By Lindsey Abernathy
“Mommy, you disappeared in the dark,” you say, as I turn off the bedroom light. Though you are three years old, we still have not mastered the fine art of independent sleeping. Each night I curl up next to you as you tell the mole on my stomach good night with a gentle pat, the glow of the lamp fuzzy and blond like your head.
I shiver at your words. This is how I lose my own mother, in my dreams.
You do not understand, yet, that I had a mother. She has been gone more than half your life, dead 26 months this March. If my grief was a child like you, son, it would be cutting second molars, maybe experiencing fear of strange places, possibly having difficulty pronouncing “l’s” or “th’s.” “My how time flies!” the parenting websites exclaim.
When you were littler, and Daddy put you to bed, you came looking for me sometimes, wailing “mommymommymommy,” a woeful pitch so pleading that it could wake the dead.
You don’t know this important thing about me, but some days it seems you are the only person who understands. You have known the inside of me more completely than anyone ever will.
The dreams ebb and flow, coming usually around the time I start my period. You don’t know what a period is, but it is the time of month when I beg you to give me privacy in the bathroom. You don’t understand privacy just yet. Sometimes you scooter in, full speed ahead. Sometimes you sit on my lap. You are so young that you say “poop,” when you see the dark stains.
They are always bad, the dreams.
Sometimes, I am a child, older than you but still little. Vacation has ended; we are sunburned and my scalp is an itchy layer of sunscreen and sand; it is time to go home. I search between the legs of aunts and uncles for my mother, but it seems she has left without me. I scream for her, but my cry is not strong like yours. My mother, she does not come back.
Sometimes she is the child. The teenager from that palm-sized, rounded-edge photo I keep on our bookshelf near your fall daycare picture, the one of you holding the white pumpkin. In these dreams, she is scared and lost. I take her in my arms and I tell her she will die, and we cry together.
I had not called my mother “mommy,” like you call me, for more than three decades, but I called her that as she died. We were all children at her death. She wore mesh underwear, the same kind the hospital gave me after you were born, and said “tee tee” when she needed to use the bathroom. I dropped her, that last day she was alive, there in the bathroom. I worried so much about dropping you in those early months, and here I had lost grip of my mother.
I got my first mammogram this year because I will do anything so that you do not dream like me. A mammogram is where nurses take pictures of breasts, to make sure they are not sick.
Afterwards I waited, shirtless, for the doctor but the doctor didn’t come. A nurse finally opened the door. “Doctor says everything looks normal,” she said. “For a 32-year-old breast.”
I took my 32-year-old breasts and left the clinic. A clogged milk duct, it turned out, I learned that night in the shower, though you have been weaned for more than a year. You did not want to wean, still tried to catch my nipples in your mouth months after.
In bed, tonight, you grab for me, small hands frantic in the dark. “Mommy, where did you go?” I extend an arm to you and you nestle into me. I know that later my arm will go numb from the weight of your neck, that I’ll have to roll you gently onto a pillow.
“I’m still here, baby,” I say, and you sleep.
Lindsey Abernathy is a mother, daughter and writer from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Abernathy studied journalism at the University of Mississippi and has worked as a writer, editor, and sustainability activist in higher education. Her most recent work was published in the Bitter Southerner.
THE ALEKSANDER SCHOLARSHIP FUND