Blue and green parakeets you named and unnamed and named in a squall of lost monikers perched on the bars of their cage on Pfeffer Lane. Budgies who crooned, who mewled, who sang back your nightmares and grieved by your husband’s chair on those nights his voice pushed through the stone at Saint Peter Cemetery and sent you wandering. Your blinds stayed shut when the sun was high, when the breeze was warm, when the wild birds sang beyond your locked windows. Bolted and locked up tight in the tub, you hide in the shadows of your shower curtain from the phantom men and their phantom flashlights outside. Your mind showed you what wasn’t there; my mind adjusted to the state of yours. Behind the door, beyond the walls, past the window of your car that’s rolled down, all the way down, we drive the back roads, hunting for yard sales, and you smile with round cheeks and ask in soft words, “Are you cold?” but I’m too shy to say yes.
Illuminated beneath the light of God, I wonder if you still would have liked me as I am today. Inheritances of dolls and jewelry that I never knew existed and don’t know what to do with tell me that although you once loved me, you never knew me. When I favored Hot Wheels and faded baseball gloves, you always thought nail paint and antique brass earrings would make me happy. And instantly, I’m moved, because I picture your knobby fingers scrawling one of my names, the only one you knew, and I know you remembered me asleep in the crib in your basement. I invent a life for you, stare into the pool in your backyard, and hear your words sink and settle on the broken liner.
I invite your lost memories and the fears you kept hidden in the bathtub from the phantom men.
I look in the mirror and I see your cheeks.
Reality and delusion look the same through moldy windows. Remaining inside was the only answer that questioned your stability. Running water to fill the tub, hoping the steam would grow in time to stretch and reach across the glass, veiling your soft words and my round cheeks and the weeping willow outside. Results were found in shrouding the windows, hiding away from lights that weren’t there, and swallowing pills to stop your shaking fingers. Refreshed and relieved you were alone once more, you tried to leave the bathroom, but the handle wouldn’t turn and their flashlights rested on the back of my neck, which you kissed because I faked sick again to get out of school.
Relapse because I forgot my pills after your funeral service at St. Peter, so I put them in my mouth with shaking fingers and gaze out the glass at the willow.
Do angels sing for those they cursed? Delight in the time we shared, now twisted and warped beneath the weight of failing memories. Detach from the inherited fears, biological dread, the delusions and paranoia that filled your heart with panic and now creep toward mine. Dementia creased the lines of your face and you squeezed my cheeks with both hands and kissed me. Doughnuts and Fig Newtons were hidden in the lower cabinets, next to the tiny boxes of cereal I ate by the pool and got soggy. Divine icons and emblems on your walls and on your tables that normally scared me in churches only felt inviting and warm, not like I was hiding my secrets but like they knew my secrets and didn’t mind. Remembering the days I didn’t want to see you and hearing my dad tell me I would regret it. I pretend I got in his car with him and drove to your house anyway, where your unnamed budgies greeted me from their cage. I develop a means to forgive myself, to remind myself we are all unnamed to one another.
Sweet and jubilant, I hear your laugh as they place your ashes into the ground. Sunshine is veiled behind afternoon clouds and I stand between uncomfortable and uncertain uncles and cousins who throw dirt on you and hide their red eyes. Sacred words for a religion that no one here understands are uttered at the dirt before your gruff sons try to convince the nervous teenage gravedigger to let them reposition one of the sinking headstones. Soothing songs from the trees above rain down on us from the beaks of the uncaged, the unnamed. Staring at the fresh earth covering you, I wonder how many times you stared out from the bathroom at the willow in your yard, how many times I will do the same. Spirits live in this family graveyard in southeastern Massachusetts, but for once in my life, I am not afraid of ghosts nor men outside windows.
Standing beside you in the bathroom, I remind myself to open the blinds.