Here we are, deep in the intangibles. Filing her final tax return, propping a For Sale sign in the window of the home she loved. On a warm spring evening, birdsong an argument against staying indoors, I’m Googling how to wipe her MacBook. Are there files I should keep? And store them where, exactly?
Along with the jewelry I won’t wear and pottery I’ll never use, this is just more of what I already have too much of and can’t bear to get rid of, not yet. At the bottom of the cupboard where she stored her towels a crumbling cardboard box offers up two pressed white tablecloths in heavy Irish linen, embroidered by hand. Handed down from my grandmother or great-grandmother: these are the inherited treasures my own mother couldn’t part with and never used, now mine to keep at the bottom of a closet.
But we’re almost through the somber things we can touch with our hands. It’s mostly numbers now: figures, symbols, and language we didn’t think we’d have to learn for years. Probate, executor, T4011(E). Actions and transactions undertaken by strangers or people we’ll pass on the street without a second look. These are unwanted sums with the chill and hidden heft of icebergs, so much below the surface. She’d been saving to live another decade or more, keeping her house so cold in winter she’d wear two hand-me-down sweaters before turning up the heat.
The other day Facebook, so solicitous, so concerned about expanding my virtual social circles, asked me if I knew my mother. This is how I learned she was/is on Facebook. No profile photo, just the stock white-on-grey silhouette of the uncommitted Facebook user. My guess is she signed on so as to see the vacation photos of her friends, the tidbits she’d need to stay abreast of for the competitive grandparenting that kept her awake at night.
Do you know her? Facebook asks. A lifetime, I could say. But that’s my whole life, not hers. In the oak chest in her TV room I find the journal she kept on her first trip to Europe, more than a decade before I was born. It’s not a diary written for posterity, plump with details and explanations. It’s a mishmash of brief notes and dates, scarcely enough to jog a memory years later — hers, not mine. In one entry she is in the Mediterranean, port unknown. She alludes to a party she and her friend Deborah will go to that night, but the next entry simply begins with: We are paying for our sins this morning. No synopsis, no backward glimpse.
Last month my brother and I snatched a rare hour together in the forest she loved, away from all the things that aren’t marking a dreaded anniversary. He asks me — in a roundabout way, like he’s touring the ramparts — if we will always remember the sound of her voice. Her laugh was the kind of laugh that made people look up and wish they knew her.
Tomorrow she’ll be gone a year.
There are papers to sign, taxes to pay, documents to be notarized. Intangibles. Last week I transferred the last two jars of her 2012 pesto to my own freezer, ate the last of the homemade, white-bean soup she had in her deepfreeze. So that’s gone too.