I came home from school to find my mom in her room, surrounded by piles of jewelry. I saw everything from gaudy costume pieces to the diamond sets my dad had given her over the years. Her back was to me. She was sorting through each little bauble, armed with sticky notes and labels and markers. Once she had stared at a piece for a full minute, she would scribble something in her tall, loopy handwriting and wrap the sticky note around the object in her hand. Then she would crawl over to one of her piles and lay it neatly with its brothers. I stood in the doorway watching for a while, but I got bored and walked away. I heard the bottle of sleeping pills in my backpack shake and click together as I walked to my room.
“You’re home!” she called, after hear- ing my door slam behind me.
“Yup.” I pulled the plastic drugstore bag out of my backpack and quickly stuffed it in my sock drawer. I didn’t want her to worry about anything, and I didn’t want to answer any questions.
“I need you to look at these,” she pushed open the door and stumbled into my room, tripping over the flip flops I had just taken off. “Which ones do you want and which ones should I give your sister? I can’t decide.” She set a few rings on my bed, and spread two necklaces next to them.
“I don’t care, Mom.” I hated when she did stuff like this.
“You’ll care when I’m dead! I don’t want you and Sarah to have to go through all of my stuff and figure out what it is and who gets what when I’m gone. It’s a gift for you. I’m preparing everything.” She pulled on the sleeves of her Nike jacket and crossed her arms. Her hair was still in a messy bun and she didn’t have any eyeliner on, so I figured she hadn’t had time to shower since she got home from the gym.
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes. “I like the silver ones.” I picked up the pewter-colored ring and the small, bright silver chain from my bed and handed them to her. “Sarah can have the other ones.”
“Okay!” She was unfazed by my lack of investment in this decision. “I’ll put them in your pile.” She scooped up the other pieces of jewellery from my bed and walked out, dramatically stepping over the flip flops. I closed the door behind her and flopped back onto my bed, thinking about the bag in my sock drawer.
My mom had been obsessed with preparing for her own death ever since her dad died. We weren’t that close with my grandpa, because my mom didn’t like her stepmom, but she did go see her dad about once a month during the last few years of his life. Sarah and I only went once or twice a year, usually around Christmas to help decorate. My grandpa had some dementia, and his wife stuck him in a “retirement home” in Montecito and moved to New York with her “brother.” He had a room in a private estate run by a couple that was probably not certified in any kind of health care service, but his wife made the decision and my mom didn’t have the time or energy to try and change it. Besides, my grandpa didn’t complain much. My mom found some of his old photo albums in a box in his closet, and he would flip through them with us and tell us all about the cars he had and the faces in his pictures from high school and the Navy, but he couldn’t remember my name.
The last time he was in the hospital, his wife finally flew out to see him. He didn’t recognize her, but he did recognize my mom. He always knew who my mom was, probably because he saw her the most, and she called the caregivers to check in on him very often. My mom said he was fading in and out of consciousness a lot, but the nurses promised he was comfortable. On her fifth consecutive day driving up to see him, she called me crying while I was in Spanish class. Her dad was dead. She had walked into the hospital room to see a piece of yellow notepad paper tossed on her dad’s still warm legs with different burial options and prices. His wife was bargain shopping.
We didn’t have a funeral for my grandpa because his wife didn’t want to have one and my mom didn’t know how to contact any of his friends. My dad said we should try to do something. My mom took us out to Denny’s because that was my grandpa’s favourite restaurant, and she read us the eulogy she had prepared while we ate pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches, and all the other customers looked at us like we were crazy. People mailed flowers to my house for weeks, and we had to watch all of them die.
Just when we thought it was all finally over, we came home to piles and piles of boxes blocking our front door. My grandpa’s wife had mailed my mom all of his stuff — after selling all the valuable things of course. Boxes of clothes and photo albums and random paraphernalia were still sitting in my garage, because it was too overwhelming for my mom to deal with. The only thing she knew she wanted was an old purple bowl with a mirror on the bottom if it, because she remembered it being on her dad’s coffee table when she visited him as a little kid. We found that and resealed the boxes.
I knew this was her way of dealing with her dad dying. I knew she didn’t want my sister and I to have to sort through boxes of photos of people we didn’t know and wonder who they were and what had been important to her. But this was excessive. I got up and spent a few hours cleaning my room, hoping to make her life a little easier.
+ + +
The sleeping pills didn’t work. I started throwing up after taking 10 of them, so they didn’t stay in my system long enough to do the job. I threw the bottle in the cabinet under my sink when my mom came into the bathroom with 7-Up and a wet towel.
“It must have been something you ate.”
+ + +
My mom didn’t work on Fridays, so she spent them working on personal projects. I came home a few Fridays after the jewelry incident to find a copy of her will on my bed.
“You remember where the fire box is, right?” she asked fervently, dragging me by the arm into her office where the fireproof box with all of our important papers was in its usual spot, on its shelf right under her desk.
“Yes, Mom, I know. Why?” I hadn’t even had a chance to put my backpack down yet. It was heavy with books and PE clothes because I had decided to empty my locker that day.
“Your dad and I are going to Vegas this weekend. I just want to make sure you’re prepared in case something happens.”
“Nothing is going to happen. You’re literally going to be gone for two days.”
“You never know. By the way, you’re staying with your Grammy.”
I tried to fight her on that, and I thought I could win with my argument this time (Sarah and my ages combined equaled 27, which seemed like a solid, adult number), but it didn’t work. We had really been hoping to stay home alone that weekend. Sarah wanted to watch all the shows on TV that Mom thought were inappropriate, and I wanted to try again.
My Grammy’s house was always fully and ornately decorated. She was an antique fanatic, and she found things at yard sales and thrift stores that she thought were valuable and filled her house with them. Even the room that I had decorated for myself, with simple silver picture frames and blue lights to match the bedspread, was slowly being taken over by her collections. My mom complained about it all the time. For Christmas every year, she asked her mom for the gift of preparation. She wanted her mom to tell her what was important to her, even if she just put a sticker on it, so my mom would know what to keep and what she could get rid of when my Grammy died. She always got a Michael Kors purse under the tree instead.
My Grammy had these spoons that I really liked. They were small and shaped like shovels and we always ate ice cream with them, even when we got older. She got them on sale at a department store when I was a kid. I figured I would ask for them when she died. I never asked if they were important to her. I just knew they brought me happy memories.
I had been planning on jumping off my parents’ roof, but my grandparents’ house was only one storey high and it was mostly surrounded by grass, so I didn’t think it would work. I sat on the roof for a while anyway, thinking. I pictured my body sprawled on the garden underneath me, and I realized my Grammy would see me when she sat out on the porch to drink her morning coffee. I didn’t want that for her, so I crawled back through the attic window and got in bed, dreading carrying all of my books back to school with me on Monday.
Christina Brown is currently a graduate student in the American Studies Department at California State University, Fullerton. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English (Creative Writing emphasis), and her poems and short stories have been published in places like cul-de-sac, The Island Fox, and self-distributed zines. Once, she was accidentally on an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians and is still recovering.