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You stand at edge of the hole that your mother dug for herself — not for you — but still. You peer down, at the stairs planted into the dirt wall, at the light that’s always on at bottom even after she’s long gone.

You finally get tired of staring into the hole.

So instead you walk the perimeter.

You do 25 years of therapy to sort through the effects of her illness and suicide on you. You talk about your alcoholism, anxiety, and depression, about being four-years old and a mother to your siblings while she took winding, rainbow trips out of her depression, without leaving her bedroom.

You make a one-woman pilgrimage to Oakland, Maryland to put flowers on the grave you’ve never been to. You’re relieved when your own 30th birthday passes.

The therapists commend you for your resilience and courage.

At some point, you realize you don’t remember playing a whole lot before she left, although that’s impossible. All children play even when things are really crazy.

You do remember playing at the top of the stairs at someone’s house and splitting open your chin on the railing. Your dad teased that the doctor must’ve resented being called off the golf course to stitch you up and that’s why the scar looks like you sewed up the cut, yourself.

You also remember when you dug a cave into the hillside that nearly fell on one of your stepbrothers. After that you played it safe, drawing primitive blueprints of dream houses and filling them with cutouts from the Macy’s catalogue.

You choose her birthday for your wedding day to honor her and make a life-affirming statement. When you get divorced twenty-one years later, you wonder if the anniversary date might have set a bad precedent.

You discover there’s no filing that hole. It’s going to be there, no matter what.

You’re not sure why you go to a psychic medium that a friend recommends.

You don’t tell the medium about your dad’s fatal heart attack or about your mother’s death or your grandmother or anyone else who died.

In the beginning of the reading, the medium is almost giddy; apparently your dad still has that affect on women. He wants you to know he’s having a grand time learning how things work on the other side.

You definitely don’t ask to talk to your mother, but there she is, in the medium’s suddenly deflated body language and sad eyes.

She wants you to know she’s deeply sorry that she didn’t know how to handle her emotions. And that if you think it would be helpful to you — it’s not for her — maybe you would consider letting her into your heart and talking to her, there, sometimes.

For several years, you consider this idea until your sister sends you an old photograph of you, your brother, and her. It was taken after your grandmother and uncle pulled you all out of that mess in San Geronimo Valley, after your mom and dad split and she was supposed be taking care of you.

In the photo, it’s Christmas morning in Maryland in your grandmother’s apartment. You are ages five, three, and not yet two — scrubbed and clean and presentable as children should be, in your new white terry cloth robes. Torn gift-wrap and presents you can’t quite make out in the photograph, are on the carpet. In the background is the tree, overloaded by silver tinsel as if your grandmother has outdone herself, trying to make you a happy Christmas.

Your hazel eyes, the responsible bigger sister, are like a shell-shocked soldier’s. Your brother looks like he’s about to run out of the frame and try to find your mother. Your sunny baby sister is smiling, possibly too young not to go along with the new story.

This week, you have a second reading with the medium — a birthday present to yourself, now in your late fifties. It seems your mother has been growing right along with you. The medium explains the dead don’t stop changing in the spirit world.

This time, your mother can’t wait to talk to you. She’s happy now, in fact, and proud of the decisions you’ve made in your life. She mentions your daughter and she wants you to know you don’t need to worry about her at all. She wants you to celebrate this new chapter of your life and do what brings you joy, every day.

You don’t entirely believe your mother or this whole business about spirits, and besides forgiveness is a complicated matter.

However, you’re willing to let her sit quietly in a corner of your heart. For now, you’ll see where that leads you.

8 thoughts on “Pilgrimage

  1. “After that you played it safe, drawing primitive blueprints of dream houses and filling them with cutouts from the Macy’s catalogue.”

    Such a beautiful sentence! Shows us an entire world of longing in the mind of a child whose world is crumbling.

    Thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. Tempo is outstanding. Keep them coming Lee!


  2. Forgiveness is a complicated matter…..willing to let her sit quietly in a corner of your heart….wow this hit my heart. We are all longing to forgive but sometimes can’t find our way there. You are getting masterful at communicating so much emotion with just enough words! Thank you Lee. Love you.

    Liked by 1 person

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