For 365 days, I waited for it to hit me. I waited through the emergency plane ride home, and through taking a shot of cheap vodka with my brother while I yell at him for not being braver. I waited through prayers on the beach and therapy sessions where I danced around the subject of missing her. I waited for the grief that would hit me like I was a rusty nail hammered into a clean, white wall. I waited to be so overcome with loss that I would run out of classrooms crying, slamming doors behind me and raising my fists to shield myself from the high tide. I waited for collapsing in hallways or on my bed, under twinkling lights that called me home.
And it still hasn’t happened. I continued to live my life in the best way I knew how, searching for some kind of sign that things were going to be okay. I wandered through my life, learning how to party, sinking my feet into the coarse sands of Lake Michigan, listening to the sounds of my childhood with more intensity. Like pedal steel guitar. I moved to embrace the brokenness of my homeland, the sounds of crickets flying through windows. I built myself a deeper nest and found a flock to fly with.
All without her.
I waited for the right time to let go, too. At first, I wanted something tangible, like the ashes I ordered over the phone, while a friend sat patiently on my couch, giggling at the different ways I said, “My mom died there yesterday,” any time I was transferred to someone else who didn’t really care. When those didn’t come, I cut ties with the other son, the older one, the one that wasn’t handling this “as well.” When that didn’t work, I stopped trying, trusting that it would come.
Trust. I never trusted anyone like I trusted my mom. The deep seeds of blood and her nose that sits on my face. The way I talk, the way I rage, the way I cry. The way I remember her, dark and mysterious and full of a melancholy that runs through my bones too. We were always so much more alike than we ever wanted to admit to each other.
These days, I don’t wait, because she taught me not too. She didn’t shelter me into thinking she’d be there forever. I didn’t want to lose her, so I didn’t pay attention when she told me, “There’s never going to be someone who doesn’t know you better than you.” I was ten, and she asked me who I was. I told her “Zach.” She smiled and said, “You’re more than that, baby. Always more.”
It’s hard not to miss her. Not to wish I could tell her all the amazing things I’ve found myself a part of, to whisper through the waves about this boy, or this job, or this apartment. Not to hope that she’s somewhere, experiencing this with me, proud of me like I know she always was. But there’s a deep reverence that comes from losing someone so important. Because they act as a catalyst to the journey you didn’t know you were on.
And it’s okay, because people die when they need to, just like they love when they need to and they leave when they need to. So often, we imagine ourselves as in control of our destinies, but the universe knows more than we do. And it’s not naïve to put your faith into something as simple as not knowing. It’s what we do. It’s how we move on.
For 365 days, I’ve waited for the unknown, waited for the feelings I’ve heard so much about to wash over me, and even though they haven’t, today felt like another step toward something I can’t always recognize. I’ve done it all without her physically, but she still rests somewhere near me—on moth’s wings that climb up my sleeve as I talk about her, or in my room, under the twinkling lights that guide my words, or better yet, somewhere deep inside me, because I can still feel her wisdom running through my veins and in the back of my mind. Because, above anything else, she was my mom, and we were always so much more alike than we wanted to admit.