Nov 2, 2012


I'm up too late (or early, perhaps) mulling over something N wrote to me a few nights ago.  It's giving me a headache, her whisper that your ashes will be kept in the grotto on the balcony.  You'll live beneath those tangled flowers you loved.

Do you remember that as a girl, I used to ask about the etches in your nails - where they came from?  And that I would play with the veins in your hands because it fascinated me to see them pop out like that?  You said that's how you knew I'd love the piano - because I "played" on those veins.  Confession time: I still do that now, but with my own hands.  Sometimes.  I once thought it was just restlessness - an absentminded habit - but now I remember why.

I'm worried that if I don't write, the memories will fade before I can catch them.  For goodness' sake, I need to be up early tomorrow...kindly help me remember so I can write and stop crying and maybe sleep.

Back to the balcony, then.  I used to hang out there as a kid, you know.  Sometimes, on mornings when that rooster seemed to crow right into my ear, I'd stumble out of the bunker to the balcony and lean way over, further than was probably safe.  (Oops.)  From my not-so-exotic vantage point, I'd watch patiently as the sleepy neighborhood came to life.  Years later, I still treasure that before-the-day-begins hush.

On the days when I stopped at the balcony during the afternoon, I'd often catch the vegetable cart rattling round the corner and children playing in the dusty street.  Oh, and the stray dogs - remember Caesar, the one with the droopy ear? - who prowled near the back gate, the one we swung on even though you always told us not to.

You were always a lot more careful with me than I was with myself.  And did you always sit at that window, in your favorite chair, waiting?  I don't know what to make of it - that everything stopped when you were in that chair.  Not in a hospital, not in your room, not anywhere but that Waiting Chair.  Couldn't you have waited there, just a few months longer, for my mum?

I could visit the balcony.  Someday, I might.  But that would mean going through the house, and I'm not sure I'd be able to handle that.

I'd have to pass the living room where you watched your serials every evening and always patiently re-explained the storylines that were stretched beyond their shelf lives anyway.  I never caught on, really, but did you know that's how I started to learn some of my Hindi?

I'd have to pass the kitchen table where we lived so many afternoons.  I watched you sneak the occasional candy bar at that table - and don't worry; Mum doesn't need to know.  (Who needs diabetes and all of its rules?  I took more than my share of sugar cubes from the cupboard, anyway.)  You and A taught me how to hem my nightgowns at that table.  (Once it was clear that I wasn't going to grow much more, hemming became an important skill to learn, didn't it?)

Every afternoon at 3 sharp, I watched you say a Divine Mercy at that table.  Your head would tilt just so as you prayed for everyone (and their cousin, and mother-in-law, and neighbor), and you assumed what we would playfully dub your "Mother Teresa" face.  Gosh, I never could memorize that last prayer in the Rosary.  I never got beyond, "Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our light, our sweetness, and our hope", but it was my favorite all the same.  And your Bible was full to bursting...what will we do with all of the photos in it?  Sometimes I sat at that table before I knew who God was, and watched you kiss every single photo before you whispered, "Amen."  I wondered: how do you love someone we can't see?  And where on earth does all of that love come from?

I wish you could see how far I've traveled since then.

Wow.  So many memories at that table, and I've barely grazed the surface...

To get to the grotto, I'd have to climb those blue stairs where you always warned us not to run.  And of course, I always ran anyway, because I was the invincible child who would never fall.  Whenever you mentioned you wanted to go downstairs, S and I always jumped up to make sure you wouldn't fall, though - one of us in front of you and one behind.  Sometimes the baby stood at the bottom of the stairs, too, just so he could feel included - do you remember?  My sweet boy fancied himself a little air traffic controller.  I'd like to think that he believed those flailing, once-chubby arms could keep you safe.  In a way, I did, too.

I'd have to walk past the armoire where we unloaded our clothes for the summer and found twice as many that you and A had bought in anticipation of our arrival.  The sink where I sometimes used your toothpaste because I thought it tasted better than mine...and the mirror where I got all trussed up for that party two summers ago.  Remember those eight-inch white heels everyone wanted to try on?  It was a different universe, being that high up.  You watched me and S twirl in our dresses, pronounced us beautiful, and wondered how we'd walk in those shoes, much less dance.

I'd have to pass Mum's room.  Do you know what a blessing you gave me, raising her the way you did?  We're not perfect, she and I, but we love as fiercely as we can and I'm sure that trait originally came from you.  Does her wedding photo still hang there next to the "bunker bed" and the mosquito net that never really helped?  You hardly ever came into this room, probably because your girls stayed up giggling long after you'd gone to sleep.

And that would bring me to the the balcony.  On my right will be the brick-red stairs leading up to the terrace.  I was always too lazy to bring the clothes down from the line.  I wish I had been better for you.  You never went up there; those stairs were just too steep for your delicate legs, I think.  And on the left, maybe ten steps away, is the grotto.

As a kid, I would sometimes sneak around past that alcove, to the very end of the balcony.  From there, I'd linger but a moment - just long enough to peer through your bedroom window and check on you as you rested.  Safe.

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