While She Was Alive

My passport is now on its way to the embassy in London, or is there by now; hopefully I will have a new one at my front door by mid-January. Until then, I am “trapped” here in England; but I can think of far worse places to be “stuck” for Christmas. In a way, I’m relieved as well that I’m here this year and not again visiting the US.

[One of my previously expired passports. Photo by me, 2018.]

This is the first Christmas in quite a few years that I will not be there. Today is also my mother’s birthday. As you may know, she died in October 2015.

While on my personal Facebook in 2015-16 I had marked calendar “milestones” of her life (her birthday, Mother’s Day, her death a year on), I pretty much stopped after that. I’m not one perpetually to post photos that appear on her now inactive profile in an effort to turn it into “a shrine.” I dislike the ever-growing “graveyard” aspect of Facebook: her life is over and with it her “social media” interactions; personally I consider it ghoulish perennially posting messages and pics someone will never see and to which they cannot respond.

And I don’t need to display to anyone else that I remember that today is my mother’s birthday. Of course I do. Without even asking him, I know that my father also sure as hell knows what today is.

[Distances, paperback. Photo by me, 2018.]

Before her death, though, I had accidentally also done something that I am now pleased I did:

[Excerpt from Distances, in paperback. Click to expand.]

I was writing the likes of that here in England during the spring and the summer of 2015. Meanwhile, over in the US, we had no idea cancer was eating up my mother and would kill her in the autumn. When she was at last diagnosed – far too late to do anything – on our arrival in early October, it felt as if someone had smashed me over the head with a brick.

Over the previous three years, I had also fictionalized her in three novels, the last being that one above. In them I included reconstructions of various real-life interactions and even disagreements between us from back when I was in my 20s and young 30s. She never knew I had sneakily done that.

That idea that hit me in 2012 to write a fictional “autobiography” that included “her” (among other family, such as my uncle – “Hemingway” – who in another family shocker had died exactly two weeks before she did) turned out to have a longer-term resonance much sooner than I had expected. For readers, I had meant “her” to be an interesting character. For me, however, looking back from now, I realize I had composed all of that while she was still alive, making it something of an ongoing creative inadvertent tribute, much more “real” and “living” than sharing maudlin memorial Mother’s Day posts every May on Facebook: she has passed on, in a way, from private fact into public fiction.

[Village green, Codicote, England. Photo by me, December 17, 2018.]

Have a good day, wherever you are in our world. 🙂

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