I wasn't looking forward to taking time off to live with my mother and try to help her through her grief at my father's death. She was resentful of help offered her, and I truly could not remember a time when she ever let us bring her so much as a glass of water when she had a cold without finding some way to say that we shouldn't have, she was perfectly capable of doing things for herself.
How she was going to take to me cooking for her and driving her around, I could only imagine. All I knew was that she would make it as difficult as possible; what I didn't guess that she would make it completely impossible.
Tammy Warthrup called me Thursday night, her voice garbled with tears. "Solange, it's your mother, oh, God, I'm so sorry to have to call you like this --- Your mom died, oh God, I'm sorry!"
"How? How did she die? I just saw her on Sunday!" I shouted into the phone. Disbelief was pounding the back of my head.
Sobbing. "I don't know, I just went over to take her my copy of my magazine, and saw her in her chair by the window, I could see her through the door-window, just sitting there. I knocked on the door and rang the doorbell, and she didn't move!" More sobs. "I called 9-1-1, and they opened the door, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry!"
"Did they determine a cause of death?"
"I don't know," the woman said through her clotted throat, closed with crying. "They wouldn't even let us come with her in the ambulance."
"When did this happen?"
"They just left the house. I closed everything up when they were leaving. Oh, Solange, she was such a good neighbor!"
I suppose you could say that she died of a broken heart, unable to live after her true love had died. Or you could say that she died for the lack of anyone to torment, in abject fear of learning how to cope with an empty house and the absence of anyone who loved her so unconditionally. An autopsy showed that she had simply stopped eating or drinking, and had stopped living thereby. No cancer, no heart condition. She just decided to Leave.
I suppose that you could say that it was in keeping with her character, to refuse to accept life on anyone's terms but her own. She would do what she would do, and couldn't be dissuaded or persuaded even if you called out the National Guard.
I suppose that you could say, "At last that poor woman is at peace!" And let go of all the memories, let them go under the ground, with our father at last. Would she still be his Mystery? Or even more his Mystery?
I like to think of them reunited, laughing to each other's faces as they did in their good times. Best of friends, ready for adventure, ready to forgive, and readily turn any gaffe or misfortune into a joke to blast away with laughter. I can remember a time when they still shoved each other playfully or leered suggestively into each other's eyes. When did they stop? Why did they stop? Who launched the first volley of artillery that began the spiral downward from best friends to attacker and helpless victim?
I miss them both very much. But the Mark and Mystery that I miss are from forty years ago, when they were an unbeatable team, and still pounced upon each other from darkened doorways in the little old-fashioned house in Penn's Vale.