November 4, 1994

Catharine Wolters Stocker

Dawn and I was motherless.

Therese had been there for ten minutes before she noticed the perpetual pools in my eyes.
"What's the matter?" she said, suddenly very concerned.
"My mother died last night."
"Why on earth are you here?" she gasped.

I had been trying to explain that to nearly eveyone all night. My father called at 11:30pm, a half-hour after my shift began, his voice almost unrecognizable. He asked if I was going to stay at work. It was my last night anyway. What would they do if I left? Fire me?

"No," I said, "I'm gonna stay."

The moisture gathered then. I couldn't see clearly, even if I was thinking so. I was drawn from behind the desk of the small hotel lobby. I stood in the chill November air on the patio. The saline was a new lens. The world looked different. Guests came and went. I checked people in and out. I counted the drawer and balanced the books. I stared into space, trying to imagine the future.

The last time I saw my mother, she was on a respirator, her head tilted back, eyes closed. That was better than the dissociation and pain of a few days earlier. My father and I held her hands. I stroked her face. My father, who I had never seen cry, teared up.

"Don't leave me..." he choked.

Sabrina was there for the short conference with the doctor. I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have her.

"She has pneumonia. The dialysis and the treatment for pneumonia are mutually exlcusive.
She'll have to work through this herself. If she's strong enough."

Sabrina squeezed my hand. I was glad David wasn't there.

At home later that night, my half-brother John called. Did I think she was going to make it? After years of close calls it was a fair question. No. I didn't think so. We agreed it would be a release for her. We could feel sorry for ourselves for the rest of our lives.

Sabrina and I made love before I went to work. Slow and engrossing. Quiet, but almost desperate. Sad. Solid.

Various people asked. I took perverse pleasure in being blunt. Their shock didn't diminish my pain. I called Al, who promised to come see me.
"Why are you still there?" He was annoyed.
"I'm doing what I have to. I should stay at work."
"Bullshit. Go home."
"I can't go home anymore."
I reread the same page of Hofstader a hundred times. I tried to explain it to Al, but he just stared at me like I was mad.

I don't remember how I got to my father's house that morning. The early yellow light was pitiless. It was a struggle to move. Everyone had their own sorrow. I was a step ahead, having turned mine into a purpose. I used its own weight against it. Instead of being crushed, I climbed out on the wreckage. No more screwing up. Respect the gift I'd been given.

That's why I stayed. To give it meaning.

Spreading Mom's ashes at Wolters Park in Schulenberg, TX, May 1999

Thanksgiving 1994

I was preparing my final project for an expert systems class. My program classified Cetaceans. I was knee-deep in Walker's Mammals, scribbling all manner of details onto 3x5 cards.

Out of nowhere I started to lose it. I was about to bawl. I managed to make it to Sabrina in the bedroom. I walked in purposefully. She looked up, saw the grief in my eyes, and opened her arms.

I fell into them sobbing "I want my mom!"

Summer 1996

I don't believe in ghosts. I don't believe in anthropomorphic spirits. I don't believe the dead have anything more to do with the living than the living allow.

But I was sure my mother was watching me.

I didn't believe that she was literally watching me, but I was aware of her presence in my mind. Her spirit guiding me, but not in a pleasant way. I was afraid that, freed of her mortal entanglements, she could see directly into me. See what a bad person I really was.

This dark cloud followed me around for months. I was haunted until I realized: she already had.

And she loved me anyway.