A year ago I got up and, looking out the window, realized that the winter’s first snow had fallen overnight. It wasn’t much, but it was on the early side for southwestern Ohio. I thought about how I wasn’t ready for winter, and about how you were probably, at that very moment, waiting for a flight from Lima to Cusco. I wished I was there, and not only because of snow.
I didn’t know then — wouldn’t for another day — that it would be the last day of your life. That the next time I’d see you, you’d be gone.
Chris and Abby, summer 1972
It isn’t fair.
Chris and Abby, summer 1973
Yeah, I know. Nobody ever promised fair. But still. I had this amazing mom. And I’m too young for this shit. I expected at least another 25 to 30 years. All your grandmothers and aunts and great-aunts living well into their nineties led me to believe it was a foregone conclusion that you would, too. How come there are people who don’t even *like* their family that get to keep them until old age, and I gotta be in my early 40s and they’re all gone?
I don’t know if you ever fully believed it, but all my life I so desperately wanted to measure up not only to you and all the things you were, but to all the things that in hindsight I realize were your hopes for your firstborn little girl.
Do you remember that one recurring nightmare I used to have? The first one — the one that started when I was five. We all got up in the morning in our house in Chinchero, and set out to go to the other side of Antaquillka, to look at a refrigerator. You said if we could have a refrigerator then we could do lots of things with it and it would help everyone in town. Ed said we had to go look at it because who knew if it would really work, and since there weren’t any refrigerators in town it was a big decision.
Well, when we got to the other side of Antaquillka — I’d never have expected it — everything was all pink and white stripes. The sun was high in the sky and all our feet were covered in dust, except Molly, because you and Ed carried her. But as we went downhill, the pink and white stripes gave way to foliage and the only real dust was on the carretera. You could see the tracks where trucks and buses had gone, and would go. And then just inside a mostly-open courtyard, there was the fridge.
You and Ed opened it up, inspected it, checked it over fully. Some sort of discussion of technicalities happened. There were pros and cons. I wasn’t interested in the discussion, really, until Ed said, “Come on over and take a look, Abby. Whatcha think? Will this do the trick?” I straightened right up then, realizing I had to take this seriously and offer an opinion. I walked around the fridge and looked at the back. It had a cord coming out of it, with a plug. I thought it looked like a plug should look, so I walked back around to the front and opened the door. It was a white door, with rounded edges and a big silver metal handle like a lever. I looked inside. There were shelves, and a small silvery box, like a freezer but with no frosty ice around it. It was all empty, and it wasn’t cold inside it, because fridges are a thing you plug in, to electricity. But it looked like it would work. So I closed the door and turned back to tell you guys I thought it looked okay.
You weren’t there, though. I was shocked to see you were out at the road, about to head away to the left. We’d come in from the right. “Wait!” I hollered, and ran to the carretera. Ed had Molly in a kheparina on his back, and you’d unsnapped your down vest and braided your hair. You both laughed, a friendly happy laugh, and I thought, allright, I’ve gotta run and catch up, then. So I did.
By the time my feet hit the road though, you guys were already running down it, ahead of me. I ran after. You kept going, all three of you. Molly turned around and looked back and waved. You kept getting farther away, and you were laughing and smiling, all of you guys. I kept running but I couldn’t catch up. My legs got tired and my breath came ragged and you never stopped to wait, none of you guys. Molly just waved. It wasn’t funny. I was getting left behind and I couldn’t stop getting left behind, and you guys wouldn’t stop either.
But when I woke up you would be there. You, and Ed and Molly, and you’d hold me and tell me it was okay. Just a dream. Just a bad dream. It’s not true. It isn’t real. And it wasn’t. It was just a bad dream.
So, it turns out it is real. You guys are all off and gone now and I’m left behind. I feel like I’m left standing in the road, trying to figure out how best to get a fridge from the road somewhere down the other side of Antaquillka, home to Chinchero, through absurd pink and white stripes all over the side of a mountain, without you guys. And then what? That was always the scary part of that dream — and then what? First I got left behind, and you guys knew I got left behind, but you went anyway, so then what was I supposed to do?
That really does sum up the past year. You wouldn’t believe — actually, you know, you would. You always would. You would believe the outrageous was impossible, and in the best possible ways. You believed all chaos was survivable. You believed in the amazing stories, and you just… did the amazing things, and you took all the rest of us along for the ride. I know a lot of people don’t realize it, but I do.
“Motherless children have a hard time, when the mother is gone”
Your brother’s moving closer to us. That’s a great thing, though the sad thing is, of course, that he can do it now your mother’s gone too. I saw her just this April. Her hands were strong and we talked about knitting sweaters. And then a month later she was gone too.
I guess pretty much everyone figures Molly is gone. I know you’d never give up hope. Not even on the hardest hard scenarios. Somewhere you’d always find hope. So I tell myself, well then, I’ll find some hope. The only thing is it’s hard to figure out what to hope for. So I guess every so often I just… hope random things. Like that someday we’ll know for sure. Or maybe that we never know. I don’t know.
It’s all been one blow after another. It’s been a year of bad dreams that stay bad dreams when I wake up, and the whole year, my mother’s been gone. And you know what really sucks about that? (Yes, I see you rolling your eyes because even after I told you the jazz etymology for ‘sucks’ you don’t like it) What really sucks is, I can’t even call you up and just whine about it.
Also, I was at a fantastic concert. It was one of those things that could happen when you’re a mom, and I know you understand. We’d gotten the tickets to send your grandson and his date to see Trombone Shorty, but then it turned out the two of them had a band competition, so his dad and I went instead. But then they played “St. James Infirmary” and I broke down and couldn’t stop crying.
Let her go, let her go, God bless her, whereever she may be…
And the minor tones like funeral bells. I don’t know when I’ll be able to sing that song again myself, if I can’t even hear it played.
You know your book won an award, right? I can’t believe you died without signing a copy of it for me. The very nerve.
Another good thing is I’ve been catching up with a lot of people, and lots of them with each other too — folks from the farm, folks living all over, you know? I like to imagine you’ve seen all that, been there somehow.
I hope that you are resting well, at the bosom of Our Lord of Earthquakes, sleeping beneath the apus, celebrating September 8 with the Virgin in Chinchero. You have earned a rest. You have done so much for so many. And none of us can really quite believe you’re gone, let alone gone a year. Nilda’s having a mass said, this Friday, so everyone can be there.
I wish I could have made this a better letter. I’ve read a lot of old letters you wrote, since you’ve been gone. I’ve read old letters I wrote to you, too. I don’t know what to say about it all, except to say how badly I miss you, although even there, I can’t find the words.
Rest well, and in good company. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of another, and try to figure out what the fuck I’m doing with this fridge I know you’d have wanted to see handled. And someday, who knows when, I hope I’ll see you again. I miss you.
So very much love,