My mother's side of the family fell apart a year ago, while my grandmother was dying.
My mom lives in the city and her car broke down. My aunt was living with my grandmother, who was quickly losing her mind due to a brain tumor. They've never really been a family of huggers, anyway.
I had just had a baby when the news broke.
My grandmother had been feeling confused. She got lost driving to the grocery store. She was awake all night with disconnected anxiety. My sister knew it was the cancer taking over her brain.
"She's fine," I said. "She's probably just foggy from her pain pills."
Those pain pills.
I took so many pain pills as a young person.
I can taste them, feel my gorge rising seven years later in an effort to keep the memory down.
Kurt had to leave early on Sunday mornings. We were newly dating and it was winter. We had spent all weekend swallowing pills and we woke up with sickness in our bellies. Kurt had a job and very few expenses. We went grocery shopping at three in the morning and bought individual ice cream cups and candy and slushees from the gas station. We were kids.
We were bad.
He spent all morning throwing up. The pile of pills we bought from some deviant, redneck pharmacy assistant on the night shift... we were down to fourteen.
"I won't be able to swallow them," he said.
"You just have to keep them down until they kick in," I said. "And then you won't be sick anymore."
We bit them in half. He ended up throwing his up, anyway. We spent our last few hours together huddled together on my beaten up foam couch watching a DVD Napoleon Dynamite on repeat. A blanket over our shoulders, I was naked and stoned. We ate frozen lemonade popsicles. I wouldn't allow myself to miss him until he was gone.
By the winter of last year, I'd been clean and healthy for five years. We had two little girls. My aunt hated my mother and the rest of their siblings fell down around them like dominoes. My grandmother lay in a hospital bed in the living room. Sometimes she talked to people who weren't there.
Once, she peered over the edge of her blankets and looking into the soft light of the drawn curtains and said, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm here until four, Grace," the hospice nurse said.
"Not you," my grandmother said.
When she held your hand, she remarked over and over again how warm you were. She was always cold. She plucked at her nightgown with her fingertips and started sleeping all the time.
I had a newborn baby. I couldn't even be sad.
I was watching somebody die. My cousin was mad at my mom and my sister was mad at my aunts. My Aunt Debbie didn't visit often enough and my mom wasn't supportive enough. My Aunt Pea's life was falling apart anyway. They were all falling apart. Years and years of unraveling, and suddenly there was something happening that couldn't be denied. Their mother was dying, and nobody had had a good life. There was nothing left to do but to crush what was left.
My baby slept a lot. She slept so much that I called the doctor, worried that something was wrong. "You're just lucky," the nurse told me over the phone. "Lots of people call here panicking because their baby won't sleep at all."
When Baby Louise was awake, she nestled sweetly against my bare throat. She sought out the soft places of my body. If I moved even a few feel away from her, she cried for me, so I held her always. I kept her warm.
It is cold between waking and sleeping.
It is cold between living and dying.
Things won't be put back together. The anniversary of her funeral is Christmas Eve. My mother cried on Christmas morning and everything was beautiful. Scouty wrote Kurt a letter that brought tears to his eyes. Louisey walks, now. She says a hundred words each day.
Everything was beautiful.