When I was small, my mom and I established a bedtime ritual. We would, as we called it, “talk about the days.” She’d sit patiently on the edge of my bed, run her fingers through my poof of wild curls and go through what was planned for the upcoming week: Tomorrow is Tuesday. I think it might be a little rainy. You’ll go to school in the morning. You’ll come home and have a playdate. We’ll go to John’s soccer game if it’s still on and get pizza after… It was her way (her always-knowing-what-to-do way) of soothing my anxieties: This is what is going to happen. This is how you will spend your time.
The biggest lie I ever told myself is there would be time.
One brisk February morning, years later when I was a junior in college, as I sat in a geography elective I didn’t care about, as I stared out the window and noticed the sun moving out from behind an especially big cloud, my mom died. It was completely unexpected. She was home, alone except for our dog, and suddenly collapsed. It was an aneurysm and it broke me.
Everything I thought I knew about time changed after that. I thought a lot about forever. And never. I had panic attacks that lasted hours, brought on by the notion that everything could be over in seconds. Seemingly insignificant memories would emerge, vivid, and transport me.
Now that a few years have passed, time no longer feels freeform and mercurial; it feels consistently urgent. It’s harder to believe the lies I used to tell myself — like that I’ll have time to write that New Yorker-worthy short story once I’ve got more life experience; that I really will train for a marathon when I have more time to dedicate to it. No. “Now or never” has superseded “maybe later.” These are the kinds of ideas that sound cliché until they’re close to you, close as my dad’s voice, shaky through the phone: I know this must sound like a nightmare. But Mom died today.
The newfound pressure to do stuff before I die is more complicated than it seems. Sometimes it’s motivating. It can be the push I need to get up and run in the morning or join a fiction workshop. Other times, that same pressure, coupled with the profound fucked-up-ness of losing my mom way before her time, that endless ache of grief, feels nothing more than depressing.
So I’ve reconsidered how I “talk about the days.” I do my best to stick to present tense.
Today is Saturday. The sun is shining. I am writing.
Collage by Emily Zirimis.