My Hidden Lives // Prose

33. about mothers, daughters & lovers

the one who knew

the one who knew

*

Scattered voices from the outside penetrated the solemn silence as I sat on the bed, holding vigil over my mother’s funeral dress. It hung loosely from a hanger on the large armoire she’d gotten as a wedding gift from Father’s side of the family. That piece of crap furniture had traveled more than even me, all those miles through the different countries where they’d lived before I was born. More than clothes, it stored the history of her life. She could never throw anything away, not my old baby stuff, not her wedding dress , not even random tatty handkerchiefs from long-forgotten great-grandmothers. This had become a frequent point of argument between the two of us. Unlike my mother, I was never one to dally over memories. Until now.

I picked myself up off the bed, carefully folded the dress and opened the heavy wooden door. It protested with a squeak. I was always too heavy-handed to handle fragile old things. Inside, a woman’s whole world was on display. Dresses from almost thirty years ago, neatly ironed and filed in an almost chronological order. If anyone were ever to ask me where I got my OCD-like tendencies from, I’d need only point them in the direction of my mother’s wardrobe.

The voices got louder as someone entered the room. It was a person I couldn’t recognize, but he approached me nevertheless, examining the room until his gaze finally fell on the clothes in the armoire. He made a move as if to touch one of the items, but held back his hand in the final second.

„Did you know Suzanne,“  I asked, the force of habit in calling my mother by her first name too strong to break even now when she was gone.

He looked at me, as if noticing for the first time he was not alone in the room.

He told me no. „No, I didn’t know Suzanne. But I loved a Suzie once.“

The frankness of his voice coaxed a single tear out of me. It was as close as I’d come to weeping for my mother, although I’m not sure it was her the tear was even meant for. Perhaps the tear was for Suzie. Perhaps it was for all those other women my mother had been, that I’d never gotten to know because I refused to acknowledge the importance of history for fear of facing my own.

When I returned to our small apartment from the cemetery that afternoon, I took off my clothes and stood in front of the bedroom mirror for quite a while, carefully trying to note any change that might have occurred in the duration of one day, in which I was no longer anyone’s daughter. When I was satisfied that no such sign was visible, I opened the wardrobe and  pushed my mother’s dresses to one side to clear some space. I placed the dress I’d worn to the funeral in the middle.

There was no use in emptying the cupboard. This was not a beginning, I realized, but it wasn’t an end either. Very much as it had always been, it was the two of us trying to exist in an enclosed space, in a box someone else had made for us and presented as a gift. Two women, making room to breathe in their lives in the best way they know how.

 

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