Growing up, Rae played the good girl, hoping to win her mother Marlene’s love. But Marlene favored Rae’s dangerous older brother Thomas, even after he nearly got teenage Rae killed. The night Thomas disappeared was the best night of Rae’s life. Now 28 years old and engaged, Rae is nursing Marlene, who has advanced cancer and one last request: for Rae to find Thomas and bring him home. Thomas purports to be a changed man, the CEO of his own meteorically successful company. But Rae knows he’s hiding something. When Marlene takes a turn for the worse, is it assisted suicide or murder? The answer goes back decades, through secrets and pain, and comes back full circle. Rae has to figure out who she can really trust. Or else
My mother is dead.
The worsening of her illness was inexorable, and this ending inevitable. Hospice workers have been coming to the house for weeks—palliative measures only, the relief of suffering without treatment, comfort without cure. They were very clear on this point. There should have been no room for denial.
But somehow, when it’s your mother, you deny until the end.
It’s not like a dance recital, and you can practice, practice, practice. There is no preparation, not really. I’ve never lived in a world without her. Marlene Joy Kalatchik. Mom. Mommy.
No one else has ever leveled me with a look like she could; no one else could affirm or destroy like my mother. She was the repository for all my insecurities. She fed them, unknowingly. I like to think unknowingly. Simon says otherwise, but he first met her a year ago, and given the cancer, she wasn’t herself. Not exactly.
My mother is dead.
I say it out loud, experimentally, full of wonder as much as pain. Impossible. I whisper it. I touch my tongue to it, like it’s a loose tooth.
Simon is beside me, and he’s got his arm around me, he’s murmuring something, but I can’t seem to hear it. I can’t feel him. There’s nothing but her, nothing but absence and loss and something else, just out of sight, just beyond my reach.
Natural causes. I think that’s what the coroner will say, even if it was by her own hand. A hand that was coerced by someone else, or a hand that’s an extension of hers, because isn’t that what family is? An extension. A proxy. A way to go on.
Thomas is staring down at her, too, his expression inscrutable. No, it’s not her. Already, it’s her body.
He shouldn’t be here. Why didn’t he just stay gone?
I wish I’d said no, I won’t find him, let the past be the past, it’s just us now, Mom, and that’s enough. I should have tried harder to convince her that I’m enough, though that had already been a lifelong project, a study in futility and false hope. I’ve been flexing my denial muscle for a long time. And yet…
I think I see Thomas and Simon exchange some sort of look. I’ve seen that look before. There’s mischief in it. No, mirth. No, it’s the satisfaction of collusion. Like they’re in it together.
No. Simon’s here for me, and Thomas is here for himself, just like always. Simon’s mine.
And if I’m wrong about that? Then what do I have?
My mother is dead.
My mother’s body is dead. Her spirit? Does that continue?
It must. Because suddenly, I feel it here. I feel her, like radiant heat whooshing up from the floorboards, filling the room. She’s always been larger than life, in my eyes. Illness couldn’t shrink her. Maybe death can’t, either.
We were closer in those last days. She told me something I’d waited my whole life to hear, and now: She has a message for me. There are things I’ve never known, and I need to. I’ve always sensed them, the secrets, like movement in my peripheral vision. I could never turn my head quickly enough.
But she wants me to know now. It’s time.
I lean in close, and listen.
Holly Brown lives with her husband and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she’s a practicing marriage and family therapist. Her blog, “Bonding Time”, is featured on Psychcentral.com, a mental health website with 1.5 million visitors per month.