“I’m sorry,” I say.  “I’m so sorry,” but she shoos me off and says no, that she’s the one would should be sorry.  “I didn’t mean to make you sad,” she says, seeing my watery eyes.  “Just wanted you to know that I can empathize.  That I can relate.  It’s never easy losing someone you love,” she says again, and then stands quickly from the armchair, gets back to tending to Mom.  She tries to change the subject.  “Feeling tired yet?” she asks again and this time I tell her I don’t know.  My body feels heavy.  That’s as much as I knew.  But heavy and tired are two different things.

She suggests then, “Why don’t I tell you a story while we wait?  I tell stories to all my patients to help them sleep.”

Mom used to tell me stories.  We’d lie together under the covers of my twin size bed and she’d tell me about her childhood.  Her upbringing.  Her own Mom and Dad.  But she told it like a fairy tale, like a once upon a time kind of story, and it wasn’t Mom’s story at all, but rather the story of a girl who grew up to marry a prince and become queen.  

But then the prince left her.  Except she always left that part out.  I never knew if he did or if he didn’t, or if he was never there to begin with.

“I’m not your patient,” I remind the nurse but she says, “Close enough,” while dimming the overhead lights so that I can sleep.  She sits down on the edge of my bed, pulling the blanket clear up to my neck with warm, competent hands so that for one second I envy Mom her care.

The nurse’s voice is low, her tone flat so she doesn’t wake Mom from her deathbed.  Her story begins somewhere just outside of Moab, though it doesn’t go far.  

Almost at once, my eyelids grow heavy, my body becomes numb.  My mind fills with fog.  I become weightless, sinking into the pitted hospital bed so that I become one with it, the bed and me.  The nurse’s voice floats away, her words themselves defying gravity and levitating in air, out of reach but somehow still there, filling my unconscious mind.  I close my eyes.

It’s there, under the heavy weight of two thermal blankets and at the sound of the woman’s hypnotic voice, that I fall asleep.  The last thing I remember is hearing about the snarling paths and the sandstone walls of some place known as The Great Wall.

When I wake up in the morning, Mom is dead.

I slept right through it.


June 27,1996

Egg Harbor

        Aaron showed me the house today.  I’m in love with it already, a cornflower blue cottage perched on a forty-five foot cliff that overlooks the bay.  Pine floors and white washed walls.  A screened-in porch.  A long wooden staircase that leads down to the dock at the water’s edge where the realtor promised majestic sunsets and fleets of sailboats floating by.  Quaint, charming and serene.  Those are the words the realtor used.  Aaron, as always, didn’t say much of anything, just stood on the balding lawn with his hands in the pockets of his jeans, staring out at the bay, thinking.  He’s recently taken a job as a line cook at one of the restaurants in town, a chophouse in Ephraim.  The cottage will more than cut his commute time in half.  It’s also a steal compared to our current mortgage, set on two acres of waterfront land that span the heavily wooded backcountry to the rocky shores of Green Bay.    

And there’s a garden.  A ten by twenty or thirty foot space overrun with brambles and weeds.  It’s in need of work, but already Aaron has promised raised beds.  There is a greenhouse, a sorry sight if I’ve ever seen one, set in a sunnier patch of the yard where the grass still grows.  Small, shed-like with aged glass windows and some sort of clear, corrugated roof meant to attract the sun.  The door hangs cockeyed, one of its hinges broken.  Aaron took a look and said that he can fix it, which comes as no surprise to me.  There isn’t a thing in this world that Aaron can’t fix.  Cobwebs cling to the corners of the room like lace.  Already I’m imagining rows and rows of peat pots of soil and seed soaking up the sun, waiting to be transported into the garden.  

Nearby, a swing hangs from the mighty branch of a burr oak tree.  It was the tree that cinched it for me.  Or maybe not the tree itself, but the promise of the tree, the notion of children one day causing ruckus and mayhem on the tree’s swing, three feet of lumber fastened to the branch with a sturdy rope.  I envision them climbing deep into the divots of the tree’s trunk and laughing.  I can hear them already, Aaron and my unborn children.  Laughing and screaming in delight.

Aaron asked if I loved it as much as him, and I didn’t know if he meant whether I loved the cottage as much as I love him, or if I loved the cottage as much as he loves the cottage, but either way I told him I did.

Aaron left the realtor with our bid.  It’s a buyer’s market, he said, trying to finagle the asking price down a good ten percent.  Me, I would have paid asking price, too afraid to lose the cottage otherwise.  Tomorrow we’ll know if it’s ours.  

Tonight I won’t sleep.  How is it possible to love something so much, to want something so badly when only hours ago I didn’t know it existed?