Thursday, January 21, 2010

And she signed each note, “Love, Rexanna”

My mother proofread everything, even her little notes to my father left on the kitchen counter before we’d go out somewhere—short notes, written on the backs of discarded “Page-a-Day” calendar pages. When I was little, I’d hover behind her, watching her mouth move as her pen swept from word to word, making sure everything had come out right. When I was a teenager, I’d stand in the doorway and groan for her to hurry up—“you don’t have to proofread everything, Mom”—but she didn’t care.

She’d never leave until she had reread the note, checking every detail. Was it so Dad would know exactly where we’d gone, what time we’d return? Or was it to make sure, just in case, God forbid, her last written words would have no errors? Maybe a little bit of both.

She signed each note, “Love, Rexanna.”

These notes were always part of the routine. Paper and pens sat, waiting, at the top of the fridge.

Now, desperate for something of my mother, I curse all those notes thrown out without a thought. But why would we save such things? I remember sitting in my dorm room at IU, only months after she was gone. Frantic, I searched through my email, hoping to find old emails from my mother.There were only a few. I read each line, desperate, praying for a clue. But they weren’t what I wanted. I wanted little notes written on the backs of Dad’s old Page-a-Day calendars signed “Love, Rexanna.” I wanted them piled, stacks of unimportant notes, all around me. Therein would be the answers to everything I had to know. I wanted to stand in our kitchen, hovering behind as she reread each word, mouth moving, pen sweeping across the paper.

Now, I can’t even remember my mother’s scarcely used email address. She would shudder at all the grammatical errors in our lives now. Twitter and text, she’d roll her eyes at such nonsense. Sometimes, I force myself not to capitalize my “i’s” in emails. It pains me in ways I can’t explain. An “i” in an email from me is not a careless gesture, not quick typing. It’s a meditated act—mouth moving, pen sweeping across the paper—but no one gets it but me. It’s my teenaged self, groaning at my mom in the kitchen: “You don’t have to proofread everything.”

“Yes, you do.”

Frantic, I try to picture her in the kitchen, proofreading her notes to my father.

Because my father still sometimes leaves me notes on the backs of his Page-a-Day calendars, I have a kitchen drawer overflowing. I can’t bear to throw such precious things away. He always signs them, “Love, Dad.” Every year my brother and I buy our dad two calendars: a Page-a-Day and a wall calendar for the kitchen. This year I forgot his wall calendar. I remembered Christmas Eve. Frantic, I feared I'd ruined our tradition forever. He opened his Page-a-Day calendar from Jay. It made me want to cry. I wasn't sure why.

On my refrigerator is a card my grandfather wrote me. I found it in a box two weeks after he died. Yesterday I looked at the line, “I have three robins in my yard, it makes me think of spring.” It made me want to cry. I wasn't sure why. In my father’s kitchen cabinet is a small jar labeled “Sage.” It’s my grandmother’s writing.

When I go home I check for it in the cabinet. It’s always still there.

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