I remember things in two categories now; before you left or after you left. Left is the past tense and past participle of leave. To leave, in the sense I mean it, is defined by Merriam-Webster as: to go away from, to withdraw from, to terminate association with. Synonyms include depart, abandon, desert.
I remember how at first it seemed to happen gradually. There were some random days. Spring break. COVID-19 hit. Schools closed. The stay-at-home order was issued. I started working from home while I helped your sister with online school, and in my free time I packed our home into four different sizes of brown boxes.
I remember saving your rooms for last. I remember wanting to still somehow feel you near me.
I remember I curled into your beds and cried late into the night. I remember the smell of you: a mix of baby powder, your fancy shampoo, and the faintest bit of sweat.
I remember I didn’t want to force you. I remember respecting your request for space and distance. I remember that saying, “When you love something, set it free.”
I remember thinking it would just take some time, and that I needed to work on being more patient and flexible.
I remember thinking that being a teenager is hard. When I was your age, I thought I might not survive it. I remember thinking about dying. I don’t remember when I first told you that.
I remember my therapist telling me not to say things like, “The girls are gone,” because you are not. You are still very much alive. You are only a few miles away. You are just not with me. Not right now.
I remember the amateur iPad video your sister took when you returned from a secret trip to bag up your belongings from the house when I wasn’t home. I remember thinking it was good that the clip only showed your legs, your Converse shoes, and the Lululemon shopping bags stuffed with clothes you dropped on the kitchen floor when you came in.
I remember how empty your rooms and closets looked after that day. I could hardly breathe when I first saw the empty spaces and realized what had happened while I was gone.
I remember I started packing up your things right after that. I remember I felt naive, stupid, and totally duped.
I remember wondering if you cared about what you left behind, like your Kendra Scott bracelet. Or the time capsule you made in sixth grade, or the old letters from your BFF you left in your top dresser drawer. I packed up your hot pink tweezers, the special face wash we ordered off Amazon, and your Secret deodorant. The White Barn candle I got you for Hanukkah, the string of white lights you had over your headboard. All of your treasures.
I remember everything. I remember it over and over again, like a relentless reel that won’t stop running in my mind.
I sometimes wear your t-shirts when I’m feeling really sad, when I miss you so much it takes my breath away.
I don’t know how to explain to people where you are or what happened. I can only tell my story.
And for right now, my story is that you left. My story is that I’m not a perfect mother, but perfection does not exist. I am working hard in therapy. I am your parent, not your friend. I will always love you, and I am here whenever you need me. I am learning how to manage my stress levels better. I am learning that it’s okay for me to take up space, too, and to have a happy life. I am learning that we never stop learning. And I am learning to let go.