The time stamp on the email was April 14, 2011. The subject read “bad news.” Here in my hands was the exchange of emails between my mother and her best friend, announcing that in all likelihood, the end was near.
I read them over and over again, memorizing every word, every turn-of-phrase. I read them going south on the 4, made my change at Réamur Sébastopol, then unfolded the piece of paper again on the 3, direction Levallois. The next morning, I sat by the window on the J line headed into the city, sleepily reviewing the words again. Later in the day, I sat in a park eating my lunch and couldn’t help taking it out of my bag again.
These are the last words I have from my mom that she put down on paper, and I want to understand every single one.
Looking back on the dates of the emails, I can place exactly where I was and what I was doing. I know that on April 14, I was living in the library, in the middle of writing two final papers and preparing for final exams of my freshman year of college. I distinctly remember calling my mom outside the library during my breaks for moral support and having no idea of what was going on on the other side of the phone. This was a source of anger for a long time afterwards, as I felt that I should have been made aware sooner so that I could have been more present during her final weeks. But I also know that I aced both of those papers and that had I known right away, I probably would have dropped everything, run home, and never come back.
In any case, this anger was resolved a long time ago. As I absorbed my mother’s grief in these words, something I usually was not privy to, I felt no anger. I even found it hard to connect with that time in my life at all. As time goes on, we evolve, we become different versions of ourselves. But when you go through a loss where you feel as if you have to hold on to every memory in order to preserve that person or thing, how can you possibly shed all your skin without letting go of that person completely and truly losing them forever? I am not the same person I was at eighteen, when these emails and many more like them were sent. I will grow old and change but my filaments will remain attached to this particular time in my life, stretched in some places to weaken the hurt, but always intact. Otherwise, how else can she continue to exist?
“Whatever happens, it will go as well as it can,” she wrote.
And despite the regrets that sometimes resurface, I guess it did.