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  • Writer's pictureRachel McDonald

I'm Just Like You

My mom died on September 11th, 2001. And every year, as the country lowers its flags to half-mast, my dad and I visit her grave. Today, it was raining outside. Not quite enough to stop us from going, just a drizzle that made your clothes smell funny the next day. The Honda CR-V sloshed over dirty puddles in the pot-hole-infested road. I turned to my dad; I think he was speaking to me.

“You know she really wanted to watch you grow up.”

“I know, dad,” I responded before he could go on, wiping my face to ensure there were no visible tears.

“She didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. But for you, she fought really hard.”

The car came to a stop. I pulled up the hood of my blue windbreaker, shielding my eyes from the rain blowing into my face. Dad tried to hand me a bouquet of lilies, but I just shook my head no. Even though I had never met my mom, I knew she wouldn’t have liked that we brought them here.

Dad and I walked along the cracked sidewalk and stopped at an empty plot. There was no headstone, we couldn’t afford it, just a glass vase, browned from years of sitting outside, toppled over with soiled greenery spilling out. My dad replaced the flowers.

“She really loved lilies,” he said. “We had some in the hospital room the day you were born.”

I just stared at my dad, hands shoved in my pockets, trying not to cry through the story that spilled out of him every year.

“She loved the smell of them, they were blooming about the time that she started to….” Just like every year, he was searching for the right word, and just like every year, I didn’t help him.

We stood in silence for a minute. Drips from a nearby oak tree splashed onto the sidewalk that wound through the graveyard. I tried to be distracted by them, but my mind kept drifting back to that awful day in 2001. I had only just been born, but I could still see the chaos through a static television set. News blaring off of every TV in the country, smoky desolation, packed churches, bawling families, so many lives lost. My dad described it as one of the scariest, yet most beautiful days. He had to say that. It was the day his wife died, writhing on a dingy hospital bed in Vero Beach Florida, spattered with blood and amniotic fluid. The day I was born. She bled to death. My mother bled to death, and the whole country mourned for her.

I learned from relatives' muffled whispers, and my own intuition, that my mom wanted to be cremated and have her ashes sprinkled. She didn’t want us to spend the money on a grave, or leave a plot of land to be tended to. She just wanted to float away on the wind, and not be anyone’s problem. In light of 9/11, I think my dad was too grateful for the fact that he had the opportunity to bury my mom somewhere that he could visit. But I agree with my mom; I understand exactly why she wanted to disappear. She was just like me.

“One day she broke down in church when they sang that song, you remember the story?” Dad was talking again. He went on without my affirmative response. “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand. Even herself. That’s what she said. That’s the day she knew she was finally safe from herself.” He paused. “Lilies were blooming that day.”

Now, I was really crying. I fumbled to pull up the hood of my jacket just a little further. It was starting to rain harder now, but my dad showed no signs of heading back to the car. So I just stared at the warm bouquet of lilies that rested above her body. A small piece of joy standing in a wrecked, haunted yard. Was mom truly happy in the end?

Dad told the story of my birth every year, the harsh light in the hospital room, the smell of strong drugs, and the screams of my mom. But there was another story I had only heard once or twice, about a day ten years prior, 1991. The harsh light in the hospital room, the smell of strong drugs. This time my mom lay silent, her face a strange, ghost-like purple color. They pumped her stomach. Dothiepin is one of the most common drugs in completed suicides, but my mom failed. My dad thought she got better, but she just passed her sickness to someone else. God copied and pasted. But I don’t think I could make the same decisions as you, mom. I don’t think I could go on to have a child, knowing I could be wrecking their life by starting it. Sometimes, I wish you had been successful, lying on the bathroom floor with your stomach full of the antidepressants that were finally doing their job. My story could have ended there, too. What if dad had never found you? But ten years later in 2001, I was born. Now, I’m twenty years old. The same age you were. The doctor gave me dothiepin, too.

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