Things exist as moments in time. They can come back to haunt you in ways unintended.
Here, the kitchen of my childhood, circa 1996. The family cats: Bianca in the foreground with stripes; Tia all black, barely visible behind a plant in the corner, interested in something outside.
The two-tone wallpaper, luscious dancing fruits on top, brown marbled texture on bottom to match the valence curtains she designed and sewed herself. Even the rug had fruit. My mom, the designer, knew how to commit to a theme.
I have a distinct memory of that corner — lying on my back, looking up at the asparagus fern and spider plant suspended above, their green vines an invitation to wonder. Feeling very much like Tia does here, jungle cat.
What I notice about all the photos of how my mom kept her house over the years is that she had so many plants. If there's anything I remember about a childhood moment it's probably what plants were there, indoors or out. What's comforting to me now is seeing her legacy continued in my home and in the homes of my sisters and friends.
In the aftermath of my mother's death, I adopted several of the plants left in my dad's house. Her garden had shrunk in late years, but there were a few robust specimen left. I took an umbrella plant and a pothos, all leggy and dry from the neglectful weeks leading up to my mom's death. A year later I took the weeping fig tree as well. In this photo, the weeping fig is different than the one inherited, but I still use that brass planter in my own home.
Over the years I've rooted countless cuttings from these plants, pothos especially, which I like to give as housewarming gifts to my horticulturally inclined friends. My sisters too each have cuttings in their own homes. In this way a part of her lives on and thrives.
Everything reminds me of my mom. Everything too reminds me of watching her die. In some way or another it can be tied together, like how digging up this photo of the kitchen, 1996, catapulted me down the lane of ruminating on the plants we forgot to water while she was sick in the hospital. The ones I later adopted and grew.
When does one stop living and start dying? Where do we draw that line? If you have a terminal illness and choose to fight it, are you still dying? Aren't we all dying in a way though, yadda yadda? I think some days we can feel like we're dying, and others like we're living.
Before my mom died, she went into remission from her cancer. She was no longer dying. As she continued to heal, I closed on my home and introduced to my parents the man who would later become my husband. The light I remember from this time is all September, so bright and golden. I brought a chocolate cupcake for her birthday dinner. She was sixty-three.
Before my mom died, she got sick again. She fell. Couldn't move her legs. The cancer was back, set up shop on her spine. Spreading again. Then delirium set in. The next month was a blur of days, weeks inside an ICU. We thought that was it.
Before my mom died, she got better. A little better. She came off the ventilator. She spoke. She was alive. She said things to me I'll never forget. Things that didn't feel grand then but which spoke her own volume. We didn't talk about the possibility of death.
She could swallow again, single chips of ice at a time. In fever dreams she explained that she thought the humming device vibrating the flesh of her legs to prevent blood clots was our cat Bianca, now ancient, purring on her lap. But Bianca wasn't there.
She continued radiation treatments in another part of the hospital, the regular part. Then she was discharged to rehab. She had to relearn to breathe. She still couldn't walk. She probably wouldn't ever again. That's not what she believed though.
The physical therapy left her exhausted. We brought Thanksgiving dinner to her suite in the rehab wing. She picked at bits of it but was so tired.
Before my mom died, she got sick again. This time it wasn't really the cancer though, it was an infection — from where, we don't know, but her immune system was so fragile. She was sent to another wing, where she agreed to go back on a ventilator so that she could save her strength for fighting the infection. We didn't say goodbye. It wasn't goodbye.
Until it was. Days later, I guess, who can remember, my mind adds a brick to the wall of blocking this out every day. Days later they told us it was no use, the road was too hard for her to overcome.
Everyone was there when we took her off the ventilator. Over an hour and a half we waited with her, twelve of us packed in around her bed, our breaths all commingling with the smaller and smaller breaths of her own, imperceptible were it not for the atmosphere of stillness that hung over the room. Hers that dwindled and then so quietly, so softly, stopped.
Things are a moment in time.