The room is dark. It's late in the afternoon. My husband is under the covers sleeping in the bed the wrong way round. With his feet were his head should be because he is working the late shift tonight. His weird "It's late shift." habits are shaving at my nerves this 'morning'. He was annoying me like a dull knife at a grindstone. It feels like a bad omen.
Then he pulls a face like Dopy- from the movie Snow White. The one where Dopy tries to sleep on a feather. I think "What a sot"- I am instantly in love again.
Marriage is a weird cookie.
I sit next to his head at the end bed and try to ignore his awkward insistence that sleeping this way helps him sleep better during the day. I consider putting on the lights. I think "Serves him right for being such Awkward Annie." But I too don't want the sunshine in my eyes. So, for purely selfish reasons, I start to dress in the dark.
Half covered by blankets because it's cold. I pull my floor-length three quarter sleeved plain purple dress over my head. It's a favourite of mine, and I have not quite managed to pop my head out when the phone rings.
I am half stuck in the dress, like contorted half-finished scarecrow attempting to accomplish complicated yoga moves. It rings. And rings, and rings, and -"Oh, my, GoSH, JoE answer the Phone!"
My husband leaps up as if a congregation of alligators was trying to gnaw at his delicates. He searched the bed franticly for the phone he has miss placed when he went to bed this morning. It's buried somewhere in the covers.
He dives in as if it was an African safari river crossing. He flips off the bed, the big fluffy duvet covers. He was tossing the red sheets. Seeking inside grey pillow covers that say- London, Mulan, Paris, and a vat of other cities he says we need to sleep in once in our life before we kick the bucket. He picked them out six months ago, just after his mother died. It's been one of the only times he has truly smiled since her passing. Little did we know, on the phone was Joe's dad. Mum was starting her second death.
"There we are standing, as we will never again in life, next to our mother."
My mother in law Maureen Culder Cusack never wrote any of her life down to my knowledge. But she did cook it. That sunny day we sat in the dark womb of our bedroom her stove was declared dead thirty minutes earlier. When Joe finally answered the phone, it was his dad, Big Joe. He spoke factually but ache in his grieving in his voice was so acute he could barely talk. Joe looked like one of the alligators got him. Even in the dark, I saw his face ghost- like he saw his mother's fetch in our on-suite bathroom. I cried and cried. Well, let me be frank. I am at this moment; I am holding back tears.
We could not eat her food anymore, so that stove was like... a symbol of her sole.
I hate that fuc'en new stove in my mum's kitchen. It's an invader in a list of invaders in what was supposed to be our relationships first draft. But cancer, countries, ocean, culture, generational gaps, and death got in the way.
I think "God, why did you have to take the stove too"?
"I cannot think that a memoirist is a tourist...A survivor with a harrowing tale to tell us as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering."
My mother-in-law and I never got along. Except for once. Once. At her stove, twenty years ago. I have always wondered if we came to England sooner, we could have fallen in love over our mutual besetment over her son.
"I write because of the radiance of the past- it draws me back and back to it."
We could have got over the fact that I was not a "Good Irish Catholic Girl from Mayo". Instead, Joe picked me- a "Wild bow-dickey small-town American convert to Judaism". I could have taken her on that stupid safari in Africa she wanted to do so desperately. We could have learned from each other, loved each other, and made our new book of life-not a first draft.
But the essay was stolen by little cells with alligator teeth who ate her body from the inside. They made her bitter, and I was the easy target. I was the one who stole her son.
So, when her stove died, it was like she had died. Our first draft died. All over again—a dull knife in my heart in need of a grindstone. The coven of alligators ate our chance to love each other together a little longer.
"My inability to write out the story... was an indication I was not ready to let go of the past, that I was not fully ready to be in the present".
I journal often, and this memory- but more so the hope of unfilled memories, made writing this down for months impossible. I can look at the new stove without tears. But I cannot say I do not glare at it with distaste. It has been there years and two since I wrote this memory down.
Maureen Culter Cusack deserves a second life, and so since she did not write it, I'll give her fetch a little longer second life on this earth. She is in my heart, and now she is born by you. I think that is the whole point of a memoir- to let others carry someone else's thoughts—their memories. Personal essays are a way to give the gift of a longer second life.
In loving Memorie of Mary Maureen Agness Culder Cusack