishopric, everything changed. Every night we had a new visitor and a new casserole waiting for us on our doorstep and our mother emerged slowly, tentatively at first, dressing a little more normally with each visit so that soon she was wearing full outfits in the daytime again, not summer nightgowns or robes.

I still slept in the dark on the couch in the front living room and sometimes saw my mother waking and meandering around the house, looking in the refrigerator, or pouring a glass of water. But I never saw her venture toward the closet or front door anymore to walk outside in the middle of the night.

My sisters and I returned to school. Our mother returned to making breakfast and wearing make-up. Her first attempts were awkward: she scrambled one egg in the frying pan and went to serve it before realizing one egg would not feed three growing girls. Or her lipstick would be lopsided and none of us dared to say a word. Still, she tried. Each week, there was progress. She signed our school papers again. She began making us lunches, though sometimes they revealed her oddball tastes: a peanut butter and cucumber sandwich, for instance, as if the notion of jelly on peanut butter had escaped her when my father died.

By the end of the following summer, she had found a job as a secretary at the university’s business school, courtesy of Sister Derrick’s husband whose brother was a professor, an inactive member of the church—what my mother would become—but kind, Sister Derrick said.

And if our mother, who remained detached, did not seem entirely fine? No one could tell after a while.

One night the new bishop of the ward stopped by with his wife, a stout German woman, who said, “Yah, yah, you surviving this beet-ee-full life?”

Our mother smiled vaguely. Said nothing.

I never knew if the bishop’s wife meant “beautiful” or “pitiful.”

I had a therapist in my early forties who said I remembered too much, that it wasn’t possible to remember that year in such detail.

“You don’t forget it, a year like that,” I said.

She was the same therapist who believed it was my family’s religion, Mormonism, which caused my instability. She said that I had not yet grappled with the repercussions coming from leaving such a rigid, conservative faith. I wanted to tell her I thought it was more elemental than that. But because I knew she would want to know what I meant by that, what “elemental” might mean—I did too, for what it was worth—I did what I usually did: I said nothing.

Why had I never married? she asked.

“Because I never married,” I said, shrugging.

Her office was on the ground level of a house in Berkeley, California. Her little dog—I forget its name—kept running in and out and sometimes sat on the therapist’s lap. She stroked the dog’s head. The dog closed its eyes.

It was my sisters who went on to marry, to have homes and husbands, gardens and kids. These days they are grounded by their families and their jobs in the wards—Carrie now is a counselor in her Relief Society; Shelly was just released as Young Women’s president—and they are busy with all that church and family entail: the arrival these days of glowing grandbabies who are handed to me for the purposes of photographs, then scooped away. I have, by contrast, remained a vagabond, geographically and otherwise, moving around, from Nashville to Chicago to St. Louis to Spokane, and most recently to Berkeley, California, floating in and out of odd jobs and academic programs that don’t quite fit.

Still, I am like anyone. I would like to be known. I guess that’s what I wanted to tell the therapist with the dog. That there were others questions she might have asked, better ones. Like: What did you have for breakfast today? Like: What do you do with your days? I would have told her I work hard to hold onto routines.

Morning coffee. Dry toast. A book in my bag for the subway ride home. Before going to sleep, I leaf through a stack of catalogs by my bed, studying objects—clocks, sweaters, slipcovers for chairs whose patterns I find strangely soothing—that I have no intention or means or desire to buy.

When I think of my father now I think of him as a man who flew planes, dropping bombs in a war. I wonder: do I mean the planes did the dropping or that my father did?

My mother died seven years ago. My sisters believed they saw the first shades of dementia beginning.

Her death, one of our uncles from Oregon said, may have been a good thing. He said this at the viewing, an event my sisters insisted on, along with an open casket, one that I was sure my mother would not have liked. My uncle put his hand on my shoulder and spoke softly but authoritatively. “A blessing.”

I nodded, then left the room.

In the months that followed, I took on the task of cleaning our mother’s house, each day of work yielding many finds: our father’s military uniforms, stiff and neat; Carrie’s old ballet slippers with their worn satin bows; Lanz nightgowns we each got every Christmas except one; a scrapbook with two napkins from our mother’s first date with our father where they had written down how many children they each wanted one day. My father wrote six. My mother wrote two, then crossed it out and wrote a question mark next to two exclamation points.

I found evidence of my mother’s nerves: nine small fire extinguishers in all, each tucked into a cabinet in a different room; six in-case-of-earthquake emergency kits; four hammers in her car, the kind that allow you to crack a windshield open if the car is submerged in water. I found the little orange notebook where I’d recorded Gabe’s visits and dozens of other almost-diaries, the strange recordings of a private little girl.

In one entry dated June 7, 1972, the little orange notebook lists what my mother, titled “M” here, did at precise times throughout the day: watered dead African violets on the kitchen windowsill, folded laundry, told “C” to take the garbage out, ate toast at the kitchen table, threw the dead African violets out, made ravioli for dinner, wore Chinese silk robe before bed.

Throughout the list, I misspelled “violets” as “violents.”

In another list, I see that by “M” I must not have meant Mother but me, since the list involves finishing a report on Booker T. Washington and naming the longed-for new cat that never came to be. The choices of names, according to the little book, included Sally Egg, Casper, and Small Louise.

I also found photographs I’d never seen before, one of my parents’ marriage in January of 1946 at Portland City Hall. Their civil marriage would be followed by a second one a year later, after my mother had been baptized a member of the church. That’s when they were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple on May 11, 1947, a date we all understood as their real marriage date, the one binding them for all time and eternity. Photographs of that wedding, the second one, were plentiful. We all had copies of one or another of these: our parents standing on the stairs to the temple, the spires behind them heaven-bound, our father in his Air Force uniform, beaming as if the sun and the moon and the stars had all been bestowed, our mother smiling if more subdued.

But in this picture, taken outside City Hall, they look different. My father looks nervous, my mother stricken. He’s frowning. She’s wearing a plain white suit. Her arm is linked through my father’s uneasily, her right hand bound in a tight fist.

Each day after cleaning, I slept in my mother’s bed. Or tried to. When sleep failed, I watched films, dozens of them, the videos my mother had bought and the videos we’d given her over the years, all on an ancient, wheezing VCR. Some of them did the trick and put me to sleep right away, some made me cry.

There is relief in watching those predictable movies, isn’t there? To cry in a movie feels good, genuinely good, yet I don’t think anyone is fooled. You know as you’re crying you are following a script, that you’re responding to the swell of the music in the background, to the trick of lighting, to the length of close-ups and all the rest. Maybe that’s where the relief is: to be able to follow someone’s sturdy script, to respond on cue, to join humanity in steady, predictable, cathartic tears.

What I am trying to say is that it is entirely possible my father saved my mother by marrying her, that the script marriage provided afforded her some measure of relief, that the goodness she believed she saw in him was for a time a vital and elusive prize.

And when that ended? When my father died, she had a difficult time but then recovered. That’s how my sisters see it. That’s how I would like to see it too. But I am unconvinced. I am not sure there is always something to reclaim.

When I see her now, I see her long before my father died, staring out the kitchen window, holding a glass bottle of milk above the sink. Her back is to me. When I call out to her, before she turns, without seeing her face, I can see her: cold and hard and determined and blank.

That image, I know, is not a story. That memory, I know, would not make a very good film. To be frank, it isn’t the memory I would like to have. Where is the movement in that? The satisfaction of a beginning that leads to a middle, a middle that prefigures some gratifying end?

All I know is what I know.

“Stay here,” my sisters said when the house in Utah was finally emptied.

But I did not. I cannot.

I am my mother’s daughter, forty-nine years old.

Time is the sour milk of mother’s blood.

My days are my days and like my mother, I wake at night and walk, head down, in bracing, unconsoling air.

Pages: 1 2 3 | Single Page